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Too Sweet

Too Sweet

Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution
also available: eBook
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I first subscribed to Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer newsletter in the 1980s, after I began writing for WWF Magazine, before the lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund that forced the World Wrestling Federation to become WWE. Although the Wrestling Observer has a significant online presence, I still look forward to the paper edition each week, an exhaustive collection of wrestling history, match results, business analysis and gossip in single-spaced seven-point type. Meltzer, who has lectured at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, also popularized a star rating system for major matches, one that even the performers who claim to hate him take extremely seriously. While working on this book, Meltzer and I were guests on a public access show in which he was asked about his taste in movies and bands. He paused and fumbled for words. A movie?  But when it comes to professional wrestling, not to mention MMA and old-school Roller Derby, nobody knows more – or ever will.


In May, 2017, Meltzer was asked on Twitter about whether Ring of Honor, the primary, American indie league during that period, could draw more than 10,000 fans. “Not any time soon,” he responded. Cody – the youngest son of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and an indie prince since he parted ways with WWE the year before– then Tweeted, “I'll take that bet, Dave.”


For the next 16 months, Cody and the Young Bucks, brothers Nick and Matt Jackson, began working to both prove that Dave Meltzer could be wrong, as well as create All-In.


The effort became “a worldwide movement for professional wrestling (and) everyone that wants an alternative,” Kenny Omega, who went into All-In wearing the vaunted IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion, told the group's website. “Especially in America because in America, you're kind of forced to believe that WWE is the best.”  All-In, he continued, became “a rally to show support for people who have a different vision.”


Initially, the group rejected outside efforts to fund the experiment, and relied on their families and friends. Cody's sister, Teil, created the name “All-In,” the Bucks' father, Matt Massie, Sr., the musical score. Alabama mortgage broker Conrad Thompson, a wrestling podcaster who married the legendary Ric Flair's oldest daughter, Megan, coordinated Starcast, the fan convention surrounding the event. Both Cody's wife, Brandi – a WWE-trained wrestler herself –  and Matt Jackson's spouse, Dana, were deeply involved in organizational decisions.


Like Cody, WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett had grown up in the wrestling business, learning promotion from his father, Jerry Jarrett, and step-grandfather, Eddie Marlin, in the old Memphis wrestling territory. “I love to see guys take risks,” he observed. “Sometimes, that gets you into big trouble. Sometimes, it pays off. Reward is always measured by your level of risk. But when I saw All-In lining up, I felt they had a pretty good chance. The concept was good. The independent wrestling revolution started quite a few years ago. Now, we were on the cusp of a wrestling boom.”


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The Eighth Wonder of the World


Pontiac, Michigan, March 29, 1987.


The story goes like this…


André the Giant is challenging Hulk Hogan for the World Wrestling Federation title. 93,173 people are crammed together near the corner of Michigan Highway and Opdyke Road, in a town of 70,000, 30 miles North West of Detroit, to witness one of the biggest pro wrestling matches of all-time. Not only for the record-crowd size but for what the match represents, the home of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions and the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons, the Pontiac Silverdome, is the place to be. Much like André, it’s the largest of its kind and a great fit for a match like this.


André versus Hogan is the perfect match on the perfect stage. The challenger, from Grenoble in the French Alps, stands 7 foot and 4 inches tall, weighing 520 pounds. The champion, from Venice Beach, California, is 6 foot 6 and 302 pounds. Both are undefeated and facing each other for the very first time. Will Hogan be able to slam the Giant, let alone beat him? Will the Giant end Hogan’s 39-month title reign? Every question is going to be answered at WrestleMania, the showcase of the immortals, the third such event organized by Vincent Kennedy McMahon, but the first to bring the company to this world-wide phenomenon level. WrestleMania III’s slogan “Bigger, Better, Badder” suits to a T.


Ever since arriving in North America, André had been the biggest attraction in pro wrestling. In almost every interview, readers and viewers have heard that André came from France in the early 70s, and after a brief stint in Canada went on to rule the wrestling world, managed by the biggest impresario in the sport, Vincent James McMahon: André was his vision.


A decade later, when McMahon’s son took over the company, he chose Hulk Hogan as the new future future of the business and, as the company’s history goes, André and Hogan were best friends. André was even part of the celebration when Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik for the WWF World Heavyweight championship at Madison Square Garden in 1984--he famously poured champagne on Hogan’s head.


