Welcome to WrestleMania Memories, where we look back at the moments in WrestleMania history, good or bad, that have stayed with us for over three decades.
HBK and Razor Ramon Climb to New Heights
The most memorable events, the truly notable ones, almost always arrive unexpectedly, purporting to be just another non-descript memory to forget. Wrestlemania X, however, was not such an event. The Intercontinental title match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon was not the first ladder match, but like the event itself, the match managed to present itself in a manner that foretold greatness.
I was only eleven years old when the WWF announced it would be returning to the place where it all started, Madison Square Garden, to run its annual and soon to be decade-old tradition. I knew I had to go. After much bargaining and begging, my father acquiesced, assuring that I would actually be in attendance for what Mean Gene Okerlund told me would be the biggest Wrestlemania of all time. Although the same is said for every single iteration of the spectacle, one match in particular makes a valid argument for Wrestlemania X truly being one of the greatest of all. One match single-handedly elevated the entire card, vaulting the event above all others.
The internet was not something that every home had access too and as such the inner workings of professional wrestling was not something that I was privy to. In fact, there had been many who mercilessly attempted to “smarten” me up to the business, but to no avail. Despite my inability, or unwillingness, to understand the worked nature of the business, I developed an affinity for Razor Ramon earlier in his career when he appeared as a swarthy Cuban stereotype. Gleefully aligning with the only wrestler that shared my maternal heritage during his heel run, I attributed my allegiance to be nation based.
For a very long time, Shawn Michaels had been persona non-grata in my world. His willful destruction of my favorite tag team, the Rockers, was inexcusable. A lovely thing occurred at the onset of 1993 that would forever shape my fandom. The emergence of Monday Night Raw gave me unfettered access to this brash and cocky superstar who won me over with his underhanded tactics and high-flying performances. When he refused to defend his Intercontinental Championship, the same one I would find myself envisioning lifting over my own head, and was eventually stripped of the strap, I joined him in his outrage. When Razor Ramon won the vacated title, I felt an odd sensation for the first time. I was genuinely unhappy that my former favorite wrestler had edged out Rick Martel to win the gold. It was Shawn’s belt to lose dammit.
As the event drew closer, the announcement that the disputed title would be won via a ladder match resonated with me as something of great importance. I had never heard of such a match. How would it look in person? How would two men avoid killing themselves, climbing a height that was akin to Kilimanjaro to the impish eleven year old Rich. I scoured all the VHS tapes available at every local video rental store and the history of the WWF available to me at the time, yet I came up empty-handed. This would truly be a first, certainly for me.
As the two men made their way to the squared circle, my father’s friend, who attended the event with me, asked who I wanted to win the match. I said Razor Ramon because that is what I thought that I was supposed to say; all the while, I was secretly pulling for the other “Bad Guy”.
Within the first 3 minutes of the match, Michael’s insurance policy, the imposing Diesel was unfairly dismissed from ringside by the referee, to the delight of the crowd, but infuriating to me. It was simply Razor’s fault he hadn’t thought to bring someone to ringside, it was a no disqualification match after all. The first time HBK climbed the ladder, I was sure that he was about to unhook the straps and claim what was rightfully his. I asked my father’s friend why Shawn hadn’t just climbed faster? Razor was out of sight and it made no sense that he could possibly close the gap and prevent Michaels from winning the match. He thankfully never answered. Every time either man ascended the ladder, I rose in anticipation. Fortunately, my small stature prevented the fans behind me getting too angry at this practice.
Both men brutally attacked each other with the ladder in innovative ways. I was worried for both of them as the only ladder they used teetered when each man slowly stepped up, rung by rung, with believable apprehension. The final time the Shawn made his way up the ladder, I had turned. I was openly pulling for him to walk away with the belt, even if my father’s friend and those around with me were unhappy with this sudden change of heart. In the throes of the all but assured victory, my heart fell as Ramon stirred and Shawn moved inexplicably slowly. My voice, an unsettling mix of hoarse and shrill, shrieked in disapproval as Michaels plummeted to the mat and became entangled in the ropes. Diesel should have been there to help his crony, but alas, his earlier departure meant that I would watch broken-hearted as Ramon settled the ongoing dispute and held both titles high in the air as the Garden crowd roared.
Years later, I would learn that Razor and Shawn were told to end the match earlier. Their disobedience led to the cancellation of a ten man tag match between the teams of Jeff Jarrett, I.R.S., the Headshrinkers and Rick Martel against the squad of Sparky Plugg, the 1,2,3 Kid, Tatanka and the Smoking Guns. The Kliq had begun to assert themselves as a group out for their own interests and in terms of the world of sports entertainment, depriving ten men of their chance to wrestle at the biggest event of the year in the world’s most famous arena was an unspeakable act. However, on this occasion, because of what they did with the extra time in the ring, I’m glad that they made the call to wrestle longer.
Bystanders do not decide where to be when history unfolds. Any confluence of events could have prevented me from being at the Mecca of sports entertainment on that day and perhaps my opinions would be less passionate and more even-keeled had I been on my couch instead of in the stands. But watching the match again before I began this piece only reaffirmed what I felt twenty-two years ago: the ladder match between Razor Ramon and HBK at Wrestlemania X was one of the most memorable Wrestlemania memories to any fan who lived during that epoch. Both men walked away from that match with a swagger that would change wrestling forever. HBK carried the company years later as the WWF battled a revived WCW and Ramon, known as Scott Hall, revolutionized who the fans, including myself, rooted for: the bad guys.