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 Obsessives, a selection of our writers want to share with you their own personal Mania moments.
This week: Chris Flackett talks about the impact WrestleMania 7 had on him as the first American wrestling show he ever saw…
Even now, with the plethora of British wrestling promotions around, many with easy access via online on-demand services, it still seems incredible to me that a UK wrestling fan’s first access to the graps would be through anything other than an American promotion. Such is the prevalence and dominance of American wrestling in the marketplace, particularly WWE, that it’s difficult to imagine a child’s introduction proper to wrestling being via, for example, RevPro or PROGRESS rather than WrestleMania or Summerslam.
So it seems remarkable to me that, at the height of the wrestling craze in the UK, which was under siege with Hulkamania in the early 90s, I had my introduction to wrestling via a live British show run by promoter Orig Williams whilst on holiday in the Northern Wales holiday town of Rhyl. It was 1990 and I was five years old. I can’t remember who was on the card other than Giant Haystacks and Tony St. Clair. I also remember that I was absolutely hooked by what I had witnessed.
What has that got to do with WrestleMania?
I’m glad you asked.
Something Borrowed Gave Something New
Well, my parents bought me a program at the show and in the centerfold was an advert for WWF wrestling on Sky TV. Now, even though I was five years old and I had loved the show I had just seen, I could still discern that the WWF wrestlers were of a different caliber altogether. Whereas the British lads had looked like the kind of blokes you’d see in the streets albeit ones that were quite happy to hit each other in the face, the WWF grapplers, by their pictures alone, looked like specimens from another planet. There was no way the look of Giant Haystacks was going to compete with the ultra-muscular physiques of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.
With my interest piqued, there was no way I wasn’t going to nag my parents to death to let me see some WWF wrestling. The only problem was, we didn’t have Sky TV. While every man and his dog has a Sky box now, or at least some form of cable, back then Sky was more of a luxury item, a toy for those who were better off (or were prepared to get into debt anyway). Luckily for me, a friend of my mother did have Sky and some months later, they lent me two videotapes to watch: one being WrestleMania 7 and one being the Saturday Night’s Main Event that took place just after Mania. Little did I know, just before I pushed the play button, that this show would change my life.
WrestleMania 7: Bad Card, Special Moment
Now before I continue, I know that WrestleMania 7, as objective as you can be about these things, was not a good show. There’s arguably only one great match on the entire card (Savage-Warrior) and perhaps only three other good matches (Rockers vs. Haku and Barbarian, Bulldog vs. Warlord, and Hogan vs. Slaughter). It certainly wouldn’t be in a lot of people’s top ten Manias. It probably wouldn’t be in their top twenty.
But WrestleMania 7 is special to me and forever will be. As silly as it is, I still get excited whenever I think about it. Because this was the first WWF show I ever saw as an impressionable kid, the first American wrestling in fact that I ever saw. This is the show that took curiosity and made it a passion. Yes, there are many, many better shows than this one; there are many WWE shows alone that are better. And yet I will love WrestleMania 7 unconditionally.
A Question of Aesthetics
What was it about the show that captured my imagination? Well, one thing we don’t talk enough about in wrestling fandom is aesthetics. Yes, we will debate our favourite sets, but there’s so much more to what makes a wrestling show visually attractive than just the sets. Everything from the fonts and logos used on title cards to the colour of the ring aprons, lighting, and environs makes a big difference to how attractive a show looks to us. For example, AEW Dynamite makes great use of a darker, gentle palette; lots of purples, golds, and greens. It’s very soft and easy on the eye; unlike current WWE’s OTT, throw-in-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic.
Even now, I can see why WrestleMania 7 appealed to me visually. It still does, to be honest. The theme of the show was the American hero Hulk Hogan taking on the traitor and Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter (I didn’t know how tasteless this was at the time, but exploiting the Gulf War for a wrestling angle has not aged well). So a colour theme was applied to the show to match the Hulkster’s mission: big blocks of bright prime colours taken straight from the American flag. The red, white and blue theme immediately pops when on the screen. It’s everywhere, from the opening video to the ring aprons to Hacksaw Jim Duggan’s Uncle Sam costume.
A bit like a pop-art version of the American flag brought to life, it instantly captured my young imagination. This assault of prime colours matched the excitement in the ring; bold, colourful, vivid, and exciting. The WWF never used this colour combination again for WrestleMania, possibly because they never promoted another feud as jingoistic as Hogan-Slaughter. Still, if WWE could find a reason to return to the colour scheme one day without evoking extreme conservative patriotism into the bargain, I would pop like hell for its return.
What’s In a Title (Card)?
Another factor that contributed to my love for the visual aesthetic of the show was the on-screen title cards featuring images of the competitors that popped up on the screen before every match. Title cards for matches featuring the competitors’ images have been common on televised wrestling shows for years now, but they weren’t as common then so they really stood out. Not only that but, as this was my first televised wrestling event, this was my first exposure to the device, and it just so happened that WrestleMania 7, to this day, has some of the coolest title cards in wrestling history.
