Thursday, February 23, 2017

WrestleMania 6: From the Galaxies to the Skydome

The Skydome was hype for a true clash of the titans
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We wrestling fans like to act as if the marathon 22-hour WWE shows are a thing of the recent past. "Back in the day, they never would have done that. It was all efficient, chop-chop, no time wasted!" May I present to you WrestleMania 6, the 14-match show that refuses to end.

WrestleMania 6 can favorably be referred to a one-match show. That one match comprised the show's sole reason to exist. This was evidenced in the show's cold open, which featured ominous music behind a shot panning across various constellations. Vince McMahon's Gravelly Monster Voice informed us that when one were to look into the stars, images would begin to appear. But of all those constellations in the sky, there were two who reigned supreme over all the rest: Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. And on that night, those two collections of burning stars were going to do battle, presumably creating one big black hole through which all would fall into and then experience the 1990's in hypercolor, drinking Orbitz and loving the Spin Doctors.

The grandeur of this intro is not just typical McMahon bluster. You get the sense that Vince truly believed this was the biggest main event he had ever put together, and we better be happy about it, dammit. And yes, this was a big deal. They had never headlined a Wrestlemania with a Face vs. Face match. Warrior was just about as popular as Hogan, and in WWF's world, Hogan was the Pope. So you had two pope-like figures competing for the World Title, and I'm sure that at the time, in circles such as the ones us nerds travel in now, there was some genuine intrigue as to what would happen. Surely Hogan wouldn't lay down for Warrior, would he?

To find out the answer to the big question, you had to sit through nearly three hours of matches that range from "Pretty Good" to "Oh, Did I Just Watch a Match?" In a recent episode of Something to Wrestle With, Conrad Thompson asked former WWE producer Bruce Pritchard why there were so many matches on the show. His response: "To get more guys on the card." Simple as that. And when pressed as to why they wouldn't trim the number in order to give remaining guys more time to put on good matches, Prichard said matter-of-factly, "I don't think we had enough guys on the show who could put on good matches." This was one of my biggest no-duh realizations I've had in a while. The WWF was doing exactly what Paul Heyman did in ECW, accentuate the positives and hide the negatives. The WWF had huge personalities who could make for some big moments in the ring, but the intricate ringwork ability we see today was just not going to happen. So of course they needed to keep matches short. They weren't going to be worth watching if they went any longer.

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The one match that tried to go longer than a few minutes was between Jake Roberts and Ted DiBiase, the only two guys on the roster who were capable of putting on a clinic. Roberts's pre-match promo was the stuff of legend. Roberts has said watching it now makes him hard, and it's so good that I don't even think he's weird for saying that. I felt a tingle too. The match itself suffered from being a bit slow in the middle, but it briefly fell apart when 66,000 all realize that Doing the Wave was a fun new novelty in which they'd love to participate. So poor Roberts and DiBiase were out there doing headlocks while the crowd lost their mind while not paying attention to the ring. Was there anything in 1990 that didn't entertain us simpletons?

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Remember when WrestleMania 28 was in something like its 17th hour, and The Funkasaurus came out to do a racist dance number with women dressed as grandmothers? WrestleMania 6's answer to that segment was Rhythm and Blues (The Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine) coming to the ring in a pink Cadillac so they couuld poorly sing a song with no regard for cadence or timing, and for Valentine to barely strum an unplugged acoustic guitar during an electric guitar solo. It was so stupid, and I don't know how the crowd didn't jump into ring and murder them just to keep the show moving along.

But all was forgiven by the time we reached the main event. As a seven-year old boy, I remember watching this match and believing that nothing more important than this had ever occurred in the history of the world. This was proven by the crowd's reactions to both Hogan and Warrior. The word "electric" is often used by wrestling announcers when it isn't deserved, but in this case, there was no other word to describe the atmosphere. The camera shook, the crowd went ballistic, and it clearly affected the performances in the ring.

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Pat Patterson helped Hogan and Warrior put this match together, rehearsing it with them a couple weeks before the show, but not even Patterson could accurately gauge how the match would go over in front of so many people. After all, they weren't really doing a whole lot. Much of the match was slow and repetitive, with Hogan and Warrior trading power moves and doing lots of intense staring. They both appeared to blow each other, in the one instance when us wrestling fans finally have to concede, "Okay, I guess I can see how you'd find this stuff homoerotic." These days, many fans would scoff at this match.

But Hogan vs. Warrior is the exception to the rule; you can have a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing and still have it build up and crescendo in a way that achieves pro wrestling's ultimate goal of hooking the audience. I'm sure even hardened smart marks of 1990 started rolling their eyes when Hogan made his comeback, suddenly impervious to pain just as he had been in every match ever for about six years. Imagine the genuine shock among hardened fans and wide-eyed youngsters when Hogan missed the legdrop, took a splash and just barely didn't kick out. It had to have felt like the Earth opened up and swallowed the ring. This just didn't happen. But it did. And it shouldn't have been good. But it was.