Wednesday, November 9, 2011

(THE FIRST) Summerslam

Summerslam 1988
Madison Square Garden (New York, NY)
Original Airdate: August 29, 1988

I'm the worst. I know it. If you follow this blog, you know it. It has been months. But despite what you probably believed, I did NOT give up on this project. I just let a lot of things get in the way of it, namely getting laid off from my job and sleeping until 1 PM every day. I must be the only person on Earth who lost his job and as a result, somehow found LESS time for his silly leisure activities. I honestly watched Summerslam probably 6 weeks ago, so I really have no excuse for not coming on here and rambling for a couple thousand words much sooner. So if you've stuck with me, thank you kindly. I would like to issue a sincerely good hearted promise to update more often, but odds are that would probably just be an unintentional lie.

WWF was cooking full steam at this point. Clearly a 4th pay per view was needed (although I guess since the first Royal Rumble was on cable, it would have been the 3rd. Whatever. Semantics). So here we have the first Summerslam, an exciting pay per view extravaganza set to take place in the otherwise fairly deplorable month of August. It was also Vince Mcmahon's big "ef you" to NWA (soon to be WCW)'s "Starrcade" pay per view, but I don't want to get into the WWF/WCW wars quite yet. Either way, it really could not have come at a better time. WWF TV at the time was limited in how much exposition it could provide for championship caliber storylines. The champion did not appear on the weekly television programs often. So a new pay per view provided an excellent oppurtunity to further the Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage storyline, which, if you can remember waaaaay back to my previous entry, is the subject of my current concentration.

So in between Wrestlemania and 'Slam, Macho Man and The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase continued to feud for Macho Man's new WWF championship. Hulk Hogan was off doing his own thing until he was attacked by both Andre The Giant and Dibiase during an interview. His response was of course to challenge them to a tag team match at Summerslam and as a partner, he of course he chose his storyline best friend, the Hulkster. Thus, one of the most well known tag teams ever (at least to wrestling nerds), The Mega Powers, was born.

There was no hint of dissension between Macho Man and Hulk leading up to the event. It appeared them and their manager, Miss Elizabeth, were the tightest, most effective unit in pro wrestling. And in fact, when the event rolled around, it took all three of them to get the win over the newly named "Mega Bucks". The odds were stacked against them going in, as in addition to the aptly named Andre The Giant, Dibiase also had his "bodyguard (read: slave)" Virgil as well as sneaky heel manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and heel leaning color commentator (and future governor of Minnesota and nutcase) Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the match's special guest referee.

The end of the match came when Elizabeth distracted Ventura by ripping off her skirt to reveal her underwear underneath. Macho Man hit his signature flying elbow and Hogan his leg drop, and it was over. All is well that ends well, right? Good triumphs over evil? Well no...unless you've been living under a rock, that ultimately doesn't turn out to be the case. A couple of seeds are being planted here: One is that one of Macho Man's ultimate reasons for turning on Hogan is that he is suspicious of Hogan's intentions toward Elizabeth (although as the heel, he obviously ends up just being painted as bitter and insecure. At this time, there were very clear good guy/bad guy lines). Interestingly enough, this may have been a bit of an extension of real life, as most reports from backstage sources at the time say Savage was very protective of Elizabeth (his real life wife at the time) and could also be quite jealous. I'm not sure if some writer picked up on that and put it into this storyline, but it's certainly interesting to consider.

The second reason for the breakup of the Mega Powers was plain jealousy on the part of Savage. He starts to claim he is playing unnecessary second fiddle to Hogan. This is a fairly common method for breaking up tag teams in the wrestling world, but the way it was allowed to slow burn in this case was, in my opinion, brilliant. While, as previously stated, there were no outward signs of tension between the two at this event, the beginnings were there. There were two major seeds planted:

1) The fact that the champion was booked in a tag team bout at one of the biggest shows of the year. It could have just been a way to get Hogan (who was arguably still their biggest draw) into the main event, but I think it was clever booking to make the Savage heel turn seem more believable. "Why should I have to share the main event with anyone else?" would clearly be the character's eventual mode of thinking.

2) Hogan is the one that gets the pinfall to end the match. Once again, very subtle, but in my opinion, very intentional. I suppose it is a possibility I am giving the writers too much credit here, but I really don't think so.

So there we have it. A win for the Mega Powers, but things begin to come unglued pretty quickly in the coming months. The keyword here is months. I know I might be humping the same point a bit here, but it is worth repeating that there are NO angles like this anymore. I can think of at least 5-10 times in the past couple years WWE or TNA has broken up a tag team for no real reason (seemingly just because they no longer want them to be a tag team). A couple of examples:

-Generation Me, a talented, acrobatic team of real life brothers who worked together in various independent promotions, signed with TNA and were broken up within about a year of entering the promotion. Suddenly one day, the older brother in the team, Max, decided he wanted to be a singles champion. There was no real rhyme or reason to it and the ensuing feud between the two was buried very very quickly. By contrast, the breakup of The Rockers (a late 80's - early 90's tag team to whom Generation Me owes a lot of their image/moves) was handled gradually and organically through miscommunications that eventually led to Rocker Shawn Michaels getting fed up and throwing his partner through a window on WWF television (one of the best, most compelling moments in WWF history in my opinion. More on that later)

-More recently, WWE put together the team of Miz and R-Truth and had them main event one of the bigger matches of recent years against John Cena and the returning Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Shortly thereafter, The Miz turned on Truth. Now I'm not sure whether this is leading to Truth turning face or not (he is currently suspended for violating the company wellness policy), but I just don't understand why they had to be pulled apart so quickly. The Miz has a title match at the next WWE pay per view, so I guess they wanted to make sure he had something to do on television during Truth's suspension, but Truth could have been written off TV any number of ways that didn't involve Miz turning on him. But that is representative of the overall problem with today's WWE programming and my reason for talking about the Hogan/Savage feud to begin with - EVERYTHING IS RUSHED NOW TO THE POINT WHERE NOTHING IS ALLOWED TO MAKE AN IMPACT. I hate to sound all old and "get off my lawn" about this, but I really think I am right here.

