Hey, it’s another edition of Mania Main Thoughts, where we’re taking a look back at every Wrestlemania main event matchup. Why? I don’t know, for posterity? Do we have enough posterity?
Today we are going all the way back to 1995 and Wrestlemania XI. If you weren’t a fan of WWF in the mid-90’s, there’s a good reason for that. It was pretty awful. You could argue that Wrestlemania IX was the lowpoint for Manias, but WMXI is a strong contender.
A little bit of perspective. As we mentioned in our first WMVIII review, the WWF and Vince McMahon were involved in a steroid scandal as early as 1991. McMahon was facing federal charges for conspiring to distribute, but WWF crown jewel Hulk Hogan testified in court that, yes, steroids were rampant in the wrestling world, but no, Vince wasn’t encouraging or distributing them. It was all very bad press (not to mention the fact that Vince had to testify in court that, yes, wrestling was fake). WWF was in need of an image makeover.
In 1993, Hogan left the company and “Macho Man” Randy Savage wasn’t far behind him. Facing a rebuilding phase, the WWF began focusing on newer guys like Diesel, Razor Ramon and The Undertaker, and smaller guys like Bret “Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels. They called it The New Generation.
Hart and HBK are largely to thank for inspiring the generation of wrestlers who are on top today and for pioneering an exciting style of wrestling that didn’t require you to weigh north of 300 pounds. And while that’s a great thing, history has a way of looking back with rose colored glasses. Because, as far as 1995 was concerned, the WWF was as lame as it got. And that brings us to Wrestlemania XI.
You can tell things weren’t going great just by the WMXI venue – the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, CT. The attendance was around 16,000, which is tied with a few other Wrestlemanias for lowest. But at least those other Manias were in big markets like LA. Sure, Hartford isn’t far from NYC, but it’s not close enough to call it NYC either. So WMXI also lacked in prestige.
All of that is to say that WWF was in a pretty low place when it came time for WMXI. They’d been slowly trying to turn public opinion by creating new stars, but that kind of thing takes time. So with WMXI, they decided to rely on stars from outside the wrestling business to garner interest.
Wrestlemania has been known for celebrity involvement ever since the inaugural show brought Muhammad Ali and Liberace to the ring (not in a match, though that would’ve been awesome). WMXI upped the ante to a psuedo-embarassing level. You had Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy standing ringside for the WWF title match. You had Nicholas Turturro (he was on NYPD Blue) and Jonathan Taylor Thomas (the middle kid from Home Improvement).
But the big fish was Lawrence Taylor – superstar former linebacker for the New York Giants. Now, WWF had gotten cozy with the NFL in the past. Heck, at WM2, they threw a bunch of NFL guys in a battle royal so they could get tossed around by Andre the Giant. But LT was going to do those guys one better. He was going to main event WMXI in a singles match. Yeah.
It all started when Taylor sat ringside at the 1995 Royal Rumble event in Tampa, FL. One of the matches on that show was for the vacant WWF Tag Team Championship, pitting Bob (not yet Hardcore) Holly & the 1-2-3 Kid against Tatanka & Bam Bam Bigelow. Tatanka and Bam Bam were repping the Million Dollar Corporation at that time, a group of heels led by “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who was settling into a managerial role following a legendary career in the ring.
At the Rumble, 1-2-3 Kid got the better of Bam Bam and scored the pinfall. The Kid (if you couldn’t tell by his name) was a little guy, while Bam Bam (if you couldn’t tell by his name) was a big guy. A big guy with flames tattooed on his head. Bam Bam didn’t take the loss well. To make matters worse, the crowd started heckling Bigelow after the match, including LT himself. The sight of Lawrence Taylor laughing at him was more than Bam Bam could take, so he hauled off and shoved Taylor onto his butt. Boom, Wrestlemania was booked.
Bam Bam persistently challenged Taylor to a match, to which LT finally agreed. WWF claimed that then-WWF Champion Diesel was training Taylor to step into the ring. Bam Bam and the Corporation, in the meantime, were busy laughing at the thought of a football guy stepping into the ring with a grizzled monster veteran like Bigelow.
It may have seemed like a desperate last-ditch grasp for a failing WWF to promote such a match, but it sure paid off. The media got on the hype train and the build to WMXI helped put the WWF back in the spotlight and the steroid scandal firmly behind them. Of course, the cost could’ve been a giant embarrassment of a match at their biggest show of the year.
WMXI is the place to go if you’re interested in seeing some of the future stars still getting their footing, but yet to become truly established. Diesel was in the middle of a long run with the WWF Title, but his best days would come when he jumped ship (along with Razor Ramon) to WCW to form the nWo. Shawn Michaels was there, but he too was still earning his spot. In fact, the only person you could say was at the top of their game career-wise was Bret Hart, who faced the aging Bob Backlund (10 years past his prime) in an “I Quit” match.
Short on true star power, it’s no wonder the WWF pulled the trigger on putting the big LT/Bam Bam match on last. It also probably put a huge chip on the shoulders of Shawn Michaels and WWF Champ Diesel, who put on a MOTY quality match in the semi-main.
