Done to Death – Wrestling’s most over used feuds

Jamie Lithgow

In this post I present the first of a three part series looking at my top 5 five feuds. In this first instalment I look at the top 5 feuds I feel were done to death.

WWE, WCW, ECW, TNA and every other promotion I could mention has had feuds and matches that they keep returning to. However not all of these re-runs are welcome. Here are my top 5 feuds that have been done to death. By done to death I mean killed to the point where I wouldn’t pop for them at all, in fact I would actually change the channel if such a match or feud was presented to me right now.

Randy Orton vs. John Cena
CM Punk likes to tell us how many times he has faced and defeated John Cena but surely Cena’s most prolific nemesis is Randy Orton. By my count they have faced each other one on one 7 times on PPV over the years. This isn’t counting triple threats, fatal four ways and obviously doesn’t count television matches. Of these 7 one on one matches 4 took place between August and October 2009. That’s right, not only did WWE present 4 PPV’s in 3 months but all were headlined by Cena vs. Orton. I think that this is what killed this feud for me; I’ve seen all there is to see between these two and it was presented to me all at once. The only reason to have them renew their rivalry is if Cena were the heel and Orton was the babyface. However this, as we all know, is never going to happen.

Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan
The feud that WWE never took advantage of, but was absolutely slaughtered by WCW. Flair and Hogan had their showdowns (most notably at the 1992 Royal Rumble) but never actually broke into a full blown feud while they were both under contract to WWE. To my knowledge they only faced each other once while the cameras were rolling, and even this was to a limited audience. However fast forward to 1994 and WCW are all over this feud; in fact Hogan’s first match in WCW was against The Nature Boy. Thankfully they never faced each other a ridiculous amount of times, due to WCW’s depth of big name talent in the nWo era. However the annoying thing with this feud is that it just kept popping up, time and time again and each time it popped up each man was older and more embarrassing to watch. The pair clashed on several occasions between 1994 and 1999 in WCW, finally had that WWE match in 2002 and continued their rivalry into TNA with the Fortune and Immortal factions. So even though WWE, for whatever reason, failed to capitalise on this feud it has still been beaten to a bloody pulp by WCW and to a lesser extent TNA.

Kane vs. The Undertaker
Be honest, would anyone welcome another Undertaker vs. Kane feud? As a tandem it is always cool to see them together, but as foes they have literally done all they can to each other. Both men have been locked in caskets, Kane has been set on fire and The Undertaker has been buried alive only to rise from the dead. Even Paul Bearer has risen from the dead in this iconic feud. Kane also occupies two entries in Taker’s famous Wrestlemania streak. Unlike other feuds on this list I’m not sick to the back teeth of this rivalry, I just think it has had its day and has nothing more to offer.

Ric Flair vs. Sting
This inclusion may seem slightly controversial given the quality of many of the matches involved, but much like The Undertaker vs. Kane feud this story has been told. This feud began with their iconic 45 minute draw at the original Clash of The Champions in 1988 and peaked when Sting won the world title at the 1990 Great American Bash. From this point on is where I have trouble with this rivalry. They were friends, then rivals, then friends, then rivals and so on for the entire duration of the 1990s. They flip flopped so much that it borders on the ridiculous. However it is fitting that Flair and Sting headlined WCW’s last ever show. It’s just a shame that this match didn’t mark the end of their rivalry, TNA managed to squeeze the last remaining drops of juice from it.

Kane vs. The Big Show
This rivalry is here for the most obvious reason; almost every match these two have had together has been pants. The only match I remember fondly is actually due to the third participant in their Triple Threat Hardcore Title match from Wrestlemania 17. Raven’s antics in this comedy caper made this match. With that said this is personal opinion, most people I know hate this match. I can see why WWE had them feud first time around, it was big man vs. really big man; it was more spectacle than anything else. I can also see why they have returned to it a few times, primarily because both men have been with the company so long that their paths inevitably cross every now and then. However in recent times it seems that the Big Show/Kane rivalry appears at least once a year and it’s beyond ridiculous. There wasn’t much life in this feud to begin with, so 13 years on and dozens (if not hundreds) of matches later you can forgive me if I lose interest if WWE dare present this match again.

