Wrestlemania VII: Stars and Stripes Forever
March 24, 1991
Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
Los Angeles, California
In late 1990 the United States was involved in a geopolitical conflict in the Middle East. Specifically, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein claimed Kuwait had been stealing Iraqi oil, though his true motivation was a desire to seize Kuwait’s massive oil reserves. Iraq gained control of the country in a matter of days. International condemnation was nearly unanimous, and American President George Bush declared that “This will not stand” in reference to the invasion.
American military forces were quickly deployed to Saudi Arabia in order to protect them against a potential invasion by Iraq. Throughout the fall it became increasingly clear that a war between the United States and Iraq was imminent. And in his twisted mind, Vince McMahon saw a business opportunity.
Sgt. Slaughter had been one of the biggest stars of the 1980s. He was primarily a heel in his early career, but turned babyface in spectacular fashion when he stopped the Iron Sheik from desecrating an American flag in 1984. Due to business conflicts with Vince McMahon, Slaughter left the WWF for the AWA later that year. Slaughter was one of the AWA’s biggest stars and won the AWA Championship in 1985.
By 1990 the AWA was on the verge of folding and Slaughter wanted another run with the WWF. McMahon wanted Slaughter to return as a heel, which he had played throughout his career. The initial idea was that he would turn on the fans because they embraced Nikolai Volkoff after the end of the Cold War. But as the situation in the Middle East heated up, they came up with another idea: Slaughter would align himself with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Anti-American heels go back decades in wrestling. Russians, Germans, Japanese, Arabs, pretty much every variation had been done. But to have a national promotion’s top heel embrace a country that the United States was about to enter a war with was really pretty shocking. The heat Slaughter got was amazing and terrifying. Take a look:
That’s “General Adnan” beside Slaughter. He was portrayed as an Iraqi General who had been sent to assist Slaughter. Why would a general report to a sergeant? I suppose trying to apply the logic of military ranks to this storyline is a bad idea.
Slaughter was granted a shot at Ultimate Warrior, the WWF Champion, at Royal Rumble 1991. He emerged victorious with the assistance of Randy Savage, who had an ongoing issue with Warrior at the time. Thus, the WWF Championship was held by a turncoat. Hulk Hogan, patriot and defender of all things good, emerged as the challenger to the champion at Wrestlemania VII, which was scheduled to emanate from the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Wait, you don’t remember this Wrestlemania taking place in a giant stadium? That’s because they didn’t come anywhere close to selling it out and had to move the show to the LA Sports Arena, which has a capacity of 16,000. WWF has always tried to claim that they moved the show due to security concerns, but they never explain what happened to the 90,000 people who would have had to be there to fill the Coliseum. Ever since the start of the Rock N Wrestling Connection, the WWF had been able to meet any challenge they faced: Cable specials, closed-circuit broadcasts, pay-per-view, network TV. This was the first sign that business was starting to soften, a trend that would become more apparent in the next few years.
As for the military conflict, it was long over by the time Wrestlemania happened. The United States and its allies easily drove Iraq back into its own territory and declared victory with Hussein still in power. Really, that was a stroke of luck for the WWF. While it probably sapped a lot of the heat out of the feud, the damage that could have been done to the company if the war had gone badly could have been immense. Imagine if the war turned into a Vietnam-esque quagmire and hundreds of Americans were dying every week. Now imagine their fathers, brothers, and friends are supposed to watch a show that features a villain who supports the army that killed their loved one. Would not have ended well for Vince and company.
I know this introduction has already gone on forever, but I should also quickly cover the Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior program. At Survivor Series, Savage challenged Warrior to a WWF Championship match. Warrior refused the challenge, even as Savage begged him again and again for a shot. When Warrior faced Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble, Savage interfered in the match and cost Warrior the title. Warrior responded by challenging Savage to a Retirement Match at Wrestlemania, where the loser would be barred from ever wrestling again.
And now that we have all that out of the way, we can finally get to the show…
Willie Nelson starts the show with a tremendous rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan are our hosts.
