Lee Maughan: Hosted by Ax & Smash, although things begin with a music video montage set to Rick Derringer’s awesome Demolition entrance theme, and then we ignore Demolition’s debut and first year in the WWF and skip immediately ahead to:
WWF Tag Team Championship
Strike Force (c) vs. Demolition
So Strike Force (Rick Martel & Tito Santana) had been champions since knocking off The Hart Foundation in October of 1987, but even with the titles they just couldn’t shake off the tag of ‘replacements’, having been thrown together as a stand-in for Martel’s previous team, The Can-Am Connection. The Connection had dissolved after Martel’s former partner Tom Zenk quit the WWF (reported in some places to have been over a contract dispute between Zenk and the WWF, though Zenk himself has claimed it was due to what he felt was an insulting payoff for his WrestleMania III match, which caused Zenk and Martel to have a bitter falling out. Zenk was apparently upset that Martel was making more money than him as the senior member of the team despite them splitting the in-ring work evenly. Zenk also felt Martel was a glory hog and would take most of the winning pins for himself, leaving the jobs to Zenk.) So with Strike Force failing to reach the popularity the Can-Am Connection had previously enjoyed, and with Demolition growing increasingly popular, it all comes to a head at WrestleMania IV, the infamous 16-match, 4-hour long card held in front of a packed house of kids, who only really care to see Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Andre the Giant, and their indifferent parents who can’t wait for the whole thing to end so they can go hit the slots. The match itself is solid enough, but the crowd is just absolutely dead for the majority of it, and the acoustics in the building don’t really help. Trump Plaza just sounds so cavernous, and every time someone gets slammed or suplexed, it just thunders throughout the building, only to be met with total apathy. Eventually it all breaks down as Demolition matches invariably do, with their manager Mr. Fuji getting up on the apron causing Santana to go after him while Martel has a Boston crab on Smash. That gives Ax the opportunity to smash Martel from behind with Fuji’s cane and we’ve got new champions. And like a lot of the big matches at WrestleMania IV, the previously uninterested crowd comes alive for the finish, popping big time for the title change.
Final Rating: **
WWF Tag Team Championship
Demolition (c) vs. The Hart Foundation
So we skip ahead a few months again (past a rather keen Demolition-British Bulldogs Saturday Night’s Main Event match, sadly enough) and arrive at SummerSlam ’88 for a tussle with Bret Hart & Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart. The Hart Foundation had turned babyface earlier in the year (an increasingly-popular Bret had been double-crossed by Bad News Brown in a battle royal at WrestleMania IV), which sets up their former manager ‘Mouth of the South’ Jimmy Hart being in Demolition’s corner, after The Foundation had publicly fired him on TV. The match itself feels kind-of truncated for the story they’re trying to tell, based on the amount of time they have (the match goes less than 10 minutes), as Demolition first get false heat on Neidhart before he gets the lukewarm tag to Bret, then Demolition instead get the real heat on Bret after he goes crashing shoulder-first into the steel ring post that Fuji has hung his cane over (a fate which coincidentally befell Bret’s brother Owen during a New Foundation vs. Orient Express match at the 1992 Royal Rumble.) Further to that, Bret gets a false tag to Neidhart that the referee doesn’t see, but then almost immediately gets the real hot tag anyway after catching a charging Smash in the corner with a knee to the face. Those are the sort of spots that almost never fail in longer matches, but they just don’t have enough time to do that kind of match here. Part of me was left wishing they’d had 20 minutes to really build something great, but at the same time, the heat segment on Bret wound up being so pedestrian I was almost wishing it hadn’t gone on quite so long. Things do eventually pick up once Neidhart gets back in, the high point probably being Neidhart’s insane slingshot over the top to the floor on Smash, which is just completely nuts. Then comes something of a repeat performance of the last match, as Fuji gets up on the ring apron causing Neidhart and the referee to go deal with him, leaving Bret exposed on a piledriver attempt. Ax clocks him from behind with Jimmy’s megaphone, giving Smash the pin to retain the titles. Overall it wasn’t such a bad match, but the heat segment really brought it down, and ultimately, it wasn’t a patch on the Demolition-Hart Foundation 2/3 falls thriller from SummerSlam ’90.
