January 23, 2002
Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart was not your typical professional wrestler. He didn’t bark and growl during interviews, didn’t weigh 300lbs, and was one of the least charismatic stars on the cartoonish WWF roster. In many ways he was average or even below average compared to the stereotypical overgrown WWF star but the one thing he had on his side was skill. While so many of the WWF’s stars learned their trade in wrestling schools, Hart learned how to wrestle from the very day he was born. His father, legendary wrestler and promoter Stu Hart, raised Bret and his twelve siblings in a wrestling home, a wrestling city (Calgary, Alberta), and in a wrestling promotion. Bret Hart was born to be a wrestler even if he didn’t realize it until years later.
When Stu sold his territory to the WWF in the early 80s, Vince McMahon brought Bret onboard just as the wrestling company was about to reach it’s biggest mainstream boom to that point. For years, Hart made up one half of the Hart Foundation – alongside his brother-in-law Jim ‘the Anvil’ Neidhart. The Hart Foundation battled all the teams of the era – from Demolition to the Rockers, the British Bulldogs to the Killer Bees, the Legion of Doom to Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard. The Anvil was always there with the power and the Hitman was always there with the technical expertise (an attribute that earned him the nickname of ‘the excellence of execution’ by longtime WWF personality Gorilla Monsoon). Their unique combined skills made them one of the hottest duos in an era when the tag team field could not have been bigger or more competitive.
When Neidhart went into semi-retirement in 1991 it opened the doors for Bret to break out on his own and become a singles star. Within months, ‘the Hitman’ had amassed an impressive undefeated streak and with it the prestigious Intercontinental Championship. From August 1991 to August 1992, Hart was the man when it came to the IC title scene. That all came to an end in front of 83,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium when his brother-in-law ‘the British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith dethroned him of the title in a highly contested battle that went down as the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year for 1992.
In a shocking turn of events, Bret took one step back to take two steps forward as he defeated the legendary ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair a mere 6 weeks later to win his first ever WWF World Heavyweight Title. I say this was shocking because there was no buildup to the match and no buildup to Hart becoming a main event star. It completely came out of nowhere and the WWF knew they would have to make Bret a legitimate champion in as short a period of time as they could. In a matter of weeks, Bret successfully defended his newly won title against nearly everyone on the roster including Ric Flair, Bam Bam Bigelow, Virgil, Rick Martel, The Mountie, Shawn Michaels, Repo Man, Bezerker, and Razor Ramon. He was the hottest commodity in wrestling as 1992 came to a close and there seemed to be no end in sight.
However, with the beginning of each new year comes another installment in the WWF’s annual Royal Rumble event. The 30-man over-the-top rope event had long been one of the most anticipated matches and pay-per-view shows but, with the newly added stipulation stating that the winner of the match would receive a world title shot at WrestleMania XI, the anticipation was like no other. All of the WWF’s top talent would be involved – from former heavyweight title holders like Ric Flair, the Undertaker, and Randy Savage to solidified mid-carders like Mr. Perfect, Ted Dibiase, and Jim Duggan to new members to the roster like Jerry Lawler, Bob Backlund, and Yokozuna. It was the mighty Yokozuna who truly dominated the match, using his massive 500lbs to easily toss his opponents out of the ring. Following a brutal attack on Randy Savage, Yoko sent the humbled superstar to the floor and earned his right to fight for the heavyweight gold at the WWF’s biggest show of the year.
And so the scene was set – Bret Hart, the champion who had already defied so many odds, would put his prestigious championship on the line against a man who had no equal. Yokozuna was something out of Greek mythology – a Japanese sumo wrestler so large, so strong yet at the same time so quick and so agile. He was like a sleeping monster ready to destroy those who stood in his way. No one could and American patriot Jim Duggan found that out the hard way mere weeks before WrestleMania. Bret Hart was the underdog, but he had made it clear that he thrived in those situations. Would this one be any different?
We all knew the main event for WrestleMania in January but had no idea as to what other plans Vince McMahon had up his sleeve – plans that included the return of WWF icon Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s longtime friend Brutus Beefcake made his return to the ring 2 weeks after the Rumble and almost immediately was on the receiving end of Ted Dibiase & IRS’ steel briefcase. In mere days, Hogan would return to his former stomping grounds to stand beside Beefcake and challenge the WWF Tag Team Champions. Aligning themselves with ‘Money Inc.’s former manager Jimmy Hart, the Mega Maniacs (as they became known) could see the tag team gold in their future.
