WrestleMania VIII: The End of an Era

WrestleMania VIII caught the WWF in an unexpectedly transitory state of existence. Vince McMahon was being taken to court after he was charged with the accusation that Dr. George Zahorian, a former WWF ring doctor, had been authorized by McMahon to provide steroids to his wrestlers. To deflect attention, it was suggested Hulk Hogan leave the company for a period of time. Thus, WrestleMania VIII was billed as the show that could possibly see Hogan’s “retirement match.” The fact that they didn’t definitively bill it as such suggests that there was every intention to bring Hogan back as soon as possible.

Before then, though, Hogan would have to beat Sid Justice, while Ric Flair would defend the WWF World Heavyweight Championship against Randy Savage in what was billed as a double main event. The original plan was to have Hogan vs. Flair headline in a dream match for the time, but this was before the decision was made to have Hogan slip away for a while, plus their house show run was said to have had only decent ticket sales and poor responses from audiences. Hence the double main event.

With such a complicated back story, how would WrestleMania VIII fare as a show?

Let’s head to the ring and find out.

“Don’t Start!”

The eighth installment of the WrestleMania series began with a quick introduction from perhaps the greatest commentary partnership the WWF/WWE has ever had, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan. Gorilla sells the event to the audience at home as ‘The Brain’ is busy looking for the giant blow-up illicit pictures of Ric Flair and Elizabeth that ‘The Nature Boy’ promised to show. “Don’t start!” cries an exasperated Gorilla, and I don’t want them to stop.

The Hoosier Dome looks packed out and, in combination with the size of the venue and the fact that it’s a dome, helps to give a big event feel from the start, just the kind of thing you need for WrestleMania. In fact, the feel is very similar to the Pontiac Silverdome from WrestleMania III. Reba McEntire sings the National Anthem very well in an understated performance—certainly one of the better ‘Mania anthem singers. And then it’s straight into the action!

‘El Santana’ Tito Santana vs. ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels (w/Sensational Sherri)

We start with a classic example of Vince’s racial ‘sensitivity’: El Matador, the ghastly repackaging of Tito Santana as a matador, simply because he was Mexican. Not the most creative of Vince’s gimmicks, it must be said. Shawn, meanwhile, is at the start of his singles run here and while you can’t necessarily see the wrestler that would become such a classic main eventer, he still exudes a lot of charisma here and he was always talented in the ring. It’s odd seeing Michaels come out with Sherri and hearing the Sherri-sang version of ‘Sexy Boy,’ considering the two were only paired for a relatively short time, but it does remind me of how underrated Sherri is as a valet/manager. She really was something special.

Tito frustrates the cocky Michaels early on, frequently grounding the upstart with headlocks, which doesn’t make for the most exciting start, but the crowd is vocal, at least. Michaels takes advantage by throwing Tito over the top rope before nailing a backbreaker and cutting off a Tito comeback with a superkick in a glimpse of things to come. Tito manages to gain some momentum and hits Michaels with a beautiful flying forearm, knocking Shawn to the outside, where Tito rams his head into the steel steps. Back in the ring, Shawn sells beautifully for Tito, bouncing around the ring in a fair impression of Curt Henning. A flying chop to the back of the head knocked Michaels to the outside again but, in a slightly clumsy spot, Tito tries to bring Shawn in, but Michaels grabs the top rope and falls on top of Tito for the win.

A decent opener. Nothing life-changing, but it did its job. Short and inoffensive, but ended when it seemed to be getting somewhere. Still, enjoyable.

The Return of Paul Ellering

WrestleMania VIII chose to air its interview segments with ‘Mean’ Gene from a stage in the dome, rather than from backstage. The first such segment took place here after the opener, as the Legion of Doom appeared, and with new company—well, the old company technically. Paul Ellering had long been the Road Warriors manager in the NWA and AWA, and I’ve truly known the reason he didn’t follow Hawk and Animal at the same time that they moved to the WWF. Still, here he was and his appearance seemed to energize the Warriors as they gave a pumped-up speech about coming for the tag team titles again.

