Truth or Consequences: My ‘Mania Moments

Welcome everyone, to the final edition of Truth or Consequences before WrestleMania weekend rolls around. This week, I thought I’d talk about some of the moments that have made WrestleMania such an awesome experience for me as a wrestling fan. Before that, however, I’ve got the obligatory mailbag issues to sort out.

Lester Romero said…

“Dear Mr. Bufton,

I’m writing to you mainly on Eddie Guerrero. I’m Latino and I do enjoy seeing him wrestle in the ring just like the next guy. Still I look away whenever he does a promo. He goes beyond the Spanish accent and into the Cheech overdrive mode. At times he just flat out acts like a clown. I’ve been watching this sport for almost 25 years now and have been familiar with Eddie’s work (mainly I grew up watching his brother Hector and Manny Fernandez tear it up) and I know he doesn’t talk like that. My father has a thick accent but speaks English very well but not even he sounds like Eddie’s WWE persona. I’m happy for him and all the success he’s achieved considering all the drama he’s gone through he’s earned every bit of praise he gets, so I’m not horribly offended by it but at the same time it still irks me.

I know Eddie doesn’t talk like that. Aaron Aguilera AKA Jesus is Latino as well and speaks in a regular voice. I was surprised to hear him talk because I expected an Eddie like type of performance.

Anyway I’m starting to veer off into a rant, which wasn’t my intent. Anyway thank you for your well-written columns and I await your next one.

Later,

Lester Romero”

Thanks for your e-mail Lester. I was just going to reply to you personally, but then I saw last week’s SmackDown! (albeit a couple of days late here in the UK) and felt there was an important point to be made. When Eddie challenged Rey to a match at WrestleMania he started off, as you say, in full-on Cheech overdrive mode, but when Rey asked him if he was serious, Eddie started laughing for a minute and then just deadpanned Mysterio when he said “I’m dead serious”, in his REAL accent. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but I thought that was really cool – when Eddie’s serious, he doesn’t care about his gimmick. A tiny detail, to be sure, in the grand scheme of things, but I loved it.

For a minute, I’d like to compare Eddie to Muhammad Hassan. You see, fans in general and the IWC in particular consider Hassan to be a stereotypical foreign heel and he gets blasted for using that gimmick. Eddie, however, who is just as stereotypical, rarely gets anything but praise, because people are prepared to overlook his gimmick thanks to his sublime ringwork. There’s probably some sort of moral there, but I can’t think of it at the moment.

Moving on, Mike Fitzgerald sent me the following…

“Hey Kevin

First off it’s great to see a fellow Brit out there writing on a site like Inside Pulse. Keep flying the flag for all us mild mannered, down to Earth and tremendously charismatic Brits out there

On the topic of your Ivan Putski column I have to agree with everything you said about Putski. I mean the guy was a very poor wrestler and I honestly can’t believe you spent hard earned money on the “best” of Ivan Putski. I feel your pain after sitting through 2 hours of THAT. I’d rather watch the best of One Man Gang/Akeem, even if it had his “Classics” with Jim Duggan on it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Leo’s response to your column is. Also, if you get a chance check out my website at www.freewebs.com/bennyboysgrotto and tell me what you think.

Mike”

Ah, blatant plugging – you’ve got to love it. By all means, check out Mike’s site – I have and it’s pretty damn good, with some decent columns and a couple of tape reviews.

Sadly, Leo has not responded, which I think is a shame. I wasn’t knocking him personally for liking Ivan Putski, just expressing my own opinion that the man was a worthless crock of shit – there’s a world of difference. Ah well.

Yes, the Ivan Putski tape was tantamount to torture, but I disagree with you about One Man Gang. In his day, Gang was an excellent worker for a big man, much as King Kong Bundy was. Big guys have a hell of a stigma to work around, because people assume that fatties like them just can’t work, unless their name is Vader or Bam Bam Bigelow. Of course, it doesn’t help that OMG’s best years were behind him when became the African Dream.

