WrestleMania XI from 1995 at the Hartford Civic Center with an announced attendance of 16,305
WrestleMania XI … where to start. Besides having one of the most commonly forgotten cards in the history of the show, it also marked new territory for the WWF/E as it featured a mainstream celebrity in the main event and not just as a side-attraction. Bam Bam Bigelow and retired NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor fought in the main event with wrestlers and NFL players serving as lumberjacks, in what was a mildly amusing and not terrible showing from either man.
On the rest of the card, Bret Hart and Bob Backlund competed in one hell of a boring "I quit" match with Rowdy Roddy Piper serving as special guest referee and Diesel defending the WWF Championship against Royal Rumble winner and former BFF Shawn Michaels. This is easily one of Bret Hart's most disappointing singles matches in his WrestleMania career, even considering the bouts with Yokozuna the two years prior, in the boring gimmick tilt with the now heelish legend Bob Backlund.
I will give credit where it's due, and Vince McMahon is one hell of a smart booker and promoter as he put the mainstream name of LT against one of his biggest and baddest upcoming heels. He billed the match as taking place in the Metro NY area due to Taylor's standing as a recently retired, Super Bowl Champion New York Giant. He was a mainstream sports star still in 1995, and Vince put him in the main event because he knew it would come with the massive exposure that it did. While all good and fun, this show doesn't really hold up all that well outside of HBK-Diesel's match and the swapping of Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson. While I'm here, listen to Something to Wrestle with Bruch Prichard's episode on this show. There are some fun anecdotes about Pam showing up messed up with Tommy Lee at WM11 and being a completely different person than the one WWF/E agreed to do business with back at the Royal Rumble.
Favorite moments and matches
This is such an interesting time in wrestling, and the WWF specifically, to look back on as Hogan is out the door and the company is rolling with Diesel for the better part of a year as its champion. They tease us with Shawn Michaels finally going over his former bodyguard and taking the top spot after years in the tag division, but make us wait another full year before the “boyhood dream comes true.” It's an underrated match that deserves a match because Diesel's work is painfully underrated and his ability to keep up with the million MPH HBK is very impressive.
I cracked up seeing the 1990 celebrity cameos between Jonathon Taylor Thomas, Salt-n-Pepa, Nicholas Turturro, Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson. It’s fun to look back on, but feels like the sort of thing us wrestling fans would eyeroll so hard at in present day.
My favorite match of the evening is easily between Shawn Michaels and Diesel, with Big Daddy Cool looking like a strong champion in the process of having one of his better in-ring performances of his career. The match went a little longer than 20 minutes, and while Diesel might have started to get gassed, he never let it distract from the match or slow Shawn down. It’s about as underrated of Mania championship match as they come due to its placement on the card and the Lawrence Taylor-Bam Bam match casting a mainstream media appeal shadow over it.
With that said, I think it’s awesome to see how serious LT took this honor and the match as he looked like an absolute pro (in training). I’m sure working with the criminally underrated Bam Bam Bigelow and Pat Patterson as ref in the ring helped him eons, but it’s still cool to see how hard he worked and as believable as he looked in the ring. The main event went as long as it should have in just less than 12 minutes, and it managed to feel like the special attraction it was billed as. That’s about all I can say about favorite moments and matches for WrestleMania XI as I felt myself fighting the urge to fast-forward on several occasions.
Least favorite moments and matches
I find myself in such a weird spot here as I hated the Bret Hart match on this card, which must be a personal first of mine. The Hart-Backlund feud sounded great on paper and blended generations while making good ol boy Backlund a heel, but this WrestleMania payoff is just absolutely terrible. Their feud started in the previous summer, culminated with Backlund winning the WWF Championship over Hart at Survivor Series 1994 before dropping the title at a house show to Diesel soon after. Hart’s mother, Martha, threw in a white towel to cost Bret the championship which set up the WrestleMania I Quit match. The damn feud went on for so long, and the two just did not click at the big show. Rowdy Roddy Piper was the guest ref and he screamed at each if they were ready to quit just about every f****** time they hit the mat. Once it was over you weren’t even sure if it was over as Backlund just screamed/grunted into the mic. Absolutely terrible. What a waste of Bret Hart and the character of Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Undertaker and King Kong Bundy had absolutely zero chemistry and the only good part of that match was when Taker slammed and pinned him for the 1-2-3. I get why this match was put together, and I’m sure the WWF was pumped when they could wash their hands and move on. Rough stuff to watch 20 years later.
The rest of the card just doesn’t seem worth praising or crapping on, as Owen Hart and Yokozuna with Cornette and Fuji was fun but nothing to write home about. It’s a forgettable card from a forgettable WrestleMania, and I’m not being mean, but tell me the last time you saw WWE show a highlight from this show.
Also, while the main event was mostly good, Diesel finished HBK off with the most pathetic Jackknife Powerbombs of all time. Seriously, at this point, pick him up and hit another one to save face. It's WrestleMania. This feels like Shawn's fault in hindsight by looking at it, but who knows. Should've scooped the little dude up for another:
Does it hold up?
No, it does not, and especially not so well outside of the WWF Championship match between HBK and Big Daddy Cool because that was the best match on the card by a country mile. Lawrence Taylor is an NFL legend I could see missing the mainstream mark with this generation as he has had some issues and controversies in his real life. Bam Bam Bigelow is an underrated, often never mentioned big man that deserves more credit than he gets but this matchup won’t do it for non-NFL fanatics in at least their late 20s or historians (football or wrestling). So, yeah, it’s not terrible for what it is but this would bore the crap out of fans brought up on the Attitude Era. We’re between the cartoony and attitude phase, and yeah, the show is missing an identity.