WrestleMania IX was all around different than the WrestleManias before.
From the bright yellow and black colour scheme signalling a brighter New Generation and Monday Night Raw presentation to the outdoor venue of the Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas parking lot, it was a shot at something different. Until the end of course, when the WWF title went back on Hulk Hogan after a year’s absence.
But that wasn’t the only weird booking on the show. Right down the card, nearly every match involved some level of what-were-they-thinking booking that served nothing going forward or only worked to muddle what the outlook of 1993 WWF and beyond would be.
Two major factors were at play in early 1993 that shook the foundations of the WWF. First, the steroids scandal had moved beyond the prescribing doctor and grand juries were now squarely pointed at Vince McMahon, who took several steps in securing WWF’s line of power, naming who would control things should he have to serve prison time. Second, the steroids scrutiny and other factors led to the dismissal or convenient disappearance of many of the promotion’s megastars. The Ultimate Warrior and the British Bulldog were fired for steroids.
Gone was Sid Justice who refused to submit to steroids testing. Conveniently gone from the spotlight again (as he was in the run-up to WrestleMania VIII’s clash with Sid a year earlier after the Arsenio steroid answer debacle) was Hulk Hogan. Inexplicably, a year after winning the world title at WrestleMania VIII, McMahon was determined to keep the Macho Man, who McMahon felt too old a face for the New Generation, out of the ring and on the microphone. Ric Flair was back in WCW, once his enemies in booking there were gone.
To that end, WrestleMania IX offered up a weak roster. With the uncertainties of the company’s power in question, it’s not hard to see how Vince could be convinced a returning Hulk Hogan might restore some former glory and lustre even if it meant abandoning a New Generation push of Bret Hart. Hogan had been a sure thing for so long.
But in the end, fans didn’t really buy it, nor did Hogan play ball with the belt the way he should have to leave the belt and Bret Hart and the New Generation strong.
That, however, was the end of the show, and there’s plenty of questionable booking, storylines, and matchups in the matches beforehand.
The broadcast booth is one of great transition here. Jim Ross came in from the WCW to start his legendary WWF run. This was Bobby Heenan’s last pay-per-view before going to WCW. And crazy Macho Man was there as the third man peppering the broadcast with great lines that applied to and meant nothing:
“The grapes were great and the chics were cool…”
“They’re hanging from the rafters in the Coliseum…if the Coliseum had rafters… but I tell you what it has it has columns and they’re hanging from the columns.”
For my money, this three-man booth with Macho Man going in his own absurdist direction and Heenan bagging on Ross for being from Oklahoma throughout is the most entertaining part of the show.
The first match was for the IC title between Shawn Michaels and Tatanka. With an undefeated debuting streak of 18 months, Tatanka is a legitimate IC contender at this point. Unfortunately, because Marty Jannetty got himself fired again, there isn’t Michaels-Jannetty WrestleMania payoff. Okay, Tatanka is a fine substitute, and there’s still a lingering storyline with Sensational Sherri, who got in the way of Michaels and Jannetty (because Michaels pulled her in to shield himself) and got bashed with a mirror. She was now in Michaels’ opponent’s corner.
That all makes sense. What didn’t make sense was that the debuting Luna Vachon was put with Michaels as a replacement to Sherri. While Vachon would later work perfectly as a pair with Bam Bam Bigelow, her ghoulish gothic shaved head look wasn’t right as a pairing with the Heartbreak Kid. What’s more, to protect Tatanka’s streak but not take the belt off Michaels, the weak count-out finish was utilized.
Tatanka got the W, Michaels kept the belt. The aftermath of the match refocused attention on a Sherri-Luna rivalry which really went nowhere other than a few brawls before Sheri left the WWF for WCW and Luna was repackaged with Bam Bam to make way for the incoming Diesel to partner with Michaels.
The Steiner Brothers had been in the WWF since before the Rumble in ’93 where they beat the Beverly Brothers with the incredibly weak storyline of solving who the better brother tag team was. To push them, they really should have been in a Tag Title match with Money Inc. at this point, and that would happen eventually in 1993, but of course, the returning Hulk Hogan coming to boost numbers and get a payday himself, pushed the Seiners out of that spot. With the Bret-Yokozuna title match set, Hogan was paired with old running mate Brutus Beefcake for a Tag Title shot.
As such, the Steiner Brothers got the Headshrinkers in a for-nothing-but-pride match. Turns out, it was absolutely the best match on the card. Also, this is the first we hear Jim Ross call a match a “slobberknocker,” a noteworthy milestone (hearing the phrase, Heenan replies, “I thought that’s what they called the waitress at the Tip Top Cafe in downtown Tulsa”—genius).
Crush was ultimately buried in the following match-up. After some consideration of turning Crush into a new Hulk Hogan, hence the “Kona” Crush, Hawaiian body-building surfer gimmick, and putting the belt on him instead of Bret Hart, Crush was largely abandoned as a project right here. Instead, Vince McMahon was interested in pushing his new clown gimmick, Doink. While Matt Borne did some outstanding things with the gimmick (as I’ve previously written about here at TWM with my Doink profile), this match was largely a boring one.
