The Piledriver Report 03.01.13: The History Of Vince McMahon’s Wrestling Empire: Part Seven
In 1991, the World Wrestling Federation signed two of World Championship Wrestling’s top wrestlers. The first man they inked to a deal was Sid Vicious. Next, they signed the WCW World Champion Ric Flair after he had a contract dispute with WCW. In the beginning of 1992, the WWF attempted to sign away the WCW’s current World titleholder, Lex Luger. Unlike Sid and Ric Flair, who both left WCW when their contracts expired, Lex Luger’s situation was quite different. When Lex Luger signed with the Titan Sports in 1992, he still had a year left on his WCW contract. To get around the WCW deal, Vince signed Lex Luger to be a host of the short lived World Bodybuilding Federation’s weekly television program called “WBF Body Stars.” Along with his hosting duties, Luger was supposed to take part in the WBF’s bodybuilding competition as a special guest bodybuilder. Unfortunately, before the competition, Luger was in a motorcycle accident forcing him out of the special appearance gig. Once Luger’s no compete clause ran out, Lex was able to sign a deal to compete in the World Wrestling Federation.
Lex Luger made his official debut as a WWF performer on January 24, 1993 at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, California. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan introduced “The Narcissus” Lex Luger in front of the sell out crowd at the Royal Rumble. Luger stood in front of three full-length mirrors with lights shining on him as he flexed his physique for the crowd. While Luger’s debut was the WWF’s biggest signing of the year, a small cable television show would send shock waves throughout the industry in 1993.
THE BIRTH OF A FLAGSHIP
Throughout the history of professional wrestling, television and the squared circle walked hand in hand. Wrestling was cheap programming to produce for the networks, and television was a great outlet for the wrestling promoters to drum up business for their house shows. Each regional territory would broadcast a show in the area of the country where they did business. When the WWF decided to branch out from a regional, to a national wrestling company, they decided to air a syndicated show throughout the country through each town’s local television station. Around the same time, the WWF started to air shows on cable television. The WWF’s cable home was the USA Network. On Sunday afternoon, the USA Network carried “All-American Wrestling,” which was a show that featured matches from around the country. On Tuesday nights, they aired a “Tonight Show” style wrestling talk show called “Tuesday Night Titans.” “TNT” would later be replaced by “Prime Time Wrestling,” which used the same basic format as “All-American Wrestling.” Little did anyone know, but a little show that debuted in January 1993 would change the partnership between television and professional wrestling.
On January 11, 1993, the USA Network broadcast the debut episode of “Monday Night RAW.” The original concept of RAW was a throwback to the old days of televised wrestling. The 2,000 seats Manhattan Center was the home to the early years of “Monday Night RAW.” Unlike the WWF’s syndicated programs, “Monday Night RAW” did not contain the typical TV squash matches. On RAW, the WWF presented top guys against midcard wrestlers, instead of preliminary grapplers. The last match of the night usually featured two upper level stars battling each other. RAW quickly became the WWF’s flagship television broadcast.
While the January 25th broadcast saw Ric Flair’s short WWF tenure come to an end, Titan Sports hottest new show would feature the return of one of the company’s greatest superstars. On the February 15th broadcast, Brutus Beefcake made his in-ring return against one half of the WWF Tag Team Champions, Ted DiBiase. Beefcake won the match by disqualification after Irwin R. Schyster hit “The Barber” in the back with a steel briefcase. After the match, the duo was about to attack Beefcake, but Jimmy Hart kept on getting in the way. After throwing “The Mouth of the South” to the ground, the former Mike Rotundo leveled Beefcake in the face with the steel briefcase.
THE HULKSTER RETURNS
On the live February 22nd “Monday Night RAW,” Hulk Hogan returned to the World Wrestling Federation. Vince McMahon interviewed Hogan in regard to the attack by Money Inc. against Brutus Beefcake. Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake joined forces to gain revenge against the WWF Tag Team Champions. Their match was set for WrestleMania IX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
While RAW set up the Tag Team title match for WrestleMania IX, the Royal Rumble pay per view was used to set up the main event for the WWF’s biggest show of the year. The WWF Champion Bret Hart successfully defended his title against Razor Ramon on the Rumble undercard. Unlike the previous year, the 1993 Rumble match contained mostly mid card wrestlers. Took draw in viewers, it was predetermined that the winner of the Royal Rumble match would fight the WWF World Champion at WrestleMania IX. The Rumble bout came down to two wrestlers, Randy Savage and Yokozuna. While Savage was the veteran of the Rumble match, the Samoan Yokozuna proved to be too much for Randy Savage to handle. For some unknown reason Savage kept trying to pin Yokozuna, despite the fact that the only way to eliminate your opponent was for him to be tossed over the top rope and have both feet hit the arena floor. After one of Savage’s “pin attempts,” Yokozuna powered the “Macho Man” over the top rope for the victory.