Since becoming champion, Hogan had defended the title against almost every bad guy in the promotion: Rowdy Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy, Jesse Ventura… the list goes on and on and on. A couple of times a year, Hulk and André would team to face adversity that one man alone could not overcome. André, it seems, was too much of a novelty to be considered for a championship match, and seven different wrestlers had won the crown jewel since he started working for McMahon. Hogan was simply the latest to jump ahead of him.


And this is what tonight is about: André being overshadowed by Hogan, not getting the respect he deserves. Fans in the Silverdome had already seen so much. Pretty boys Rick Martel and Tom Zenk opened Wrestlemania III showing real fire; Brutus Beefcake was evicted from the Dream Team, replaced by Dino Bravo; Ricky Steamboat defeated Randy Savage in a match no one will ever forget; and Jim Duggan and Nicolai Volkoff just had their own version of the Cold War. Even Edouard Carpentier, André’s old friend from France is providing commentary in French.


The building is rumbling as Mr. Baseball Bob Uecker introduces Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart as the guest timekeeper. With former enemy Bobby “The Brain” Heenan by his side, André comes down the very long alley between the backstage area and the ring to a chorus of boos on a motorized cart made to look like a miniature ring. He remains stonily indifferent to the debris thrown at him and once again enters his battlefield by stepping over the top rope. This is the pinnacle of his career. Backstage, Hogan is nervous. 


“What if André goes into business for himself? What if he decides he’s winning tonight?”


If that were the case, there’s nothing the Hulkster could do.


Hogan’s “Real American” entrance music finally hits. In better shape, he walks from the curtain to the ring, cheared on by the thousands of Hulkamaniacs in attendance.


The tension is real. The two biggest stars of the last decade are in the middle of the ring, and everybody in attendance or watching on closed-circuit TV around the world are on the edge of their seats. After just a few seconds, Hogan tries to slam the Giant, something that no one has ever been able to do. But he’s denied by André, who covers the champion for a two-and-three-quarter count by referee Joey Marella. After taking the beating of a lifetime, Hogan comes back from the dead, slams André and hits the leg drop for the one, two, three.


Not only did Hogan win the match and keep his title, but he also dealt André his very first defeat. 


Or did he?


“The Hogan-André match at WrestleMania III and the Bret-Shawn match in Montreal in 1997 are the two most important matches in the history of modern wrestling,” argues journalist and founder of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer.


Yet, this match and everything surrounding it is the culmination of every myth and legend you ever heard about André coming to a head, on the biggest stage he ever performed on.


André wasn’t 7 foot 4 inches tall, at any point in his life. He didn’t weigh 520 pounds. And he wasn’t from Grenoble or even the French Alps. This was not André and Hogan’s first match and André was lifted off his feet way before Hogan even stepped foot in a ring for the first time. Montreal was more important to his career than any other biography written or filmed has ever shown. Even the number of people in attendance that night in Pontiac was exaggerated.


However, one thing was true: the magnitude of that encounter was undeniable. Depending on age and knowledge of pro wrestling at the time, fans either loved it or thought it was a poor performance. Yet, everyone agrees that the influence it had on the future of the WWF is immeasurable. André’s health was declining and it was the right time to officially pass the torch, even if Hulk had already been in the driver seat for a while. André knew this match would make him a legend beyond his time. In a business where timing is everything, that feud opened the door to so many great things to come for the WWF, especially when everyone involved in wrestling was trying to come up with the next big idea in the ever-expanding beginning of the PPV era. The André and Hogan feud was, in fact, an important piece of what would come next—so much so that people may still not even realize.


In 1987, the biggest lie about André wasn't his height or his undefeated record. It was the fact that he had lost so much strength he had trouble catching a teenage actress in a movie. Even if photographs showing he could easily lift five women at the same time had made him a living mythical being, acromegaly, the ailment that had made him a superstar known around the world, was catching up to him. The body that made him famous was betraying him slowly and in pernicious ways every single day. Condemned to be André the Giant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he was likely depressed. Sad, at very least, that he couldn't go anywhere without being looked at, touched, or pointed at. He was 40 years old and he knew that point he wouldn't see 50.


From Paris to Montreal, from Tokyo to New York City, he transcended the world of professional wrestling. The Seven Wonders of the World, like the Pyramid of Giza or the Colossus of Rhodes always had something mysterious about them, something mythical, a part of some legend or fairy-tale. André’s real life and true career were the same, filled with myths and overshadowed by his larger-than-life character and personality.


On March 29, 1987, André probably wasn’t the better, or even the badder, but he was definitely the bigger. Much like WrestleMania today, André René Roussimoff was at one point the greatest spectacle in sports entertainment.


