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WrestleMania's Wackiest Matches
March 31, 2005

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


WrestleMania XXI is approaching, and with it comes the first-ever Sumo Challenge Match on PPV. Not exactly your standard WrestleMania fare. 
Then again, WrestleMania has a habit of giving us matches that defy the norm. We've seen King Kong Bundy and two midgets fight Hillbilly Jim and two midgets in a six-man tag. We've seen Doink and Dink vs. Bam Bam and Luna. For that matter, we've been treated to Evil Doink vs. Crush, and the debut of the Multiple Doinks gimmick.

And yet, none of those made my list of the 10 most bizarre matches in WrestleMania history. Here's how I scored the all-time "what the F" matches at WWE's flagship PPV.

10.) The Rock vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan
WrestleMania XVIII (2002)

By early 2002, WWE had already squandered a golden opportunity when the WCW "Invasion" angle failed to take off (even with the added bonus of an ECW faction). Fans had grown apathetic to any WCW ties that workers like Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, and others held. The WCW brand name had lost its luster, so WWE turned to another brand name from WCW's recent past - the New World Order faction. Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan made their long-awaited returns to WWE, and immediately revived their most famous WCW gimmick.

As "Hollywood Hogan" played alpha male in the heel faction, it was his job to be the most hated villain on the show, especially since his sceduled WrestleMania opponent was The Rock, who had become one of the biggest babyface attractions in WWE history up to that point and would be the babyface at WrestleMania. The problem was that most WWE fans wanted to CHEER Hogan, not boo him. They were having fun experiencing the return of Hogan to the company where Hulkamania ran wild in the 1980s. Fans didn't want to boo Hulk Hogan, and whenever they did, it seemed more like they were humoring Hogan out of respect, instead of truly buying into his heel shtick. It seemed like fans were on the edge of their seats, just waiting for the chance to cheer Hogan as he returned to the red-and-yellow, super-babyface he once was in WWE.

At WrestleMania XVIII (or X-8), the fans got tired of waiting for Hogan to turn babyface. THEY turned him babyface. Right in the middle of his first WrestleMania match in nearly a decade. Right at the PPV that Hulk Hogan headlined every year in the 1980s. Right in front of The Rock, who was left with no choice but to either improvise a heel turn in the middle of the match, or accept the fact that he was being booed out of the building when he was supposed to be among the most popular men on the card. Wisely, The Rock began playing the heel.

It was the whole atmosphere of The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan that made the match so bizarre. Promoters and wrestlers often talk about doing what the fans want. You always hear people suck up to the fans, and refer to them as being "in charge" of the creative direction of a company. During the Rock-Hogan match, though, you could actually witness the rare turn of events unfold as the audience completely dictated the change of plans to the men in the ring. With no storyline setup at all, during a match in progress, Hulk Hogan and The Rock did a double-turn, and yet it all made perfect sense. It was almost like it was meant to be. Soon thereafter, Hulk Hogan went full-blown babyface and was greeted with long standing ovations every week on Smackdown shows. Whether you love or hate Hogan, there was little doubt that turning him babyface was truly giving the fans what they wanted, at least for the short term.

Even more bizzare was the fact that the match itself really sucked. Both men were relatively rusty. Hogan in particular was very rusty, on top of being incredibly old and less mobile. So not only was was the audience going insane over the match, but they were cheering the heel, booing the babyface, and lapping up the action as if it were the best match they'd ever seen... but actually, it was among the worst matches on the card that night! A truly odd match to watch.

9.) Hardcore Battle Royal
WrestleMania XVI (2000)

At WrestleMania 2000, the WWF Hardcore Title was still running with the 24/7 rule - meaning that the champion could be pinned anywhere, anytime for his belt, so long as there was a referee there to count the three. At the time, the idea was a pretty unique one, and fans enjoyed it well enough. What's more, it gave a bunch of otherwise lost-in-the-shuffle midcarders a chance to get involved in a semi-important match. They might even get a title reign (or two) out of the deal. It was common for the title to change hands multiple times in one "match." Hell, it was more than common... it was expected.

