Welcome back to another edition of Mania Main Thoughts, where we’re going back and looking at all of the Wrestlemania main events, a thing I am already tired of doing!
Today, we’re taking the time machine back to the Hogan Era for a look at 1991 and Wrestlemania VII.
1991 was an interesting year in America, as the US was in the middle of the first Gulf War. The Gulf War was big business for the news media, as it was the first war where Americans could get live reports from the front lines. I remember my grandpa pretty much watching the whole war on his basement TV. We got him Gulf War playing cards for his birthday. Norman Schwarzkopf was one of the King cards. I was only a kid at the time, but I don’t remember America being very divided on the Gulf War. We were pretty much all in on our patriotism.
Well, they say that art imitates life. Or life imitates art. Or life is a highway. I don’t know, they definitely say that third one. Anyway, the WWF looked to cash in on the Gulf War craze by integrating “America vs Iraq” into the main event storyline headed into their biggest show of the year.
A little background – Hulk Hogan had been on top of the WWF for 6 years as the 90’s rolled around. Looking to pass the torch, the WWF decided to have Hulkster drop the WWF title to their new crown jewel, the Ultimate Warrior, at WMVI. Unfortunately, the Warrior just didn’t tickle their fancy as champion like Hogan did, and as 1990 turned to 1991, the WWF was getting cold feet on the Warrior’s reign as champ.
Instead of promoting Hogan/Warrior II for the next Mania, the WWF decided they needed a transitional heel champion for Hogan to defeat and reclaim his spot at the head of the company. Enter Sgt. Slaughter.
Sgt. Slaughter was already a legit wrestling superstar. The guy even had his own G.I. Joe figure, which is the pinnacle of success in any industry as far as I’m concerned. Sarge had arguably his biggest run to that point in the American Wrestling Association, but in 1990, he left the AWA to return to the WWF. While Slaughter could’ve played a tough drill sergeant heel character, Vince McMahon was thinking bigger. With America ready to do battle in Kuwait against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, the WWF cast Sgt. Slaughter as the ultimate American turncoat.
Slaughter started cutting promos about how America had grown weak and he identified more with Saddam and Iraq, because they were all about brutality. He brought in one of his AWA running buddies, General Adnan, and the two started dressing in Iraqi garb and spouting off against America whenever they got a chance.
At the ’91 Royal Rumble, Slaughter defeated the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Title (with a little help from “Macho King” Randy Savage’s scepter). As the battle in Kuwait began, new champ Slaughter set his sights on the ultimate symbol of America – Hulk Hogan. Hogan, ever the patriot, was infuriated by Slaughter’s anti-American rhetoric. Slaughter even went as far as burning one of Hulk Hogan’s shirts in effigy on an episode of WWF TV. (Rumor has it that the WWF wanted Slaughter to burn an American flag, but Sarge flat out refused. His wife was already receiving death threats for her husband turning on the USA). Hulk was PISSED OFF, brother.
So the scene would be set for WMVII – Slaughter defending his title and Hulkster defending the honor of an entire nation.
Of course, there was only one small speed bump. WMVII was set for March 24th, but the Gulf War wrapped up before February was over. Turns out, the US made quick work in the Persian Gulf and Hulk Hogan was left to fight a war that was already over.
For their part, the WWF soldiered ahead with the storyline, even as the Gulf War craze wound down. And boy did it. WMVII was scheduled to run at the LA Memorial Sports Coliseum in Los Angeles, which held upwards of 100,000 people. With ticket sales VERY sluggish, the company bowed out at the last minute and moved to the much smaller LA Memorial Sports Arena. The WWF cited bomb threats as the reason for the move. The reported attendance for WMVII was around 16,000. I think we found the bomb.
Attendance issues aside, WMVII turned out to be a pretty good event. The Nasty Boys shocked the world by defeating The Hart Foundation for the tag titles, The Undertaker made his Wrestlemania debut (1-0, RIP Jimmy Snuka) and Andre The Giant made his final appearance to surprise Bobby Heenan during the Mr. Perfect’s Intercontinental Title defense against the Big Boss Man.
Most memorable, though, was the Ultimate Warrior/Randy Savage Retirement Match, which is one of the greatest WM matches of all time. A great physical contest plus a highly emotional ending which featured the reunion of Macho and Miss Elizabeth, it would be the moment most replayed from WMVII in the annals of history.
