The Most Shocking Moments in Wrestling History: Part 2

James Giles

For the second instalment of this occasional piece, we have taken a leap forward in time from before; now in 1996 when WWE was on the cusp of the Attitude Era and already starting to feel the influence of the innovative ECW. From here on, WWE would start to provide a much higher quantity of controversial material, and the one we are looking at today still stands tall amongst the crowd….

“Pilman’s got a gun”

Prior to 1996, WWE didn’t produce any moments I would consider shocking (the Cobra incident from the previous article notwithstanding); a few story twists and match outcomes were unexpected and surprising, but nothing to make your jaw drop or genuinely outrage. Then Brian Pillman arrived in WWF. Already a controversial figure in wrestling, due to his antics in WCW and ECW where he bent kayfabe almost to breaking point, Flyin’ Brian Pillman had been appropriately re-titled ‘The Loose Canon’. When he joined WWF, he sided with his former tag team partner Stone Cold Steve Austin but soon struck up a friendship with Austin’s nemesis Bret Hart. Stone Cold then began to feel Pillman was favouring Hart over him, and eventually flipped out and attacked him during an in-ring interview, breaking his ankle with a chair (storyline). Because of this, Pillman was laid up at home but this did not deter Stone Cold from seeking retribution.

On the November 4th 1996 episode of RAW, WWF broadcast the following segment of The Rattlesnake visiting Pillman’s home, with incendiary results:

Even when considering the emotional intensity in this feud, the above moment still seems extreme, and age (this was 16 ago now) has done nothing to diminish its impact. Austin and Pillman were both on brilliant form and it would have been equally tense without the appearance of a 9mm. It really is gob-smacking that WWF thought they could use a fire-arm in an angle, and it almost feels as though they were simply testing how far they could push the envelope. They soon found out, when a disgusted USA Network (who WWF neglected to tell a gun would be involved) demanded a grovelling apology and threatened WWF that should they ever pull a similar stunt they would be thrown off the network. And their reaction is understandable; WWF went way past the line, and in doing so sullied what would have been an otherwise exciting angle, and offended a lot of people in the process. Having a performer appear to genuinely threaten to kill another broke a cardinal rule of the game too; this further upset the long-time fans, already turned off by the direction WWF was beginning to take.

Nevertheless, this infamous moment does serve as an interesting artefact from a time period when WWF was tentatively trying to establish a new identity, and find a new audience to carry it forward. This, along with a few other key moments from 1996-1997, foreshadowed the beginning of period that would produce more controversial moments than any other in history: The Attitude Era.

The NXT big thing for the WWE

Jamie Lithgow

Lately on this blog WWE has taken a bit of a hammering, mainly from me to be honest. However, I’m not all doom and gloom because there is one show that I really like; NXT. Next to Vintage Collection this is my favourite WWE show right now.

For those that haven’t seen it for a while, or at all, it no longer has “seasons” and it is no longer a competition with wrestlers being eliminated en route to a final. These days NXT follows a traditional wrestling show format, so is in effect WWE’s third brand. Continue reading

Why I’m looking forward to WWE 13

Craig Wilson

It’s been a while since I’ve mused about computer games on this blog but with more and more information being released about WWE 13 then it’s time to end that break.

Now, the more regular, and long-term, readers amongst you will remember me being quite critical of WWE 12 ultimately believing that whilst it certainly could talk the talk, it failed when it came to the walking part. That said, as someone that enjoys wrestling games and regularly reminisces on this blog about wrestling days of old, a game featuring stars from the Attitude era is all very exciting.

The idea of being able to create CM Punk’s dream match of him against Stone Cold or seeing how well The New Age Outlaws and The Road Warriors would do in the current tag team division is stuff of dreams for an anorak such as myself.

Of course, the internet has been full of gripes over wrestlers missing from the roster – as is expected – as well as the inclusion of three HHH’s and Mick Foley’s as well as two of The Undertaker, Kane, The Rock, Cena (?!), Edge, Bradshaw, Mark Henry and Jericho but internet gripes will be internet gripes. That said, the latter one is quite surprising considering it would be much easier to merely include alternative costumes… Anyway. I digress.