Next time in my mini series on feuds I look at the other side of the coin and discuss the top 5 feuds that ended with me wanting more

Why did the Lex Express run out of gas in the WWF?

(Image courtesy of accelerator3359.com)

(Image courtesy of accelerator3359.com)

Craig Wilson

Despite much fanfare on his arrival and a series of pushes throughout his run with the WWF, Lex Luger failed to reach the heights many including Vince McMahon had hoped for. Here, Craig Wilson looks at the various reasons behind this.

Previously I looked at the importance of Hulk Hogan on the face of wrestling and few can really argue against how he changed wrestling as we know it. Few know that quite as much as Vince McMahon who made Hogan his flagship star and rode on his coattails as Hogan became the biggest name in wrestling and took the then WWF with him.

Since then Vince has tried to recreate the magic a few times, initially with the Ultimate Warrior but it was perhaps with Lex Luger that Vince tried the hardest, yet was Lex Luger really the best choice to do this with? I think not.

Lugar debuted in the WWF in 1992 when Vince tried dabbled in creation a World Bodybuilding Federation. After realising that this wasn’t going to make him the millions he had hoped, Luger was soon on the WWF roster as a competitor.

However, it is worth noting here that Vince put a lot of faith in Luger in this role making him the face of the WBF and having an on-air interview between Luger and Heenan at Wrestlemania 8. Unfortunately, he was soon in a motorcycle accident and by the time he returned the WBF was done and dusted.

His next appearance was as ‘the Narcissist’ where he would pose pre-match in full length mirrors. The WWF also incorprorated his motorcycle crash into this angle with him knocking out superstars with the steel plate in his arm with the powers that be later urging him to cover his arm up.

His second big break came when Hogan left the promotion in the summer of 1993 and he was transformed from a heel into a mega-face as Vince tried to recreate the Hogan ‘all-American’ magic of old and placed him into a feud with the WWF Champion Yokozuna. One memorable part of this was when Lex was the only superstar to slam the near 600 pound superstar on the deck of USS Intrepid.

Following this bodyslam thus began ‘The Lex Express’ tour across America as he campaigned for a title shot that he ultimately got at Summerslam 1993 when he was only able to defeat Yoko via countout and as per the stipulation, this was to be his only attempt at the title.

Soon after he was thrust into a feud with the anti-American Ludvig Borga – although what problem Finland had with America is still unclear – which culminated in the match at the 1993 Survivor Series between the All-Americans (Luger as captain with The Undertaker and the Steiner Brothers) and the Foreign Fanatics (Yokozuna, Crush, Borga and Quebecer Jacques) which Luger’s team won.

At the 1994 Royal Rumble, Luger and Bret Hart were the last two superstars in the rumble with both going over the top rope together and their feet hitting the ground simultaneously. Being “co-winners” meant both would get a shot at Yokozuna at Wrestlemania X.

By this point, you can see that Vince was starting to lose faith with Luger and at Wrestlemania X he was disqualified in his match with Yoko and later on in the evening Bret Hart would defeat the WWF Champion to regain the title.

The ended Luger’s involvement in the title picture and he would soon continue his association with Tatanka that soon saw rumours swirl that he would turn heel and align himself with The Million Dollar Corporation but in the end it was Tatanka that joined the faction.

Luger’s last involvement with the WWF was when he was teamed with the British Bulldog as ‘the Allied Powers’. They made a good enough impact on the tag team division and made their pay-per-view debut as a tag team at WrestleMania XI, defeating the Blu Brothers. After this they earned a shot at the WWF Tag Team Championship against Owen Hart and Yokozuna at In Your House 2: The Lumberjacks but failed to win the titles and after Summerslam 1995 Luger’s contract expired and he left the promotion without informing Vince and showed up on WCW Nitro television.