And that brings us to the main event. Hulk Hogan cut a heated promo with Mean Gene Okerlund, making one last declaration of his love of the USA and promising that this was a new Hulk Hogan with a new set of rules. Slaughter came to the ring with Gen. Adnan in tow, waving the Iraqi flag. Despite the whole attendance debacle, the 16,000 people in the arena were VERY hot for Hogan. The guy is just magic and the crowd popped huge when he made his way to the ring, waving Old Glory.
I have seen this match a couple of times, but I remember it most for its recreation in a couple of video games, specifically WWE All Stars. If you’re never played that game, it’s a LOT of fun, with more arcade-style characters and moves. A lot of the matches thrust you into WM highlights, with the challenge being to recreate certain moments. The Hogan/Slaughter match is particularly fun.
Upon rewatching the real thing on the WWE Network, this match sucked. I mean TOTALLY sucked. I knew there was going to be trouble when Regis Philbin made his way to the ring as guest announcer for the match (Alex Trebek was the guest ring announcer). While Regis was always into the WWF superstars on his morning show with Kathy Lee, you never want to throw a guy who has NO EXPERIENCE into your commentary booth for the BIGGEST MATCH OF THE YEAR.
Luckily, Regis kept his mouth shut for most of the match. It didn’t matter though, because Hogan/Slaughter bit a big one. Unless you are into seeing a couple of balding dudes slowly punching each other, you can skip around 15 minutes of this match. The moveset was just terrible.
In the first of many bizarre moments, I should also note that our current President and WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump was sitting ringside for this match, and I can only imagine that it heavily influenced our current foreign policy.
Back to the ring, Hogan’s idea of the “new rules” was a scowl on his face and pushing the referee when he’d try to pull the competitors apart after a 5 count. Still pissed about that burnt up t-shirt, he was going like 20% heel. Hulk also busted out some weird moves in this match, including an attempt at going to the top rope that ended in Ric Flair’s signature bump.
New rules did apply in a way though. Sgt. Slaughter made LIBERAL use of multiple chairs, some right in front of the ref, which drew no DQ. At one point, Slaughter was blatantly choking the Hulk outside of the ring with a TV cable, and the ref wasn’t even counting them out, much less calling a disqualification.
If the match proper was boring, the ending was just bizarre. It started when Sarge himself went to the top rope for a knee drop and then went for the pin on Hogan, only to have the ref distracted by Adnan. So Sarge’s OWN GUY was keeping the ref from counting the pinfall, with Hulk selling all the while like he was dead. Even Regis was talking about how little sense this was all making.
(I should also note that Bobby Heenan switched sides TWICE in this match. At the beginning he was for the USA, then mid-match he and Slaughter were buddies, then in the end Slaughter was back to a no-good turncoat.)
After the botched pin attempt, Slaughter went to the outside and hit Hulk with another chair shot, which resulted in a Hogan blade job that would’ve made the Nature Boy wince. Sarge locked on his Camel Clutch submission finisher, but never actually attempted to get Hogan to submit. I guess he was still learning the move?
After hitting the Clutch, Slaughter draped the Iraqi flag over Hulk and went for the pin, but Hulkamania would not die under Iraqi rule, brother. Covered in blood, Hulk Hogan tore the flag in two and Hulked Up for the comeback. A big boot and leg drop later, and Hogan was (in Gorilla Monsoon’s words) an “unprecedented 3-time WWF champion”.
With the Iraqi sympathizers vanquished, Hulk celebrated with the Stars & Stripes in the ring. In one last bizarre moment, he also grabbed an American flag, wiped the blood from his face on it and threw it into the crowd. If someone out there owns a bloody Hulk Hogan American flag, I hope they are properly displaying it.
So that was WMVII. The WWF didn’t take the hint and continued the Slaughter/Iraq storyline all the way to SummerSlam. You can read about what happened after that in my WMVIII review. Sgt. Slaughter would eventually have a change of heart and align with super patriot “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan to get his country back. As for America, it would go on to produce a sequel to the Gulf War in 2003.
I was going to rate this match as a Terrible, but it got to be so bizarre that I decided there was at least some merit in seeing it. So I upgraded it to Avoid – only hardcore and slightly sadomasochistic fans are going to appreciate this one.
Final Score: 3.0 (Avoid)