The Rockers vs. Haku and The Barbarian
Always a good choice to put The Rockers in the opener. This is what you’d expect: Good, fast-paced offense from Michaels and Jannetty along with tremendous bumping. Rockers get with win with a Missile Dropkick/Flying Body Press combination.
Rating: ***¼. Pretty tremendous opener. The Rockers were absolutely fantastic.
Dino Bravo vs. Texas Tornado
I’ve never seen a good Dino Bravo match. Here, he gets squashed in two minutes, and that was probably the best possible outcome.
Rating: ¼*. NEXT.
The Warlord vs. The British Bulldog
This was better than I expected. I always like huge guys throwing each other around the ring. Bulldog won with the Running Powerslam after five minutes. This resolved nothing, as they would continue to feud for the rest of the year. Vince must have really loved watching these two go at it.
Rating: *¾. Not bad for five minutes.
World Tag Team Championship: The Hart Foundation (c) vs. The Nasty Boys
This was the best Nasty Boys match I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a crazy hardcore brawl. Here they work over Bret for most of the match, building heat for his tag to Neidhart. The Harts score with the Hart Attack and look to be on their way to retaining, but Neidhart gets smacked with a motorcycle helmet behind the referee’s back and pinned.
Rating: ***. Fine tag match. Nastys winning seemed like an upset, and it definitely pissed the crowd off. The Foundation never got their revenge, as Bret would go off on his own and win the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at Summerslam.
Great heat on The Nastys after the match.
Blindfold Match: Jake Roberts vs. Rick Martel
This was pretty silly, but they mostly made it work. On the other hand, it was definitely worse than a straight match between these two would have been. Jake wins with the DDT after eight minutes.
Rating: **. Like I said, it was much better than it sounded on paper.
Undertaker vs. Jimmy Snuka
Wrestlemania debut for Undertaker. And they put him up against a washed up legend so he can destroy him. That’s how it’s supposed to work, that’s how it’s always worked.
Squash city here, Taker wins in four minutes. Snuka was completely overwhelmed and barely put up any resistance. Good idea to use a washed up legend like Snuka to put over a new star.
Rating: *. They weren’t trying to have a great match, they were trying to put Taker over. And they succeeded.
Retirement Match: Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior
Alright, here we go. Both men’s careers are on the line. Lose by any means and you can never set foot in the ring again. Savage is out first with Sensational Sherri in his corner. He looks confident. Warrior is out second and for the first time ever, he walks to the ring instead of running. Even the previous year against Hogan for the WWF Championship he sprinted to the ring. But there’s so much more on the line here.
Right as the match is about to start the camera finds Elizabeth watching in the crowd. I think this was her first appearance since the previous Wrestlemania. Warrior’s tights have the world title on the back and the words “It Means So Much More Than This” underneath. Damn, that’s good.
Warrior destroys Savage off the bell. Savage is resilient, but keeps getting overpowered by Warrior. One of my favorite spots occurs when Warrior catches Savage on a Cross Body, sets him down, and just slaps him right across the face. Savage blows his stack and rolls outside to grab a chair. He doesn’t use it though, instead using the distraction to get a cheap shot on Warrior and take over. Savage gets the advantage when Warrior misses a corner charge and connects with his signature Ax Handle.
Warrior fights back, hits a Clothesline, and covers Savage for two. He argues about the count and Savage hits a knee, propelling Warrior into Earl Hebner and knocking him out. Savage holds Warrior so Sherri can hit him with her shoe, but Warrior moves and Savage gets blasted. Savage comes back with a Small Package for a close pin. Savage follows that up by slamming Warrior’s throat into the top rope. He’s in total control.
