WM PPV Countdown: #2 – WrestleMania X

Going into WrestleMania X I don’t think people were really anticipating being such a monumental event. Sure, it was the tenth anniversary of the event, but it followed the abysmal WrestleMania IX and was stuck in the abysmal character driven New Generation era. The WWF at the time wasn’t really known for its workrate at the time, but with a card that boasted two legitimate five star matches that are still talked about today it has more than earned its praise.

The company needed a new hero after the departure of Hulk Hogan. They tried by making Lex Luger into the “Made in the U.S.A.” rebel that was in the image of Hogan’s All-American powerhouse, but he couldn’t re-create the magic. At WrestleMania X they finally turned to the guy who was under their nose the entire time, Bret “Hit Man” Hart.

It all started at the Royal Rumble in January when he and Luger were declared co-winners of the Royal Rumble after both tumbled out of the ring at the same time. Every year the winner of the Royal Rumble earns the right to challenge the WWF Champion at WrestleMania, but considering that Luger and Hart were both considered the winners they would both earn separate championship matches at WrestleMania. This was in the days before triple threat matches and three way dances were a regular fixture in professional wrestling.

As per the results of a coin toss, Luger would challenge WWF Champion Yokozuna first that night in WrestleMania. The winner would then meet Hart for the Title in the night’s main event. But in order to make sure Hart did not have unfair stamina advantage he would also compete in another match that night as well. So in the opening match Bret would meet his little brother Owen Hart, who had become increasingly jealous of his big brother’s success.

Owen and Bret proceeded to go out and put on a five-star clinic to open the show. The two battled for over twenty minutes until Owen caught Bret with a victory roll and pinned his big brother clean as a whistle. The match instantly made Owen a huge star as up until this point he had been merely an undercard and tag team worker in the company, basically known just as “Bret Hart’s little brother.” With a win over his much more established big brother Owen instantly became a credible main event-level threat. It set Owen on a run with his brother that lasted all the way through 1994 and helped him stand out as his own performer. The match was an instant classic and is heralded as one of the top two or three opening matches in wrestling pay per view history. It still holds up to this day.

Later on that evening Bret stepped into the main event to challenge Yokozuna, who had beaten Luger earlier that night. After a ten-minute contest Hart evaded a second rope splash from the 500 pound monster and covered him for the three count. Yokozuna had beaten Hart for the WWF Championship a year earlier at WrestleMania IX so this a little poetic revenge from a year previous. The “good guy” locker room came to the ring to celebrate Hart’s victory, including Luger himself. They hoisted Hart on their shoulders and paraded him around the ring, signaling a new hero and a new era for the company. Then because wrestling has no off-season, Owen Hart came out to the aisle way to give his brother the proverbial “thousand yard stare” and thus set up the company’s main program for the following months. The two brothers battled all spring and summer over the WWF Title and showed the fans a new style of WWF main event match.

The match and that night was the coming out party for Bret Hart. He earned his second World Championship that night and the on-screen leader of the company, the flag bearer for the WWF’s New Generation campaign. Hart’s in-ring celebration was a “thank you” from the company for all the hard work he’s put in over the years. His first World Championship was given to him on a spontaneous whim, but this second run was a validation. With Hulk Hogan out of the picture the company needed a new hero and a new company direction. Bret filled in that role of hero and gave the company a guaranteed good match on the top of the card. Not only was Bret cemented as the top guy, but thanks to the opening match his brother Owen was turned into a star as well. Thanks to his victory just hours before Bret won the Title, Owen could rightfully claim to be the number one contender for the WWF Championship.

Elsewhere on the show, Bret Hart’s main contemporary Shawn Michaels, was doing his best to steal the show as well in an innovative new concept called the Ladder Match.

The origin of the ladder match can be traced back to the early ‘70s, when Dan Kroffat introduced the match to the North American audiences as he and Japanese wrestler Tor Kamata battled in a ladder match in Calgary, Alberta’s Stampede Wrestling with the prize being a wad of money at the top of a scaffold. The match became somewhat of a staple for Stampede Wrestling as Bret Hart himself competed in some of these early ladder matches as well.

