WWF WrestleMania IX Review feat. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna

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WWF WrestleMania IX

WWF WrestleMania IX often appears near the top of lists which focus on the worst WrestleManias and also the worst WWF/WWE PPV events of all-time. I can certainly understand these views, but I happen to disagree and not only do I believe that WM IX isn’t the worst of the worst, but it’s actually a bit underrated in terms of overall entertainment.

Before we get going, let’s mention the fact that this card was held at the back of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the custom-set had a Roman theme (not Reigns), which led to the likes of new announcer Jim Ross wearing a toga and Bobby Heenan infamously arriving backwards on a camel. This is part of the pageantry and spectacle that has always allowed Mania to stand out, and in 1993, the entire event took on this motif. What surprises me is why so many people are critical of this aspect of the show, because to me all of these elements (along with it being the first outdoors Mania) helped to make the show totally unique, giving it a personality that makes this stand out amongst the other WM events. Incidentally, how crazy is it that as of this writing (March 30 2020), this remains the only WM to be held in Vegas until at least 2021?

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match
Shawn Michaels (C) vs. Tatanka

The first match provided us with the second newbie, that being Luna Vachon (Savage may or may not have called her a “whore” on commentary during her entrance; go back and listen to decide), who was at Shawn Michaels’ side for his IC title defence against the undefeated Native American himself, Tatanka. He was backed up by Shawn’s former manager Sensational Sherri, hence the presence of the evil Vachon. The match itself is pretty good; as things would turn out, this would be amongst the strongest efforts of the night, though on a Mania with better matches, this would likely be forgotten. It probably doesn’t help that there’s a screwy ending, with Shawn being counted out and thus denying Tatanka of a WrestleMania moment by winning the Intercontinental Championship. Instead, Tatanka maintained his streak, but Michaels retained. A post-match brawl between Vachon and Sherri made up for this slightly.

The Steiner Brothers vs. The Head Shrinkers

Next up, we had two squads making their first WrestleMania appearances, with Rick and Scott Steiner having already achieved a major legacy in tag team wrestling. Samu and Fatu were no slouches, though, and the upshot is that this was a pretty exciting match. That there weren’t any belts at stake didn’t hinder their efforts, as this felt like all four men going all-out to try and steal the show. Though The Head Shrinkers were presented as fearsome savages, there could only be one result, and that came when Scott caught Samu with a Frankensteiner for the pinfall victory. Good stuff here, and those who have never seen Mania IX are probably thinking that the criticisms that the card has received are unwarranted, but remember that we’re still just getting started.

Doink vs. Crush

Many deem this to be absolutely awful, and I won’t suggest that this is any sort of wrestling clinic. But as a four-year-old watching this at the time (incidentally WrestleMania IX was the first WWF PPV to be shown live in the United Kingdom), I loved this for the over-the-top nature of a strong Hawaiian guy that loved crushing things getting outsmarted by an evil clown with a fake arm. Crush was seeking his revenge after a previous Doink attack on Superstars, and Crush thought he had Doink where he wanted him when he caught him in the centre of the ring with a head vice, but the referee was knocked down. This allowed for a second Doink – yes, a second Doink! – to interfere on the first Doink’s behalf and whack Crush with a fake arm, leading to the two Doinks performing a mime act before Doink #1 pinned Crush to win. I don’t care what anybody says, I loved this whole thing and especially the finishing sequence, and I will defend the hilarity of it for as long as I live.

Razor Ramon vs. Bob Backlund

In contrast, this was just boring as hell. Both were Mania debutants too (in a subtle sub-theme of WM IX), but Backlund was the returning veteran from many years earlier, whereas Razor was still finding his feet on the main stage (though he had already been in some high-profile WWF PPV matches beforehand). This was pure filler and not very interesting at all. Ramon won with the Razor’s Edge in a bout which enhanced Razor’s profile, but achieved little else.

