wrestling / Columns

The Twisted Hope for WrestleMania 36

March 30, 2020 | Posted by Dino Zee
WrestleMania 36 Rob Gronkowski, Randy Orton

Hope everyone out there is managing in the midst of this C-19 fun. I’m currently okay, able to work, and still healthy, so all I can really do is wish the exact same for everyone else.

As we all know, this coming weekend will be WrestleMania 36, an incredible two-day spectacular that will be coming to us, LIVE, from the Performance Center with a closed set and no fans. It’s a weird setup, done under an incredibly odd set of circumstances. Matches have been filmed, some stars have reportedly decided to sit the show out, and really, unless you’re pouring over the spoilers (I’m not), it’s really hard to get a read on what the hell to expect next weekend.

One thing that seems clear to me, however, is that no matter what happens, we’re in for a historical installment of WrestleMania. There is a really good chance, though, that it’s for all of the wrong reasons.

WrestleMania IV was, on paper, supposed to be a fucking epic card. A fourteen-man, single-elimination tournament to crown a new WWF Champion after the shenanigans of a February Main Event match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant that saw a crooked referee rob Hogan, Andre sell the belt to DiBiase, and WWF President Jack Tunney declare that move invalid, thereby stripping Andre of his championship.

Hogan and Andre would, by virtue of their previous championship standing, be placed against each other in a quarter-round contest, while the rest of the field was filled out by: “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “The Rock” Don Muraco, Dino Bravo, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “The Natural” Butch Reed, Bam Bam Bigelow, The One Man Gang, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and “Ravishing” Rick Rude. It was a stacked, stacked field, to put it mildly.

Along with the tournament, there was a 20-man battle royal, a contest between The Ultimate Warrior and Hercules, an Intercontinental Title match between The Honky Tonk Man and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, a six-man tag with The Islanders and Bobby Heenan taking on The British Bulldogs and Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware, and Demolition challenging Strike Force for the Tag Team titles.

Even listing out the card now, and remembering 1988 as it happened, it’s still crazy to me that the card missed so hard. Us historians know the usual reasons – too many matches, too many superstars, not enough time for anything to really resonate – but for me, the bigger thing was how intriguing matches ended so unsatisfyingly.

Beefcake beat Honky Tonk by DQ. Andre and Hogan had a double DQ. Jake the Snake and Rick Rude went to a time limit draw. One Man Gang got a countout win over Bam Bam Bigelow. Even a 6 year old me was asking “What the heck is going on here?”

It wasn’t completely dreck, but there was some buzz when Bad News Brown and Bret Hart decided to share the win in the battle royal, only for Bad News to turn on Bret and beat him down. Demolition also announced that it was their time when they defeated Strike Force for the titles. And Randy Savage started getting buzz as he kept winning – and changing outfits – throughout the night.

The tournament finale between Savage and DiBiase is a perfectly decent match, but it’s hard not to think about a proper match between the two headlining the biggest show of the year without them having wrestled multiple times prior in the night. But all the weird wrongs are eventually made right with a flying elbow drop, and the first WrestleMania to end without a Hulk Hogan victory, though he still is there as the show fades to black, celebrating with Savage.

A show that should be remembered fondly as a changing of the guard in both the singles and tag realms, WrestleMania IV is instead remembered as a cautionary tale of bloat ruining a good time. Quick match times, unfulfilling endings, and just too much going on dragged it down. It’s not necessarily the worst of them all (I certainly don’t think so), but it’s definitely not really ever talked about fondly.

Going into WrestleMania IX, I can’t lie – I was hyped. And after it was over, I can’t lie – I was still hyped. It took me a while – and admittedly some smarkening up – to see the flaws in IX. It’s a pretty popular pick as the worst of the WrestleManias, though I’m not part of that camp. However, it’s pretty easy to see why memories of this card send shudders down the spines of those who were lucky enough to experience the show.

