#WWE57016 – The Rise + Fall Of ECW

 

Arnold Furious: When ECW came barging into the public conscience in the mid 90s they did so with the full backing of die-hard wrestling fans. The WWF and WCW had, for a long time, been incredibly complacent about their roles as the top dogs in American wrestling, and the idea that an upstart Philadelphia regional promotion could make inroads into either promotions’ fan base was frankly laughable. But ECW captured the spirit of the time in a way that neither of the big two could. They took grunge music and angry disenchanted youth and put that in the ring. It was anti-establishment, it was in-your-face, and it broke all the rules. When ECW was really popular I was an angry young man, and it spoke to me. As soon as I learned about a bigger world of professional wrestling, thanks to the growth of the internet wrestling community, the first promotion I really got into was ECW. Soon I was picking up tapes from overseas and lending them to my friends, and pretty soon everyone I knew was an ECW fan. I strongly recall a conversation from the pub, circa 1997, where a guy with next to no interest in wrestling had been converted by New Jack, Rob Van Dam and Sabu. “If only all wrestling was like this.” If you weren’t there it’s hard to describe how important ECW was. Not only as a promotion to watch and enjoy, but also because they took two relatively lazy big companies and kicked them square in the ass. Vince McMahon was forced to change his entire business structure because a little group from Philly was getting chants on his PPVs. This is their story.

 

Eastern Championship Wrestling
We start our story with Paul Heyman. Not because he was the beginning of ECW, but because before Paul Heyman ECW was just another local Indie NWA affiliate, ran by Todd Gordon and booked by Eddie Gilbert. Eddie was a talented wrestler with a good mind for the business, but he was constantly falling out with people. As a result he seemed to keep missing out on his big break. He was in the WWF just before Hulkamania, he was in WCW but left before breaking the upper card, and he was constantly at the centre of pay disputes and conflicts with management. Eddie had a connection with Heyman as he’d worked with Paul in WCW, and Heyman had been Gilbert’s assistant when Eddie booked for Continental. Gilbert’s story had a tragic ending when he died of a heart attack in 1995. He was only 33.

Heyman’s genius came in hiding weaknesses and amplifying strengths. His first attempt to get traction was with Public Enemy, two rough and ready singles guys who he paired up and made into the most popular tag team in the company.  Heyman quickly established Sabu as his top singles star due his scars and “total disrespect for his own wellbeing”. Sabu was innovative, violent and looked legitimately nuts. It was something different to put a man like that on top of the card. Heyman puts over Terry Funk for making ECW’s stars legitimate, because without Terry they were just a bunch of renegades. Funk had the history and the stature of a big star and none of the ego that went with that normally. The Night the Line Was Crossed is the first show to get mentioned, where ECW champion Terry Funk wrestled Sabu and former WCW talent Shane Douglas to a sixty-minute time-limit draw. They called it the return of wrestling. It was the first really good match in the company. “I pretty much told them to go fuck themselves,” offers Paul Heyman on WCW. “He hated WCW and everything they stood for” adds Tommy Dreamer.

Dreamer himself debuted as a rookie in ECW with suspenders and a jock gimmick. The crowd hated him… until a Singapore Cane match angle where The Sandman beat Dreamer and then caned him. It was brutal, and Tommy getting in Sandman’s face saying, “Is that all you got?” with blood pouring down his back was the point where Dreamer was accepted by the hardcore fans. Heyman talks about an angle where Dreamer blinded Sandman and the locker room joined forces to get hot about it, heels and faces together, breaking open the locker room on camera. It had never been done before. Sandman was going to retire, but it was all a swerve. The storytelling was so strong in early ECW. “Some people were offended… but everybody was talking” – Dreamer. ECW had a load of great storylines going with just about everyone including Mikey Whipwreck, who wasn’t even properly trained, but he had terrific sympathy. “We never gave him an offensive manoeuvre” – Heyman.

 

Extreme Championship Wrestling
ECW was chosen to host a tournament for the NWA Title, which had been vacant since WCW left the NWA in 1993. The chosen champion was the ECW Champion, Shane Douglas. Only Shane had a little surprise lined up for the NWA. He threw the belt down, renounced the NWA Title and declared himself to be the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. The NWA lineage legitimised the ECW promotion and the controversy put them in the spotlight. Poor Dennis Corraluzzo, NWA honcho at the time, found himself a patsy in ECW’s angle to get themselves over. He was convinced by Heyman to appear on ECW TV as part of the angle, only for the NWA to then get a hammering.

Heyman puts over Philadelphia as being the only place that ECW could have been born in due to the fan base in the city and the kind of wrestling they loved. During the mid 90s when Eddie Guerrero, Scorpio, Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko were wrestling there, the company started putting on some genuinely great wrestling matches. Heyman talks about extenuating the positives; the action and the excitement. Why be second best at pyro or production? ECW was the best at crowd interaction and going public on mistakes. They put over the fans, like Hat Guy, as they turned up to every show and even sat in the same seats. You could get away with so much more stuff with that crowd; like throwing Spike Dudley into the front row. The fans even brought their own weapons!

Paul Heyman stops off to put over Raven and what a phenomenal talent he was, as he could do anything that Heyman could imagine and it drove him creatively. The Raven-Dreamer feud was a classic, as they’d known each other since they were twelve and the back story was priceless. Tommy spent three years trying to beat Raven and couldn’t. Another killer feud was Taz vs. Sabu. They’d been tag team partners but they hated each other. Sabu walked out on ECW to take a Japanese booking so Paul fired him in the ring. The feud was in trouble as Sabu wasn’t there, then Taz broke his neck and missed nine months, but it remained simmering away on the backburner and years later was the main selling point for the first ECW PPV; Barely Legal.

 

Talent Raids
WCW cleared out Benoit, Guerrero, and Malenko one after another with the promise of guaranteed contracts and national exposure on Nitro. Eric Bischoff gets to talk on the subject and calls it a double standard that Vince McMahon did the same thing in the 80s and doesn’t get called on it. “Eric Bischoff is full of shit” – Heyman. He goes on to point out all the other talent Bischoff stole, especially those he took to pad out his cruiserweight division. Vince gets a little defensive about the situation and points out that Heyman ended up on WWE’s payroll because they didn’t want to take and take, and run ECW out of business (although it’s not mentioned here, Paul was only on WWE’s payroll because of an agreement over Scorpio joining the WWF in 1996 that resulted in ECW losing sponsorship revenue). The luchadores came into ECW after the initial WCW talent raids, with Psicosis, Rey Misterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera and others given their first big North American matches in ECW and blowing people away.

With WCW stealing ECW talent, ECW thought turnabout was fair play and hired former WCW wrestler Steve Austin. Steve was angry about being fired and Heyman just called and asked him to talk about it on TV. The “Steve-a-Mania” and “Monday Nyquil” promos he did were solid gold. Nobody in WCW knew Austin could talk. Heyman wanted to put the belt on Austin but Steve turned it down, knowing he could tell a better story without winning. Heyman goes on to put over Mick Foley’s anti-hardcore promos from 1995, which he considers the best wrestling promos ever recorded. Foley’s ideas, concepts, and approach to promos were genius. Foley had originally been part of a talent swap with WCW but ended up in ECW full time when he walked out on Atlanta over creative differences.

 

Hotter and Hotter
While Taz was off injured he completely changed his persona from “rabid” Tazmaniac to an MMA-style fighter, giving his matches a “big match” atmosphere. While that was happening Raven stole the Sandman’s family, turning Sandman’s son against him. It was brilliant booking. Naturally Raven went too far with it, although as a heel you can never go too far. With the company catching fire everything seemed to work, even the Blue World Order, a mockery of the nWo angle. The never-ending Raven-Dreamer angle continued during this era too where Beulah, Raven’s girlfriend, got pregnant by Tommy and they went from there to a lesbian angle with Kimona. “I’ll take ‘em both, I’m hardcore!” – Dreamer. Heyman’s run-on booking was marvellous from 1995-1997, on a par with any great run-on booking in wrestling history. It’s part of the reason why he has such a stellar reputation as a booker.

King of the Ring 1995 was Vince’s wake-up call when the entire WWF audience started to chant “E-C-Dub” during the event, hating what McMahon was presenting. By the time he ran Philly again in 1996 with In Your House Mind Games, the WWF embraced ECW’s individuality and let them get involved in the show. Taz tells a funny story about the ECW boys hanging out together outside because they didn’t know if the WWF wrestlers would jump them.

 

PPV and Controversy
Raven crossed the line by crucifying the Sandman in an angle, and Paul Heyman ordered him back out to apologise for the blasphemy. Kurt Angle was in attendance at that show as a guest and he was so offended that he walked out and refused to work for ECW. Raven didn’t feel like he should have apologised because he was just getting heat. Oddly enough the WWF didn’t catch anywhere near the same amount of heat for The Undertaker doing the same thing to Steve Austin, though that’s like because he did it on his ‘Taker symbol rather than on a cross, and there was no crown of barbed wire either.