And so the stage was set. A return of a legend and a collision course for the WWF World Title provided the double main event for the 9th annual installment of Vince McMahon’s wrestling extravaganza. It would all take place on a sunny Las Vegas spring afternoon; a city tailor-made for the WWF’s ‘sports entertainment’.
The date: Sunday, April 4, 1993
The setting: Caesar’s Palace outdoor arena; Las Vegas, NV
The commentary team: Jim Ross, Randy Savage, & Bobby Heenan
The event opens up with a big shocker as Jim Ross, a man that served as the cornerstone commentator for the NWA and WCW for nearly a decade, makes his television debut in the WWF. WCW had fired him a few months earlier, deciding that his thick Oklahoma accent was not going to help the company rise to new heights in popularity. I bet they were kicking themselves a few years later for that huge mistake.
16,000 fans are in attendance at the Caesar’s Palace outdoor stadium, there are a few white clouds in the otherwise blue sky, and the pageantry of WrestleMania is like never before as even the commentating team is dressed in ancient Roman attire.
WWF Intercontinental Championship – Shawn Michaels (w/ Luna Vachon) © vs. Tatanka (w/ Sensational Sherri)
Tatanka was the WWF’s version of Bill Goldberg, only with talent and the ability to put on a match longer than 30 seconds. After joining the WWF a little over a year before this event, Tatanka went on to gain a very impressive undefeated streak against everyone he stepped into the ring against. Various midcard talents such as Rick Martel, Bezerker, and Repo Man all fell in defeat to the Native American. Then, in early February, Tatanka met the IC champ in a non-title match as part of WWF Superstars. Michaels was red hot after thwarting his former tag team partner Marty Jannetty – but it was Tatanka who emerged with the big win. Weeks later, he again pinned Michaels during a 6-man tag team match. Would the momentum continue here or would the champion solidify his spot?
Michaels comes to the ring first, with the deranged Luna Vachon following several yards behind. There’s no back-story as to why she’s in Michaels corner but it does somewhat make sense moments later as Michaels’ former valet Sensational Sherri comes out with Tatanka.
As Jim Ross mentions right at the start of the bout, Tatanka had defeated Michaels on two previous occasions – but could he beat him when the title is on the line? The challenger destroys Michaels within the first few minutes, eventually sending the champion to the concrete floor. While it’s impressive for any man to send Shawn Michaels reeling, it’s intensified when the champion makes his opponent look good by selling each and every blow like the match is mere moments from being over.
Michaels soon regains the momentum, hitting several impressive moves including a clothesline to the floor and a standing dropkick. The champion uses a number of rest holds but the challenger eventually gets his momentum back and gains a number of near falls before a failed attempt of his fall away slam gives Michaels the advantage. Tatanka catches Michaels in mid air, as the champion comes off the top rope, and powerslams him to the mat for another near fall.
The two battle briefly on the floor and, as the referee is about to count Michaels out of the ring, the champion trips the referee – knocking him to the mat. Back inside the ring, Tatanka hits the fall away slam for a sure-fire victory but instead the referee declares him the winner via count-out. So while Tatanka’s undefeated streak would continue, Michaels would escape with the title on a technicality (titles can only change hands via pinfall or submission).
In a post-match altercation, Luna attacks Sherri – beginning a several month long feud between the two women.
Bottom Line: A very solid opener
Winner via count-out at 18:14: Tatanka
Rick & Scott Steiner vs. The Headshrinkers (w/ Afa)
The two brothers from the University of Michigan had dominated the tag team scene outside the WWF for years. At one point they were the holders for the WCW United States Tag Team Titles, the WCW World Tag Team Titles, and the IWGP Tag Team Titles (from Japan) all at the same time. Their amateur background combined with their stiff, hard-hitting style of wrestling made them one of the most successful and popular duos of all time. They had entered the WWF in late 1992 and this would be their toughest challenge to date.
The Headshrinkers had been in the WWF just a few months longer than the Steiners and also had quite a history in the NWA / WCW. Fatu & Samu were two bloodthirsty islanders from Samoa that had already made a name for themselves with numerous victories over the Natural Disasters and the Nasty Boys. They were known for putting their own bodies on the line in order to further punish their opponents. For instance, once in a match against two preliminary wrestlers, Fatu hit his trademark top rope splash from the top turnbuckle all the way to the concrete floor – crushing his opponent underneath.
