FEATURE: Matt O’Brien on Wrestlemania squash matches

Wrestlemania Squash Matches
March 26, 2013
By: Matt O’Brien of Wrestleview.com

Around this time of year people tend to look back on the great matches of Wrestlemania past. Fans debate which matches are the best, or rank their top ten or twenty. Every now and then Wrestlemania features a match that fans tend to overlook based on time. That would be the Wrestlemania squash match. Always short in length, squash matches may not have the rollercoaster storytelling of thirty minute showcases, but they have their purpose. Of course, there is always an issue of time. Maybe the show is running long and there is simply not enough room to give the two guys a significant amount of time in the ring. But there are other reasons for squash matches at Wrestlemania, just as there are reasons for squashes in general. The showcase a talent, tell a different kind of story, and help break up the show. On the grandest stage of them all, a squash match at Wrestlemania will be remembered, and make an impact.

The first squash match at a Wrestlemania took place at the very first event in 1985 when King Kong Bundy demolished Special Delivery Jones. The match only lasted nine seconds. Wrestlemania I was the first show of its kind. There were major celebrities mixed with the top stars in pro wrestling. Imagine being an outsider and watching this event called Wrestlemania. Cyndi Lauper is there with Wendi Richter. Mr. T is in the main event, teaming with Hulk Hogan. Andre the Giant is there and so is Bruno Sammartino. It was event that featured stars of the past, present and future with celebrities sprinkled in. Then out comes King Kong Bundy, who proceeds to destroy Jones by running him into a corner and then doing a leaping splash. It was a fun little match that showcased Bundy’s size and brutality. When Bundy returned to Wrestlemania one year later, he would not be in another mid card match, but in the main event against Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship.

People remember Bret Hart for his quality matches, many of which tell at least a ten to fifteen minute story. But at Wrestlemania VI, in his home country, Bret and his tag team partner, Jim Niedhart, were not given a significant amount of time on the show. In a battle of national pride, the Hart Foundation quickly defeated the Bolsheviks. It made for a feel good moment for the live crowd, and set the Foundation on a journey for the Tag Team Championship that summer.

When it comes to Wrestlemania main events, the match between Bret Hart and Yokozuna gets overlooked because of the events following the match. After Yokozuna won the WWF Championship from Hart in controversial fashion, Hulk Hogan appeared at ringside demanding justice. The new champion’s manager, Mr. Fuji, challenged Hogan on the spot to face Yokozuna for the title. As Hogan looked to the crowd, Hart told Hulk to “Go get him.” In what can only be described as a complete mess, Hogan emerged within seconds as the new champion. For Bret Hart, it was a slap in the face to his hard work and dedication as champion. To fans watching, it was a cluster. Yet in some ways it felt right. This was the first Wrestlemania where Hogan was not slotted to be in the main event spot. Instead, he wrestled for the tag match earlier in the show. Granted, Hogan did not wrestle in the main event of Wrestlemania IV, but he was still at ringside, and even interfered in the match. There was just something about having Hogan in that main event spot that just felt right. However, the Wrestlemania IX debacle would be the last time he appeared on a Wrestlemania for almost ten years. Wrestlemania went on without him, and even thrived in his absence down the line. Yokozuna would quickly win the title back from Hogan and become a dominant heel champion before losing to Hart in a return match at Wrestlemania X.

When the Ultimate Warrior made his return in 1996, the World Wrestling Federation was a different place than when he had left. Hogan, Savage, Flair, Rude and Henning were gone. In their place were Hart, Michaels, Goldust and Vader. Warrior’s return drew interest in that he would somehow have to fit into the current landscape. He came back with a bang when he made very short work of Hunter Hearst Helmsey. If this bout had taken place just a few years later, it would have been a dream match. But future Cerebral Assassin was food for the Warrior at Wrestlemania XII, who no-sold Hunter’s finish. It was a glimpse of nostalgia on a show that was designed to look to the future. Warrior would be gone in a few months, but the post-match segment featuring HHH’s frustrations launched the Sable character, as well as Hunter’s feud with Marc Mero, arguably the precursor to his programs with Goldust and Mick Foley.

There are those occasional squashes you just don’t want to remember. If anyone does remember it, Bart Gunn’s encounter with Butterbean at Wrestlemania XV saw Gunn embarrassed when he was quickly knocked out by the professional boxer in thirty seconds. What Gunn had done for himself in the previous summer’s Brawl for All tournament was killed off at Wrestlemania XV. Still, you have to give him credit for being willing to go up against Butterbean. The same can be said for Big Show when he had a sumo match (yes a sumo match) against Akebono in 2005. This was another match where it was really not clear what WWE was expecting when they put one of their stars in the ring with an athlete. It is different when they are in a wrestling match, but to stage a fight on a wrestling show that clearly handicaps the wrestler seems strange. Big Show would once again be in a celebrity match a few years later, this time in a very successful program with Floyd Mayweather.

The story of the squash match at Wrestlemania XXV was not one of a big monster conquering a small hero, but bad guy getting cocky and underestimating his opponent. John Bradshaw Layfield walked to the ring carrying the Intercontinental Championship and wearing a towel around his neck. He strolled to the ring with smile on his face and began ripping apart the Texas audience. Mysterio made his entrance, dressed as Heath Ledger’s Joker character from the previous summer’s film The Dark Knight. JBL greeted Mysterio with a boot to the face. Mysterio responded by chopping down JBL and hitting him with a 619. After hitting a splash from the top rope, Mysterio picked up the win and the IC title. It was perhaps the most fun squash match Wrestlemania has featured. JBL, shocked by his own defeat, grabbed the microphone and quit on the spot. It was a hilarious moment that only JBL could pull off. For Mysterio, it was a big win. For JBL, it was a night in which he got a good payday, wrestled against one of the best workers in the business without breaking much of a sweat, and got to end his career at Wrestlemania. Not a lot of people can say that.

There was some resentment from fans when Sheamus and Daniel Bryan opened last year’s Wrestlemania for the World Heavyweight Championship and only went for eighteen seconds. After not even appearing the pay per view broadcast for their US Title encounter the year prior, Wrestlemania XXVIII seemed to be the stage where Bryan and Sheamus could show the world what they could do. While a portion of fans feel that they were robbed, the reality is Bryan vs. Sheamus was remembered better than the other world title match that night and it had a longer lasting impact. Sheamus went on to have the best matches of any champion in the company in 2012. Daniel Bryan became perhaps the most over character in the following months as he went directly into a feud with AJ, leading to multiple pay per view title matches, as well as his current tag team with Kane.

Not every squash match in Wrestlemania history has been examined here. There are others, and there will be more in the future. What is important to remember is that not everyone gets to have a thirty minute Wrestlemania showcase. Some of the people who’ve had them probably shouldn’t have. While squash matches should not be a frequent occurrence at Wrestlemania, their impact should not be judged by match length, but by impact, how they help the show overall, and what they do for the bigger picture.

Matt O’Brien is the former writer of “Notes from the Nosebleeds” on Wrestleview.com.