Heyman needed new talent and he needed more revenue, so pay-per-view was the holy ground, because being successful in that market meant ECW would get the kind of income needed in order to compete with the multi-million dollar companies. It was the fans who got them on TV and got them on PPV, by writing and emailing the TV stations and PPV providers. The dream of PPV almost died when New Jack slashed open the forehead of untrained youngster Mass Transit (Eric Kulas) with a knife during a live event. The kid had lied about his age, claiming to be twenty-three-years-old, but he was actually underage. The footage isn’t on the DVD, with good reason, and the PPV was cancelled. The Mass Transit Incident could have wrecked any hope ECW had of securing a PPV, but Paul begged and pleaded until he got back on in April 1997. The whole situation wouldn’t have happened if Axl Rotten had showed up for his spot, as Kulas was a last minute fill-in.

Kulas is yet another of wrestling’s tragic tales. After being wounded by New Jack he went on a three year legal campaign to try and get cash from ECW and New Jack himself. When presented with the full evidence from the situation, the jury acquitted the wrestler of any wrongdoing, putting the blame squarely at Kulas’ feet for lying about his age and level of training. Kulas passed away in 2002 after gastric bypass surgery. He was only twenty-two, never even making it to the age he’d professed to be in order to become a professional wrestler.

In order to sell the PPV the ECW guys appeared on WWF RAW at Vince McMahon’s invitation. The ECW RAW was one of the most memorable and exhilarating TV shows the WWF had put on to that point, and the difference between the ECW talent and their effort and ambition compared to the WWF’s talent was staggering. That RAW was the defining point for me, where I went from being interested in the concept of ECW to a full-blown fan. It helped that the WWF sucked at the time. Jerry Lawler once again bad-mouths ECW and how poor he thought it was. He wasn’t just playing a heel during that run, he really didn’t like ECW.

Barely Legal was ECW’s first PPV and it was a home run. There’s a wonderful Paul Heyman promo from backstage on Wrestling With Shadows where he addressed the locker room, which presumably WWE don’t have the rights to as it doesn’t air. The PPV’s big surprise was Rob Van Dam, who decided to cut a promo after his win over Lance Storm. It’s one of the best promos of his entire career, which shows the benefit of a) being angry and b) improvising. Taz vs. Sabu was the match that the PPV was built around, with them finally meeting for the first time after having feuded for years beforehand. When you build a match for that long and you have a clean finish, you’re onto a winner. The show also had a triple threat number one contender’s match pitting Terry Funk against Stevie Richards and The Sandman in a three way dance, and Terry Funk taking down Raven for the ECW Title to end the show on a feel-good high. The pinfall went down a matter of seconds before the transformer in the arena blew up and took them off the air. It was a case of great timing and better luck.

Not mentioned here are the show stealing efforts of the Michinoku Pro wrestlers involved in a six-man tag (including Taka Michinoku and The Great Sasuke). The match is one of the reasons why Barely Legal is held in such high regard, and it was such a state-of-the-art piece of grappling that it got me interested in checking out other smaller Japanese promotions. I’d already been turned on to the Japanese death matches, All Japan, and the New Japan juniors, but this was yet another style of Japanese wrestling; lucharesu, which you couldn’t see anywhere else. It was smart of Heyman to include it on the card as it made the show stand out. The WWF evidently agreed, and booked Sasuke against Michinoku in a singles bout at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, then hired Michinoku’s Barely Legal tag partners Men’s Teioh and Dick Togo in 1998.

Despite ECW running strong, Raven departed for WCW and on his way out put over Tommy Dreamer, finally, thus ending their years long feud and giving fans another long-awaited pay-off. With WCW repeatedly knocking at ECW’s door and waving cash under the noses of their top stars (the likes of Perry Saturn, Louis Spicolli, Stevie Richards and others soon followed Raven to Atlanta, and all of the Mexican luchadores had already been snapped up by ATM Eric in 1996), the WWF stepped in and bailed the group out by sending over Jerry Lawler (and Jim Cornette) to feud with Dreamer. As far as feuds go it felt real, which is why the crowd responded so hard to it.

 

The Mole
The company became increasingly paranoid, and Paul Heyman suggested that Todd Gordon was helping people get moves to WCW. His plan was to do an ECW invasion of WCW, with WCW taking talent like they had done with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash from the WWF. Gordon was given the heave-ho and replaced as ECW head by Heyman. Bill Alfonso had been part of those talks to take people to WCW, and was almost fired too until he saved his job with a bloody and brutal match against Beulah, of all people. It was the story that made the match and they beat the crap out of each other.

Tangent: Interestingly, this was the first ECW match that Vince McMahon ever watched. With the WWF working closely with the company, Jim Cornette questioned whether his boss had even seen the product he was so happy to jump into bed with. Vince hadn’t, because he didn’t (and doesn’t) watch wrestling that wasn’t WWF, so Cornette showed him this match. He was somewhat taken aback to say the least. It is probably no coincidence that the WWF/ECW working relationship became less prominent after that.

We learn that the boys were all part of the running of ECW, with Bubba Ray Dudley doing a lot of the day to day dealing with arenas, Tommy Dreamer running TV shows, Taz in charge of designing, handling, and shipping merchandise, as well as designing logos, and the ECW “Hardcore Hotline” manned by Stevie Richards (under the phoney name of Lloyd Van Buren). Almost all of the boys had an (additional unpaid) office job as well as being a wrestler. It was a group effort.

 

Drinking the Kool Aid
“Paul E was to me, the David Koresh of pro-wrestling.” – Bubba. Heyman was such an inspirational figure that he brainwashed wrestlers to perform and made ECW a must-see promotion. Anything that started to catch on, like Al Snow talking to Head, was built into the promotion of the shows. So Heyman bought hundreds of Styrofoam heads and handed them out, creating this rave-like atmosphere at the live shows, making them more appealing for people to actually go to. Originally they’d gone after this market by smashing tables and bleeding everywhere and that “New Jack market” continued throughout ECW’s history, but they found other ways to attract fans.

Going into 1998 they started running four shows a week, but Eric Bischoff shoots down the possibility that ECW could have ever become the #2 promotion in America. Although, WCW in 2000 was so completely worthless that ECW, also at its lowest ebb, was a more important promotion. But then they both went out of business, so it’s a moot point. Mick Foley, among others, attributes ECW for the existence of the WWF Attitude Era. 1998 saw the beginning of ECW’s creative decline but the audience was still red hot and the matches weren’t bad either. The entire of 1998 was about Taz going after the ECW Title to the point where he got sick of Shane Douglas ducking him and created the Fuck The World (FTW) Title.

Another act that thrived in 1998 were The Dudleys, who were drawing insane levels of heat and getting into genuine fights with the ECW fans. That and they started doing flaming tables. “We probably went too far every single night” – Bubba. He cites the Dayton PPV show, Heatwave ’98, as when they crossed the line with a, “We got a mom in the front row who taught her daughter how to suck dick,” gag.

 

The Decline
During 1998 and 1999 both the WWF and WCW became so cash rich with the wrestling boom that every ECW talent found themselves as potential hires for the big two. Bam Bam Bigelow walked out and went to WCW, and all the regular guys found themselves questioning their positions. Cheques started bouncing as Paul’s cash flow problems got worse. Lance Storm made a point of telling Paul Heyman that he couldn’t take any more bounced cheques, and had his cheques Fed-Exed to his house after two failures on Heyman’s part. Tommy Dreamer went six months without a regular pay day. “Our greatest asset was also our greatest detriment and that was Paul,” – Dreamer.

Paul tried to take on too much and wasn’t sleeping. He got burned out and there was no one to replace him. He ended up focusing on TV deals and the product suffered, in terms of storylines. ECW got on to TNN but soon discovered their TV deal was a curse. Vince McMahon points out that being on TV means you can’t just cater to one demographic as it wouldn’t have crossover appeal. As soon as they got on TV the WWF came in for the Dudleys, and then Taz right afterward. Taz left, or so he says, because the challenge had gone and he felt there was nowhere else to go in ECW. The Dudleys weren’t owed any money, but Heyman felt he couldn’t compete with a WWF offer and just told them to take it. The Dudleys wanted a one dollar raise and Heyman told them the same thing; he couldn’t compete with the WWF. Heyman tried a few booking swerves with the departures and the Dudleys won the tag titles on their last night in the company, only for Raven to walk out on WCW and re-debut in ECW to tag with Tommy Dreamer and win the belts. The return of Raven still gives me chills.

ECW quickly soured on TNN as the network constantly requested changes to the point where Heyman virtually sabotaged his own deal. The solution was Cyrus, the network representative played by former WWF manager The Jackyl (Don Callis), who acted as an onscreen censor and a way to get around the problems TNN created. Heyman is particularly salty about the lack of support from TNN and the production values the network wanted. Heyman cut a promo at the start of one show where he begged TNN to throw him off the air. “We’re dead and we can’t get out of the line of fire.” – Heyman.

