WrestleMania 11: The One That No-One Likes. 1995 has gone down in history as one of the WWF’s lowest creative ebbs. Talent wise the roster was at one of it’s weakest points as well, with a dearth of top stars and many of the worst gimmicks of the decade.
That talent drain led to the first time since Mania 1 that the company drafted in an outsider to help bolster the main event portion of the show. In this case it’s NFL legend Lawrence Taylor. Perhaps a sign that the companies appeal had faded from it’s late 80s, early 90s peak, this event was held in their home territory of Hartford Connecticut and drew 16000 fans as part of what would end up a decade of arena shows before the late Attitude era brought stadiums back.
The commentary team is once again Vince McMahon & Jerry Lawler. The opening video package almost entirely focuses on previous celebrity involvement in the event, a sign of the lack of faith the company had in their actual talent. Pamela Anderson is here, a kid from ‘Home Improvement’ is here. So are Jenny McCarthy and Salt-n-Pepa. It’s very 90s and the kind of line-up that immediately dates an event. Special Olympian Kathy Huey is on hand to sing ‘America the Beautiful’, a fairly operatic rendition that is less immediately dated than the previously advertised band ‘Fishbone’.
Throughout the show there are dozens of camera’s at ringside, most leaning directly on the ring. This gives some entrances a strange look and hampers the action when things spill outside on occasion.
WrestleMania 11: The Allied Powers (Lex Luger & The British Bulldog) vs The Blu Brothers (Jacob & Eli)
A step down for both Luger and the Bulldog from their previous promise. Luger had looked like the heir to Hulk Hogan’s ‘American Hero’ position on top of the company but never got to win the title. Bulldog was the runner up in the 1995 Royal Rumble earlier in the year but ended up moved into this tag team rather than getting a singles push.
The Allied Powers face off, not with a foreign heel menace as might make sense with their nationalistic image, but with two hillbilly twins. The Blu Brothers would spend the rest of the 90s playing a series of twins in both the WWF and WCW (notably as the Harris Twins). As the action gets going the commentary can’t tell the twins apart, which is probably the most interesting part of the match. The Blu Brothers use not only some standard sneaky tactics, but also take advantage of their identical nature to swap over behind the referee’s back. The twins have the size advantage and seem to dominate most of the match but it’s all rudimentary action. It picks up a big when Luger and the Bulldog get their runs in. The Allied Powers win after Luger uses his trademark metal plated forearm.
Vince McMahon predicts that luger & Bulldog will be a team for a long time. They lasted three months.
Actor Nick Turturro is backstage, apparently to talk to Pamela Anderson. There’s no audio from his microphone and we cut away as Jenny McCarthy appears… Followed by a promo from 1-2-3 Kid before the next match deals with similarly poor audio.
WrestleMania 11: Jeff Jarrett vs Razor Ramon – WWF Intercontinental Championship
Two men who would play a large role in the late 90s boom period, accompanied by another two at ringside. Jarret is joined by the Roadie (Road Dogg), Ramon by the 1-2-3 Kid (X-Pac). These two had been feuding since the Royal Rumble when Jarrett took advantage of a Roadie interference to stela the title.
Ramon and 1-2-3 Kid attack Jarrett before the bell rings, and before their own pyro starts. This doesn’t stick and the match starts in a standard fashion. Thankfully, after the poor opening match, the two men involved here are both very capable workers, even if there’s a fair amount of stalling and some sloppy moments. Jarrett and the Roadie have some pantomime moments where they almost bump into each other but Roadie does help Jarrett stay in the match. 1-2-3 Kid also proves his worth by making sure Jarrett doesn’t run away at one point.
Glimpses of a good match shine through, there’s a good sequence from Jarrett and Ramon looks smooth and controlled throughout. It’s a bit slow though and there are a few too many moments in a row where both men are knocked down which breaks the flow somewhat. A very long figure four leglock sequence doesn’t help either.
The end comes when Ramon hoists Jarrett up for the ‘Razor’s Edge’ but the Roadie interjects to break it up, causing the match to end in a disqualification win for Ramon. Jarrett retains and he and the Roadie briefly beat up the 1-2-3 Kid before they’re run off. Jarrett and Ramon would trade the title back and forth a few times for the rest of the year.
Nick Turturro is back in the Green Room. No Pamela Anderson to be seen, but Jenny McCarthy is there. Shawn Michaels seems cocky, Sid Justice makes a lot of noise, and we move along.