This is by far the best roster of any WWE game I’ve ever seen. It can be viewed in all its glory here. That’s 80 wrestlers straight off the bat with DLC taking the figure to nearer the 100 mark. Certainly the thing I most look forward to in the game, as I do with most WWE games and that led to a certain degree of disappointment with the last one, is the story mode. This time around it’s an Attitude Era storyline where we choose one of eight superstars that were pivotal in the success of that era, including The Rock, Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, as we get to recreate some of their most magical moments including Stone Cold toppling HBK at Wrestlemania 14. I, for one, cannot wait to tackle some of these storylines.

Sure, the engine on the last game wasn’t all that great but Yukes will know that the next incarnation of games consoles is right around the corner so will be saving themselves for that. That said, my gripe with WWE 12 wasn’t the engine or the wrestlers contained within the game, instead it was the very limited story line mode which had previously been bettered by many of the Raw v Smackdown games.

Judging by the ten or so videos on the THQ site linked above, the entrances are as top notch as ever with the graphics having received nothing more than a slight tweaking, rather than a radical overhaul. That said, I am genuinely excited about this game from the ability to recreate some of the magical moments from the late 90s era to creating dream matches between PG superstars and their Attitude era adversaries. I hope that this game lives up to its hype and if the roster is anything to go by, this game will be sensational. The last one failed to walk the walk though, I hope this one fares better in that regard.

Plus it’s got Bret Hart on it.

The Non-PG top 10 – Wrestlers from WWE’s past who aren’t so PG

the-godfatherJamie Lithgow

On this blog we tend to mix wrestling nostalgia with frustration at WWE’s current output, which has led me to this post. In the current PG era, and with Linda McMahon’s political campaign in full swing, WWE are only too happy to forget the past and concentrate on the here and now. However today I’m going to embrace WWE’s past and look at some of the wrestlers and personalities who might not fit in so well in today’s PG WWE universe. Here are my top 10 non-PG superstars.

#10 – Goldust
These days when Dustin Rhodes/ Runnels makes the occasional appearance as Goldust we just think of him as a weird gold guy, but The Bizarre One caused quite a stir when he debuted in 1995. The original incarnation of Goldust was designed to press every homophobic button possible. This character struck fear into God fearing middle America and to be quite honest it would probably have a similar effect today. Had Goldust debuted in the Attitude era there would have been far less fuss but he entered WWE during its last PG era, thus exposing himself (almost literally) to a family audience. Can you imagine Goldust out there today, wearing women’s panties and flirting with his opponents?!

#9 – The Nation of Domination
A gang with apparent links to The Nation of Islam, not very PG is it? If Goldust pushed every homophobic button then The Nation pushed the race buttons. After Faarooq’s initial feud with Ahmed Johnson The Nation of Domination spend much of its time embroiled in gang wars with the likes of The Legion of Doom, The DOA and Los Boricuas. WWE didn’t even try to disguise The Nation, DOA or Los Boricuas as stables; they were constantly referred to as gangs. I can’t quite see WWE calling a group of wrestlers a gang these days, never mind the racial overtones.

#8 – John Cena
Yes, I said it, John Cena. I’m not talking about Super Cena though; I’m talking about The Doctor of Thuganomics. In late 2002 John Cena began to morph into one of the most entertaining, current and relatable characters in all of wrestling; a white freestyle rapper. At the time this gimmick was bang on the money and to his credit John Cena was exceptional in the role, especially as a heel. These days Cena’s character has changed beyond recognition in order to appeal to a family audience, can you imagine today’s version of Cena uttering these words – “You wanna black-ball me?! Well at least I’ve got a ball sack, if you lived at the sperm bank you couldn’t get your come back!” And what’s better is that he was aiming those words at one of the world’s most popular musicians; Jay-Z.

#7 – The Undertaker
The Dead Man has been through various phases but by far his most controversial was his Ministry of Darkness phase. His transformation into The Lord of Darkness began in the autumn of 1998 and carried through to the summer of 1999 with him resembling a cross between Satan and Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He led his group, The Ministry of Darkness, in satanic inspired rituals including crucifixions, hangings and even a black wedding. This all sounds really silly on paper, and some of it was, but the initial story of Undertaker’s descent into evil was so well written and expertly portrayed by Taker that WWE received numerous complaints about it at the time. Remember this was the time of Stone Cold, DX and various other superstars on this list. Can you just imagine the uproar in the press covering Linda McMahon’s senate bid if The Undertaker were to come out next week wearing long black robes and nails John Cena to a satanic symbol?!

