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Memorial Day 1994: Eddie Gilbert’s last Memphis Wrestling match

May 31st, 2010 2 comments

Got your back, Hot Stuff: In a nefarious plot, Eddie Gilbert and I conspired to defeat Jerry Lawler on Memorial Day 1994.

On Memorial Day 1994, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert wrestled his last match at the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum, going out a winner with a victory over rival and former childhood idol Jerry Lawler–and saving my neck in the process. The bout was set up the week before during a main event of Lawler and Jeff Jarrett vs. the Dream Machine and Gilbert. Because my girlfriend and some of my buddies were in the audience that night, I asked Gilbert to involve me in the finish in some controversial way. Almost immediately, he broke into a devilish grin and said, “Let me think of something.” What he came up with exceeded my expectations.

Frank Morrell, the assigned ref for the bout, is bumped (knocked senseless), which is my cue to get ready. After Lawler piledrives Gilbert, I make my move down to ringside. I begin to count three as Lawler covers a prone Gilbert. Instead, I rise up and deliver a stiff shot to Lawler’s neck with my Doc Marten boot. I place Gilbert on top and register a quick three count. Lawler and I butt heads afterward, which ends with me shoving Lawler on his ass and running for my life. Stunned and suddenly fearing for her life, my girlfriend makes a beeline for my car and ducks down in the backseat. Fans pelt my car with debris as we leave the parking lot. I love every minute of it–my childhood dream has become a reality–all thanks to Eddie.

I regret that Eddie and I didn’t have more time to work together. Two weeks after my heel turn, on May 27, 1994, Eddie and I conducted only our second promo together, building up his match with Lawler on Memorial Day at the Coliseum. As a stipulation of the bout, I would be forced into the ring with Lawler for five minutes should he defeat Hot Stuff. The previous Saturday, during a TV main event between Lawler and Gilbert, I had thrown powder into the King’s eyes right after his introduction, enabling “my new best friend” to steal the win in about six seconds. The King was hot on my trail.

During our promo two days before our Memorial Day showdown (billed as “D-Day for Bowden”), Lance played it up as if I were at death’s door, insinuating I wouldn’t survive the encounter if Jerry Lawler got his hands on me, which I shrugged off with a line I had lifted from Apter-mag heel columnist Dan Shocket, “The only reason Lawler’s not over the hill is because he never climbed it in the first place.” I didn’t realize then how sensitive Lawler was about his age—I’m sure he winced backstage at that one. But the worst was yet to come.

Prior to the interview, Eddie had confided in me backstage that he was livid his bout with Lawler wasn’t the main event. As part of their working relationship with the WWF, Bam Bam Bigelow was heading back in to team with the Dream Machine to work with Jerry and Brian in the last match. Eddie felt he should be in the tag main event with Bigelow—not wrestling a singles bout with Lawler, especially since Lawler wasn’t putting up the Unified World title. Gilbert desperately wanted that strap back so he could “get his heat back.”

Perhaps the most agonizing part for Gilbert in May 1994: Lawler was showing no signs of slowing down, or abdicating the Memphis Rasslin’ throne any time soon. And to make matters worse, Lawler’s kingdom had expanded to the WWF, where he was firmly entrenched not only as a heel color commentator alongside Vince McMahon but also a wrestler fresh off a high-profile feud with Bret Hart and still receiving nice PPV paydays.

So as I stood by Gilbert’s side on May 27, he was a powder keg waiting to explode—and on live TV, no less. In a classic example of art imitating life, he questioned why Jerry Lawler wasn’t putting the title up and that he was sick of Brian Christopher being “Lawler’s handpicked successor.” He also bemoaned the backstage politics and that he wouldn’t be around much longer, comparing himself to Emmit Smith, the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise player who sat out the first two games of the 1993 NFL season until he got a new contract. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, shit. This is a shoot. Lawler’s gonna kill us when we get backstage.” I just knew any minute that Gilbert was going to reveal that Brian was Jerry’s son, which was already one of the worst-kept secrets in town, but he didn’t. Gilbert was dressed to wrestle in the show later, but instead he made a beeline for the exit, leaving me to explain things to Lawler. With a concerned look on his face, Lawler asked me, “You think that was a shoot?” Gulp. I muttered, “I…I think so.” Then Lawler asked me if I thought Eddie would show up Monday night for the match. To that one, I had no answer. Gilbert probably didn’t even know—it all depended on how he felt 48 hours later.

Hours before the show Monday, Lawler called me to ask if I’d heard from Gilbert. After I explained that I hadn’t, Lawler asked if I could round up the crutches, leg brace and wheelchair he’d seen me use in an outlaw-show performance on one of Brian’s videotapes. Lawler was hatching a contingency plan in case Gilbert didn’t make it. In the event of the no-show, the Dream Machine would wheel me down to ringside, and I’d claim that Eddie and I were seriously injured in a car accident when a drunkard–most likely a Memphis wrestling fan–ran my car off the road. Alas, Gilbert did arrive at the building shortly before the 8 o’clock bell time, so instead Eddie wheeled me down wearing a neckbrace and delivered the spiel as Lance held the microphone. Eddie turned things over to me, and as I noted the cruel irony of being stuck in a wheelchair along with all the war veterans on Memorial Day, Hot Stuff sneaked up behind the preoccupied Lawler and attacked him to start the match. The scenario was illogical since Lawler had pulled nearly the exact same attack months earlier on Bret at SummerSlam ’93.