So where did it go wrong? Well, despite a number of pushes and attempts to get him over with the fans, he just wasn’t able to make that connection. The attempt to make him the new Hulk Hogan failed for a number of reasons. He may have had a similarly impressive physique, but he lacked the name appeal and charisma of the Hulkster and it was clear that the landscape was changing a bit. The fans aligned themselves more with Bret Hart after the 1994 Royal Rumble and it was little surprise that the Hitman ended the night as WWF Champion.

It would be a bit harsh to say that Vince lost interest in Luger afterwards, I think it’s more a case that he realised that Luger was destined to never be the top man in the eyes of the WWF fans no matter how hard he tried.

For me, Luger always came across as wooden and never appeared natural in the position he was put in during his spell in the WWF and upper-midcarder at best but never the main event. The Allied Powers perhaps could have worked out, it certainly strengthened the tag team division, but soon fizzled out. By this point the WWF were clearly done with Luger as demonstrated by the fact they allowed his contract to expire and disappear without much fanfare.

Ultimately, it was his lack of charisma that let down Luger. He was never going to be the new Hulk Hogan but with more charisma then he could have been much more of a success in the WWF than he was. Ultimately, the fans took to Bret Hart in 1994 and not Luger and the rest, as they say, is history.

Moments that Changed Wrestling History: Hulkamania

Craig Wilson

This piece originally appeared on 411mania yesterday.

Moments that Changed Wrestling History: Hulkamania

When Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik on the 23rd of January 1984 to become the WWF Champion few would have predicted just how much Hogan would go onto to change the face of wrestling and give the sport cross-over appeal like it had never had before.

Early days

Born on 11th August 1953 to a construction worker Father and a dance teacher Mother, Terry Gene Bolloa would go on to achieve unparalleled success in and out of the ring in a wrestling career that has stemmed over 30 years with little sign of ending any time soon.

A childhood wrestling fan, he grew up idolising Dusty Rhodes, Hogan’s first real sporting achievement came in Little League Baseball as a pitcher. By the age of sixteen he had become a big wrestling fan and attended many events in the local area and sought to model his own appearance on the Superstar Billy Graham’s “inhuman” look.

A short spell at University followed before he dropped out to focus his attention on the rock band Ruckus he was part of that was beginning to make a name for themselves and cause quite a sensation in the local area.

First WWF run, Japan and the NWA

In his spare time he spent a lot of time in a gym frequented by many superstars from the local promotion ‘Championship Wrestling from Florida’ which was promoted by Eddie Gilbert. At first Mike Graham, the promoter’s son, refused to put Hogan in the ring and he only relented when Hogan quit Ruckus to focus all his energy on becoming a wrestler.

A successful spell in Alabama as part of the Boulder Brothers with Ed Leslie, who later portrayed Brutus ‘the Barber’ Beefcake and what seems like hundreds of other gimmicks, saw the team work a show for the Memphis promotion Continental Wrestling Association (CWA). This was enough for the organisation’s promoter Jerry Jarrett to offer the two a deal earning more than four times what they were on previously.

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After filming a part in Rocky III, Hogan debuted for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. Despite his incredible levels of popularity, Gagne refused to make Hogan his champion owing to Gagne favouring technical wrestlers.

In 1980’s, Vince was on massive talent hunt, and thus, he started acquiring stars of other promotions. In 1983 Hogan left the AWA and joined Vince, who wanted him at any cost. Vince had already realized the immense marketing potential of Hulk Hogan and his plan was to make him the number one star of the WWF.

Birth of Hulkamania

In 1982, Vincent Kennedy McMahon purchased the then WWWF from his Father Vincent J McMahon and set about turning the promotion into a nationwide promotion. Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bolloa was handpicked by Vince McMahon Jr to be the company’s showpiece attraction owing to his size, charisma and name recognition – much of which was down to his part in Rocky 3.

On the 23rd of January 1984, now in his second run with the WWF after his brief flirtation with the company in 1979-80, Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden to win his first ever WWF Heavyweight Championship. The moment that Hogan’s arm was raised was the moment that the WWF had its new American hero and propelled Hogan and Vince’s WWF to worldwide fame.