#6 – Al Snow
Like The Undertaker Al Snow has been through various phases but the one that got him over would not be allowed anywhere near the PG WWE these days. In 1998 Al Snow was portrayed as a bit a basket case, nothing too controversial there. However, as part of his gimmick he would carry a mannequin head to the ring with him. This mannequin head was rather originally named Head which lead to his catchphrase; “What does everybody want?” to which the crowd would of course shout “head”. Kobe Bryant jokes will get you fired these days so I can only assume oral sex references aren’t looked upon too favourably either.

#5 – Beaver Cleavage
Anyone remember this guy? Back in 1999 when Thrasher of The Headbangers got injured it left Mosh at a bit of a loose end, which brought about this character. He was paired with Mrs Cleavage, a hot blonde with large boobs who was supposedly Beaver’s mum. Sounds like standard Attitude Era stuff so far, until you add in the sexual innuendo between the two characters, who again are supposed to be mother and son! Yes, this happened, but only on a handful of occasions as the character was ditched almost as soon as it appeared.

#4 – Kelly Kelly
WWE’s favourite Diva who they love to ram down our throats and tell us that she’s wonderful and beautiful and innocent. Hold up, is this not the same Kelly Kelly that would come out each week on WWE’s version of ECW and try to strip naked? Yes, yes it is. Kelly first broke onto our screens as an 18 year old exhibitionist who just wanted to get her bits out for the lads. She would get damn close to it too, until her storyline boyfriend Mike Knox would ruin the party. Seems that the PG era has helped Kelly to get over her exhibitionist tendencies, bit of a shame really.

#3 – Sable
“For all the women who want to be me, and for all the men who come to see me… are you boys ready for the grind?!” If Kelly Kelly was the girl who liked to tease the Sable was the woman who liked to tease. In 1998 Sable transformed from Marc Mero’s hot manager into the sex on legs women’s champion. When people give WWE a hard time for objectifying women then they probably mean the likes of Sable, however they’d be wrong. She may have worn the sexiest outfits I’ve ever seen to wrestle in but she wasn’t a piece of meat on show. Her personality was so strong and her character was so domineering that she had every single person watching her in the palm of her hand. Even when she was effectively topless during a bikini contest at Fully Loaded 1998 she strutted around the ring like she owned it. She was an unbelievably strong and sexual character. To some up Sable I’m going to use the only words JR could get out of his mouth during the aforementioned bikini contest; “I don’t quite know what to say, because I know my mamma’s watching.”

#2 – Val Venis
We’re getting to the business end of the countdown now. Towards the end of his run with WWE Val Venis was just a generic wrestler with no discernible persona. However, for those unfamiliar with his original gimmick I can inform you that The Big Valbowski was originally introduced to the WWE universe as a porn star! Complete with vignettes shot with porn legend Jenna Jameson and a finisher called The Money Shot, WWE did not rely on innuendo with this guy!

#1 – The Godfather
There was no doubt about the number one for me; it had to be The Godfather. The only way to top a porn star gimmick is to introduce a wrestler who is a pimp! Again, no innuendo here, Godfather was billed as a pimp, complete with ho’s who would accompany him to the ring. He would even offer his ho’s to his opponents. Not only was The Godfather involved in the sex trade but he would openly encourage the audience to smoke weed! “I want y’all to roll a fatty for this pimp daddy, light that blunt up and say…. pimpin’ ain’t easy!!!” A drug using pimp who was a member of the gang at number 9 on this last, that’s about as non-PG as you can get!

Honorable mentions go to DX for their crude humour and drug references, Stone Cold for swearing and drinking beer, Cactus Jack for being really sadistic, and Miss Kitty for getting her boobs out!

Sunday Sermon: None of the current tag teams on the wwe roster can rescue the division.

Craig Wilson, James Giles and Jamie Lithgow

A new feature this week, a topic of discussion is chosen and we each give our two cents on it in a round-table esque discussion.

First up… “None of the current teams on the WWE roster can rescue the tag team division.” A regular bug bear of this blog – the state of the tag team division in the WWE.

Here goes…

Craig: It’s not that I don’t think there are good tag teams or good potential teams, it’s more that the division has been mistreated and regarded as an after-thought.

The fact Summerslam had a booked tag titles match was a surprise when it should be the norm. But up until quite recently everything has felt rushed and thrown together. Teams with random superstars rather than actual teams – even when there were teams like The Usos floating about doing nothing. I think would take a serious injection of interest from the powers that be to get the tag team division heart pumping and am not sure that interest is there.