One final e-mail this week, from a guy who claims to be Chris Master’s Only Fan.

Robb Lehto wrote…

“I actual think the Polish Hammer actually looks pretty vicious. Oh and the whole “Masters is a prime example of my second point, as he hopes to get over on his physique alone, no matter how much he might lack in basic wrestling skills,” It’s called a GIMMICK, plus if you actually watch his squashes on Heat, and not judge him on his finisher (which he pulls off with good intensity) you’ll see he’s good for what he is. He sort of reminds me of a early Batista.

Chris Master’s Only Fan
Robb”

The Polish Hammer does look vicious when Chris Masters uses it, but that’s because Masters is a huge man and also a cretin. The reason it looks vicious is simply because it is – Masters does not take care of his opponents and that is completely unforgiveable, no matter where they are on the card. Stevie Richards, his first opponent, is on the injured list with a broken cheekbone, thanks to Masters’ cack-handed application of a really basic move.

As for your second point – yes, I know that this is his gimmick, which was kind of my point. Let me put that sentence in another context. “Masters is a prime example of my second point, as he hopes to get over on his GIMMICK alone, no matter how much he might lack in basic wrestling skills.” Does that make more sense? First of all, a really good gimmick can give you some leeway with the fans and the critics, since they will be prepared to overlook some of your weaknesses in the ring. A prime example is Hulk Hogan when he formed the nWo. He was the same three-move wonder that he had always been, but a fresh gimmick and heel turn made him (and, of course, Hall and Nash) the hottest property in wrestling. However, people will forgive a bad or dodgy gimmick if the wrestler is good at, you know, wrestling – see my points on Eddie Guerrero above.

The problem with Masters isn’t just that he’s a power wrestler, but that he is a CLUMSY power wrestler, who either doesn’t care about his opponents safety or is too inept to do anything about it (and, really, it amounts to the same thing). Also, his gimmick sucks – the Narcissist gimmick rarely works, with the only notable exception being Rick Rude. Luger failed miserably as the Narcissist, Mark Jindrak didn’t last long as the Reflection of Perfection and it is my belief that Masters will tank just as quickly.

I am, by no means a wrestling snob who just automatically hates guys who are powerhouses and/or green. Infact, my tip for the top over the next couple of years is non other than Luther Reigns as it is my firm belief he will be future main event material. Oh, and I have seen Masters’ squashes both on Raw and Heat – at this moment in his career, the man is crap. Perhaps he will improve in time and if he does, then I will be the first person to hold my hand up and say I was wrong, but he really is awful for a guy approaching three years in the business.

Anyway…on to the column proper.

WrestleMania is always a big event for me and, over the years, it has given me more than a few truly memorable moments, some of which I’d like to share with you. By and large, these are not the matches themselves as it takes more than great matches to make a memorable Pay-Per-View, never mind a WrestleMania. Rather, these are moments that stand out for me as reasons to watch wrestling as an entity all its own, not just as a sport or as entertainment. This is a top twenty in name only, as I have picked one moment from each WrestleMania that really stands out for me. You may think differently and, if so, e-mail me and give me your thoughts.

Let’s break this down,

Cane? What cane? – WrestleMania
I was going to pick Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff winning the tag titles from Mike Rotunda and Barry Windham, but I remembered that the match itself wasn’t exactly great. What was far better was the post-match promo with “Classy” Freddie Blassie, one of my favourite heels of all time. The end of the match came, you may remember, when Blassie handed his cane to the Sheik, who proceeded to blast it over Windham’s back, breakig it in two and scoring the pinfall victory. In the post match interview Mean Gene, who does a better job of appearing indignant than most interviewers (honourable mention does go to Herb Abrams, however), asked Blassie about the controversial way the the match ended. Blassie acted as though Okerlund was mad, saying in that great growl of his that there was no controversy and that the Sheik pinned Windham in the middle of the ring. Blassie was so cool.