On March 29, 1987 a widely disputed, but record breaking, crowd gathered at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan to witness Wrestlemania III, arguably the pinnacle event of the 1980s wrestling boom. An announced 93, 173 fans, although the figure is more accurately in and around the 80,000 mark, saw two of the biggest names in wrestling at the time Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant battle in the main event. The match itself featured the iconic moment when Hogan slammed Andre, dubbed “the bodyslam heard around the world”, then cleanly pinned him in what was to be the Giant’s swansong match.

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Hogan remained champion for more than four years, 1474 days, until he dropped the title in front of 33million viewers on Saturday Night’s Main event. At the event he dropped the title to Andre the Giant following a referee double. This double-cross saw the title declared vacant which led to Wrestlemania IV featuring a tournament to declare the new champion, a tournament won by The Macho Man Randy Savage.

Hogan helped Savage by preventing Andre the Giant interfering in his match against the Million Dollar Man and soon the two formed the Mega Powers. This partnership would end in 1989 when Savage grew weary of the attention Hogan would pay his wife and turned on him setting up the main event of Wrestlemania V: When Mega Powers Explode.

At the event, the second consecutive Wrestlemania to air from Trump Plaza, Hogan bested Savage in the main event in just under 20 minutes to win the title. The two would continue to feud including the memorable, but awful, angle involving Zeus the evil co-star of the equally awful ‘No Holds Barred’ film in which Hogan starred.

After the 80s boom

1990 and Wrestlemania VI brought a new challenge, dubbed ‘the Ultimate Challenge’ which pitted the WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and the Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior. In unchartered territory, the first ‘mania to be headlined by a face v face main event, the two giants, the irresistible force and the immovable object to paraphrase Gorilla Monsoon, squared off against each other in what was meant to be the passing of the torch as the Ultimate Warrior was propelled to the top of the WWF tree.

Unfortunately for the Ultimate Warrior, as well as Vince and the WWF, his run with the title wasn’t the success many had hoped for. While his physique more than rivalled that of the man he defeated for the title, Warrior, like so many others, lacked the charisma and connection with the fans that Hogan had and it was little surprise that a year later, in the main event of Wrestlemania 7, it was Hogan that ended the evening with the WWF title.

Late 1991 saw Ric Flair leave WCW and join the WWF and the stage was set for the dream match, as far as many wrestling fans were concerned, between Flair and Hogan. The much hyped match at Wrestlemania 8, which was initially all set to take place, never became reality after rumoured poor crowd reaction at house shows and in the end the WWF Champion Flair fought Randy Savage while Hogan locked horns with Sid Justice in the second part of the double main event.

Going to the well once too often

The steroid scandal that engulfed professional wrestling at the start of the 90s, a topic I will later revisit in much greater detail, forced Vince to look at smaller superstars and led to Bret Hart, and at a later date Shawn Michaels, receiving a run with the WWF title.

Few wrestling fans have much in the way of positive remarks to make about the early 90s post Hogan era of the WWF. Gone was the biggest draw in wrestling at the time and in his place were superstars some 80 or so pounds lighter with, for want of a better phrase, normal builds.

Vince and the WWF tried to create and build new stars but vastly reduced attendances forced Vince to do what many saw as unthinkable after the steroid scandal; bring back the Hulkster. So, ahead of Wrestlemania 9 Hogan returned to rescue his real life best friend Brutus Beefcake from a beat down at the hands of Money Inc (The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and Mike ‘I.R.S’ Rotunda). The two teams would meet at Wrestlemania 9 where Hogan’s team would win via a DQ but it is his other involvement at the event that is better remembered; defeating Yokozuna seconds after he had won the WWF Championship from Bret Hart in the card’s main event.

Hogan’s fifth run with the belt – and last for nearly a decade – was far from the success that McMahon hoped and perhaps needed. Hogan had felt that a run with the tag team titles was beneath him so he and McMahon and concocted a way to get the belt back to Hogan at ‘mania. The plan was originally meant to involve Hogan dropping the title to Hart at Summerslam in a big money main event but Hogan refused, owing to Hart’s size and Hogan’s doubts over the Hitman’s drawing power.