Final Rating: **¼
The Powers of Pain, The British Bulldogs, The Rockers, The Hart Foundation & The Young Stallions vs. Demolition, The Conquistadors, The Brain Busters, The Bolsheviks & The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers
Another three months go by during which apparently nothing of note happens, and we pick back up at the second annual Survivor Series, joining-in-progress a 20-man elimination tag team bout, sadly already down to what is essentially just an eight-man tag with The Powers of Pain & The British Bulldogs against Demolition & Los Conquistadors. And that’s a huge shame in many ways as the near 45-minute, unclipped match is one of my all-time favourites, though to be fair, it’s only really the finish here that’s of any consequence to the Demolition story. With that being said, I’m not sure why they chose to join the action quite so early (I’m never happy, am I?) as the footage begins right at the point where most of the best workers have already been eliminated from the match, with the pace dropping considerably. On top of that, they’ve kept a large portion of the Bulldogs’ work intact, despite them having left the WWF by the time this tape came out.
For those wondering why the Bulldogs were booked to go almost 40 minutes and enter such a strong performance on their last night in the promotion, that was all down to an incident where ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig had framed the Rougeaus in a backstage prank after cutting up The Bulldog’s clothes. Dynamite Kid, believing Hennig’s story, had suckerpunched Jacques Rougeau from behind and in order to save face, the usually non-confrontational Jacques had taken his revenge a few nights later by punching Dynamite in the mouth with a roll of quarters backstage at a television taping in Fort Wayne, Indiana, knocking four of his teeth out. Jacques later agreed to pay for Dynamite’s dental work but Dynamite continued to harbour a grudge against him after the incident. A couple of weeks later during a European tour, the Bulldogs quit the WWF in order to return to Japan where they would split their time between All Japan Pro Wrestling and their old Canadian stomping grounds of Stampede Wrestling. This led to an uneasy feeling that Dynamite would take his revenge on Jacques backstage at Survivor Series, the Bulldogs’ final night in the company, meaning Dynamite would be able to strike without any repercussions. In order to facilitate an incident-free environment, the WWF booked the Rougeaus to be eliminated from the match after just five minutes whilst keeping the Bulldogs in the thick of the action for a further half-hour, allowing the Rougeaus to get a head start on leaving the building and heading straight to the next town.
Back to the match then, and of course, this being the Survivor Series, Dynamite gets eliminated with a simple clothesline by Smash. Have you ever noticed that before? How the simplest of moves that would never beat anyone in a million years could suddenly cause guys to get pinned left, right and centre during elimination matches? Watching out for who would unexpectedly job to whatever mundane move they got hit with, was like a Thanksgiving tradition all of its own. So that leads to the big finish as Fuji gets up on the apron (what a surprise) and starts barking orders at Smash, even though Smash has the match firmly in hand. And then after being ignored a second time, Fuji pulls the ropes open, causing Smash to spill to the outside where he gets counted out. Ax is understandably furious so Fuji whacks him in the back with his cane for good measure, but then gets bodyslammed on the floor by Ax as a receipt, cementing (at least in theory) Demolition’s babyface turn. Then in a further plot twist, the Powers of Pain come to Fuji’s aid, signalling the second part of the double-turn, although the live crowd doesn’t seem to grasp that, even when Fuji starts interfering freely on their behalf. The Barbarian polishes off one of the Conquistadors with a diving headbutt to win the match, drawing a big babyface reaction even when they raise Fuji on their shoulders, bringing out Demolition once more who beat the shit out of the Powers to pretty significant heel heat, oddly enough. The angle itself is pretty sound in theory but the crowd just reacted to it in completely the wrong manner, which was kind of surprising since Demolition had for months being getting huge babyface reactions everywhere they went, despite being full-on heels, and on the one night the WWF actually wanted the crowd to play along, they didn’t. Anyway, the full 45-minute match is an absolute classic for the ages, featuring a ton of incredible talent, well worth going out of your way to see. There’s a more in-depth review of the full match by Arnold Furious, but in truncated form it’s pretty tough to rate. I’d possibly say what’s left of the in-ring stuff is pretty average overall, and then that comes coupled with a good angle that was hurt by a crowd unsure of how to react to it. It is like reviewing a film based on the third act alone. The entire match is more like ****½, if not better, so definitely seek it out elsewhere.