1993 WWF was a weird place to be, and the card definitely displays that. Tatanka challenges Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Championship, The Steiner Brothers make their WrestleMania debut against The Headshrinkers, Doink the Clown battles Crush, Razor Ramon takes on Bob Backlund, Money Inc. defend the Tag Team Titles against the Mega-Maniacs (Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake), “The Narcissist” Lex Luger meets Mr. Perfect, The Undertaker and Giant Gonzalez lock horns, and Bret Hart defends the WWF Championship against Yokozuna.

So yeah, not quite the monster card of WrestleMania IV, but you’d expect to get at least 3 decent-good matches out of Tatanka/Michaels, Steiners/Headshrinkers, and Luger/Perfect, with the Tag Title match having enough star power to be fun, and the main event should be good and if Bret can beat this Yokozuna, he’ll be set as the champ.

And the match between the Steiners and Headshrinkers is perfectly fun, not great, but does feature a really cool suplex counter from Rick. Everything else, though… both the IC and Tag Title matches ended without a pin or a submission, as Shawn Michaels was counted out to keep his belt, and Money Inc. actually won by DQ after a second referee came out and put Hogan on blast for using Beefcake’s facemask as a weapon.

The match between Luger and Perfect also fell flat, with Luger scoring the pin when the referee didn’t see Mr. Perfect’s feet in the ropes. The rest of the matches, well… they weren’t all that good. So when we got to the main event, it looked like we’d need some sort of miracle to save us.

I still say that, right until the point that Fuji throws the salt into Hart’s face, his match with Yokozuna was perfectly all right. It was a back-and-forth battle that saw Hart try to use his speed and technical skills to work around Yokozuna’s massive size and strength advantage, while also dealing with the big man’s stunning agility. And overall, he did it. He had Yoko in the Sharpshooter, and it was only a matter of time until the show at least ended in a satisfying manner. And then Fuji threw the damn salt…

The rest is known. Hart releases the hold, Yokozuna pins him, and celebrates his championship win. Hogan comes out to check on Hart, but that only draws the ire of Mr. Fuji, who challenges Hogan on the spot like an idiot. Shortly thereafter, another WrestleMania ends with a Hogan World Championship celebration.

Like I said, I loved this when I was 11. I loved Hogan, and I was just happy Yokozuna didn’t keep the belt. That attitude has definitely changed. I personally don’t feel like this is the worst one, either, but to all of you who do, I totally get it. WrestleMania IX is the WWF pleading for help, and 1993 was a year where they tried just about anything to find their next big star.

Ah, WrestleMania XI. This is another card that I look at and always wonder how it managed to fail so, so hard. Sure, not every match in the lineup was going to be an incredible classic, but it felt like every match could at least be somewhat fun, with a few as possible classic contenders.

The Allied Powers tandem of Lex Luger and The British Bulldog was a fun team that gave both something to do, and it felt like they’d eventually be the champions, so their match with The Blu Brothers (good ol’ Ron and Don Harris) could at least be a beacon of what was to come. Razor Ramon challenging Jeff Jarrett for the IC Title was a rematch from the Royal Rumble, and definitely felt like it could be really good. The Undertaker would, in King Kong Bundy, face an opponent looking to bring the fight to him, and who would certainly not go down without a fight. Owen Hart had everyone’s attention as he hyped a special tag partner for his Tag Team title match against The Smoking Gunns. Bret Hart and Bob Backlund would rematch from their 1994 Survivor Series encounter, so I know I had high hopes. Diesel and Shawn Michaels were finally going to clash, and there was just no way that would go wrong. And in the main event, Bam Bam Bigelow would meet NFL Legend Lawrence Taylor. No expectations here, outside of something crazy, at best.