Instead, in a pitifully poor title match at King of the Ring 1993 – which also featured a stellar performance from Bret Hart who won 3 matches to win the inaugural PPV King of the Ring event – Hogan dropped the title to Yokozuna. This match, which Yokozuna didn’t even win cleanly, was Hogan’s last WWF PPV appearance until 2002 as he sat out the rest of his contract with the company.

Leaving the WWF, NWO and beyond

After leaving the WWF in 1993, Hogan split his time between family, films and Japan. In 1994, though, he joined Ted Turner’s WCW and began appearing on their television programming in July of that year winning the WCW title in his debut match against Ric Flair at Bash on the Beach.

Despite a bright debut, by 1996 the amount of time he spent on TV for the promotion dwindled but this was soon to change. By this point a new force was developing in the company. Two recent defectors from the WWF, Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash and Scott ‘Razor Ramon’ Hall began appearing in the WCW appearing to outside to be infiltrators from the WWF.

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At Bash at the Beach in 1996, during a six man tag team match pitting The Outsiders (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall) against WCW loyalists, Hogan interfered on behalf of Nash and Hall, attacking Randy Savage, thereby turning heel for the first time in over ten years

After the match, Hogan delivered a promo, accosting the fans and WCW for underappreciating his talent and drawing power, and announcing the formation of the New World Order (nWo) of Wrestling. This new stable gained prominence over the coming weeks and months and went on to play a pivotal war in the WCW gaining the initative in the ‘Monday Night Wars’ that had emerged at the time between WWF’s Monday Night Raw and WCW’s Nitro – another topic I will later revisit in greater detail.

Later runs with the WWF and beyond

Hogan again returned to the WWF in 2002 and became the very last WWF Champion as very soon the company was forced to change its name to the WWE. At Wrestlemania 18, Hogan faced The Rock in an icon v icon match.

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Despite the portrayals by Rock as a face and Hogan a heel in the match, the Canadian crowd chose to cheer Hulk Hogan over The Rock instead. After the match, the two shook hands in respect. As The Rock left the ring, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall came and attacked Hogan, therefore ending Hogan’s involvement in the nWo. The Rock returned and saved Hogan from further attack. As a sign of respect, The Rock stopped Hulk from leaving the ring and asked him to pose for the crowd, turning Hogan face again.

The following year, at Wrestlemania 19, Hogan defeated Vince McMahon in a street fight match dubbed twenty years in the making. A brief spell as Mr. America soon followed before he left the WWF again in 2003.

Hogan returned once again in the lead up to Wrestlemania 21 where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Sylvester Stallone. This run was shorter lived and Hogan left blaming the smaller pay levels that he was getting.

Since 2009, Hogan has been involved with TNA as Dixie Carter’s business partner and more recently as General Manager of the organisation.

Legacy

It is very difficult to think of a superstar that has impacted the world of professional wrestling more than Hulk Hogan. In fact, throughout this series of articles on ‘Moments that changed wrestling history’ Hogan will crop up time and time again. His role in the initial success of Wrestlemania cannot be underestimated nor can the part he played in the WCW winning the ratings war when he was part of the NWO.

In terms of cross-over appeal, only Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson comes close to rivalling Hogan and even he has a long way to go. As Vince McMahon’s promotion went first nationwide then worldwide, Hulk Hogan was the face of the organisation and his importance grew as McMahon pushed the company into pop culture. This culminated in Wrestlemania I and Hogan was the centrepiece of that event, teaming up with Mr. T against Bob Orton and Rowdy Roddy Piper.

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Hogan’s name recognition, look and charisma made him an obvious choice to be the face of the WWF as Vince McMahon turned the promotion from one of the many Wrestling territories operating in America to the biggest promotion in the world. Hogan became a name that reached virtually every doorstep in the western world and a cultural icon.