A couple more notes before I wrap this one up:

The first match on this card is an absolute barnburner between the British Bulldogs and the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers. They work a 20 minute broadway (time limit draw) which no one does anymore, complete with some great back and forth chain wrestling and really solid ring psychology. I know I stressed in earlier entries that the Dynamite Kid is one of the unheralded best wrestlers of all time, but watch that match and tell me I'm wrong. It's a shame the Bulldogs were nearing the end of their WWF run here and Dynamite was nearing the end of his career. His partner and cousin, Davey Boy Smith, managed a few more good years before completely self destructing himself.

The second match on this card is between Bad News Brown and former Olympic power lifter Ken Patera. Neither of them could do much of anything in the ring, so if you are watching this show and want to get a sandwich or use the bathroom or something, this is probably your best oppurtunity. That having been said, I'd like to point out Bad News Brown as one of the odd examples of casual racism that would come up from time to time during this period of WWF.

Bad News Brown's real name was Allen Coage. He was an African American gentleman from Calgary Alberta Canada who apparently had a genuine tough streak. He was an Olympic Bronze Medalist in Judo in 1976. Also, in a now legendary tale that Bret Hart confirmed in his autobiography, News was once called a racial slur by Andre The Giant on a tour bus, and in response, got the driver to stop the bus and demanded Andre come outside and fight him. Now Andre wasn't 800 lbs or whatever they billed his weight to be, but he was still a very very large man, and to a casual observer, this seems either super cocky or borderline suicidal. But guess what? As the story goes, not only did Andre not get off and fight News, he later apologized.

Anyway, I digress. News came up in Calgary's Stampede wrestling promotion as "Bad News Allen". However, when he signed with WWF, he was saddled with the new hometown of "Harlem New York", a finishing move called "the ghetto blaster" and the new moniker of "Bad News Brown", just in case anyone forgot that he was indeed an African American. I don't know that this was so much outward racism so much as Vince Mcmahon not believing at the time that his audience could handle any sort of subtle characters. I guess I could go on about this, but I've written quite a bit, so I think I'll call it a night. I've just always wondered why the Bad News Brown character was necessary. Maybe I'll talk about it further another time. In the meantime, good night.

PS - Bad News Brown died in 2007. He lived to be a semi-advanced age (63), but he is still another in the ever growing list of wrestlers from this era to die of a heart attack/heart failure. I didn't love his work in the ring, but it is still sad. RIP.

The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) fought The Fabulous Rougeaus (Jacques and Raymond to a time limit draw
Bad News Brown def. Ken Patera
"Ravishing" Rich Rude def. The Junkyard Dog by disqualification
The Powers Of Pain (The Warlord and The Barbarian)(w/The Baron) def. The Bolsheviks (Boris Zhukov and Nikolai Volkoff)(w/Slick)
The Ultimate Warrior def. The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart) to win the Intercontinental Championship
Dino Bravo (w/Frenchy Martin) def. "The Rock" Don Muraco
Demolition (Ax and Smash)(w/Mr. Fuji and Jimmy Hart) def. The Hart Foundation (Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart) to retain the Tag Team Championships
The Big Boss Man (w/Slick) def. "The Birdman" Koko B. Ware
Jake "The Snake" Roberts def. Hercules
The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage)(w/Miss Elizabeth) def. The Mega Bucks ("The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase and Andre The Giant)(w/Virgil and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan)

Next up: a brief detour into indie wrestling (my day at the first Chikara iPPV)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wrestlemania 4

Wrestlemania 4
Boardwalk Hall (Atlantic City, NJ)
Original Airdate: March 27, 1988

As I mentioned in the Macho Man tribute, the next few entries will have bit of an arc.

Some background to said arc: At Wrestlemania 4 the Macho Man won the WWF championship by winning several matches in a single elimination tournament (if you haven't caught this now 23 year old event yet, I wholeheartedly apologize for the spoiler). Hulk Hogan directly contributed to this win. Directly following this, Macho Man and Hogan formed a tag team known as the "Mega Powers". This lasted for awhile until Macho Man eventually turned heel and (unsuccessfully) attempted to defend his belt against Hogan the next year at Wrestlemania 5.

"Why are we going to devote several entries to this?", you may ask. Well, mostly because it is something that simply isn't done in the WWE anymore. The increase to monthly pay per views has made such a slow building story more or less impossible to pull off without people losing interest. In addition, in my humble opinion, the product has adapted to the times and become much to the point. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying pro wrestling was ever some sort of complex, layered brew. But as I'd like to think I'll prove in the next few entries, there was a lost subtlety to it that I didn't catch as a kid.

So first let's set the scene, then attempt to put it in a greater context. The WWF championship had been vacated. In storyline, Andre The Giant had been paid by the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase to beat Hulk Hogan for the belt and then give it to him. (a quick aside: I don't think I've mentioned Dibiase yet, but he is another one of the unsung heroes of this WWF era. His character, an egotistical billionaire, was totally cutting edge at the time, and he played it to perfection) With the help of an evil twin referee (honestly, it's tough to even explain. Download the appropriate episode of "The Main Event" if you want to see how it all went down) Andre did just that. But in storyline, due to all the confusion, the belt was held up. In order to crown a new champion, it was announced that a single elimination tournament would be held at Wrestlemania. This was a stroke of genius that made Wrestlemania 4 possibly the most engaging 'Mania to date. Hogan vs Andre was clearly the biggest marquee main event, but to have most of the matches on the show between guys in pursuit of the world title added high stakes and an element of intrigue that had previously been absent.