Savage is done messing around. He goes up top for the Flying Elbow…and hits. Ballgame, nobody kicks out of the Flying Elbow. But to be sure, he goes up again, goes for the Flying Elbow…and hits. Alright, two. No way Warrior’s getting out of that. But hey, let’s just be totally sure. Savage goes up again, Flying Elbow…he hits. That’s three. Now he’s just messing with him. Goes up again, Flying Elbow…he hits. Alright, Warrior is clearly knocked out. Match is over. Let’s add insult to injury. Savage goes up again, Flying Elbow…he hits. Five Flying Elbow Drops. Savage covers, it’s academic. 1……2….WHAT THE FUCK WARRIOR KICKS OUT JESUS CHRIST ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!??!?!?!
FIVE FLYING ELBOW DROPS IN A ROW. Can’t keep Warrior down. Savage is understandably terrified. If five elbows couldn’t finish him, what possibly could? Warrior shakes the ropes, hits his Clotheslines, Press Slam, Big Splash…Savage kicks out! Now it’s Warrior who is stunned. Warrior is taken aback and goes to collect himself on the apron before getting knocked off by a knee from Savage. Savage follows him to the floor and sets his throat up on the guardrail. He’s going to crush his larynx like he did to Ricky Steamboat! Savage takes to the skies, like he has so many times before. He’s going to smash Warrior, finish him off, and win his greatest victory. Time slows down as he comes through the air…and finds Warrior waiting for him with a devastating shot to the gut.
Savage is destroyed. Warrior throws him into the ring and drags him to his feet because Savage can’t stand on his own. Shoulder Tackle. Shoulder Tackle. Shoulder Tackle. The third one knocks Savage to the floor, and he’s clearly finished. Warrior throws him into the ring, puts one foot and his chest, and pins him. Savage’s career is over.
Rating: ****1/2. Wow. I am so emotionally spent after watching that match. The Five Flying Elbow Drops was overboard, but the emotion and drama of that match was off the charts. Match went about twenty minutes and it was an absolute classic.
Warrior leaves without a ton of fanfare. He had a job to do, he did it. Savage is devastated, and Sherri isn’t sympathetic. She literally kicks him while he’s down. Now Elizabeth jumps the rail and gets into the ring, driving Sherri off. Savage and Liz lock eyes. An eternity passes as they recall all they’ve been through, the love, the pain, the heartache. And now that Savage has lost everything he knows what really matters in life. Savage and Liz embrace as the crowd goes crazy. Grown men are crying in the stands. Savage holds the ropes for Liz so she can get out of the ring, then goes around the ring for one last salute from the fans. What a beautiful send-off. Try following that.
It’s even more emotional to watch that and know how both their lives ended. I don’t want to romanticize their relationship, because it sounds like Savage was quite abusive to her. I hope they found peace in this life or the next, together or apart.
Stalling for time after the last segment, we get a fun debate about the virtue of instant replay in the WWF. The NFL had just adopted an instant replay system, so we have a debate between George Steinbrenner, Paul McGuire, and Vince McMahon. This was actually pretty fun and a good breather after the last match.
Genichiro Tenryu and Koji Kitao vs. Demolition
Crowd is sapped from the last match. This is the right spot for this match that no one cared about. Tenryu pins Smash after a Powerbomb. This would be Demolition’s final match as a team.
Rating: ½*. They never really had a chance.
Intercontinental Championship: Mr. Perfect (c) vs. Big Boss Man
This is a pretty decent match that starts to bring the crowd back. Boss Man was an amazing athlete for such a big guy. And Perfect, as per usual, bumped his ass off. Heenan is managing Perfect, which brings disgruntled former Heenan employee Andre the Giant out to ringside. Andre grabs the IC Title from the timekeeper and smacks Perfect in the face with it, but Perfect gets a shoulder up on the pin. Barbarian and Haku interfere to save Perfect, resulting in a disqualification. Good match to wake up the sleepy crowd. Boss Man and Andre run the bad guys off and shake hands.
Rating: **. Good work from both guys here.
Earthquake vs. Greg Valentine
Squash. Earthquake wins with a Splash three minutes in. Just killing time until the main event now.
Rating: ¼*. Nothing but a squash. Earthquake was established enough at this point that there wasn’t much point.