ECW’s one saving grace during this period was Rob Van Dam, who had remained loyal to ECW despite his character being a guy who wanted to go to the WWF or WCW. As TV Champion he was the company’s top babyface… until he broke his leg, one month short of a two-year run as champ. Another swerve in the booking came when ECW Champion Mike Awesome defected to WCW with the belt, making him the most hated man in Philadelphia. The WWF came to the rescue by sending Taz back to ECW to beat WCW contracted wrestler Awesome for the ECW Title. It was a landmark moment. Taz was so hot at the time, but what did the WWF do with him? Jobbed him to Triple H on free TV. “I can’t tell you what my frame of mind was at that time” – Vince McMahon, in a round-about way admitting that he made a mistake.

 

The Demise
Bischoff blames ECW’s demise on them refusing to change when faced with TV stations, advertisers and special interest groups. Vince McMahon offers a similar opinion. Paul Heyman was in big financial trouble as he needed TV to support his business model and knew he was getting kicked off TNN, but until TNN officially declared their agreement to be over he couldn’t negotiate with anyone else. In the last few months the boys were left with a choice; stay and probably not get paid or find work elsewhere. Almost everyone stayed, out of loyalty to Heyman and the promotion. To the wrestlers the problems made no sense as the promotion was drawing full houses every night and doing great business. Within a month of ECW closing WCW closed and there were a mass of unemployed wrestlers with nowhere to go. Heyman claims if they’d got another TV show before WCW closed they’d still be in business. With the company dead Paul Heyman signed for the WWF and debuted as colour commentator in March 2001, replacing the departing Jerry Lawler. Various wrestlers close out the documentary by talking about the fans still chanting “ECW”, and how the legend of the promotion has persevered.

 

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#WWE59069 – Cheating Death, Stealing Life – The Eddie Guerrero Story

 

Arnold Furious: During the course of these books I’ve made it abundantly clear what a massive Eddie Guerrero mark I was and still am. He’s one of those rare wrestlers with everything in his locker. Eddie could talk, he could get over dumb angles, he could wrestle just about every style imaginable, and he was an iconic figure for a generation of wrestling fans. I’m pleased that Eddie had the chance to become World Champion and get the respect he deserved while he was still alive to enjoy the adulation. This DVD charts Eddie’s career and life, both of which are intriguing.

 

The DVD starts out with some details of Eddie’s youth and the wrestling family he came from. The best part, for me, is Eddie dropping the accent he does on TV and talking normally about how quiet he is. Some people can switch their personalities on and off. It’s a gift. Eddie also has a great fondness for his hometown of El Paso and the family business. I love one story about Eddie and his nephew Chavo Guerrero wrestling during the intermissions of his Dad’s shows when they were just kids. It makes the Los Guerreros segments feel even more warming.

 

The actual documentary is a bit patchy, in terms of content as it skips from wrestling to low-riders to Hispanic culture to Eddie meeting his wife Vickie. He married Vickie in 1990, before he’d really broken into the business (he’d been a pro for about three years). We skip ahead to wrestling in Japan, working with Chris Benoit and his series in ECW with Dean Malenko in 1995. We skip ahead even further to the classic match pitting Eddie against Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc ’97 in WCW. When Eddie first got into WCW everything was going good, but soon the thrill had gone and he turned to alcohol and drugs.

 

We fast forward to 1999 where Eddie went driving after taking sleeping pills. He crashed his car while travelling at 130mph and everyone thought he was going to die. When he pulled through the doctors told him he’d never wrestle again, and that he might not even be able to walk after breaking his hip. Eddie was back in the ring only six months later and found himself addicted to pain pills. He overdosed and nearly died, again. A few months later, at his parents house for Christmas, he overdosed again. Eddie had nearly died three times in a year.

 

From there we skip ahead to Eddie jumping to WWE with The Radicalz. Eddie really got his personality over in the WWE doing the Latino Heat gimmick and everyone in the family loved it. The best part of the documentary is a revelation that Dean Malenko brings to the viewers; that he and Benoit had gone to Jim Ross’ WWE office and warned them that Eddie was a ticking time bomb. Guerrero had been sent to rehab, before being released after picking up a DUI. They tell Eddie about this on the DVD and tears start pouring down his face. It was the final straw that got Eddie back from the brink.

 

2002: Eddie had no job, no money, and lost his family, but he was clean and alive. WWE re-hired him and Vickie took him back. Vince McMahon’s whole, “I believe in second chances,” speech is beautiful. Having his presence as a talking head adds so much. After being re-hired Eddie got paired up with Chavo as Los Guerreros and the whole “lie, cheat and steal” gimmick. From there we get talk of the frog splash and how Eddie borrowed it from his former tag partner Art Barr. After that we skip go to Eddie’s World Title win over Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004. The victory was his official redemption; the opportunity to carry a World Title. It’s one of my happiest memories as a wrestling fan. That’s how we round out the documentary.

 

As far as documentaries go, it’s fairly well structured but they were way too many little bits and pieces that didn’t fit into the story. WWE tried desperately to cram everything in there. The core of the storyline; Eddie’s drink and drug problems, overcoming them, and his home life are well worth seeing though. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. A shame the DVD skips over so much of the wrestling. I’m glad they mentioned the Dean Malenko series in ECW, and NJPW is covered briefly too, but there’s not a lot of footage. Luckily there are extras detailing a lot of the matches.

 

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#WWE56553 – Hard Knocks – The Chris Benoit Story

 

Arnold Furious: Before Chris Benoit was better known as a murderer, he was considered one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. The Wrestling Observer end of year awards listed him as “Best Technical Wrestler” five times and “Most Outstanding Wrestler” twice before he entered the Observer Hall of Fame in 2003. Due to the nature of Benoit’s demise the Observer issued a special recall ballot where 53% of the voters chose to oust him from the Hall of Fame (albeit short of the 60% required to get rid of him). This is the problem with Benoit’s legacy. He was hoping to become a legend, he’d already laid all the groundwork (Japan, ECW, under-pushed/underrated in WCW, WWE superstar and both World Champion and WrestleMania headliner), but felt he needed a string of World Titles, rather than just one in WWE. Hard Knocks came about after that first World Title win in 2004, so it’s set at the perfect time for the story to end. There are no disappointing drops down the card, no underwhelming trades to the already half-way doomed ECW brand, and no murder-suicides to conclude the story. Hard Knocks is how everything should have ended, in an ideal world. It’s a story of battling to overcome adversity, working hard to achieve your goals and being the best.

 

Tangent: I always thought the title was a mistake. After all WWE had already named a tape Hard Knocks and Cheap Pops for Mick Foley in 2000. This is one of the issues with Benoit having no catchphrases. The only other option was “Toothless Aggression”. Or perhaps just “The Crippler”. Maybe that wasn’t upbeat enough for the marketing guys.

 

The documentary part of the DVD is eighty minutes long, which is enough time to cover Benoit’s entire career and life away from the ring. Benoit’s first line in this documentary is, “Wrestling has consumed my life.” Wrestling consumed Chris Benoit, as it has dozens of others, taking everything away and left nothing but a husk.

 

The Early Years
Benoit was a quiet kid whose life was transformed at twelve years old after seeing The Dynamite Kid wrestle. Ever since Benoit first saw Dynamite in Edmonton, he became obsessed with not just becoming a wrestler, but becoming a wrestler like Dynamite Kid. As soon as Benoit realised he needed to gain weight to be a wrestler he started pumping iron. He played football in high school as a defensive end and despite being smaller than most of his opponents he used his speed and strength to become a top player. Almost every success story in wrestling starts with fandom, then is followed by weightlifting and other athletic endeavours. When Benoit was still in high school he approached the Hart Family about training to be a wrestler. They go inside the Hart house to film because it’s so key to the story. It was the Harts who broke Benoit in.

 

Tangent: Benoit remembers his first match correctly. It was November 22, 1985 in Calgary where he teamed with Rick Patterson to defeat Karl Moffat & Mike Hammer. However, he claims that the following night, in his home town of Edmonton, was a rematch with the same finish. He actually teamed with Bruce Hart against Mike Hammer & The Cuban Assassin. One of his friends claimed Benoit came back to Edmonton a champion, which is also wrong, but it was also a long time ago. Memory is funny like that.

 

Skipped: The DVD covers just about everything of worth, but Benoit’s extensive run in Stampede is largely overlooked. He had a successful tag team with Lance Idol and another with Biff Wellington, winning tag gold both times, and a feuds with Johnny Smith and Gama Singh over the Mid-Heavyweight Title. It’s two years that are considered largely inconsequential by the feature makers.

 

New Japan
Benoit knew that Dynamite Kid wrestled in Japan so he wanted to as well. It was Bad News Allen who pitched Japan to him and Benoit was eager. He went for six months as a young boy (between June and December 1986) where he didn’t wrestle at all. He worked there for a year in 1987 (technically three extended tours) before being invited back in 1990 to become the masked Pegasus Kid. By August 1990 he’d won the Junior Heavyweight Title, defeating the legendary Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Pegasus Kid was a gimmick Benoit didn’t want to do, but when NJPW wanted him to drop the mask and called him Wild Pegasus, he’d become accustomed to working masked. He dropped the mask in July 1991 to Liger and became an even bigger star. Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko both chip in to talk about the wrestling in Japan. Eddie claims Benoit knocked him out in their first match. We then skip ahead to the 1994 Super J Cup, one of the most highly touted cruiserweight tournaments of all time. It features heavily in the extras. It’s one of those tapes that every tape collector used to have in the tape trading days. You couldn’t call yourself a wrestling fan without owning that.

