WRESTLEMANIA X: He Who Made Kittens, Put Snakes in the Grass

WrestleMania X

WrestleMania X (March 20, 1994) – Madison Square Garden (New York NY) – Main Event: Yokozuna (c) vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart (WWF Championship) – Announcers: Vince McMahon, Jerry “the King” Lawler, and Todd Pettengill.

For better and for worse, WRESTLEMANIA X sets the fallback blueprint for how the WWF/WWE runs WrestleMania. There is a mix of phenomenal matches and ridiculous cartoons and “celebrities” and an attempt to get newer wrestlers over with the crowd. At ten years of age, WRESTLEMANIA X is less an event that has come into its own as it is an example of wrestlers who are finally outpacing the company. Vince-esque favorites are still here: the Quebecers, Man on a Mission, Crush, Doink the Clown, and Yokozuna are all here to fulfill Vince’s need for cultural stereotypes and physical oddities, but not even Vince and Jerry “the King” Lawler’s cartoonish, end of the world announcing can muck up two of the greatest matches in WWF/WWE history: the opening match between Bret and Owen Hart and the Ladder Match between Sean Michaels and Razor Ramon.

The shared existence of Scott Hall and Razor Ramon – the man and the character he played for the WWE – is the perfect example of what Vince McMahon wants (the cartoonish, well-oiled, overdrawn stereotype) and what the wrestlers are capable of (a performer putting on a great match). In an ideal world, the wrestler is able to inhabit both sides, having a definitive identity who can also wrestle like the fate of the world depended on it. The contrast between the Harts match and the Ladder Match represents the world Vince can’t control (but can own) and the world Vince wants to build (and can also own).

This isn’t a total slam on Vince because the guy knows how to put on a show. He gets (or the company gets, however we want to parse out credit/blame) that having Lex Luger wear patriotic ring gear against Yokozuna gives the match a little something extra. Yeah, some of that is playing to the home crowd and some of that is playing into cultural fears and biases, but while we can discuss the rightness and wrongness of that maneuver, there’s no denying it gets a reaction. Vince has always been able to create matches that play to the crowd and the most successful wrestlers are those that are able to take that set-up and then deliver on it during a match.

That’s why Hulk Hogan is the ultimate Vince Guy – say what you want about Hogan’s actual wrestling abilities, he is among the very best all time at playing the crowd. Hogan knocked down every pin Vince set up for him.

The night’s opening match between Owen and Bret Hart is as good as wrestling gets: two great wrestlers involved in a great storyline putting on a great match that works from both a technical standpoint and a narrative one. Bret was the established main eventer and Owen was the jealous little brother. It’s a simple story but the build-up and the execution was expertly played by the real life brothers. There was a palpable distaste from Owen for his older brother that made this match bigger than any belt that was on the line during this event.

The promo package that preceded the match might not be equal to the amazing work the WWE pulls off today, but you can see how they got to there from here. Succinctly and powerfully, the storyline of the feuding Harts was packaged for quick consumption by the fans. If you had been following along with the story, the package reminded you of the greatest hits in the storyline’s evolution; if you were a new fan, however, watching because someone you know ordered the PPV, perhaps, the package puts the match into easily understood terms.

The match itself still remains as the greatest opening match in not only WrestleMania history but perhaps all of PPV history. For an opening match to be this good is like going to see the Rolling Stones in concert and it turns out Led Zeppelin is the opening act.

The back and forth between Owen and Bret is simply fantastic, with moves and countermoves developed over years of working together.

The only thing about this match that is tough to watch is listening to the god-awful announcing tandem of Vince McMahon and Jerry “the King” Lawler. McMahon is in full hyperbole mode the entire night and the King is at his snide, one-liner worst. The worst of both men is evident in this first match as McMahon’s hysterical “Oh my god! Did you see that? 1 – 2 – 3! No, only 2! That was unbelievable!” set of stock phrases would be redundant even if this was a video game. For the King’s part, his snide jokes about Stu and Helen Hart come off as petty and mean instead of clever and amusing. It’s even worse when he punctuates almost everything he says with his insufferable cackling.

I will say the King did have his best moment of the night here, too, when Owen pins Bret and in response to Vince saying Owen stepped out of Bret’s shadow, Lawler asserts, “He didn’t step out! He jumped out of the shadow!”

The Ladder Match between Michaels and Ramon holds up very well, even after the Hardys, Dudleys, and Edge and Christian redefined Ladder (and Table and Chair) matches. Part of it is that this is the first time you’re seeing this kind of match at WrestleMania, but while this match looks a bit tame by the standards of a decade later, let alone two decades, Michaels and Ramon SELL OUT. The astonished gasps and wild, partially nervous cheering from the crowd serve as “grow up” moments for WrestleMania. There have been great matches before, of course, just as there have been previous matches that had the crowd more engaged in the moment, but this Ladder Match is the first time in WrestleMania history where the crowd is equal parts nervous and giddy solely at the in-ring action. You can almost hear the crowd chanting, “Holy shit! Holy shit!” and “This is awesome!” If they’d known those chants at this point, they surely would have been chanting both.

