Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Favorite Events--WWF WrestleMania VI

Late last year while I was doing a series of entries listing my favorite wrestlers, my friend Mike came up with some other good "list" ideas.  One of the topics was doing an entry about my favorite wrestling events of all-time.  Since for so many of us fans it's hard to pick just a few, I decided to make it into a series and start with the event that I usually deem my all-time favorite, 1990's WrestleMania VI.

WrestleMania fandom is usually divided into two groups.  One group has the best memories and nostalgia from the first ten or so WrestleMania's.  While I disagree with the myth of "workrate" going against these shows, they may have possibly one or two too many matches.   Regardless, the aura and rewatchability cannot be beat.  The sensory overload of screens, lights, and scaffolding that WWE uses for Manias (and many other events) of today are meant to provide a feeling of grandeur but ultimately fall short to their predecessors.

The other group of WrestleMania fans tend to choose events from XVII onward as their favorites.  Although many memorable moments have come from these shows, it is once again the thought of fans like myself who feel that the environment and feeling of the shows does not come close to those from the past.  A big part of this is likely due to the fact that the look of the events does not deviate enough from that of the weekly programming.  Stages, ramps, and screens can only be taken so far.

The first event in "My Favorite Events" actually used the Skydome's own jumbotron as a screen in an era when the WWF's entrances consisted of a logo and curtain.  The company also used the mini-ring carts to carry the superstars to and from the ring.  These carts were used three years prior at WrestleMania III and have not been seen since.  With so many members of the current roster being fans of this era, not to mention constant demand from fans, it's surprising that these carts or something similar have not seen the light of day in over twenty years.

14 matches comprised the card which was not unheard of in that era.  A dark match that saw Paul Roma defeat The Brooklyn Brawler actually kicked off the event for the live crowd.  Aside from a photo in PWI, this match has never been seen by anyone but those who were present.  Seeing as that it was the first WrestleMania not to take place in the 1980's, many occurrences throughout the evening were symbolic ends while others marked new beginnings.

The pay-per-view's opening contest of Rick Martel defeating Koko B. Ware was perfectly placed.  While the two were not embroiled in a feud, putting two seasoned veterans in the ring together is never a bad idea.  Their respective entrance music was perfect for the opening match "heat" as well.  Cheers and boos are loud and distinct while the comforting and familiar banter of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura picks right up during the entrances.  It should be noted that this is the final time that the two were ever in the booth together.  Many fans feel that as great as Monsoon and Bobby Heenan were, the believable repartee of Monsoon and Ventura may have been just a tad better.

The second match of the evening marks two ends.  Demolition capturing their third WWF Tag Team Championship in a victory over Andre the Giant and Haku is the beginning of the end for Ax and Smash.  In the following months Demolition would turn heel, add Crush, and slowly degenerate into a forgotten act.

In addition, this match could be considered the last shining moment for Andre the Giant in a run that lasted over two decades.  Divorcing the Heenan family and once again embracing the fans, Andre rides off into the sunset on one of the aforementioned ring carts.  Although The Giant would go on to make some 1991 WWF appearances and wrestle in Mexico and Japan until a month before his passing, most fans remember WrestleMania VI as his symbolic farewell.

The star power at the event is largely unparalleled even by WrestleMania standards.  Dusty Rhodes makes his only WrestleMania wrestling appearance in a fun mixed tag team match teaming with Sapphire against Randy Savage and Sherri Martel.  Ted DiBiase and Jake "The Snake" Roberts continue their long-running feud in a battle for the Million Dollar Belt.  Big Boss Man makes short work of former Twin Tower partner Akeem.  Even Mr. Perfect hits a turning point when his televised singles winning streak is ended by Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake.

Like WrestleMania III just three years before, there was one match that the world was waiting for.  Hulk Hogan against The Ultimate Warrior with both the WWF and Intercontinental Championships on the line.  Would Hogan be able to overcome "The Ultimate Challenge" or would The Warrior take the title and the torch?  Even those who are not fans of either men had to admit that the match easily lived up to the hype.  Two positively huge and larger-than-life gladiators battling for the most celebrated prize in wrestling?  Add that to the fact that the match largely deviated from the WWF's formula of good vs evil.  This match divided the fans like never before.

After over twenty minutes of a match which ranks amongst the best of both men's careers, The Ultimate Warrior emerged victorious.  For various reasons which have always kept fans speculating, The Warrior's reign as WWF Champion was not as long as many would've imagined.  Despite that, an embrace between Hogan and The Warrior following the match is still engrained into the minds of Hulkamaniacs and Little Warriors to this day.

Helping the memories of so many is the plethora of merchandising that came out of the event.  Classic's WrestleMania series of 1990 predominantly included shots from WrestleMania VI.  An entire string of cards showcasing highlights from the main event are prominently featured.  Press kits, photos, buttons, and other promotional items survive in collections to this day and show that the WWF hype machine was just as manic then as it is today.

Almost twenty years after the match, the fond memories live on.  Jakks released a two-pack featuring Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior in their Classic Superstars line to commemorate the match.  Not only were the appropriate championship belts included, but the figures were "war torn" versions of the superstars to represent them in mid-match.

Although I watch most of the early WrestleMania events every so often, I tend to view VI more than the others.  From the opening hype of Vince McMahon declaring "The Ultimate Challenge" to the various "WrestleMania Moments" that have stood the test of time, this event always takes me to a happy place as it does for so many other fans.  It's a representation of several generations of wrestling stars wrapped up into a shiny package.  From Hogan and Warrior to Andre and Savage, Dusty and Piper to Bret and Shawn, they're all here and looking as great as ever while riding, above the fans, into battle.  It's the type of event that makes me realize why I fell in love with wrestling.  After watching, I fall in love all over again.

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