I mean, any Crush match is. At the end, the ref took a bump, a second Doink came out and battered Crush so the first Doink could get the W. As I said in the Doink profile before, this could have worked okay, except that the WWF reporters covered this as uncertain if a second Doink existed or if this had been a visual magic trick (which it obviously wasn’t to the viewer given it was a simple run-in).
Next up, the first-ever pinfall loss of Bob Backlund on WWF TV. He hadn’t suffered one before being stripped of the belt and it was given to Iron Sheik in a storyline in ’83. And he’d been gone for a while before returning in ’92. Given the protection of things like Royal Rumble participation, his non-pinfall loss streak stayed intact. Until that is, the absolutely pointless, no storyline, no point for either participant match, where Razor Ramon pinned Bob Backlund in three and half minutes. One of the absolute legends, who would go on to portray, I think an underrated, absolute crazy man heel in pursuit of Bret Hart and the WWF title in 1994-5, beaten for the first time ever in a no build match. To boot, Scott Hall looked like he didn’t give a shit the entire time.
Of course, though not the main event, Hogan got the longest match. To be fair, in a tag match up, Hogan isn’t in the ring the whole time, so to milk his on-screen wrestling time would mean giving him the longest match up. The match got quite a bit of build, but even going into the matchup in 1993 a fan would have to be sceptical of any kind of tag title run for Hogan. Hulk Hogan was a world champion, and it’s hard to imagine he’d care to hold anything less (all true historically). Perhaps the only surprise here is that it was Hogan and Beefcake that got DQed and not Money Inc. DiBiase and IRS did try to walk out and get the count-out loss to keep the titles, but we got the totally inexplicable referee exercising booking control by demanding they return or lose the belts.
After that, IRS’s briefcase got involved and in the melee, Hogan and Beefcake took the loss (Hogan and Beefcake chased Money Inc. and got the in-ring posedown as if winners anyway). Again though, this is the kind of booking that creates a single WrestleMania moment but does nothing to leave story-line strength to carry the promotion forward.
The next match might have been intriguing if a storyline came of it, but as with the Ramon-Backlund match-up, it feels historically just one-off filler. After building the incoming heel Luger by having him win with his “loaded” forearm, Perfect immediately began brawling with Shawn Michaels in the back (which did admittedly set up a SummerSlam match, but again, nothing to do with this show or match beforehand). Luger was by SummerSlam, of course, a completely different character as the Lex Express challenged Yokozuna (but that’s a whole ‘nother New Generation Review).
The Undertaker and Giant Gonzalez was always a doomed matchup. Gonzalez could never wrestle, not in a shiny pink top in the WCW in the early 1990s, and not here in the inexplicable Yeti-looking fur and foam muscle suit. So, of course, the matchup was short, and the only intrigue when the Undertaker stumbled back out after being “knocked out” by chloroform and getting the DQ win. This match did serve future storyline as the two would have a rematch at SummerSlam. Unfortunately, that proved terrible too. One of the only storylines that came out of ‘Mania, and it involves Giant Gonzalez. Again, WWF couldn’t find a new direction with the huge talent turnover.
The main event provided the most surprises. Yokozuna was built well and an awesome heel. I thought then that he was going to win clean and beat Bret Hart (of course, as I’ve said here at TWM previously, as a kid fan I thought of Hart as more of a good IC or Tag champ but not a world champ for a long time). As as been chronicled by many, part of Hogan returning to the fold to boost numbers (and he did according to Meltzer, though the show was still attended by and viewed by far less than previous ‘Manias) meant Hogan got to get the belt again, somehow.
Somehow happened when after Hart made a comeback, got the sharpshooter on ‘Zuna, then got an eye full of salt from Fuji to suffer the pinfall loss, Hulk Hogan ran out to help Hart. Fuji, for no reason, taunted and challenged Hogan putting the belt on the line right there on Yokozuna’s behalf. Babyface Bret Hart waived Hogan in to do so. Hogan beat the unbeatable mega heel in under half a minute thanks to mistimed Fuji salt getting Yoko this time.
After all the turnover and turmoil, Hogan had the belt again. It’s reported in former WWF exec Basil DeVito’s book that after the cameras turned off Vince McMahon went to the ring and gave Hogan a huge hug and celebrated with him, thinking “happy days are here again.”
Supposedly, reportedly—okay according to Bret Hart’s autobiography—what was supposed to happen after WrestleMania IX was a storyline of face-face a la Hogan-Ultimate Warrior from WrestleMania VI build-up that would end with Hogan passing the torch to Bret Hart and losing clean at SummerSlam that year. Hogan balked at this, and instead, guided by his old way of thinking of monster heels a la Andre the Giant, Hogan agreed to lose the belt to Yokozuna at the debuting King of the Ring 1993 pay per view before departing the WWF to focus on movies once again.
I’m inclined to believe Hart here given Hogan’s tendencies at self-grandeur and protecting his 80’s image of himself. Then again, Hart was vindicated quite a bit a year later at WrestleMania X when the Lex Express thing didn’t work and he did get the title back off Yoko. And WrestleMania X was a damned good show.
At least, a lot better than WrestleMania IX.
You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.