All aboard the Crazy Train! – WrestleMania 2
As well as being a massive wrestling fan, I love my heavy metal, so the mark out moment of an otherwise unremarkable second WrestleMania, was when the British Bulldogs came down to the ring accompanied by fellow Brit and metal god, Ozzy Osbourne. My countrymen won the tag titles that night, from the Dream Team, but I still egret that Ozzy didn’t interfere, get in the ring and bite the head off Brutus Beefcake.

Clash of the Titans – WrestleMania III
This is a case in point. The match itself was nothing special, but that bit as soon as the bell rings and both men do a staredown is truly iconic and one of the great WrestleMania images of all time. Add the commentary to the mix and it’s a moment for the ages. Jesse Ventura says, “this is the biggest match in the history of professional wrestling” and he’s not far wrong. Gorilla goes one further with this “irresistable force meeting the immovable object” line, which I always loved, if only because you’re never quite sure which label should be applied to which man.

Macho Man beats the odds – WrestleMania IV
The fourth ‘Mania is looked down on by many wrestling fans, and with good cause. It’s too long, the matches are too short and the quality of wrestling is less than dazzling. That said, I enjoed watching Savage’s climb to the top of the mountain, defeting Butch Reed, Greg Valentine and One Man Gang on the way to the finals against Ted DiBiase. Savage was the only man to wrestle all of his brackets, as OMG had a bye to the semi finals and DiBiase had a bye to the finals, so the odds were well and truly stacked against him. He overcame them all and stood proud as the World Heavyweight champion – OH YEAH!

Smoking is bad for you – WrestleMania V
Celebrities have no place in pro-wrestling, blah blah blah. I disagree with this commonly held view. Whilst it’s true that non-wrestling celebrities have no place in a wrestling MATCH (Jay Leno and David Arquette, I’m looking in your direction), they do have their uses. Cyndi Lauper promoted the Hell out of the first WrestleMania, for instance and the inclusion of Mike Tyson certainly boosted the buyrate and interest in ‘Mania XIV. I always liked this kind of thing though, where a heel celebrity (Morton Downey Jr. in this instance) gets punked out by a professional wrestler, proving that wrestlers are the better and smarter than your average celeb. Roddy Piper, armed with a fire extinguisher, makes short work of Downey, with a blast to the face, ending an otherwise cringe-worthy segment (Brother Love doing Piper impressions – no thanks) of Piper’s Pit and saved us all from the dangers of passive smoking.

End of an era – WrestleMania VI
Few people can deny that the main event of WrestleMania VI was far better than any match involving Hogan and Warrior had any right to be. However, the thing that sticks in my mind is Hogan refusing to allow the referee to award the belt. Instead, he awards it himself to the new champion and they embrace in the middle of the ring, as Hogan goes off to make more bad movies. Now, I know that it wasn’t the ‘passing the torch moment that it should have been. In fact, in his book, Hogan seems proud of the fact that, as he left the building, all eyes were on him, and nobody cared about the new World Heavyweight Champion. Back when I was a kid, it seemed like a truly touching moment, but I suppose it was a more innocent time back then.

Randy Retires – WrestleMania VII
One year later, the Warrior is champion no longer and he ends up in a midcard match-up with the Macho Man. The match itself was phenomenal, but the big moment came after the Macho Man lost the belt and was forced to retire. His valet, Sensational Sherri started stomping on him and who should come down to the ring, but Miss Elizabeth, Savage’s estranged wife, who runs Sherri off. Savage gets up and the two of them embrace to a HUGE pop. That was a great moment but, to truly appreciate it, take a look at the crowd and try to find a single woman who isn’t crying at that point – I’ll bet you can’t.