Apparently, a second tag title run was in the works for the Roadies. Unfortunately for them, the addition of a ventriloquist’s dummy would soon ruin everything. But I digress…

“I Will Put The Final Nail In Your Own Coffin”

Now we go backstage, as Sean Mooney interviews Jake Roberts. This is the real tragedy of 1992: that Jake ended up leaving the WWF and had a poor run in WCW (partly down to his issues, to be fair). As a performer, Jake was at his absolute peak here, leaning into the darker heel side of his character, and he’d had a stormer of a feud with Randy Savage just a few months prior to this. It was well known he was leaving after this match, but even the clip of Jake trapping Taker’s hand in a coffin and smashing him with a chair before nailing Paul Bearer with a chair shows how completely compelling as a top-line heel he was.

Imagine an alternative 1992 WWF with this Jake as a legitimate main eventer. Now, that would have been something!

Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts vs. The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer)

Match number two in the streak, although the streak wasn’t a thought or a thing at the time. True to his psychological underpinning, Jake tries to outmaneuver Undertaker by ducking his slow lunges and hitting and running. That works fine until Taker sends him into the ring post on the outside. An exchange of Irish whips sees Taker able to choke Jake in the corner. The pace slows considerably, as Taker goes back to the Irish whip and choke combo. It doesn’t get said too often, but The Undertaker was a much better gimmick than a wrestler until around 1996 when Mick Foley really let him take the shackles off.

A flying clothesline from Taker pops the crowd, but Jake nails Taker with a DDT out of nowhere to a bigger pop. Not to be undone, Taker lies still for a moment or two before rising up to a massive pop. People just didn’t get up from the DDT then. A short-arm clothesline and a second DDT has the same effect. Jake gets frustrated and attacks Jake on the outside, so Taker drills Jake with a Tombstone on the floor in a nice spot before rolling him back in the ring for the 1-2-3.

Not a particularly good match per se, but notable for Jake making Undertaker look like a million bucks, as well as being an end of an era as this was Jake’s last WWF match until his brief return in 1996. An important moment.

“You Want To Be a Hero All of a Sudden?”

God, Roddy Piper was a force of nature! Case in point: ‘Mean’ Gene interviews Roddy Piper and Bret Hart backstage as they prepare, as friends, to face off over Piper’s Intercontinental title. Piper is wild and goofy, trying to, as he says, put Hart at ease about their contest, making up all sorts f crazy stories about the two of them as kids, often with Bret looking silly, but Bret isn’t anything of it, telling Piper the only thing he wants is the belt and he’s going to take it.

At this point, the mood turns and an indignant Piper turns on Hart with real anger, pushing Hart and getting in his face before threatening him with a fist with a belt wrapped around his fist. “Why do it here when I can have a million people watch me rip your head off?” shouts Piper and it’s completely mesmerizing. A great confrontation before one of the great WrestleMania matches.

WWF Intercontinental Champion ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper vs. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart

I’ve written about this one before, but I cannot overstate how good this match is. A rare example of a babyface vs. babyface match in this era of the WWF, it’s a masterclass in storytelling. Both men are friends, but the desire for the gold is forcing them into areas where they’re willing to push against each other in ways they wouldn’t normally do, with extra intensity and the occasional cheap shots. It really puts over how important the Intercontinental title was to both men, something a lot of WWE’s secondary titles could use now.

Bret secretly bladed during the match, a no-no in the WWF at the time, but got away with it by saying he got cut by accident. It adds extra tension to an already tense match. The big moment is when the ref gets bumped and Piper has an internal debate with himself as to whether he should bash Bret’s head in with the ring bell. It would only take one shot with the metal for Piper to keep the title and turn to the dark side. However, his better side and his love for Bret win through and he applies the sleeper instead. Bret counters this by pushing back off the buckles to put Piper in a pinning position, and three slaps of the mat later, we have a new Intercontinental champion! That’s a payoff in itself, but when Bret and Piper hug afterward, that’s the real payoff to the story being told.

One of the all-time great Mania matches.

Introducing Lex Luger

In what was a big coup for the WWF at the time, Lex Luger, longtime WCW mainstay and former Heavyweight Champion, had signed with the company. How better to have him debut than at WrestleMania? Except this wasn’t quite what you would expect.

See, as part of the deal sealing his release from WCW, Lex was not allowed to wrestle. How they got around that later, I don’t know, but for the time being, the plan was to have Lex legitimately compete in Vince McMahon’s very short-lived WBF bodybuilding promotion. Hence, rather than have Lex appear in the arena, WWF had Bobby Heenan interview him long-distance, with Lex being in Atlanta. Cue body insults towards Gorilla, Lex flexing the muscles, and a scantily clad lady bringing Lex a glass of milk in a less-than-erotic moment.