WWF World Tag Team Championship Match
Money Inc (C) vs. The Mega-Maniacs

This was the second most-promoted match at WrestleMania IX. Ted DiBiase and IRS had attempted to re-injure Brutus Beefcake upon his return after a long lay-off, which led to The Barber recruiting Hulk Hogan to come back at his side for this special attraction, and with a babyface-turning Jimmy Hart by his side no less. This hardly measures up to when Hogan would later return to face The Rock at WrestleMania X8, but it was still a cool moment to see The Hulkster make his return, especially since the Hulkamaniacs had reason to believe that he would not be back when he had his unofficial swansong at Mania VIII. The match isn’t up to much, but then again, who would expect a five-star bout from the combo of Beefcake and Hogan and the proficient but boring Money Inc squad? Compounding things, we had a second disputed finish, with Hogan using Beefcake’s protective face-mask as a weapon on both DiBiase and IRS, and Jimmy Hart turned his coat inside-out to reveal a referee pattern, allowing him to make the “three-count”; the babyfaces ludicrously believed they’d actually won, until they were DQ’d. Still, they retrieved IRS’ briefcase and discovered piles of money which they threw into the crowd, so that kept the fans happy in Vegas.

Lex Luger vs. Mr. Perfect

In theory, this was a dream match, as the former WCW World Heavyweight Champion was squaring off against one of the truly in-ring competitors of the past decade at WrestleMania IX. Instead, though, this was something of an anticlimax, as it never really got going and felt like just another match on the show, rather than the potential showstealer that it was considered to have been beforehand. Luger has stated that Perfect entered the ring having forgotten what they had planned due to him being out on the town the night before, which ended up hindering their efforts in the ring, which just goes to show how much things have changed in wrestling since 1993; imagine if the reason for AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura being underwhelming at Mania 34 came out to be that AJ was still recovering from a hangover. Back to Vegas, and Lex (at that stage using the Narcissist gimmick) used the ropes to get the cheap pinfall win, as well as drilling Perfect with a steel plate-assisted forearm afterwards. Perfect tried to go after him, but he was met by Shawn Michaels striking him in the backstage area to set up their next feud (Luger also planted the seeds during Mania weekend for an upcoming rivalry with Bret Hart that never really materialised).

The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales

Undertaker had his first run-in with the debuting eight-foot monster that was Giant Gonzales during the Royal Rumble match, and this was Taker’s chance for revenge. By design, the normally-towering Taker was dwarfed by his opponent, which meant that Taker was playing the rare role of him having to chop a massive opponent down to size. Sadly for the purists, in the process we bore witness to a match that would be generously described as being poor, which can be blamed on Giant’s general lack of wrestling skill (then again, did people think that Gonzales was going to pull out armbars, armdrags and snap suplexes?). This might have all been worthwhile if Taker had earned a feel-good victory, but instead he only claimed the win via disqualification when Gonzales used a chloroform-soaked rag to render UT unconscious. Thankfully, Taker (who had entered Las Vegas with a vulture at his side) came back out to fight Giant to, erm, the back. Their feud would culminate at SummerSlam, but here it felt like a real waste of Taker’s talents, and while I can justify the Hogan shenanigans (more on those shortly), I can’t stick up for the booking of this bout, which was the third biggest thing on the card (it was performed and booked so poorly that for a long time I actually thought that Taker had lost this match).