 

Skipped: The major events of Japan are covered although it wasn’t quite that simple. Benoit continued to work for New Japan up until 2000, on and off, and that’s largely ignored. Also skipped is a run in Mexico with UWA in 1991-1992, which is interesting, to me at least, as he won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship there. Maybe WWE themselves had forgotten that belt went on tour while they had no division for it. Benoit also worked for CMLL, where he teamed with Haku in trios matches. Finally Benoit spent time working for NWA affiliates including classic matches with Al Snow and Sabu. He was also in the NWA World Heavyweight Title Tournament that Shane Douglas won, going out in the quarter finals at the hands of Scorpio, who he’d already wrestled in WCW by that point. The first WCW run is also overlooked, but it consists mostly of tagging with Bobby Eaton as WCW didn’t really know what to make of him at the time.

 

ECW
Paul Heyman used Japanese tapes for talent scouting and had Benoit pegged as a potential ace. Even though they skip over Benoit’s earlier WCW tryouts in 1992 and 1993, he actually worked less matches in ECW, in total, than he did in WCW in 1993. Heyman had the bright idea to call Benoit ‘the Crippler’ after he hit a flapjack on Sabu, and Sabu tried to flip and landed on his head. Sabu broke his neck, Benoit got a new nickname. Once Paul E got Benoit’s character together and forced him into cutting promos for the first time the package started coming together, which is when WCW swooped in again. It was almost a little different as Vince McMahon was interested too but wouldn’t let him stay in New Japan. Benoit carried on wrestling for NJPW, on and off, during his WCW tenure until his actual move to the WWF.

 

Skipped: The 1995 Super J Cup where Benoit reached the semi finals, losing to Gedo. That was hosted by WAR and featured Benoit vs. Chris Jericho, before it took place in WCW. The ECW run was pretty brief so it’s mostly covered. Some of the diverse opponents Benoit faced in ECW included Norman Smiley, Cactus Jack, Osamu Nishimura and The Steiner Brothers.

 

WCW
Benoit puts over Malenko and Guerrero for being there and making the WCW journey a lot easier because they were all in it together. WCW almost immediately put him in The Four Horsemen, with Ric Flair and Arn Anderson keen on ‘the Crippler’. This was the same incarnation that had Brian Pillman, so it helped to balance out the group. Benoit talks candidly of his dislike for Kevin Sullivan, claiming Sullivan sabotaged his push and made him suspicious. We get a few words about Nancy Sullivan without really delving into what happened (Benoit was paired with Sullivan’s wife Nancy, who worked as Woman, in an angle. Life imitated art and Nancy left Sullivan for Benoit, leading to bad blood between the two grapplers) before quickly skipping on to the Best of Seven series with Booker T in 1998. Booker puts Benoit over for making him look good, and notes how the crowd were totally into Benoit. We move on to Owen Hart’s untimely death at Over the Edge ’99 and how Benoit had been friends with Owen, going back to the Stampede days, and was honoured that Bret Hart wanted to wrestle him in a tribute match. That match is one of the best in Nitro history. They move on to Benoit’s WCW departure and Benoit becoming incredibly frustrated with the politics and the treatment of the boys. He told the office he was leaving so they tried to apologise by putting the WCW World Title on him by having him beat Sid Vicious. Even that moment was soured because Benoit saw through the politics of it and still wanted to leave. WCW had made him hate wrestling. “I’m sick of it. I’ll just go back to Japan”. Should have done, Chris, should have done.

 

Skipped: Benoit’s WCW feuds were largely against like-minded workaholic midcarders like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Jeff Jarrett, Raven and Booker T. The meaty stuff is in the documentary.

 

WWF
Benoit was really nervous about making the big move as all the big stars were in the WWF. What made it feel real for him was working at WrestleMania. “In WWE it’s more about the opportunities than the politics” – Benoit. Hmm. The Radicalz don’t get much of a mention and they skip ahead to Benoit putting The Rock over as being incredibly charismatic, and he always wondered how good he was and whether he could go. Benoit puts over his matches with Rock as being really good, before they move on to WrestleMania X-7 and the match with Kurt Angle. Benoit puts over the chain wrestling they did and how much he enjoyed that style. The whole WWF section of the DVD is very shill and clip heavy, especially compared to the rest of the DVD.

 

Skipped: Considering how much time Benoit spent working against Chris Jericho, there’s no mention of it. Also, and this is odd, despite it featuring in the extras the Steve Austin mini-feud is skipped over too.

 

The Injury
We get clips from the cage match against Kurt Angle where Benoit already had a bad neck yet still hit his flying headbutt off the cage. It had gotten to the point where he’d got no strength on his right side, intermittingly losing it. That was when he realised he needed to get it checked out. After King of the Ring 2001 Benoit needed surgery and missed a year getting his neck fused. Benoit mentions Paul Orndorff and how he’d suffered a similar injury and ended up having his right side atrophied. The Brand Draft allowed Benoit to come back.

 

The Comeback
Benoit returned May 22, 2002 in his home town of Edmonton, although he didn’t wrestle again until July 2002. We skip over the six months of the SmackDown! Six and onto Benoit’s big title shot at Kurt Angle.

 

Royal Rumble 2003
There’s more talk of the Benoit-Angle matches being great. The Royal Rumble meeting is particularly stellar, and Benoit gets a massive standing ovation for his performance. Best match of Benoit’s career? I think it probably is.

 

Royal Rumble 2004
A year later Benoit went from #1 to win and finished by dragging The Big Show out with a choke hold. He points out he was “spent” by the end of the contest, having never wrestled for anywhere near that long before. When Steve Austin came out to celebrate with him, Benoit was so damn thirsty that he drank the entire beer he was given.

 

WrestleMania XX
Benoit calls this a dream match for him. Everything that he’d ever wanted out of the business in one match. When Benoit won, “everything went into slow motion,” and he burst out crying. The best part, easily, for me is when he turns around and Eddie Guerrero has gotten into the ring without him seeing, and there he is with the WWE Title. That was a moment that shook me to the core because of how long I’d been watching those two guys wrestling. Wrestling is often disappointing, but when it delivers it delivers in ways that are practically unimaginable. The emotion of that moment was breathtaking.

 

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#WWE57019 – Hall Of Fame 2004 Induction Ceremony

 

Lee Maughan: March 19, 2004. Hilton Hotel, New York City, NY. Created in 1993 as a means for the WWF to pay tribute to the recently deceased Andre the Giant, and with additional small scale ceremonies held between 1994-1996, the WWE’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony would become an annual part of the WrestleMania weekend package in 2004, coinciding with the promotion’s presentation of the 20th incarnation of its showpiece event. Lauded by fans as a valuable chance to pay homage to the grappling greats of years gone by, yet maligned by critics who see the event as a credibility-shattering sham designed to push DVD sets and massage the political egos of the powers that be and their pals, the 2004 reboot was, to paraphrase the tagline of the WrestleMania it was attached to, where the Hall of Fame all began again.

 

Disc 1

 

Hosted by ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund, with Michael Cole giving a rundown on the twenty-four names already inducted.

 

‘Superstar’ Billy Graham
Vince McMahon puts over Graham’s unique look, and pays a huge compliment by saying he thinks the business would have changed a lot sooner than it did had his dad ran with ‘Superstar’ on top as champion instead of Bob Backlund. Triple H handles the induction and namelessly calls out those in attendance who previously said wouldn’t attend a Hall of Fame that Graham was ever inducted to, puts over Graham as being twenty-years ahead of his time as wrestling’s first “sports entertainer”, then reels off an amusing list of Graham’s rhyming couplets.

Graham talks about being at death’s door fifteen months earlier before receiving a liver transplant from twenty-six-year-old Arizona car crash victim Katie Gilroy. Onto wrestling, Graham first got stretched in Stu Hart’s infamous “Dungeon” before moving to San Francisco to be Pat Patterson’s tag team partner. Penniless, Pat loaned him $3,000 to get a car and put up with his inexperience. Moving ahead to 1975, Graham won the “Best Arm” award at the Mr. America contest and joined the WWWF, loaded with charisma and promo ability. He puts over the McMahon Family for their class and dignity, and talks about writing Vince a letter asking for forgiveness over his years of bitterness, transgressions and drug issues. A rich man with nothing to gain, McMahon accepted Graham’s apology.

 

Greg Valentine
Jimmy Hart calls himself the luckiest guy in the world for getting a call in 1984 from Vince McMahon inviting him to be part of WrestleMania and the WWF. He met Vince, Pat Patterson and booker George Scott at the airport, then drove to Poughkeepsie where Howard Finkel told him he’d be managing Greg Valentine. Valentine promised him, “We’re going to make a lot of money together,” but leaving the taping at 1:15am armed with a stack of plane tickets, thirty-five separate booking sheets, a drive back to New York and less than six hours before they needed to catch a flight to the next town, Hart asked him when they’d ever get to go home and see their families. “This is your home now, and this is your family,” came the response.