Legion of Doom vs. Power & Glory
Guess I was wrong about last year being the end for Hercules. Total squash, as LOD hit the Doomsday Device for the win less than a minute in.
Rating: Dud. Lot of matches on the back half of this card.
Virgil vs. Ted DiBiase
The crowd is pretty hot for Virgil finally getting his hands on DiBiase after years of abuse. Roddy Piper trained Virgil for this match and is in his corner. Virgil starts off on fire, but gets cut off and worked over by the Million Dollar Man. A fight on the floor ends with Virgil beating the count back in and getting the win. Not a great match, but fun for the crowd to see Virgil beat DiBiase.
Rating: *½. I enjoyed that.
The Mountie vs. Tito Santana
Jesus, how many matches are there on this show? There’s no time left, so Mountie uses his cattle prod a minute in and pins Tito.
Rating: Dud. Who cares anymore?
Gene has a word with Hulk Hogan, who talks about new technology, saying he has some new tricks planned for Slaughter tonight. He then recites part of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
WWF Championship: Sgt. Slaughter (c) vs. Hulk Hogan
Celebrities for the main event: Alex Trebek as ring announcer, Marla Maples as ring announcer, and Regis Philbin on commentary along with Gorilla and Heenan. Slaughter is out first with the Iraqi flag. Hogan brings the American flag to the ring with him for his entrance. Hogan is aggressive and in control of things early, but Slaughter uses his ring savvy to turn the tide. Hogan dodges an Elbow Drop and retakes control. Hogan bounces Slaughter around the ring, but then goes to the top and gets slammed off. Slaughter sends Hogan to the floor with a Clothesline. Slaughter follows Hogan out and hits him with a chair, then chokes him with camera cables. Heenan speculates he’s intentionally trying to get disqualified to keep his title.
Back in the ring, Slaughter goes to work on the back. He’s trying to set Hogan up for the Camel Clutch. He traps Hogan in the Boston Crab for a couple minutes. Slaughter decides to go to the top and lands a Knee Drop to the back. Slaughter has Hogan pinned, but his idiot manager distracts the referee. Um…okay. Adnan makes himself useful by distracting the referee and allowing Slaughter to hit Hogan in the head with a chair. Hogan is majorly busted open now. Slaughter locks the Camel Clutch on Hogan and we get a great camera shot of the bloody Hogan struggling. Hogan picks Slaughter up on his back, but Slaughter is ready and slams his face into the turnbuckle.
Slaughter drapes the Iraqi flag across Hogan and covers him, but Hogan kicks out at two. Hogan tears up the flag and Hulks Up. Punches, Big Boot, Leg Drop, and Hogan gets the win at 20:24.
Rating: ***. I actually liked that match. They added in a few things that you didn’t see a ton at the time (blood, chair shot, Hogan coming off the top rope). Slaughter was past his prime, but still did a good job there even if he didn’t seem like a credible threat to Hogan.
This is one of Hogan’s greater celebrations, as “Real American” plays throughout the arena, which has stars and stripes all over. Hogan gets the American flag and waves it for the crowd. Then Hogan wipes his bloody face on the flag, which is not so cool.
So this is a misfire in company history. It was a combination of bad creative and bad business, which is the worst of all worlds. I understand the desire to add real heel heat to their top bad guy, but this was a step too far that reared into outright tastelessness. The Muhammad Hassan incident in 2005 was quite similar, but that added in the misfortune of having a major terrorist attack occur the same day their taped show was set to air. Nationalism in wrestling has been a productive force for a long time, but this is definitely a case where the company went a bit too far.
Overall: First half of the card was pretty good, second half was weak up until the main event. Like all the Wrestlemanias from this era, too many matches. We really start moving past that era next year with Wrestlemania VIII, which is one of my favorites.
NEXT: What’s Fair for Flair? The Nature Boy battles Randy Savage for the WWF Championship in Indianapolis at Wrestlemania VIII.