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Archive for January, 2011

Oh, hell yeah: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin named host of WWE’s “Tough Enough”

January 28th, 2011 4 comments

Austin had no comment at the Hollywood press conference announcing his new hosting gig.

USA Network and Vince McMahon must have backed up a Brinks Truck–and most likely a beer truck–to his Malibu home, but somehow “Stone Cold” Steve Austin has agreed to host the newest incarnation of “Tough Enough,” the reality (and I use that term loosely) show about unknown wrestlers/would-be sports entertainers trying to secure a WWE contract.

Reports Entertainment Weekly:EW has learned exclusively that “Tough Enough,” the back-from-the-dead WWE reality contest series, has its new host: Stone Cold Steve Austin. The show will premiere April 4, after Monday Night Raw. Sigh. I was so hoping there’d be some way to get Al Snow back, but I guess I will just have to, er, toughen up. Steve Austin is one of the WWE’s crossover stars — even non-wrestling fans like me are pretty familiar with him, and he obviously has plenty of on-screen experience. What I liked so much about Snow as the mentor, though, was his ability to turn off that in-ring persona and be a strict teacher, a focused father figure, and occasional goofball. I’m hoping Austin has that same knack, and isn’t just Stone Cold Steve AustinTM with his mentees; I hope sometimes he’s just a regular dude.”

Not me. I personally hope Austin stuns all their sorry asses in the first episode, fills their cars with cement before crushing their vehicles with a Monster Truck, and then hoses all those losers down with beer. Seriously, though, this is intriguing. As someone who has never watched a single episode of “Tough Enough,” I’ll definitely tune in for at least the premiere with Austin as host. And as for the writer’s comments about Al Snow…yeah, that’s a bummer. I’m sure he would have been a far better ratings draw.

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Ready to Rummmmblllleeee: Recalling memories of my favorite Royal Rumble heading into Sunday’s WWE PPV

January 28th, 2011 1 comment

A rumble to remember

Although I had officially been in the business for about six months as summer faded into fall in 1991, I remained a mark at heart. And nothing had me more thrilled than Ric Flair‘s jump to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation after a bitter split with longtime employer World Championship Wrestling and the latest moron running the company, Jim Herd.

It was incredibly surreal seeing Bobby Heenan holding the NWA championship strap–the belt of the REAL World’s heavyweight champion–on WWF television in the weeks leading up to Flair’s WWF debut (well, besides his ’76 match with Pete Sanchez at Madison Square Garden).  Clearly reinvigorated, Flair’s promos were off the charts in the months that followed, though the initial run of bouts between the Nature Boy and Hulk Hogan were disappointing at the gate, prompting McMahon to assume the match was about five years too late in the eyes of the fans. WCW and the NWA filed an injunction to have the belt returned after Flair received his $25,000 plus interest, leaving the REAL World’s champion to carry a WWF tag belt to the ring instead. (To get around this issue, figurehead president Jack Tunney (and you thought Mike Adamle had no personality as GM) declared that the WWF would be using video technology to distort Flair’s bogus belt on TV–which was easy to do in post-production…but more difficult during live MSG broadcasts. And the fans live had to be confused, but….)

After Flair helped the Undertaker steal the WWF championship at the November 1991 Survivor Series, a controversial rematch was “ordered” by Tunney was immediately set for a special “Tuesday in Texas” PPV–an experiment to see how quickly the company could persuade fans to buy another show following a big angle. The title was declared vacant after it was determined Hogan threw ashes from ‘Taker’s urn into his opponent’s eyes (not making this up) to regain the title. This left the most important championship in wrestling vacant heading into the January 1992  Royal Rumble: for the first time in this history of the event, the winner would received prized Winged-Eagle strap and declared the kingpin of the Former Fed. The stage was set for Flair to win the title, but some insiders wondered if McMahon would really give his competition’s former icon the credibility he so desperately wanted. That, coupled with the fact that Flair/Hogan had not exactly broken box-office records, had many believing perhaps newcomer Sid Justice (Vicious) would turn heel, take the title and feud with the Hulkster. Flair claims he didn’t know he was winning until days before the event, but I believe McMahon had his mind made up all along–I think he wanted to stick it to WCW even further by having its biggest star wear the WWF title.

