It’s become a cliche for WWE wrestlers to speak about having their “WrestleMania” moment. But us fans have our own Mania moments too; that first match or show that transformed the way you looked at wrestling or maybe redefined it for you. We’re just mere weeks from WrestleMania 37 and here at Sports Obsessive, a selection of our writers want to share with you their own personal Mania moments.
In this edition: Conor O’Donnell talks about how the ‘Hollywood Backlot Brawl’ at WrestleMania XII made a permanent impact on him.
WWE has one of the most prominent brands in the world in WrestleMania. Wrestling fans are treated to the culmination of big-time feuds, Hollywood stars, and a grandiose presentation. Even when I was not watching wrestling week to week, I would join other causal wrestling fans at WrestleMania viewing parties. Out of all those great parties, my favorite match involves renting a VHS from Blockbuster with a friend.
My WrestleMania moment as a fan is a pure nostalgic pick and happens to be a ‘WrestleMania Moment’ for Dustin Rhodes. Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Goldust in the ‘Hollywood Backlot Brawl’ at WrestleMania XII will always be prominent in my mind. While I marveled at the Iron Man match as a kid, the Backlot Brawl still entertains me to this day. This is not a great match, but it changed my mind about what wrestling could be.
This match did not have a My Way promo package and it did not need it. Scott Hall was on his way out of the WWF, so then-IC champion Goldust was looking for a last-minute replacement. Enter Rowdy Roddy Piper. Piper was in part-timer status. His last significant match (besides that match with Jerry Lawler) was when he passed the torch to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII. Unlike in WCW, Piper’s part-time status use was better utilized in the WWF.
As Dustin Rhodes has shared in interviews, the first half of the brawl was filmed 2 weeks in advance before WrestleMania with minimal planning. Both wrestlers were experienced pros, so ‘calling it in the ring’ felt natural, even though they were under pressure to film this in one take. Personally, I am not a fan of current-day pandemic “cinematic matches.” They are way too over produced. Wrestling is a live performance and thrives on the organic nature of the wrestlers feeding off the crowd.
The WWF had extras spectate for the match on the studio lot. The small crowd did not add much to the match. Piper carried the ambience of the brawl with his grunts. Being able to hear wrestlers’ small talk and breathing is usually awkward. Piper’s frenetic personality felt natural here. His experience in film acting did not hurt either, especially in the legendary fight scene in They Live.
As a young casual wrestling fan, I had not seen a match outside of the wrestling ring before this. This match somehow succeeded in making me believe the fight was real while the car chase completely broke the illusion of wrestling being ‘sports entertainment’. WWF’s comical use of the OJ chase footage completely transported me from reality to the fantasy world of the ring.
Like the Mankind vs. HHH brawl at Canadian Stampede, the WWF excelled at world-building outside the ring in the late 90s. Not only does it make sense, kayfabe wise, for wrestlers to be settling their differences outside the ring, but it also greatly breaks up the formula of going from match to match in the ring.
Forget the logic of Goldust driving to the arena where WrestleMania is going down. Time for fun in the ring. I can never say I enjoyed the action in the ring, but I will never forget Piper stripping Goldust, who was wearing lingerie underneath his wrestling gear. Why though? This is one of the many moments when watching the WWF, you would feel ashamed if you watched it with a non-wrestling fan.
Just a few years later, I watched the Big Bossman get hanged by the Undertaker in the most disappointing Hell in a Cell match. I felt embarrassed watching that with my friends sat next to me befuddled. I’m not sure I can explain why this worked. WWF’s booking of Goldust has not aged well. Piper’s disdain for Goldust would not work in the current day. But both guys played their roles perfectly and I fully bought into the character. Most importantly for a WrestleMania moment, the crowd ate it up.
What other time do you get to see Piper grab another grown man’s balls like that? For the business side, Piper won the battle, but Goldust got to keep to the IC title. The crowd was left entertained. Everybody wins, including me. My friend and I probably rented that WrestleMania tape about a dozen times. The backyard brawl played a huge part in that. Most times, we fast-forwarded through the majority of the Iron Man match but Piper vs. Goldust was never skipped.
In a show with an Iron Man match on the card, you need something completely different; especially right before the main event. Current day WWE really struggles with this. They have done comedy matches, Hall of Fame schilling, and music/dance segments before the main event. Those felt like time-wasting, while this match felt like the bridge. It was not going to upstage the main event, but it was going to keep the audience in their seats.
Piper and Goldust delivered for WrestleMania, especially as a hardcore match. Little did I know I would see a countless number of hardcore matches with excessive chair shots, table breaks, and locker room brawls to the point where I became desensitized. The Hollywood Backlot Brawl will always be my first exposure to the glory of an intense brawl and will always be my WrestleMania moment.