The champion going into the match was Crash Holly. His challengers, formally speaking, were: The APA (Faarooq and Bradshaw), The Headbangers (Mosh and Thrasher), The Mean Street Posse (Pete Gas, Joey Abs and Rodney), Kaientai (Taka Michinoku and Shoichi Funaki), Hardcore Holly, Viscera, and Tazz. But as the Hardcore Title picture was 24/7, it really didn't matter who was actually scheduled for the match, because anyone could legally pin the champ for the title if there were a referee in the vicinity.

As it turns out, the title did stay among the actual scheduled participants, but that didn't stop it from changing hands.... 10 times. That's 10 title changes in 15 minutes, if you're keeping score. Along the way, we were treated to such visuals as the APA destroying everyone in sight and then putting Funaki on top of current champ Viscera, so that he could win the belt. We saw Pete Gas bleed all over himself. We saw Joey Abs and Rodney of the Mean Street Posse fight each other for a title switch. We saw Pete Gas come back from his gusher to briefly win the title himself. Crash and Hardcore Holly double-teamed Tazz in the final minutes to try and get the title from him, but repeatedly broke up each others' pin attempts once Tazz was down. Crash finally managed to regain his title, until Hardcore Holly smashed Crash and Tazz over the heads with a CANDY JAR to pin Crash in the final seconds, and leave the match as the Hardcore champ.

A strange assortment of workers, complicated booking, and 10 title switches. Not bad for a meaningless midcard match.

8.) WWF vs. NFL 20-Man Battle Royal
WrestleMania II (1986)

The match itself was your standard, over-the-top-rope battle royal. Where it gets unusual is when you look at the men involved, and the celebrities at ringside.

The WWF participants:
Pedro Morales
Ted Arcidi
Tony Atlas
Dan Spivey
Hillbilly Jim
King Tonga (aka Haku)
The Iron Sheik
The Killer Bees (Jim Brunzell & B. Brian Blair)
Big John Studd
The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart)
Bruno Sammartino
Andre the Giant

The NFL participants:
Jim "Jimbo" Covert (Chicago Bears)
Harvey Martin (Dallas Cowboys)
Ernie Holmes (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Bill Fralic (Atlanta Falcons)
Russ Francis (San Francisco 49ers)
William "The Refrigerator" Perry (Chicago Bears)

Special Celebrity Timekeeper: Clara Peller (the old woman from the Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" commercials in the 80s)
Special Celebrity Referees: NFL legends Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Dick Butkus

Is your head spinning yet?

For the wrestlers, there's no debating that Andre was a natural fit for the match. Battle royals were his thing, and this was a place where his limited range of motion could be well-hidden. Sammartino and Morales were semi-active former champions, and what better place to be semi-active than a battle royal? The rest of the crew were your standard assortment of odds and ends... tag teams without a match of their own on the card, midcarders without a big program, and new guys looking to get some experience. All the usual suspects for battle royal participation.

Then, the twist of adding NFL players. The highlight of this show was William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who was weeks removed from his star performance in the Bears' Super Bowl victory. The Fridge was a bona fide sports superstar, he was just back from the Super Bowl, and this match was in his adopted hometown of Chicago. Given all of those circumstances, I think Vince McMahon would have booked anything to get this guy (and his star power) associated with WrestleMania II. It so happens there were five other NFL players willing to have a little offseason fun in a pro wrestling ring, including Fridge's teammate Jim(bo) Covert. Any other time, the wrestlers (especially Andre) would have been the main babyfaces of the match, but since Chicago was still doin' the Super Bowl Shuffle, Fridge and Covert were obviously the key crowd favorites.

The WWF worked a storyline rivalry between Fridge and Big John Studd into the match, which resulted in Perry getting dumped from the match by Studd, and then pulling him from the ring on a handshake to exact his revenge. Covert got dumped by the Iron Sheik early in the match, and made himself look like a major crybaby in a postmatch interview by claiming Sheik "cheated" by tossing him when he wasn't paying attention. Bill Fralic was a rookie at the time, but did the best job of any of the NFL stars at adopting a wrestling "character," playing the cocky, swaggering, too-cool-for-school Atlanta Falcon in Da Bears' hometown. Russ Francis actually grew up with pro wrestling and did a pretty good job of avoiding elimination until the very end. Actually, Francis did more to make the fight look legit than a lot of the wrestlers did.