It was within this engaging premise where the first seeds of the Macho Man/Hulk Hogan rivalry were planted. The tournament featured 10 wrestlers. A few of which were clearly filler and never had a shot (Dino Bravo, Butch Reed, etc). Now, obviously I was little young to remember the buzz leading up the event and this was long before there were 100000000 internet wrestling "rumor" sites, but I have to think most people believed the winner would be Hogan, Andre, Macho Man, or MAYBE Dibiase. Maybe there was a dark horse, but from what I've seen and what I can tell, those were the guys who were over enough to pull off the title win at the time. But surely most didn't expect what ended up happening, which was (spoiler alert for a 23 year old show) Hogan and Andre eliminating each other in their match.

Well needless to say, Macho Man goes on to defy the odds and win several grueling matches (the last against Dibiase) to become the new WWF champion. However, Hulk Hogan comes out before the end of the Dibiase match to prevent outside interference against the Macho Man. At the time, surely in storyline, it seemed Hogan was performing a selfless act to protect his good friend from getting screwed. In fact, this gesture on the part of Hogan starts a tag team partnership with Savage. Known as the "Mega Powers", they would go on to a few months of high profile angles (more on that later).

This is where the all important psychology element of wrestling comes in. In storyline, we're led to believe Macho Man starts to feel his title reign in Hulk's shadow. After all, he needed Hulk's help to win the belt in the first place. After a time, an element of jealousy involving Macho Man's manager (and real life wife) Miss Elizabeth, also enters into the equation. But at the end of Wrestlemania 4, there is absolutely no sign of any of this. Not even a subtle dirty look shot toward Hogan. That is what I feel is missing from a lot of today's mainstream wrestling. If the writers want a guy to turn heel, they'll have him start scowling or hit one of his former friends with a chair or cut a promo denouncing the fans or something. While I can't know what went on in the creative meetings back then, I firmly believe going into Wrestlemania 4, they already knew their Wrestlemania 5 main event was going to be Hulk Hogan vs The Macho Man. But they knew they had a year to build it, so they did nothing but plant the first very vague seeds of discontent between the storyline best friends. It was a completely engaging angle, and still one of my personal favorites of all time. And it was just getting started.

Finally, while I try to make all of my entries in this blog have a pretty definitive arc, there ARE a couple of small random observations/asides I would like to add to this one before I move on:

-This event took place about 5 minutes from where I grew up, and I often which I'd been old enough to attend this or Wrestlemania 5, which took place in the same building. It'd be a cool story to tell other wrestling nerds.

-the first match on the card featured Bret "The Hitman" Hart, who was previously a hated heel tag team wrestler turning on another heel named Bad News Brown. This was basically his first exposure as a singles wrestler, and it is significant because he would go on to carry the company on his back for a few years following the departure of Hogan. but more on that later.

Bad News Brown won a 20 man battle royal (other participants: Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Boris Zhukov, B. Brian Blair, "Dangerous" Danny Davis, George "The Animal" Steele, Harley Race, Hillbilly Jim, Jacques Rougeau, Jumpin Jim Brunzell, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Jim Powers, Junkyard Dog, Ken Patera, Nikolai Volkoff, Paul Roma, Raymond Rougeau, "The Outlaw" Ron Bass, Sam Houston, Sika)

First round tournament matches:
"The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase (w/Virgil and Andre The Giant) def. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan
"The Rock" Don Muraco (w/"Superstar" Billy Graham) def. Dino Bravo (w/Frenchy Martin)by disqualification
Greg "The Hammer" Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart) def. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat
"Macho Man" Randy Savage (w/Miss Elizabeth) def. "The Natural" Butch Reed (w/Slick)
One Man Gang (w/Slick) def. Bam Bam Bigelow (w/Oliver Humperdink) by countout
"Ravishing" Rick Rude (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) fought Jake "The Snake" Roberts to a time limit draw

The Ultimate Warrior def. Hercules (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan)

Quarter Final tournament matches:
Hulk Hogan fought Andre The Giant (w/Ted Dibiase and Virgil) to a double disqualification
Ted Dibiase def. Don Muraco
Randy Savage def. Greg Valentine

Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake def. Intercontinental champion The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart and Peggy Sue)by disqualification
The Islanders (Haku and Tama) and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan def. The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) and "The Birdman" Koko B Ware

Semi-Final Tournament match:
Randy Savage def. One Man Gang

Demolition (Ax and Smash)(w/Mr. Fuji) def. Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) to win the WWF Tag Team Championships

Tournament Final:
Randy Savage def. Ted Dibiase to win the WWF Heavyweight Championship

Next up: (THE FIRST) Summerslam

Friday, May 20, 2011

RIP "Macho Man" Randy Savage

After I finished my last entry in this blog, I had the next few mapped out in my head. For the first time, a few of them were going to have a general arc. And that arc would be very much about the Macho Man. I am getting to the point in my pay per view journey where Macho Man became a HUGE part of the success of WWF. At least for a couple of years. Well, I still plan on writing those entries, but the sad news of "Macho Man" Randy Savage's passing earlier today makes me feel as if I have to derail a bit and write a general reflection/tribute on one of the true greats of the business.

I don't get phased easily by "celebrity" deaths. But when I was walking to lunch today and got the text that the Macho Man had died, I have to say I was stunned. I've stated over and over again here that I have been a WWF/E fan basically my entire life. I probably saw Macho Man on my TV once a week for at least 5-6 years. With the absolutely absurd amount of wrestlers passing at a too young age, it SHOULDN'T have come as a surprise. But it did. And as silly as it sounds, I felt like a piece of my childhood had just been yanked from me.

I'm sure a ton will be written about Randy Savage in the wake of his death, so I will try not to delve too far into the realm of cliche here. That having been said, it's interesting to consider what made Macho Man one of the all time greats. It is probably fair to say that he faltered for the last few years of his career (look, we're being honest here), but man...for a period of maybe 2-4 years, there was arguably no one better.

