The Magnificent Seven 3.13.14: Top 7 Forgotten Gems from the First Decade of Wrestlemania
Posted by Mike Chin on 03.13.2014
From Mr. Perfect vs. The Big Boss Man and Randy Savage vs. Crush to Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis and more, 411's Mike Chin counts down the top 7 forgotten gems from the first ten WrestleManias!
Next month, the thirtieth Wrestlemania will occur. Over the course of the preceding twenty-nine years, nearly three hundred matches have occurred. There are matches that fans talk about every year—big time main events like Hogan-Andre and Austin-Rock, classics like Steamboat-Savage and Undertaker-Michaels, spectacles like TLC 2. But for all these years and all these matches, there are quite a few very entertaining, clever, interesting or influential matches that few seem to talk about. This week, we're exploring seven forgotten gems from the first decade of Wrestlemania.
#7. Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis Wrestlemania 3
The idea of this 1987 bout being Roddy Piper's retirement match is pretty absurd when you consider that he went on to have matches at Wrestlemanias 6, 8, 12, and 25. Just the same, Piper and WWF alike seemed sincere enough about him hanging up his wrestling boots—and to be fair, it wasn't really his or the WWF's fault that the acting career he retired for never caught fire.
So, this match comes across as a fair enough swan song to a fine career. Adrian Adonis is a fascinating combination of pampered softee and stiff old school wrestler and Piper, while never quite as good of a face as he was a heel, is hard not to cheer for in this context and does more than his share to make this match into a quality brawl by the standards of WWF in that era.
I think this match gets written off for the faux-retirement element of it, and the fact that Hogan-Andre and Steamboat-Savage overshadow it. Just the same, in an era during which Wrestlemania cards weren't particularly deep, this encounter poses a more than worthy bit of undercard action, not to mention its smart booking implications, shoring up Brutus Beefcake's face turn, ostensibly taking Piper's place on the card.
#6. Crush vs. Doink at Wrestlemania 9
Doink and this match get a lot of flack and, frankly, I've never understood it. Sure, face Doink was lame, but the original heel character, particularly as it was portrayed by Matt Borne was not only compelling, but fundamentally different from any other act in the WWF at the time.
In this program, Crush plays a perfect whitemeat babyface straight man for Doink's psycho clown antics that included beating down the big Hawaiin with a prosthetic arm in the build up to Wrestlemania 9. The match itself is perfectly serviceable, with Crush getting plenty of vengeful audience on his smaller opponent, only for a new dimension of Doink's villainous character to be revealed when a second Doink emerges from under the ring to KO Crush and cost him the match. At the time, I'd go so far as to say that Doink was the most compelling character in wrestling. It may not have worked if WWF went full throttle with him (akin to Eugene starting out so fun, and becoming so tired in 2004 WWE), but I'd argue if Doink had stayed heel and grown more and more menacing, he just may have been a worthy fringe main eventer during a period when Yokozuna was pretty much the only show in town.
#5. The Rockers vs. The Twin Towers at Wrestlemania 5
Talk about David vs. Goliath—the combined weight of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty was more or less equal to Akeem's weight alone, plus he had The Big Boss Man to tag in and tag out to. Thus, on paper, and during this era of WWE programming, you'd expect the dinosaurs to crush the vanilla midgets. What happens in reality is pretty magical. Michaels and Jannetty get in plenty of high-octane, high-flying offense, including a dropkick buffet, and the big men look completely at home selling their asses off for their smaller opponents. Thus, The Rockers got the chance to look like world beaters against a team that had spent much of the preceding months feuding with The Mega Powers, while Boss Man and Akeem still retained their place on the card by winning out in the end, courtesy of a nice powerbomb and splash sequence.
#4. The Big Boss Man vs. Mr. Perfect at Wrestlemania 7
The WWF built a pretty epic mid-card story here in which The Big Boss Man worked his way through Bobby Heenan's stable of wrestlers en route to the crown jewel of The Family, Mr. Perfect. The match proves a fine exhibition of Boss Man's fast-paced brawling big man style, paired with Perfect's balance of more technically oriented offense and phenomenal chickenshit heel schtick. Had the match had a couple more minutes and ended in a decisive Boss Man pinfall victory (even if he lost the title back in the weeks to follow to preserve the overall timeline of Bret Hart winning the IC strap at SummerSlam) I think this match would be remembered far better—sort of a better-executed, longer, more evenly matched version of Big Show-Cody Rhodes from Wrestlemania 28.