The WWF’s second biggest acquisition of the year debuted at WrestleMania IX on April 4th, 1993 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former WCW announcer Jim Ross made his World Wrestling Federation debut at the WWF’s premier event of the year. In WCW, the fans thought of him as a serious wrestling broadcaster. During his initial WWF appearance, JR announced the card wearing a toga. Welcome to the world of sports entertainment, Jim Ross.
Tatanka defeated WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels by count-out. Rick & Scott Steiner defeated the Headshrinkers. Doink the Clown pinned Crush. Razor Ramon beat Bob Backlund. WWF Tag Team Champions Ted DiBiase & Irwin R Schyster defeated Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake by disqualification. Lex Luger pinned “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning. The Undertaker defeated the Giant Gonzalez via disqualification. Yokozuna pinned WWF World Champion Bret Hart to win the title after Fuji threw salt in Hart’s eyes as the Sharpshooter was applied. After the bout, Hulk Hogan came out to tell referee Earl Hebner what happened. Mr. Fuji issued a challenge to Hogan to fight Yokozuna for the World title. Hulk Hogan pinned WWF World Champion Yokozuna to win the title 23 seconds after Fuji accidentally threw salt in the Yokozuna’s eyes.
Behind the scenes, Vince McMahon wanted Bret Hart to beat Hulk Hogan for the WWF World championship at Summer Slam 1993. However, Hogan decided to leave the company in June following his match against former WWF titleholder, Yokozuna. Hogan’s final WWF match (during his second WWF tour of duty) took place at the inaugural King of the Ring pay per view on June 13th, 1993 in Dayton, Ohio. “The Hulkster” lost the WWF World belt to ex-champion Yokozuna. In the tournament finals, Bret Hart beat Bam Bam Bigelow to win the King off the Ring title.
THE NEXT HULK HOGAN?
After “killing” Hulk-a-mania, Yokozuna and his manager, Mr. Fuji decided to celebrate the end of an era. They decided to have their party on the Fourth of July aboard the U.S.S Intrepid. Yokozuna challenged an American wrestler or athlete to try to bodyslam the WWF Champion. Lee Rouson, Peter Taglinati, Scott Burrell, Bill Fralie as well as WWF stars Randy Savage, Crush, Tatanka, Bob Backlund, and the Steiner Brothers each tried to unsuccessfully take the big man off of his feet. It was around this time that Vince McMahon was searching, yet again, for the “next” Hulk Hogan. After failed attempts with Tom Maghee and the Ultimate Warrior, Vince finally believed that he found the man to fill Hogan’s shoes.
With nobody successfully being able to body slam Yokozuna, all hope looked lot on America during the celebration of the birth of their nation. Suddenly, a helicopter appeared from the sky. When the helicopter landed aboard the U.S.S Intrepid, Lex Luger walked out of the copter. Luger walked into the ring, approached the WWF Champion, and slammed Yokozuna to the mat. Suddenly, the heel Lex Luger became the most popular wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation. It appeared that Vince McMahon finally found his “next” Hulk Hogan.
On the July 24th edition of WWF Superstars, Jack Tunney announced that Lex Luger would face Yokozuna for the WWF World Championship at Summer Slam 1993. In order to build up Lex Luger’s popularity with the fans, Vince McMahon created the promotional machine called the “Lex Express.” The “Lex Express” was the WWF’s answer to, NFL football commentator, John Madden’s “Madden Cruiser.” Since John Madden hates to fly, he bought a customized luxury bus that would take him from town to town where he would broadcast his games. The WWF used their customized “Lex Express” bus to drive Lex Luger across the country to meet the fans in order to build up his popularity.