In the end, it came down to the crowd-pleasing win for Andre, as he tossed Bret "Hit Man" Hart out of the ring on top of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart for the win. A pretty straightforward finish to what was at times a bizarre experiment in WWF-NFL interwoven chemistry.

7.) Street Fight (Special Referee Mick Foley):
Shane McMahon vs. Vince McMahon

WrestleMania XVII (2001)

Not only was this father vs. son, McMahon vs. McMahon, but it was the very definition of "overbooked." Vince and Shane were both in a phase where they wrestled occasionally, but for the most part, they were non-wrestlers fighting each other in a low-expectations match with tons of outside shenanigans.

The storyline leading up to this match involved Vince being the biggest asshole on planet Earth to his wife Linda (who was now in a catatonic coma and ridden to a wheelchair because of Vince's abuse). Shane-O-Mac was standing up for his mother, while sister Stephanie was in dear old daddy's corner. Also in Vince's corner against her will was Trish Stratus, who was being forced to do all sorts of demeaning and degrading things for Vince because he was the boss, and he enjoyed making her squirm. All very creepy stuff, and at the time, there were many, MANY wrestling writers on the Internet (forgive me for avoiding use of the popular acronym) up in arms over how WWE had crossed the line with the Vince-Trish angle, and the Vince-Linda angle.

Mick Foley had "retired" the year before, but returned to be special referee of this match. At one point, Trish Stratus wheeled Linda McMahon (motionless and staring straight ahead as if frozen) down to ringside for the festivities. Trish hauled off and slapped Vince, which prompted Stephanie and Trish to duke it out. Foley separated the women and saw them away from ringside, as Evil Vince tried to go after his helpless wife. Foley stopped that before it could happen and took some steel chair shots in return. With Foley out, Vince propped Linda up in the ring. Eventually, she rose from her stupor after Vince taunted her, and gave him a low blow. In a match that had already featured highspots and heavy violence between father and son, Shane-O-Mac finished off dad with a garbage-can "Van Terminator," leaping from the top rope, and sailing the entire length of the ring to dropkick the can into Vince's face.

6.) Hell in a Cell:
Undertaker vs. Big Bossman

WrestleMania XV (1999)

This one was unusual for a couple of major reasons: It was one of the first Hell in a Cell matches that you could consider thoroughlly slow and boring, and it was the first (and thus far only) time WWE faked the HANGING of a man during WrestleMania. Gotta love the "Attitude" era.

The Undertaker was less than a year removed from his classic Hell in a Cell match with Mick Foley, but he was slowing down a lot. Taker was getting older and heavier, and he was wearing down. This was right before Taker's hiatus to heal up and recharge his batteries, right before his "American Badass" gimmick makeover. He was still the ultra-evil gothic version of Taker at this point, with the Brood faction (Gangrel, Edge, and Christian) serving as his "posse." Bossman was also getting up there in years, so between the two of them, the action was almost nonexistent at times. What's more, Hell in a Cell matches up to that point were quite violent and bloody. While Bossman and Taker both gigged, neither bled much at all.

The LEAST unusual thing about the match was Undertaker winning with the tombstone piledriver. That happens almost every year. However, after the match, the Brood decides Bossman hasn't quite suffered enough. The heels proceed to hang Bossman from the Cell with a noose, creating a very surreal visual that they'd actually murdered him. Normally, you'd wonder where that story would go from there. But since this was Russo-era booking, the issue was pretty much dropped the next week. Bossman and Taker both went on with their business.

WWE recently used the footage of Bossman hanging from the noose in a video package highlighting the Undertaker's 12 WrestleMania victims. That was an unsettling visual before, but it's even more spooky now that Ray Traylor is no longer with us.