I’ll just say it now: I think WrestleMania XI is the worst. I won’t state it as a fact, because like I said in the IX section, I can see arguments elsewhere. I just…

Luger and Bulldog would get a relatively quick win against The Blu Brothers, but not in any way that had fans looking forward to them taking over the division. We continue the IC Champ Retaining Via Loss theme as Jarrett is disqualified after manager interference. Then Undertaker and Bundy slog through an eternal 6 ½ minutes before a dreaded flying clothesline takes out the Walking Condo. In a rare bright spot, Owen Hart actually delivers a surprise, bringing Yokozuna out as his partner, and winning the Championships shortly thereafter in a spirited match.

Then Bret Hart and Bob Backlund wrestle again, and man, it’s so terrible. Bret’s said it’s one of his least favorite matches (if not the least), and I don’t blame him. 1995 me hated this match. It’s just Roddy Piper screaming at them repeatedly to ask if they give up, and neither man ever really answering him. So bad. Man, I can’t believe how bad.

The WWF Title match between Diesel and Shawn Michaels usually gets a fair reception, but I’ve always felt that it was overbooked, with an incredibly backward story where Shawn was basically positioned as the gutsy babyface against the overpowered heel, but then he went out and lost clean to Diesel. And he did so by getting Jackknifed onto his feet. Yeah, I’m calling out a #botchedfinish, I’m such a smark. This match isn’t terrible, but it sure wasn’t great, and since it was supposed to be The Great Shawn Michaels Catapult, I think it’s a chore to get through.

At the very least, we had a really fun main event in Lawrence Taylor and Bam Bam Bigelow. Surprisingly good, lots of action, and a satisfying finish. For many, this match alone is enough to get XI out of the discussion, but not for this columnist. Yeesh.

Look, I know there’s probably a good chunk of you waiting for me to get to this show. WrestleMania 13 is another top contender to many, many people. And, fine. But it literally has THE GREATEST MATCH OF ALL TIME on it, and another banger in the street fight pitting Ahmed Johnson and The Legion of Doom against The Nation of Domination. Legitimately amazing matches. Yes, the rest is really not that fun at all, but there’s no way WrestleMania 13 joins this discussion as far as I’m concerned.

NEXT!

Oh man, WrestleMania XXVII. I know I said that XI is the one I consider worst, but I have a special hatred for WrestleMania XXVII. For me, it’s the “modern” WrestleMania that falls into the “abject failure” category. Again, with all opinions, I know there are many out there who like the show, love the show, or at least think it was perfectly acceptable. I’m uh, not in that camp. At all.

Going in, I was very excited for many of the matches on the card. I couldn’t wait for Daniel Bryan and Sheamus, as I felt it’d be a hard-hitting affair that could steal the show as the kids like to say. A huge Edge fan, I was looking forward to his World Heavyweight Championship defense against a surging Alberto Del Rio, fresh off winning the 2011 Royal Rumble. I thought Cody Rhodes had a huge chance to breakthrough in a match with Rey Mysterio. I knew Randy Orton and CM Punk would put on a clinic. I was looking forward to Jerry Lawler beating the everloving crap out of Michael Cole for a satisfying amount of time (like a better version of Bret Hart/Vince McMahon the year before). I figured Undertaker and Triple H would have another really good match between the two of them.

Sure, there was the weird 8-man tag between Big Show / Kane / Kofi Kingston / Santino taking on The Corre, but I believed that could at least be fun in the vein of the 8-man tag at WrestleMania VIII for which I’ve professed my love before.

And sure, the main event didn’t look to be too great, with The Miz defending against John Cena in what looked to be a foregone conclusion, but hey, at least The Rock would be in the house!

Woof. So, they first moved Sheamus/Daniel Bryan to the pre-show for some unknown reason, meaning some people missed it entirely. That match then led to an impromptu battle royal that was won by The Great Khali, which I’m sure was also super rad.

Edge’s defense against Alberto Del Rio was solid-if-unspectacular, with Edge winning in a little over 10 minutes in a mild shock. It turned out to be his last WrestleMania (until this weekend!) as he had to retire due to his neck injury, leaving a sour taste on this match with hindsight applied, fair or not.