Everybody expected Luger to win the WWF title from Yokozuna at Summer Slam. Luger beat Yokozuna in their Summer Slam contest. However, he won via countout. Therefore, Yokozuna retained the WWF World Championship. Also on the card, Razor Ramon pinned Ted DiBiase. WWF Tag Team Champions Rick & Scott Steiner defeated the Heavenly Bodies. WWF IC Champion Shawn Michaels defeated “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning via count-out. IRS beat the 1-2-3 Kid. Bret Hart defeated Doink the Clown. Jerry Lawler defeated Bret Hart via reverse decision when the referee disqualified Hart for not letting go of the Sharpshooter after Lawler had submitted. Ludvig Borga beat Marty Jannetty. The Undertaker pinned the Giant Gonzalez. Tatanka & the Smoking Gunns defeated Bam Bam Bigelow & the Headshrinkers.
The fine print in his Summer Slam contract stated that the Slam match would be Luger’s only shot at the WWF World Champion Yokozuna. With no rematch in sight for Luger, he focused on becoming the WWF’s latest “American hero.” While Luger was busy feuding with the “foreign” Ludvig Borga, the WWF Champion defended his strap against the former champions Bret Hart and the Undertaker.
SHAWN GETS SUSPENDED
It appeared that Yokozuna had a firm grasp on the WWF World Title. Shawn Michaels held the WWF’s secondary singles title, the Intercontinental Championship. Like Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels had a strangle hold on his championship belt. Unfortunately for the “Heartbreak Kid,” an out of ring incident would cost Shawn Michaels the WWF Intercontinental Championship. According to Shawn Michaels’ autobiography “Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story,” Vince McMahon called Shawn a few weeks after Summer Slam 1993 to notify the Intercontinental Champion that he tested positive for steroids. Vince was going to suspend him for six weeks.
Shawn told Vince “I’m not taking steroids. I’m not taking six weeks off. I did nothing wrong.” Shawn explained that he weighed a chubby 240 pounds. He tried to explain to Vince, “Look at me, I’m out of shape. I’m drinking a case of beer every night with Nash and matching him meal for meal. I would tell you if I took steroids. Why would I of all people take steroids?” Since Shawn wasn’t well liked backstage, he told Vince that maybe someone spiked one of his drinks when he was “out with the boys” one night. Despite his plea, Vince insisted that he had to suspend Shawn for six weeks. At that point, Vince told Shawn that he needed to return the Intercontinental title belt back to the office. Feeling that he was being wronged for not doing anything wrong, Michaels refused to give the belt back.
Even though Shawn kept the IC belt, the WWF stripped him of the championship. They held a battle royal on Monday Night RAW. The final two men left in the ring would then square off in a singles contest for the vacated championship. On October 4th, the battle royal was held with the last two men in the bout being Razor Ramon and Rick Martel. On the following week’s edition of RAW, Razor Ramon beat Rick Martel for his first Intercontinental Championship. Upon Shawn’s return, Michaels had the original Intercontinental Title belt in his possession. He was telling everyone that Razor was NOT the real Intercontinental Champion, since “The Bad Guy” never beat the “Heartbreak Kid” for the belt. The two feuded throughout the winter. Their feud would end at WrestleMania X, in a match that would change the WWF and professional wrestling history.
BRET AND OWEN HAVE A HART ATTACK
Around the Survivor Series, the seeds were starting to be planted for a family feud between Bret Hart and his brother Owen Hart. Owen was starting to feel like everybody was worshipping “The Hitman,” while ignoring him. At the Survivor Series, the team of Bret, Owen, Bruce, & Keith Hart defeated Shawn Michaels & the three Knights. Jerry Lawler was originally supposed to fight in this match. However, an out of the ring situation would force “The King” to take some time off from the WWF. Shortly before the Survivor Series, an underage girl was trying to make her boyfriend jealous. Being from the Memphis area, she told him that she was dating a much older Jerry Lawler. Lawler was charged with statutory rape. Although the charges would be later dropped, as he didn’t even know the girl, Lawler was immediately taken off of the road, so he can deal with this issue. Owen Hart was the only Hart brother who would be eliminated in the match. Shawn Michaels pinned Owen with a roll up after Owen collided with Bret on the apron, sending Bret into the ring barrier. After Michaels was counted-out to seal the victory for Bret, Bruce, and Keith, the youngest Hart brother came back to the ring. Instead of celebrating his brothers’ victory, he started arguing with Bret for causing him to get pinned. WWF IC Champion Razor Ramon, Randy Savage, the 1-2-3 Kid, & Marty Jannetty defeated IRS, Rick Martel, Adam Bomb, & Diesel with 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannety being named the sole survivors. The Heavenly Bodies defeated Smoky Mountain Wrestling Tag Team Champions the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express to win the titles. Men on a Mission & the Bushwhackers (all dressed as Doink the Clown) defeated Bam Bam Bigelow, Bastion Booger, & the Headshrinkers when the entire team of Men on a Mission and the Bushwhackers survived the match. Lex Luger, the Undertaker, & Rick & Scott Steiner defeated WWF World Champion Yokozuna, WWF Tag Team Champion Jacques Rougeau, Ludvig Borga, & Crush after Lex Luger became the sol survivor.
