The WWE is phenomenal at video packages. They blend words that echo through time with images long imprinted in our memories and set them to haunting music. Like a coach's pre-game talk, those video packages give viewers goose bumps seconds while pumping them up to go, well, watch a match. Don't say it isn't true. You know it is. Video packages are one of the things the WWE has always done well.
In recent weeks the WWE has been airing video packages highlighting great moments from Wrestlemanias past. They're sort of like the Super Bowl highlight films the NFL Network airs, well, what time is it now? They're a chance to relive famous matches - or just find out what they were like - in two minutes or less. They're part of the WWE's conscious effort to sculpt their own history through Hall of Fame inductions, Legends of Wrestlemania games, WWE 24/7 Video on Demand content and definitive DVD collections.
I enjoy the Wrestlemania videos because I vividly remember watching each one - where I was, who I was with and, for the two I've been lucky enough to attend over the years, every sight, smell and sound. I guess I'm like any old sports fan. I like to reminisce. So for the old timers of the Hulk Hogan generation who want to share their recollections and the newcomers of the John Cena era who want to know what it was all about I've decided to do a series of short commentaries based on past attractions.
Wrestlemania X was in many ways the genesis of this year's event. March 20, 1994, Wrestlemania returned to its birthplace, Madison Square Garden, with retired legends like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Mr. Perfect coming back for special guest referee spots. Piper and Perfect had credibility as guest referees because they'd been both villains and heroes, and they weren't known more for one than the other at the time. It wouldn't have been a stretch at all for them to tilt the match in either direction. They would have just been up to their old tricks. Both called the matches straight down the middle but Mr. Perfect still got into a confrontation with fan favorite Lex Luger when it was necessary to disqualify the All American for very legitimate reasons.
I hated Luger - he was such an obvious poor man's Hulk Hogan, bland and mild mannered. The storylines had pointed all year to Luger finally winning the gold, with The Total Package being denied the belt again and again. He was always being outsmarted by long-term champion Yokozuna and his handlers, Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji. That was another reason I never liked Luger. Every time he lost legitimately he'd cry foul. He just wasn't smart enough to understand why he lost. He had the bend the rules to make it into Wrestlemania and when he lost once and for all, never in his career to win the world title, I loved it.
The WWE is clearly building towards some sort of parade of wrestling legends this year, hyping The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania rather than the more standard Wrestlemania 25. While there have been a lot of rumors most have lacked any clear credibility. But what the WWE foreshadows is invariably what happens so it's safe to expect Chris Jericho to fight some sort of a Hall of Famer (or Hall of Famers) and for that to be the beginning rather than the end of the honor roll.
But the comparisons to this year's Wrestlemania went further than just the commemorative guest stars. Wrestlemania X featured the ladder match that made everybody love ladder matches, with Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. In hindsight the beauty of this match is the simplicity of it.
Don't get me wrong. I love the Money in the Bank ladder match. Guys like Shelton Benjamin, John Morrison and Jeff Hardy have performed heart stopping, death defying stunts. But here there was just one huge, red stepladder and two men fighting for it. You can't put the genie back in the bottle now but at the time nothing else was necessary - just seeing Michaels do a big splash off the top of the ladder was awe inspiring. The match even featured a rare appearance by Shawn Michaels' full moon, a sight that had my friends from school and I screaming “Did they mean to do that?” It's a mystery that may never be solved.
The event featured a five star match between two brothers. One was a rising star soon on his way to his second world title. The other was a jealous journeyman determined not to be left behind. Bret Hart's clash with his brother Owen, which Pro Wrestling Illustrated rated the match of the year, was made the opening contest, which I still remember as a bold move. If promoters can afford to put a match that big up front you know you're in for some kind of an evening.
Watching today, one can't help but read the match as the centerpiece of Owen Hart's legacy, but what's wrong with that? I watched the match against last week and while I was sad to think about how much potential Owen had, I felt really moved that he got to enjoy this moment. Owen defeated Bret, of course, with a trick pin that I almost missed watching it live.
Even though I had no end of love and respect for Bret at the time I had to root for Owen here because the story rang so true to life. I think almost everyone - whether they have a brother or not - could feel Owen's embarrassment and envy at being shown up by his perfect brother all the time. Like a lot of the most emotional WWE storylines the match packed a punch because the dynamic behind it was basically true. Owen - the real Owen - really did live in Bret's shadow, a great talent trying to make a name for himself in the same industry as his brother, who was already an established star. You wanted Owen - the real Owen - to have his moment, whether he was portraying a childish brat or not.
This year when Jeff Hardy inevitably does agree to fight his brother at Wrestlemania a similar dynamic will be in play, with Jeff gaining so much widespread consensus as being the more talented Hardy with the brighter future and his real life sibling no doubt feeling a little left out. It will be interesting to see if the brothers open the event.
I'm not sure I'm rooting for Matt to nearly the same extent as I was Owen, in part because Jeff hasn't yet truly had his day or his due either while Bret had already defended the world title in the main event of a Wrestlemania at the point. The Hardys' spin on Bret and Owen's rivalry is undoubtedly a classy way to commemorate Wrestlemania 25 and their contest could well be a Match of the Year candidate. I'm not sure that I'm quite feeling this one yet but I know that a thrilling video package is coming in which Jeff and Matt's lifelong relationship will be explored from childhood and then I will no doubt have goosebumps and be ready for game day.
Watch the video below to see and hear the memorable moments of Wrestlemania X for yourself.
-Henry Jenkins, BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE Magazine)