The Piledriver Report 5.08.06: The History of Vince McMahon’s Wrestling Empire: Part Sixteen
By the time 1995 rolled around, the World Wrestling Federation’s “New Generation” was in full swing. Gone were the days of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. The new WWF featured more athletic stars, like the former 2 time WWF World Champion Bret Hart and rising star, Shawn Michaels. The WWF champion, who was supposed to be the leader of this new generation, was a larger than life wrestler named Diesel.
Heading into WrestleMania XI, the WWF no longer had the marquee matches that carried previous WrestleManias. Lex Luger, who was supposed to win the WWF World title at the last WrestleMania, was relegated to fighting in an opening match tag team bout. The man who came out of WrestleMania X with the World championship, Bret Hart, fought Bob Backlund in a meaningless “submission” match that not many people cared about. Undertaker was scheduled to go against King Kong Bundy in another match that most fans were bored to tears when it was mentioned as being a WrestleMania match. The title matches were intriguing. The WWF Intercontinental champion Jeff Jarrett continued his feud with Razor Ramon. The WWF World Tag Team titlists, Billy and Bart Gunn (The Smoking Gunns) were set to fight Owen Hart and his mystery partner. At the time, this mystery man was thought to be Chris Benoit. Instead, the “King of Harts” tag team partner turned out to be the former WWF World Champion, Yokozuna. The match that everybody was looking forward to involved the WWF World Champion, “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel. He defended his title against his former best friend and tag team partner, the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.
The WWF realized that this line-up would not sell many tickets or pay per view buys. They decided to load up the show with non-wrestling star power. Special Olympian Kathy Huey sang “America the Beautiful” to open the show. Major League Baseball umpire Larry Young was the official for the Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy match. “NYPD Blue’s” Nicholas Turturro was a backstage interviewer and guest ring announcer for WWF Championship match. Jonathan Taylor Thomas (ABC sitcom “Home Improvement”) was the guest timekeeper for WWF World title bout. He was also featured playing chess backstage with Bob Backlund. Jenny McCarthy (M-TV’s “Singled Out”) accompanied Shawn Michaels to the ring for his match against WWF World Champion Diesel. Whereas, “Home Improvement” and “Baywatch” star, Pamela Anderson seconded Diesel to the ring.
The WWF felt that a Shawn Michaels/Diesel WWF World title match would not be able to carry the show alone. To try to get the main stream audience to purchase WrestleMania IX, Vince McMahon went back to his WrestleMania roots. For the first time since the inaugural WrestleMania, a non-wrestler fought in the main event of the WWF’s biggest event of the year. Former NY Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was set to fight Bam Bam Bigelow. The WWF tried to load this match with non-wrestling star power. The rap group “Salt-n-Pepa” sang LT’s entrance music. Former and current NFL players, Reggie White, Chris Spielman, Carl Banks, Ken Norton Jr., Rickey Jackson, and Steve McMichaels (whom would later wrestle for World Championship Wrestling) were L.T.’s entourage at ringside.
Unlike before the first WrestleMania, there was little buzz surrounding the eleventh installment of WrestleMania. There was some talk about the match on ESPN and in the New York area’s Sports Sections. However, the Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow contest didn’t create the national attention that the WWF had hoped. There were a couple of reasons for this. The first was that in 1985, wrestling was extremely popular amongst celebrities and sports figures. The WWF in 1985 was a pop-culture phenomenon. Ten years later, the WWF was a blip on the radar screen in the entertainment world. Secondly, was the star power involved in each match. At Wrestlemania I, Mr.T, the star of television’s top rated show “The A-Team” was to be part of a tag team with the WWF World Champion, and the pop-cultural face of professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan. At WrestleMania XI, Lawrence Taylor, despite being the NFL career sack leader, and arguably the greatest linebacker in the sports history, was not a media and entertainment darling. In the New York area, he was a legend, and the face of the NY Giants. However, he had a history of drug problems that tarnished his image, and after a stint as a commentator on TNT’s NFL Sunday Night show, he showed that he didn’t have any charisma. While the whole country wanted to see Mr.T fight at the first WrestleMania, only New York Giants fans cared to see L.T. at Mania XI. Another thing that hurt the match was L.T.’s opponent. Wrestling fans took Mr. T and Hulk Hogan’s opponents as serious threats. After all, Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff were main event wrestlers. Bam Bam Bigelow, L.T.’s opponent, was not. Bigelow was a second tier wrestler. The last time that fans considered Bigelow a main event performer in the WWF was the year of 1987.
Unfortunately for the WWF, the card lived up to its predictable billing as being a bad WrestleMania. Lex Luger & The British Bulldog beat Jacob and Eli Blu. Razor Ramon beat WWF Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett via disqualification. The Undertaker pinned King Kong Bundy. Owen Hart and Yokozuna beat The Smokin’ Gunns to win the WWF World Tag Team Championships. Bret Hart beat Bob Backlund in an “I Quit” Match. WWF World Heavyweight Champion Diesel pinned Shawn Michaels to retain the title. Lawrence Taylor pinned Bam Bam Bigelow.