In 1987 there were very few men that could have been enough of a draw to fill the Pontiac Silverdome but Hogan was one of them, Andre the other, and it is difficult to imagine there ever being a bigger, or more significant, Wrestlemania main event.

So, in what way did Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bolloa change wrestling history? Quite simply, he was the face of WWF and wrestling as it boomed in the 80s. Of course, some could argue that to be in that position it was all about being in the right place at the right time but Hogan had everything that was required to occupy that role.

No one would argue that Hogan’s in-ring skills were extra-ordinary, in fact the only other wrestler who achieved a lot with such a limited set of moves was Kevin Nash, but Hogan had something more than a depth of wrestling talent.

Put simply, in the late 80s and early 90s Vince McMahon and the WWF needed and relied on Hulk Hogan. Hogan drew like no other superstar and was one of the main contributory factors in the WWF achieving the success that it did.

It was therefore little wonder that without Hogan the promotion struggled and why Vince often tried, but never succeeded, in emulating Hogan’s success. The initial attempt at replacing Hogan, with the Ultimate Warrior after Wrestlemania VI, was not the box office success Vince had hoped for and in 93 despite much fanfare and push after push; it became abundantly clear that Lex Lugar lacked the charisma to become the new Hogan.

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As a 28 year old, my earliest memories of wrestling involve Hogan and his pleas to say your prayers and eat your vitamins – although what vitamins he was referring to remain in doubt. It took until 1994 for there to be a Wrestlemania that didn’t feature Hogan and had it not been for the steroid scandal there’s every chance that Hogan would have featured on that event and beyond.

Hogan was the very embodiment of everything that Vince McMahon wanted in his main star. He had the superhero physique, unrivalled levels of charisma and owing initially to his role in Rocky III name recognition out with traditional wrestling circles. Could the WWF have expanded without Hogan as its main man? Almost certainly but I sincerely doubt to the same level that it did.

More of my musings on the often crazy world of wrestling can be found on the blog I write with a couple of friends RingtheDamnBell Blog. You can follow the blog on Twitter @Ringthedamnbel1

Feel free to suggest future ‘Moments that changed the face of wrestling’ in the comments section below or better still tweet them to me Ringthedamnbel1

TNA Bound for Glory 2012 preview and predictions

Craig Wilson & Jamie Lithgow

Tonight is TNA’s Wrestlemania, their big event of the year: Bound for Glory. As is the norm with PPVs we thought we’d take a stab at predicting the results. So check out our thoughts ahead of tonight’s event:

WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: “The Charismatic Enigma” Jeff Hardy vs. Austin Aries (champion)

Craig Wilson: I can’t see Aries dropping the title for a bit plus isn’t there still some confusion over Hardy’s contract status? Either way, this should be a stellar match on their biggest card of the year and I’m quite looking forward to it.

I’m glad that Hardy won the Bound for Glory series and that he seems to have gotten over the worst of his demons.

Winner: Austin Aries

Jamie: Unlike with WWE for much of 2012 here is a PPV main event that I’m actually looking forward to. Yep, TNA really is a world of change. There’s little point in me telling you that this should be a top quality match, I think we already know that. Aries is a tremendous technician while Hardy’s characteristic style lends itself perfectly to epic matches, which I thoroughly expect this to be. Wrestling matches need balance so I expect one of these guys to lean towards heelishness, and Aries is the natural choice. Furthermore, due his character, a full blown Aries heel turn is never out of the question. This is a tricky one to predict but I think Aries will keep the title, however do I expect the door to be left open for a Hardy rematch.

Winner: Austin Aries

ALL-ACCESS PASS or COMPLETE DISAPPEARANCE: Aces & Eights vs. Sting & Bully Ray

Craig Wilson: I’m absolutely torn on this one. I liked the Aces & Eights angle but feel it has sort of run out of steam and with rumours that Vic Gallows and Mike Knox are two of the Aces & Eights I remain unconvinced that any pay-off to this angle will really be that great.