In a time when rankings meant something, this was a very important battle between two top teams. This was an unofficial #1 contenders match in which the winners were sure to come face to face with the tag team champions in the coming weeks and months. This match has the distinction of being the first ‘slobberknocker’ of Jim Ross’ WWF career – and he describes it as such.
Clotheslines, suplexes, and powerslams – oh my! The Headshrinkers take the edge at the 5-minute mark after Scott Steiner takes a hard fall to the concrete followed by outside interference from Afa – the Headshrinkers’ manager. Samu and Fatu continue the assault both in and out of the ring following the plunge to the floor, soon sending Steiner head-first into the steel ring post. Samu misses a diving headbutt from the top rope, allowing Scott to make the hot tag to his brother. Rick soon finds himself set up for a double team maneuver – but amazingly catches Samu in mid air and suplexes him from the top of Fatu’s shoulders (has to be seen!). Scott soon hits the trademark Frankensteiner on Samu moments later to pick up the big win and continue the Steiners’ success in the WWF.
Bottom Line: A great hard-hitting match from two talented teams
Winners at 14:22: Rick & Scott Steiner
Crush vs. Doink the Clown
This match had been brewing since January when Doink brutally attacked the large Hawaiian with a prosthetic arm during WWF Superstars, giving Crush a concussion and taking him out of the Royal Rumble match and costing him a potential world title shot. From that moment on, Doink – who began his WWF career by teasing and scaring children at ringside – stepped into the ring. His technical ability was evident but could a few submission holds be enough to thwart a 6’7 Hawaiian powerhouse whose intent it was to crush (no pun intended) the annoying clown?
Crush soundly dominates the match even before the bell sounds, first by chasing his opponent around the ring and then destroying him inside the ring. The giant of a man relies on his power and speed to send the smaller clown reeling. Doink regains the momentum for a short while, using his intelligence and capitalizing on Crush’s mistakes (although they are few). Doink focuses on the head of Crush, trying to re-injure the skull by ramming it into the steel ringpost. Crush eventually regains momentum, locking Doink in the dreaded cranium vice until Doink pushes the referee to the mat. The evil clown attempts to retreat to under the ring but Crush drags him back in and applies the submission hold for what would be a sure victory – were the referee not still knocked out.
Another painted-face clown dressed as Doink comes from under the ring and nails Crush with another prosthetic arm. The huge Hawaiian turns his attention to his new foe, only to be hit once more – breaking the prosthesis in half and knocking Crush out cold. The real Doink makes the easy pinfall.
Bottom Line: Doink shows he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve
Winner at 8:27: Doink the Clown
Bob Backlund vs. Razor Ramon
Backlund was a very accomplished amateur wrestler and had held the WWF World Title for a span of 6 years in the late 70s and early 80s. Shortly following his title loss in December 1983, Backlund left the company just as it began to take off as a part of pop culture. Upon his return in late 1992, Backlund had done fairly little aside from lasting over an hour in the 1993 Royal Rumble.
Razor, on the other hand, entered the WWF with much fanfare in 1992 and was immediately pitted against many of the top midcard stars. Following victories over the Big Bossman and Randy Savage, Razor earned a title shot against Bret Hart at the Royal Rumble. After a hard-fought loss, Razor had been stuck in limbo with no feud or storyline behind him.
Razor plays to the crowd, which is good because otherwise they would be pretty bored. ‘The Bad Guy’ uses his brawling tactics while Backlund uses his speed and technical skills to keep the larger Razor offguard. The former world champion catapults Razor back inside the ring but, as he goes for a slam, Razor uses an inside cradle to get the pin.
Backlund’s old school style of wrestling didn’t fit in with the new era of young competitors that were bigger, stronger, faster, and more capable than those of the 70s and 80s. So while the WWF does bring in former stars from time to time, they rarely are given the opportunity to further their legacy. For instance, Mr. Perfect was used in the 2002 Royal Rumble that took place this past Sunday. Will he remain in the WWF for a while? Hopefully, he’s a big favorite of mine. Will he ever hold another WWF championship belt or have a major pay-per-view battle? I doubt it. It’s just the way things are.