Final Rating: **½
WWF Tag Team Championship
Demolition (c) vs. The Bolsheviks
Oh, come on. They finally show an exclusive, never-before-seen-on-TV match and it’s got the smegging Bolsheviks in it. What a kick in the nuts that is. Some fan obnoxiously parps an air-horn during Nikolai Volkoff’s rendition of the Soviet national anthem, but given the WWF was clearly courting xenophobia with The Bolsheviks anyway, can you really blame them? Interestingly enough, this is from a Wrestling Challenge taping about a full month before Demolition had even turned babyface, so ring announcer Mike McGuirk announces Fuji as Demolition’s manager, but he’s not there. And as if to confirm my previous assertion that Demolition were drawing a big babyface reaction even as heels, here’s the proof. Yeah, they’re against a heel team that nobody ever would have cheered for, but the point still remains, Demolition was super popular with the crowd. So with that slightly skewered dynamic, this wound up basically just being an extended squash, as Demolition just wouldn’t sell anything and the Bolsheviks weren’t able to get the heat for any protracted period. It didn’t really matter though as the crowd never seemed to lose much interest, and as if to make clear that Demolition were indeed the babyfaces here, Smash at one point screamed “Take that, you stinking commies!” which is pretty funny when you consider Smash’s own communist allegiances as Krusher Krushev in the NWA. And that was that, Demolition basically just destroyed them the whole way then Ax pinned Boris Zhukov after the Demolition Decapitation. Not much to it but still mildly interesting for the odd heel-face allegiances and Demolition’s apparent unwillingness to show any weakness.
Final Rating: *¼
Demolition vs. Greg Valentine & The Honky Tonk Man
This match aired on Wrestling Challenge but it actually comes from a combined Saturday Night’s Main Event TV taping, as evidenced by all the SNME banners still hanging from the ceiling. More on that later. So this is from the period where Valentine & Honky Tonk would occasionally team up as members of Jimmy Hart’s stable, but before Valentine dyed his hair jet black and they got together full time as Rhythm & Blues, and this the only match on the tape that’s announced as non-title. It’s interesting having watched the last match how Demolition as babyfaces just seem to refuse to let anyone get any heat on them for any decent length of time, but then again, perhaps they just figured the reason they started to get cheered in the first place was because they were no-nonsense, ass-kickers and just decided if it wasn’t broken, not to fix it. That’s actually something you see quite a lot when a heel switches babyface then suddenly their entire demeanour changes. When you switch from uncompromising bad-ass to smiling, happy-go-lucky hero in one fell swoop with no gradual change and start acting like a total pussy, it’s always really noticeable and generally isn’t why the fans were cheering you to begin with. Just look at John Cena, he was a heel who got cheered because he was a cool, street-smart wise-ass, so WWE turned him babyface, but instead of retaining that character, he suddenly became an annoying, pandering suck-up and the majority of the adults in the audience completely resented him for it. So perhaps Demolition not letting anyone look strong enough to get any heat on them kind of hurt their matches in one sense, but at least they never swayed away from the philosophy that forced them to turn face in the first place. So with Valentine & Honky unable to get any sort of lasting upper-hand, referee Earl Hebner gets bumped, which brings out Valentine’s nemesis ‘Rugged’ Ronnie Garvin. The pair had been feuding after a TV match in which Garvin had pinned Valentine, with Valentine offering to put his career on the line for a rematch. Garvin accepted for the following week, putting his own career on the line at Valentine’s insistence, but lost the match, leading to a second career as a WWF referee, hence his appearance here. He spots Honky Tonk Man hitting Ax with Hart’s megaphone, so calls for the DQ and awards the decision to Demolition. And there’s your shitty, cheap finish for the tape.
