Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wrestlemania VI Revisited

You ever have one of those days where you wake up and wonder when you became an adult?  Like someone stole your Summer Vacation when you weren't looking and replaced it with boring 9-5 all day every day?  Well, I had one of those days recently.  I was walking through a department store making my way to the hardware department to find some part to fix some random thing that of course had broken down when I had least expected it.  And then I saw it.  In the Toy section, sitting on the bottom shelf of the "action figures" aisle.  An Ultimate Warrior/Hulk Hogan WWF classic figurine set from their showdown at Wrestlemania 6.

My wardrobe back to Narnia?
In a flash I was transported back 20 years to my neighborhood West Coast Video store and the countless times I had made a beeline to the Sports/ Special Interest section to peel away the Big Buck Game Hunter series and  Debbie Austin workout tapes to find the old classic Coliseum Video WWF pay-per-views.   And the many days I begged and pleaded with my Mom to let me rent said videos only to be denied.  Until one lucky afternoon, when the dam finally broke and a copy of Wrestlemania 6 made it up to the register and home to Suburbia, unlocking a world of larger than life characters, good vs. evil, face paint and spandex, and the great Gorilla Monsoon calling it all.  Seeing those action figures I knew what I must do.  And because I have friends who are equally as nerdy as I am I was able to procure a VHS copy (yes, that's right, VHS) of Wrestlemania 6.

So, here I am.  Attempting to tap back into my childhood.  Making every effort to re-create the days gone by I sit down with a medium, hand-tossed pepperoni pizza, a box of Mike & Ike's, and a Diet Mountain Dew. (Ok, I have to draw the line somewhere.)  In pops the tape and I sit back to enjoy "approx. 3 hrs" of childhood bliss. 

I always loved the beginning to any WWF video and the multiple commercials for the WWF action figures and ring.  What kid didn't drool in his Saturday morning cereal over the action figures "so close to the real thing, its like being in the ring?"  I think I had these ads memorized.
Every kid's dream.

Next, a WWF merchandise catalog commercial starring The American Dream Dusty Rhodes.  Really??  They couldn't find anyone else to pitch their products?  Maybe someone without a giant lssssssppppp.  What, was Mr. Fuji double booked?  Well, at least we know now what Dusty was doing when everyone else was hitting the gym.

A video montage depicting Warrior and Hogan as constellations in the stars with Vince McMahon crooning "champion vs. champion, title for title, its Wrrrreesssttttllmaaannnia!!!"  I am officially geeked out.

We cut to the Toronto Skydome and a giant banner with the Wrestlemania VI logo.  Because everyone knows all really cool PPVs are spelled in Roman numerals.  Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse "the Body" Ventura on commentary.  Does it get any better than this?

Who's driving this thing?
We open with the "Birdman" Koko B Ware against the "Model" Rick Martel.  I forgot about the mechanical ring cars that transported the wrestlers to the ring for this PPV.  What ever happened to those?   And how can I buy one?  Back to the match.  Martel is sporting an incredible perm.  They just don't make wrestling villains like this anymore.  Sneak attack by Martel.  Of course.  Birdman rebounds and starts some strange flapping motion.  No one in the locker room ever told him this looks ridiculous?   
I think even the bird is embarrassed.
It doesn't last long as Martel scores the victory with the Boston Crab.

Well, we have our first title match of the evening with the Tag Team Champions, the Colossal Connection defending against Demolition.  The Connection is made up of an aging Andre the Giant, a somewhat talented Haku and Bobby "the Brain" Heenan as the manager.  Heenan is by far the best thing going in this match.  I never really got the whole Demolition thing, great face paint don't get me wrong, but these guys really can't wrestle.  Its all downhill once they hit the ring.  Haku is carrying this match as he's the only guy with more than 3 moves in his arsenal...including what Gorilla tells me is a trapezius nerve hold but actually looks like an inviting deep tissue massage.  Things I accepted as truth as a kid  This one goes south for the Connection after Andre is accidentally kicked in the face by Haku and Demolition are your new Tag Team Champions.

