Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Greatest Wrestling Match I've Ever Seen

In the same way that many kids of my generation watched The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast or whatever their Disney film of choice was, over and over on VHS, I watched Wrestlemania VII. In case you're unfamiliar, like I imagine many of my readers are, Wrestlemania was, and continues to be, the WWF/E's most important pay-per-view event. At the time, the WWF only had four main pay-per-view events a year, so Wrestlemania was the main event of them all. But even now, when they have one every month, Wrestlemania is still seen as the most prestigious since it's the event with all the history. When I was a wee lad of about five or six, wrestling was my favorite thing on the planet. My brother and I ate, slept and breathed that shit. We had a whole assortment of PPV events on VHS courtesy of my mother's boss who would tape them for us (my parents were too po' to afford it themselves), but the one I kept coming back to was 1991's Wrestlemania VII. To this day, I'm not exactly sure why I love it so much, but I do have my theories. For me, Wrestlemania VII represents one of the last times professional wrestling was completely innocent. By the time I started watching the WWF, they were starting to transition from the glory days of Hulk Hogan and "wholesomeness" where wrestlers were either the good guy or the bad guy and everything was black and white. There wasn't the constant need to butch up the already homoerotic sport; men could wear sparkly robes and wear tight spandex trunks and still kick major ass in the ring. It was inevitable that the WWF had to move forward and change with the times, but I missed those old days, even if the old days hadn't exactly gone away yet.

There are many fine matches on the Wrestlemania VII card, but the one I'm discussing today is this epic confrontation:

Yes, my friends, now this is what wrestling is all about. This match isn't my favorite so much for the technical aspect--if you're looking for the best in that respect, why not try another Macho Man Randy Savage match with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III--as the incredible amounts of dramatic tension that is built into the match's backstory and everything that goes on in the ring. The creative team behind this match deserve medals for their work here; the fact that they managed to work so many different emotional angles--from revenge to reunited lovers--is a modern day miracle.

To start off with, the match is Career Ending Match, the first of its kind, according to our night's commentators Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. What this means is that whoever loses the match will never wrestle again. Whoa, now that's what I call having a dark cloud looming over you. One mistake and you're history. But, as if that isn't enough to build the emotional tension, we have to go into the backstory. After the Ultimate Warrior won the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania VI, Savage had been pestering him for a chance at winning the belt. Finally, after Savage's manager Sensational Queen Sherri confronted him at the Royal Rumble in January, he gave her his final answer:


[Side note: When I was a kid, there were two people who absolutely scared the shit out of me. The Ultimate Warrior was one of them (the other was Charlie Chaplin, oddly enough, but that had more to do with this really strange nightmare about him I had as a child that completely freaked me out rather than him being "scary"). There was something about the combination of his blazing intensity and his crazy face makeup that always gave me the heebie jeebies. This moment above certainly didn't help in this regard.]

Macho Man is obviously pissed (wouldn't you be?) and decides to act out on his aggression. During the Warrior's championship match, Sherri runs down to the ring and distracts him. He gets annoyed and chases her outside the ring and down the walkway to the dressing room. The Warrior gets down quite a way when...

BOOM. Out comes Macho Man with a clothesline out of nowhere. Betcha didn't see that one coming, did ya, Warrior? Now that he has taken the beast down, Savage decides to acquaint a nearby spotlight with Warrior's face.

Savage runs off and we then cut to the end of the match. The Warrior's real opponent, Sgt. Slaughter, has pushed him into the ropes. Savage has somehow ended up on the floor of the ring (I'm not sure how. All I know about the match is what is in this 30 second clip package) so he takes his sceptor and pummels Warrior in the head with it.

OH SNAP. The Warrior ends up losing the match and the title, so the reasons for revenge in this feud are even higher coming into this match.

We then move back to the present where Gorilla and The Brain are ready to get this match started. I must say, part of the reason I love Wrestlemania VII so much is because of these two. When Gorilla and The Brain announced together, they had unparalleled chemistry. Gorilla was the straight man, the voice of the audience who called everything like he saw it and always rooted for the good guy. The Brain, on the other hand, was funny as hell, always quick with a smartass remark and never failing to support the often times neglected bad guy in a match. It was always fun to listen to The Brain push Gorilla's buttons just a tad more. I love these two together so much, in fact, I often find myself turning on one of their shows together and listening to their commentary as if it was background music on my iTunes.