#3. The Steiner Brothers vs. The Headshrinkers at Wrestlemania 9
Folks rightfully look down upon Wrestlemania 9 as one of the weaker ‘Manias, and tend to name Tatanka-Michaels as the best match of the card. While I don't have anything against the HBK match, I actually feel as though this hard hitting little tag bout is far stronger. It's all about a pair of powerhouse teams wailing on each other for all they're worth, not to mention a fun coming out party for The Steiners, who exhibit athletic expertise with their tandem offense from the top rope and Scott's Frankensteiner, and a combination of power and perfect timing when Rick powerslams his way out of Doomsday Device position. It's a good enough exhibition for The Headshrinkers, too, delivering some stiff brawling moves and a brutal spot in which they drive Scott Steiner over the top rope, head first to the floor.
#2. Randy Savage vs. Crush at Wrestlemania 10
The year was 1994 and the WWF had not figured out the execution of hardcore wrestling. Thus, the rules of this "Falls Count Anywhere Match" were strange and unnecessarily convoluted. The match is a lot like a Last Man Standing Match, but not quite the same—the victor must pin his opponent outside the ring, get inside the ring himself, and have his opponent not get back in the ring before a count of ten.
Got all that?
People put the Wrestlemania 10 Ladder Match on a pedestal because it was not only good but pioneering—setting the stage more very good ladder matches, TLC, and Money in the Bank. Savage-Crush wasn't quite as good or quite as influential, but I'd argue that it does deserve more recognition than fans tend to give it.
Savage-Crush was a logical enough, old-fashioned blood feud, set up when Savage failed to save his buddy in time from, or visit him in the hospital after a beat down from Yokozuna, after which Crush turned and decimated The Macho Man. It's sensible enough that a no DQ brawl would follow, and this match does include some good hardcore wrestling, including Crush dropping Savage throat-first onto the steel barricade with a press slam.
The finish, which sees Savage pin Crush, then tie him up back stage so he can't get back to the ring, is a little cartoonish and predictive of some of the less satisfying Last Man Standing Matches that would follow it for decades to follow. Just the same, is very much innovative finish to an original match for its time, which sold Savage's veteran instincts and protected Crush as an unstoppable monster who Savage had to outsmart, not truly beat in a fight.
#1. Strike Force vs. The Brain Busters at Wrestlemania 5
Despite being one of the greatest in-ring tag teams to ever appear in the WWF, fans tend to forget Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard's run under The Brain Busters moniker for it only lasting one year. Just the same, the team put on some very good matches with The Rockers, The Hart Foundation, Demolition, and, yes, Strike Force.
For younger fans, Strike Force was the team of Rick Martel and Tito Santana. Santana, a directionless upper mid-card face on his way down the card, replaced Martel's departing Can-Am Connection partner Tom Zenk. The team had a great look and the benefit of two very good hands working in tandem. They were a bit of a forerunner to the truer golden age of WWF tag team wrestling on its way at the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
First and foremost, this match is just plain good—a soundly executed tandem offense from both sides, and sound tag psychology during the heat segment on Santana. Better yet, the match has historical importance as site of Strike Force fracturing for good when Santana accidentally forearms Martel, and a bitter Martel abandons his partner to turn heel and let his partner get dismantled by Anderson and Blanchard (albeit with a logical gap because Martel tags himself in to set up getting hit with the forearm, and thus should have been the legal man, ending Santana's time as the face in peril).
No, this match doesn't get quite enough time to arrive as a true classic, but it's still quite good, and worth re-watching if for nothing other than the sweet spike piledriver finisher that The Brain Busters used to use.
What are your favorite forgotten gems from the first ten Wrestlemanias? Let us know in the comments section. See you in seven.
Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and his thoughts on a cappella music at The A Cappella Blog. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.