The driving narrative of the WWE Network is that if you spend $10 a month, you’ll get access to all these great moments in wrestling history. Go back and watch the Shawn Michaels/Bret Hart ironman match! The CM Punk/Cena clashes of 2011! All the great Undertaker streak moments! Old, great episodes of Monday Nitro! Even the low-budget, high-octane ECW pay-per-views! There’s so much great content at your fingertips.
And that’s true -- the WWE Network is an excellent history lesson, but that’s only half the reason to make the minimal investment. For every great, euphoric moment in wrestling history, there is an equally abysmal, inexplicable, offensive, unintentionally hilarious one serving as a stark counterweight. We get all the good history, sure, but that also comes with the bad. This new series goes through the worst wrestling pay-per-views we can find and offers insight on some of the forgotten garbage that stalks the hallowed halls of sports entertainment.
We begin with the granddaddy of them all. WrestleMania IX, live from Caesar’s Palace in 1993, often considered to be the worst WrestleMania of all time.
The Great Cheese Time-Crunch
Mean Gene Okerlund in a Roman Legionnaire’s outfit doesn’t seem like something that should’ve happened in 1993. I mean, this is the same year that Nirvana put out its third album, which wasn’t that long ago, right? This is modernity! This is the Clinton administration! Oh my god has it really been 21 years? Uh oh.
The ‘90s have become the ‘50s -- a decade far enough into the past that it’s only remembered through broad, cultural language. It’s why the only thing kids know about 1985 are the leg-warmers. So when Jim Ross dons an Emperor’s tiara, and Macho Man is fed fresh grapes from supple virgins, know that in 1994, this all made perfect sense. We’ve changed, 1993 hasn’t, and our frame of context is long, long dead. That, my friends, is the great cheese time-crunch. Everything you know and love will someday be cheesy, and it’s happening faster than you think.
By the way, seeing Ross sans-cowboy hat will never not be weird.
Shawn Michaels vs. “Hey, is that racist?”
Oh Tatanka. The great, howling Tatanka. A legit Native American from the very Native American Pembroke, N.C., who was promptly handed a massive headdress and a hatchet by Vince McMahon. He was a face! People loved him! He’s actually still doing indie wrestling to this day! But here he is, in Caeser’s Palace, wrestling Shawn Michaels in fringed boots.
We’ll overlook the casual racism since it wasn’t the reason this Wrestlemania was bad. After all, every Native American character in wrestling history has been a crude stereotype, and at the very least Tatanka was popular. This Intercontintental Title Match against a VERY petulant Shawn Michaels was predictably fun. The finish however, was awful. Shawn Michaels limply tugs on the ref’s foot from outside the ring, the ref falls down, Shawn climbs back in, gets pummeled by Tatanka, who then goes for the cover… and then the ref calls for a disqualification because The Heartbreak Kid made him fall down for five seconds.
Yes, in an implied sport where it’s not uncommon to see referees get thrown through tables, a soft tug on the leg caused a title match to end in DQ, thus letting Shawn Michaels retain.
This, my friends, is what we call lazy booking. And as you’ll read, that sort of poor decision-making has rightfully become WrestleMania IX’s legacy.
The Innocent Steiners
Straight up, the only context I have for the Steiner Brothers is the younger Scott wearing chainmail on his head and saying a bunch of weird things. Big Poppa Pomp, the Booty Daddy, the Genetic Freak -- little did I know that once upon a time he and his brother used to wear pink onesies and constantly drop the fact that they went to the University of Michigan. Seriously, their entrance graphic puts it on full display. Were the Wolverines really good in ’93? Or was this classic family-friendly homelmoneyiness from an unsoiled WWE?
Anyway, they fight the Head Shrinkers, who are Rikishi and some other guy, and the Steiners go over in mediocre fashion. It’s uneventful, outside the novelty of watching Scott Steiner move without looking like his guts are gonna fall out.