James: Not that it gives me any joy, but I do agree that none of the current tag teams can’t rescue the division. There seems to be something fundamentally lacking in them. Part of it is a lack of depth or any much definition in their characters, and this can be attributed the writers not wanting to spend the time developing them. But most of the guys seem to lack the charisma to stand-out amongst the over-crowded and largely colourless roster. It doesn’t help that they are all of similar sizes and physique, and all wrestle basically the same way. There doesn’t seem to be much variation at all. Why isn’t there a team of monster heels?; they have been the cornerstone of every great generation of tag team wrestling (Demolition, The Dudleys, The Pitbulls etc) and are necessary to work some basic stories that would connect with the audience, because they give the faces something to overcome. Otherwise, it just feels like you are throwing indentikit teams out there to feud over nothing (or ar least nothing interesting) and there is no emotional involvement in any of them.

The actual wrestling style isn’t helping either, as I’ve said they are all trained to work the same. They aren’t doing anything new or original. People remember the Hart Foundation and The Rockers, because they brought a new style; much faster, action packed and more technically proficient than everything else at the time. Also, look at E&C, Hardys and Dudleys; with their ECW influenced hardcore style, they made the division stand out again. TLC bouts were unlike anything that had been seen before. Can you imagine Primetime Players or Primo and Epico doing anything that revolutionary? Some of the blame isn’t on them, it is the way they have been trained. And WWE isn’t prepared to just put faith in the innate abilities of its performers, cause it could change the status-quo.

Craig: I don’t disagree with any of that but surely there’s a couple of folk out there they could throw together? What about a team in another promotion even. Dudleys are out of contract soon…

James: Maybe but I’m not sure WWE would even recognise the opportunity to snap them up. Look at Giant Bernard – he had wrestled for the last three years in NJPW in a team with Karl Anderson, and they were the company’s top duo but when WWE finally re-hired him, they repackaged him as the dreadful Tensai. Seriously, they could have been the perfect monster heel team, with Bernards size and abilities and Anderson’s verbal talents.

Bringing the Dudleys back would appear to many as WWE just re-hashing the past, but i do agree Bully Ray would be useful asset in new team (i’ve seen bits of his work in TNA and he is way better than he was in WWE). Having said, nostalgia could be the ideal thing to regenerate interest in the division. So long as they didn’t over-do it. I’m not sure what other great teams there are in other promotions, and there will always be the stumbling block of them being ‘re-trained’ how to work, especially if there weren’t established stars like the Dudleys.

Jamie: I would disagree, I think the tag team division can be salvaged and it is not solely down to the creative team and producers to do this. However if the argument was implying that no one team can save the division then I would go along with that. There are currently no stand out performers that are really grabbing the fans attention, there’s no star player on the team. Without a star player(s) to rely on then the entire tag division has to perform as a team, there’s no room for dead weight, everyone has to step up.

I would strongly agree with Craig that the division has been and still is underutilised and mistreated, that is the main problem. Also, unlike in times gone by there seems to be a lot less freedom for the wrestlers to develop their character. Wrestlers further up the card and with more experience have a good level of freedom but the relative newcomers in the tag division seem to be playing the characters exactly as they have been told without adding too much to them. I can understand this, they don’t want to get in trouble like AW did! It would be great if some of them were bolder and dared to be different but for now the main thing they can do to get over with the fans is to up their game between the ropes. Dolph Ziggler, until very recently, hadn’t been given much to work with but he got the most out of it. For the last year and a half this mid carder has been having superb matches that have helped to get him over and afforded him the respect of the fans, if not the bookers. It’s been a similar story for Daniel Bryan, he got over on his performances alone and now he is getting the chance to let his personality shine.

I see plenty enough good workers in this division that can go out and deliver top class performances; they all just have to up it. There’s no point having one guy in a tag match give all he’s got. It’s great for him, he’ll be looking at a singles push, but for the division as a whole everyone single guy has to go out and deliver and I believe they can. Whether or not they want to is another matter though…

Matches from History – Mistuharu Misawa V Kenta Kobashi

James Giles

A welcome return for the ‘Matches from History’ column and James has thrown a bit of a curveball: Mistuhara Misawa v Kenta Kobashi from Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2003.