5.) Gimmick Battle Royal
WrestleMania XVII (2001)

2001 was the year when the entire wrestling landscape appeared to collapse inward and resurface in WWE. ECW died in January. WWE bought WCW in March. The major stars of both companies resurfaced in WWE starting that spring, and continuing for more than a year afterward. Right around WrestleMania XVII, we started seeing ECW guys like Paul Heyman, Rhyno and Spike Dudley appear on Raw. Then we saw the improbable: the merged simulcast of Raw and Nitro after Vince bought his competition. Perhaps in the spirit of bringing the whole wrestling industry together under its own umbrella, WWE even added a bunch of old timers to the WrestleMania card. Enter the Gimmick Battle Royal.

The participants ranged from legendary to infamous, and often downright campy:

The Bushwhackers (Luke and Butch)
Duke "The Dumpster" Droese
The Iron Sheik
The Goon
Doink the Clown
Repo Man
Jim Cornette
Nikolai Volkoff
Michael "P.S." Hayes
The Gobbledygooker (Hector Guerrero in a chicken suit)
One Man Gang
Hillbilly Jim
Sgt. Slaughter
Brother Love

Special old-timey commentators: "Mean" Gene Okerlund and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

For one thing, you don't often see an 18-man battle royal. It's usually 10,15, 20 or 30. For another thing, it was a match with nearly 20 people involved but it only lasted about three minutes total. There were huge, old men in ridiculous outfits flying over the top rope almost immediately, as if they were told they wouldn't get paid if they overstayed their welcome or something. You had the least appreciated Guerrero brother, Hector, being a trooper and returning to his most embarassingly bad gimmick ever, the Gobbledygooker. Jim Cornette was never a wrestler to begin with, nor was he a particularly "gimmicked" persona, but he was in there fighting the elderly, too. At least Brother Love was a true, over-the-top gimmick, despite the fact that he wasn't really a wrestler, either.

Admittedly, the whole purpose of the match was a nostalgia trip, which was accomplished quite well just in seeing these guys strut down the aisle one more time with their theme songs blaring, to a polite round of applause. So I guess you can't fault WWE for keeping the bell-to-bell action quick and painless. Plus, the vast majority of the men in the ring were ten years removed from any semblance of "ring shape." Another five minutes out there, and the happy nostalgia ride would become a grotesque embarrassment. As it was, the winner was the Iron Sheik, who was having such a difficult time walking around and standing upright that fans accepted that he was booked to win for no other reason than fear that an over-the-top-rope bump would have crippled him for life. Sgt. Slaughter slapped the Sheik in the cobra clutch for old time's sake after the match. Then again, the whole match was "for old time's sake."

Fun to watch these guys ham it up again for WrestleMania, but bizarre in every other way.

4.) Brawl-For-All:
Bart Gunn vs. Eric "Butterbean" Esch

WrestleMania XV (1999)

Ah yes, the Brawl-For-All. One of WWE's great failed experiments, which was actually quite entertaining to watch... the problem was, it was entertaining for the opposite reason that WWE wanted it to be. In 1998, WWE created a tournament of purported "real" fights, similar to toughman contests, involving WWE wrestlers. A lot of the action was real, although there were instances of scripted winners and storylines being worked into the fights. Either way, it was fun to see if guys like Bradshaw, Hardcore Holly, The Godfather and Marc Mero were REALLY as tough as their wrestling gimmicks. In a roundabout way, fans thought they'd get the answer to some of their questions about which wrestlers would really kick ass in a fight, and which ones were all gimmick.

Between injuries, wrestlers dropping out for fear of getting hurt, lukewarm execution and general rejection by the audience, Brawl-For-All didn't succeed like WWE hoped it would. Topping it all off, the expected winner was Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, and WWE had planned to push him as a tough guy after he won the tournament. Except he didn't win the tournament. He got the snot beat out of him by Bart Gunn. Yep. BART GUNN.

Trying to make the best of a train wreck, WWE saw Bart Gunn to a Brawl-For-All win, and gave him a half-assed push as a legit tough guy. The final stamp on his Brawl-For-All push would be at WrestleMania XV when he fought legit toughman star Eric "Butterbean" Esch.