Valentine talks about having a thirty-four-year career, “sixteen years of that” being with WWE (which is true if you count his various short-term returns and legends’ contracts, but it was not an uninterrupted run), breaking in at Stu Hart’s Dungeon, and getting his first big break in 1974 when they put him in a tag team with a young kid called Ric Flair. Joining the WWWF in 1979, Vince McMahon Sr. told him a run in New York would make him world famous, and also credits McMahon, Sr. with giving him the figure four leglock. In typical wrestler fashion, he claims a 30,000 sell-out at the 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden for an hour draw with Bob Backlund, and thanks Backlund for carrying him through the last forty-five-minutes of the match. He calls breaking Wahoo McDaniel’s leg “a good memory”, then puts over Intercontinental Title rival Tito Santana, WWF Tag Team Title partner Brutus Beefcake (“Who I tried to teach how to wrestle… I think I did… “), and being a part of seven WrestleManias, including the very first one against The Junkyard Dog. On a personal note, he thanks his wife of eighteen-years, Julie, then touchingly dedicates the award to his late father, the legendary Johnny Valentine.

 

Pete Rose
A gimmick induction into the newly-established “celebrity wing” of WWE’s Hall of Fame based on the controversy surrounding his ineligibility for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame on account of allegedly gambling on the outcomes of games while coaching for the Cincinnati Reds in 1989, something to which he later confessed. Kane flat out admits during his introduction that Rose’s presence brings mainstream and sports media attention to the promotion, underlining exactly why he’s there. In a funny line, he says that people often ask him if Rose will ever get revenge for his Tombstoning him at WrestleManias past, to which he responds, “Don’t bet on it!”

From one “Big Red Machine” to another, Rose admits that he never realised the recently unmasked Kane was quite so ugly, thanks Vince McMahon for the opportunity, and puts over the talent for caring so deeply about the fans. Rose sincerely puts over WWE and NASCAR for being the only two groups who are so good to their fanbase, just as the director cuts to a shot of the former Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg in the audience, drawing uproarious laughter from the audience.

 

‘Big’ John Studd
The Big Show talks about Andre the Giant being “the giant of giants”, but also looking to Studd for inspiration as a man who was never afraid to be a heel. Studd’s son John Minton, Jr. accepts the award on behalf of his late father, thanking the fans for never forgetting him, recalling a couple of quick memories of the likes of Billy Graham and Jesse Ventura hanging out at the house, and giving a shout out to his family in the front row.

 

Sgt. Slaughter
Pat Patterson reveals that when Slaughter was born, he weighed twelve-pounds and the doctor had to pull him out by the chin, after which the doctor slapped his mother. At sixteen, Slaughter signed his first autograph as a member of a rock band, but the group broke up and Slaughter joined Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp where he got sent home after getting into a fight with the legendarily tough shooter Billy Robinson. Heading up to Vancouver, Slaughter took on the name ‘Beautiful’ Bobby, which didn’t last long, nor did a runs as ‘Bruiser’ Bob, ‘Big’ Bob or Super Destroyer Mark II. Finally as Sgt. Slaughter he got it right, and his 1981 Alley Fight with Patterson was easily the best match of his career, although Patterson makes sure to note that he had many other matches that were just as good. As a mark of the esteem in which he was held, Slaughter was invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan (who gave him an American flag that hung at the house), President George Bush and President Bill Clinton, met President Jimmy Carter, and took pictures with and signed autographs for President Richard Nixon, and also has the distinction of having wrestled all four members of the Orton family, patriarch Bob, Sr., brothers ‘Cowboy’ Bob, Jr. and Barry, and third generation star Randy.

Slaughter puts his hat on to declare, “Good evening you maggots!”, talks about seeing all the old faces and being prepared to do it all over again, then tells a funny story about when he quit being ‘Beautiful’ Bobby (another ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham rip off) and sold all of his boas and colourful clothes to Jesse Ventura (“… and you still owe me $200!”). He talks about the honor of having something named after you, such as the Gorilla Position, Brisco Rules or the “Patterson Quick One”, and talks about his famous bump in the corner becoming known as the “Slaughter bump”. He moves on to his WWF debut where he asked “Vinny… Vince, Jr.… we call him ‘God’ now…” to play a tape of the U.S. Marine Corps hymn before his interview, and Vince, Sr. called it the greatest thing he’d ever seen. He says the greatest compliments he ever received in life were that he looked like his father and that he was reminiscent of fellow Hall of Famer Arnold Skaaland, thanks The Grand Wizard for being a teacher, and puts over his sister for teaching him how to fight, ending with thank yous to various family members, predicting WrestleMania XXX will take place on Mars (close enough), then finally dismissing himself. And that’s an order!

 

Disc 2

 

Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan
Things get off to a wretched start with a speech from Blackjack Lanza so meandering that the majority of it is cut from the DVD, save for a story in which Heenan wrestled and managed one night in Tennessee for a measly $3 payoff, including the bonus. Taking the stage, Heenan asks if it’s last call (in relation to Lanza’s laboured performance and apparent references to Heenan’s drinking on the road during his career) before happily declaring himself both cancer and wedgie-free to a rousing standing ovation. On Pat Patterson’s induction for Sgt. Slaughter, he announces that at midnight tonight the whole thing will be replayed in English, and he scores points off Pete Rose by apologising for betting on wrestling.

Heenan got hooked on wrestling at the Marigold Arena in Chicago in 1954 at the age of ten, and was enamoured with the heels, namely Johnny Valentine and ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers along with Chief Big Heart and Arnold Skaaland (“Who was sixty-three then!”). By 1961, with his mother jobless, his grandmother growing old and his aunt suffering from cancer, Heenan took a job carrying jackets and selling cokes at the matches at his local armory, spending most of his time running away from The Sheik, who he was terrified of. Four years later at the age of twenty-one, he started as a manager for The Assassins, in this case Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell (the future Jerry Valiant), before moving on to Angelo Poffo and Chris Markoff, a man who would kick you in the groin then say, “Watch for the kick!” as you were sinking. “He was horrible. Nice man, he called me when I was sick, but he was horrible.”

From there, Heenan moves onto The Blackjacks, telling a story about Lanza stealing doughnuts from a hotel lobby every time the lady on the counter turned away to answer the phone, failing to realise that every time he did, more and more powder was turning his moustache from black to white. Talk moves onto the Hall of Fame names Heenan managed, including Billy Graham (“One night Ivan Putski slammed me on top of you, you had so many bumps on your body it hurt my back for a month!”), Harley Race (“When I found out I was going to be here tonight to be inducted with Harley, knowing Harley, I thought we were going to be indicted!”) and Sgt. Slaughter (“As we went down the back roads in Peoria, knowing our wives would never believe that we were riding with four fat girls taking us to the airport so we could save twenty bucks, he says to me ‘If this car flips and we’re dead, they’re never going to believe us!’”).

Next, a freudian slip as Heenan mentions the recently banned term “WWF” before going on a classic diatribe: “When I came here they had the three Freebirds, they had The Junkyard Dog, Mad Dog, two Bulldogs, Matilda, another dog, you had insects, you had two Killer Bees, you had serpents, you had a guy with a snake, you had a Hawaiian guy with a lizard, and to top it off, I’m ‘The Weasel’ doing commentary with the Gorilla! Dammit! So if you think you people over at the WWF now think it’s wildlife, you spend one weekend at the Hojos in Newark with Afa and Sika, The Samoans, that’s wildlife!” Needless to say, that earns Heenan his second standing ovation of the night, and he’s barely halfway done.

On leaving the AWA, Heenan recalls calling Verne Gagne with Gagne angrily asking him to come to the office the next day. Heenan decided to take his wife (“I didn’t think he’d hit a woman, and she’s Italian, God knows what would have happened to him!”) but called Vince McMahon first (“Vince said ‘Boy, I wish I could be with you.’ I said ‘What, to back me up?’ He said ‘No, I want to tape it!’”). Heenan admits he’d called Vince, Sr. every six months for ten years to try and get a job in New York, but at the time they had Ernie Roth (“Who was doing a great job”), Freddie Blassie (“Who was doing a great job”) and Lou Albano (“Who refused to be fired”), and reveals that the original plan had been for him to debut at Madison Square Garden as the manager of Jesse Ventura. Unfortunately, Ventura had discovered blood clots in his legs that effectively ended his career (“If I’d managed the Governor all those years ago, I may have been the First Lady!”), so he was asked if he would like to manage ‘Big’ John Studd instead. “I’d just been to the AWA, which in my terms was ‘All the World’s Assholes’, so I would have managed Skaaland just to get out of there.”

Skipping ahead to 1991, Heenan retired from managing due to a broken neck suffered in 1983, but McMahon asked him to go on the road with Ric Flair for six months (“So now I gotta go on the road here with Larry Flynt. I lasted ten days.”) On the first WrestleMania, Heenan didn’t think it would work and most of the boys agreed, but when he saw the celebrities and press in attendance that afternoon, he realised that McMahon was onto something. By WrestleMania III, things had gotten so big that Heenan didn’t even think about the size of the crowd that night, but how many millions were watching around the world. Talk moves on to Heenan’s broadcasting career and being given the chance to inject some comedy into a business he felt, “Needed a kick in the pants and a couple of smiles rather than a guy blowing his nose, belching and spitting. If you want to see that, come to my room! And that’s just my wife!”

