Thursday, March 2, 2017

WrestleMania IX: If Hogan Wins, We Gamble and Party

Hogan ended Mania IX as Champion in a reviled decision, but it actually made sense
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Since all anyone wants to talk about with WrestleMania IX is its batshit crazy ending, let's just get it out of the way now, and ignore the rest of the show (my quick review: everyone was wearing togas, there weren't any great matches and it was too windy).

To briefly recap: Bret Hart defended his championship against Yokozuna. Hart lost because when powder gets thrown in your eyes, it hurts really bad and you can't move. Hulk Hogan ran down to the ring to "defend" his "friend" Bret. Mr. Fuji challenged Hulk Hogan to a title match "RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW." After getting the "blessing" of his "friend," Hogan beat Yokozuna in 22 seconds and became World Wrestling Federation Champion. He posed for several minutes.

From a logical perspective, this was insanity. Hogan hadn't been in the WWF for an entire year, and in one night he waltzed back in and took the title. He took it from a champion who had busted his ass for years, and from a new champion who had a promising monster heel run in him. Everything built up for the last year was erased so that the WWF could go back to the old and rely on past success, while building nothing for the future. It goes against all conventional wisdom held by smart fans. If an angle like this took place today, I think certain WWE crowds would make good on those past John Cena threats and actually start a riot.

It didn't even make sense from WWF's business standpoint. On last week's episode of Something to Wrestle With, Bruce Prichard defended the decision by saying that the WWF's reason for haphazardly putting the title on Hogan was so that he could be their champion on the upcoming European tour. This was already a weak excuse before co-host Conrad Thompson looked up those tour dates and saw that Hulk Hogan didn't appear on a single one. He wrestled a couple shows in the US before dropping the belt back to Yokozuna, then he did a few dates in Europe without the belt, before he was gone. When Prichard was pressed on this, he didn't apologize or try to come up with a better reason. He basically did what Trump did when called out on his lie about winning the biggest Electoral College victory in years: "Well, uh, that's just the information I was given. Don't blame me."

With all of that said, I'd like to go out on a limb and say that as lunkheaded as the finish to WrestleMania IX might be, I don't think it should be as reviled as it is today. The expressed purpose of a big event like WrestleMania is to send the crowd home happy. Had Yokozuna won the title, it would have been the first Mania in which a heel ended the show victorious, and we certainly would have had a sad crowd slinking out of the Caesars Palace. For all of his ego-stroking and grandstanding, there is still no argument that Hulk Hogan wasn't the most popular wrestler on the show. He was still the most recognizable, especially to the fair-weather fanbase in attendance. For him to end the show as champion was the only way for WrestleMania IX to feel as monumental as possible.

That brings me to my next point, the fair-weather fans. Bruce Prichard explained that when you do a show at a place like Caesars Palace, the casino buys up a bunch of the tickets and sells them to tourists as part of package deals: casino chips, hotel, tickets to WrestleMania IX. This means that unlike a usual WWF show where the crowd was mostly comprised of people who actually watch the product and are invested in the wrestlers, the crowd at WrestleMania IX included large sections of people who had little clue of what was going on. And truthfully, seeing Bret Hart put on a wrestling clinic probably wasn't their idea of a good time. They sat on their hands for much of what happened in the show, except of course, when Hulk Hogan came wandering out with his smashed-up orbital bone. They liked that. So if Vince McMahon and his team knew they were going to have a lousy crowd who wouldn't react to much, maybe that explains why they went for a shamelessly crowd pleasing finale. It was quite literally the only way they knew they could end on a shot of the crowd going crazy.

And finally, for anyone who would still watch this ending a get bent out of shape about it, let the beauty of the passage of time heal you. The argument that Hogan embarrassed Bret Hart falls apart when you remember that Hart won the first King of the Ring tournament. Then a year later, he ended WrestleMania X as the champion. He got what he always deserved, it just took a little bit longer than we thought it should. Hulk Hogan briefly getting what he wants is not always the end of the world.

Unless, of course, he gets welcomed back to WWE with open arms sometime soon, in which case, any live crowd he appears in front of should turn their backs to him. He sucks.