During the bout, Gilbert kept feeding Lawler to me, unselfishly putting even more heat on his young, cocky manager. At different points, I ran over Lawler in the wheelchair, gouged his eyes and choked him. And the ref, Lawler’s other son, Kevin Christian Lawler, never saw a damned thing. After the patented Lawler ref bump out of a headlock, I made my move out of the wheelchair. I stood on the ring apron, and tossed my thick, heavy leg brace to Eddie, who clotheslined Lawler with it, seemingly knocking him out for the pin.

Little did we all know that was to be Eddie’s last match ever in Memphis. Days later, Gilbert walked out on the promotion and Jerry Lawler; less than nine months later, he was found dead in a Puerto Rico hotel room…gone but never forgotten.

I wooooo! Ric Flair’s daughter Ashley walks that aisle

May 26th, 2010 No comments

Whether you like him...or don't like him...learn to live with him.

Ashley Fliehr, the daughter of legendary wrestler Ric Flair, was married Sunday to Riki Johnson (no relation to Rocky and Dwayne Johnson) in North Carolina. 

The couple made headlines along with the Nature Boy in Chapel Hill in September 2008 following a drunken brawl in which Ashley teamed with Riki to allegedly assaulted her famous father. Police officers arrived on the scene to find Flair, Ashley Fliehr and Riki in a shmaz.

Neighbors claimed the three were involved in a fight that left the 16-time World champion bloodied and bruised. Flair admitted fighting Riki but declined to file charges in the case, but his daughter was arrested after kicking an officer. Reportedly, Chapel Hill Police were forced to use a stun gun to subdue Ashley. (Frankly, this had Vince Russo written all over it.) 

The Nature Girl was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer and delaying or obstructing a public official, according to a police report. (Ashley’s mug shot was quite possibly the most flattering I’ve ever seen–better than most headshots I’ve seen in Los Angeles…couldn’t ask for a better picture.)

Ashley mugs for the camera following her arrest in September 2008.

In the end, Ashley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which was suspended to supervised probation and a $200 fine. A charge of assaulting an officer was dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Much like Flair and longtime hated rival Ricky Steamboat mended fences in the Carolinas so many years ago, Naitch and Riki clearly put the incident behind them as Ric was on hand stylin’ and profilin’ at the ceremony. I cannot confirm if Hulk Hogan showed up unannounced to shove Flair’s face into the wedding cake; however, I have it on good authority that the Nature Boy managed to keep his clothes on for the duration of the reception. (During an awkward moment, Flair apparently felt the best man’s speech was dragging, prompting Naitch to scream, “You keep you mouth shut, fat boy!”)

Ashley was a star volleyball player in high school, leading her team to two state titles. She played volleyball at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.,  graduating in spring 2008.

 

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Three count and a cloud of Dust: Wrestling’s dreaded Dusty Finish

May 26th, 2010 6 comments

Buddy Landel was one of many stars to seemingly defeat Ric Flair for the NWA title before the decision was overturned.

In his book and DVD as well as during several “shoot” interviews, Dusty Rhodes denies responsibility for the screwjob finish that became a trademark of his booking during several high-profile World title matches in the ’80s. I’m talking about, of course, the dreaded “Dusty Finish”–a disheartening swerve that was booked in several JCP/WCW towns and on PPV repeatedly to the point it only served to piss of the fans instead of build anticipation for the rematch.

It usually went something like this: one referee (e.g., Tommy Young) is knocked unconscious to the floor with a bump. The heel (in this case, Ric Flair) charges his babyface challenger (say, Big Dust), who alertly backdrops the champion over the top rope, near the knocked-out official on the floor. A second ref hits the ring as Dusty suplexes the Nature Boy back into the squared circle and goes for the cover. The substitute ref counts the pinfall on the champ, swerving the people into believing the belt has just changed hands. The title win is then promptly overturned by the original ref, who explains that he had regained his bearings just in time to see the champ tossed over the top rope, an automatic disqualification. To make matters worse, sometimes the overturned decision wasn’t announced to the live crowd, so they left the arena thinking there was a new champion. The following week on TV, Flair would strut out with the belt, with no mention of a controversial finish at the local arena. As Big Dust himself might say, “Dat’s risky bidness, baby.”

Using his this finish, Dusty won the NWA World title from Ric Flair at Starrcade ’85 and had the boys (Superstar Graham, Billy Jack Haynes, Wahoo, Italian Stallion) give him a rousing locker-room celebration before the belt was returned to Flair. (I’m sure they were all just thrilled.) Tommy Young’s explanation about the DQ didn’t air on JCP TV until nearly two weeks after the event.

