Intercontinental Title Ladder Match – WrestleMania X
Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon
Even now, twenty two years after it happened, this match gives me goosebumps when I watch it. My favourite WrestleMania match.
At a time when pro wrestling was going through a worrying dry spell in the wake of a well documented steroid scandal and a growing sense of fatigue with an overly formulaic product, WWF were at a crossroads. Hulk Hogan had been allowed to go south to rival organisation WCW in a move which to a young me seemed like commercial suicide for the company. It was clear WWF had decided quite deliberately to make a change.
On March 20th 1994, WrestleMania X would mark a brave move away from the company relying on muscle freak monsters like Hogan and his floundering replacement Lex Luger and instead focus would switch to younger, smaller more athletic performers. Bret Hart would win the WWE Heavyweight Championship in the main event that night in Madison Square Garden symbolically ousting the 550lb Yokozuna from the title picture in the process. But it was the two men in the preceding match that really gave us a glimpse of where WWF was heading for the next two decades.
In September 1993 Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels was stripped of his belt in storyline for not defending it within a 30 day spell (ironically he was alleged to have been suspended for testing positive for steroids). The vacant title was then put up for grabs in a Battle Royal with Razor Ramon and Rick Martel emerging as the last two men standing. They would face each other the following week in a singles match on Raw early October that toothpick wielding Ramon would win starting his first run as IC champion. By November that year however, Shawn was back and he was wearing a belt. Shawn felt quite rightly that he had never been beaten for the title and accused Razor of being a ‘paper champion’. Although he was the cocky, pretty boy heel, Michaels’ reasoning made sense. He would continue to chastise Ramon week after week appearing on TV with his own IC title belt. The following five months of feuding resulted in both men agreeing to decide once and for all who was the true champ.
‘In the following contest there are no rules’
Why is this my favourite WrestleMania match?
It’s the sheer simplicity of the ladder stipulation: Get the belts. It’s the cocky Michaels refusing to walk under the ladder and tempt bad luck on his way to the ring. It’s Earl Hebner two minutes in to the match ordering Michael’s bodyguard Diesel away from ringside. Reassuring us viewers that we were about to see an unadulterated classic with no interference. It’s both men, Michaels in particular, absolutely nailing every new, imaginative spot. It’s the pacing of the match. Not once do you get a moment to take your eyes off the action. It’s the brutality of two grown men throwing a great big metal ladder at each other in an era where even protected chairshots were seldom allowed. It’s the story of the match going in. Two men at the peak of their careers agreeing to put their respective belts above the ring and fight each other until one of them could literally grab them both. It’s Shawn splashing off the ladder with a thousand flashbulbs popping. It’s the unforgiving ‘clang’ of metal on flesh again and again and again. It’s my Dad, a man who hoped this wrestling thing I had started watching would hopefully just be a fad sitting up in his chair and watching transfixed for its entirety exclaiming ‘Bloody hell!’ when Shawn threw the ladder on Razor’s back from the other side of the ring. Me grinning from ear to ear. It’s the finish. An exhausted Razor collapsing from the top of the ladder, hugging his belts whilst a helpless Michaels escapes the ropes he’s been tied up in. One. Second. Too. Late.
This match to me, is where I knew I would always be a wrestling fan. No matter how much ribbing I had to take for it. No matter how many crap matches I’d have to watch there was always the possibility that wrestling could be this good. I’ve shown it to people over the years as a kind of example of what wrestling can be and to this day it still stands up. No ladder match since has bettered it. I’ll still watch this match when I’m seventy years old and I’ll bet I still get goosebumps.