Instead, what you hear instead is a lot of quiet anticipation followed by a splattering of genuine clapping amid the cheering. What Michaels and Ramon do in this match is teach the crowd how to behave in a new kind of action. Michaels and Ramon are advancing beyond the simple rolls of face and heel here; coming in, it’s HBK who’s the bad guy and the “bad guy” who’s the good guy, but by the mid-point in this match it doesn’t matter. People are cheering at what’s happening even more than who’s making it happen.

I really think it’s a seminal moment for the WWE. It’s not life-altering or the most important match in the company’s history, but it is the kind of match that you can see kids at home thinking, “I want to do that for a living.” There have been spot-heavy matches before this one, but Michaels and Ramon make those spots the point of the match in way others haven’t before on this stage.

Compare this with the Hart match at the start of the event – Bret and Owen had more spots and much more intricate spots, but they largely integrated them into the fabric of the match. Moves and counter moves. With the Harts, the story is that these two guys are incredibly technical wresters, which they are. Michael and Ramon aren’t on their level, but they play to their strengths (or against their weaknesses) and make the high-wire spots the match’s big moments. Michaels delivers a brilliant super-kick during the match as Ramon comes off the ropes, but the crowd is already becoming attuned to the violence – they’ve seen HBK super kick someone before, but they haven’t him catapulted into a ladder and then have the ladder fall on him.

Yes, it’s an obvious move by Michaels to get the ladder to fall on him, but in a weird way this adds to the effectiveness of the move. With the Harts, you’re supposed to believe the fiction (Hart comes out for his WRESTLEMANIA X championship match with a noticeable limp he gained/”gained” during the opening match. It’s Hart as the Kayfabe Purist.

When Michaels gets launched into the ladder, he obviously prepares himself for the fall – he grabs the ladder, sets himself, peeks behind him – and then falls backwards. Michaels isn’t just inviting you to peek behind the kayfabe curtain, he’s giving you a tour. His actions are telling you, “Get ready, I’m going to do something impressive,” which sets the audience up. It beautifully builds anticipation, which he then delivers on. Contemporary wrestling fans love to watch wrestling and see three stories – what they’re seeing, what they understand to be seeing, and what they imagine has gone on behind the scenes to make this moment in the ring happen. The rise of Daniel Bryan was built by the WWE expertly playing the smark community, and Michaels here is playing to this community nearly two decades before the smarks emerged online.

Nothing builds anticipation like climbing a ladder, of course, because one does not climb a ladder except to accomplish something. There is no Sir Edmund Hillary of ladders, no one who’s going to climb it because it’s there. I’d like to think Michaels and Scott Hall understood this, understood that you could build a match around spots that muted the importance of the character and elevated the importance of the wrestler.

Who won the match?

Who cares?

HBK and Ramon made this match about the match, about the falls and spills and cracks of the ladder. Yeah, Ramon won and so people cheered that, but I don’t think a Michaels’ victory would have been poorly received. The match itself became the star.

This is critically important because McMahon, as well all know, wants to control as much as possible. It’s telling that Vince is such a desperate starfucker in these early days that he trots out Sean Michaels to do a skit with Rhonda Shear; compare that to recent RAWs where Kevin Hart partnered with Adam Rose, and where Flo Rida did a skit with John Ce-

I mean, Roman Re-

That is, Randy-

Heath Slater.

Hey, I heard you were a wild one.

Sean Michaels might not have been on top of the WWF Mountain in 1985, but he was sure as hell a lot closer to the summit than wherever Heath Slater is right now. (And I say this as a legit Heath Slater fan.)

There were other matches on the card, of course, but they were either forgettably bland or unforgettably dumb.

The latter category gives us Bam Bam Bigelow and Luna Vachon teaming up against Dink and Doink the Clowns. Look, I don’t have Doink, but Bam Bam Bigelow is a beast and should have been wrestling Bret Hart for the WWF Championship instead of being in a comedic palate cleanser. Add the 30-second “classic” between Earthquake and Adam Bomb, which evolved from a Harvey Wippleman and Howard Finkel feud altercation. And the less said about Men on a Mission versus the Quebecers the better.

The forgettably bland offerings aren’t worthless matches but they’re largely driven by one talented wrestler carrying another. Randy Savage and Crush (Bryan Adams) have a Falls Count Anywhere Match that’s not bad, but Savage deserved better for his last WWF match (even if they didn’t know it at the time).