He was, in fact, the Eighth Wonder of The World…


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The Roddy Piper Story
also available: Hardcover
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WCW had absorbed the old Mid-Atlantic Wrestling and turned Jim Crockett’s Starrcade into its own premier annual event. It took place in December, far from McMahon’s early spring WrestleMania. In the 1996 edition, Roddy Piper settled the old score once and for all. He caught “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan in a sleeper and won Starrcade’s main event. During the bout, Hogan had put him in an abdominal stretch, which made Roddy’s large hip-surgery scar fully visible to the cameras. Roddy had asked him to do that, and also to hike up his trunks to show it off clearly. At another moment, Roddy hopped around on that leg to further make an important point. Not McMahon nor any other promoter could ever cast doubt on Roddy’s ability to wrestle on that titanium hip.

Before Roddy put the sleeper on Hogan, an imposing new member of the NWO had tried to interfere in the match, attacking Roddy and lifting him several feet off the mat for his signature chokeslam. The Giant was the biggest wrestler to hit the big time since Andre (in fact, Roddy escaped his grasp by dipping into his old giant-fighting toolkit, biting him on the nose to make him let go). Behind the scenes, the seven-foot rookie and the much smaller veteran had made fast friends.

“There’s a story Big Show tells in front of God and everyone,” said Roddy (The Giant would change his name to Big Show when later wrestling in the WWE). Big Show told us the story himself.

“I was green as grass. I was driving in on a Sunday night into Wisconsin and I got in really late.” Tired from the road, he went to the hotel’s front desk. The lady working the night shift said, “You’re so big, I’m going to give you a suite.” Grateful, he went up to the room. It was large and full of amenities. He went to the bathroom and splashed his face with cold water. “I was drying my face and I look and there’s a leather jacket hanging on one of the chairs.” Figuring a previous occupant had left the jacket, he dismissed it and went to the bedroom. As he opened the French doors he heard somebody snoring, “like the entire room was being sawed in half.” On the nightstand was a bottle of NyQuil, and face-down on the bed, butt naked, was Roddy Piper.

Oh my God, he thought, that’s Roddy Piper. This is awkward. They’d never met, but he’d grown up watching Roddy on television.

“So I quietly shut the doors, took my bags, meandered back downstairs. I said, ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but there’s somebody in that room.’” She apologized and gave him another.

The next day he went to the WCW Nitro set and saw Roddy backstage.

“I think nobody understands what an incredibly nice guy he was all the time,” said Show. “I mean so very humble, so very polite, and just set an example of what a superstar should be . . . the kindest, nicest person you could ever be around.”

“Hi, I’m Roddy Piper,” he said to the towering kid.

“I met you last night,” said The Giant.

“You did?! When?” said Roddy, slapping his head in embarrassment for forgetting.

The Giant told him the whole story and Roddy smiled at him. “Ah, brother, you could have had me last night!”

“I remember thinking to myself as a young kid, about twentyfour years old, I go, ‘Oh . . . whaaat?’” As The Giant settled into the business and got to know the habits of his fellow wrestlers, he realized what Roddy had meant. “I could have ribbed him to death. I could have stolen his jacket. I could have written all over him with a Sharpie.”

Every time they saw each other for the next twenty years, Roddy would wag his finger at him and smile, “Brother, you could have had me!”

“As I got older in the business, there’s no way in hell I would have ever ribbed Roddy Piper anyway,” he said, because the payback “would have probably put me in therapy! You don’t mess with the old-timers like that.”

A middle-aged wrestler, now, the kind of star who used to beat him up many years ago, Roddy was instead winning fans among the new generation, even as he was losing the very first of the generation that raised him.

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Professional Wrestling in the Digital Age
edited by Dru Jeffries
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The Rocky Johnson Story
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After two matches with the WWF, Vince sent Dwayne to Memphis to get some experience with the United States Wrestling Federation, the promotion run by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler.  Dwayne called himself Flex Kavana.  I asked him, “Where did you get that goofy name?”

He said, “There was a guy called Cabana in a bodybuilding magazine showing people how to flex, so I modified the name and put it together.”

Unbeknownst to Jarrett, Lawler, or anyone else, Vince sent Dwayne a $500 check every week.  It was a blessing because Jarrett was paying a measly $40 to $50 a night.

