With WrestleMania XXX now in the history books, even the staunchest of critics would agree that WWE pulled out all the stops to make this year’s anniversary edition seem extra special, with significant amounts of nostalgia heaped into the build.
WrestleMania season is the time of year when fans are encouraged to reflect back on past historic moments. Few will ever forget Hulk Hogan lifting Andre The Giant for the big slam in 1987, Ricky Steamboat besting Randy Savage in a grappling masterclass at the same event, or the sight of The Ultimate Warrior lifting both singles titles in 1990.
Many, however, may wish to forget the memory of two Doinks attacking Crush en route to a meaningless victory. Likewise, the vision of Todd Pettengill working the crowd while bedecked in a toga and baseball cap combo is unlikely to be recollected fondly to future generations.
These are just two of the many instances that have earned 1993’s WrestleMania IX the award for worst show in company history – in my humble opinion, at least. I’ll let you make up your own mind.
“The world’s biggest toga party”
Rather implausibly, this was the unofficial tagline to WrestleMania IX, emanating from the 16,000 seat Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. A far cry from Indianapolis’ mega Hoosier Dome that gave WrestleMania VIII such a feeling of grandeur, there were legitimate concerns about the location in the run-up to the event, as Basil V. Devito noted in WrestleMania: The Official Insider’s Story,
“WrestleMania IX would be held almost entirely in daylight in what really was nothing more than a glorified tennis facility, with wooden bleachers on three sides … WrestleMania IX would have to stand on its own, and there was legitimate concern that the site would be aesthetically unappealing. Caesars Palace, however, had made such an attractive offer that the risk was deemed worthwhile.”
DeVito’s recollection indicates that the allure of the almighty dollar prevailed over good sense, with WWE choosing to counter issues raised by the location by turning the arena into a makeshift Roman Coliseum. As well as a substantial budget being spent on the arena itself, all of the ring announcers – including a debuting Jim Ross – wore togas for the occasion. Comedic colour commentator Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan took things one step further by riding into the arena on an elephant. Backwards.
It was one of the show’s few highlights.
An undercard to forget
Location is not everything of course, and the intimate setting should, by rights, have focused attention on the in-ring action. This would have been fine, but the undercard seemed to be little more than an afterthought.
More than any other ‘Mania before or since, the booking of the majority of the bouts appeared to have been plucked out of a hat at random. Don’t worry about storyline development or a reason for these foes facing off in the middle of the ring; this is 1993 and the fans will never notice.
Crush vs Doink The Clown. The Steiner Brothers vs The Head Shrinkers. Bob Backlund vs Razor Ramon. Mr Perfect vs Lex Luger. Only the undercard’s two title contests – a passable Intercontinental championship opener between Shawn Michaels and Tatanka and a Tag Team title clash pitting Money Inc. against Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake had received any significant attempt at pre-match promotion. The latter bout suffered greatly from injuries suffered by The Hulkster in a jet-ski accident just days before the show. But we’ll return to Hogan later…
The streak meets a giant obstacle
When historians reflect back on The Undertaker’s remarkable winning streak, they will no doubt recall legendary scraps with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Batista and Edge. They may also remember its humble beginnings with early wins over WWE Hall of Famers Jimmy Snuka and Jake Roberts. They will, however, likely opt to gloss over ‘Taker’s third notch on the proverbial WrestleMania bedpost, a tainted disqualification win against Giant Gonzalez.
If WrestleMania IX is truly the worst ‘Mania in 30 years, then it is fitting that it should be the one and only show to feature Gonzalez – who was, without question, the single most inept superstar in company history. And that is a big statement to make.
Billed at eight feet tall, Gonzalez was a spectacular sight without question; in particular his unique form of ring attire, a latex suit making him appear nude. After a short-lived WCW run, the former Argentinian basketball player was snapped up by Vince McMahon and immediately pushed into a big feud with The Undertaker, based solely on the fact that he was bigger than the big man. Unfortunately, height was quite literally all that Gonzalez had going for him.
‘Taker, still in the early stages of his WWE career, did what he could with his limited adversary but to no avail. A very weak disqualification win for the future Phenom, based around the apparent illegal use of chloroform, gave WWE the ‘out’ needed to continue their ill-advised experiment which astonishingly limped along all the way to SummerSlam.
A red and yellow slap to the face
In the show’s build, WrestleMania IX appeared to be the first ‘Mania in WWE history to not feature company figurehead Hulk Hogan. After splitting from the promotion in pursuit of an acting career (Mr. Nanny, anyone?), Hogan’s sizeable boots were now being filled by the much smaller Bret Hart – a competitor beloved by fans and fresh off strong PPV performances against Davey Boy Smith, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon in the preceding months.
As the defending World champion, Hart’s task going into the big show was to square off in an unusual one-on-one encounter against the colossal Yokozuna, an athletic Samoan powerhouse being billed as a Japanese sumo star. It was a curious main event and a lofty undertaking for Hart who, by rights, should have had the opportunity to defend the gold on the grandest stage of them all against a competitor that could have matched his technical ability in the ring.
Still, come bell-time the Hitman pulled out all the stops to attempt to deliver a David and Goliath contest, flying around for ‘Zuna’s offence and almost suspending disbelief that the unstoppable giant could be felled after all.
With the show drawing to a close and Hart’s signature hold, the Sharpshooter, locked onto the big man’s tree trunk legs, it appeared that Hart would retain the gold – until Mr. Fuji got involved and hurled a fistful of salt into the champion’s eyes, paving the way for the cheap three-count. It wasn’t the cleanest of finishes and hardly the way to establish Yokozuna as a force to be reckoned with, but the decision had been made to place the gold on the rising star. Or had it?
Mere seconds after the bell tolled, who should appear but Hulk Hogan, demanding that justice be done. Rather than implore the referee to restart the match for his fallen comrade, however, Hogan did what any good friend would do – and faced the new champion in an impromptu match.
After Hart had battled for close to twenty minutes to try to defeat Yokozuna, it took only one mis-timed salt hurl from Mr. Fuji and one big legdrop for Hogan to gain the three-count and pick up his fifth World title, ending Yokozuna’s run in 128 seconds.
The crowd went wild. Caesar’s Palace staff no doubt celebrated their investment. And Vince McMahon broke character for the first time and ran to the ring to embrace the Hulkster after the show went off the air.
But two people in the arena unlikely to have smiled that night were Bret Hart and Yokozuna, both of whom were mere pawns in a master chess players’ game. As Hart noted in his 2007 autobiography Hitman,
“As scripted, with my face buried in the crook of my arm, I waved him [Hogan] to avenge my loss. “Go get, em, Hulk!” I was really thinking, Go ahead, Hogan, take from me what I worked so hard to get … Hogan was champion again before I’d even made it backstage.”
WrestleMania IX was truly one of a kind – an event that had to craft a personality for itself, that failed to develop a meaningful undercard and that culminated in a truly self-indulgent and nonsensical conclusion.
Worst of all though, it will go down in history as the only WrestleMania that failed to deliver where it counts the most – inside the squared circle.
The above article was originally published in Issue 9 of Calling Spots, a pro wrestling fanzine that features cutting edge articles, superstar interviews and old school reviews. Visit callingspots.com to learn more.