His in ring work was certainly a part of it. He was a fine mat based wrestler but was also decidly more aerial than a lot of the musclebound bodybuilder types in WWF at the time. I remember one spot in particular that he did nearly every match. He would have his opponent's neck draped across the top rope, and then hit the ropes and do a running leap over the top rope to the floor, thereby creating the effect of crushing his opponent's throat across the rope. I remember thinking then (and now while I rewatch these shows) that this was an incredibly agile move compared to the standard punch/kick stuff a lot of the matches on those cards had to offer. Basically, while he may not have been revolutionary in the ring, he was just very very good, and different enough to really stand out at the right time. According to written accounts, he also developed a reputation at this time for being a relentless perfectionist. He wanted to choreograph all of his big matches thoroughly and completely. Legend has it that before his match with Ricky Steamboat, which I discuss in an earlier entry, he had Steamboat down to his house in Florida several weeks before the match to begin preparing. I'm not sure if this was a huge factor in his success, but I'm quite sure it probably didn't hurt. Ultimately (at least to me), none of his great matches during the peak of his success looked OVERLY prepared. Just well written and tight.

Everyone who is REALLY familiar with the Macho Man knows it was his charisma that sky rocketed him to the top though. He was loud, wore bright outfits, entered the ring to the strains of the graduation anthem "Pomp and Circumstance" and when Macho Man spoke YOU LISTENED. Even though, as a couple of the promos I've posted prove, sometimes it wasn't clear what on Earth he was talking about. But I guess that's what people talk about when they say someone has "it". You can't turn away even if you don't quite understand what is going on. They have far too much charisma. That was Randy Savage to a tee.

Of course, like a lot of professional wrestlers, he also had some epic flameouts. When he came on the scene in the WWF, he was managed by his real life wife, Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth was also an important figure in wrestling, being easily the most popular female in the business up to that time, and arguably still one of the most popular of all time. But that's a topic for another entry. Eventually, Randy and Elizabeth got divorced, and it seemed to really signal a fork for them both. He landed in WCW after his amazing WWF run, but its' kind of tough to pinpoint many great Macho Man WCW matches. He still cut some great, whacky promos, but (to me at least) the fire seemed to go out a bit at that point in terms of his matches and work. And then of course, as anyone who follows ironic internet trends knows, he decided to record an ill advised rap album in 2003. But once again, even though it was certainly about as far from good as a rap album can be, it was still entertaining in a (VERY) weird sort of way. That was just the Macho Man. not everything he did was "good", per se, but he was never ever boring. He will be sorely missed by all true wrestling fans. Rest in Peace Brother. OHHHHHHH YEAAHHHHH. BOW TO THE KINGDOM OF THE MADNESSSSS.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

(THE FIRST) Royal Rumble

Royal Rumble 1988
Copps Coliseum (Hamilton Ontario Canada)
Original Airdate: January 24, 1988

Annnnnnnd after an even more lengthy absence than usual, we're back. I'll skip the explanation for the layoff this time and just jump right into it.

First off, technically this event was broadcast on the USA network and should be disqualified from the blog. However, as any WWF fan knows, it became a pay per view the next year and has been ever since. It's also my personal favorite PPV of every year and an intense fan favorite all across the board.

Let's take a step back and explain the concept of the Royal Rumble for a second. As I talked about in the Survivor Series entry, this was a period where the company was striving for different ways to present their roster of wrestlers. For the Royal Rumble (supposedly conceived by WWE Hall Of Famer and close Vince Mcmahon confidant Pat Patterson) was a battle royal with a bit of a twist.

Hold on...let's back it up even a step FURTHER for any novices reading. A battle royal is a match featuring a large number of wrestlers (usually around 20 or so). They all start in the ring at once. There are no pinfalls. The only way to get eliminated is to go over the top rope and touch the floor. There is a chaotic element to battle royals that I (and I think lots of other fans) have always found appealing. The funny is though, up until the conception of the Royal Rumble, it seems like battle royals were mostly used as a way to get anyone who wasn't used in live events a match.

In the Royal Rumble, however, only 2 of the 20 men (which was changed to 30 the very next year)started out in the ring. Every two minutes a supposedly random new wrestler came out. It was an instant hit.

It's sort of interesting to explore why this concept worked so well. For me, I think the pace is one of the Rumble's biggest draws. In a regular battle royal, you start out with a huge number of guys, and they throw fake punches at each other until its their turn to get thrown out. I've actually read plenty of wrestlers say a battle royal is a tremendously easy, low stress match to work because it doesn't require a ton of advance planning or (for lack of a better word)choreography. What the Royal Rumble adds (and what I believe is a big part of its' appeal) is the element of spontaneity. It was cool right from the get go to guess who was going to come out and join the fray next, and it remains cool to this day. It's also fun to see the ring have anywhere from 2 to 12 guys in it depending on the moment. In short, it's such a fast, quickly evolving match, that it's pretty much impossible to get bored with.

Like most shows from this time period, however, the first Royal Rumble was still just a prototype of what it would eventually become. For starters, there was nothing at stake. Several years later, the winner of the Rumble would begin to earn the right to challenge the WWF champion at Wrestlemania. I'm not sure who gets credit for this idea, but it was genius. It took an already popular event and added a whole new level of intrigue.

Here, however, it was just another match. In fact, it didn't even happen last on the card. It was the last undercard match before the barnburning main event of the Young Stallions vs The Islanders in a 2 out of 3 falls match. I think I trashed the Young Stallions a bit in a previous blog, but in case I didn't, let me do it again. The Young Stallions sucked. Plain and simple. I try to write this blog in a mostly academic fashion, but I hated The Young Stallions on such a base level, that it is easier for me just to be blunt in this case.