Next up is the Earthquake vs. Hercules.  My initial prediction is 90 seconds for this one.  Let's see if  Hercules can prove me wrong.  He's trying desperately to win over the crowd but it isn't happening.  My guess is it has something to do with the tiny undies he is sporting.  I mean, c'mon I'm trying forget that what I'm watching is essentially a bunch of dudes rolling around in their skivvies.   
Hey Herc, how bout we leave a little to the imagination huh?
I'll give the guy a little credit, he puts up a better fight than anticipated and actually lasts about 3 mins.  Earthquake scores the win after his vertical splash and lands a couple more post match just for good measure.

Now I'm genuinely excited for this next match as it has one of my all-time favorite "bad guy" wrestlers (and STS top 10 wrestling heel), Mr Perfect.  Even as a kid I could appreciate his gimmick.  The towel, the swatting of the gum and the great tagline of "nobody beats Mr. Perfect, nobody."  Tonight he gets Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake who has by far the biggest mullet in all of the WWF.
Look at that thing!

Gorilla comments that Beefcake comes in with tights that "looks like a hand grenade went off in his pocket."  And he's wearing pink.  And he hails from San Francisco.  And his name is Beefcake.  Could it be?  Nah.  This one gets off to a great start as Pefect can sell a move like no one else.  He makes it look like Brutus has super-human strength, tossing him around the ring like a rag doll.  Shot of Mary Tyler Moore sitting at ringside, Gorilla claims she's a big Brutus fan...I have my doubts.  We're now reached the point of every Mr Perfect match where his hair looks like he stuck a finger in a light socket so I know this one is coming to its conclusion.
Borrowing Polamalu's shampoo I bet
Somehow Beefcake scores the upset and I'm actually pretty disappointed.  The good news is that Perfect gets away without losing any of his blond locks but the Toronto crowd is treated to Mr Perfect's manager, the Genius, getting his head trimmed instead.

No caption needed here...
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs "Bad News" Brown in what both Gorilla and Jesse promise will be a street fight.  Uh-oh.  Looks like Piper is coming to the ring half painted black and yep, he just started doing the jive in the middle of the ring.  (Bad News is African-American by the way)  This can't be politically correct.  Somewhere in Stamford, CT there's a phone ringing...hopefully.  No matter, the 60,000 plus in attendance seem to be enjoying it.  What a progressive nation Canada is.  The train wreck continues as we are treated to punching, kicking, eye gouging and even a white Michael Jackson-like glove pulled from Roddy's trunks.  Everything you'd expect from a 3 Stooges episode.  If the Stooges were racist that is.  Its all over after both Piper and Brown are counted out while brawling outside the ring.  I head to the fridge for another Diet Mountain Dew.

Well, while I was away at the fridge I missed what turned out to be the fastest match in Wrestlemania history.  The Bolsheviks, standing to sing the anthem of the USSR, were ambushed by the Hart Foundation and subsequently pinned.  Poor communists, just can't catch a break.

Time for a change of pace.  And no one changes pace like Tito Santana.  Tonight he gets to lose I mean wrestle the Barbarian.  As the match begins Jesse suggests "Chico" should've sent the Barbarian some
Mexican food with the hope of inducing a count out.  Check another nationality off the list of people groups offended so far.  About 3 minutes in Tito gets his head taken off by a Barbarian clothesline and this one is over.  Maybe next year Tito.

Really?  I mean really?
Next up is a Wrestlemania first.  An inter-gender tag team match featuring The "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire vs. "Macho King" Randy Savage and Queen Sherri.  I've already alluded to my disdain for Dusty Rhodes.  The polka dots?  None of his fellow wrestlers were like "hey Dusty, how bout you wear something that doesn't look like you made it out of old garbage bags.  Also, we lift weights sometimes.  Not sure if you knew that."And the theme song- "he's just a common man, working hard with his hands."  Huh?  At least it has some cowbell.  Jesse starts in early with the fat jokes on Dusty and Sapphire, referring to Sapphire as a little "bottom heavy."  Hehe.  The match itself is actually fairly entertaining, mostly because Savage can make anyone look good.  Even stuck in this match he brings his "A" game.  Some good back and forth between the teams, some more fat jokes from the commentators and Rhodes/Sapphire pick up the win after an assist from Miss Elizabeth who just happened to be sitting ring side. 

