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Archive for April, 2009

Britain’s greatest athlete

April 30th, 2009 1 comment

bigdaddylatest

I was in London last week visiting my wife’s family and attending a wedding. In addition to several inquiries regarding my journey to the U.K. (i.e., “How was your flight?”) I was also asked for my thoughts about The Wrestler and pro wrestling in general. Never fails: Every conversation about the business eventually drifted to memories of the inexplicably popular British star Big Daddy (26-stone Shirley Crabtree) and his monumental feud with 49-stone Giant Haystacks (Martin Ruane), two bangers-and-mash eating behemoths who couldn’t work a lick back in the ’70s. (I’ll take Jerry Lawler vs. Bill Dundee, or Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, thank you very much.) A former miner and rugby player for Bradford Northern, Crabtree supposedly modeled his persona after the Big Daddy character from Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He retired following a 1987 a bout with Mal “King Kong” Kirk, who reportedly “turned blue” and was dead upon arrival after receiving Big Daddy’s infamous “Splash” finisher.

Ironically enough, a couple of years ago, when watching the memorable near-60-minute match between John Cena and HBK during a Monday Night RAW taped in England, my future mum-in-law asked, “Don’t you think Big Daddy could have killed both these blokes?” I don’t know about that, but he’s certainly killing me.

Remembering Rude

April 23rd, 2009 7 comments

 

Minnesota Wrecking Crew: AWA Southern champion Ric Rude appeared on several Memphis cards with fellow Sharkey alums Hawk and Animal.
Minnesota Wrecking Crew: AWA Southern champion Ric Rude appeared on several Memphis cards with fellow Sharkey alums Hawk and Animal.

 Jim Cornette has referred to it as the only time Jerry Jarrett came out on the short end of the stick in a deal. Mid-South Wrestling owner Bill Watts, looking to rejuvenate his promotion in fall 1983, travelled to Memphis to scout talent at the Mid-South Coliseum. Jarrett’s promotion was almost too loaded with talent at the time, with stars Jerry Lawler and The Fabulous Ones (Stan Lane and Steve Keirn) in the prime of their incredible early 1980s babyface runs in the territory. Jarrett was averaging close to 7,000 fans a week at the Coliseum, complemented by strong crowds for two different spots each Friday and Saturday night—usually one headlined by Lawler and the other by the Fabs. Business was also hot on Tuesday night at Louisville Gardens, which pretty much featured a similar lineup to the previous week’s loaded Monday night show. The Saturday morning wrestling show from the WMC-TV 5 Studio on Union Avenue, which aired live in Memphis, was edited down from its 90-minute version to a 60-minute format that aired the following week throughout the territory (hence the lag times between lineups at the Coliseum and cards the following week in Louisville and other cities). 

Watts had for years built his territory on bigger stars, usually ex-jocks, and supposedly had to be convinced by his new booker, longtime Memphis star Bill Dundee, to at least keep an open mind on pushing smaller athletes. Based on Dundee’s suggestion, Watts decided to build up the tag-team ranks with the Rock ’n’ Roll Express (Rick Morton and Robert Gibson), who were always a strut behind the Fabs in the eyes of Memphis fans, as they debuted months after Stan and Steve set the area on fire. Cast in the role of their heel rivals in Mid-South were Bobby Eaton (already one of the best workers in the biz by that point) and veteran star Dennis Condrey, the second incarnation of the Midnight Express, managed by Jim Cornette. Watts also eventually brought in Memphis stars Terry Taylor and Buddy Landell.

Jarrett received guys like Masao Ito, Hoss Higgins, Jim Neidhart and Rick Rood as part of the deal. Although Neidhart also went on to superstardom, only Rood really established himself in the Memphis territory. Ito flopped in a feud with Austin Idol, mostly because the bouts were horrible. Higgins left almost immediately, after floundering in prelims, and the Anvil departed shortly after raiding Hart’s stable, with the angle quickly forgotten.

In 1984, Rood had a good look but was green as grass. A member of the same Eddie Sharkey training school in Minnesota that spawned the Road Warriors, he had been recruited by Ole Anderson in 1983 to work the Georgia territory, which was struggling with the departures of several established big-name stars, hence the mega-push of Hawk and Animal as National tag champions. Growing up in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, Rood was a childhood friend of the late Curt Hennig, Barry Darsow, Nikita Koloff (Scott Simpson) and Tom Zenk. Rood’s lone Georgia highlight was working as a special referee in a bout between Mr. Wrestling II and Larry Zbyszko. He drifted to Mid-South, doing jobs for the likes of Butch Reed, before being shipped to Memphis.

Upon arrival, he became “Ravishing” Ric Rude (yes, Ric...just like ol’ what’s-his-face), a cocky, spandex-wearing heel, complete with manager Hart and blonde valet Angel. (Eventually, the “k” would be added back to his first name, i.e., Rick Rude.) The role suited him, and Rude quickly moved up the cards. After feuding with Idol in a natural matchup, Rude won the AWA Southern title from Lawler, with an assist from Neidhart and Angel. After being pinned, Lawler punched Angel with a tremendous-looking shot while young boys in the front row popped like crazy. Rude commanded the spot of the lead heel in Jimmy Hart’s First Family, despite the fact that he was only decent in the ring and still unpolished on the mic. However, Rude had a natural arrogance, a heel charisma that you just can’t teach. It was obvious…Rick Rude had “it.” Really, his was a classic case of Jarrett and Lawler taking an unproven talent and helping to mold him into a star. In particular, Lawler made Rude look like a million bucks in the ring; most important, they drew big bucks together, peaking with consecutive crowds of 9,019 and a near sellout of over 11,000 the weeks of Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, 1984, respectively. Along the way, Rude lost his valet to a Lawler piledriver, futher cementing the rep of the King as possibly the dirtiest babyface in the game.


After the steel-cage blowoff with Lawler, Rude moved on to tag bouts with King Kong Bundy. Calling themselves “Thunder and Lightning,” Rude and Bundy feuded with Lawler and new babyface Randy Savage, before trading the Southern tag straps with the Fabulous Ones.

The promotion tried turning him babyface in a feud with Bundy following the loss to the Fabs, Rude didn’t get over in his new role. There was a smugness, even his babyface promos, that you couldn’t get past. The fans in Memphis hated him that much. Just over a month after Bundy and Hart attacked him, Rude was abruptly turned back heel in another feud with Lawler.

By the time he left the territory at year’s end, “Ravishing” Rick Rude was a polished heel destined for bigger things. He moved on to Florida, and then World Class, before getting the call from Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett promotions. Incredibly, instead of being pushed as a singles star and natural rival to Ric Flair on the SuperStation, Rude was stuck in a tag team with Manny Fernandez of all people. Despite making good money and having good matches with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, he left in April 1987 while still one half of the NWA World tag champs. Greener pastures lined with bigger money awaited: Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, where Rude became a national sensation in the late ’80s.

Richard Erwin Rood died of heart failure at the age of 40 on April 20, 1999. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of his death, what I’d like to have right now is for all you fat, out-of-shape, beer-swillin’ sweathogs to keep your mouths shut—a moment of silence, if you will—as we remember the man who used to take his robe off and show the ladies what a real sexy man was all about. Hit the music.

Brian Lawler is doing great

April 15th, 2009 15 comments

 

Bloody hell: Brian Lawler, in the aftermath of his dressing-room fight Saturday. (photo courtesy of rasslinriot.com)

Bloody hell: Brian Lawler, in the aftermath of his dressing-room fight Saturday. (rasslinriot.com)

The first time I met Brian Christopher Lawler, in 1990, he was delivering Godfather Pizzas in an old Lincoln Continental that used to belong to his father, Jerry “the King” Lawler. Like many seniors at Craigmont High School, his mustache was in full bloom, and soon he’d be on his own. Then what? Would he follow in his father’s foot-stomps? At that time, Brian sounded unenthusiastic about the wrestling business, claiming that he was interested in a career as a physical therapist. Even after years of “working” as “Bodacious” Brian as part of the Ultimate Males tag team in his brother Kevin’s NWA (Neighborhood Wrestling Alliance) in a ring set up in a guy’s backyard, he acted like he was too smart to fall into the trappings of a life in the business.

In hindsight, maybe Brian Lawler should have gone with his gut.

Around the time of his graduation from high school in May 1990, Brian appeared on an outlaw show for the Snowman, working fellow NWA backyard wrestler Tony Williams, and together, they brought the house down in their very first match in front of a crowd. After all, they had been practicing in the backyard for years at that point. But that’s almost selling Brian short. If there was ever a natural for the business, it was Brian. He instantly had amazing heel charisma (some would argue it’s no gimmick) and his in-ring execution was damn solid from the get-go.

Strapping young man: Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett pushed Brian strong almost immediately, booking him to win multiple=

Strapping young man: Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett pushed Brian strong almost immediately, booking him to win multiple straps.

After Jerry watched a tape of that match, he asked Brian and Tony to debut as Memphis TV jobbers “Quasar and Nebula, The Twilight Zone,” in fall 1990. Despite their lack of experience and physical stature, they pulled off some cool moves they’d seen guys like the British Bulldogs perform. It was obvious these guys were a cut above your typical Memphis jobber, most of whom were lucky to lace their boots correctly. They quickly graduated to the unmasked “New Kids” gimmick, now known simply as “Brian and Tony,” complete with the NKOB song “Hanging Tough” as their entrance music. (Can’t imagine why male fans hated them.) Still, the Kids got a few wins here and there, some of which were officiated by 19-year-old rookie ref Scott Bowden. I noticed that in nearly each of the Kids’ losses, it was Tony who did the job. It was clear they had plans for Brian.

Brian, of course, went on to become a pretty big star in Memphis, working as “Too Sexy” Brian Christopher, working a similar style and persona as “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, complete with Jimmy Hart’s maniacal laugh.

With Jerry Jarrett booking him much like he did a young Jerry Lawler in the late ‘70s, Brian got over huge in the area, culminating with a babyface-turning moment when he pinned Shawn Michaels in the middle of the ring during a six-man USWA vs. WWF match in Memphis. He appeared to be on his way to bigger things.

Brian was consumed with his size, and packed on muscle, clearly by any means necessary. Still, he rarely drank back then and was committed to a healthy diet. Too Sexy had developed a taste for stardom and was after a WWF contract.

Around this time, I wrote an article about Brian for a magazine-writing class at the University of Memphis. When I interviewed his mom, Kay, about his decision to enter the business, she replied, “Brian only wrestles to get Jerry’s attention. Hey, dad, I exist.”

Eventually, he made his way to the former Fed in the late 1990s, catching fire with partners Scott Too Hotty and Rakishi as “Too Cool.” Scotty and Brian defeated Edge and Christian in 2000 on an episode of RAW to win the WWF World tag titles, at a time when those straps still meant something. Brian was thought to be on his way to superstardom. Little did we realize, he was likely at the apex of his career.

He’s just a Sexxay boy: Lawler upgraded to WWE gold, capturing the World tag titles with Scotty Too Hotty.

He’s just a Sexxay boy: Lawler later upgraded to WWE gold, capturing the World tag titles with Scotty Too Hotty.

Eventually, Brian started hanging around the wrong crowd in the dressing room and was fired in 2001, after drugs were allegedly found in his bag while attempting to pass through the Canadian border. As a favor to Jerry, Jim Ross rehired Brian in 2004, one of JR’s last acts as head of talent relations for the company. He didn’t last long, fired in less than a month; the official reason was that he was late for a couple of shows.

The last time Brian appeared on national TV, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was asking him about the Chris Benoit tragedy. In an uncomfortable segment, Lawler said he was not surprised about steroids being found at the scene since Chris was obsessed with “bulking up so he could compete in the main-event-type matches.” He appeared to be jockeying for a WWE return, claiming authorities and the media needed to “check the expiration dates on those bottles” before pointing fingers because the WWE currently had a strict steroid-testing policy on par with Major League Baseball. Brian also claimed that that most of the wrestlers who had died “were retired,” which was ridiculous, since most wrestlers still breathing never retire. (Brian was not wearing a headset; otherwise, I’d swear Vince McMahon was giving him material.) When Cooper pointed out that the number of wrestler deaths “is a lot,” a perplexed BC responded, “Well…but I have a lot of friends.”

Since that time, Brian’s bounced around TNA and local independents, developing a bad reputation along the way. A rep that hasn’t been enhanced by an incident Saturday night, which occurred in the wrestling hotbed of Dyersburg, Tenn.

The blog rasslionriot.com is reporting that Brian was involved in a legit fight backstage with wrestler Bishop. It was ugly, according to area wrestler Motley Cruz, who witnessed the brawl.

Cruz says: The issue started after the match between Brian and Seth Knight…. Brian had issues with the ref TJ, who happens to be related to Bishop, and stiffed the kid in the ring. I give TJ credit because he was man enough to come to the locker room and confront Brian, punching him in the mouth for stiffing him, at which point Brian jumped on TJ, and Bishop stepped in and pulled Brian off and had TJ leave the locker room till everything calmed down, at that point everyone thought the problem was over.

Nothing else happened until Bishop returned to the locker room after a 20 minute match with Rocker, blowed up, and Brian Christopher sucker punched him in the mouth with a pair of handcuffs as he was walking thru the curtain. At that point Bishop speared Brian thru a thick wooden rail and Brian attempted to grab him in a front face lock and laid on top of him knowing that Bishop was blown up from the match, Bishop got out from underneath him and pinned him against the wall by the throat, and gave him a few choice words. Bishop was talked in to letting him go, and as Bishop was walking off, it occurred to him that he had been sucker punch in the mouth with a pair of handcuffs and he got pissed off all over again, he then told Brian “your daddy isn’t here to save you” and hit Brian in the face with a barbwired baseball bat (smaller than mine) and proceeded to beat his ass with his fist, until Brian was able to get on top and lay on Bishop again, bleeding like crazy from his face. They were again broke up, Bishop was still mad about being sucker punched in the mouth with a pair of handcuffs and went to his bag to get something to hit Brian. The two squared off again, Brian hit Bishop square in the face and did not budge Bishop, and Bishop was back on Brian beating the hell out of him again. Brian was again able to work his way on top and lay on Bishop, Dustin Starr walked over wiped the blood off Brian’s face and pleaded for them to stop fighting, they finally separated and that was the end of the fight.

The whole scene sounds so bizarre that some initially wondered if it was a work. According to someone who saw it live, though, the brawl was even worse than it sounds—if that’s possible. One wrestler described it as “scary.” Plus, as Brian Tramel at rasslinriot points out, there were no TV cameras present, and the whole thing escalated so fast and was so gruesome, no one thought to record it with their cell phone. Hell, it sounds like the infamous Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl…without the work.

To be fair, another wrestler, Dustin Starr, has another viewpoint on his blog, where he points out that Brian was punched first, by a green referee, no less, and then Bishop did pull BC off instead of letting the fight sort itself out. Maybe Starr has a point.

I guess my point is this: Brian paid his dues long ago and is too talented; he should not have even been in Dyersburg on this night. If he had his head on straight, Brian would be on the big stage, along with his dad. It must kill him that he is not. Almost every time I see Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase do a promo as Legacy, I think of Brian and how he could have been a nice fit if things were different.

The barbed wire, ironically enough, probably saved Brian from being killed or having his face caved in, as Bishop apparently swung for the fences, nailing Brian directly in the face. (The barbed wire actually lessens the impact of the blow, according to those with experience in those kinds of matches.) Still, Brian’s face was badly swollen the next day, with tiny holes and puncture wounds from the barbed wire.

When Tramel initially IM’d me via Yahoo Messenger with the news, asking, “Did you hear about Brian Lawler?” My mind was racing, thinking, “He’s dead.”

No, but his career might be if Brian doesn’t straighten himself out. Soon.