While the Survivor Series helped to further the rift between Bret and Owen Hart, the November 29th edition of Monday Night RAW helped to plant the seeds of a possible Bret Hart/Lex Luger feud. Vince McMahon announced the 1993 WWF Wrestler of the Year. He announced the first runner-up for the award as Lex Luger. Vince then presented the award to the winner: Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
On the Christmas Day edition of WWF Superstars, Bret and Owen Hart were featured in a sit down interview, where they claimed to have settled their differences, and will be taking on the Quebecers for the WWF Tag Team Championships at the 1994 Royal Rumble.
The first WWF pay per view event of 1994 took place on January 22nd at the Providence Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Tatanka pinned Bam Bam Bigelow. WWF Tag Team Champions the Quebecers defeated Bret & Owen Hart when the referee had the match stopped due to Bret’s knee injury. Bret had the Sharpshooter applied on Pierre but could not keep it on due to the amount of pain he was suffering. After the match, Owen, who believed Bret cost him the WWF Tag Team Titles, kicked his brother in his injured knee. WWF IC Champion Razor Ramon pinned IRS. WWF World Champion Yokozuna defeated the Undertaker in a casket match after Bam Bam Bigelow, Crush, Kabuki, Tenryu, Diesel, Jeff Jarrett, Adam Bomb, and the Headshrinkers interfered. After the match, the Undertaker was shown on the big screen and said he would never rest in peace before he ascended to the top of the arena. This was the first time that the Undertaker would “die” in the WWF. Despite being attacked by his brother earlier in the show, Bret Hart entered the Royal Rumble match. Hart would end up in the final four, along with Lex Luger, Fatu, and Shawn Michaels. Bret Hart and Lex Luger were named as co-winners of the 30-man Royal Rumble match at following both men going over the top at the same time after eliminating Shawn Michaels and Fatu.
THE HITMAN OR THE TOTAL PACKAGE?
After both men fell to the floor, one referee raised Bret’s hand. While another referee raised Luger’s arm in victory. Before the Royal Rumble, the WWF’s front office was set to put the belt on Lex Luger at WrestleMania X. However, the end of the Royal Rumble changed all of that. The WWF’s top executives were caught off guard with the crowd’s reaction following the battle royal. When the referee raised Bret’s hand, the crowd screamed its approval. Lex Luger, on the other hand, received a luke warm reaction when he was proclaimed the winner. From that moment, the WWF knew that all of the work that they did during the previous summer’s “Lex Express” bus tour was a failure, because the fans didn’t want the man who was forced down their throats to be the WWF World Champion. Instead, they wanted Bret Hart to reclaim the WWF World title.
Despite the fan’s reaction, at a TV taping on February 22nd, Lex Luger and Tatanka beat Yokozuna and Kwang after Kwang submitted to Luger’s torture rack back breaker. Luger was announced as the WWF World Champion, and brought the belt, which he took from Jim Cornette earlier in the night, to the ring. This led many people to believe that Luger would walk out of WrestleMania X as the WWF Champion.
Since both Bret Hart and Lex Luger won the Royal Rumble and a shot at the World title at WrestleMania, the WWF had to figure out a way to find out which wrestler would fight Yokozuna for the belt. It was announced by WWF President Jack Tunney that BOTH men would get a World Championship match at WrestleMania X. A coin flip would decide which wrestler would get a shot at the title first. If Bret won the flip, he would fight Yokozuna first, and then the winner would fight Lex Luger in the main event. Earlier on the card, Luger would have to fight Crush in a singles match. Since Lex Luger won the coin flip, he received the first title match against Yokozuna. If he could beat the WWF World Champion, then he would fight Bret Hart in the main event. On the undercard, Bret Hart had to fight his little brother, Owen Hart.