Anyways, Gorilla launches into a pre-match monologue but The Brain becomes distracted by something in the audience.

The Brain: "That looks like Elizabeth."

Gorilla: "It is!"

When I watched this as a child, I had no idea who Miss Elizabeth was as this is as far back as my WWF education had gone. Over the years, I've learned that she was his manager during the early days of his WWF career and his wife in real life. The funny thing about their in-the-ring personas is that, unlike a lot of male wrestler/female manager relationships, they weren't in a relationship on camera. Savage was overly protective and extremely jealous if anyone tried to approach her, but they never acted like a couple. In fact, their shtick was that everytime Elizabeth tried to open her mouth to speak, Savage would interrupt her and talk about himself. Their on-camera relationship was so weird, it makes you wonder what their off-camera life was like. I think there's a fascinating story to be told there, especially once you consider what happened after they divorced a couple years later, but Hollywood never makes the biopics I want to see.

The Brain is shocked to see her there, commenting, "How LOW can a woman go? She's hoping Savage loses!" Gorilla, always the optimist, tells The Brain, "You're despicable."

The match begins and Savage's theme music, 'Pomp and Circumstance' (aka The Graduation Song), is heard. This is the first glimpse we see of him and The Queen:

Is it a big coincidence that, as a gay man, I've always loved this entrance? To be carried into the arena like a Roman emperor is just epic. Who could ask for anything more?

This shot is of the two of them just before they enter the ring. I have nothing really to add other than the fact that I really dig this shot: two masterminds of evil plotting the many ways they are going to lie, cheat and steal their way to a victory.

The Brain: "Look at The Queen. LOOK AT THE QUEEN. WOW."

After removing her Evil Queen overcoat, Sensational Sherri reveals her dress, a very revealing little number made completely from rhinestones. It's a gaudy, over the top mess and that's precisely why I love it. I also happen to love the woman in the dress a hell of a lot, too. I first fell in love with her as the manager to my favorite wrestler as a wee lad, Shawn Michaels. But, over the years, I've come to worship her time with the Macho Man, especially in this match. As you'll see later on, Sherri was a fearless dame who never gave a second thought to messing around with men four times her size. And boy did she ever get roughed up in return for her interference. But she could take a bump like a pro and you have to respect her for that. Beauty, brains and a kick-ass fighter; if Tarantino had made Kill Bill in the early 90's, she would have been the perfect Bride.

Next comes the Ultimate Warrior and right away The Brain notices something different about his pre-match ritual:

"Why isn't he running 150 mph like that insane fool usually does?"

That's a good question, Brain. Gorilla suggests that it's because the Warrior knows the high stakes of the match and doesn't want to waste precious energy acting like a madman. I can dig that. As he enters the ring, he reveals his wardrobe, which consists of kneepads with the faces of both himself and Randy Savage and this:

I love that this gives a nice little visual nod to the match's (and their feud's) overall theme. This wasn't about the championship anymore--this had become personal.

The match begins with a lot of chest beating and metaphorical who's-got-the-bigger-dick contests. At one point, the Warrior tosses Savage to the mat. Trying to stabilize his masculinity in the face of such a humiliation, Savage takes off the shirt he had been wearing to prove that he's all man and capable of handling a ripped beast like the Warrior. If only this happened every time someone called Zac Efron gay.

The Warrior dominates the early part of the match with a few power moves, tossing Savage around like a rag doll.

I love this particular moment because, from the outside, you can hear Sherri give this blood-curdling scream as he lifts Savage in the air. It's almost like she thought he was going to throw him in a tub of nuclear waste or something. She then realizes that it's time to get in there and save her man, so for the first time (and definitely not the last) she enters the ring to do...what? I don't know but let's see how this pans out.

I don't know if many will agree with me, but I really loved the way Savage and Sherri took bumps and played the fool for the audience. Their Wrestlemania VI match was filled with them and they knew exactly how to sell them for the match's ultimate benefit. It's a very fine line, but they nailed it and this match is no exception.

