Despite the ups and downs of the professional wrestling world, there’s little denying that WrestleMania is the biggest event in sports entertainment. Sure, events like Starrcade and Wrestle Kingdom provide grand spectacles on their own, but for the past 36 years, Mania has been the undisputed biggest stage of them all. It’s where all of the biggest stars settle their differences in matches that will forever define their careers. It’s an entertainment event that’s part rock concert, part boxing match, part celebrity award show, and it’s something that even the most lapsed wrestling fan will return for. It’s a night where dreams are made and legends are born, and in 35 iterations of the event it has created some of the most memorable moments in the history of the sport. Think about the hard fought victory of the everyman who wouldn’t be satisfied being labeled B+, the journeymen who toiled for years only to find themselves atop the industry they love, the greatest performer in history going out on his shield against his natural successor. Yes, a lot of those moments would be tarnished over the years (with injury, tragedy, and an ill-advised run with TNA, respectively), but the point is, when WrestleMania is good, it’s great.
This piece is not about one of those times.
No, today, we’re here to talk about what is widely considered the worst WrestleMania of all time. Hailing from Caesar’s Palace in Paradise, Nevada, in April of 1993, WrestleMania IX is a portrait of the company at its worst. From the card, to the action, to the outcome, to the aesthetic, nothing about this show worked. The wrestling was bad, the booking was bad, the writing was bad. Literally the only positive one can claim of the show is the comedic stylings of the late, great Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Don’t remember the show? Well, don’t worry, AIPT Universe. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to rewatch WrestleMania IX so that you don’t have to.
Right off the bat, we have to acknowledge that one of the major problems with this event is the way the thing looks. As previously stated, this event came to you live from Caesar’s Palace, and was thus promoted as “the world’s largest toga party.” That meant everyone not actually wrestling on the card was decked out in ancient roman garb. From Howard “Finkis Maximus” Finkle to Jim Ross (who debuted with the company at this event), the entire ringside crew were made to look like total goons. Though a colorful personality like Randy Savage or a comedic character like Bobby Heenan can pull something like this off, the “serious” characters like Gorilla Monsoon, Todd Pettengill and JR just look foolish. I’m sure Ross had to be second thinking his jump to Stanford that morning.
By the way, you may have noticed I mentioned Randy Savage as a part of the commentary team. No, it wasn’t because he was injured, and no he wasn’t working some kind of character angle. Instead, the Macho Man, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, was sidelined by Vince McMahon because, at 41, he was deemed “too old” to draw. He was 41. You may notice that, in 2020, a 53-year old Bill Goldberg is the Universal Champion. A 54-year old Undertaker will square off with a 42-year old AJ Styles. For crying out loud, Hulk Hogan was in both the opening AND the ill-advised closer of this show, and he was nine months younger than Savage. But, no, you’re right, Vince. WrestleMania is a young man’s game. Young Men like Tito Santana (41 at the time), Ted DiBiase (40) and Bob goddamn Backlund (44). No shame on any of those guys, but which one of them was as big a draw as Savage in 1993? Friggin Doink the Clown was on the card! DOINK!
“It Was a Different Time”
When revisiting a show from another decade, you may be struck at how backward the WWF/E was in the past. Now you could hardly call the company progressive in this day and age (no matter what the company’s social media profiles will tell you), but compared to the old-timey racism and openly regressive attitudes toward women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community of the Golden, New Generation, Attitude and even the Ruthless Aggression eras, the company looks fairly woke…even if they pull some crap like this every so often.
That being said, this show has appearances from gross caricatures like Tatanka, The Headshrinkers and Yokozuna, open denigrations of the physical appearances of both Luna Vachon and Sensational Sherri, and the entire commentary team ogling the thong-clad shield maidens that accompany Lex Luger to the ring. By the time you get to Hulk Hogan derisively calling Yokozuna “the Jap,” you might be excused for thinking the ’90s was an era hardly worth revisiting. When you eventually get to the Doink the Clown vs. Crush match, it’ll be even harder to escape that feeling.
You also have to accept that the in-ring product you will see in these older shows are nothing like what you’ll catch on Raw, SmackDown or NXT. The New Generation, as this point in the then-WWF’s history is known, is something of a transition period for the company. Having moved past the Golden Era (thanks in large part to the Vince McMahon steroid trial), this was a time of newer, smaller stars like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.
Creative was trying to move past occupational-gimmick characters and embrace a more athletic style. I mean, technically the Undertaker was an occupational gimmick, but he gets a pass. The change produced…mixed results, as for every Diesel or Razor, there was a Crush or Tatanka who were just kind of there. As the first Mania of the New Generation era, Mania IX was tasked with making the most with these new, occasionally underdeveloped stars. How’d they do?
A Promising Start
Given the context, the first two matches on the card aren’t all that bad. Our opening contest (on the Network version of the show at least, there was a Papa Shango/Tito Santana dark match that preceded the event which was almost certainly crap) sees Shawn Michaels — a young, somewhat doughier Shawn Michaels than you’re likely used to — carrying Tatanka (Buffalo) to a passable eight minute Intercontinental Championship match by bumping his ass off for every chop, clothesline and arm drag the War Chief could muster. It’s odd to see HBK hit two separate superkicks as transitional moves (he was using a teardrop suplex as his finish at the time), but it’s clear that he’s the one keeping this match from descending into the mess that other bouts on this card will prove to be.