It's probably not shocking that the card is a little weak though, since Pay Per View was burgeoning at this point, and the company probably thought it would be silly to give away instead of sell the really good stuff. Besides the Rumble though, there is a gem of a match to lead off the show between Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (who was by now nearing the end of his first WWF run) and a relative newcomer named "Ravishing" Rick Rude. Rude was a native of Minnesota with a lean, muscular frame and one of the better gimmicks of the late 80's. He essentially portrayed an egotistical ladies man who made a big show before every match of taking off his robe and posing "for all the ladies". He was also quietly one of the absolute best workers of this era. Unfortunately, he has since become one of many wrestlers to die far far too young. Here he is shown at his best though, doing a solid 15 minutes with a game Steamboat, until a stupid, overly complicated finish almost ruins what came before it. Still a solid match though.

So much like the first Wrestlemania, this event is extremely historically significant to WWF in a historical context. In terms of the actual quality of the matches thought? There is still a lot to be desired. But it's coming.

Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat def. "Ravishing" Rick Rude by disqualification
The Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki) def. The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai) (with Jimmy Hart) in a two out of three falls match for the WWF women's Tag Team Championship
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan won the Royal Rumble match (other participants: Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Tito Santana, "The Natural" Butch Reed, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, "King" Harley Race, "Jumpin" Jim Brunzell, Sam Houston, "Dangerous" Danny Davis, Boris Zhukov, Don Muraco, Nikolai Volkoff, "The Outlaw" Ron Bass, B. Brian Blair, Hillbilly Jim, Dino Bravo, The Ultimate Warrior, The One Man Gang and The Junkyard Dog)
The Islanders (Haku and Tama) defeated The Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers) in a two out of three falls match

Next up: Wrestlemania 4 and the beginning of my in depth look at the now legendary yearlong buildup to the Hulk Hogan vs Macho Man match at Wrestlemania 5.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Survivor Series
Richfield Coliseum (Richfield, Ohio)
Original Airdate: November 26, 1987

I swear I entered into this with the best intentions. I watched this show quite awhile ago and have been mulling over ideas for my newest blog entry for at least two weeks. Alas, the reality of my life got in the way and a whole month went by yet again. I apparently just have too many other pressing hobbies to write in this blog several times a month....actually that's not true. I just work a job I hate way too much, and on the rare occasions I'm not working, I play in a dumb band, and balance my wrestling habit with my movie habit and my video game habit. Unfortunately some things just end up falling by the wayside. However, I'd like to once again offer my assurance that even if my updates are slow in coming, this blog is by no means dead. It just may be around for many years before I reach the finish line. Come to think of it, I'm actually not even sure where that finish line is. Do I need to watch every PPV up to the present? Or should I set some sort of end date a few years in the past? Either way, I clearly have plenty of time to decide.

So here we have the Survivor Series. This was the first new PPV spun off from the already mega successful Wrestlemania. However, the company came up with a twist to distinguish this new show. There would be no one on one or tag team matches. Everyone would compete in teams of 5, and all matches would be elimination style. Essentially, that means you could be left with any number of lopsided, uneven situations (up to and including 1 on 5). All 5 members of one team had to lose in some manner before the match was over. Whoever was left on the other team was/were declared the survivor(s). ( it's not just a clever name)

However, like most first time WWF events, I feel the first Survivor Series didn't quite find its footing. The concept was clearly strong, as evidenced by the fact that it is still on the pay per view schedule today (sidenote: WWE actually declared in the beginning of 2010 that they were phasing this event out, but by November, it was back on the schedule. It was never confirmed, but I suspect high fan demand was the reason for this decision).

In 1987, however, I think there was still a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" mentality. There were actually only 4 matches on the first Survivor Series card, and two were awful. The 10 woman Survivor Series tag match features some decent talent (mostly the Jumping Bomb Angels from Japan) but it suffers from an absolutely lukewarm crowd reaction, and a couple of clearly middle aged participants who seem to have trouble moving, much less putting on a credible wrestling match. The WWF/E has ALWAYS had trouble drumming up interest in the Woman's Division and this was clearly a low point. Clearly no one cared about anyone involved in this match, and the company took notice because I'm fairly certain the Woman's division was phased out for years not too long after this. (authors note: perhaps the subtle sexism of wrestling audiences would make for a good discussion in a future entry)

The other match that doesn't quite work involves the tag team division. Tag team wrestling was still a big focus of the company at this point (unlike the last few years, but I'll get to that another time), so an idea was hatched to have 5 heel tag teams take on 5 face tag teams in a gigantic supersized elimination match. Thankfully, the rules state that when one member of a team is eliminated, both are out of the match. Otherwise, this one would have gone on for at least an hour. As it is though, it is still way too long (wikipedia says it clocks in at around 37 minutes). And 20 participants is just far too many for a tag team match. It ends up being far too busy and no one really gets any chance to stand out. On top of that, for some reason, the sole Survivors of the match are The Killer Bees and the Young Stallions, two highly forgettable, short lived babyface teams. The Bees were actually better known for their ridiculous yellow and black striped ring attire than anything else. The funny thing is, they were not bad wrestlers. They could work quick and loose. However, with that gimmick, they were doomed to never be taken seriously. The Young Stallions were horrendous though, and it is anyone's guess why they were given the victory over far superior teams like Demolition and The British Bulldogs. Anyhow, this match concept lasted one more year before getting the axe (Demolition pun intended) so clearly someone on the creative team agreed with my assessment.