Savage eventually gains control of the match and decides it time to get a little aerial time, one of his trademarks.

Looks promising

Oh shit. What's he gonna do with him? The Brain suggests a powerslam which, if you're smart, you'll listen to the man and do what he says. He is the Brain after all.

Hm, setting him back on his feet. Interesting choice.

Damn, what a bitch slap. I've always thought this was a smartly planned move. In the old days, the Warrior would have dropped him like a sack of potatoes and then did some dumb move to rile up the fans. Here, he and Savage are clearly thinking about what works best for the psychological type of match they are having. And bitch slaps are always delicious, whether it's from Beyoncé or the Ultimate Warrior.

The Warrior dominates for the next minute until a big mistake finds him lying on the floor outside the ring. And he's right in front of Sherri, natch. Any guesses as to what she'll do?

If you guessed bending over seductively, punching him in the throat and then giving him a kick while simultaneously posed in a similar fashion to a famous moment in A Woman is a Woman, then you'd be correct. She gets a couple of good hits on him before he regains his composure and fights back. Boy is he pissed.

Seriously, though, how amazing is this woman? This is the second time she's taken a massive bump in the past ten minutes and she's not even fighting in the damn match. Her continuous involvement in the match only adds to the drama. As Gorilla notes while she's roughing him up on the outside, "Maybe she'll be the reason for the end of the career of the Ultimate Warrior."

The momentum swings in the match a couple of times before the Warrior misses a move and Savage takes control for awhile. He gets him in a headlock to slow down the fast pace of the match for a bit. This is when Sherri decides her previous cheer tactics were weak and tries something new.

Why yes. She's just coming into the ring now. The referee sees this and goes over to tell her to get out. She stops for a second, looks up at him and then continues cheering in her merry way. Finally, the ref, sick of her, pushes her out of the fucking ring. Priceless. But this doesn't stop her, oh no. Seconds later, she's right back where she started.

The Warrior ultimately breaks the chinlock and gains some momentum, but before he can start anything, the dreaded double clothesline happens. Both men are down and a double countout seems imminent. Sherri, fearing this, decides to take matters into her own hand.

Oh yeah. She's getting her man up if she has to crawl in the ring and blow him in front of the entire crowd. The ref, again pissed, shoves her out again and tells her to backoff. She's not having this so she literally comes into the ring to argue with him. Meanwhile this happens.

The Warrior is pinning Savage and "he's not moving," as The Brain notes. Unfortunately, the ref is tied up and can't count. That Sherri. She's much smarter than anyone gives her credit for. Finally she leaves and the ref notices the pin. "Oh shit," his thought bubble is probably saying as he rushes over to count 1...2...kickout. Sorry, Warrior. He's is pissed and starts yelling at the ref, which allows Savage to do this.

Ohhhhh yeahhhh. The classic "knock the ref down so you can cheat without getting disqualified" move. Love it. I also love that Savage calls out to Sherri so she can get involved again.

She climbs the top rope so she can nail the Warrior with her shoe. I wonder how this will turn out.

Yeah, not good. Savage is down, Sherri is shocked and Warrior looks ready for revenge.

She just now realizes that the only two people not knocked unconscious are her and the Warrior. Oh shit. Sherri backs out of the ring but the Warrior, hungry like the wolf, chases her.

I find it so humorous that she offers her hand as a peace offering so he won't beat her up. Yes, cause a handshake is going to make him forget you cost him his championship and nearly cost him his career earlier. But you have to give Sherri credit for always thinking of ways to get herself out of trouble. Even if they are kinda stupid.

The Warrior eventually catches her, but before he can't exact his revenge, Savage rolls him up for an unsuccessful pin. As he beats up on the Warrior, The Brain's voice starts to crack from yelling so much, which he excuses himself by saying, "EVERYTHING IS ON THE LINE. Maybe the humanoids don't understand, but EVERYTHING IS ON THE LINE." Savage continues his assault and eventually goes to the top rope. Could this be...? I think it is. Here comes the Flying Elbow, a move so deadly it has put away nearly every person in the WWF.