The Arrogance of the WWE
This is the worst wrestling match I’ve ever seen in my life. It pits Crush, the guy who constantly talked about how he was from Hawaii, against Doink the Clown. Doink gets some unfair heat these days because of the myriad of terrible ideas that spawned out of his storylines, but elementally I always thought he was a decent character. Yeah, it’s your usual evil clown pomp, but in ’93 you could actually call that trail-blazing for the edgier, scarier Attitude years. I was afraid of Doink. That counts for something.
Unfortunately, Doink could not wrestle. Like, not at all. Solid ringside character, absurdly incompetent inside the ropes. Crush wasn’t quite as bad, but you know, he was still Crush. He’s not the guy you want carrying the weight.
Sometimes you throw in a bunch of awkward ingredients and come out with something odd and funny and slightly compelling, but more often than not you get this. There is no running in this wrestling match. None. Crush and Doink wander around the ring occasionally putting on sleeper holds, throwing listless, molasses-slow punches, and performing the saddest pile-driver you will ever see. Crush so clearly doesn’t want to be wrestling a clown, and Doink looks like the most self-conscious person in the building. There were moments that I had to remind myself that I was watching a real-life WrestleMania. There’s not much I ask out of pro wrestling, but one of my requirements has always been to at least remotely approximate a real fight. I mean, that’s what wrestling is supposed to be an extension of, right? And I’m pretty sure in a real fight you’d, you know, maybe run a little bit.
Look, you may be a connoisseur of cheese, but nothing will ever prepare you for this ending. Doink is outside the ring and starts to shuffle under the mat. Is he getting a chair? A ladder? Some sort of hilarious clown trick? Nope! He’s getting another Doink. Like, another man dressed up as Doink, who then starts to beat Crush to death with a prosthetic arm. The referee is predictably knocked out while this is happening, but magically awakens right as the first Doink locks on the pin.
So, that’s obviously very silly, but my favorite part is when they cut back to some yahoo sideline reporter, who’s asking random audience members if they saw one Doink or two, like there’s ANY POSSIBLE WAY someone could NOT SEE the TWO CLOWNS in the WRESTLING RING. You know, THE PLACE WHERE THE SHOW HAPPENS. Naturally, the first person the reporter talks to doesn’t know English, because this is WrestleMania IX and nothing can go right.
Also, both these guys are dead now, and that’s sad. 1993 was a long, long time ago in wrestling years.
The 1993 Version of 2014 Chris Jericho
Nothing to see here. Bob Backlund was already mostly retired, and the WWE needed an old guy with nothing left to gain to get his handshake refused by a much taller Razor Ramon. It’s a little melancholy seeing such a healthy Scott Hall, who quickly rolls up Backlund for the “clean win on the big stage” victory that’s always been a part of the push. Good business, best practices, let’s move on.
An Earnest Question
Okay, my experience watching Hulk Hogan is entirely limited to the nWo days, when he was already old and cool. I always forgave his limited offense because a guy that’s taken that many bumps in a career deserves to be cut some slack. No one needs to see Hulk Hogan tear any ligaments.
But man, as I’ve been watching these older Hogan matches I have to ask, did this dude ever have any real offense? The entirety of this tag-match between Hogan and Brutus Beefcake versus Money Inc. (the inimitable Ted DiBiase and I.R.S.,) has him doing the same airy punches, endless sleeper holds, and that infuriating Big Boot, where Hogan tosses someone off the ropes and they always, always hit their head on the bottom of his shoe. Why is 40-year old Hulk Hogan doing things I’d expect out of 60-year old Hulk Hogan? Again, this might just be my ignorance.
Anyways, the match continues exactly how you’d expect, considering you’ve got a whole bunch of sub-par performers in the ring. A lot of rest holds, prop gags and referee distractions. Really, Beefcake is the only guy who’s putting in any work, and he still has to wear red-and-yellow Hogan-brand tights. Eventually Hulk starts to “HULK UP” and starts “RUNNIN’ WiLD,” which prompts Macho Man (on commentary) to say “I’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE!!!”