There was clearly a gem of a good idea here though, and the main event match showed that. The team captains for this tilt were Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant. First off, I like that 6 months after their big showdown at Wrestlemania, they found a way to keep their rivalry going (and it was far from over). One thing I dislike about current WWE is they tend to not take any time to develop quality, believable stories. The Hogan/Andre rivalry is an example of how you can have two guys work together for an entire year without the feud becoming stale. Secondly, I liked the fact that Andre's team actually picks up the victory. This is an example of how to use a format like the Survivor Series properly. Vince Mcmahon clearly didn't want Hulk Hogan to seem particularly beatable, but when put in the context of a 10 man match, he avoided having Andre or Hogan look particularly weak. In other words, he moved along the story without giving it any finality. In the early years, that was not what the Survivor Series was about. It was more of a fun one off concept than a serious story builder. And it sure was fun. That's why it's still around today.

Team Macho Man: Macho Man (w/Miss Elizabeth), Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan
Team Honky Tonk Man: The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart), Hercules, "Dangerous" Danny Davis, "The Outlaw" Ron Bass and "King" Harley Race (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan)
Survivors: Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Ricky Steamboat

The Fabulous Moolah, Rockin' Robin, Velvet McIntyre and the Jumping Bomb Angels (Itsuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno)
Sensational Sherri, The Glamour Girls (Leilani Kai and Judy Martin)(w/Jimmy Hart), Donna Christanello and Dawn Marie
Survivors: Jumping Bomb Angels

Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel), The Young Stallions (Jim Powers and Paul Roma), The Fabulous Rougeaus (Jacques and Raymond), The Killer Bees (Jumpin' Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair) and The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid)
The Hart Foundation (Bret "Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart)(w/Jimmy Hart), The Islanders (Haku and Tama)(w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan), Demolition (Ax and Smash)(w/Mr. Fuji), The Bolsheviks (Boris Zhukov and Nikolai Volkoff) (w/Slick) and The New Dream Team (Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Dino Bravo)(w/Johnny V)
Survivors: The Young Stallions and The Killer Bees

Team Andre The Giant: Andre The Giant, The One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, "Ravishing" Rick Rude and "The Natural" Butch Reed (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Slick)
Team Hulk Hogan: Hulk Hogan, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, "The Rock" Don Muraco, Ken Patera, and Bam Bam Bigelow (w/Oliver Humperdink)
Survivor: Andre The Giant

Next Up: (THE FIRST)Royal Rumble (which actually aired on the USA network, but come on. It's THE ROYAL RUMBLE)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Wrestlemania 3

Pontiac Silverdome (Pontiac, Michigan)

Original Airdate: March 29, 1987

Well, First off...hi. Happy New Year to everyone. I promised from the get go that I wouldn't always be able to get to this blog/project as frequently as I'd like, and I'd say I've definitely delivered on that promise thus far. Between the holidays, a temporarily deceased PC, and a death in my family, my goofy blog/project has had to take a bit of a backseat. That having been said, this is far from dead, and with the new year, I plan on watching lots of wrestling (some good, some not so good) and imparting to you, my several loyal readers, my hackneyed thoughts on all the tiny details. So, as I rededicate myself to this task I took on for no real reason, let's forge onward.

As I stated previously, the coming years will bring a huge disparity in the quality of product being put forth by WWF. Luckily, we start 2011 on a high note. The third Wrestlemania was, and probably still remains, one of the high water marks in the entire history of the company. At the time, the reported attendance of 93,173 at the Silverdome was the biggest recorded indoor crowd in history. While that number has apparently been disputed a bit in the intervening years, one look at the show reveals that even if they padded the numbers by a few thousand, there was still an utter mass of humanity present for this event.

And most importantly, the main storyline headed into the third mania was full of genuine intrigue. Hulkamania was now in full swing, but the Hulkster was set to face his gravest challenge in the 7 foot 500 lb (pretty clearly exaggerated measurements, but regardless, he was a LARGE man) Andre The Giant. In storyline, Hogan and Andre were formerly close friends, but Andre had allowed evil manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan to get into his head and turn him angry and bitter. Andre had perfected a persona where he came off as good hearted, but easily swayed by bad influence. This was further reinforced by the part he played in the movie "The Princess Bride", which was released that fall.

Anyway, even casual fans of pro wrestling know what happened. Hogan slayed the giant, and even managed to bodyslam him (Andre clearly worked incredibly hard to help Hogan pull this off, but still). It's tough to argue that this was Andre's biggest shining moment in the ring, and some would say it may have been Hogan's as well. It was the perfect storm of a great buildup, the right venue, and a good match. Now don't get me wrong, in terms of the actual wrestling, this wasn't an all time classic. What makes it a solid, memorable match though, is the workrate. Both guys clearly wanted it to be great, and you can sense them both working hard to make the other look good and put on a great show.

In stark contrast, we have one of the preliminary matches between Macho Man Randy Savage and Ricky The Dragon Steamboat. And I'd like to use that as the jumping off point for the bulk of my discussion regarding this event. I've written a bit about both the Dragon and the Macho Man in previous entries, so I won't rehash. Their encounter at Wrestlemania was for the Intercontinental Championship. I haven't discussed the IC Championship at any length so far, so I'll give some brief background on it now: The IC championship is considered secondary only to the World Title. In non-storyline terms, if a wrestler was given the IC Belt, it was said to be a clear sign the guy was considered to be on the way up. And that has definitely held true over the years. A quick look at former title holders reveal a large percentage of guys going on to hold "the big belt". And the Macho Man was certainly on the way up. In fact, he was on his way to being arguably the 3rd most recognizable face of this whole era; behind Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior.

The significance of the Macho Man/Steamboat match is this: A large portion of hardcore wrestling fans consider it to be one of the best matches of all time. So my question here is this: In the context of the predetermined pro wrestling world, what makes a "great match"? Well, I would think that's at least partly a matter of individual taste. To the trained eye, the first very noticeable thing is that it is extremely planned. During the 15 or so minute duration, the two guys do a lot of things that are extremely acrobatic and elaborate. The match is elaborate to the point where it is easy to ascertain that the two of them sat down ahead of time and worked out the ins and outs pretty meticulously. So if spontaneity is your thing, this might not be your FAVORITE match ever. But it's hard to see any fan of pro wrestling being disappointed at two innovative, athletic guys in their prime clearly giving it their all.