There’s a loose side story about Shawn’s new valet, Luna Vachon, beating up his old valet, Sensational Sherri, but it hardly has anything to do with the match and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The match is also the first (but not the last) to end in a disqualification. The hope was to keep Tank’s undefeated streak intact, but leave the Intercontinental belt with Michaels. I’d say it was an underwhelming ending, but in context it remains one of the better bouts of the day.
The tag match between the Headshrinkers and the Steiner Brothers is also relatively fun — and jarring for fans familiar with who Scott Steiner and Headshrinker Fatu will become later in the decade. It’s easy to forget that before all the steroids and blonde hair dye drove him insane, Steiner was actually a really talented wrestler. All four guys in this match put forth a competent effort, and even though Scott is definitely the star of the show, it’s his brother Rick who hits the best move of the match when he counters a Doomsday Device into a falling powerslam.
The Steiners’ suplexes are crisp and beautiful, as you may expect, and the future Rikishi and his cousin are solid bruisers. Which makes it odd when a standing Frankensteiner is enough to end the match. It’s not even like a flash pin hurricanrana, it’s just a standing flip that isn’t even hit properly, but it’s enough to put down Samu and land what would be one of only two clean wins on the show. It’s not a match worth seeking out unless you’re some kind of completist, but it’s a mostly fine bout between two of the best teams of the era…which, again, lets you know all you really need about this era of the WWF.
And Now…Here’s Some Filler!
I know that Raw was very new to the WWF at this point, and an hour a week may not be enough to build every storyline into a winner, but holy sh*t are these next few matches unnecessary. First up, we’ve got the tiff between the be-mulleted strongman from Hawaii, Kona Crush, vs. Doink the Clown. This match ends when a second Doink pops out from under the ring and clubs the big man with a prosthetic arm. The two Doinks even did that mime mirror trick before scoring the three count.
Now, I’m certainly a bigger fan of Evil Doink, but this loss has to be viewed as a big part of the downfall of babyface Crush’s credibility. I mean, his slow, plodding offense and kicks that don’t quite reach high enough didn’t help either. No wonder he was rubbing dirt on his cheeks and calling himself a Japanese Sympathizer within a few months. Doink would pretty much stay Doink, only turn face and lose the element of menace that made the character work in the first place.
Later, Razor Ramon scores a rollup victory over Bob Backlund. Backlund, already a relic of a lost age at this point in his career, came out to the ring without music and was the least over babyface on the card. Before, during and after the match, the crowd was chanting for Ramon, and it’s not hard to see why. Though ostensibly the heel, there was little denying that Scott Hall was just the coolest at this point in his career.
As such, even though it was Backlund’s first ever Mania appearance, he was window dressing to the inevitable ascendency of Razor Ramon. In fact, he was so unimportant that defeating the second longest reigning (W)WWF champion of all time did nothing for Ramon’s career. This was effectively a squash match (it barely went three and a half minutes) that was only there to put Hall in front of the Mania audience. Speaking of which…
We Just Need to Get these Guys on the Card
In 1993, Lex Luger was already a long-gestating pet project of Vince McMahon’s. Luger was brought into the company to be the centerpiece of Vince McMahon’s (wet) dream, the World Bodybuilding Federation. Apparently, the world wasn’t ready for a competitive bodybuilding show, so when the WBF folded, Vince moved the then-injured Luger (who required a steel plate in his forearm that would become his signature move) to his first love.
Luger debuted as “The Narcissist,” flanked by bikini girls carrying mirrors, and was clearly supposed to be a big deal. At a press event before the show, Flexy Lexy attacked the WWF Champion, Bret Hart, and left him laying. It was an important part of the WWF Championship match build, and something commentary harps on a lot throughout the show. So naturally, Luger faces off with…Mr. Perfect?
Yeah, it was clear the feud they really wanted was Lex/Bret, as after Lex earns a sneaky rollup win (despite Perfect’s feet being on the rope) it’s actually Shawn Michaels who ends up tussling with an irate Hennig. Sadly, the Narcissist gimmick wouldn’t last, as Luger was shunted into the “all American Hero” shtick once Hogan left the company later in the year — and the WWF weren’t about to have their two biggest babyfaces going at each other. As for the match itself, it’s mostly fine largely because Perfect is incredibly smooth in the ring at this stage of his career.
Even sadder is the Undertaker’s match with Giant Gonzalez. Despite being nearly eight feet tall, Gonzalez’s lanky frame and slow movements didn’t quite cut the intimidating figure that Vince was looking for, so what did they do? They put him in a form-fitting bodysuit with airbrushed muscles…and an airbrushed butt crack. In some of his costumes they added hair to the shoulders and groin area, but for this match he looks like a large naked man with no genitals and a greasy mullet.