Very odd, all things considered, but kind of fascinating too to see Lex presented in this manner. He’d soon return to the ring, debuting in 1993 as ‘The Narcissist.’

The Nasty Boys, The Mountie & Repo Man vs. Big Boss Man, Virgil, Sgt. Slaughter & ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan

People complain today about matches being made just so talent can get on the WrestleMania card, but it wasn’t so different back in the day either. Case in point: this match.

It comes to something when the two most exciting things about this encounter were Family Feud host Ray Comb’s awkward ‘Survey Says’ insults which did at least yield one winner (“Repo Man’s parents were disappointed when he was first born—they wanted a boy!”), and Bobby Heenan’s brilliant “I’ve got an announcement: SHAWN MICHAELS…HAS LEFT THE BUILDING!” I genuinely forgot that he used to do that.

The match itself was the expected punch-kick affair, but it was short and the crowd was into it, which helped. Virgil ducked a Saggs charge and Knobs took a knuckle-dusted fist to the kisser for Virgil to get the pin.

“You’ve Got One Last Chance at Space Mountain!”

Sean Mooney is backstage with the WWF World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair and his executive, Mr. Perfect, and they make such a perfect pair (pun intended). Cocky, self-assured, and full of themselves: they bounce off each other like an old double act. Flair is ready to put up the supposed x-rated photos he has of himself and Elizabeth on the big screen of the Hoosier Dome once he’s given Randy Savage the beating of his life. As for Liz, she’s got one more chance at Space Mountain! Great promo.

Savage, meanwhile, isn’t talking to anyone, keeping his locker room door shut. I used to like it as a kid when they did this. It always made things seem that little more serious. It’s the little details…

WWF World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair (w/Mr Perfect) vs. ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage

This was supposed to be the culmination of what had been a damn hot feud between Randy Savage and Flair, as Flair had been spreading the lie that he and Elizabeth had been a couple before she got with Randy and that he had certain spicy photos to prove it. They would continue to feud until the end of the year, however.

Again, it’s the little details, but the start of this match sells Savage’s anger so well. I don’t usually like it when the champion enters first, but it made sense here as Savage, in a temper, ran down to ringside, chased Flair around then hit him in the aisle before Perfect pulled him off and attacked him. I wish more matches in the current WWE would show this kind of heat. Such a little goes such a long way.

Savage starts hot until Flair throws him over the top rope and begins a methodical beatdown to garner more heat. Because Savage is so sympathetic when he takes a beating, writhing and sliding down the turnbuckles, the level of heat support for Randy is unreal—you can hear shouts of “come on Randy!” shouted with such conviction, it’s incredible. So, when Savage comes back with fists and a desperation neck breaker, you can imagine the explosion of cheers he got. Incredible.

Savage begins an onslaught on Flair, including the great spot where Savage sends Flair over the buckles, Flair runs the apron and leaps off the top only to get clotheslined for a near-fall. A double ax handle from the top to the floor saw Flair fly hard into the guard rail, leading to Flair blading, which saw the ‘Nature Boy’ get in trouble with the office. Savage nails a suplex on the floor and Flair throws in a ‘Flair Flop’ for good measure.

Back in the ring, Savage hits the elbow and the crowd believes it’s over—but Mr. Perfect has other ideas. Perfect pulls Savage off Flair, and somehow the ref misses it—lucky Savage—so Randy chases Perfect around, knocking Earl Hebner down in the process. The distraction allows Flair to hit Savage in the face with a knuckle duster. The crowd seethes but Savage kicks out at two and a half! Flair is bleeding a gusher at this point, but not so heavy that we’re talking the higher reaches of the Muta scale. Flair is desperate now, so he distracts the ref, and Perfect bashes Savage in the leg with a chair.

This brings out Elizabeth, followed by a group of agents, including a young Shane McMahon, while Flair slaps on the figure four. The crowd is well and truly invested in this match at this point and roars when the ref kicks Mr. Perfect’s hand away from Flair, breaking the figure four. A Savage small package gets a near-fall. And this is where Flair’s hubris proves to be his downfall, as he turns to Liz and shouts “This one’s for you, baby—WOOO!” It gives Savage the chance to punch Flair away from the leg and roll the ‘Nature Boy’ up to take the 1-2-3, grab his revenge, and win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship for the second time!