White squares that featured the wrestlers and their names also had the WrestleMania logo behind the wrestlers and were shaded in with a kind of dark blue/purple cool that really set the whole thing off. My favourite colour, then as now, was purple so I was captivated each time one of these cool-looking title cards popped up on the screen (imagine, with purple being my favourite colour, how I used to feel about the old WrestleMania VHS cases!)
While the aesthetics were extremely important to opening the door to my love of wrestling, it would have all meant nothing had the wrestlers and their actions in the ring been less than entertaining. Thankfully, the wrestling gods were on my side…
WrestleMania 7: Larger Than Life and Proud of It
I stated earlier that WrestleMania 7 is not a great wrestling show. I stand by that. I can still watch it anytime because of how special this show is to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see how lackluster a large part of the grappling on the card is. So how could five years old me have been so impressed?
Let me put it into context.
First of all, well, I was five years old! The only experience I had of wrestling before this was a single British live show. I had nearly nothing to compare the show to, so I had to take it on its own merit. Also, bear in mind that even if I had seen some other wrestling before this show, I was not mature enough to be able to discern why one form of wrestling would be better than another, not on any meaningful level anyway.
So it didn’t matter to me that the action on the screen was not the best quality wrestling that was on offer. I didn’t know that and I couldn’t see it. What I did see was these amazing, larger-than-life characters appear to beat the hell out of each other. They had cool names like The Ultimate Warrior, The Rockers and The Texas Tornado and they came out to these awesome, rocking theme tunes that were full of character. Once you heard Hulk Hogan’s theme, or The Rocker’s theme or the Boss Man’s (“you’ll be doing hard time!”), you were hooked. I can still sing all the words to the Boss Man theme after all these years, which is a testament to composer Jim Johnston’s songwriting. Those themes were just as much a part of a wrestler’s character as the wrestlers themselves and they drew the audience straight in.
Not only that, but these guys looked like they were from another planet. Much has been said, both good and bad, about Vince McMahon’s ability to turn wrestlers into cartoon-like characters during the ‘Hulkamania’ period, but what still stands out to me is that the WWF managed to do this so well. I can still watch Hulkamania-era WWF and enjoy it, partly for nostalgia reasons, partly because there was a lot of real talent behind the characters and partly because they got the characters so right. Gimmicks like The Million Dollar Man, The Undertaker, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, and The Ultimate Warrior were not only brilliant but were also brilliantly portrayed. It’s something the WWF struggled with during the ‘New Generation’ era and certainly struggle from now.
But back in 1991, the WWF didn’t pretend their stars were anything but over-the-top superheroes who were out to entertain. And if anything really sealed the deal for me with WrestleMania 7 and my passion for wrestling, it was how exciting these characters really were.
A Gallery of Superheroes
WrestleMania 7 was like a gallery of some of WWF’s best gimmicks, some invented by them, some not; Hulk Hogan; Sgt. Slaughter; the Legion of Doom; the British Bulldog; the Million Dollar Man; The Model Rick Martel; The Rockers; The Undertaker; The Hart Foundation; The Nasty Boys. Each one had a distinctive look and personality and each one stood out as much as the next wrestler. Even though he looked like an old man even then, Hulk Hogan, with his huffing, puffing face, t-shirt ripping, hulking up and mass of muscle, looked exactly the superhero he was meant to be.
Hogan made the biggest impression, but The Ultimate Warrior was a close second. With his manic ring music (although this was the one night he didn’t run to the ring, so as to sell the seriousness of the career stipulation on his match), rope shaking, hyper-colourful ring clothes and face paint, and bizarre yet completely compelling facial expressions and promos, he was the definition of crazy. I loved him for that. He couldn’t wrestle for toffee but I didn’t know any better. I just saw this lightning bolt of furious energy and colour and that was enough for me right then and there.
In a way, it was like watching a live-action cartoon except much more captivating. The wrestlers were taking on archetypes in a way. You had the post-apocalyptic street gangs of the Legion of Doom and The Nasty Boys; the evil capitalist tycoon in the Million Dollar Man; and, um, the Scottish person in Rowdy Roddy Piper. But it made sense. Good vs. Evil is one of the simplest forms of storytelling and, when done well, one of the most satisfying.
Which brings me to the main event. I didn’t know anything about the Gulf War but I understood on a fundamental level that Sgt. Slaughter was a hateful character. I understood the crowd were booing him. I was as outraged as the crowd when Slaughter cheated and equally cheered Hogan on. I completely got the drama of a bloody Hogan waving an American flag, even if I didn’t know why (and how lucky I was to witness a rare WWF moment, for the time, where the crimson was allowed to flow). As a match, it’s not bad at all. It tells a story and, if you can reduce the jingoistic elements to simple good vs. evil, then both Hogan and Slaughter did a great job of putting that across.
My mother returned the tape a few days later, but WrestleMania 7 has stayed with me ever since. I might have moved on from it, my tastes in wrestling having developed and evolved, but this really is My Mania Moment. This is the show that started my love affair with pro wrestling and I will always hold it close to my heart because of that.
Let’s just never mention the blindfold match—ok?
What’s your Mania moment? Let us know in the comments below! For more great WrestleMania content, be sure to check out: