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Prepare to fall in love…all over again

March 24th, 2009 1 comment

brookeass

Fresh off a provocative pole dance at a “music” (cough) festival, Brooke Hogan has made another tabloids-worthy splash—this time at the Ritz Carlton pool in Miami.

From the site What Would Tyler Durden Do?:

In her mind, as Brooke was scanning the pool on Saturday in her scandalous pink thong, she was already picturing the week ahead and seeing pictures of her ass all over the Internet. Then later in magazines like Star. “Some people on myspace, they be hatin’ but you know they just jealous LOL. If you doan like me, how come you always talkin’ bout me,” she would say next week. She’s like the new Madonna with the way she manipulates the media.

Hey, it could have been worse. It could have been Linda. Or even (shudder) the Hulkster basking in the Miami heat in said thong, horsing around with the likes of Brutus Beefcake and Brian Knobbs. Or Hulk rubbing suntan lotion on Brooke’s butt at poolside. OK, OK, that was a cheap shot, even for the wrestling business. No way that would ever happen, right? And yes, the tattoo above her crack reads “Redemption,” the name of her next album. I am unable to confirm if this shot is the album cover. It so should be–in the same vein of those classic sexy covers like Surfer Rosa from the Pixiesand Madonnas Like a Prayer…and the rejected Spinal Tap cover for Smell the Glove.

Ring of honorable mention: ROH debuts on HDNet

March 23rd, 2009 1 comment

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Ring of Honor debuted Saturday on HDNet with a decent effort that differentiated itself from current WWE programming—for better or for worse. Here’s a quick rundown of the good and the bad.

The Good:

Fairly competitive matches that were given adequate time to unfold as if actual athletic contests were taking place as opposed to the 2- and 3-minute bouts often featured on RAW. Bout times (approx.) for the four matches on the debut show were as follows: 6 minutes; 6 minutes; 7 minutes; and a 14-minute main event. In the future, ROH would be wise to cut to three matches to leave more time not only for the in-ring product (which is really the main thing that makes them unique) but also in getting their roster over as personalities.

Nice to see Jerry Lynn back as a competitor and he looked good, but I thought Delirious was off in spots in the fast-paced opener. Lynn’s Cradle Piledriver appears more devastating than any finisher in WWE right now. Jerry hadn’t been in the business long when he was working Memphis in spring 1991, around the same time I first started as a referee. He was always a nice guy backstage back then, and it was cool to see him develop into a top-notch performer over the years.

Rockin the cradle: Lynn delivers his Cradle Piledriver.

Rockin the cradle: Lynn delivers his Cradle Piledriver.

 

The handshake—as part of the Code of Honor—on display before the start of the first three matches delivered the feel of two athletes showing mutal respect before testing each other. 

The brief video of ROH history was well-done for the most part, trying to explain what makes ROH unique, and why we should care, in a short amount of time. An edgy onslaught of violent clips, many of which had a circa ‘95 ECW feel.  I’ve not seen much ROH, but I thought the overall product was supposed to convey a more serious approach to the “sportsmanship” of professional wrestling than promoting over-the-top violence—so the video was contradictory, at least to me, in that sense. Nice shots of Mick Foley and Ric Flair appearing to endorse the product. I was curious to see how long the debut show would devote to the history of the promotion and the careers they’ve helped launch, such as former ROH champs Samoa Joe and C.M. Punk.
 

Young Punk: CM in his ROH days.

Young Punk: CM in his ROH days.

With only an hour, the best thing the company could have elected do was emphasize wrestling matches; however, they needed a brief introductory video to those viewing the product for the first time and this was OK.

Brent Albright wouldn’t be a star in WWE, but he fits in perfectly with what ROH is (I think) trying to sell. Solid bout with Rhett Titus, who has a wonderfully sleazy charm to him and was much better in the ring that his gimmick might indicate beforehand. Titus’ facial expressions are great as well.

Tyler Black has the look of a major-league star and backed it up with a solid in-ring performance.

The main event of Black vs. Jimmy Jacobs was pretty strong, though the casual viewing audience had no time to care about their violent split, which they quickly tried to cover before the bout.  With about 14 minutes, they were given enough time to build a quality main event, so that’s a nice precedent for future broadcasts on HDNet. The SmackTalk feature—brief pre-taped promos airing as the competitors walked down the aisle—was an OK idea to maximize the allotted time, again allowing more time for wrestling. The “1, 2, 3” (as in three points) background info could have served as a more effective introduction for the boys to the viewing audience had the information displayed been more interesting, e.g., Kenny King is “Cocky/Arrogant.” (And King was the babyface…I think.)  It reminded me of the Matt Hardy V.1. gimmick, but at least Mattitude’s personality points were usually quite funny.

Overdressing the part: Titus oozes heel sleaziness.

Overdressing the part: Titus oozes heel sleaziness.

 

It was nice to hear the terms “professional wrestling” and “wrestler” throughout the broadcast.

The Bad:

The production values might have been an upgrade for ROH but are still miles behind WWE, and to a lesser extent, TNA, which will hurt them with casual viewers who have grown to associate slick presentation with a major-league product. I understand that ROH is a fledging promotion with a modest budget, but I’m reminded of Paul Heyman years ago explaining during the ECW heyday that the Philly hardcore promotion didn’t have the money to look as good as the WWF, so they didn’t try to be the WWF. ROH’s HDNet show appeared to aspire as times to look like RAW, which was impossible to achieve at this point. Clearly, ROH is banking on superior in-ring performance to WWE in making the crucial difference in building an audience on HDNet.

It was hard to tell if the crowd in attendance was dead or just improperly mic’d—either way, the atmosphere at the arena came off minor league. I expected a more passionate crowd, much like ECW (or even TNA) years ago. If I were a casual TV viewer, I’d think the live crowd was unfamiliar with the wrestlers and the ROH product.

At times, we appeared to be in the Land of Wrestling Gimmicks That Time Forgot. Kenny King, for some reason, came out in a suit blazer and trousers, which he awkwardly removed before the bout. Like rookies Jerry Lawler and the Rock years before him, young King smiled throughout the bout, which announcer Mike Hogewood tried to sell (repeatedly) as “He’s having a lot of fun out there.” Jacobs and Sami Callihan both had a Memphis 1990 feel to them: solid workers with a bad look who wouldn’t be getting any sort of push or TV time if the promotion had more depth.

The new Black: Solid in the ring, but watch his promos and you know why they call him the Silent Assassin.

The new Black: Solid in the ring, but watch his promos and you know why they call him the Silent Assassin.

 

On that note, Titus desperately needs to tweak his sleazy loverboy gimmick—losing the bowtie and the continual pelvis thrusts while wrestling would be a nice start. Again, Titus’ “Addicted to Love” persona came off like an outdated Memphis gimmick, but at least with him, that may have been the point. Titus has talent, but he’s stuck in the wrong gimmick.

With the exceptions of Jacobs and Titus, and possibly King, nobody displayed much charisma in their promos, rendering the “SmackTalk” feature less effective than it could have been. (King has potential, but he had nothing to say at all in his Saturday promo.) Tyler has the look and amazing athleticism but he is at least a couple of years away from being where he needs to be on the stick. Jacobs, on the other hand, is a natural menace on the mic, much in the same vein as a young Scott Levy (Raven) but I can’t imagine most fans taking him seriously because of his size. I don’t enjoy saying that because, as a Memphis fan, I grew up with smaller guys ruling the roost (Bill Dundee, Lawler, Eddie Gilbert, etc.) It’s hard to knock his work, but I’m not sure Jacobs belongs in your TV main event, especially on the debut show. The bloody, violent clips of the Jacobs/Black split seemed out of place within the Ring of Honor. I’d establish the sportsmanship of the promotion first on HDNet so it would mean more later when a personal feud makes two ROH competitors disregard the promotion’s principles to settle a feud. Those type of angles have a place in pro wrestling today, but less is more…and definitely not on the debut show.

A shame the snub of the prematch handshake (before the Black/Jacobs grudge match) had to be wasted on the first HDNet show.

The announcing team Mike Hogewood and Dave Prazak was pretty bland, with the former seeming particularly out of his element. “Backstage reporter” Kyle Durden came off green as well..not believable at all in the role.

With other promotions treating their title belts as props, it would have been a wise move to feature ROH champion Nigel McGuinness with a live promo. Nigel will appear in a taped bout next week vs. Jay Briscoe, but the Wrestling Observer is reporting that because of an injury McGuinness be out for months shortly thereafter.

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Hart to Hart: the return of the King

March 22nd, 2009 2 comments

Part II of II

Really, it couldn’t have been booked any better. In the prime of his career in 1979 as the CWA “World” heavyweight champion, Lawler was injured at the hands of Jerry Calhoun, a Memphis wrestling referee, in a “friendly” touch-football game. As Lawler explained from his hospital bed to a channel 5 news reporter: “I was playing football with some old friends — Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw, y’know, the boys — and I broke my leg. That’s the way it goes. That’s the breaks.” A tough break indeed for Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett, who had warned his number-one drawing card and top heel against playing in the roughhouse contests on Sunday afternoons in the fall. Years later, Jarrett told me that he had big plans for Lawler in 1980, including a program in which the King would try to unify wrestling’s World titles, much like the program in 1988.

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But showing the same resiliency that would come in handy when Vince McMahon would invade his territory years later, Jarrett made the best of it. He removed the muzzle from Lawler’s manager, Jimmy Hart, and put all the heat on the former singer, turning the King babyface in the process. The heat simmered until December 29, 1980, when Lawler returned in front of an SRO crowd at the Mid-South Coliseum to get his revenge.

Lawler defeated the Dream Machine in typical Memphis babyface fashion: Calhoun was bumped, allowing Lawler to pull a chain from his boot and knock Graham to dreamland. As per the pre-match stipulations, Lawler got five minutes with Hart, who got color (blood) about 10 seconds into it. His throne reclaimed, Lawler left Hart for dead. Nine-year-old Scott Bowden and the other 11,500 or so marks in attendance that night at the Mid-South Coliseum rejoiced. Little did I realize at the time that this was not the end of the storyline but only the beginning. There was blood to be shed, titles to be won and lost, and bones to be broken.

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Which takes us to Evansville, Indiana, shortly after Lawler’s return. The King’s right hand, usually one of the best pulled punches in the business, was errant, breaking Hart’s jaw. Lawler claimed it was a mistake, while Hart seemed to think it was payback for the “They shoot horses, don’t they?” comment that the manager made in the weeks following the leg injury.

I’m sure at the time Lawler blew off the incident, as some of the boys would do following a potato (a stiff blow) like that: “Hey, it’s good for the business.” All the scar tissue collected on foreheads from razor blades? “Good for the business.” You get the idea. Besides, as Lawler and Jarrett used to always say, “Personal issues draw money.” While they were still friendly off-camera, Lawler supposedly didn’t like it that Hart had made himself a star while he was on the sideline.

The trio (Lawler, the Dream and Hart) completed the loop—cities such as Louisville, Kentucky; Evansville, Indiana; and Nashville—doing the same match and post-bout mopping up of Hart, with only a snowstorm preventing a clean sweep of sellouts. In a move reminiscent of the famous Quest for the NWA Title program years earlier, Jarrett brought in some of the top names in the business to face Lawler, pairing them with Hart. But first, there was business to finish with Ellering, who, while not a huge name, was Hart’s royal replacement several months earlier. Lawler pinned Ellering in the middle of the ring following a fist-drop, his finisher at the time. (Hey, a closed fist from the middle turnbuckle wasn’t a moonsault, but back then, we believed in it.)

Austin Idol was next, with Hart’s gold record for “Keep on Dancin’” at stake. After pinning Idol, Lawler tossed the gold record into the Mississippi River. Lawler had informed the TV audience of his plans to dispose of the record at the bridge, and hundreds of fans showed up, preventing the cameraman from getting a good shot. The following Saturday, Lawler explained why he littered the river instead of cashing in the record: “Turns out that the gold record itself has no monetary value. It was worthless — just like Hart.” hartsantaWhile never faring well in the ring, Hart was not to be pushed around verbally. Hart frequently called local hapless TV jobbers Robert Reed and Ken Raper “graduates of the Jerry Lawler School of Wrestling,” which resulted in people on the streets constantly approaching the King about enrollment. (There was no such school.) In particular, Hart formed a wonderful chemistry with Russell, who could often be seen nearly cracking up during some of the funnier promos. Years before heel catchphrases became cool, Hart’s “This is the greatest day of my life!” was a weekly source of agitation for Russell and the fans. Hart went on to record a song about a girl who is perfect … except for one thing: She has “Lance Russell’s Nose.” The song was later released on his “Outrageous Conduct” album as “Barbara Streisand’s Nose.” The video for the local hit “We Hate School” not only further endeared Hart to parents and educators in the area but also unveiled the hiddent talents of First Family members Koko Ware on guitar and the Iranian Assassin (Ali Hassan) on the drums.

 

To deepen the apparent rivalty between the two, Lawler cut a song, “World’s Greatest Wrestler” in response to “We Hate School,” with a local radio station conducting a well-publicized poll to determine the better tune. Says Lawler in the buildup: “Hart’s last album with the Gentrys wasn’t released — it escaped.” Hart on Lawler’s singing ability: “Lawler couldn’t carry a tune if it were covered in Krazy Glue.” The result: Another victory for Lawler, clearly more of a testament to his popularity rather than his singing talents. (Let’s just say Lawler’s previous record, “Bad News,” was aptly titled.)

The storyline continued, with Hart bringing in Crusher Blackwell, Joe LeDuc, Jack Brisco, the Funks, Hulk Hogan, the Super D (Scott Irwin) and Baron Von Raschke — all to no avail. The big names came and went, but Hart’s stable of regulars, “The First Family of Professonal Rasslin’,” picked up the slack most weeks. At different times, the stable included The Turk and El Toro, Killer Karl Krupp, Kevin Sullivan, Wayne Ferris, “Handsome” Jimmy, Dutch Mantel, Bobby Eaton, Buddy Landell, Dennis Condrey, Norvell Austin, Stan Lane and The Bruise Brothers (Porkchop Cash and the unmasked Troy Graham).

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Unlike managers in the Northeast at the time, who were traditionally used primarily only in pre-match buildups as mouthpieces for their charges, Hart interfered constantly in matches, with a cane his weapon of choice.  The heat was so strong on Hart that the promotion often successfully passed off even the lamest of gimmicks as major league, such as the Russian Invader. The same week that ABC aired “The Day After,” a controversial made-for-TV movie about the aftermath of global nuclear war, Lawler faced the Russian Invader, managed by Hart, who I suppose was reading the works of Lenin at the time. Wearing red tights and blue trunks, with white boots, Lawler did his part to end the Cold War, stomping out the masked red menace around the territory. But the war with Hart raged on.

In Lawler’s personal favorite Hart moment, the manager had a pull-apart brawl with comedian Andy Kaufman in which neither man landed a punch. Of course, it was all a “ruse” designed to trap Lawler, culiminating with the comedian turning on the King during a tag bout. Hart and Kaufman also worked together to cost Lawler the AWA World title in a classic finish in January 1983. Hart had been “burned” by repeated fireballs thrown by Lawler weeks earlier in a cage match. The following week, Lawler apparently won the AWA World title from Nick Bockwinkel, but the belt was “held up.” In a rematch match for the “vacant” AWA championship, Hart, wrapped in bandages like the Invisible Man, accompanied Bockwinkel to ringside. Bill Dundee sat in Lawler’s corner. While ref Paul Morton attempted to block the masked Hart’s attempt to interfere, Lawler went for the pin. With no ref to make the count, Lawler got up but was distracted by the presence of Hart—wearing no bandages—on the other side of the ring. Bockwinkel took advantage and rolled up Lawler for the winning pin to reclaim the turkey-platter-sized belt. The bandages were removed from the mystery man to reveal Kaufman, who had sworn revenge for the injuries sustained from two Lawler piledrivers in April 1982. And the Hart-Lawler feud heated up yet again.

 

Although they teased a loser-leaves-town stipulation in August 1981 (The Last Tango in Memphis), which ended in neither man leaving town for any significant period of time, Hart and Lawler again played up the challenge in 1985. This time, it was for keeps, as Vince McMahon wanted Hart for his ever-expanding WWF kingdom.

In what turned out to be his final appearance for years in the Union Avenue studio, Hart, along with Eddie Gilbert, tossed jobber David Haskins out the door and into the January snow. Later in the show, Hart promoted an upcoming tag match in which a bag of flour would be attached to a pole as a potential weapon. Hart ended the interview by emptying a bag of flour over Lance Russell’s head, drawing “a suspension.”

This scenario led to a Southern title match with Gilbert defending against Lawler. If Gilbert lost, Hart would be gone. If Lawler lost, he’d leave his hometown. In an interview taped from home, the manager promised a surprise, which turned out to be Tommy H, a Hart lookalike and longtime fan, managing Gilbert at the Coliseum. (In hindsight, the finish was given away, as Hart appeared to be packing during the interview.) Another snowstorm prevented the expected near sellout, but those brave enough to make it to the Coliseum erupted with joy as Lawler pinned Gilbert in a good match. Lance Russell made a passionate call of the result: “Jimmy Hart is gone!” The next morning, The Commercial Appeal, the Memphis newspaper, not only listed the results but also added: “If you need to talk to Jimmy Hart, you’d better find him fast.”

Years later, 1996 to be exact, I’m sitting ringside managing Tex Slazenger with my feet comfortably propped up on the ring apron, a move I stole from Hart. Dave Brown tells Lance Russell: “Look at Bowden here, sitting here kicked back. Where did this guy learn to manage wrestlers anyway? What makes him qualified?”

That’s easy, “Dave Brown, The Weather Clown” (as Hart of often referred to Brown, who was also the most popular weather forecaster in the area): growing up watching Hart. Never has a manager been so entertaining yet infuriating, in my opinion. I’m aware of how amazing Jim Cornette was in Mid-South and WCW, and yes, Bobby Heenan had great timing for years in the WWF. But for five years in Memphis, nobody did it better than Jimmy Hart.

(clippings courtesy of memphiswrestlinghistory.com)