Just Business: The Sunday Column presents WrestleMania VII, For Your Consideration

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Just Business: The Sunday Column presents WrestleMania VII, For Your Consideration

Glitz, glamour, grandeur, these are everything that WrestleMania is not, and yet seem to be the only thing WrestleMania is interested in being. Such was not always the case, and we should not lose sight of the charm and success of WrestleManias from years past that, with significantly less of the aforementioned three traits, achieved considerably more than any of the gratuitously over-long iterations of recent times.

Among these, WrestleMania VII remains one of my favourites – not just of its franchise, but among the pantheon of WWE pay-per-views entirely. Perhaps it is because it lacks the ‘enormo-dome’ trappings of its six elder siblings or perhaps it’s because it sits in the shadow of a younger sibling that possesses them that ‘Mania VII goes without its overdue share of love and affection from WWE fans. Perhaps it’s because it hosts one of the more forgettable, unfashionably late Hulk Hogan title bout main events. Or perhaps it is because it happened at what was a relatively transitional period in the company’s history. Regardless, what is clear to me is that WrestleMania VII is one of the least talked about best WrestleManias there has been.

With fourteen matches taking place on its main show, it might not look too dissimilar to a WrestleMania of today. There is undoubtedly a sense of the company seeking to pack in as much content as they possibly can into the event’s run-time. Crucially, though, and immediately in a manner that endears the event to me so powerfully it finds itself listed among my all-time favourite WWE pay-per-views, the show clocks in at only 3 hours and 30 minutes. True enough, this still makes it a mammoth of an event – as most WrestleManias have been of course – but by contemporary standards it feels relatively lean (what a mad world we live in!), and is better for it.

Indeed, if WrestleMania is an event that should boast less bloating grandeur and more party atmosphere then its seventh version should be seen by most as one of the best. Ringside is adorned with the regalia of the USA’s red, white and blue of course, and the jingoistic themes run deep in the main event and throughout the event’s production design, but beyond a few hints at flag waving, the traditional opening rendition of America the Beautiful and a little bit of ringside window dressing, WrestleMania VII’s efforts are placed squarely on delivering an exciting and emotionally engaging ring product. Distraction, here, is little – we’re a long way away from MetLife’s giant Statue of Liberty crowning the ring canopy, and the resultant feeling is positively uplifting.

That ‘Mania VII delivers in the ring is, as it would be in the case of any pay-per-view boasting the same quality, its best trait. The party atmosphere is augmented by a flawlessly compiled card comprised mostly of confident undercard bouts across every tier of the wider roster. With none of these overstaying their welcome and, instead, as was often the case in Eras gone by, precisely judged in their duration, the intermittent interruptions of the event’s bigger tent pole encounters succeed all the more, benefiting from a big fight feel as the show pauses to pay them more attention, while daring to provide them with a little bit of the otherwise welcomingly absent grandeur and glamour too.

The most famous of these, and by far the most successful on the night, was the impossibly precognitive Retirement Match wrestled between The Ultimate Warrior and ‘Macho King’ Randy Savage. At large, it has seemed to me over the years that the WWE fan base possesses something of a love / hate relationship with this monolithic story – some cannot find the time for its over-the-top melodramatics and its unabashed indulgence in false finish, while others find its emotional core (being the eventual reunion of Savage with Miss Elizabeth) irrepressibly compelling, and the journey getting there equal parts exhilarating and enthralling. Such critical conflict comes as little surprise to me, given we live now in an age where the granular athletic detail of a match is king over the nuances of its story, and Warrior vs. Savage is all about the nuances of its story.

From the conniving and interfering screeches of a hysterical Sherri Martel at ringside, who had banked her life on a King now standing in the gallows, to a desperate Warrior unaccustomed to coming up short of answers pleading to his Gods for help, right through to Savage, at his lowest, being ambushed by his ringside succubus in the aftermath of an effort of heroic proportions villains of the time rarely provided, the sweepingly epic tale of good vs… well, good corrupted by external evil remains as magical today as it must have been on the night. Frankly, the worst thing its deployment of the oddly contemporary habit of excessive use of finishing moves can be is ahead of its time.

The event’s other major tent pole – its main event between defending turncoat champion Sgt Slaughter and patriotic challenger Hulk Hogan – is less successful, feeling instead like an oddly outdated act from a character who had already passed the peak of his time in the WWF the year before; if not, quite honestly, the year before that. Indeed, the match itself seems conscious of this, and goes to some lengths to challenge any notion that Hogan may no longer be the man for the job WrestleMania VII levies him. It is a more aggressive performance from Hogan in what is, tonally, a more vitriolic and violent match than he might have previously wrestled in a similar spot. While the story beats remain anti-climactic in their familiarity, Hogan’s performance is nonetheless more mobile between the ropes – such combination of both the familiar and the new might put first-time viewers in mind of a latter-day post-2013 John Cena performance, adjusted appropriately for the in-ring fashions of the day. Certainly, it feels like a response to unasked questions born from unspoken doubts.

