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WWE Hall of Fame “Next?” Goldberg threatens to return

July 30th, 2010 8 comments

Two former icons of their respective industries: At least Ron Jeremy was passionate about his work--and could last longer than 30 seconds.

Now living on a remote 30-acre property in Bonsall, Calif., former WCW/WWE World champion Bill Goldberg recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he’d love to return. But only, of course, “if the money was right.”

He tells The Union-Tribune: “I’d go out there and do it in two seconds,” Goldberg said. “I’d have to be totally prepared for it, because I wouldn’t want to tarnish my image, but I’d like to be in the ring one more time so that my wife and my son can see me wrestle live.”

Tarnish his image? That must be a rib. Hmmm…what would that be? The memory of his grueling 30-second squashes? His Superman push to the WCW World title, which came so effortlessly because of his unique charisma–so much in fact that he never seemed to appreciate it. Is he referring to how he ended Bret Hart’s career because he insisted on throwing his ridiculous MMA-style kicks with little regard for his opponent’s safety? His refusal to work with Chris Jericho because of his size?

Admittedly, Goldberg’s WCW run was a classic throwback of the fans making a guy a superstar, i.e., the people decided–not the booker. By all accounts (though dozens of people have taken credit for “The Streak”) no one in WCW knew what they had in Goldberg initially. The plan was to hide his massive shortcomings in 30-second squash matches and hope for the best, a formula that exceeded expectations, with the fans exploding for the guy the moment he stepped through the curtain after about six weeks of one-sided wins. In one of the last great booking moves for the company (they were certainly few and far between after 1998), WCW rode the momentum and built up the former Georgia Bulldog for a showdown with heel champion Hulk Hogan, despite the fact that Goldberg couldn’t do much beyond a spear and jackhammer suplex finisher.

Of course, Hogan’s ego cost the company millions of dollars when he insisted that the World title switch occur at the Georgia Dome Nitro less than a week before the show, which had already sold about 35,000 tickets. Hogan knew WCW brass would be in attendance, so he expertly manipulated his way into the main event to appear that he had drawn the house under the guise of “taking one for the team” and dropping the belt to the rising star and “making him.” If they had instead waited for these two seemingly unstoppable forces to meet at Starrcade ’98, WCW likely would have shattered PPV records or come close. Instead, on that Starrcade show later year, Kevin Nash booked himself to defeat Goldberg with a ridiculous finish. The Goldberg character never recovered.

After the sale of WCW, Goldberg eventually was signed by WWE (too late to save the ill-fated invasion angle), but Vince McMahon and WWE Creative seemed determined on breaking him down before building him back up, ignoring the simple formula that made him a dominant superstar to begin with. He was booked to look like a fool in his hometown at the hands of the Rock, who seemed to delight in making fun of the former WCW champion instead of getting him over as a force.

He had a forgettable series with Triple H in bouts that were booked to last far too long, exposing Goldberg as a less-than-credible worker. The fans caught on, and by the time he had dropped the WWE World title back to Trips, his era as a big star was over as fast it had begun.

Coupled with the fact that Brock Lesnar was also leaving the company, the two were booed out of the building while going through the motions during his last bout at WrestleMania XX. Once viewed by WCW fans as a superior bad ass to Steve Austin, WWE had the last laugh, with the retired Rattlesnake stunning Goldberg following the bout and sealing the lid on his career.

My disdain for Goldberg goes beyond his limitations in the ring. He’s always looked down on the business and never made the effort to understand it. His own ignorance doomed a potential feud with Jericho, who later taught the big guy a lesson backstage about respect when the two were reunited in WWE. Even now, he talks of putting smiles on kids faces for one more match while maintaining it would only happen if the money were right. Then again, it’s always been about the money to guys like Goldberg and Lex Luger, who were never big wrestling fans and always acted like the business was beneath him.