A Flair for the gold – WrestleMania VIII
This marks the first WrestleMania that I actually saw at the time of broadcast and I was delighted to see Ric Flair square up against Randy Savage for the title. You see, in the UK, WWF was only available on satellite TV, so if I wanted to see them in action I had to get a friend of mine to tape it and we’d all go and watch, whereas WCW was available to allon terrestrial televsion. So, whilst my friends grew up watching Hogan, Savage, Demolition and the Ultimate Warrior, I got to watch the Four Horsemen, Sting, Vader and, of course, the Nature Boy himself. I think this was the first time I marked out at seeing a wrestler somewhere other than the promotion I associated him with. The same thing happened (albeit to a lesser extent) when I first saw Mankind and thought that he looked awfuly similar to that guy Cactus Jack I used to watch. Sadly, I can’t see the same thing happening any time soon, unless the WWF signs A.J. Styles or Samoa Joe.

Steiners in the WWF – WrestleMania IX
See above – the Steiner Brothers in the early nineties were the best tag team in North America, bar none, and it amazes me that Vince took so long to sign them. They had a blend of ability, with Rick being the brawler and Scott being the high-flyer and technical wizard and they outshone most of the WWFs tag team roster. Again, being raised on WCW, I marked out big time for the arrival of the Steiners in the promotion although, looking back, they didn’t have quite the impact that they should have done.

Stairway to Heaven – WrestleMania X
Yeah it wasn’t the first ever ladder match in wrestling history – hell, it wasn’t even the first ever ladder match in the WWF, but this was the first gimmick match I ever saw (other than the obligatory cage match) and it completely blew me away. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon put on a phenomenal match and they deserve to be remembered for it, even if they didn’t invent it. It was so exciting seeing something this different and it’s something I don’t get enough of any more. In fact the last new gimmick match I remember getting chills of anticipation over was the Elimination Chamber from Survivor Series 2002, nearly two and a half years ago.

WrestleMania XI
Dammit! I knew I forgotten one – yes, sadly, I have never seen WrestleMania XI, either at the time or since, so I have no memories. The only clips that get regularly repeated from that one are of Bam Bam Bigelow getting destroyed by Lawrence Taylor and I always liked the Bammer, so that’s not a good thing for me.

Return of the Warrior – WrestleMania XII
With the benefit of hindsight this was a complete washout, but at the time it was a major moment to see the Ultimate Warrior back in the WWF. His opponent, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, got roundly squashed by the former world champion in just over a minute, but it was a great markout moment for me as the Warrior’s music hit and he stormed to the ring just as crazy as ever.

Blood from Stone – WrestleMania XIII
The main event of this WrestleMania was the one that truly made Stone Cold Steve Austin into a legitimate main-eventer, more so than his King of Ring victory and infamous coronation speech. The end of the match is another one of those great iconic images, as Bret Hart locks in the Sharpshooter, trying to make the Rattlesnake submit. Austin, his face busted open by the ring-bell refuses to quit and we see the blood streaming down his face as he struggles with the pain. An awesome image that really marked the start of the phenomenon that was Steve Austin.

Hardcore legends take out the trash – WrestleMania IV
Another match that was hardly a wrestling classic, but it did involve two of my favourite grapplers delivering a beat down to Billy Gunn. Hardcore wrestling is occasionally frowned up by certain wrestling elitists, but it can be really good and emotive, with the right people involved. Of all the wrestlers who profess themselves to be hardcore, Mick Foley and Terry Funk are the cream of the crop. It’s a rare match with either guy that you see weapons being used just for the sheer hell of it as both men know enough about in-ring psychology to give their matches some meaning. For me, it was great seeing the Funker in the big leagues again, looking like he was really enjoying it.

Bart Gunn gets a a boxing lesson – WrestleMania XV
Bart Gunn had won the Brawl for All a little earlier, much to the annoyance of the booking team, who were hoping for a Dr. Death victory as he was, at least, a credible potential main-eventer. This goes to show the age old lesson of professional wrestling – DON’T DO SHOOT FIGHTS! Christ almighty, why is that such a difficult thing to get right. If you want Steve Williams to win a tough man contest, then work it. We don’t care anymore – kayfabe has been and gone and if we wanted to see some real shoot fighting then we’d get some UFC tapes or whatever. Anyway, as a punishment for his temerity, Gunn was booked against legitimate hard-case, Buterbean in a Brawl for All match and promptly got knocked on his ass about thirty seconds into the first round, which I found really funny for some reason. Others might say that it’s wrong to punish a wrestler for a booking oversight, but I say – f*ck it, it’s only Bart Gunn.

