When it comes to wrestling prognostication these days it feels like I’d be as well tossing a coin – I’m still head-scratching over Roman Reigns clean-pinning Braun Strowman at Fastlane.
However I am supremely confident in making this prediction: The second of the double main events at WrestleMania VIII won’t make anyone’s list of top WrestleMania moments. Except mine.
Sure, there’s an outside chance the fantastic Intercontinental Championship match between Bret Hart and Roddy Piper may top someone’s lineup. Even the culmination of the Macho Man/Ric Flair feud that featured doctored photos of Miss Elizabeth by the swimming pool may tug at a few heart strings. But Hulk Hogan versus Sid Justice is where it’s at.
For some context, WrestleMania VIII was in the old Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis in 1992, before the internet was a thing for home consumers and mobile phones weighed about the same as one of the Natural Disasters. I was also still living in Scotland which meant live pay-per-views kicked off sometime after midnight UK time – and watching it at my best friend Stuart’s house as we did so many times because he had the appropriate satellite TV package. It was the week before Easter, but this was our religious holiday.
We were both 17, in our last year at high school and only a few months from being legally able to drink the beer and spirits we had been occasionally imbibing for at least a year. Some of those same drinks may well have kept us awake until the start of the Shawn Michaels versus Tito Santana match that kicked off the event – but they aren’t the reason I can’t remember much else from the first WrestleMania I watched live.
No, memories fade as we get older, much like the chances of Goldberg leaving Orlando with the WWE Universal Championship around his waist, but one moment holds above all others – the Ultimate Warrior theme tune ringing around the stadium and the man hailing from parts unknown making his comeback. It would have been just before 4am in Scotland and there’s no chance anyone in the neighbourhood didn’t hear the pop. But more on that later…
I recently rewatched the match that defined wrestling for me for so long and—the Warrior’s return aside—the reason it’s still so enjoyable is because it was a microcosm of everything WWF at that time. Waves and waves of nostalgia wash over me thinking about it, kayfabe still fully in force as I mentally sing along to “I Am A Real American”. Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan are back together and the world is right. Oh, for one more “will you stop” call.
So to the event itself, which the WWF was building as the possible end of Hulkamania. Sid Justice was a monster and the insanely yelled pre-interview was terrifying and made us believe it was likely to happen.
Oh, the match itself was a shocker. Virtually zero moves of note, a strength test that could have sent us to sleep, a bizarre mid-match promo from Psycho Sid direct to camera, Hogan vastly overselling a sidewalk slam – and the customary Hulkster comeback and leg drop. The ending was worse – Harvey Wippleman interfering, costing Sid the match via disqualification, the worst ending to a WrestleMania since… okay, last year but you know what I mean.
Then the fun started. That’s when the man who would become most famous as The Godfather made his appearance. Even ignoring the vaguely racist undertones to Papa Shango there was something about the character that I loved – and still do. His post-match beat-down of Hogan was a thing of beauty, the ultimate (no pun intended) heel move. Because that’s when the Warrior struck.
I didn’t register the music for the first few seconds. And then all I remember is Stuart going ballistic. “It’s the Warrior,” he shouted, although likely with more words beginning with F in there. I’m guessing high-fives were shared, we celebrated like one of our teams had just scored a last minute winner in the Cup Final and, before we knew what it even meant, we marked out harder than we ever had in the past. There’s not a chance we didn’t wake everyone in the house and at least some of the neighbours.
These days there are no surprises. You can’t go anywhere near a wrestling news site or forum in the lead up to any event, never mind WrestleMania, without everything being analysed and potential spoilers shared.
But in the distant world of pre-internet Scotland there had been zero indication the Ultimate Warrior was on his way back – and that made it just so much more exciting. But sharing that moment with my oldest and best friend turned this from something most wrestling fans would happily shit on from a great height into something magical. And unforgettable. And even today closes the gap between New Zealand and Scotland just thinking about it.
Before I abandon this bro-love-fest it should be noted the fallout from the main event may be even better than the event itself.
The feud between the Warrior and Papa Shango post-WrestleMania, hastened by Sid departing the company, is brilliant. Curses were uttered, the Warrior would collapse in agony – and then there was the infamous interview with Mean Gene when black goo starting flowing from the Warrior’s head as a silenced crowd wondered what the hell was happening. It’s absolutely terrible but brilliant at the same time – and still makes me laugh now.
Stuart and I watched that together too – wondering why on earth the Warrior had a jacket on and why his hands were in his pockets. The moment we made the connection between that and the goo was, I think, the moment wrestling went from something we wanted to believe in to something a little more disappointing.
That culminated in WrestleMania IX. We were in the same place, watching together at 4am again as the single worst moment in WrestleMania history occurred – Hulk Hogan winning the title from Yokozuna when he wasn’t even in the main event. Kayfabe had been on life support for us at that point – but that was the moment it died. Actually, that’s not quite true. It didn’t die. It was forcibly stolen from us before being euthanised as we watched on in horror.
And so to this year’s show, one I’m looking forward to immensely. Except for Goldberg versus Brock Lesnar which I’m going to use as a comfort break. Ugh. But there are going to be some great matches out there and I’m hoping that Roman Reigns defeating The Undertaker could spark the biggest heel turn in years.
Oh, but what I wouldn’t give for a Papa Shango run in to help.