Bottom Line: A changing of the guard as the old makes way for the new
Winner at 3:45: Razor Ramon
WWF Tag Team Championship – Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. Ted Dibiase & IRS ©
While they were the major underdogs going into the title match, Money Inc. did have one thing on their side – they were the champions. And for the champions to lose their titles, they would have to be pinned or be made to submit. Helping the their case was the fact that Hulk Hogan, who had been out of wrestling for a year, entered the ring with a nasty looking black eye. While the champions took credit for hiring thugs to take care of the Hulkster, it was really Randy Savage who gave Hogan the shiner a night before the event.
Hogan & Beefcake dominate the first few minutes, with Hogan playing to the crowd after every blow. The champions attempt to leave the ring and get themselves counted-out so they could leave with the titles, but the referee orders that if they did not return to the ring they would be stripped of the championship belts. Back inside the ring, the champions finally retake the match – using illegal tactics before Dibiase locks Hogan in the dreaded Million $ Dream.
Once Hogan does make the hot tag, Beefcake takes care of the opposition before being tripped. The champions strip Beefcake of his facemask (worn as protection after being hit with IRS’ steel briefcase), leaving him open to attack. Dibiase and IRS take turns pummeling the challenger’s face, leaving him a dazed man on the brink of submission until a collision between IRS and the referee moments later takes the referee out of the match. Inside the ring, Hogan uses Beefcake’s mask to hit both of the champions – knocking them completely unconscious. Jimmy Hart makes the unofficial double pin and gives the belts to his men until another referee stops the match and disqualifies the challengers for using the mask as a weapon.
Money Inc. kept their titles but it was Hogan & Beefcake that ended the segment posing in celebration in the middle of the ring. This would not be the last we would see of the Hulkster on this night.
Bottom Line: A welcome return but no title change
Winners via disqualification at 18:43 and still champions: Money Inc
Mr. Perfect vs. ‘The Narcissist’ Lex Luger
Luger, a former WCW World Champion, had entered the WWF during January’s Royal Rumble – immediately targeting Bobby Heenan’s former protégé Mr. Perfect. Perfect had only recently sent Heenan’s top wrestler, Ric Flair, out of the WWF and was about as red hot as one can be, while Luger had amassed an undefeated streak thanks to his steel-plated forearm. Who would leave this match with bragging rights? Luger had started the day as a newsmaker, knocking out WWF World Champion Bret Hart during the WrestleMania brunch, and had intentions of continuing that momentum with a win here.
One of the highlights to this match is the pre-match posing by Luger, with several bikini-clad women holding giant mirrors up so he can get a good look at himself. Once the match begins, Perfect uses his technical prowess while Luger relies on his power and illegal tactics. While Luger uses powerslams, back breakers, and clotheslines – Perfect counters by targeting Luger’s leg and following up with a dropkick off the top and a catapult into the steel ringpost.
Late in the match, Perfect attempts a backslide – only for Luger to reverse it and use one of his own. With Perfect’s feet not only touching the ropes but also inbetween the ropes, Luger gets the tainted win and afterwards knocks Perfect out with his trademark running forearm. Once Perfect regains his senses, he runs backstage to find Luger – but instead finds Shawn Michaels, sparking a feud that would last till August.
The match lacks something. I don’t know if it’s Luger’s workrate or the fact that Perfect is a much better heel than face, but it just didn’t work. The finish of the match is even worse. Are we to believe that each referee in each match is completely stupid and / or blind? It works if it’s just one or two matches but when more than half the matches end controversially it’s bad.
Bottom Line: Two major stars in a poorly executed and booked filler match
Winner at 10:56: Lex Luger
The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) vs. Giant Gonzalez (w/ Harvey Wippleman)
The Undertaker, the WWF’s resident stalker / gravedigger / dead man, had met his match during the Royal Rumble when Harvey Wippleman unleashed the 8ft tall Giant Gonzalez. Gonzalez laid the Undertaker to waste on that night, beating him worse than anyone ever had before. The man in black, the man that everyone was intimidated of soon found himself to be the underdog for the first time.
Being led to ringside with a vulture perched to his side, the Undertaker doesn’t seem intimidated or like he has something to prove. He enters the ring like every other match, ready to lay another opponent to waste. But this isn’t just any opponent, this opponent stands more than a foot taller than the dead man – with plenty of power and strength to go with it. The two trade blows to start the match, with Gonzalez soon trapping his opponent in a chokehold.