We cut to interviews with Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior.  This is why this era of the WWF was so great.  Warrior and Hogan were characters straight from the pages of a comic book.  Larger than life.  These two really knew how to build a character and market it to the masses.  I think it still translates today.

I mean, what's not to love?
And now to one my childhood favorites, the Rockers.  Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty.  I'm not really sure what drew me to them as a youngster.  Was it the high-flying moves?  The long, flowing mullets?  The bedazzled jean jackets?  Anyhoo.  I still maintain they could wrestle circles around some of the more popular teams of this era.  Tonight they get the Orient Express, managed by Mr. Fuji.  Two teams that can actually wrestle, I'm looking forward to this one.  The match begins with some high-flying moves and great shots of Sato's dirty beard.  Mr. Fuji gets involved early, hooking the top rope causing Jannetty to tumble outside the ring. 
You be the judge.
Again with the nerve hold.  Are all Asian wrestlers required to do this?  An interesting moment develops as Jannetty gets a hold of Fuji's cane and begins to advance toward him outside the ring.  Instantly 60,000 Toronto fans are on their feet cheering the potential beating of a senior citizen with his own walking stick.  You stay classy Canada.  But wait, what's this?!  Salt in the eyes of Jannetty by Sato causing Marty to stumble over the guard rail into the crowd.  Orient Express wins via count out.  Curses!

In this case a picture says two words...maybe

In the next bout I am treated to what will surely be a clinic on the finer points of technical wrestling.  Dino Bravo vs. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan.  As I watch these two in the ring, Dino running circles and Hacksaw pretending his two by four is a rifle, I can't help but wonder if there's a shorter tour bus that brings these two from city to city.  Does that make me a mean person?  
Dino Bravo is dubbed as the "Canadian Strongman."  Whenever your gimmick is a combination of your nationality and the fact that as a professional wrestler you are strong, you know the marketing folks back at WWF headquarters didn't waste a lot of manpower on your character.  Thankfully this match is pretty short with Duggan getting the win but taking a beating at the hands of Bravo's partner-in-crime, the Earthquake, after the match.

Another one of the matches I was really looking forward to.  The "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase vs. Jake "the Snake" Roberts.  Both had beautifully crafted characters.  Roberts wouldn't win any beauty contests but he played the brooding and shifty character perfectly.  And the crowd ate it up.  Meanwhile DiBiase might be the greatest wrestling villain ever.  The suits, the cash, the theme song.  "Cause I'm the Million Dollar Man and I ALWAYS get my way!! Mwahahahaha!"  The match starts with a fast pace.  DiBiase delivers a great pile driver and taunts the crowd while working over Roberts.  The crowd is really into this one, finally waking up from the Dusty Rhodes induced slumber (I just can't help myself).  Roberts bounces back and the crowd begins to call for the DDT which has got to be one of the top 5 finishers of all time.  Plus, it was delivered on many unsuspecting friends and siblings growing up...could be the reason play dates were so hard to come by.  But of course that sneaky DiBiase stooge Virgil gets involved and Jake gets counted out.  But Roberts gets in a post-match DDT on the Million Dollar Man and proceeds to give some of Ted's cash to fans in the front row.  I wonder what the exchange rate was in 1990...

Let's press our bellies together
I now get the privilege of watching Akeem vs. the Big Boss Man.  Formerly the tag team known as the Twin Towers, in reality they look like they ate two members of the Village People.  Interesting start to this one with the aforementioned Million Dollar Man hiding under the ring from the previous match only to jump the Big Boss Man and beat him senseless.  The rest of the match happened because I witnessed it but it sucked and therefore does not deserve mention.  Boss Man won...I think.

