WWE.com's No. 5 Most Rugged Road to WrestleMania was a path traveled for the "first time, last time, only time." That said, WrestleMania XI managed to capture the attention of every WWE fan, football enthusiast and media outlet across the country. What makes this achievement especially remarkable is that for the first time since the inaugural WrestleMania, a main event didn't have a championship up for grabs. In the case of NFL Hall of Fame great Lawrence Taylor and WWE Superstar Bam Bam Bigelow, dignity and pride were on the front line, and a three-count pinfall was the goal.
A recently retired New York Giants linebacker, "L.T." wasn't looking for a fight back in January 1995; he was simply enjoying a front-row seat to the Royal Rumble. Bam Bam Bigelow, however, wasn't having his best night—as part of Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Team, he and Tatanka were the literally heavy favorites over pre-Hardcore Bob Holly and 1-2-3 Kid in the final round of the World Tag Team Championship tournament. That is, until Tatanka's misstep dislodged Bam Bam off the top rope and onto his flame-tattooed skull, knocking him out long enough for the Kid to pin him. When the Beast from the East recovered, he was alone in the ring, and utterly embarrassed that everyone in the arena was laughing at him.
Storming past the mocking fans, Bam Bam noticed L.T., who tried to cover his own polite chuckling and extend his hand in friendship. Bigelow wasn't having it; instead, he shoved L.T. to the concrete floor. An irate Taylor was quickly restrained from going after Bam Bam, prompting very embarrassed Rumble announcer Vince McMahon to formally apologize for the "unfortunate incident." McMahon did so again the following night on Raw, and expected the temporarily-suspended Bigelow to follow suit during an interview segment later that evening. Bam Bam, however, demanded an apology of his own, arguing that his honor had been sacked by the former NFL lineman. Then he did the unthinkable: he challenged "dumb jock" Taylor to face him, "any time, anyplace."
Attempting to pacify the situation, Taylor declined on Bigelow's challenge. Yet the Beast from the East wouldn't let it go; for weeks he'd insist Taylor was hiding behind his managers and lawyers, who threatened legal remedy against WWE and its 400-pound Superstar. At the end of February, L.T. himself tried telling Bigelow on Raw that even though he pushed "like a sissy," he was a tremendous athlete. But when Bam Bam dared him to prove to the world what kind of man he really was, Taylor told him he would do so in New York City's Harley Davidson Café, site of the WrestleMania XI press conference. There, AP, UPI, Fox, ESPN and every other major news organization would camp out to witness Lawrence Taylor go nose-to-nose with Bigelow and declare, "I'm gonna have me some fun come WrestleMania."
Backed by Ted DiBiase and his Million Dollar Team—Tatanka, Irwin R. Schyster (IRS), King Kong Bundy, Kama and Nikolai Volkoff—Bam Bam was confident in telling Taylor to "lose the pads, lose the helmets, step in the ring and welcome to the valley of the real giants!" Yet who better than the greatest linebacker in NFL history to understand that a good defense of his own would help him deliver his best offense at WrestleMania? And who better for L.T. to select than an NFL "All-Pro" front line: former teammate Carl Banks (Cleveland Browns); Rickey Jackson and Ken Norton, Jr. (San Francisco 49ers); Chris Speilman (Detroit Lions); and future WCW announcer and Horsemen member Steve "Mongo" McMichael and Reggie White (Green Bay Packers).
Needless to say, DiBiase's crew was quick to cross the legendary linemen. In late March, Kama provoked guest Raw commentator McMichael into a vicious brawl that nearly spilled all over the announcers' area. The following week, all hands were on deck again for a "Pre-WrestleMania Workout," when Bigelow tried blitzing Taylor in a ring set up on the streets of Times Square; instead, he received a forearm to the face and several other blows that would have earned L.T. multiple suspensions on any gridiron.
On April 2, 1995, WWE and NFL fans from around the world would converge at Connecticut's Hartford Civic Center for WWE's biggest pay-per-view of the year. And there was no mistaking who they supported in the main event; even special guests Salt 'N' Pepa modified their award-winning "Whatta Man" into a Taylor-made entrance toward the ring. Bam Bam Bigelow didn't care; as he explained backstage before the match, WrestleMania XI was the biggest night of his career.
"Bam Bam Bigelow is not gonna be known as the man who lost to Lawrence Taylor!" he insisted. "He's just a flash in the pan! He's not comin' in here, he's not gonna make a fool out of me, and he's gonna go down, 1-2-3!"
Unfortunately for Bigelow, he was out of his league that night. Wearing a white No. 56 jersey, L.T. delivered several flying tackles—including one off the top rope—that eventually wore down the 400-pound Beast from the East, allowing him to pull off one of the biggest WWE upsets on record. Nevertheless, Bam Bam Bigelow was right about one thing: WrestleMania XI was indeed the biggest night of his career, and his rivalry with Lawrence Taylor will remain a part of WWE lore for generations to come.