Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow: Greatest Celebrity Match Of All Time

Some pretty improbable names have found their way into the main event of Wrestlemania over the years.  For example, fans of the Hulk Hogan era in the 80s would probably have never expected Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels to headline the biggest show of the year or, for fans of the Monday Night Wars era, you could probably say the same about people like Chris Jericho or Chris Benoit.  More recently, WWE had gone so far out of their way to bury Daniel Bryan that you would have never expected them to cave in to fan demand and put him over for the WWE Title at the show’s 30tht anniversary.

However, there was probably never a more improbable headliner in the history of Wrestlemania than former New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor, who faced Bam Bam Bigelow in the marquee match at Wrestlemania 11.  Here’s the story of how the football legend found his way into the main event of the WWF’s biggest show of the year.

LT  and his entourage were sitting ringside at Royal Rumble 1995 as invited guests of the WWF, and watched on as Bam Bam and Tatanka faced the 123 Kid and Bob “Spark Plug” Holly in the finals of a tournament for the vacant WWF Tag Team Title. Miscommunication led to Tatanka accidentally knocking Bam Bam off the top rope during a moonsault attempt, knocking him out cold and allowing the Kid to crawl over and pin him to win the title.

Tatanka and manager Ted Dibiase walked off in disgust as Bigelow came to and rolled out of the ring in shame.  As he left ringside, he couldn’t help but notice LT sitting there with his face in his hands laughing at Bigelow for losing to the Kid.  Bigelow got right up in LT’s face and Taylor stood up to apologize, saying he meant no disrespect, and held his hand out to Bigelow.

Bigelow paused to consider it for a moment, then shoved LT so hard that he flew back two rows and landed on his ass.  Bam Bam walked off as LT got to his feet, and Taylor had to be physically restrained from jumping the rail and going after Bam Bam.  LT regained his composure and sat down to watch the rest of the show, but the incident was all over the news broadcasts the next day, which was exactly what the WWF was hoping for.

In storylines, however, the WWF was extremely embarrassed by Bigelow’s conduct, and ordered him to issue a public apology to Taylor.  Bigelow refused, and in fact doubled down by continuing to insult LT.  Taylor realized that if Bigelow wouldn’t respect him, he’d have to earn it the old fashioned way, and challenged him to a match at Wrestlemania.

Despite Taylor’s reputation on the football field, Bam Bam didn’t believe LT would last a second in the ring with him, and happily accepted his challenge. Just to hedge his bets, he announced that the entire Million Dollar Corporation of Ted Dibiase, IRS, Kama, King Kong Bundy, and Nikolai Volkoff would be at ringside to “support” him.

It was a completely transparent ploy by Bam Bam, but Taylor had faced these kinds of odds before in his football days.  In that same spirit, LT put together his own all-pro team of former football players (which included future WCW US Champion Steve McMichael) to watch his back and make sure the Corporation didn’t get involved.

The WWF was thrilled with all the media coverage their involvement with LT was continuing to get, but they also knew that it would take a lot of work to get Taylor up to speed in the ring.  He obviously wasn’t a trained wrestler, and the WWF didn’t want him stinking up the joint, so they had LT and Bigelow work out in secret for weeks leading into Wrestlemania.

Under the watchful eye of Vince McMahon’s lieutenant Pat Patterson, whom Vince had previously assigned to Mr. T. when he appeared at the first two Wrestlemanias, Bam Bam and Taylor carefully laid out their match and practiced everything over and over to make sure they had it down.  Bam Bam definitely didn’t want to be embarrassed in such a high-profile match, and even told LT that he would flatten him if he didn’t take the match seriously.

The WWF went out of their way to throw as much pomp and circumstance into the event as they could.  Salt-N-Pepa performed “Whatta Man” before the main event, and Howard Finkel did a football game-like introduction as the members of the Million Dollar Corporation and LT’s All Pro Team ran down to ringside.

Finally, with the wrestling and sports worlds watching, Bam Bam and Taylor made their entrances and prepared to do battle.  Pat Patterson was the referee for the match to make sure that LT and Bam Bam stayed on course, but thankfully, the match ended up going so well that some have called it the Flair-Steamboat of celebrity matches.

Thanks to all the hard work and preparation, Taylor came off like a seasoned worker even though he was really just playing connect the dots under the direction of Patterson and Bigelow.  That’s not to undersell Taylor, he was inexperienced and needed the guidance, but he had a very physically taxing night, and to his credit, he didn’t shy away from the rigors of what he’d signed up for.

Bam Bam also deserves credit for going out of his way to make Taylor look good, especially given that LT wasn’t coming back after this.  LT kicked out of both the top rope headbutt and the moonsault, then came back and hit a gutwrench suplex (though the announcers tried to sell it as a powerbomb) before knocking Bigelow out with a forearm off the second rope and scoring the win.

Against all odds, Lawrence Taylor had defeated Bam Bam Bigelow at his own game and gained retribution for Bam Bam’s disrespect.  Bigelow, on the other hand, was berated all the way back to the locker room by Dibiase for losing to a football player, and was kicked out of the Corporation entirely just weeks later.

Bam Bam turned babyface and began feuding with the Corporation, but never received the push you might have expected him to get for doing the Lawrence Taylor match.  He really deserved it for agreeing to put over a non-wrestler on the biggest stage in the business, even one of Taylor’s stature, but the truth was that the angle was never done for Bam Bam, and he continued to slide down the totem pole and left the company before the end of the year.

The WWF had gotten a ton of mainstream media coverage out of the LT match, but it didn’t end up giving them the same long-term boost that Mr. T. had a decade earlier.  This pretty much boiled down to the fact that, other than Shawn Michaels vs Diesel, Wrestlemania was a terrible show that highlighted how boring their overall product was.

They had more success a few years later when they brought Mike Tyson in for Wrestlemania 14, but in 1995, the WWF was right smack in the middle of a major downswing between the boom periods of the Hogan and Austin eras.  Their overall product wasn’t in a position to take advantage of the attention LT brought them, and the momentum was gone as soon as Wrestlemania 11 was in the books.

In spite of all that, and the fact that the match became a punchline for industry pundits at the time, Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow was far better than anyone could have hope for.  It’s remained on its pedestal amongst other non-wrestler matches mostly because LT, smartly, never entertained thoughts about getting back in the ring ever again.