WrestleMania 11: The Undertaker vs King Kong Bundy
The Undertaker had been feuding with Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation after they stole his urn at the Royal Rumble earlier in the year. With DiBiase himself retired by this point, King Kong Bundy has returned to the company to face the Undertaker. McMahon on commentary makes the first reference to what would soon be know as the Streak, mentioning that the Undertaker had yet to lose at WrestleMania. There’s also a baseball referee as Special Guest Referee but he doesn’t really add anything.
Bundy misses a sneak attack to start, and Taker gets an early opportunity to walk the ropes and show the agility that would eventually lead to better matches as his character evolved. Undertaker gets thrown to the outside but uses the potential distraction to recover the urn. He and Paul Bearer don’t hold it for very long as Kama ‘the Supreme Fighting Machine’ comes down and steals it for himself. Kama would melt the urn into a chain soon after this.
Back to the match and Bundy gets on top for a bit. Some power moves before a long, long hold sucks the energy out of the match. Taker gets up from a big splash and hits one of his own, before a diving clothesline gets the pinfall and the victory. Not a particularly auspicious chapter of the Streak by any stretch.
Nick Turturro is back again, still looking for Pamela Anderson. She’s apparently run away after an argument with Shawn Michaels. Turturro runs into some of Lawrence Taylor’s football player teammates (Steve McMichael included). They challenge some wrestlers to matches. Bob Backlund is next up, playing chess and losing to the kid from Home Improvement. Backlund isn’t preparing for his match, instead he’s yelling about the youth of today.
WrestleMania 11: The Smoking Gunns (Billy & Bart) vs Owen Hart & Yokozuna – WWF Tag Team Championships
Owen Hart had threatened a mystery teammate for this challenge to the Tag Team Champions. It’s Yokozuna, who had both beaten and lost to Owen’s older brother Bret at the previous two WrestleManias.
The Smoking Gunns get a brief promo to respond to this surprise before their entrance. The bell has already rung before Yokozuna waves the Japanese flag, technically the match starts but it’s just standing around for a while before anything happens. Some decent exchanges between Owen Hart and both of the Gunns. Yokozuna had always been agile for his size, but he’s even bigger than ever at this point, and it shows in his generally slow movements. When he isn’t involved though, the other three do a fairly good job. The Gunns might be a cartoony gimmick in retrospect but they’re a solid team with some good double team moves.
Yokozuna and Hart take over eventually, Yokozuna using his status as the immovable object to take over. This slows the action down though as Yokozuna uses the trapezius hold to drag the pace down to a glacial level. A missed dropkick from Owen that hits Yokozuna looks like it has given the Gunns an opening, but Yokozuna quickly shifts momentum back his way. Owen takes advantage after a ‘Banzai Drop’, teases a ‘Sharpshooter’ but instead just goes for a pin.
Owen Hart and Yokozuna win to become the new Tag Team Champions.
Backstage to Todd Pettengill, this time with Bam Bam Bigelow and a video package that shows what built to the Main Event. It’s not a particularly compelling storyline removed from the historical context of the media hype surrounding Lawrence Taylor. Pettengill is speaking far louder than Bigelow, almost as if he can’t quite hear himself due to the headphones he’s wearing.
WrestleMania 11: Bret Hart vs Bob Backlund – I Quit match
With the assistance of Owen Hart, Bob Backlund had defeated Bret the previous year for the WWF Championship. With that title having quickly moved on to Diesel the feud between Backlund and Hart continues here.
Roddy Piper is the special guest referee again at WrestleMania, for this early example of an ‘I Quit’ match. Backlund is in full kooky old man mode during his entrance, no music to underscore how old school he is (he’s 45 at this point). The reception for Hart is monumental, proving that despite this being a low point for the company, the star power was still there in some corners.
It’s a contest between two technical geniuses so the wrestling exchanges are smooth. Roddy Piper though both drags this match down and provides it’s only real moments of interest. He puts the microphone into both men’s face at almost every opportunity, yelling ‘what d’you say?’ whenever anyone is in trouble. And even when they aren’t.
Its distracting but it’s not distracting from anything significant, the work is all solid but it’s not particularly exciting. It’s a lot of exchanges of holds which can be compelling but the constant interruptions from Piper mean there is little real flow to the match. Backlund gets his signature ‘Crossface Chickenwing’ locked but Hart reverses it into one of his own. Backlund makes an unintelligible noise that Piper claims is him quitting and the match is over.
An interesting experiment that didn’t stick the landing.
Another glimpse of the search for Pamela Anderson before another awkward Todd Pettengill promo, this time with Diesel.