And that brings us to the main event. The entire Million Dollar Corporation was at ringside for the match, including DiBiase, former WM2 main eventer King Kong Bundy, and future Hall of Famer Kama. Kama, who you may remember from WMVIII as Papa Shango or from his later career as The Godfather.
Lawrence Taylor didn’t come alone, either. He brought along his “All Star Team”, which included NFL greats like Reggie White and future Four Horseman Steve McMichael. I’d also like to make special mention of the goofy shirts the All Stars were wearing, which featured a giant picture of LT’s face. I love wrestling merch, but I wouldn’t even wear one of those to change the oil on my truck.
The celebrities kept pouring in, too, as Salt-N-Pepa performed a Mania-fied version of “Whatta Man” to support LT. Vince McMahon was having a great time as ring announcer, too, calling out the men on both teams like they were the Chicago Bulls.
WWF legend Pat Patterson acted as the referee for the match. Patterson, being one of Vince McMahon’s closest confidants, was utilized in a similar role at the first Mania, when Mr. T and Muhammad Ali were involved. When you have non-wrestlers in the ring, it’s really important to have a captain there to steer the ship should anything go awry.
Bam Bam made his entrance first, complete with a signature cartwheel in the ring. Bam Bam Bigelow was a legit monster who would go on, in my opinion, to have his peak years in ECW. It’s almost cliche to say that a big guy is also agile (I mean, they even said it about Yokozuna), but Bam Bam could freaking move. He could also perform a pretty killer moonsault. You also know the guy has to be a ring general if they trusted him enough to step in the ring with a non-wrestler under such a huge spotlight. I don’t feel like Bam Bam gets his due. Even though his WM main event comes with an asterisk, he’s one of the few guys to headline the big show still yet to find his way to the WWE HOF.
Lawrence Taylor came out second and the crowd went insane. This is the point where you realized the WWF’s gamble totally paid off. You could say that LT, a longtime star for the NY Giants, was practically in front of a home crowd in Hartford. That’s part of it, but people were legit stoked to see a big NFL guy get in a WWF ring.
The match? Well, the match was nothing special. It wasn’t total crap, but a lot was done to protect both guys’ abilities. Bam Bam pushed LT during Pat Patterson’s pre-match instructions (which last about as long as every pre-match instructions speech ever combined). LT retaliated by smacking Bam right in the mouth when Pat called for a handshake. The crowd was eating it up.
LT took an early advantage in the match with lots of punches and forearms. At one point, Taylor hiptossed Bigelow out of the ring, prompting a giant pop from the crowd after seeing an actual wrestling move. LT even hopped out of the ring fearlessly for the expected showdown between the Corporation and the All Stars. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to blows, so we’ll never know who would win in a fight between Nikolai Volkoff and Ken Norton, Jr.
Back in the ring, Bam Bam took control and, in this viewing, I really started noticing how no one taught LT to take a bump. (It’s no wonder, seeing as how Diesel trained him). Most of Bam Bam’s offense was also limited to punches, headbutts and stomping LT on the ground. LT tried to make a comeback with a side suplex, but he couldn’t get anything going. You also had the worst and longest Boston crab of all time.
After all that ground and pound, Bam Bam lined up LT for his signature Bam Bamsault from the top rope. The move hit, but Bam tweaked his knee on the landing, rolling off of LT instead of going for the fast pin. By the time he covered him, LT was able to just kick out at 2 (in case you’re wondering, this is Bam Bam’s way of saving face. I mean, he’ll do the job, but he’s not gonna have some retired football player straight kicking out of his finisher).
LT was able to hit what the announcers called a jackknife (Diesel’s finisher), but what really was more like a tilt-a-whirl suplex. Turns out Bam Bam Bigelow is pretty heavy. It wasn’t enough to take Bam down though, as he continued to beatdown the linebacker. Bam hit a top rope headbutt, but still wasn’t able to get the pin.
At this point, LT hit his comeback, hitting about 15 dozen shoulder tackles before heading up top for a big, well, shoulder tackle. It was enough to put a fork in old Bam Bam Bigelow, as Pat Patterson counted the 1-2-3.
Lawrence Taylor was lifted victorious by his All Star Team (selling like he had taken it to his physical limit), while Bam Bam was berated to the back by the Million Dollar Man (you got beat by a football player??!??)
The publicity the WWF got for the match was enough to bring it back from the grave, as The New Generation would firmly establish themselves as stars and eventually give way to the Attitude Era.
In all, it wasn’t even the worst WM main event of all time. The formula was stretched pretty thin to anyone who has been watching this for a while, but the crowd ate it up and at least Taylor didn’t botch any moves. I don’t think I’d recommend this match for anyone that didn’t love LT (or Bam Bam), but I will say it provided a good template for future celebrity matches and wasn’t actively bad.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Mania Main Thoughts. Next time, we’ve got a match featuring a member of the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame Class and another dude just about breaking his neck.
Final Score: 5.0 (Take It or Leave It)