BAM. He nails it. But, wait, where is he going? Why is he going back to the top turnbuckle? Why isn't he pinning him? He leaps off the top again and...

THUMP. Elbow #2. But, oh no, that's not enough. He's going outside again. Sherri is cheering like a madwoman outside. The whole stadium is going nuts.

ELBOW #3. And he's still not finished. The Brain is going nuts. "YOU'RE WATCHING THE END OF THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR!" he shouts in his typical excited way.

There is Elbow #4. Is he going to pin him? Hell no! He still has more punishment to deliver. "WE HAVE A WINNER: RANDY 'MACHO KING' SAVAGE!" The Brain shouts as he goes to the top again.

And Elbow #5. Savage is finished after that one. He pins The Warrior. 1...2...NO. The place explodes. Gorilla and The Brain are shocked. I think Savage is too but I can't tell by his expression.

Too subtle, that one is. As he argues with the ref about God knows what, the Warrior looks like a reborn zombie with his face makeup peeling.

Savage goes back to beating up the Warrior, but something is different. The Warrior isn't being affected by any of Savage's hits. In fact, it's almost like the more he beats up on him, the stronger he becomes. Eventually, the Warrior is back to full strength and starts laying to Savage. Then comes that ominous gesture that spells doom for Savage.

Oh shit. It's time for that gorilla press slam. Sherri, get the fuck in the ring and save your man! Okay, maybe he won't get him up.

Savage is doomed. Warrior drops him on his face and then goes for the Big Splash. He covers him and the count goes 1...2...NO! Savage kicks out. Everyone goes apeshit. Everyone, that is, except the Warrior. He looks up to the Heavens.

I am not shitting you. The Warrior stops in the middle of the match and HAS A CONVERSATION WITH GOD. Gorilla's commentary during this scene is brilliant though. It somehow makes this nutty moment seem even nuttier.

"Is it time for me to step aside? He's asking those Gods right now, 'Is this my destiny?' Do I have it anymore? Is it time for me to step down?"

While "waiting for a response" from God, the Warrior ignores Savage and walks out of the ring. Apparently he has gotten the message and it's time for him to leave.

The ref tells him, basically, "Look, you crazy son-of-a-bitch. There's a match going on. So you didn't pin him. Get back in there and shut up." But the Warrior isn't having it. He's to busy talking to God through his hands. Meanwhile, throughout all of this, Sherri is trying to revive Savage and get him back on his feet. Finally, he shakes that move off and attacks.

Warrior down. I wonder what God is saying to him now. Sherri and Savage lean the Warrior on the guardrail outside while Savage goes to the top rope and jumps down on him. Unfortunately, the Warrior moves and Savage crashes into the guardrail.

I guess that's his answer from God. He then drags Savage back into the ring and delivers a devastating shoulder tackle which sends Savage back outside. He repeats this four or so times and, by the end, Savage is completely out of it. He drags him inside once again, puts him in the center of the ring and pins him.

1...2...3! The Warrior wins. The place erupts. The Brain, who at that point was in the middle of a sentence, is so surprised, all he can say is, "OH MY GOD, NO!" Sherri, too, I think is surprised by the outcome.

In fact, I think she may be going through a couple of those five stages of grief.

As Sherri has a minor mental breakdown outside, the Warrior does his celebrating in the ring. Normally, this is where the match would end, but not this one. This is the match that keeps on giving. When the Warrior leaves for the dressing room, Sherri goes into the ring and looks on with disgust at Savage, still lying in a daze on the mat.

She even kicks off her beaded sarong, or what ever the fuck you call that, so you know she means business. But what is she planning on doing? Getting more comfortable so she can help her man back to the dressing room?

Kicking him in the face? Why, yes, that would be the correct answer. And she does it over and over again. Gorilla is livid, calling her an "ingrate." The Brain is a little more lenient: "She's possessed, Monsoon! That woman is possessed!" I know I'm supposed to feel bad for Savage, and I do because he's awesome, but how badass is Sherri? It takes a certain level of divadom to even consider stooping to this level and I applaud her for reaching that high stratum.

Her rampage goes on for a bit before Elizabeth, still in the audience, has finally had enough.

Elizabeth never had much personality in the early days of her career, but boy is she a pistol here.