The match continues at a brawling pace, with Gonzalez continuing to dominate. Late in the match, just as the Undertaker gains the advantage, Wippleman gets on the apron to distract the Taker. Gonzalez seizes the opportunity and nails Paul Bearer before smoldering his opponent with a rag soaked in chloroform, getting himself disqualified but leaving the Taker unconscious.
The Undertaker is taken out of the ring on a stretcher while Gonzalez celebrates his moral victory. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, the Undertaker staggers back to the ring moments later to send the giant reeling and, for the first time, scared. This would be just another chapter of a feud that would last until August.
Bottom Line: You can’t kill what’s already dead
Winner via disqualification at 7:30: The Undertaker
WWF World Heavyweight Championship – Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart © vs. Yokozuna (w/ Mr. Fuji)
And now the time has come. There was no more time for talk or speculation. Would the champion still be suffering from taking a Bonzai Drop from Yokozuna during the contract signing? Would Bret have what it takes to thwart this challenger? Would there be any after effects from being knocked out by Lex Luger earlier in the day? Now is the time to find out.
Hart is all about strategy and his game plan is clear from the bell – get the challenger off his feet and wear him down. Within seconds of the bell, Bret hits a beautiful dropkick and traps the challenger in the corner – pounding away at the forehead. Yoko regains the momentum and pushes Hart to the floor however, Bret traps Yoko’s foot inbetween the ropes, tripping and eventually dropping the big man. The champion takes full advantage for as long as he can, with the crowd loving every moment.
Yoko turns the tide of the match at a blink of an eye, soon hitting a devastating legdrop – crushing the head of the champion. With 7 minutes into the battle, Bret moves out of the way as Yoko crashes into the turnbuckle. With the challenger staggering, the champion leaps off the middle turnbuckle with a bulldog headlock. Moments later, a clothesline drops the 500lb challenger to the mat.
As Hart pounds away at the challenger in the corner, Yoko pulls Bret away but not before the champion takes the turnbuckle pad off in the process – revealing the cold steel underneath. The challenger soon meets the unprotected turnbuckle head-first, sending him to the mat and opening the door for Bret to apply his dreaded Sharpshooter leglock – the submission hold that not only won him the title but kept it around his waist ever since. As Yoko is on the verge of giving up, Mr. Fuji throws salt into the champion’s eyes – allowing the challenger to hook the leg and score the easy pinfall as the crowd screams foul.
As Yoko is given the championship belt, Hulk Hogan appears to dispute the call and tell the referee what really happened. Mr. Fuji gives Hogan a challenge on behalf of his man, saying that Yokozuna will put the title on the line and crush Hogan right there right now. Hogan, after being supported by ‘the Hitman’ and the 16,000 on hand, agrees. After a miscommunication between Yoko and Fuji, Hogan hits his trademark legdrop and regains the WWF World Title in a shocking turn of events.
Bottom Line: The biggest miscarriage of justice yet
Winner and new champion at 8:56: Yokozuna
Bottom Line: The pay-per-view ends on a positive note
Winner and new champion in 24 seconds: Hulk Hogan
And so the Hulkster returned in a major way by capturing his 5th and final WWF World Heavyweight Championship, ending the show in a celebratory fashion. Yoko would eventually regain the title in June, becoming a dominating champion until dropping the title back to Bret at WrestleMania X.
I really have mixed feelings for WrestleMania IX. On one hand, it was the first wrestling pay-per-view I ever saw and the pre-show hype is something today’s wrestling industry could use. Almost each match was an ‘event’ with weeks, even months, of buildup. On the other hand, almost all the finishes were controversial – and not in a good way. If one or two matches ended controversially, then I could live with it. But when each match relies on a referee being knocked out or looking the other way, it becomes silly.
Is this worth watching? Sure if you’re a wrestling fan. Is there anything truly memorable about this show? Aside from the David vs. Goliath main event, not really. What’s sad is that Bret vs. Yoko was meant to be a much longer bout but because the massive challenger became winded so quickly it had to be cut in mid match. If there was one WWF event from 1993 I would recommend seeing, it would be the King of the Ring – the show immediately after this one.