Final Rating: *
WWF Tag Team Championship
Demolition (c) vs. The Brain Busters
Notice anything about the taping dates of the last match and this match? They do indeed come from the same television taping, although this match aired just under a fortnight later than the Valentine/Honky Tonk Man match, and incidentally comes from the same Saturday Night’s Main Event episode that included the famous Hulk Hogan-Big Bossman cage match. The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) weren’t entirely dissimilar to the feeling I got from Terry Funk during his first WWF run, in so much as they could look comically inept at times (as they do here when getting completely out-powered by Demolition), yet they never lose that air of feeling like a genuine threat to the titles. Unlike, say, the Nasty Boys, who character-wise were basically just brainless buffoons who happened to be tough enough (and dumb enough) to somehow find the titles around their waists, the Busters were wrestlers. They were manipulators with genuine mat skills. And best of all, they knew how to cheat. Like Vince McMahon himself once told them, the Brain Busters brought credibility to the World Wrestling Federation, but despite that, yet again Demolition don’t really feel like letting the Busters get much heat on them, although to be fair, Arn & Tully are much more entertaining to watch having the shit kicked out of them than the Bolsheviks or Greg Valentine were. And then Anderson uses brain over brawn, sneaking in from behind to kick Smash in the back of the knee, allowing them to finally get some real heat on Demolition, which includes Blanchard’s always-hilarious camp strut across the ring when he tags back out. Of course, Demolition don’t allow the Busters dominance to last too long and soon enough, a full scale brawl breaks out and Ax just loses it, Biel-tossing referee Joey Marella into the corner for the lame disqualification to abruptly end what was by far the best match on the tape. Not to worry, the Busters would get the belts in a rematch a couple of months later.
Final Rating: ***¼
WWF Tag Team Championship
Demolition (c) vs. Mr. Fuji & The Powers of Pain
And we end where we began, back at Trump Plaza with another dead crowd, for a show, which if you’ve ever seen uncut (and not just the clipped up Coliseum Video version) you’ll know felt like even more of an eternity than WrestleMania IV did. This of course is the blow-off for the Survivor Series double turn, with Demolition allowing a 3-on-2 advantage in favour of the Powers, just for the chance to get their hands on Fuji. Fuji naturally only gets in when Ax or Smash are in trouble, and then immediately tags back out since given his comparatively diminutive stature, he’s entirely out of his depth. Demolition as babyfaces was a tough sell in some ways because few teams could really match them for size (and generally in pro wrestling it’s easier to generate heat if you’ve got a bigger guy beating up a smaller opponent), which meant the only guys who could really match up with them size-wise were slugs like Nikolai Volkoff and the Powers of Pain. That being said, Gorilla Monsoon (here on play-by-play) keeps talking up Fuji as the weak link, not because of any size difference, but because he’s been retired for so long. In reality, he only quit full-time wrestling in 1985, but continued to make occasional in-ring appearances after that, and was a former five-time WWWF/WWF tag team champion with Toru Tanaka and Mr. Saito, so he’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to having a manager for a partner. Then again, he was pretty inept when it came to managing, having already traded in the tag team champions for the lesser experienced Warlord & Barbarian, and he exemplifies that here by accidentally throwing salt into Warlord’s eyes, and with the Barbarian already down, that leaves Fuji stranded in no-man’s land and he eats Demolition Decapitation to put the exclamation point on Demolition’s one-year anniversary as tag team champions. Match was mostly just four big guys clubbing away at each other to no heat, and Fuji occasionally sneaking in and out.
Final Rating: *½
Summary: Not entirely dissimilar to Hulkamania 3, the folks who put this tape together pretty much just picked a set time frame and gave you all the major moments from it. But unlike Hulkamania 3, Demolition lacks in terms of big time moments and flowing story arcs. Yes, the first title win is there. Yes, the famous Survivor Series double turn is there. Yes, it’s all neatly packaged up in (almost) chronological order. But it just felt like something was lacking, and really, 90 minutes of a team as limited as Demolition was probably a bit much. A cool, smash-mouth brawling combo, Ax & Smash were never really about exciting technical wrestling or classic matches, which was all part of their charm and why people loved them to begin with. But watching this all back-to-back, you’d have to admit they were a lot more appealing as simply a piece of the WWF’s overall package rather than as an entity in their own right. On top of that, literally 60 minutes of the tape are culled from pay-per-view matches available on other tapes, so if you’re any kind of serious collector, you’ve probably already seen two thirds of this anyway. The Brain Busters match is a keeper, the rest I can only really recommend if Demolition was your favourite team in the late 80s.