It was the final stamp, alright. Butterbean won a spectacularly lop-sided knockout victory over Gunn, embarrassing Gunn and WWE to the point where he hasn't been seen in the company since. Everybody learned the hard way what happens when pro wrestling dares to delve into real fighting, but not before WrestleMania viewers were treated to the biggest potato ever thrown at the big PPV.

3.) Hollywood Backlot Brawl:
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs. Goldust

WrestleMania XII (1996)

Until the Attitude era, WWE only trotted out a really controversial gimmick every few years. They turned Adrian Adonis into an ambiguously gay heel in the mid-80s. They made Sgt. Slaughter an Iraqi sympathizer in 1991. In 1996, they got the services of Dustin Rhodes, son of some other well-known wrestler guy from yesteryear. In WCW, Rhodes had been a pretty bland Texas babyface, without much going for him other than his family name. When he arrived in WWE, he gave life to one of the strangest gimmicks in history, Goldust.

Even the basic premise of Goldust was a bit complicated. Like Adonis before him, Goldust was ambiguously gay and used sexual advances to "weird out" his opponents and gain an advantage. When he wasn't giving heterosexual wrestlers the heebie-jeebies or sending flowers to ringside during their matches, Goldust enjoyed cutting promos littered with famous movie quotes. He was a product of Hollywood, or so he claimed. He also enjoyed dressing from head to toe in gold, painting his face, and wearing a long-haired wig. WWE has had it's share of freaks, gimmick-wise, but Goldust was among the strangest.

Around this time, WWE brought back "Rowdy" Roddy Piper for a brief stint as an authority figure while figurehead president Gorilla Monsoon "healed" from injuries suffered in an attack by Vader. Piper immediately cut loose, setting up the 60-minute Iron Man Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels for that year and hoisting Vince McMahon into an airplane spin just for fun. Always ready to mock others, Piper and Goldust got into it during an interview segment on Raw. A mini-feud erupted, and the result was a "Hollywood Backlot Brawl" non-match between Piper and Goldust being booked for Mania.

It was essentially a pre-taped street fight with a bunch of other excessive crap worked in. In some alley, presumably in Hollywood, Goldust showed up in a gold Cadillac and was immediately assaulted by Piper. Goldust responded by hitting Piper with the car and driving away. Piper jumped into a White Ford Bronco (a not-so-subtle reference to OJ Simpson) and followed after Goldust, and that's the last we'd see of them... so we thought.

Always game for the easy sight gag, WWE worked in an overhead shot of the white Ford Bronco driving on the highway, just like the infamous OJ Simpson chase. The idea was that they were on their way to Anaheim, where the live Mania action was. Three matches passed in the meantime, and then Goldust and Piper arrived at the arena and finished the match in the ring. Except they didn't really finish at all... Piper attacked Guldust and tore off his outfit, revealing some freaky-deeky S&M gear underneath. As unflappable as Goldust was, this embarrassed him so much that he fled the ring, and the "match" ended without a real winner.

Piper was gone from WWE again shortly thereafter, and would resurface in WCW about six months later. Goldust stuck around to give us more creepy innuendo and awkward storylines for years to come.

2.) Boxing Match:
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs. Mr. T

WrestleMania II (1986)

Aside from Hulk Hogan, you can't name two bigger stars from the first two WrestleManias than "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Mr. T. The former was a highly entertaining (and highly obnoxious) heel that walked a fine line between edgy and inappropriate, especially when dealing with Mr. T or Jimmy Snuka. Outside of pro wrestling, Mr. T was a pop culture icon. This only made him a bigger target for Piper's sarcasm and personal attacks.

At the first Mania, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. By WrestleMania II, Hogan had moved on to fighting larger opponents, and was booked to defend the title against King Kong Bundy in the Los Angeles portion of WrestleMania. Mr. T was still involved with the WWF, and Piper was still a major heel star for the company. So the Piper-T feud continued without Hogan, and Piper would main event the Long Island portion of the PPV against Mr. T.

In a boxing match.