Having spent the last two-and-a-half years doing nothing but chemotherapy and radiation, Heenan declares that he’s ready to start doing things again. “You sit for two-and-a-half years naked in a room watching Judge Judy, you’ll go nuts!” Recalling his $3 payoff, he declares that the reason he stuck around wasn’t because of the money or the family he had to feed, but because he loved it. And there’s standing ovation number three. Adding a personal thanks to his wife Cynthia, daughter Jessica and son-in-law John Solt, a clearly emotional Heenan wraps up with a wish that Gorilla Monsoon could still be here. Excuse me, did somebody start cutting up a bag of onions in here? An unprecedented fourth standing ovation is followed by Heenan returning to the stage to ask Gene Okerlund if he’s getting paid for tonight, and when Okerlund responds in the negative, Heenan retorts “Then I’m drinking!”

 

Tito Santana
Shawn Michaels references Sgt. Slaughter’s earlier speech about the ultimate honor in the industry being to have something named after you, and talks about old friend Scott Hall’s wish of having “the ‘Tito thing’”, or in other words keeping a level enough head to be able to one day go home to mom and the kids and enjoy the riches of a long and successful career. Sadly, the part about keeping a level head seemed to elude the former Razor Ramon for much of his run.

Santana immediately thanks Vince, Sr. for giving him his first chance in the business, but looks on the verge of tears as he talks about all the family birthdays he had to miss, and thanks his wife for raising their three children. For him, the Hall of Fame is the justification for all of his sacrifices. Going back to Vince, Sr., he thanks him for being a man of his word, and talks about his consistency as a performer, missing just two shots in twelve years, one for the birth of a son and another due to a hurricane keeping him grounded at an airport. He moves on to an oft-told story (Bret Hart has his own version of the tale) of angrily demanding meetings with Vince, Jr. and coming out of them feeling great about yourself, only to realise you haven’t accomplished a single thing you went in for. Ariba!

 

Harley Race
Ric Flair puts Race over as the toughest guy in the history of the business (a debatable accolade to be sure), and talks about Race’s distaste for “sports entertainment” and steadfast belief that he was the one true World Heavyweight Champion. Flair talks about the amount of respect that Race commanded from promoters nationwide, and how when the NWA board gathered to vote on a new World Champion and collectively questioned Flair’s suitability for the role, Race was the guy who went to bat for him. Race’s word was all it took, and Flair took his first World Title shortly after. With all due respect to Heenan, Flair calls Race his favourite person to travel with, then puts his foot in it by talking about going on the road with their wives and leaving them behind when they didn’t make the plane (“That was their problem… until they caught up with us“).

Going back to Race’s toughness, Flair talks about getting a call from NWA President Bob Geigel in 1983, telling him that he was going to Japan to defend the World Title against Jumbo Tsuruta in an hour match, and that Race was going with him. When Flair asked Race who he was working with, Race told him he wasn’t going there to work, he was going there to make sure the Japanese office didn’t pull a double cross and take the belt from Flair in a shoot. They drank all the way on the flight over, and when they got there Race sat at ringside and watched a hungover Flair take “3,000 suplexes” from Tsuruta, but still leave with the belt.

Race calls his talent a gift, and feels blessed to have been able to wrestle, but doesn’t feel any bigger or any better than any of the other inductees or performers sitting in the audience. Interestingly (or perhaps politically), he doesn’t look at his cartoonish WWF run as the ‘King’ as an insult to his legacy, but an opportunity he should rightly have been passed over for, given his age at the time, and pledges his allegiance to the McMahon family for it. He moves on to talk of wrestling “probably 1,000 hour draws” with Flair, who he says has more talent in his little finger than 90% of the guys who ever have or ever will be in the business, and was honoured to be able to pass the torch on to him. Similarly to “the Slaughter bump” and “the Tito thing”, Race says there’s no greater compliment that when Triple H drops a knee and Jim Ross calls it a “Harley Race knee”. He finishes by asking the young wrestlers to keep the business alive, “Because it’s the greatest damn sport on the earth.” I think most of us can agree with that.

 

Don Muraco
Mick Foley tells his now-famous story of the feud that turned him from a fan looking on into a dreamer looking to get in, beginning with the angle in which ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka dove over the ropes to fight Muraco after Muraco came to ringside and said something that raised Snuka’s ire. Listening in closely to hear what was said, commentator Pat Patterson simply communicated that, “Muraco said something to Snuka, and Snuka is going banana! He looks absolutely nut!” A freshman in college, Foley felt bad about missing the first Muraco-Snuka match after seeing a promo in which Snuka, his hair matted with blood, declared, “I’m not finished with you yet, Don Muraco!”, so made sure to hitchhike his way to Madison Square Garden for an October 1983 steel cage rematch. That was the night a bloody Snuka dove off the cage with his famous Superfly Splash onto a prone Muraco, which Foley calls the defining moment of his life. It was only years later that he realised it took two to tango, and that Snuka had only been such a great babyface because Muraco had been such a great heel.

Fast forward to 1990 and a still wet behind the ears (back when he had two of them) Cactus Jack found himself booked on a tour of Aruba, only to be mistakenly sent Muraco’s contract instead of his own, which he couldn’t help but notice was for significantly more money than he’d agreed to be paid. Armed with six months of WCW television exposure, Foley had his burgeoning ego punctured when he called the promoter to ask about the imbalance, only to be told the reason for the monetary disparity was, “Because Don’s a big star… and you’re not.” Although not a financially fruitful trip, the tour of Aruba did at least lead to the conception of Foley’s eldest child, Dewey, and gave him the chance to meet with Muraco personally, who he was thrilled to discover treated the dues-paying rookies with an equal amount of respect as he did the veterans.

Muraco began his career training with Dean Ho at a gym in Waikiki where the likes of Karl Gotch and Luther Lindsay would stop off when travelling between the United States and Japan. He credits ‘Lord’ James Blears as being the man who got him his start in Vancouver, and Muraco feels lucky that he was able to transition between the glory days of “‘rasslin’” and the dawn of sports entertainment, putting over the boys in the locker rooms who were willing to give the young guys advice and help them grow during an era when there weren’t wrestling schools to go learn your craft in. He admits that things weren’t always a bed of roses, but overall he feels like he had a wonderful career and no longer remembers the bad times.

 

The Junkyard Dog
Michael Cole’s pre-induction video narration ludicrously suggests that JYD didn’t become a major superstar until he joined the WWF in 1984, which patently isn’t true. Thankfully, ‘Big Cat’ Ernie Ladd is on hand to add some real history, talking about how highly pro sports salaries have risen since the days of legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas being the highest paid player in the NFL in 1960, at a rate of $15,000 a year. In wrestling, he calls the McMahons responsible for those skyrocketing salaries. Onto JYD, Ladd talks about booking in Louisiana where Bill Watts told the Dog to go away and come back when he’d gotten more experience. Angry about the situation, JYD returned not just with additional experience, but armed with dialogue, style, and Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ as his entrance theme, and immediately began selling out buildings against “Bigfoot” Ladd, and as a top draw, it was no surprise to him that JYD would eventually head for the bright lights of New York and the WWF.

Sadly, JYD was killed in an automobile accident on June 2, 1998, on the way home from his daughter LaToya Ritter’s high school graduation ceremony in Wadesboro, North Carolina after falling asleep at the wheel. Perhaps fittingly, LaToya accepts the award on her father’s behalf, although she herself would also meet an early end, collapsing whilst on the phone with a friend on October 19, 2011. Rushing to her home, Ritter was found unresponsive and paramedics were unable to revive her. She was just thirty-one-years-old.

 

Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura
Ventura is inducted by his son Tyrell, who talks about how proud he is that his dad could go out and prove that wrestlers weren’t just big dumb muscleheads, but amazing people for what they put themselves through as performers just to entertain the fans. Ventura thanks the families for putting up with their husbands and fathers being away from home so often, then begins by talking about his early AWA fandom, and the thrill he got from being able to wrestle his childhood idol The Crusher. By the time he was in high school, Ventura was a swimmer, but with no professional swimming, he joined the Navy instead. Home on leave one night with a pocket full of money and his friends all busy, he bought a front row ticket to the wrestling matches where, for the first time, he laid eyes on none other than ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, without whom he never would have had the desire to enter the business.

Heading down the 7th Street Gym, Ventura got himself trained by Eddie Sharkey, a man also credited with training Bob Backlund and The Road Warriors. Sending out pictures, Ventura got a call from ‘Texas’ Bob Geigel and began touring the territories, getting himself “married” to a young guy out in Portland called ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka who would blow Ventura up every night. Heading to his home promotion of the AWA, Ventura formed The East West Connection with Adrian Adonis before moving to the WWF. Skipping his entire run there, Ventura talks about maybe being the only wrestler to ever retire and stick to his guns (which his former broadcast colleague Gorilla Monsoon also did), before quickly moving on to his 1999-2003 term as Governor of Minnesota, joking that he followed Arnold Schwarzenegger into the movies, but Schwarzenegger (Governor of California from 2003-2011) followed him into politics (with their Predator co-star Sonny Landham losing out in a 2003 bid to become Governor of Kentucky).