Another somewhat intangible element of a great match is what wrestling nerds call "psychology". Essentially, this is meant to refer to the logic of what each wrestler does in a match. Since each guy is playing a character, everything they should do within a match should fit their character. The catch is that a character's psychology can evolve within any given match. In fact, in a really well done wrestling match, it should. For example: in this one, the referee "accidentally" gets run into (a very popular storytelling device in wrestling). While the ref is out cold, Macho Man hits Steamboat with his finishing move (a flying elbow from the top rope). Macho Man has Steamboat pinned for at least 10 seconds, but GASP...there is no referee available to make the count. To finish the match, Savage is attempting a seemingly mundane move, which Steamboat reverses out of nowhere to get the pin and win the championship. It makes great sense within the context of the match that Savage was thrown off guard by landing his finishing move and not winning, and therefore was distracted enough to allow Steamboat to take advantage.

Anyway, the point is that it's tough to say what makes a "great" match, but the Steamboat/Savage tilt is without a doubt at least a "very good" one. You can judge whether not it is one of the best on your own:

The reaction to Wrestlemania 3 was crystal clear. It was clearly the company's most ambitious undertaking to date, and it came off without a hitch. People wanted more WWF on pay per view, and that is what Vince Mcmahon started providing. He began adding shows pretty rapidly for a couple years. It's going to be interesting attempting to make some sort of dent in them, but I'm up for the task, so I hope you, my several loyal readers, are up for accompanying me. See you soon.

The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk) def. "Cowboy" Bob Orton and The Magnificent Muraco (w/Mr. Fuji)
Billy Jack Haynes fought Hercules (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) to a double countout
Hillbilly Jim, The Haiti Kid and Little Beaver def. King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo by disqualification
King Harley Race (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and The Fabulous Moolah) def. The Junkyard Dog in a "Loser Must Bow" match
The Dream Team (Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Brutus Beefcake)(w/Johnny Valiant and Dino Bravo)def. The Rougeau Brothers (Jacques and Raymond)
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper def. "Adorable" Adrian Adonis (w/Jimmy Hart) in a "Hair vs Hair" match
The Hart Foundation (Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart) and "Dangerous" Danny Davis (w/Jimmy Hart) def. The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) and Tito Santana
"The Natural" Butch Reed (w/Slick) def. "The Birdman" Koko B. Ware
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (w/George "The Animal" Steele) def. "Macho Man" Randy Savage (w/Elizabeth) to win the Intercontinental Championship
The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart) def. Jake "The Snake" Roberts (w/Alice Cooper)
The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (w/Slick) def. The Killer Bees ("Jumpin" Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair) by disqualification
Hulk Hogan def. Andre The Giant (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) to retain the World Championship

Next up: (THE FIRST) Survivor Series

Monday, November 29, 2010


Dear Hulkster,

I'd like to start out by saying I have the utmost respect for you. Any serious wrestling fan should. Your influence in shaping what the industry is today can not be overstated. You were absolutely larger than life for a few years and besides maybe The Rock, no one has even come close to what you did in terms of transcending "sports entertainment" and becoming an all around omnipresent pop culture icon. While I always preferred the Ultimate Warrior in my younger years (what can I say? He was colorful and yelled a lot), somewhere in the back of my mind, I always knew that when you told me to train, say my prayers, and eat my vitamins, I should probably take heed.

But gradually, you faded from the spotlight. That's ok. It happens to everyone. While stories of Vince Mcmahon underpaying his guys in the old days are legendary, I have to believe you did ok for yourself. In addition to the huge paydays for headlining basically every pay per view for about 5 years, your likeness graced EVERYTHING. I'm pretty sure we were one wayward marketing pitch away from having Hulk Hogan condoms at some point. So unless you had the worst lawyer on the face of god's green Earth, you had to have come away from those prime years in the WWF at least FAIRLY comfortable. Right? RIGHT?

Well guess what? It didn't matter. A few years after it looked like you were done being relevant, you reinvented yourself. Around 1996, with WCW, you made everyone's jaw drop by becoming a villian for the first time in close to 15 years. And not only did you become a villian, you became the head villian, leading your group, the NWO, to major storyline success in WCW as well as major real life success against the WWF. Fueled by the ratings at least MOSTLY generated by you, the WCW gained a heavy lead in their head to head battle with Vince, and by some accounts, almost won.

Then the inevitable happened again. The NWO ran out of steam and once again, people lost interest. But something different happened this time. There were signs that you were reluctant to take on more of a part time role and let the younger guys shine. Even though you were 47 years old (no spring chicken, especially in wrestling terms) by the time you exited from WCW, you were starting to exhibit lots of signs that you weren't into being a team player. The NWO was often granted exceedingly large portions of the show to stand and the ring and talk endlessly about nothing in particular, often at the expense of some of the younger, up and coming talent (and WCW had a ton at the time. Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit anyone?)

And guess what Hulkster? I don't think this was all your fault. From the moment you got to WCW, I think everyone in charge inflated your head and constantly reminded you of what you did for Vince and the WWF. Then you managed to ONCE AGAIN carry a company to huge success, although for a much briefer period. So at some point, between those two amazing periods of success, it was probably very easy to start believing your own hype and thinking Hulk Hogan was superhuman and incapable of failure.

So what happened after that? I mean, I don't think it would be overly critical or unfair to say that 1996-1997 in WCW was the last gasp of your "glory days". But like the great, true showman you are, you STILL managed to squeeze out a couple more brief stints in the spotlight. For several years, you and your family had a successful reality show. While purists would argue this isn't necessarily a "good" sort of fame, it was a way to stay in the public eye and keep earning, which is clearly what you've strived for most this past decade. So if this accomplished what you wanted, good for you I guess. Even though it ended up casting a bigger public eye on your son's troubles with the law and your messy divorce.