But with the 2011 WrestleMania live from Atlanta, where his greatest accomplishment occurred, Goldberg’s likely to get the “main event” Hall of Fame induction spot ahead of far-more deserving stars like the Freebirds and Arn Anderson, who would most likely be insulted to even be mentioned in the same class with the two-time World champion. (Personally, I think former Atlanta superstar and NWA World champion  Tommy “Wildfire” Rich would be a logical candidate–or at least more deserving than Goldberg–but that’s not going to happen.)

Goldberg’s induction after such a limited career would further illustrate that WWE’s Hall is nothing more than a shameless marketing tool. When watching the recent DVD release about the life of Ricky Steamboat, I was struck by how emotional the Dragon became when discussing his induction and the footage of him crying backstage when shaking hands with Vince prior to his speech. This was a stark contrast to a guy like Jerry Lawler, who sees the Hall for what it really is. When I jokingly called Lawler to congratulate him on his HOF induction a few years ago, knowing he was livid about missing a Cleveland Indians exhibition game that was to held in Memphis on the same night of the ceremony (and fearing that HOF status would make the King seem “old”), he snapped, “Yeah, right–that’s like somebody calling and congratulating me for winning a fuckin’ belt.”

I suppose if the WWE HOF is meaningless, then Goldberg is a perfect fit. You know, if the money is right.

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Anatomy of an angle: Robert Fuller’s last stand in Memphis leads to Tupelo concession-stand brawl

July 27th, 2010 2 comments

Even wrestling fans couldn't believe it when Memphis crowds dropped to less than 4,000 fans at the Mid-South Coliseum in 1979.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be interviewing Jim Cornette for Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ as soon as the controversial manager comes up for a breath following the upcoming NWA Legends Fan Fest in Charlotte. Jim and I finally met again at the 2009 Fan Fest, years after we briefly worked together in the the Memphis-based USWA in 1991, and we had a nice time discussing what made Jerry Jarrett’s territory so special in its heyday.

Similar to my four-part interview series with Dutch Mantell, Jim and I will be discussing all the great Memphis angles from the ’70s and ’80s, getting his perspective as a fan, photographer and, eventually, as a performer before Jerry Jarrett traded him, Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey (among others) to Bill Watts and Mid-South Wrestling, where the dastardly trio found their niche as the Midnight Express.

As most of you may know, Jim has his own Web site (confirming that, indeed, hell has frozen over), where he often recall’s wrestling’s history while lamenting the changes that have made our beloved onetime caricature of true sport into a sports-entertainment caricature of itself. Case in point, Cornette’s excellent column from May 20, 2009, where he details booker Robert Fuller’s final days as booker in Memphis in 1979 and the angle Jarrett conceived in the days after his departure to spark the territory…unwittingly creating the now-beaten-to-death concept of “hardcore” wrestling.

Cornette writes: “The real birth of…what has come to be known as “Hardcore” wrestling, came June 17, 1979, in, of all places, Tupelo, Mississippi. Promoter Jerry Jarrett, who had started his own promotion two years earlier and taken over Gulas’ area, had a problem. Over the previous four months or so, his booker had been Robert Fuller. Fuller had installed his own crew of talent over that time, and only a few Memphis mainstays were currently working the area. The problem was, for whatever reason, the success Fuller and his crew had in Knoxville for brother Ron’s Southeastern Wrestling had not translated to the Memphis end. On June 11, the crowd at the weekly Monday night matches in Memphis had dropped below 4,000 fans, an alarming level at the time, and previous weeks’ houses showed it wasn’t a fluke. Jarrett replaced Fuller (and I would love to someday hear the first-person account from Jerry of that conversation), and took the book back himself. Now he was in another quandary–almost all the top names featured on TV and in angles over the previous several months were gone–Fuller, the Mongolian Stomper, Gorgeous George Jr., Mr. Fuji & Prof. Tanaka, Ronnie Garvin, Jimmy Golden, Dick Slater, Boris Malenko, Tony Charles, all were gone from the territory instantly after the June 11 Memphis card. Jarrett, in my opinion a booking genius, realized he had to take the talent left available to him on short notice and do something that would get such attention, cause such talk, and most importantly, sell enough tickets, that the territory could weather this storm until he had time to build new programs and import new stars.

In Tupelo, Jarrett booked his two top names, Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee, to defend the Southern Tag Team Title against two prelim wrestlers who had been teaming the previous two weeks–Wayne Farris (later Honky Tonk Man) and Larry Latham (later Moondog Spot). In a wild match where everyone bled and the crowd of 300 or so was on their feet, Farris and Latham scored an upset by screwing Lawler and Dundee and winning the belts. Lawler and Dundee, pissed off, attacked the heels after the match and they spilled out of the ring and fought down the aisle. Lance Russell, in the “crow’s nest” of the arena with a TV camera allegedly shooting for the “B” show that featured arena matches from around the area, signed off and the camera faded to black. The audio, however, was still up. Within 10 seconds you heard Lance yell to the cameraman Randy West, “Hey Randy, there’s a hell of a fight going on down here!” Video coming back up, you saw the camera moved down the back stairs, where Lance, carrying a light pole, shone the spotlight on all 4 men in the concession stand of the Tupelo Sports Arena, a dump of a place with plywood walls, and they were literally destroying the place. Stiff punches and kicks, chairs, tables, cookie sheets, brooms, mops, everything you would expect to find in a concession stand was used along with some of the most realistic brawling you will ever see, as the two teams beat the bejesus out of each other with Lance calling the action. Jarrett, trying to break up the brawl, was beaten down and had his street clothes ripped off. Finally, the combatants were hustled out by security and wrestlers, and the stand was completely destroyed and what was left was covered in blood and mustard, courtesy of a 10 gallon mustard jug Lawler had chucked at Latham that broke against the wall in a million pieces.
(Bowden’s note: To see footage of the infamous Tupelo concession stand brawl, click here: Jerry Lawler Concession Stand Brawl.)
 
The next morning on Memphis TV, the entire tape was shown unedited, and became the talk of the town’s wrestling fans. In an area noted for wild matches, no one had ever seen anything like this. The following week, it had become such a sensation it was shown again in it’s entirety, as well as airing on the one week tape delay in the other markets, Louisville, Nashville, Evansville and Lexington. Kenny Bolin and I went everywhere repeating Lance’s call of the action–”Mustard everywhere!”–and this incident actually convinced me to buy one of those newfangled inventions called a VCR.
 
Adding Sgt. Danny Davis as the manager of Latham & Farris, the Blonde Bombers, Jarrett booked the return matches on top in every town in the territory, filling out the cards with local talent and running Tommy & Eddie Gilbert vs. Buddy & Ken Wayne as the only other real “program” on the cards. In Memphis, he brought Fargo back to offset Davis. The crowds in all the cities started to rise. By July 18, the Memphis crowd was near 7,000, and two weeks later, a triple main event of Bill Dundee vs. Nick Bockwinkle for the AWA Title, Jackie & Roughouse Fargo vs. the Bombers in a cage, and Ron Bass vs. newcomer Terry “The Hulk” Boulder for the Southern Title drew 8,000. A crisis had been averted.”
 
 Another  reason why Fuller’s cards didn’t draw toward the end of his booking tenure (following a decent series of cards with Lawler vs. Austin Idol): For over a month, the territory centered around qualifying matches for a Memorial Day tournament in which the winner would receive the keys to…a brand-new…van. While this was 1979, it still seems a little silly to think all those wrestlers would have to win a half-dozen qualifying matches just to earn the right to enter the tournament for the possibility of winning a van. After all that buildup, the holiday spectactular on May 28 drew just 4,701 fans for the tourney…which, of course, was won by Fuller. The writing was on the wall at that point–Jarrett had to make a switch. Still, Fuller seemed awfully proud of his accomplishment on the June 2 Saturday morning show.