Dwayne worked in the USWA for a few months, at which time he was called up by the WWF.  Out of respect to his grandfather and me, he changed his ring name to “Rocky Maivia,” but I knew it wasn’t going to get over, and I told him so.  WWF fans didn’t like his character at all.  They weren’t sure how to identify with him.  Was he an African-American, a Samoan, a mulatto, or a Puerto Rican?  He was a babyface, but they would boo him and yell, “Rocky sucks!  Rocky sucks!”

He was really discouraged and the WWF seemed to be on the verge of letting him go, so he came to me and asked, “So what should I do?”

“Just be yourself.”

“Yeah, but what do I call myself.”

“That’s up to you.”

He said, “How about The Rock.”

As people say, the rest is history.  He shortened his name and turned heel.  The transformation — both Dwayne’s and that of the wrestling fans — was like night and day.  I also gave him the idea for billing himself as “the people’s champion.”  “Nobody can ever take the title from you.”  He took the idea to Vince and it got him over to a level he had never known before.

Wrestling fans today are a strange breed.  In my day, they hated the heels and loved the babyfaces.  There were no grey areas.  There was a clear, sharp line drawn between good and bad.  When Dwayne went to work in the WWF as Rocky Maivia, he was a babyface, but the people turned on him because they loved his opponent, Steve Austin … the heel!  When Dwayne changed his name to the Rock and became a dastardly heel, the people grew to love him.  What’s that all about?  We live in strange times.

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The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

The Storytellers (From the Terrible Turk to Twitter)
tagged : wrestling, history
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Here we go, Jim Cornette thought. The manager was standing on the apron of the ring in the Richmond Coliseum, an early ‘70s construct with the interior décor of a UPS warehouse. Cornette draped his left arm around Owen Hart’s neck, trusty tennis racket in hand in case he needed to swat a few overexuberant fans. Across the ring, Shawn Michaels was lying face down, left arm shielding his face. A minute before, Hart had nailed Michaels with a kick to the side of the head. The Heartbreak Kid responded spectacularly by sending his foe to the arena floor with a clothesline, then flipping himself over the ropes to get back in the ring. He preened for a few seconds, put his right hand to his right temple, and collapsed as though he’d been flattened by some GIs.


Which he had been five weeks earlier. Michaels got the snot kicked out of him outside Club 37 in Syracuse, New York in the early morning hours of October 14, 1995. While WWE claimed ten vicious thugs attacked Michaels without provocation, most accounts say he was in a less-than-coherent state and had been hitting on the wrong woman. Michaels staggered outside to a car and passed out in the front seat when the tough guys — five is a commonly accepted number — dragged him to the ground, stomped on his face, and shoved his head into the bumper. The assailants nearly ripped off his right eyelid; Michaels said he didn’t recall the assault and declined to press charges. Unable to wrestle in the aftermath of the beatdown, Michaels forfeited his Intercontinental championship to Dean (Shane) Douglas a week later. But the fallout from the Syracuse incident was just starting. Maybe Michaels could fool the fans and create a little water cooler buzz in the pre-Internet days by fainting dead away in the middle of a match. “It was my idea and the reason for it was we had played up so much about Shawn’s concussion and there was a lot about this post-concussive syndrome,” WWE producer-turned-podcaster Bruce Prichard said in 2018.


In wrestling jargon, it is called a “worked shoot,” an angle that has some basis in real life but is engineered to trick an audience. It is a script that seeks to come off as unscripted by preying on fans’ knowledge of events like the one-sided skirmish in Syracuse. To be sure, Michaels’ collapse was hardly the first fictional wrestling blackout. Just a few months after brothers Mike Von Erich committed suicide and Kevin Von Erich legitimately passed out in the ring, their father-promoter Fritz collapsed on Christmas night 1987 in Dallas and was “critically hospitalized,” according to the promotion, which tried to pass off the flop as another Von Erich family tragedy.


The Michaels faint — call it the Richmond Swoon — had more going for it, though. Unlike Von Erich’s caper, it occurred in primetime on Monday Night Raw in front of about 2 million viewers. It was the first worked shoot angle of the three-month-old Monday Night Wars, competing directly against the marquee matchup of Hulk Hogan versus Sting on WCW Monday Nitro. And it opened the doors to a flood of worked shoots that continued for years as creative personnel spent considerable time trying to outsmart their smartest fans. “It became, ‘We’ve got this television show and we’ve got to outthink the guys who are doing the analysis,’ ” said Bruce Mitchell, a columnist for the Pro Wrestling Torch. “They got farther and farther off the track of what they were doing, which was to draw people to watch television.”


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