By Nicholas Jason Lopez
While its progression to realism from a cartoonish image was evident towards the latter half of 1996, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) still struggled to shake control from its rival organization – World Championship Wrestling (WCW). WCW was in a stretch where it’d dominate television ratings for 84 consecutive weeks.
This show was peppered with potential from a standout opener between Leif Cassidy (now known as Al Snow) and Flash Funk (better referred to as 2 Cold Scorpio), a passable “Armageddon Rules” match from The Undertaker and The Executioner that went all over the arena/set and a good effort from its WWF Intercontinental Championship bout between Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Marc Mero.
The rest was showered in shrouds of ridicule as enthusiastic as the sights of Fake Diesel and Razor Ramon on our screens. Even good ‘ol Jim Ross on commentary couldn’t do much for us. We’ll also investigate the ideological mess that was the WWF World Tag Team Championship match.
In the battle of “Powerbomb Vs. Sharpshooter,” powerbomb emerged victorious, but it was our collective brains that got powerbombed in the end.
You could tell how much the WWF needed a shakeup headed into 1997.
To top it off , the namesake of the show – Vader – wasn’t even on the card. Good riddance to WWF 1996.
When it first went underway, people didn’t know just how special of an event they were involved in.
The last three matches personified the essence of just what WrestleMania has become known to be; marquee matches along with celebrity presences along the lines of Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Muhammad Ali, Liberace and the Rockettes.
It’s only fittingly appropriate that this night – also the first WWE Pay-Per-View in March – is this month’s “Throwback PPV.”
– The opening video was a cool generic montage of changing superstar pictures set upon a Manhattan skyline and moving stars in the background. It was the 80’s. What did you expect?
– Mean Gene Okerlund singing the Star-Spangled Banner is the first ever WrestleMania moment in history. Let that sink in for a moment.
– The Executioner… a character who surely stole the hearts of many. For a character nobody knew much about, stumbling over his promo lines was an unfortunate way for him to be introduced. Must be tough to come from Parts Unknown. His match with Tito Santana wasn’t much to write home about. Santana pretty much dominated him and made him tap out rather quickly. Quite far from a historic moment, but it does go down as the first Mania match in history.
– Did they really need to ring the bell 30,000 times after introducing every opponent?! The headaches that must have caused people.
– Special Delivery Jones looked like a decent party guy who could get down, and could deliver a charismatic promo. Unfortunately, these shining few seconds would be his highlight – unceremoniously pinned by King Kong Bundy in nine seconds, which set a record seemingly for the sake of setting one. Replaying the match in its whole entirety put over Bundy’s power, if anything.
– The Matt Borne-Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat match was all about Steamboat doing his thing in the ring – moving around flawlessly with grace and precision, as we all know him for. Borne sold well for him, but ultimately wasn’t much of a serious threat.
– What wasn’t to like about the David Sammartini-Brutus Beefcake match? First – the story here was simple and intriguing. We have a young son fighting to impress his well-known father, with Bruno garnering the highest pop by the crowd at that point. On the other hand, we had Beefcake and his quite vibrant mouthpiece, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant, who was quite simply a pimp in his own right. The match had some good time to develop and the buildup to the physical confrontation with the four men was good. The match being ruled a double disqualification was disappointing by the end but the story mad up for it.
– The Intercontinental Championship match between Greg Valentine and Junkyard Dog was good for what it was, as Valentine delivered a good promo beforehand, while Junkyard Dog simply talked too fast to follow. The Title looked like an absolute prize the way the two men fought tooth-and-nail over it. Valentine’s controversial pin used the ropes for leverage and drew good heat, with Santana coming out to sell the moment. The reversal of decision by countout was a crowd pleasing moment but it was obvious the title wouldn’t change hands.
– The Tag Team Championship match between Nikolai Volkoff/Iron Sheik and Barry Wyndham/Mike Rotundo was good for what it was. Volkoff/Sheik were perfect heat magnets, getting fans to throw garbage in the ring and chanting “U.S.A.” Them winning by using dirty tactics was perfect here. Freddy Blassie’s postmatch comments were entertaining as he denied any wrongdoings like a classic heel manager.
– The promos by Big John Studd and Bobby The Brain Heenan had Studd act confident, even though the bag with the $15,000 in it was distracting. The stipulation of Andre being forced to retire if he couldn’t slam Studd was a solid hook for the casual fan. Andre slamming Studd might’ve been the first hint that WrestleMania was indeed a special night given the great pop it drew from the crowd. Heenan grabbing the briefcase and running away when Andre threw the money away was a good way to garner heat. Andre’s postmatch promo had him act happy and sure – why wouldn’t he be?
– The promo by Wendi Richter with Cyndi Lauper was quite good, as Lauper could really talk for a celebrity. Leilani Kai (Champion) and Fabulous Moolah also delivered passable promo work. For a woman’s match, this was a big deal too, being for the Women’s Championship. The match itself was athletic and physical, with even the managers going at it. The finish was also cool as Richter used Kai’s momentum to pin her by surprise. The title change also sold the “big moment” this night become all too known for. Richter’ postmatch comments had her be appreciative and Lauper also continued on as a “tough girl” talker. Good stuff.
– The celebrity involvement on the day was turned up a notch for the main event, with Billy Martin as guest ring announcer and Liberace as timekeeper to start. How can you forget his “kicks” routine with the Rockettes? Muhammad Ali being involved as well, being Special Guest Outside Referee was a big deal. The Rowdy Roddy Piper/Mr. Paul Orndoff (w/Cowboy Bob Orton) entrance with the bagpipers band was the first elaborate Mania entrance. The place nearly came unglued with Hulk Hogan/Mr. T (w/Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka) made their entrance. The match itself was quite entertaining as Hogan/T surprisingly worked well together. Who knew T had it in him to actually convincingly deliver? The postmatch comments from Hogan, Snuka and T was charismatic as you’d expect and sent the crowd home happy.
– Tito Santana def. The Executioner via submission
– King Kong Bundy (w/Jimmy Hart) def. Special Delivery Jones via pinfall
– Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat def. Matt Borne via pinfall
– David Sammartino (w/Bruno Sammartino) and Brutus Beefcake (w/”Luscious” Johnny Valiant) to a double DQ
– Intercontinental Championship – Junkyard Dog def. Greg Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart) via countout; Valentine retains
– Tag Team Championships – Nikolai Volkoff/The Iron Sheik def. The U.S. Express (w/Captain Lou Albano) via pinfall
– $15,000 Body Slam Challenge – Andre The Giant def. Big John Studd (w/Bobby Heenan) to not forcefully retire
– Women’s Championship – Wendi Richter (w/Cyndi Lauper) def. Leilani Kai (w/The Fabulous Moolah) via pinfall to win Championship
– Muhammad Ali/Pat Patterson Special Guest Referees – Hulk Hogan/Mr. T (w/Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka) def. Rowdy Roddy Piper/Paul Orndoff (w/Bob Orton) via pinfall