 

As Cornette pointed out, the June 11 card proved to be Fuller’s last. The following week, nearly all the wrestlers Fuller brought with him from the Southeastern promotion were packed up and gone–presumably in Robert’s van. Again, on paper it doesn’t seem like a bad card, but the chemistry just wasn’t there. Following Idol’s departure, there were no personal feuds that captured the imagination of the fans, which would drastically change in the months ahead.

Jarrett followed the July 18 card up with a hot crowd for the July 23 Memphis card, which drew about 7,000 fans for a main event of the Freebirds vs. Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee. In the audience that night were fans from the WFIA Convention (including the late Brian Hildebrand), Cornette…and 8-year-old mark Scott Bowden, which I wrote about here. The Bombers/Lawler and Dundee drew several strong houses along the way–as Cornette pointed out, Jarrett even called on area legends Jackie Fargo and Roughhouse Fargo to join the fray to spike attendance, which always worked for a few weeks out of the year when business was a little slow. After that feud ran its course, the King turned against the Superstar, once again giving the area one of the hottest heels in the business. After cheating his way past Dundee the week before to win the opportunity, Lawler challenged Bockwinkel for the AWA World title on Aug. 27 , drawing over 10,000 fans–and the Robert Fuller era was a distant memory.

For more information on how you can relive virtually the entire 1979 season of Memphis wrestling, click here.

Look for the Jim Cornette interview on Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ in mid-August.

We’re gonna party like it’s 1985

July 23rd, 2010 5 comments

Take a walk on the wild side: Landel at the top of his game with Nikki Sixx and Vanity.

As you might imagine, Motley Crue’s The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band includes hair-raising tales of sex, alcohol and drug abuse that make the wrestling business seem tame by comparision (with the possible exceptions of WWF 1985, ECW 1995 and WCW 1997).

In the book, Nikki Sixx recounts how he and recording-artist Vanity (today a born-again Christian) would binge on coke for weeks at a time, a whirlwind of excess that nearly killed him. But even then, they had trouble keeping up with “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel, who recently posted photos of he and the Crue partying on his Facebook page.

Landel has been forthright that his addictions derailed his promising career in the mid-’80s, when Dusty Rhodes was pushing him strong as a rival to NWA World champion Ric Flair, “that other Nature Boy.” Landel has maintained that at the time of his firing, he was scheduled to win the strap from Flair, who needed time off for a personal issue. According to Buddy, the scenario laid out was that Landel would win the belt through devious means, with Flair returning as a babyace months later to feud with his brash, younger replacement over the 1o pounds of gold and the Nature Boy name.

Flair has since said that he despised how Dusty was building up Landel at his expense, which no doubt would have helped the planned feud because fans would have picked up on the real-life animosity.

Landel might have a been an inspired choice as NWA champion--that's right, I said it.

Landel was the National champion managed by J.J. Dillon when he was abruptly fired in December 1985, shortly after winning the belt from Terry Taylor at Starrcade in November of that year. I believe he missed a TV taping because he’d been out all night partying, infuriating Dusty, who clearly had big plans for the kid.

Shortly after firing Landel, Dusty awarded himself the National title, with the announcement that he had defeated Buddy in Albuquerque, N.M., a bout which never took place. Over the years, Landel has claimed that he was scheduled to win the NWA title at the TV taping he missed, but there’s no way the timing was right for the switch, coming off the unsettled Rhodes/Flair issue at Starrcade. No question Landel would have been a solid choice for the belt eventually in turning Flair babyface, but he was too busy having fun–hell, it was the ’80s.
 
When I worked with Buddy as his manager in Memphis in 1995, his star long since faded, he was the nicest guy in the world and  positive at all times. He was  so proud when he discussed working with Flair and how he won the NWA title once only to have the decision reversed (yet another dreaded Dusty finish)–perhaps a trial run for what was to come. When I asked Buddy backstage at the Mid-South Coliseum one night about his career and how it turned it out, he smiled and said, “I had the time of my life. I wouldn’t change a thing, brother.” In a way, I believe him.
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