Hart brought the idea to the World Wrestling Federation and pitched it to WWF head honcho Vince McMahon. Hart and Michaels had a Ladder Match for Hart’s Intercontinental Championship in the fall of 1992 as a trial run for company officials., but the concept was shelved.

It was brought out as final match in the rivalry between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Michaels had been stripped of the Intercontinental Title for controversial reasons and Ramon won the vacant Championship after a battle royal and one-on-one singles match final. When Michaels returned from his hiatus he began carrying around his own version of the physical Intercontinental belt, claiming he was the rightful champion as he hadn’t been defeated for the belt.

It was determined that the only way things could be settled between these two would be in a ladder match at WrestleMania X. Both men’s physical Title belts would be hung above the ring and the only way to retrieve them would be to climb a ladder and pull them down; no pinfalls, submissions, count outs or disqualifications. With no rules it meant that the ladder could come into a play as an offensive and defensive weapon for Michaels and Ramon to use on each other.

Michaels and Ramon were given an open platform; a canvas to paint a picture of greatness. They were able to set the bar for future ladder matches that were sure to come after. The two real-life best friends trusted each other enough to create some truly amazing spots and stunts involving the ladder. The inanimate object became a “third man” in the match and allowed for moves that just aren’t possible with two men. When the smoke cleared Ramon stood atop the A-frame ladder hold both gold belts, the undisputed Intercontinental Champion.

While the Ladder Match has taken insane steps in the sixteen years since Ramon and Michaels introduced to the mainstream, that first match at WrestleMania X still holds up incredibly well. What started as a battle of two men battling over a championship belt or some other prize that hung above the ring became a battle for two teams or three teams or four teams to fight over the Tag Championships (like TLC) or a chance for a variety of singles superstars to fight for a Championship contract (like Money in the Bank.)
Today the ladder match has become as commonplace in the pro wrestling industry as a headlock these days, but one cannot forget the match that really started the trend on the grandest stage of all. Sure Dan Kroffat started the concept and Bret Hart brought it to the main stage but it was Michaels and Ramon who set the stage for those to follow. And it just so happened that they did it on the biggest platform available.

The show-long storyline of the WWF Championship, feauting Bret Hart’s two matches and the mid-card battle for the Title between Yokozuna and Lex Luger gave the show an easy flowing storyline. In addition the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match destroyed pre-conceived conceptions and charted the course for a new type of wrestling match. Plus there was a really fun Last Man Standing Match between Crush and “Macho Man” Randy Savage was a precursor to the WWF’s Hardcore division that would follow years after. It gave Savage one last moment in the WWF before his departure and blew off the long-standing rivalry that had been brewing with Crush for months.

All of that helped make this show one of the most memorable. In this case the good far outweighs the bad of a pedestrian Tag Title match, a 30 second squash match, a one-sided Women’s Title match and an embarrassing mixed tag team bout that padded out the card.

Match Results:
– The Heavenly Bodies (Jimmy Delray & Tom Pritchard) beat The Bushwackers (Luke & Butch) in a dark match before the pay per view went live on the air.
– Owen Hart pinned Bret Hart.
– Bam Bigelow & Luna Vachon beat Doink & Dink in a mixed tag match.
– “Macho Man” Randy Savage beat Crush in a Falls Count Anywhere match.
– Alundra Blayze (c) pinned Leilani Kai to retain the WWF Women’s Championship.
– Men On a Mission (Mo & Mabel) beat The Quebecers (Jacques & Pierre) (c) by count out in a WWF World Tag Team Championship match.
– Yokozuna (c) beat Lex Luger by disqualification in a WWF World Championship match. Mr. Perfect was the special guest referee.
– Earthquake pinned Adam Bomb.
– Razor Ramon (c) beat Shawn Michaels in a Ladder Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship.
– Bret “Hit Man” Hart beat Yokozuna (c) to win the WWF World Championship. Rowdy Roddy Piper was the special guest referee.

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