This gimmick didn't work?
And its officially bathroom break time as Rythm N Blues, made up of the Honky Tonk Man and Greg "the Hammer" Valentine are rolling to the ring in a pink Cadillac to sing their new single.  I return from the john to find Honky and the Hammer singing something about "Hunka love."  Honky seems to be enjoying himself while Valentine looks genuinely uncomfortable.  I don't think he knows the words and he just pretended to do a Chuck Berry style guitar solo on an acoustic guitar and stopped playing before the piped in solo was finished.  The only thing worse than his guitar playing may be his wrestling.  I'm pretty sure one of Dante's stages of hell is watching Dusty Rhodes/Greg Valentine matches on loop.  The Bushwackers interrupt the show but no one in the crowd knows who they are so Honky announces them like they're following him on stage or something.  *Sigh*

Tom Sellick- eat your heart out
Thankfully "Ravishing" Rick Rude is up next.  What a genius this guy was.  And wow is he looking put together for this match.  I probably shouldn't have typed that.  Look, I'm not saying that as a young boy I donned my mother's bath robe, plugged in my brother's karaoke machine, and told the neighbors to "cut the music."  But I'm also not saying I didn't.  The only disappointment with this match is that Rude has to try and carry Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka through it.  He tries his best though, flying all over the ring and overselling every lame Snuka backhand chop just to try and make Superfly look competent.  A classic wrestling mistake by Snuka, shooting Rude into the ropes and then ducking his head, turns the tide in this one.  (Clutch- where are you?)  Ravishing finishes him off with the Rude Awakening neck-breaker to get the win.

Well, I hear the Ultimate Warrior's music hit and I know its time for the Main Event.  The match that put me in awe of the world that was the WWF.  I'm honestly excited to see if it still stands the test of time.  Both of these guys can make an entrance.  Has there ever been a Wrestlemania main event to top this one?  Methinks not.  The tension is palpable as both men square off the middle of the ring and hand over their respective titles to the referee.  A couple of shoves, a lockup and here we go.  Early on we see the classic "test of strength" or as Gorilla calls it the "Greco-Roman knucklelock."        
Both guys take turns winning and then we see a couple of stalemated shoulder blocks followed by the infamous "criss-cross" running the ring ropes.  After trading body slams the match appears to be dead even and the Toronto Skydome is jacked up.  I have officially been transported back to my childhood.  Warrior takes the early advantage after Hogan injures his knee landing outside the ring.  Hogan rebounds and even breaks out a few technically savvy moves.  Was that really a front face lock followed by a small package?  And yes I'm describing a wrestling match...get your mind outta the gutter.  Admittedly a life-long Warrior fan I'll give the Hulkster his due here.  He's putting together a slow, deliberate match.  Warrior powers back and the crowd still seems split 50-50 in their allegiance.  The two collide in the middle of the ring with a double clothesline, a move much harder to replicate in a suburban basement than on TV I'll have you know.  Both guys gradually get up and Warrior goes into his patented rope shaking with Gorilla announcing that he is "impervious" to pain.  Even the Warrior puts together a suplex followed by a bear-hug.  Where is all this coming from?  Back comes Hogan now and the referee gets knocked out.  Both guys land big moves but    
Warrior with the Gorilla Press Slam!
 can't secure the win with the ref out of commission.  The Skydome is really on edge now.  And the Warrior does what I didn't think possible and nails his famous Gorilla Press Slam on the heavyweight champ.  Amazing.  There's the big splash from the Warrior that has won him countless matches and it should be all over now.  But no!  Hogan kicks out!  He begins his classic "hulking up" bit, shaking his tiny little flock of blond hair follicles.  Uh-oh, its the finger point by Hogan, the three punches followed by the big boot to the face of the Warrior.  As a child I knew what happens next in this sequence of every Hulk Hogan match.  He would hit his famous leg drop and get the win.  My heart was in my throat as a watched Hogan bounce off the ropes and go for the leg drop.  But to my shock and amazement Warrior moves out of the way at the last second, bounces off the ropes and hits his own big splash on Hogan!  One....two....three!!  The Ultimate Warrior is the new WWF Heavyweight champion! Hogan leaves the ring to grab his title, hands it the Warrior and raises his hand in victory.  "A true champion" echo Gorilla and Jesse.  Fireworks explode and the Warrior celebrates his victory.
Still the best.
So there you have it.  You sat shotgun on my trip back to yesteryear.  A time where the WWF ruled the Saturday morning airwaves with their comic book style heroes and villains, inspiring a suburban kid to color his face with Crayola markers, tie shoestrings to his arms and battle his friends until Mom sent everyone home from dinner.  And its still as priceless as ever.