And to cap it all off, we get major drama as Flair grabs Liz, screams “what about ME?” and plants a big ol’ wet kiss on her, to which she responds with a slap, Will Smith-style. Savage then jumps on Flair and batters him with furious fists, only for Flair to turn the tide and for him and Perfect to further hurt Randy’s leg as the agents try to pull them off. The fans notably chant for Hogan at this point, but he was obviously too busy thinking about his future without steroids. Still, Flair and Perfect get sent away and a limping Savage gets a chance to celebrate in the ring with Elizabeth.

Simply put, this was a great match and for some reason, it tends to get overshadowed by the silliness in the main event and the Hart-Piper match. A shame, as the execution is really, really good, the crowd is crazy loud for it all the way through and the heat is incredible. What I think might hold it back in people’s opinions is the fact that it is overbooked slightly with the stuff with Perfect and Elizabeth, but by today’s standards, I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse. Plus, Flair and Savage demonstrated great chemistry together, something that would be evident as they resumed their feud in WCW in 1995. If not quite five stars, it’s a solid four and needs to be talked about more often.

The post-match promos are stunning too: a pissed-off Team Flair and a Macho Man still thirsty for revenge, demanding ‘the whole of Flair,’ and ripping his shirt. Intense.

Tatanka vs. ‘The Model’ Rick Martel

This was Tatanka’s WWF PPV debut and was proceeded by ‘members’ of his ‘tribe’ dancing in and around the ring and chanting. The crowd seemed a bit uncertain about all that, but Tatanka got a good reception as he ran to the ring, Warrior-style.

The match itself was a bit of a nothing affair, with a lot of chops (of course) in Tatanka’s offense, but Martel did bump and make Tatanka look good. A crossbody with a hook of the leg, and Tatanka was your winner

A bit of a palette cleanser after Flair-Savage.

WWF Tag Team Champions Money Incorporated (Ted DiBiase and I.R.S w/Jimmy Hart) vs. The Natural Disasters (Earthquake and Typhoon)

We get pre-match comments from both teams, with Money Inc. making the expected monetary and fiscal puns and the Disasters just shouting a lot. The early 90s were a simpler time. Jimmy Hart had turned on the big guys to run with the gold with Money Inc, and the DIsasters were after revenge here.

The champs went for actual wrestling to start off, but the Disasters just blasted them with power moves. Typhoon missed an avalanche in the corner to open up a door for the champs, a door Typhoon quickly closed by reversing an Irish whip. DiBiase was able to send a charging Typhoon over the top rope though, allowing I.R.S. to bash his head into the steps.

The champs couldn’t actually do a lot with Typhoon, as he was so big and pretty immobile, so out came the rest holds and a double clothesline leading to simultaneous hot tags that the crowd don’t react to. At all. Earthquake at least injected some energy into proceedings, charging I.R.S. and sending DiBiase to the outside. I.R.S. was then set up for the Earthquake splash when Jimmy Hart pulled his charge out of the ring and…the champs walk away and lose by count-out? On your biggest show of the year?

A cheap ending to a match that pretty much went nowhere. Ted DiBiase deserved better.

Skinner vs. Owen Hart

This was Owen’s second Mania match, but the first not under the guise of The Blue Blazer. Points to Skinner for starting the match by jumping Owen and spitting tobacco in his eye. I don’t know why, but I thought that was a nice heelish touch.

The early 90s Bray Wyatt (no, not really) continued with a shoulder breaker, fists, and a Scorpion Deathdrop. Owen skins the cat when thrown over the ropes and rolls Skinner up for the win in just over a minute, adding a dropkick after the bell for quick measure.

If this was the start to a longer match, this could have been quite good. As it was just a minute long, it was utterly pointless. This Mania lasted less than three hours—you couldn’t have at least given them five minutes? Having said that, it has been suggested over the years that the Money Inc. vs. Natural Disasters match ran long and the British Bulldog refused to wrestle Bezerker in a much-reduced match, Skinner then stepped up and stated he’d be happy to get a PPV appearance, even for just a minute. Is it true? I don’t know, but it’s a good story!

Sid Justice (w/Harvey Wippleman) vs. Hulk Hogan

Pre-match, Sid hilariously shuts ‘Mean’ Gene up by calling him a “fat, bald-headed, little oaf.” Sid is the master and Hogan is but the learner, apparently, and he curses Hogan and every Hulkamaniac. One of Sid’s better promos, to be honest.