Dusty pretty much killed the promotion’s attendance in Chicago when he booked that same finish in a Road Warriors vs. Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard bout for the NWA tag titles at Starrcade ’87, which saw the “hometown” LOD lose on a DQ. (Amazing feat: In one night, Dusty pissed off fans from Chicago to Greensboro, where the longtime JCP fans were already furious that the promotion had moved the flagship event to Chi-Town.) A year earlier, Animal and Hawk had both seemingly won the NWA strap from Flair via the Dusty Finish in matches Rhodes booked as part of the 1986 Great American Bash tour.

WCW even used the Dusty Finish years later in a Ric Flair vs. Tatsumi Fujinami title match at the Tokyo Dome for a PPV, which ended the long-standing credibility of the NWA belt in Japan. (As Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer wrote at the time: “The Dusty Finish strikes Tokyo.”) The poor members of the Japanese press were forced to explain that Fujinami was still the NWA champion, but Flair had control of the WCW belt so he could defend it at house shows in the States. (In a lame segment by even WCW standards, a bloody Flair interrupted Fujinami’s press conference and simply stole the belt back before winning a rematch in the States.)

To those who criticized him for the Dusty Finish, the American Dream responded in his book: “Holy dippity dogshit, the ‘Dusty Finish’ is without a doubt the biggest scam in our industry. The phrase was created by sheet writers and picked up by the guys in the business who read them. Sure, I may have brought it to prominence by showing in on TV in the ’80s, but my finish? That fucking finish was around a lot longer before I was booking. If the swerve is what makes it a Dusty Finish, then I guess the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a Dusty Finish. George Washington crossing the Delaware to surprise the Hessians, that was a Dusty Finish.” (He goes on to categorize the Trojan horse and Eve taking a bite out of an apple as “Dusty Finishes.”)

In Dusty’s defense, he wasn’t the only guilty party. The Southeastern/Continental territory booked the same swerve with the likes of Austin Idol and Ron Fuller winning the belt for all of two minutes, while Kevin Von Erich got a brief taste of the Ten Pounds of Gold at the Dallas Sportatorium with an apparent win over Flair in 1982 before Bronco Lubich overruled babyface ref David Manning’s ruling. Flair himself used the finish in Auckland, New Zealand, for a bout at the local YMCA with Mark Lewin.

A recent YouTube Find reveals that even Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis territory, which prided itself on relatively clean finishes, especially in bouts involving the NWA World championship, wasn’t above a variation of the Dusty Finish. I sort of like this version, with Harley Race tossing Ted DiBiase over the top strand in a 1981 title bout at Kiel Auditorium; the verdict is delayed when even the original ref raises Ted’s hand after a discussion with the ring announcer and the second ref. But in the end, the ref awards the belt to Harley; Ted has the victory…but by disqualification. Nice touch with announcer Larry Matysik stressing (with an awkward pronunciation of the challenger’s surname) that, ever the sportsman, DiBiase shook the ref’s hand because he realized it was the right call to take the heat off the official and the finish. If used only once in a territory, the finish could be effective in spiking the houses for a return match.

Writes Jeff Sharkey for the Cauliflower Ear Club:The infamous rematch with Race for the NWA World title at Kiel Auditorium on February 6, 1981 ended with what became known as “the Dusty finish” for its frequented use while Dusty Rhodes booked for Jim Crockett in the mid 1980s. But in St. Louis, the result was booked to make all parties come out strong. The referee of record, Charles Venator, was knocked down, yet he still witnessed Race tossing DiBiase over the top rope, an act that served as grounds for disqualification. Yet before that decision could be rendered, DiBiase returned to the field of battle, and Race fell victim to another belly-to-back suplex, which led to a three-count at the hand of a second official. Slowly the official decision of a DQ on Race became apparent to the throng in attendance through well-timed referee pantomime and Matysik’s announcement of the result over the house mic. The St. Louis crowd shared DiBiase’s visible disappointment. But it was the right decision technically, and thus they respected the referee’s call, especially after he was endorsed by a handshake from the challenger, who came ‘just that close’ on this night. The anticipation of DiBiase being on the brink of striking gold led the fans back to the rematch at the Checkerdome on June 12, 1981. Sixteen thousand fans watched as Race turned back DiBiase’s challenge. “But it proved Ted was a main eventer who delivered good matches and drew money,” Matysik said.

The problems mounted for WCW which Dusty booked the ending on consecutive shows in towns like Greensboro, whose fans were pretty savvy. Plus, Dusty seemed to have trouble realizing that when you booked that finish on the SuperStation or on PPV, your fans nationwide–not just the folks in the arena–saw it, so you couldn’t effectively run it again at house shows. Fans could see it coming a mile away.

Today, while WWE occasionally resorts to lazy booking for major PPV bouts–e.g., Sunday’s World title match at Over the Limit PPV between champ Jack Swagger and Big Show, which ended in a DQ in under five minutes–the company for the most part appears committed to delivering clean wins, even by heels, which is one of few refreshing developments in the era of sports entertainment. While I hope the days of the Dusty Finish are behind us, I can’t help but think WWE Creative might get cute and book Cody Rhodes to win the WWE championship in a few years after a second referee makes the call, only to have the decision overturned by the official of record. Talk about karma–in public, if you will.