You also made occasional appearances with the WWE again for several years. The biggest was of course your match against The Rock at Wrestlemania in 2002. And guess what? That's awesome. That's a dream match all us wrestling nerds were dying to see. And it didn't matter who won, because you guys were both already superstars. Good for you, Vince, The Rock and whoever else for recognizing the potential for a huge payday with that one and taking advantage of it. But I think most people would agree that probably should have been it for you in terms of high profile matches. You were almost 50 at the time and not exactly in peak physical shape. At this point you couldn't count all your surgeries on two hands, and your knees were already not well in 2002.

So what then? Well I certainly understand the need to continue earning. Especially when you feel your name/brand are still financially viable. But at some point, you'd think it would be time to take a secondary role. You've done a lot in this business and made a lot of money for a lot of people. Because of that, I'm sure there would have to be a decent office/executive job for you SOMEWHERE. And there would always be the option to make occasional appearances. The WWE does plenty with the group of "legends" they have on the payroll. But they don't put the "legends" in the middle of big storylines. They leave that for the younger/healthier guys (author's note: a recent storyline with Chris Jericho and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat is a rare exception. But it turned out Steamboat was still in tremendous shape and could still do almost all of his moves from the 80s. Hogan, on the other hand, can honestly barely walk at this point).

Instead, you gathered every washed up has been and never was wrestler you could get your hands on and staged the "Hulkamania" tour of Australia. The main event every night? You vs 'The Nature Boy" Ric Flair. What's your combined age? 120? Come on man. Let it go. You meant everything to this business . Now instead of bowing out and maybe becoming involved in a lower profile manner, you head to Australia and wrestle a dude in his 60's? Geez man. That's getting awful close to Randy "The Ram" Robinson territory, don't you think?

Which brings us to the present, and the reason I started this letter in the first place. At the beginning of this year, you signed a deal to be one of the bigwigs at TNA (Total Nonstop Action).
TNA is the second biggest wrestling company in the nation. But let's not kid ourselves here Hulk. It's a DISTANT second. There is a weekly television show, but it draws somewhere between 1-2 thousand people in the live crowd, as opposed to Monday Night Raw, which is regularly upwards of 15. There is a pay per view every month, but the buyrates are a fraction of what WWE does for even the lamest show.

So the powers that be decided to bring in the Hulkster, as well as your WCW partner in crime Eric Bischoff to spruce things up. Done right, this could have worked wonders. A veteran presence like Hulk Hogan mentoring some of the amazing young talent in TNA like The Motor City Machine Guns, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles seems like a can't miss proposition, right?

But man...I don't know when the hints of ego you showed in the 90s turned into a full fledged complex, but they sure as hell did. Your first two orders of business when you got to TNA were as follows:

-Ignored the wealth of young and in some cases homegrown talent and gave jobs to ALL your middle aged (and in some cases even older) friends, regardless of their history of drug addiction and unreliability (Scott Hall and Sean Waltman) or the fact that they literally gained about 200 lbs and look like beached whales (The Nasty Boys). Not surprisingly, almost all of these guys have been let go within a year, but that doesn't seem to stop your overarching need to live in the past.

-Secondly, you started taking personal pot shots at Vince Mcmahon and moved TNA Impact from its longtime home on Sundays to go head to head with Monday Night Raw. How long did that last? a month? There's that ego again. You couldn't just have your job and make TNA the best it possibly can. You have an insane thirst to live up to your glory days and be the best, even if you are in a position/with a company that doesn't really have the means to make that a reality.

Cut to this past October. I was watching Bound For Glory, which TNA markets as its big ticket pay per view event, comparable to Wrestlemania (a laughable comparison, but whatever). Your main event could have been a classic. It was a triple threat match between Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, and Mr Anderson. Jeff Hardy, while not a personal favorite of mine, is probably one of the most popular wrestlers of the past 5 years, and can steal the show on any given night. Mr Anderson, in my opinion, can and should be a world champion. He has interview/mic talents that I think rival the best in the business. As a heel, he reminded me a lot of The Rock. He has charisma to spare and can play the guy you "love to hate" absolutely perfectly. And Kurt Angle's talent can not be overstated. He is getting a little long in the tooth himself, but is still tremendously conditioned, and doubtlessly one of the 5 best active American wrestlers.

But instead of letting these three immensely talented atheletes do their thing, the match ended and Eric Bischoff in the ring for some weird reason. And youultimately....are you ready for this?.....TURNED HEEL. And later you revealed your sinister plan to take over TNA from the inside. Man Hulk...this is sounding awfully familiar. In case you don't see where I'm going with this, let's do a little side by side comparison:

Looks similar no? Just with different supporting players. And that brings me to the overall point of this unexpectedly longwinded letter. It's time to stop, Hulk. I read the episode of Impact after your most recent heel turn did the best ratings in the history of the show. And that's great. But what does that really mean in the long run? I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm 99.9999% certain this record setting TNA audience was a fraction of the viewers you were drawing in the heyday of the NWO. And if that's your high water mark, then what now? I'll tell you what now. People are going to grow tired of you rehashing your glory days. I don't think it takes a crystal ball to see that. You're toxic now Hulk. You took what could have been a fun refreshing alternative to WWE and you're in the midst of sinking it with yours and Bischoff's massive egos. Mark my words. A year from now, give or take a few months, people will tire of seeing your old leathery face constantly on TNA tv and they will change the channel.

I'm no shrink, but to me it seems like you feel that if you're out of the public eye for too long, people will forget all the great things you did all those years ago. For me at least, the opposite is true. The more you embarass yourself in 2010, the less seriously I can take all your great moments from years past. Anyway, that was just my 2 cents. I'm sure there's nothing anyone can do to change your mind about the direction you're taking TNA. And that's a shame.

Take Care Brother,