Worse yet, the dude could barely move. GG makes the Great Khali look like Ricochet, making his match with Undertaker a seriously limited affair. In what would be Undertaker’s worst Mania match, the two men traded slow chops and rest holds, with Gonzalez taking almost no bumps before grabbing manager Harvey Wippleman’s chloroform-soaked rag to knock Taker out for the DQ. Taker is taken to the back by paramedics while the Giant attacks a ref for some reason, only for the Deadman to almost instantly come back out to get some heat back. He knocks Gonzalez off his feet, and dude shows ass. There’s a reason WWE never discusses this chapter in Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak. But hey, they got him on the show!
A Main Event in Two Parts; or, “Hulk Hogan Has Always Been a Heel”
Of course, WrestleMania IX was ever really all about one man. No, not WWF Champion Bret Hart. No, not the monster heel he’s facing, Yokozuna. No, WrestleMania IX was all about the return of Hulk Hogan to the WWF. Where was he returning from, you ask? Why, a self-imposed exile to avoid the fallout of his disastrous participation in the aforementioned steroid trial. He must have been super depressed too, because he looks about 20lbs lighter now than before he left. Funny, that.
Anyway, Hogan’s return comes alongside longtime sidekick, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake against Money Inc. (Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase and Irwin R. Schyster) for the tag titles. Hogan and Beefcake were both sporting facial injuries (Hogan: a black eye from a jet ski accident, Beefcake: a protective face mask from a parasailing accident) that were kayfabed as being from their opponents at this show. Beefcake’s mask actually played into the ending of the match, too, with the heels removing the (for some reason) titanium face protector only for Hogan to bash both of them with the foreign object. That was enough to cost the Mega Maniacs the match in yet another DQ finish.
The match, which was pretty much exactly what you’d imagine, would have mostly been fine for a Hogan match, except that the Hulkster hangs out in and around the ring for about 10 minutes after the bell has rung. They break into IRS’s briefcase, which they abandoned after getting chased off by the faces, only to find it filled with a brick (for some reason) and a wad of cash that he would hand out to the folks at ringside. It was gratuitous, but Hogan was imminently over with the crowd, so if that would have been all for the day, it would have been fine.
Of course, that wasn’t all that Hogan did that night.
Things immediately took a turn just before the main event title match between Bret Hart and Yokozuna, when Hogan — rather than either of the actual participants in the match — did the pre-match interview. The Hulkster says that he knows Bret’s “a brother” and “a Hulkamaniac,” and he wants to be the first to challenge the winner of the title match. Which he did…about six seconds after the title match had ended.
So after a decent back-and-forth match (considering Yoko’s considerable limitations), Mr. Fuji throws a fistful of salt into Bret’s face, the force of which enough to put the champion down for the three count…somehow. Bret’s title reign isn’t even cold yet before Hogan is in the ring complaining about the result…for some reason. Suddenly, Mr. Fuji has a mic and challenges Hulk Hogan to fight Yoko for the title right now… because…uh… Anyway, Hogan, who’s helping Bret to the back at this point, returns to the ring, hits the big boot and the leg drop and wins the belt seven seconds later. Bret wasn’t even behind the curtain by the time “Real American” started ringing out.
Now the story behind this baffling end is the larger story of Hulk Hogan’s legacy as a performer and politicker behind the scenes. Allegedly, the Hulkster wanted the title back for his return, and Vince McMahon was all too willing to job out his top babyface, then his top heel all to put over a 41-year old who would go on to leave the company three months later. It also speaks to a commonly held smark theory that Hulk Hogan, in and out of kayfabe, has always been a villain. Whether he’s threatening physical violence to referees warning him about the rules or winning the company’s top title in a match he wasn’t even a part of, he paints the picture of an entitled bully who gets what he wants, regardless of the consequences. Hogan held the belt for three months before losing the belt back to Yoko in his first defense, allegedly refusing to drop the belt to Hart, who the Hulkster would claim “is not in my league.” It’s cool though, I’m sure Bret is over it.
Is This the Worst Mania Ever?
So after three hours of the New Generation, two clean finishes, three DQs (one of which is mislabeled a countout), four ref bump spots, two salt-in-the-eyes spots and far too many grown adults in togas, the question remains: is WrestleMania IX the worst WrestleMania in history?
The short answer: Technically, no. In all honesty, though the booking was atrocious, the aesthetic was tacky and its general attitude toward the characterizations of its performers the sport of professional wrestling overall could all generously be called “out of date,” Mania IX is probably not the hardest Mania to watch. It does serve as an example of the WWF’s most ostentatiously callous booking-via-politics outside of the Montreal Screwjob (ooh, uhh, hi again, Bret!), but the opening two matches were pretty good, Mr. Perfect carried Lex Luger to probably his best match in the WWF, and the company’s effort to create new stars gave some new faces a chance to shine on the grandest stage of them all.
Of course, it had an obstinate vestige of the past cheat the company’s current top star out of a title to sate his own ego, was littered with casual racism and sexism, and made literally everyone around the ring (and in the case of Giant Gonzalez, some of the folks in it) look like absolute crap. Bottom five for sure, but the worst? I mean, have you seen WrestleMania 2 recently?
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