I recall the booking of the ’92 Rumble was being excellent, but I hadn’t watched it in ages. So I popped in disc 3 from the initial WWE Ric Flair Collection DVD . First, this had to be one of the most star-studded Rumbles ever for the company: Besides it being Flair’s first crack at the contest (with Mr. Perfect at his side as his “executive consultant”), the event featured Randy Savage, Hulk, Sid, Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Sgt. Slaughter, Shawn Michaels (who was really hitting his stride as a heel), Big Boss Man, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Davey Boy Smith and the Undertaker, fresh off his first title reign.

The highlights from the ’92 Rumble, some of which I tweeted last night in real time as I was watching the DVD:

  • Great to see longtime announcer Howard Finkel (“the Fink”) explaining the rules as if it were a legit sporting contest. Nobody has ever announced a new titleholder quite like Finkel. (“Your winner…and NEEEWWW Intercontinental champion….”) The Fink never should have been taken off WWE TV in my opinion. Howard then introduces the ultra-dull Tunney, who reiterates that he will award the Winged Eagle belt to the winner. In a nice touch, Fink closes with, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
  • The bell rings, the airhorn sounds announcing the first entrants and we’re off and rumbling. Yikes: Three of the first people approaching the ringside area are no longer with us: the late Davey Boy Smith, followed the late Sensational Sherri (accompanying Ted DiBiase). Sherri was in a slutty maid-type outfit–for some reason, I always found her irritatingly attractive. At any rate, it seemed Ted was booked to enter early to help carry things for a while; however, in a remarkable swerve, the Million Dollar Man was eliminated before the next entrant “walked that aisle” as only he could. (Ironic to see Flair and DiBiase briefly pass each other on camera heading in opposite directions as they actually rarely crossed paths in their careers, with the bloody Mid-South angle in 1984 being the highlight.) Heenan legitimately sounded like he was hyperventilating as Flair and Perfect preened toward ringside, exclaiming. Heenan bellows, “Noooo. Damn it!”
  • Heenan–who had resigned as Flair’s manager/travel companion months earlier because he could’t handle the champ’s wild lifestyle–ends up giving one of his best performances on commentary. His sidekick, Gorilla Monsoon, stresses to the viewing audience that no wrestler who had drawn the first five entry slots had ever made it to the end. But then, Monsoon didn’t seem too familiar with the Nature Boy’s reputation as a “60-minute man who can go all night long.”
  • Uh-oh: Just realized that with Perfect at ringside, that’s three dead wrestlers so far, and we’re just getting started.
  • Davey Boy’s punches and clotheslines are weak, but Flair’s making him look like a world beater. Between the two, Flair has the slight edge tan-wise.
  • As Flair begs off, Heenan says (for the first of many times that evening), “This isn’t fair to Flair!”
  • Haku enters–if he really wanted to, he could kick all their asses in a rumble.
  • Whoa–stiff-looking piledriver by Haku on Bulldog. Very Lawler-like in his delivery.
  • Heenan corrects Monsoon: “Perfect’s not a manager–he’s an executive consultant. “
  • HBK enters the ring and immediately goes after his idol, Flair. (Even though they’d already worked a singles match together shortly before the Rockers breakup, HBK’s got to be thinking, “This is pretty cool.”)
  • With Michaels and Flair in there, the action should be decent for a while.
  • OK, maybe Bulldog can get away without selling Flair’s offense…but El Matador? (C’mon Chico, sell, sell.)
  • Heenan on Matador’s flying forearm: “He hit him with his ‘Flying Jalapeno.’
  • The Barbarian struggles to jog to the ring. Heenan: “This guy doesn’t like anybody. He’s not a hairdresser on his day off, y’know.”)
  • HBK takes a moment to readjust his mullet.
  • Another now-deceased entrant: Kerry Von Erich, with tassels covering the misshaped boot to compensate for his amputated foot, hits the ring like a Texas tornado.
  • Less than six years after their famous series of bouts for the NWA World title, it’s cool to see Kerry and Flair trading punches and chops. Just like old times: Flair flops for the discus punch.
  • Davey Boy still in at nearly 30 minutes–this has to be a rib on him.
  • Airhorn brings in the next entrant: The Repo Man (the former Krusher Krushchev, Demolition Smash) in one of those silly ’80s-style gimmicks wearing a bandit’s mask. He creeps around the ring area like one of those ridiculous villains who might oppose Spidey on The Electric Company. (That said, I did think it was funny when DiBiase hired Repo to repossess the Million Dollar Belt from Virgil months earlier.)
  • Flair’s old nemesis/partner from Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling enters the fray: Greg “the Hammer” Valentine, who looks older than Johnny Valentine at this point.
  • Monsoon reminds viewers that Valentine lasted nearly 45 minutes in the Rumble last year (how’d that happen?).
  • All that history between Flair and Valentine in Jim Crockett Promotions and the announcers aren’t allowed to say a word.
  • HBK selling big for Kerry–I believe he was a fan of the Von Erichs growing up. (Wait–I think young Michael Hickenbottom may have been more of a fan of Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling.
  • Nikolai Volkoff makes his way to ring…slapping hands with the fans a la the Rockers?! (Forgot about his post-Cold War babyface turn.)
  • Shhhiiiiitt: Hammer and Nature Boy smacking each other loudly a la Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel (or even Flair/Ronnie Garvin).
  • The late Big Boss Man (sighhh) hits the ring looking rather svelte and moving great.
  • Boss Man is cleaning house, entrants are flying out of the ring. (I believe this is setting up a memorable Flair/Piper moment.)
  • Oh, man, this is getting really uncomfortable. Another dead wrestler: Hercules, who is quickly eliminated.
  • Flair eliminates Boss Man, leaving the Nature Boy the only man left in the ring at this moment. Hilariously, Heenan prematurely declares Flair the winner and new World champion, much to the chagrin of Monsoon. (Was never a big Gorilla fan–though I that was a fantastic gimmick name–but he did have great chemistry with the Brain.
  • Flair’s relief is short-lived: An in-shape Piper sprints to the ring. The Nature Boy’s facial expression is priceless: “Oh, damn!”
  • Monsoon refers to Hot Rod as the Intercontinental champion–that was such an unplanned welcome surprise when he got the belt.
  • Piper and Flair are chopping each other really stiff–that’s probably nothing compared to the physical abuse they both put their bodies through in the post-PPV party.
  • Now there’s a move you don’t see much nowadays: Piper traps Flair in the dreaded airplane spin as the crowd chants/counts down the next entrant. (Hmmm….do fans today still count aloud when a new entrant is about to enter? Can’t recall at the moment.)
  • Jake “the Snake” Roberts slithers down to ringside. Like a cobra, he sits in the corner watching Piper and Flair, waiting to strike.
  • What a moment: three of the best promo guys/ring psychologists ever in the ring at the same time.
  • Poll: Who did the more cocaine in the ’80s/early ’90s: Piper or Roberts?
  • Hoooooo-noooo: Hacksaw Duggan is the next man in. (Bathroom break.)
  • Ah, we can certainly write off this next entrant: Irwin R. Shyster (Ouch–I sound like Lord Alfred Hayes.)
  • Undertaker does his best “Halloween”/Michael “the Shape” Myers impression methodically walking to the ring in his classic dead man grab, led by Paul Bearer.
  • I liked it better when ‘Taker was a pasty-white walking dead man as opposed to his attempt to resemble a bronzed Adonis the last several years.
  • This must be around the time that Roberts (dressed in his latest Mattel Legends figure attire) had some sort of unholy alliance with the Undertaker. Seems like they could have gotten more mileage out of that angle–a natural fit together.
  • ‘Taker and IRS lock up: Can’t believe Heenan didn’t chime in with a line regarding “Death and taxes.”
  • Somehow, I missed Jimmy Snuka’s entrance. He looks out of place in 1992–and he just worked last year at WrestleMania.
  • An enraged Savage eliminates Roberts…and then jumps over the top seemingly eliminating himself to continue the attack. (I’m betting we see the same spot Sunday with the returning Triple H and Sheamus.)
  • ‘Taker saves the Snake and drags Savage back into the ring, so the Macho Man continues the fight.
  • Monsoon finally showing Flair some respect at the 40-minute mark. (Conditioning-wise, this was probably a cakewalk for Flair, compared to 60-minute draws with the likes of Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham over the years.)
  • Uh-oh–Bruiser Brody hits the ring! Wait. No. It’s the Berzerker lamely ripping off his gimmick.
  • Easily the worst crowd reaction of the night: Virgil.
  • Darkhorse entrant despite his cred as former Federation champion: Col. Mustafa (Iron Sheik).
  • Crowd shot reveals several Hulkamania bandana-wearing marks in the audience.
  • Worlds collide: Former AWA/NWA heavyweight champions Flair and Rick Martel lock up.
  • Monsoon says this is notable only because Flair is threatening to break Martel’s Rumble time record of 50-plus minutes.
  • Crowd pops big time for Hogan’s arrival. Wow–the Hulk hasn’t moved this fast in a looooonnngg time.
  • Hogan quickly “hulks up” and cleans house.
  • Steve Keirn–a far cry from his dapper Fabulous Ones days in Memphis–enters the ring as “Skinner, the Alligator Man.” Hogan eats him alive, quickly eliminating him. Jackie Fargo grimaces watching from his Tennessee home.
  • Sid Justice–in light of recent events, that gimmick name seems ironic.
  • Former Horsemen Flair and Sid go at it as the Rumble winds down.
  • Warlord makes his way to the ring, led by the “sly Slickster.”
  • Warlord continues his walk to the ring.
  • Warlord prepares to enter the ring.
  • Warlord’s in! (Mae Young could have made better time.)
  • Sid eliminateds Hogan…and the crowd cheers! The beginning of the end of Hulkamania in ’90s-era WWF.
  • In a questionable booking move, sore-loser Hogan yanks Sid to the floor, leaving Flair the winner…and NEWWWW World Wrestling Federation champion. Crowd boos Flair…and Hogan. (In post-production, they would alter the crowd noise to make it seem as if the Albany audience supported the Hulk’s childish behavior. Reader John Keating also reminded me that they also altered Monsoon’s commentary to make it seem as if Sid had done Hogan wrong, despite preaching throughout the night that the “Rumble is every man for himself.”
  • Post-match interview: Tunney presents Flair the WWF title–something I never thought I’d see. There’s real emotion on Flair’s face–the kind of moment that’s rare nowadays.
  • Heenan and Perfect “wooooooo” in unison. I love it.
  • “Mean” Gene interrupts, sternly warning a “member of the press” or WWF staff to “put that cigarette out.” (I’ve always wondered about that moment–what the hell?)
  • Slick Ric in all his glory, holding the Winged Eagle strap with “tear in my eye”: “To the Hulks, the Sids, the Pipers, and the Savages…Now it’s Ric Flair. And you all gotta pay homage to the man! Woooo!”

I’ll be tweeting some during this year’s Rumble, and I should have my predictions/thoughts on the 2011 event by Sunday morning.

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YouTube Finds: The night Jimmy Hart’s Monk flunked

January 26th, 2011 3 comments

Jimmy Hart was known not only for his hilarious Memphis wrestling promos but also for his pre-match preparations and strategies for his First Family members in big championship matches. A shrewd negotiator, Hart also knew how to get the better of promoter Eddie Marlin–never was this more evident than when the Mouth of the South secured an AWA Southern title bout for the unheralded Monk vs. Jerry Lawler. Even more impressive was that the Monk’s shot at championship glory occurred on the same Monday night as the infamous initial bout between Lawler and performance-artist Andy Kaufman on April 5, 1982, in front of nearly 9,000 fans.

Although fairly common in mixed-martial arts preparation today, Hart’s training methods at the time were considered unorthodox. Judging from the clip promoting the title bout, the Monk, despite appearing to become increasingly constipated, certainly appeared ready to solidify Hart’s reputation as a manager of champions.

But despite Hart’s confidence, Lawler knocked out his challenger with one punch, pinning him in under 30 seconds–the angle being that despite his intimidating physical presence, the Monk had one weakness: a glass jaw. The humiliated Monk disappeared from the Memphis rasslin’ scene shortly thereafter. As you might imagine, a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters proved disastrous at the end of 1982, leaving the Monk  to live out his remaining days in a monastery.