Calling himself proud to be a wrestler and never shying away from that time in his life while in office, Ventura likens wrestlers drawing houses to politicians collecting votes, and credits the business with teaching him to be comfortable in front of a microphone and think on his feet, citing a point where he was polling just 10%, but six weeks and seven debates later, he was elected because he was the only one who knew how to communicate. Getting strongly political, he talks about how the majority of politicians are just playing a character in an attempt to appeal to the biggest audience, just like wrestlers do, before suggesting that, “Maybe it’s time we put a wrestler in the White House,” drawing a surprisingly riotous round of applause from future United States Senate seat-seeking Republican failure Linda McMahon.

 

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#WWE55901 – Divas – South Of The Border

 

Arnold Furious: Normally these Diva releases get allocated out by James Dixon regardless of whether we want them or not, and yet merely two weeks away from our writing deadline for this volume, there sat Divas – South of the Border mysteriously unclaimed. Seeing as no one else seemed game I thought I’d man up and tackle it. How bad can it be? It’s only an hour long. But wait, what’s this? There are two hours of bonus matches too!? WWE are just spoiling me here.

 

If you’ve seen one of these Diva DVDs, you’ve seen them all. Sure the girls change, but it’s basically just female wrestlers in bikinis somewhere hot. A shameless tie-in/cash-in for the bikini edition of WWE Magazine. Jonathan Coachman presents it from the studio, and he’s about as irritating as you’d imagine.

 

Lita has an actual tie to the locale because they’re in Mexico where she used to wrestle, although she quickly points out that she’s more used to a dirty city like Mexico City rather than a beach resort. She brings up her neck injury and how she missed the last two Diva shoots because of it. I wish she spoke more about lucha-libre, but instead it’s all about posing and wanting to be the Divas picked to be on the magazine cover (spoiler: it’s Torrie Wilson). So, nothing of note here.

 

– Any chance of getting anything useful out of Jackie Gayda goes straight out of the window when she immediately launches into talking about the photos. After a few seconds it’s just white noise. She has nothing interesting to say. There is one idiotic moment that stands out, which is her talking about having a “genuine laugh” when buying a sombrero. Just the one genuine chuckle while on holiday in Mexico under the guise of “work” then, love? You must be a barrel of laughs.

 

Ivory at least seems to enjoy herself, talking about Mayan heritage, Mexican culture, and the local wildlife. Ivory always seems like a fun person to be around but I bet she’d be exhausting too. She describes the constant comments about photo shoots making her sick, which segues right into a shot of her on their final day where she looks thrilled to be done with it. Wrestling!

 

Victoria amuses me by standing off camera shaking her head while Trish, who she was feuding with, gets photographed. Stacy Keibler tells her to stop being so serious. The various comments about posing and photography are now getting mind-numbingly dull.

 

Trish Stratus takes a slightly different tack, as she’s been at a million photo shoots by this point and prefers to talk about the camaraderie between the girls. When she does get around to talking about the posing being more relaxed because Mexico is more relaxed, even that makes sense because she’s such a pro. Certain people can just draw other people to them and Trish is so outstanding at this you can see why she became such a big star. If she wasn’t a wrestler she’d have been a star at something else.

 

– This isn’t really Nidia’s strength but she says she feels more comfortable this year than she did in the past. In every single shot of her she’s goofing around, including a shot of her dancing on the plane. Every time I see Nidia I wonder why WWE decided to let her go. She had an infectious personality. Maybe the boys in the office didn’t like her body or the whole trailer park deal. For me, she always came across as quite genuine, so it’s nice to see the real her being exactly the same.

 

Jacqueline has a really slow, laid back speech pattern when she’s not cutting promos. It gently washes over me like the waves of the ocean on the Mexican beach. It’s a pity she doesn’t have much to say.

 

– Conversely, Sable thinks she has a lot to say, as the group veteran, but she really doesn’t. When the Divas are in a group you can see her trying like hell to not act naturally, as that’ll make her look older. She’s hitting this serious pose and everyone else is having fun. She must have been a nightmare to work with. She’s also very aware of where the cameras are. The one thing she does say that I agree with is that you need to be confident to survive in WWE. Although her confidence far too often extends a little toward arrogance.

 

Gail Kim talks about her inexperience in terms of posing, because she’s a wrestler first and foremost, but she’s a natural at just looking good by doing nothing. “I’m not good at smiling, I feel fake.” I suddenly love Gail Kim and, at the same time, realise why her WWE career was cut short. Gail is also the only one who doesn’t seem to care about the cover, which has been mentioned repeatedly by everyone else. I came out of this short chat with her a much bigger fan.

 

– Like Ivory, Molly Holly is really into Mexico as a place, so she went off the beaten track to check out the local people. She puts over Ivory for keeping her amused during an otherwise grating photo shoot. She also puts over WWE for not making this photo shoot so structured, encouraging individuality and more down time. Which doesn’t sound like typical WWE at all.

 

– To the surprise of no one, Stacy Keibler prefers the beach. I don’t get the beach; it’s where dirt meets water (thank you, Bill Hicks). Like Lita and Ivory, she is excited about getting the chance to see wildlife at Parque Xcaret. Stacy seems nice enough, but the talk about swimsuits and posing is more of the same repetitive tedium.

 

Dawn Marie has a weird opinion about being “nearly naked” in public. Somehow she gets more nervous about it away from wrestling, because that’s a stage. At this point the whole DVD is grinding at me. It’s all the same thing, over and over again.

 

Jazz blames a knee injury for her poor showing in last year’s shoot, as she couldn’t work out to get in shape for it. The military bikini she is wearing really suits her. “What you see is what you get. That’s what I am”. She’s pleased to get a break from work, but still feels the urge to talk about the business. That is why I like her, because she’s a wrestler. “It’s good to be different”. How does that line go? You laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.

 

– Wait, we are not finished yet!? How many Divas did WWE employ for this shoot? Like all of the other Divas have, Torrie Wilson buries the shoot in the desert from last year. I get the feeling they really hated Desert Heat? Anyway, she talks about swimsuits and photographers, and it’s boring.

 

Before we go out we get Sable and Torrie Wilson singing ‘Copacabana’, a song they DON’T KNOW THE WORDS TO. You have no idea how annoying this is to me.

 

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#WWE57003 – John Cena – Word Life

 

James Dixon: Ghetto John Cena welcomes us to West Newbury, MA, where it all started for him. We skip the customary family talk in exchange for a handful of photos, and move straight onto his wrestling and rapping. The way he talks comes across like a parody of bad rapping, akin to something you might see in the Scary Movie films.

 

We start with Cena’s Halloween promo on SmackDown!, which essentially saved his career, then he talks smack about Brock Lesnar. “I showed Brock Lesnar a thing or two about a thing or two.” He plays PS2 with his cousin Marc ‘The Trademarc’ Predka, one of the co-conspirators on his aural menace of a rap album ‘My Time is Now’. We go to the Cena-Lesnar program, which is basically Cena dissing his muscled foe via the medium of rap. A crack about Lesnar’s back tattoo being a portrait of his mother amuses. Dr. Vanilla Cena T gets his knee smashed by Lesnar in an unseen angle, which prompts a response from the inside of a trailer. White trash! Cena implies that he wants to f*ck Brock up the ass, referring to them as inmates and warning him not to drop the soap. I knew it. That relationship with Nikki Bella is just a sham, isn’t it? No one of sound mind could put up with her for that long in real life. We get a lot of promos for this match. A lot. Cena is actually quite funny, and goes close to the edge with some of them. “I’m a Viagra triple shot, you’re just a Limp Bizkit.” Burn. No highlights of the match, because it sucked and Cena lost. It is available on the extras though.

 

Cena is off to record a new song (or rather, “song”) for WrestleMania XX, but first we visit his feud with The Undertaker, and Cena outs him as a homosexual. In 2003, that was still considered a crime in WWE’s world. Cena reckons Taker and Paul Bearer had a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ going on, and that Taker only attended funerals so he could hit on priests. Crikey. Next, Cena does a promo from inside a flaming pentagram, then another sat on a hog, telling Taker he will leave him in a wheelchair like Stephen Hawking, before labelling him a “fairy” for his open-assed leather chaps. He wouldn’t get away with any of this in the PG Era.

 

We meet DJ Chaos, whoever the f*ck he is. Apparently he had something to do with the WrestleMania XX hip-top track. We go back in time to WrestleMania XIX and Cena’s silly open challenge inviting any rapper to fight him… on the pre-show. He buries Jay Z for not showing up, and, as has been the theme of the disc, rags on him for enjoying man-love. We get the whole thing, including the line, “If they lived at the sperm bank, they couldn’t get their comeback”. He also gets in a dig at the XFL, which gets a big “ooohh” from the Seattle faithful. Good promo actually, even if it was ultimately a waste of time that furthered nothing.