Kurt Angle loses the gold – WrestleMania 2000
Another great match, where both of Kurt’s belts, the European and the Intercontinental title were on the line in a triple threat match pitting the champion against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. Angle didn’t get pinned in the entire bout, but lost both his belts, when Benoit pinned Jericho for the IC title and Jericho pinned Benoit for the European belt. The match itself was good, though it was naturally overshadowed by the thrilling TLC bout earlier in the show, but what was better was the sight of Angle losing everything through no fault of his own. Angle was such a great heel at this time, that I forgot about being ‘smart’ and just looked forward to the weeks of whining and bitching that would inevitably follow.

Gimmick Battle Royal – WrestleMania X-Seven
Of all the matches on this top-notch card, I have to go for the comedy match. It’s no secret that I’m a mark for the older wrestlers and this match had some of my favourites in it. Iron Sheik, the Bushwhackers, Doink the Clown, Nikolai Volkoff, Earthquake, Sgt. Slaughter, Michael Hayes, One Man Gang, Kamala…it’s all good. Granted, the match was awful and it lasted less than five minutes, but it was great so see these guys back in a WWF ring. The best moment for me, though, was seeing Bobby Heenan make his way down to the ring as start commentating, as he proved that he had lost none of his skills on the mic.

HulkaMania runs wild…again – WrestleMania X-8
This was the match that the whole world wanted to see – Icon vs. Icon, as the Rock took on a heel Hulk Hogan in a battle of the legends. What most people didn’t expect, however, was the crowd’s reaction to the Hulkster, who was still playing his nWo role at the time. Those wacky Canadians starting cheering for the evil Hogan, and booing the People Champ, the Rock. In fact, cheering is too small a word – they tore the f*cking roof off the Toronto Skydome, as if it was the eighties all over again. Both men seemed confused and shocked at this turn of events, but gamely carried on with their match and, at the end, there was a respectful handshake and a smiling Rock insisted that the Hulkster pose for the fans.

Vince McMahon: Face of Evil – WrestleMania XIX
Who’d have thought that Mr. McMahon would have made this list, then? His match with Hogan was the epitome of a shitty wrestling match, that nevertheless managed to keep me captivated for the twenty minutes of airtime that it got. In particular, the moment where Vince picks up a lead pipe from outside the ring and peers over the edge of the apron is a golden moment for me. The crimson mask, the maniacal grin, the air of bad intentions. He may not be a great wrestler, but my God, he’s good at being an evil bastard.

Radicalz straddle the wrestling world – WrestleMania XX
And so we get to last year’s event, and the closing moments the Pay-Per-View. Chris Benoit has just achieved his dream and silenced all the naysayers, by making Triple H tap out to the Crippler Crossface in the centre of the ring, winning his first (and, to date, only) World Heavyweight Title. With a main event match that had no outside intereference, some genuine tension and a clean win for the best wrestler in the world at the time, the wrestling world would have been satisfied to close things out there. However, Eddie Guerrero, WWE Heavyweight Title-holder and long-time friend/some-time opponent of the rabid Wolverine, comes out from the back, fresh off defending his title against the formidable Kurt Angle and the two men have tears in there eyes as they share a manly hug in the middle of the ring. If you weren’t choking back a tear yourself, then you must be dead inside.

So there we have it – twenty (well, nineteen) WrestleMania moments that will live in my heart for many years to come and, perhaps, in the hearts of other wrestling fans.

As for this year’s event – I’m looking forward to it, on the whole. The build-up seems a little lacklustre, but this is definitely a show that is being sold on the strength of its main events and, in that sense, the WWE has done well. I’ll be handing in my full predictions to the Roundtable this weekend and I’ll be with you all next week, passing on my thoughts on the biggest show of the wrestling calendar.

Until the next time…farewell.

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