Really? You’ve seen that thing that Hulk Hogan does in every match before? You know, that thing he’s done against you a handful of times? Thanks Macho Man, a salient perspective, no doubt.
Also the ending of this match is hilarious. Once again the referee takes some phantom bump and is knocked unconscious, the match progresses, and both Hogan and Beefcake get a cover on Money Incorporated. Jimmy Hart, the babyface manager, tries to stir the ref from his slumber, but when that doesn’t work he simply turns his coat inside-out to reveal zebra stripes and counts out the heels himself. When the referee realizes what happened, he DQs Hulk and Beefcake, who proceed to act like this is a huge injustice.
Look, man. I don’t care if you’re supposed to be the good guys. If your manager steps in for the ref, to the point of already having a referee’s uniform around just in case, that’s cheating. You got disqualified because that’s what’s supposed to happen if you do something like that. The WWE passes this off like some great injustice, so I guess that means the WWE is a systematic evil corporation simply through doing its job? Wait, okay, maybe this really does make sense.
Lex Luger When He Was Likable
Ah, Narcissist-era Lex Luger, back when he was a scumbag heel sporting Mel Gibson locks. He’s matched up against the late, great Mr. Perfect, who consistently looks like Stretch Armstrong. They have match. It was fine. Perfect had his feet on the ropes but the ref didn’t see it so he got pinned anyway. This is a column about bad wrestling, not slightly-above-average wrestling, so let’s move on.
When They Talk About The Streak, They Don’t Talk About This
So here’s The Undertaker, looking very young and svelte and wearing that old-school chunky tie with Paul Bearer on his side. Taker is only a few steps into his indomitable, oft-cited WrestleMania undefeated streak, and here he’s matched up against Giant Gonzalez.
Giant Gonzalez was a 7”6’ Argentinian dude who was given a skintight naked body suit and asked to go wrestle. Seriously.
You feel bad for Giant Gonzalez, because there was no human ever less-prepared to perform in a wrestling ring. He could barely move without one of his knees exploding in a mess of blood and tendons. The closest analog I can think of is late-period Andre the Giant. Go watch one of those early ‘90s Royal Rumbles where Andre is just standing around choking people. That was Gonzalez’s entire career. A man who was hired for his size, and never taught a lick about the art.
Okay, so the finish. Um, Giant Gonzalez chloroforms The Undertaker. Like, he takes a rag covered with chloroform and sticks it into Taker’s face, and then gets disqualified. Giant Gonzalez stands very still with his arms raised until Taker revives, who comes charging back into the ring to serve up a clothesline.
I just… what? This is the match before the main event at a WresetleMania, and it involves a chloroform finish. It’s at this exact moment where you realize why WrestleMania IX has the reputation that it does.
Pray For the Memory of Yokozuna
Yokozuna is awesome. When he climbs into that ring with his stupid sumo gimmick and Mr. Fuji standing pat with his callous, calm, I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on smile, you immediately think of the worst hossy narratives. But when he bumps like crazy, throws massive superkicks and blows people up with devastating leg drops, you realize you were totally wrong. This Bret Hart/Yokozuna match only goes on for like 10 minutes, and the finish is Fuji throwing salt in Hart’s face to disrupt his Sharpshooter, but it still serves as a reminder of why Yokozuna is in the hall of fame.
I’d like to leave it at that, but unfortunately my friends, this is WrestleMania IX. So Hart loses, and Yokozuna owns the belt, which immediately prompts Hulk Hogan to storm out of the locker room. Hogan is apparently incensed by what happened to his friend and title-holder Bret Hart, so he challenges Yoko to a match on the spot, which he wins in eight seconds… thus giving the strap to Hogan. Not Hart. The guy who was cheated. And who had the title a few minutes before. Hogan stands in the ring, celebrating the championship that he essentially stole from his friend. Like this is barely anything more than a heel Money in the Bank briefcase cash-in. It doesn’t matter if Hogan had nothing to do with the feud or title picture, because Hogan always wins.
So that’s WrestleMania IX. If I were Eric Bischoff, I’d probably be thinking that I could compete with this product too.