 

Now, some “battle raps” from SmackDown!, first pitting Cena against Rikishi. Cena raps off the cuff in a black fluffy hat, and he doesn’t make any homophobic slurs. Personal growth! Rikishi goes for the obvious, calling Cena an Eminem wannabe who dresses worse than Vanilla Ice. He isn’t funny, but he does rhyme. Does that give him the win? How do battle raps work? I am obviously not street enough for this disc.

 

Post defeat to Brock Lesnar at Backlash, Cena raps his defence for losing, blaming the referee. That brings out the wonderful Brian Kendrick, who does a delightful impression of Cena. He refers to himself as “Spanky”, his RoH and Indy name, which draws lots of forced laughing from Michael Cole and Tazz. It seems Spanky has come up with a rap, and he needs a beat. John Cena forces referee Brian Hebner to give him one, mockingly, and it turns out he is great at it! Spanky’s rap is a riot too, and the crowd are totally into it. Cena gets hot, even more so when Spanky starts an, “I say Cena, you say… sucks” chant. Maybe this is where the “Cena sucks” stuff began. (Note: It isn’t). Eventually, Cena gets fed up and beats the piss out of Kendrick, ending a really entertaining segment. Honestly, it was. Funaki is next to battle Cena. EminJohn has some choice words for Michael Cole, who he accuses of loving boy bands. Funaki decides to respond, singing ‘U.G.L.Y’ at him and doing the robot dance. Cena floors him. Kurt Angle comes next, during a rare babyface run, and he looks absolutely furious to be out there. He is a wrestler, not a rapper. He opts against rapping, and instead tells a story. It’s a doozy:

 

“There once was a kid who talked a lot of smack / He’s actually whiter than me, but he thinks he is black / And the kid thinks he is the king of talking smack / Until one day he bumped heads with the king of kicking ass / He had a secret weapon, he liked to use a steel chain / I’ll shove it straight up your ass if you try to use it again / He can’t run, he can’t hide, it doesn’t even matter if he’s rapping / Because at No Mercy when I get my hands on him, his ass will be tapping”

 

And now Big Show – ever the fan of goofy comedy, dressing up like a dork, and desperately trying to be anything but a lumbering giant oaf – wants a turn with Cena. Bless him, he even dresses up in his best streets. As expected, his delivery is drawling and dumb, except for a line about Cena being a white girl and him being Kobe Bryant. You know, that was the exact comment this hypocritical company fired poor Abraham Washington for in 2012. Gotta love those double standards. If only Big Show had been fired back in 2003, what a nicer place wrestling would have been. Show is an easy target for Cena. He calls him fat, says he smells, and makes “yo momma” jokes. I guess that is all he needed to beat Show in a battle rap. Hell, I could beat Big Show in a battle rap.

 

Because Cena was getting over, the McMahons had to get their grubby hands on him, starting with Stephanie and her ugly straw hair. She looked horrific in 2003, like she had been dragged through a bush backwards. Cena talks about her match with Sable, and because Steph is obviously the object of every man’s affections, Cena has to claim to have had a dream about her, then gets all worked up in front of her. After telling Steph he wants to find out if the carpet matches the curtains, then offering her $20 to rip Sable’s top off in their PPV match because he has a nipple fetish, Cena asks via rap and crowd participation if he can smack her ass. Steph blushes, and smiles. Loving the attention, she asks him if he wants to put his money where his mouth is. “HELL YEAH!” he yelps, bouncing on the spot. Steph dares him to smack her ass, then turns around and bends over. What am I watching here!? Cena smacks her ass, and she loves it. This is one of the weirdest segments I have ever seen. A few months later, a few days after Survivor Series 2003, Cena is in the ring with a battered and bloodied Vince McMahon, and his sidekick Sable. Or “the slut”, as Cena calls her. Vince’s face during Cena’s ripping on him is a picture. I am not sure he understands half of what Cena is saying, but he sells it well anyway. Cena is great here, and few over the years have been allowed to shred Vince McMahon to his face in such a manner. You can see why he got over to the level he did. He was so fresh and interesting that it made him stand out a mile.

 

A few more random raps from Cena, with the timeline now all over the place. The first is aimed at Rhyno, and it is one of his weaker efforts. Another sees him call Billy Gunn out for being, you guessed it, gay. I mean, come on John, that is too easy. The guy was in a gay (for a while, until they got cold feet) tag team with Chuck Palumbo for ages before ditching he gimmick and going back to the well with his played out ‘Bad Ass’ Billy Gunn persona. Next, Zach Gowen, the one legged wrestler who weighed about 50lbs. “Whether you like it or not homie, you feeling hip-hop”. Very good. At Thanksgiving in 2003, Cena says grace. It is, erm, unconventional. Lots of jokes about tossing Torrie Wilson’s salad, and crude innuendos about breasts, legs, and bones. It’s funny though. His line about “white sprinkles on your chocolate mousse” to Shaniqua is not exactly dinner table talk though. Cena calls his Christmas 2003 rap in Iraq the best moment in his career. The army folk certainly enjoy it, especially when Cena mocks Saddam Hussein, the French army, and the Big Show. Yep, those three subjects seem to be fitting bedfellows.

 

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#WWE55895 – The Stone Cold Truth

 

Justin Henry: This is a release of a biography that previously aired in November 2003 on UPN, SmackDown!‘s home for its first seven years. It is highlighted by Steve Austin‘s candid thoughts toward his wrestling career, which had ended by this point. UPN attempted a similar production the following year with Eddie Guerrero‘s Cheating Death, Stealing Life, which was also bundled onto a DVD release, which you can read all about elsewhere in this book. Then UPN split in half in 2006, itself proving unable to cheat death.

 

First up on the release, Austin reflects on that final match at WrestleMania XIX with The Rock, admitting he knew going in that it would be his swansong. Also detailed is the panic attack Austin endured the day before WrestleMania, in which he wound up briefly hospitalized for the fear that he may have been suffering from an embolism. Austin admits he was worried about having an awful match, since he really hadn’t worked a match since the previous June, simplistic brawls with Eric Bischoff at the start of the year aside.

 

We get a Limp Bizkit video (who, as Tony Chimel once told us, are WWE’s favourite band), leading into a look at Austin’s childhood life in rural Edna, Texas, and stories from his mom and brothers. Among the quaint tales is Mama Austin describing how young Stone Cold’s kindergarten teacher believed little Steve had the most “Go to Hell” attitude of any child she had ever taught, and the revelation that he had a lisp. It’s hard to imagine Austin having a lisp as a child, but maybe that’s where his steely-eyed angst was borne from.

 

From there, it’s a look at Austin’s early wrestling life, beginning with the Dallas region, where he and his drinking buddies would kick back and take in the exploits of The Freebirds and the Von Erichs. Naturally, the parents didn’t think the idea of their son becoming a wrestler held much promise, but I’m sure once Austin bought them each a gold car, they probably changed their minds. Mick Foley claims to have seen greatness in Austin during a training session with Chris Adams. Austin reveals his first payment as a working wrestler was for $40, and that he’d live off of potatoes between payoffs. From there, it’s a very brief look at his WCW run, mostly confined to the Hollywood Blondes period. Austin claims that once the team was split, Dusty Rhodes told him the big push was coming, which Austin calls BS on. Odds of any sort of disparaging word toward Dusty making it onto any WWE release post-2015: 1,547,893 to 1.

 

Interspersed with the wrestling content are bits of Austin at home, which are more for the non-wrestling audience tuning in. These brief asides include showing off his truck and dog, his family making fun of his lackluster singing abilities, and candid thoughts on his divorces. Most notable from this is Austin lamenting not getting to speak to his daughter, Stephanie, as often as he’d like to, due to her moving back to England with her mother, the former Lady Blossom.

 

Into the ECW stay, where Austin ran down Eric Bischoff in a handful of hilarious bits. Foley notes Austin’s bitterness over his firing from WCW, while Bischoff claims that Austin didn’t hit the zeitgeist in WCW. Maybe he needed a ticker-tape parade through Disney to get over? That segues into becoming The Ringmaster in the WWF, and talk about nearly killing the golden goose before it could lay its first egg. Austin notes that serial killer “Iceman” Richard Kuklinski provided the basis for the sort of villain he’d wanted to play, and we get the famous story of the awful names the WWF came up with (such as Ice Dagger) before Lady Blossom stumbled onto the ‘Stone Cold’ name for Steve. Well, Eu-friggin-reka.

 

After a music video with various highlights of Austin’s career, it’s onto the Owen Hart incident at SummerSlam ‘97, where Austin had his neck broken on a sitout piledriver gone wrong. Austin notes that things remained chilly with Owen after the incident, and they were professional, but hardly friends any more. To put a happy spin on it, we get Austin toasting Owen at Owen’s memorial show the night after his tragic death. I realize that in death, Owen had become Teflon, so Austin admitting an un-mended fence with him may come off as bad to some naive viewers, but it does reek of damage control that the toast was wedged in there.

 

From here, it kind of limps to the end, as Austin discusses his shaved head, and it’s tacked off with a bit on Survivor Series 2003, which only took place a week and a half before the special was broadcast on UPN. Austin was supposed to leave “forever” after his team was defeated by Eric Bischoff’s mercenaries, but well, what are exits in wrestling but temporary?

 

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