In true WrestleMania fashion, they brought in boxing trainer Lou Duva to be Piper's cornerman and "Smokin'" Joe Frazier to be in Mr. T's corner. Each guy had his own entourage, all decked out in the traditional teamware of a boxing camp. As always, "Cowboy" Bob Orton was right there in Hot Rod's corner, too.

The pre-fight interviews were vintage Piper, mocking Mr. T and just generally being a cocky idiot. But besides the fact that it was a boxing match at a wrestling show - between an actor and a pro wrestler, no less - the fight was unusual because it stifled the natural charisma of both men. Piper had a mouthpiece stuffed in his yap, so any entertainment he could produce by talking was rendered impossible. The nature of a boxing match took the personality of the usually-hot feud away somewhat, and diluted it into a basic boxing match between two inexperienced boxers (whom fans would have rather seen WRESTLE in the first place). Both men looked very fatigued after the second round, too, which threatened to expose that neither was in the shape that a true pro boxer would be in. If Piper hadn't thrown his corner stool at Mr. T and bodyslammed him late in the fight, the match might have completely lacked charisma, which would have been rare for a Roddy Piper match. As the fight wore on, Piper snuck in a few reminders that wrestling is supposed to be more exciting than two guys punching for 15 minutes.

There was also a pull-apart brawl involving both corners after the fight, which helped salvage whatever resemblance to a pro wrestling event the boxing match might have had. The boxing match was not a total loss (at times, actually, it's one of my favorite Mania moments to look back upon). But definitely not all it could have been, if the proverbial (and literal) gloves were off.

1.) Blindfold Match:
Jake "The Snake" Roberts vs. "The Model" Rick Martel

WrestleMania VII (1991)

Absolutely, without question, the most bizarre match in WrestleMania history. And as the above matches show, that's quite an accomplishment.

Jake "The Snake" Roberts had been one of WWE's top draws since the late-80s. Here, he was a babyface, but Jake was even more captivating as a heel. He had an intelligence about his promos that always made it seem he was three or four steps ahead of his opponents mentally. When Jake Roberts cut a promo, he didn't just threaten his next opponent. He planted seeds of doubt. He made them think that Jake Roberts knew something they didn't.

Just like Stone Cold Steve Austin in later years, Jake Roberts was a beloved babyface, but he was a fan favorite that people expected to behave badly. He was one of the babyfaces that got away with having an evil streak. On the other side of the coin was Rick Martel, who spent the majority of his career as a pretty-boy fan favorite before turning heel and adopting the gimmick of "The Model," bragging constantly about his good looks and squirting his "Arrogance" fragrance into his opponents' eyes. When he was paired up with Jake Roberts for a feud, Arrogance became the key prop, as Martel "blinded" Jake by squirting it in his eyes.

Jake Roberts did an awesome job making the storyline as twisted as possible, promising "an eye for an eye" and showing his "disfigured" eyes to the fans. It was a well-built feud, and people truly were anxious to see what a pissed-off and blinded Jake "the Snake" Roberts would do to this pansy-ass wannabe model that thought he was a badass. Then, the whole angle took a turn for the absurdly comical. Roberts vs. Martel was planned for WrestleMania, with a stipulation: it would be a Blindfold Match.

On paper, it made sense. WWE was evening the odds for the babyface by making both men wear black hoods over their heads so they couldn't see. But in execution, the match turned out to be two guys who hated each other walking gingerly around the ring, feeling around for their opponent. They rarely got their hands on each other, and when they did, the action didn't last long. The only real stretches of action came when Martel cheated and peeked out from under his hood to mount a small offense on Roberts. Otherwise, it was just really weird, and not nearly the hot feud-ending blowoff it could have been.

To this day, whenever I see photos of WrestleManias past and come across a shot of Roberts and Martel with bags over their heads, I roll my eyes.

That's my own personal list of the top 10 strangest matches in WrestleMania history. I have a feeling the sumo challenge between Big Show and Akebono at WrestleMania XXI could make this list, but we'll see. In the meantime, I welcome your own lists, comments or suggestions.

Enjoy the PPV.


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RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28




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