I love the way she just dumps that bitch out of the ring. Catfight, hell yeah. Elizabeth then goes over to check on Savage but he still has no idea what is going on and starts swatting at her, thinking she's the one who has been pummeling him.

He nearly punches her face off and there are some moments of confusion when it is finally explained to Savage that it was Sherri and not Elizabeth who beat him up. As this is going on, Sherri is literally pushed out of the frame by the ref, a fantastic finish to a fantastic performance.

We then see that Elizabeth is visibly upset by all that has gone down. She was genuinely worried for him, even though she hasn't been his manager in two years.

The Brain: "She loves him! She's in love with the Macho King!"

Savage is starting to understand this as well and must quickly process his feelings as well. Does he love her, too? Maybe the audience will help him.

Hm, not so helpful apparently. He looks more confused than ever. Savage takes a couple of more seconds to analyze his feelings before...

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. HE LOVES HER, TOO! How touching and sweet. This moment has become so ingrained in me over the years, even I can't be disgusted by it. It's perfectly lovely and touching. Apparently many in the audience agree.

Okay, maybe I'm not that touched, but it is a great moment. It is worth noting, however, that back in the day it was alright for women who obviously didn't drive pickup trucks and smash beer cans on their heads to watch wrestling. What I'm sure these ladies are reacting to is perhaps one of the most romantic things I've ever seen.

Savage has taken his woman and thrown him on his shoulder so the whole world can look at his new love. How many women in the audience do you think gave their husband the silent treatment on the ride home for not being as romantic as Randy Savage? And I know that's an incredibly odd thing to even say, but at this particular moment in time, it's true.

Now comes the moment to prove just how much of a changed man Savage is. Back in the day, Elizabeth always held the top rope open for Savage to enter the ring like so:

Out of habit, Elizabeth does it for him again. But as soon as Savage sees this, he looks around and is like, "Oh, hell no." He shoos her away and does this for her:

Seriously. A lot of men didn't get any action that night because they weren't as much of a gentleman as Randy Savage.

Savage goes on to bask in his final* moments in the ring while The Brain quickly summarizes the match.

"He entered this ring with 20,000 people standing on their feet booing him. Now he lost this match, his career is over, he's got Elizabeth back, this is his farewell."

[*This was, in fact, not his final match. He stepped out of the ring for a few months, but by next Wrestlemania, he was fighting in the main event with what is possibly The Brain's finest, funniest commentary.]

He finishes this up and then leaves the ring for the last time.

"He lost the match, but he certainly got something much more valuable: his woman."


Whew. That was a long one. I think another reason I like this match is because it's a prime example of how wrestling isn't all about men in tights beating each other up. Real thought goes into every match and sometimes something truly brilliant like this match emerges. It also helps to have someone like Macho Man Randy Savage, my favorite wrestler and quite possibly one of the greatest of all time, as one of the guys in a match this complicated. Not only can he put on a great show, but he also manages to make the normally shitty Ultimate Warrior look like he knew what the hell he was doing. That's harder than it looks, my friend. The only other wrestler I've seen who even comes close to Savage in making the Warrior look good is Ravishing Rick Rude at Wrestlemania V, and even then that match was rough as hell. But this match is perfection in my book; in what other mode of entertainment can you have your heartstrings tugged just after you saw two men beat the shit out of and exact revenge on each other? Not many other than wrestling and not even in many wrestling matches besides this one.

I think I've exhausted this topic long enough. Let's see what The Brain's last words on the match are.

"I'd rather have some money than a skirt."


5b156f14-ee59-11e0-934d-000bcdca4d7a said...

u sure the macho man is shocked in that one picture or just high on crack

Edward Azad said...

Came here by screengrab. How old is this post? *checks*

Centuries. Anyway loved your write-up. Speaking as someone who was not watching it back then, this is rightly a classic, an epic so grand it could have been booked by Homer (to quote Cewsh.) EVERYone is at the top of their game, from Gorilla and Brain to the main eventers to even the valet...speaking of Sherri's moneymaker filling 90 percent of the screen. The costumes were original too, Macho's white & blue regalia possibly foreshadowing his face turn later in the evening.

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