Up to this point in this feature, our focus has been on mostly WWE matches, whilst occasionally looking at bouts from other American promotions, such as WCW. But there is a wealth of brilliant battles from all around the world out there, and the greatest wrestling hot-bed outside the US is Japan. So, for a change of pace this week, we’ve decided to look at a stone-cold classic between two of Japan’s most beloved stars, who had an impressive number of memorable encounters over the years.

Misawa and Kobashi were two giants of the Japanese wrestling scene from the early ‘90’s up until Misawa’s untimely death in 2009; they wrestled in All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) as tag team partners, before having a lengthy rivalry, which carried over to Pro Wrestling NOAH, which was formed by both men and many other ex-AJPW workers in 2000. They started from the bottom in AJPW, guided and built up slowly by the legendary wrestler and promoter Shohei ‘Giant’ Baba. Beginning in the junior heavyweight division, Misawa shot to prominence sooner, as the second Tiger Mask. After proving their worth as juniors, both were elevated to the heavyweight league, Misawa capturing the AJPW Triple Crown first when he defeated Stan Hansen in 1992, and Kobashi following in 1993 with a win over Terry Gordy. They dominated AJPW during the 1990’s, and had classic feuds and compelling matches with the likes of Toshiaki Kawada (who had very real rivalry with Misawa), Akira Taue, Jun Akiyama, Steve Williams, amongst others.

Although it is almost impossible to definitively state what their best match is, due to the sheer number of contenders, this one surely makes the Top 3. Prior to this contest, Kobashi had been out of action for much of the previous year, and the last time he challenged Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight Championship, he left empty-handed. From the get go, there is an electricity in the air, and the crowd is clearly anticipating a war. They tie up a few times, with neither man gaining much advantage, and exchange a few wear down submissions. After skilfully building some tension, they trade stiff looking forearms and chops, before Misawa lets rip with a big backdrop. Kobashi roles outside to recover, but Misawa hits a diving forearm from the top, followed by a big splash for near fall. The athleticism displayed by Misawa, then 41, is pretty astounding. Solidly in control, he works over Kobashi’s arm with various submissions; Kobashi momentarily takes charge, with some more full-on chops, but a diving shoulder barge is cut of mid-air, by a vicious forearm smash. The tide finally turns when Kobashi roles outside again for respite; Misawa attempts a flying lariat, but Kobashi dodges and Misawa eats guardrail. Seeing the opportunity, Kobashi hits his patented half-nelson suplex on the floor. Back in the ring, they hit more big moves, including front suplex off the top, before spilling out onto the entrance ramp.

By this point the crowd is super-hot and cheering both men’s effort, and in something only really seen in Japanese wrestling, applaud the most exciting and well-timed sequences. At the half way point, Kobashi is back in control, and pummels Misawa with several more half-nelson suplexes and stiff chops, and continues the wear down with a full-nelson with body scissors submission. The psychology of the bout, with advantage skilfully swung back and forth, and both using logical moves to break each other down, is done without the flamboyance and theatricality of WWE; instead the focus is on believability and the impact every move has. And as things progress, the sequences of moves only gets heated and full-on; Misawa hits a German suplex, a spinning forearm, a double underhook suplex, a rolling leg-lariat and a Tiger Bomb, but Kobashi won’t stay down. Kobashi manages to slip on a sleeper, and follows though into a sleep-suplex. Things eventually move to the entrance ramp again, where Misawa hits a beautiful diving forearm, before a mind-blowing double underhook suplex off the ramp to the floor. Many of the audience leap to their feet and strive to get a better look, not quite able to believe what they have just seen.

An incredibly tense count-out sequence then takes place; Misawa makes it in at 18 and Kobashi just behind at 19, and the crowd are once again on their feet applauding, enraptured by the herculean display by both. In all my years watching WWE, I don’t remember this oft-used heat-builder works any where near as affectively. They trade off a few more massive suplexes before Misawa hits his signature move, Emerald Fusion, and things are seemingly over. Kobashi shockingly kicks out though, and recover enough to finish off Misawa with the fierce looking Burning Hammer, and regains the GHC Title.

A brutal, fiery epic between two of Japan’s greatest, this match deserves to be viewed by all wrestling fans; if you have never watched any previously, this is an absorbing, yet accessible starting point. If you are already a fan, then you know exactly what to expect from two legends. Few battles in WWE ever manage the sheer intensity on display here, and if you are feeling jaded about the current WWE or TNA product, this could be just what you need to help you remember what is great about wrestling at its peak.