While WrestleMania XI was considered a poor show, the next night’s “Monday Night RAW” proved to be one of the better WWF shows of the year. In the ring, Bret Hart beat Jeff Jarrett in an exciting match where the Intercontinental Championship was not on the line. The biggest development to come out of RAW happened during an in-ring interview with Shawn Michaels. Michaels was talking to Vince about his upcoming rematch against Diesel. In the interview, Shawn told his bodyguard, SID, to take the night off when the rematch occurs. SID did not take too kindly to this news. SID attacked Shawn Michaels, where he delivered three powerbombs before WWF World Champion Diesel ran into the ring to save his former best friend.
This angle led to Shawn Michaels first run as a babyface singles wrestler in the WWF. While Shawn was the WWF’s top heel at the time, Vince McMahon noticed something during the WrestleMania Weekend’s Fan Fest, and at WrestleMania itself. The fans were treating Michaels as the WWF’s top babyface. It was at this time that the WWF decided they would turn Shawn Michaels into a face after WrestleMania. During this angle, SID’s power bombs caused Shawn to suffer a legit back injury. The injury kept the “Heartbreak Kid” out of action for six weeks, and helped to further strengthen the angle.
On May 15th, 2005, the WWF presented the very first “In Your House” pay per view event. The “In Your House” series of shows were the WWF’s attempt at running additional pay per view events that were not considered a part of the BIG FIVE (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, Summer Slam, and Survivor Series). Think of the “In Your House” pay per view shows as the WWF’s version of the NWA/WCW “Clash of Champions” television shows. The only difference is that the fans had to pay for the “In Your House” shows.
In Your House I took place in Syracuse, NY. The main event featured WWF Champion Diesel trying to gain revenge for Shawn Michaels, as he fought SID. The match ended in a disqualification win for Diesel when Tatanka interfered at the end of the contest. Bret Hart pinned Hakushi. Razor Ramon defeated WWF IC Champion Jeff Jarrett & the Roadie in a handicap match. In a King of the Ring Qualifying Match, Mabel pinned Adam Bomb. WWF Tag Team Champions Owen Hart & Yokozuna defeated the Smoking Gunns. Jerry Lawler pinned Bret Hart with a double leg roll up when Hakushi interfered.
The next big show for the WWF was the King of the Ring in Philadelphia, PA. The tournament featured Savio Vega against Yokozuna, The Roadie against Bob Holly, Shawn Michaels against Kama, and Mabel against the Undertaker. Looking at the brackets, the crown was Shawn Michaels’ to lose. Everybody in attendance expected to see the coronation of the “Heartbreak King” Shawn Michaels by the end of the night. In the first tournament match, Savio Vega upset Yokozuna. Next, The Roadie beat Bob Holly. In a shocker, Shawn Michaels competed with Kama to a fifteen-minute time limit draw, in which BOTH men were eliminated! That result killed the crowd for the rest of the show. After all, the winner of the King of the Ring tournament that year was going to face the WWF World Champion in a title match at Summer Slam. By the time the finals of the KOTR tournament took place, the crowd had turned against the WWF pay per view. After all, the fans had suddenly come to the realization that either Savio Vega or Mabel would be headlining Summer Slam 1995! The chants of “E-C-W! E-C-W! E-C-W!” rang throughout the arena. These chants were so loud that the viewing audience at home was able to easily hear the passionate screams of the fans inside the Philadelphia Spectrum. One thing that the WWF cameras were able to hide was the view of Mabel being littered with objects thrown at him by the crowd during his coronation as “King” Mabel. While some of the objects thrown did make it on camera, the WWF did a nice job covering up the true damage. In the live arena, the hundreds of objects thrown at Mabel gave the appearance that the new “King of the Ring” was sitting under a paper snowstorm. The fans were livid, and Vince McMahon received a rude awakening about a little regional company called Extreme Championship Wrestling.
The next pay per view was held in Nashville, TN. This was the second “In Your House” pay per view. Diesel and SID once again fought each other for the WWF title. This time they fought in a Lumberjack Match. Diesel successfully defended the strap to set up his “highly anticipated” Summer Slam World Title main event match against “King” Mabel. Earlier on “In Your House 2,” Shawn Michaels beat Jeff Jarrett for the WWF Intercontinental Championship.
The WWF’s summer spectacular, Summer Slam 1995, was held on August 27th in Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. Hakushi beat 1-2-3 Kid to open the show. Hunter Hearst Helmsley beat Bob Holly. The Smoking Gunns beat Jacob and Eli Blu. Barry Horowitz pinned Skip. Bertha Faye captured the WWF Women’s Championship over Alundra Blayze. The Undertaker beat Kama in a Casket Match. Bret Hart defeated Isaac Yankeem DDS by disqualification when Jerry Lawler interfered. Shawn Michaels successfully defended his Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match against Razor Ramon. While it was a very good match, despite the WWF’s claims at the time, it did not live up to their WrestleMania X ladder match.
In the main event, to no one’s surprise, Diesel beat “King” Mabel.