We also got a snippet of the Vince-Hogan sit-down from the March to WrestleMania show, where Hogan said he would only know if it was his last match when he left the ring afterward. They really were hedging their bets in case things calmed down or they could resolve the steroids charges. Even Brutus Beefcake cut a promo on the night, using the phrase “if this is Hogan’s last match…” Hogan would indeed be back at the start of 1993, noticeably shorn of muscle.

This is the only Mania up to this point where Hogan didn’t cut a pre-match promo backstage, which is pretty odd when you consider this would be his last appearance for several months. Perhaps it was to sell the seriousness of the situation, but it just comes across as a weird anomaly.

Sid attacks as Hogan enters the ring and Hogan sends him out of the ring before clotheslining him on the apron while Real American still plays, Hogan getting to do his shirt-ripping bit. It doesn’t make Sid look like a monster, and I’m sure Hogan didn’t really care, especially at this point.

It’s very much a kick-punch match, with Sid hammering Hogan, only for Hogan to keep coming back and cutting the monster down to size. See, the idea of Sid being the latest monster for Hogan to face wasn’t a bad one, and the build was actually pretty decent, but the problem was that this is Sid we’re talking about and he wasn’t the wrestler to pull a good match out of Hogan, and vice versa. The crowd is hot throughout, though, and Sid does hit a nice-looking chokeslam, which Hogan sells well, but Sid was wrestling this one at a complete snail’s pace. This did not feel like a WrestleMania main event at all.

Of course, Hogan kicked out of the powerbomb, but ironically Sid had to kick out of the Legdrop of Doom after Papa Shango missed his queue to run in and break the count. Instead, Harvey Wippleman stepped, causing the lame DQ finish and finally bringing out Papa Shango to attack the Hulkster. They’d barely had time to get their shots in when some very familiar music kicked in…The Ultimate Warrior! He stormed down the aisle and clotheslined Shango out of the ring before taking a SId chair shot while shaking the ropes. Hogan snatched the chair and Sid decided to just leave it at that because…why bother?

The surprise return of the Ultimate Warrior was definitely a cool moment, although Warrior is noticeably smaller than he was, as you might expect, considering. Hogan and Warrior raised each other’s hands and posed off as the pyro went off to end the night. So, was it Hogan’s last match or not? You wouldn’t have necessarily gotten the answer by this ending.

Final Thoughts

WrestleMania VIII catches the WWF at a strange junction of its existence and, if I’m honest, I remembered it more fondly than perhaps it quite warrants (this was only my second WrestleMania after all). The Hulkamania era was clearly over, but the WWF hadn’t quite found a way to move forward outside of Flair, Savage, and the returning Ultimate Warrior. Some of the key talents of the era were missing: the LOD was interviewed instead of wrestling; the British Bulldog wasn’t there. The only real clue to the company’s future direction was the push, correctly, of Bret Hart. The Undertaker also got a big rub by beating Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.

While other WrestleManias had filler, this one had a notable lack of star power, perhaps. But that’s not to say this show is without merit, because it contains two of the best Mania matches from the Hulkamania era in Hart-Piper and Flair-Savage. If you’ve never seen these matches before, I heartily recommend seeking them out. They are perhaps the biggest reason to watch this show, but Tito-Shawn and Jake-Taker are watchable at least and make sense as opening matches. In fact, save for the eight-man tag, the first hour and 40 minutes are pretty good, in fact, with two classic matchups to enjoy. This is one of the shorter Manias at two hours forty-one minutes and won’t take up the larger part of your day, and the crowd is generally hot throughout.

But the problems come with the second half. This is where a shuffle of the card might have helped the WWF, because having Savage and Flair halfway through the card, to be then followed by Tatanka-Martel, Money Inc.-Natural Disasters and Skinner-Owen completely derails and deflates the show They’re ultimately nothing matches and you wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there. As for Hogan-Sid, return of Warrior aside, this is perhaps the worst Mania moment from those first eight editions.

So: the end of an era; a company in flux; missing star power; two classic matches and the return of The Ultimate Warrior. A mild recommendation to watch—but you would be forgiven for skipping the last hour.

Written by Chris Flackett

Chris Flackett is a writer for 25YL who loves Twin Peaks, David Lynch, great absurdist literature and listens to music like he's breathing oxygen. He lives in Manchester, England with his beautiful wife, three kids and the ghosts of Manchester music history all around him.

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