WrestleMania 11: Diesel vs Shawn Michaels – WWF Championship
Shawn Michaels faces his former bodyguard Diesel, who won the title in dominate fashion from Backlund the previous year. This came just days after the team of Diesel and Michaels broke up. Michaels won the Royal Rumble earlier in the year to win this title shot, as well as Pamela Anderson accompanying him for this match. The running theme of the night has been that Anderson is missing so there’s been some rejigging.
Special guest timekeeper for this match is Home Improvement’s Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who we saw earlier winning at chess. And the ring announcer is Nicholas Turturro, who has earned this job despite failing at his one other task all night (finding Pamela Anderson). Michaels comes down to the ring accompanied by Sycho Sid and Jenny McCarthy, replacing Pamela Anderson. She comes out with Diesel instead. It seems like they’re setting up for something between the two women, but they coexist peacefully all match, sat alongside each other at ringside.
Diesel brings the size and the power, Michaels the speed and agility. That’s the story of the early going, Diesel looking great just throwing Michaels around, who takes out his frustration on a ringside photographer who gets in his way. The two men have decent chemistry as you might expect from their real life friendship and history of teaming. Sid is the only one of the many people at ringside who gets involved at all, helping shift the momentum on a couple of occasions. The action moves between the ring and the outside with Michaels in particular helping to add some excitement to the show with a couple of dives from the ring to the floor.
After a hot start there’s a lull in the middle when Michaels takes over, it takes a while before his trademark dynamism picks up and he starts to speed things back up. It always looks a little strange when the larger opponent in a match like this takes the bulk of the offense. Michaels shouldn’t be physically bullying a man with the size advantage of Diesel. The Champion does fight back finally to bring a bit more vitality to proceedings. There’s a bit of a weird moment when the referee jumps to the outside to block Sid from interfering but hurts himself. This leads to a Diesel kick out in a moment that makes Michaels look fairly sympathetic
Things get pretty slow as both men start to sell the war they’ve gone through before Diesel hits the Jack-knife powerbomb for the victory and the title retention. All the celebrities involved pose with Diesel post-match before a Michaels promo backstage underlined that he was the one screwed here. A strange layout that ultimately hurt the match. Ultimately Diesel and Michaels would reunite before Michaels ended up feuding with Sid.
Salt-n-Pepa performed at this point in the show, but it’s been removed from the Network version. A horrible day for all fans of the pop duo.
WrestleMania 11: Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow
The first and only celebrity singles main event for WrestleMania. Lawrence Taylor, an all timer in the NFL, had come into the company at the Royal Rumble as a special guest and immediately fallen foul of Bigelow. Both men have an entourage for this match, Taylor with a bevy of other football players and Bigelow with the rest of the Million Dollar Corporation. Much like the previous time when a non-wrestler was in such a high-profile position, WrestleMania 1, Pat Patterson is the special guest referee to help keep the match together. These entourages are introduced first and get some scuffling in before the actual participants enter.
There’s a lot of stalling before the bell, Taylor slapping Bigelow to kick things off. Bigelow stalls on the outside but Taylor gets a good run in the early going. He shows some decent slams and throws as well as some solid athleticism. Bigelow takes over himself. If you look hard enough, you can see the smoke and mirrors. Taylor dips after a very hot start, his offense gaining a desperate air pretty early on. The crowd are audibly behind Taylor, especially as he gets punished by a series of submission holds from Bigelow.
A couple of moments of hope for Taylor, he pulls out a surprisingly smooth suplex at one point and a powerbomb not long after. It looks like Bigelow is starting to play with his food somewhat and get cocky before a visibly exhausted Taylor gets a final comeback. A diving clothesline from the second rope and Taylor wins.
Overall – WrestleMania 11
All in all a poor show. The best being a middling effort from Shawn Michaels and Diesel tells you all you need to know. It doesn’t have the sort of stand out matches that WrestleMania X had and suffers from a lack of focus. WrestleMania 11 is often ranked the lowest out of the 38 (As of this article).
The sheer number of celebrities that are involved takes the attention away from the actual wrestling, and horribly dates the show in retrospect. The fact that the majority of the celebrities involved have faded from memory since doesn’t help. And the ones who haven’t (Pamela Anderson) don’t actually do anything to justify their presence.
Lawrence Taylor performed well in his role but it definitely hurt the perception of wrestling that an outsider could come in and win in the biggest event of the year. The bare bones are there for the talent that would carry wrestling into it’s next golden period but it would be another year or two before that really kicked in.