At September’s “In Your House 3,” Diesel accomplished something that hadn’t been done since 1980. Diesel and WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels fought the WWF Tag Team Champions Yokozuna and Owen Hart in a unique main event match. Every belt was on the line in that match. If either Owen or Yokozuna got pinned/submitted, Michaels and Diesel would become the new WWF World Tag Team Champions. If Shawn were pinned/submitted, he would lose the Intercontinental title to the wrestler who won the fall over Michaels. If Diesel suffered the loss, the man that beat him would be the new WWF World Champion. Davey Boy Smith substituted for Owen Hart in the match. Despite the substitution, an interfering Owen Hart was pinned in the match. Diesel and Michaels were crowned as the new WWF World Tag Team Champions. This was the first time that the WWF World Champion held the WWF Tag Team titles at the same time since WWF World Champion Bob Backlund captured the Tag belts with Pedro Morales in 1980. This was also the first time in federation history that the WWF World and Intercontinental Champions held the WWF World Tag Team titles at the same time.
This historic title reign wouldn’t last long. The next night on RAW, in a “Dusty” moment, the tag belts were returned to Owen and Yokozuna since Davey Boy Smith was recognized as one half of the WWF World Tag Team Champions for the “In Your House” match, and NOT Owen Hart. Their title reign would be shorter then Diesel and Shawn’s, as that night the duo of Owen Hart and Yokozuna dropped the titles to the Smoking Gunns.
An event happened earlier in the month that would wind up being more historic then Diesel and Shawn Michaels World Tag Team Championship win. On September 4th, 1995, World Championship Wrestling debuted a new live wrestling show called WCW Monday Nitro. Monay Nitro would take place on the same night and time as the WWF’s Monday Night RAW show. For the first time, WCW was running in direct competition with the WWF. On the very first edition of Nitro, Lex Luger made his shocking return to WCW. To throw off the fans, Lex Luger wrestled for the WWF at a house show two days earlier. When he made his surprise appearance, WCW was putting the WWF on notice that they were not to be taken lightly. The Monday Night War was about to begin. Throughout the next few months, the “war” would intensify. During weeks when the USA Network presented taped editions of Monday Night RAW, Eric Bischoff would read the results of that night’s RAW just before it would air. On December 18th, Alundra Blayze showed up on Nitro as her former Medusa Micelli character, and dropped her WWF Women’s Championship in the garbage can.
The 4th installment of In Your House took place on October 22nd in Winnepeg, Manitoba. For the second time in a month, Shawn Michaels dropped a title without losing it in the ring. On this occasion, it was because he was too injured to wrestle. The injury stemmed from an incident earlier in the month when Michaels was attacked outside of a nightclub by several men in Syracuse, NY. He handed the belt over to the #1 contender, Shane “Dean” Douglas. Douglas couldn’t celebrate too long, as he defended the title later that evening against Razor Ramon. Ramon beat Douglas for the title in their match.
The WWF’s final big event of the year was the Survivor Series, which took place on November 19th in Landover, MD. This was the first Survivor Series card that was not held on Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Eve. Skip, Rad Radford, Tom Prichard, & the 1-2-3 defeated Hakushi, Barry Horowitz, Bob, & Marty Janetty when the 1-2-3 Kid was the sole survivor for his team. Bertha Faye, Aja Kong, Lioness Asuka, & Tomoko Watanabe defeated WWF Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze, Kyoko Inoue, Sakie Hasegawa, & Chaparita Asari when Aja Kong pinned Alundra Blayze to be her team’s sole survivor. Goldust pinned Bam Bam Bigelow in Bigelow’s last match in the WWF. The Undertaker, Fatu, Henry Godwinn, & Savio Vega defeated King Mabel, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Jerry Lawler, & Isaac Yankem DDS as the Undertaker’s entire team survived. Shawn Michaels, Ahmed Johnson, Davey Boy, & Psycho Sid defeated WWF IC Champion Razor Ramon, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, & Dean Douglas in the Wildcard match. Shawn Michaels, Ahmed Johnson, and Davey Boy Smith were their team’s survivors. Bret Hart pinned WWF World Champion Diesel in a No DQ, No Count-Out, No Time Limit match to win his third WWF World title.
On the next night’s RAW, the WWF furthered the Shawn Michaels “injury” storyline from his real life Syracuse beating from the previous month. In a match against Owen Hart, the “King of Harts” hit Michaels in the head with an enzuiguri kick. Moments later, Shawn Michaels collapsed in the middle of the ring. During the next few weeks, the WWF teased that Shawn may be announcing his retirement. However, early in the next year, Shawn Michaels announced that he would not be retiring, but he would be making his return at the 1996 Royal Rumble.
On the December 18th RAW television taping, Ted DiBiase introduced his newest client on the “Brother Love Show.” DiBiase was so proud of his newest charge, that he declared him the new “Million Dollar” champion. The wrestler was presented DiBiase’s old Million-Dollar belt. He was called “The Ring Master.” However, within the next few months, the fans would be calling him “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Join “The Piledriver Report” next week as we take a look at a man chasing his boyhood dream, the loss of two main event wrestlers from the WWF’s roster, and the emergence of Steve Austin.