Alundra Blayze is a really good wrestler in a blah match against Leilani Kai that isn’t helped by the King spending the entire match making jokes about how ugly Blayze was.

Yokozuna and Lex Luger happened. It happened.

Even the final match of the night, pitting Bret Hart against Yokozuna for the title just fell flat. After the legendary match to open the night and the legendary Ladder Match, Yokozuna had no chance of carrying his end of the load to deliver a classic finale. That Hart was so committed to kayfabe that he wrestled the match with a bum knee … well, maybe it adde to the realism but it didn’t add to the match.

There was plenty of moments you have likely tried to erase from your mind: Sy Sperling giving Howard Finkel a new rug, the zero chemistry between Vince and Lawler, Todd Pettengill’s earring, a Bill Clinton impersonator, Rhonda Shear making puddles for Burt Reynolds …

At least Reynolds gets why he’s there. One thing that makes him bearable at WrestleMania is how desperate he is to receive the love of the crowd. It’s a show and he wants to be at the center of it. Good for him.

Too much of WRESTLEMANIA X just sort of exists, but the two matches that dominate the night make this event a very special one.

__________

FULL CARD RESULTS

Pre-Show The Heavenly Bodies (Jimmy Del Ray and Tom Prichard) (with Jim Cornette) defeated The Bushwhackers (Luke Williams and Butch Miller) – Tag Team match
1. Owen Hart defeated Bret Hart – Singles match
2. Bam Bam Bigelow and Luna Vachon defeated Doink the Clown and Dink – Mixed tag team match
3. Randy Savage defeated Crush (with Mr. Fuji) – Falls Count Anywhere match
4. Alundra Blayze (c) defeated Leilani Kai – Singles match for the WWF Women’s Championship
5. Men on a Mission (Mabel and Mo) (with Oscar) defeated The Quebecers (Jacques and Pierre) (c) (with Johnny Polo) – Tag Team Championship
6. Yokozuna (c) (with Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette) defeated Lex Luger – Singles match for the WWF Championship
7. Earthquake defeated Adam Bomb (with Harvey Wippleman) – Singles match
8. Razor Ramon (c) defeated Shawn Michaels (with Diesel) – Ladder match for the Undisputed WWF Intercontinental Championship
9. Bret Hart defeated Yokozuna (c) (with Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette) – Singles match for the WWF Championship

__________

MATCH OF THE NIGHT (tie): Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon

STAR OF THE NIGHT: Shawn Michaels

MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: Owen Hart defeating Bret Hart

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: The King, on Owen Hart: “He didn’t step out. He jumped out of the shadow!”

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT #2: James E. Cornette: “As noted philosopher Ian Anderson once said, ‘He who made the kittens put snakes in the grass.'” – Pretty sure that’s the only Jethro Tull reference in WrestleMania history.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT #3: Rhonda Scheer to Burt Reynolds: “You give me the vapors.”

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One thought on “WRESTLEMANIA X: He Who Made Kittens, Put Snakes in the Grass

  1. Definitely a fantastic analysis of the only two matches that really matter on this card, and I like your insights on the way that ladder match, while not as hard-hitting as we’ve seen since then, did begin to train the audience at that moment for the future direction of the WWF and because of that it makes for a significant match in pro-wrestling history for all of the aspects you list. Definitely at the time, I can remember the buzz for months after amongst wrestling fans who clamoured for a tape of that match to watch again or show friends. However, I do find it dull to watch along with most of the card at this point, with the exception of Bret vs. Owen. Which to me is odd, since I don’t think any other Wrestlemania has so degraded in my mind as much as this one. For many years afterwards I considered it one of the great PPVs of all time, but now I probably put it in the bottom 5 for just Wrestlemanias.

    I’ve always enjoyed re-watching WM 1-3 since I think they capture a very raw WWWF attitude of old school, hard-hitting, slower yet more methodical kind of in-ring combat than you see in the years to follow. While WM 4-6 are just so long and so stuffed with matches and classic performers and gimmicks that it’s a real nostalgia show despite not featuring the most prolific of in-ring action. But then you get to WM 8-10 and I think that era is an odd one for many reasons outside of the WWE, but should will be particularly remembered by me for being a time of truly missing the main event dream matches that should have been. WM 8 should have given us Hogan vs. Flair, WM 9 should have been Hogan vs. Bret, and then WM 10 could have given us Hart vs. Savage in the main event. I can’t think of any other string of Wrestlemania’s with such glaring historical holes in the bookable matches at the time (maybe WM 18 could have had Hogan vs. Austin instead of Rock, or at least Austin vs. Angle… and I suppose even this year could have given us Undertaker vs. Cena), and for that reason it always makes it kind of tough for me to watch those shows just from the awkwardness of knowing what could/should have been.

    Like

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