WWF Championship Match
Bret Hart (C) vs. Yokozuna

The main event of WrestleMania IX saw Bret Hart, the new face of the WWF, defend his crown against Yokozuna, who had become the first man to earn his opportunity by winning the Rumble match. It would be an exaggeration to call this a modern take on Hogan vs. Andre, but the psychology was the same: how could the smaller, lighter competitor find a way to defeat his mammoth opponent? Though this clearly isn’t Bret’s best Mania match by any stretch, it’s still better than people remember, and Hart – the master of logically laying out wrestling matches – was effective at slowly but surely wearing down Yoko and surviving his offence to set up his big comeback (Bret noted that Yoko actually cut his momentum short, trimming a few crucial minutes away that could have turned this into an actual great bout, something which really annoyed The Hitman). Bret even managed to get Yoko down for the Sharpshooter, only for Mr. Fuji to throw salt into his eyes behind the referee’s back. This allowed Zuna to roll up and pin Hart to surprisingly win the WWF Championship; seemingly poised to get a career-defining win in Vegas, Hart instead lost the championship to the relative newcomer. But the story wasn’t over there …

Before fans could digest that a heel had won the World Title in a Mania main event, and that Bret was no longer WWF Champion, Hulk Hogan came out (having earlier used a racist term to describe Yoko in a worrying indicator of future events) and helped Hart up, with whom he had never shared an on-screen alliance before this night. Somehow, this led Fuji to challenge Hogan to face Yoko right there and then, and with the title on the line. Bret, still selling temporary blindness, humorously pointed for Hulk to enter the ring and fight Zuna, who had not yet lost a match in a WWF ring. Immediately (and with no bell having rung), Yoko caught Hogan and held him for Fuji to throw salt at him. Except, Hulk ducked and Fuji blinded Yoko. Fuji was batted away, Yoko was clotheslined down, and after a quick Legdrop, Hogan had captured his fifth WWF Championship! This was a huge shocker and an ending that nobody saw coming. Fans in Caesars Palace cheered loudly as Hulk celebrated this unexpected and historic championship victory to end the show, with some fireworks going off into the Vegas evening sky. Oh, boy.

As a four-year-old, I loved this ending to WrestleMania IX because it was a complete surprise, and to me, it was a precursor of the Money In The Bank cash-ins that would begin from the mid-2000s onwards, where the direction of the top title would take an abrupt jolt into a different direction. To this day, I consider it one of the best Mania endings because such moments were a rarity in 1993. On the other hand, though, those who invest into how wrestling works from a booking standpoint were disgusted, not only that Hogan had swept in and lifted the belt from Yoko (giving him his first loss in the process, thus “burying” him), but Bret had been sacrificed for another Hogan title win. Bret was upset, but he was angrier that the presumed plan of Hulk dropping the title to Hart at either King Of The Ring or SummerSlam 1993 was changed, and instead Hogan lost the gold to Yoko at KOTR and then left the WWF for many years. That Hogan didn’t defend the belt once for over two months between Mania and KOTR didn’t help matters. Ultimately, this is viewed as a low point, if not the lowest point, in WrestleMania history; I wouldn’t go that far because as a young fan, I loved the unpredictability of this title switch, but I can certainly understand why many fans look back at this with frustration.

It’s easy to see, then, why so many fans deem WWF WrestleMania IX to be a rotten entry in the lineage of the Showcase Of The Immortals. Several matches are of a very low quality, three matches end with either a disqualification or a countout (including two with titles at stake, and with the second or third biggest bouts being covered by that), many fondly-remembered performers were nowhere to be seen (even Ric Flair, who had just left the WWF in January), there are numerous characters who fans pour scorn on in hindsight (namely, Giant Gonzales; we also missed out on a planned Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Kamala bout for what that’s worth), and the booking of the final segment is viewed as an insult to Bret Hart fans, and arguably WWF fans as a whole, in order to feed Hulk Hogan’s ego yet again. I prefer to focus on the positives: namely, the spectacle of the setting, the fact that there are some good matches to be found if you look closely, the brilliant Two Doinks incident, and the major surprise of Hogan winning the title (which I view through the eyes of nostalgia, admittedly). And besides, WrestleMania 2, IV, XI and even 13 (Bret-Austin aside) are worse shows as this one. So, while I definitely wouldn’t call WrestleMania IX a great event, and while I totally get the flak that the show receives, to me there are positive moments that still allow me to look back fondly on one of the most controversial WrestleMania cards in history.