I still remember on the night, talking about how Cody/Rey was going to surprise people, and then realizing as entrances started, “Oh fuck, this is gonna be the 8 minute match isn’t it?” WWE likes to do that from time to time at WrestleMania, where an expected semi-great match is given not nearly enough time. And yes, this match was still very fun, and the feud between the two was great, but in under 12 minutes, it just didn’t deliver the way I hoped, and continued the overall theme for WrestleMania XXVII: disappointment.

The 8-man tag was completely forgettable as soon as it ended. Orton and Punk did what I figured and delivered a really fun match, with a really cool finish, in the only true bright spot of the whole night. I won’t even “but…” this, because the match is good, period.

But then it was time for Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler. A match featuring a commentator taking on a multiple time champion at the regional and World Championship levels, even if he’s years past his prime. After months of goading, Lawler finally gets to put his hands on Cole. We even have “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in here to make sure nothing stupid happens, and that Cole just catches a beating until he’s pinned or gives up. It’s basically set up to be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Nah. It’s WrestleMania XXVII. It’s time to be disappointed as we watch Cole and Lawler go almost 14 minutes, with Cole getting way more offense (that is to say, any offense) than he ever deserved. Eventually, Cole tapped out to a Lawler ankle lock, only for the Anonymous RAW GM to overrule the proceedings because Austin was an unfair ref, giving Cole the DQ ending. We sat through so. much. shit. just to get Michael Cole announced the winner in a shocking swerve fucking absolutely no one wanted to see. If that match was a person, I’d punch its face in the street.

Unfortunately, there was more. Undertaker and HHH laid down a lot through a half hour “classic” that I’ve given multiple watches, and I still find incredibly not fun. I have friends that love it, but I’m just not there. Give me their WM X-Seven or even the super overdramatic Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania XXVIII, but please keep this marathon away from me.

After that came the six-person tag with John Morrison teaming with Snooki and Trish Stratus against Dolph Ziggler and LayCool. This match is famous for two things: Snooki doing way better than expected, and John Morrison supposedly getting mad that Trish Stratus was in the match, and not Melina. He didn’t get mad at Snooki, he decided to be weird to Trish instead. According to rumor. May be false. Either way, this was another not-terrible-but-ultimately-who-cares type of match.

Which got us to the main event that saw a false countout finish lead to The Rock helping The Miz beat John Cena. I mean, at least that put us on the path for WrestleMania XXVIII, which was a fun time. Still, The Miz was made to look, in my opinion, waaaaaay too ineffective to walk out with a win over the superhuman Cena at the biggest show of the year. He didn’t even do it with his own master plan or something. Instead, he was shown to be completely outclassed, and then needing help from The Rock; a complete shadow to the actual Cena/Rock show, which again, was just disappointing.

So, why take this walk down memory lane? Why relive such incredible times? Because, as we enter this coming WrestleMania Weekend, I sense hope. I sense a touch of What If? I see WrestleMania IX calling up WrestleMania XI like “Could this be it? Is this our year?” Maybe WrestleMania XXVII is chatting with WrestleMania Star (32) with hope as they ask each other “Will there be a new modern worst?!”

Because regardless of what happens in those pre-taped matches, we’re making history this weekend. There’s never been a WrestleMania like the one we’re going to get before. There may never be again. We have a very unique chance to sit through what could be the worst WrestleMania of all time.

Due to not wanting spoilers, and knowing matches have changed, I cannot even give a proper rundown of the card, which I think just adds to the Worst Show Anticipation.

This weekend, whether the show is incredible or abysmal, just remember to take a moment to remember WrestleMania IV. WrestleMania IX. WrestleMania XI. WrestleMania XXVII. WrestleMania 32. Any that you might consider to be the worst. Picture them, gathered together, hoping to pop a bottle of champagne. And if the show is just that bad, at least smile for the shows that came before, that set the standard, and that can now rest, knowing their work is done.

Here’s to WRESTLE-FREAKIN-MANIA!!!