It is worth mentioning, however, that the live crowd remain as enthralled by this flag-waving Hogan story as any live crowd before them had been with any Hogan story before this one, and that while in retrospect it might all feel a little misguided it would be difficult not to pretend that, at the time, it had the desired effect (excepting the need to downgrade to a smaller arena). No small part of any such success was, of course, played by Sgt Slaughter in his convincing guise as a radicalised anti-American usurper, and he is due credit for this.

It is, perhaps, testament to the success of this latter-day WWF Hogan story that he is predominantly remembered as a proactively patriotic character. While this had previously been no small element of his character, prior to this WrestleMania VII storyline he never seemed to be so explicitly defined by the trait. It is, after all, WrestleMania VII’s Hogan that will provide you with the Hulk Hogan most fans immediately recall today.

It is in that we find one of the traits that makes WrestleMania VII so appealing to me. Coming in 1991 as the generation of talent defining the Golden Era were beginning to make their way out the door so that the New Generation could take their place, WrestleMania VII feels like and watches as the final curtain for the first Era in WWE’s modern history, thanks to a combination of long-running character arcs and stories being knitted together, such as the ascension of the patriotic Hulk Hogan.

Throughout the undercard we find moments and matches that do this. In the Mr Perfect vs. Big Boss Man Intercontinental Championship Match, André the Giant intervenes to see off the influence of Bobby Heenan in a moment that neatly concludes the Era-defining relationship between the two that had once headlined WrestleMania III, returning to us the André we had once loved. In Ted DiBiase vs. Virgil, we see the long-suffering and long-oppressed bodyguard of the Era’s most despised villain finally be able to get a degree of physical retribution on his tormentor, and in so doing resolving one of the most hateful aspects of the Million Dollar Man. In the WWF Tag Team Championship Match between The Hart Foundation and The Nasty Boys, we see the final bow of one of the Era’s most successful teams and the final unresolvable dissolution of their relationship with their treacherous one-time manager Jimmy Hart. We get the aforementioned crowning of ‘Stars and Stripes’ Hogan too, but of course the most powerful moment of the evening comes when the relationship between Savage and Elizabeth – perhaps the single most enduring image of the Golden Era – is reborn with true emotional power, the first couple of the company once again embracing in the middle of the ring to bring their own story of the age full circle.

Time and again WrestleMania VII feels like a bittersweet farewell to what may still be the most beloved Era of the company’s modern history, and it is when viewed in that guise – when seen as the Endgame of the WWF’s Golden Era, if you will – that I most adore it, and place it in a more than warranted spot among my favourite WrestleManias and among my favourite ever pay-per-views. It is, put simply, closure.

But best of all, even in this sea of the Era’s dying embers, WrestleMania VII still finds time to provide its audience with more than just a little something new.

First there is the impossibly successful Blindfold Match between Jake Roberts and Rick Martel. The bizarre stipulation might have fatally constrained any two lesser competitors, but through a combination of unashamedly leaning into said stipulation and balancing it out with typically expert psychological deftness the two men are able to weave together something of an unlikely ‘Mania classic.

Then there are the emerging young stars, here given a platform to take full advantage of in order to stake their claim for the years to come. British Bulldog, striking out at this WrestleMania on his own for the first time, is able to piece together a tremendous big man bout opposite The Warlord that spiritually evokes such charming undercard memories as WrestleMania III’s Full Nelson Challenge, while the Rockers, as one of the final surviving teams of this golden age of tag wrestling, seize their chance to make a strong accounting of themselves in a robust opener against the much larger Heenan Family of Barbarian and Haku.

And then finally, there is the first WrestleMania appearance of The Undertaker. Mere months into his WWF career, the Dead Man here gains a quick and decisive victory over the legendary Jimmy Snuka and, while any notion of an undefeated streak in 1991 was more than a long way off, we can watch it back now knowing this was the planting of a seed that would flourish into something none of us could have ever predicted.

WrestleMania VII balanced the new and the old beautifully, acting at once both as a final curtain for the Era now in its waning days and a prologue to the Era that would shortly begin gestating. Its production captures the spirit of the WrestleMania idea without drowning out the practice WrestleMania demands, its card demonstrates precise balance that might very well have gone unmatched in all of WWE history since, and its feast of wrestling matches offers up both satisfying undercard snacks and immortal main event-level classics.

It is absolutely one of my favourite WrestleManias of all-time, absolutely one of my favourite pay-per-views of all-time, and do you know what? It might just very well be one of the best too.

Next time, I’ll be moving into a new Era in WWE’s modern history, my favourite. It’s New Generation time, as I take a look at King of the Ring 1993 and one of the best one-night story threads the company has ever put together!

NOW, TELL ME…

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