TEN YEARS OF WRESTLEMANIA
The tenth anniversary of WrestleMania took on place on March 20th, 1994 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Leading up to Mania, Owen Hart was taunting Bret Hart. He told the fans that he would prove to the world that he is the better Hart. As a knock on his older brother, Owen wore Bret sunglasses to the ring, and adopted the Sharpshooter as his finishing maneuver. The fans were looking forward to seeing the two brothers’ match up. At WrestleMania X, they didn’t have to wait long. The Hart Brothers wrestled each other in the opening match of the card. In one of the best wrestling matches of the year, Owen cleanly pinned Bret after blocking an attempted victory roll.
Bam Bam Bigelow & Luna Vachon defeated Doink & Dink the Clown in a mixed tag team. Randy Savage beat Crush in a falls count anywhere match where once a wrestler was pinned, he had sixty seconds to get back into the ring before he would be declared the loser. WWF Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze pinned Lelani Kai. Men on a Mission defeated WWF Tag Team Champions the Quebecers via count-out. Earthquake pinned Adam Bomb.
The night before WrestleMania X, he was drunk at a bar and told several people (including a local reporter) that he was going to win the title at WrestleMania X, and then drop it the same night to Bret Hart. The reporter that heard the news reported it in that morning’s edition. The WWF decided to change the booking of the World Title matches at Mania. Lex Luger lost his World Championship match to Yokozuna by disqualification, due to special referee “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning turning on the “Total Package.” and Hart beating Yokozuna instead. Luger was never given any run with the WWF title. Later in the evening, Bret Hart beat Yokozuna to capture his second WWF World Championship.
The bout that stole the night featured the WWF Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon against the ex-champion Shawn Michaels, who never lost the title. The two men settled their feud in a ladder match. The idea of the match was simple. Both men claimed to be the true IC Champ. The WWF hung both Intercontinental belts above the ring. The winner would be whichever wrestler could climb the ladder and grab both belts. This match was historic, in that it was the first ladder match ever seen in front of a worldwide audience. The match is arguably one of the top five greatest matches in WrestleMania history. Due to the work of Michaels and Ramon in this bout, the ladder match was put on the map by the two wrestlers. Although there have been better matches over the years, when a fan thinks of ladder matches, they automatically think of the Shawn Michaels/Razor Ramon match.
While Razor Ramon won the ladder match battle, Shawn Michaels was the wrestler who really came out on top. According to Michaels, “When we made it to the back, we knew we had stolen the show. We didn’t know that we had set a new standard. We just knew we had a great match. Soon, everyone else started putting the match over, and that really gave us the sense that we had done something out of the ordinary. The icing on the cake was when Gorilla Monsoon told us, ‘I think that may have been the greatest match I’ve ever seen.’ Gorilla Monsoon, of all people! He had been with the company since its inception. He appreciated ring psychology and wasn’t into gimmicks like ladders. His was the compliment of compliments because he didn’t give out many. My mentors had always told me that it didn’t matter if you won or lost, only that you put on a great match. I’m sure they were proud of their student. I lost the match, but I made my career. People began to look at me in a different light.”
WrestleMania X was an extremely important WrestleMania. This was the first Mania that didn’t feature Hulk Hogan. After all of the years that Vince McMahon spent looking for the “next” Hulk Hogan, the first post-Hogan WrestleMania proved that the WWF didn’t need the “next” Hulk Hogan. The WWF discovered something different, and better then a cheap Hogan imitation. The WWF saw that, in order to get past the Hogan years, they needed to go in a totally different direction. Even without Hogan, WrestleMania X was arguably the greatest WrestleMania event during the supercard’s first ten years. The ring work of Owen Hart, Bret Hart, and Shawn Michaels at Mania X showed the WWF that the fans no longer craved muscular wrestlers who were not the greatest workers. The fans demanded better, more athletic workers. The WWF’s young, hungry workers were more then happy to deliver this new brand of excitement on the main event level.
In 1994, smaller wrestlers broke in to the main event spots that were typically saved for huge muscular wrestlers. While Hogan leaving the WWF played a part in the WWF’s change of direction. An event that threatened the existence of the World Wrestling Federation, played the biggest role of all.