That said, I can also see either Sting or Bully Ray turning on the other. Now, I imagine it’s more likely to be Bully Ray but what a swerve it would be having Sting turn and aligning himself with the Aces & Eights. Certainly give the group some legitimacy even if Gallows and Knox are two of the members!

Winner: Aces & Eights

Jamie: Again, I’m looking forward to this one because I’m really into this Aces & 8s storyline. Although in recent weeks it has seemed a bit like TNA are limping towards BFG because this match has been ready to happen for ages. The inclusion of Bully Ray is important to the match, adding a heel to the good guy ranks adds to the weight and importance of the match. I thoroughly expect Aces & 8s to prevail and also reveal, if not their identities, a lot of information about themselves. I can actually see Bully Ray putting in a heroic, albeit losing, effort that could even turn him face.

Winner: Aces & 8s

WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: AJ Styles & Kurt Angle vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr & Hernandez vs. Christopher Daniels & Kazarian (champions)

Craig Wilson: I quite like the combo of Chavo and Hernandez and hope that they take the titles here. I see some distance left in the feud between AJ/Kurt and Daniels/Kazarian and not really sure it requires the tag belts in the mix to keep going. Should be a good match though as it contains six really good superstars here.

Winner: Chavo & Hernandez

Jamie: I’m not that into this match I’m afraid. I don’t know why because I like Daniels and Kazarian and there are 5 excellent workers involved in the match. In terms of a result I want and think that Kazarian and Daniels will retain. They are TNA’s best team so until another team steps up they should hold the titles.

Winner: Daniels & Kazarian

STREET FIGHT: Bobby Roode vs. James Storm (Special Enforcer: King Mo)

Craig Wilson: When Beer Money goes bad. The more I write the more I realise just how much I am looking forward to this card as this is another match I have high hopes for. I thought Roode was a great champion and is a great wrestler and Storm is probably my favourite superstar on the TNA ranks. I expect a cracking brawl with Storm picking up the win here.

Winner: Storm

King Mo’s Involvement: Keeping Storm from escaping.

Jamie: Special enforcer? I smell a double cross. I quite like James Storm but I’m not that bothered about Bobby Roode, which is unfortunate because this should be a great scrap. Hopefully this match will help get more into these two characters. As for a result, see Wrestlemania 14 when Mike Tyson double crossed Shawn Michaels.

Winner: Bobby Roode

King Mo’s Involvement: Double crosses Storm to kick start a fresh feud.

TELEVISION CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: Magnus vs. Samoa Joe (champion)

Craig Wilson: Samoa Joe all the way with this one. Joe has been in rare form recently and hopefully on the way to recapturing the form of old. I think he’ll get an extended run with the belt as he hopefully goes from strength to strength.

Winner: Samoa Joe.

Jamie: This feud seems to have been watered down to give it enough juice to get to BFG, thus hasn’t really reached boiling point. I like Magnus but I don’t see him being handed a win over Joe. Stranger things have happened though…

Winner: Samoa Joe

KNOCKOUTS CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: Tara vs. Miss Tessmacher (champion)

Craig Wilson: And we thought the divas division in the WWE was poor… Tessmacher is still young, and as a result very raw, so has a chance to recover.

Winner: The winner and new TNA Knockouts Champion, Tara.

Jamie: I’m sorry, I really just am not bothered about this match. I’m actually not bothered about any women’s wrestling in TNA or WWE. It’s unfortunate because TNA used to have a great reputation for it. I think Tara will win, purely because one of the titles has to change hands.

Winner: Tara

Joey Ryan vs. Al Snow

Craig Wilson: With the pay-off of this angle clearly being that the most talented member of gut check getting a TNA contract, I can’t really see any other outcome than Joey Ryan going over in this one.

Winner: Joey Ryan

Jamie:
Joey Ryan all day long. I like this storyline, but it is rather predictable that he will win (most likely by cheating) in order to continue this conflict.

Winner: Joey Ryan

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Craig Wilson: Absolutely. Stellar card for TNA on their biggest night of the year and I’m really looking forward to this one. Not terribly bothered about the Knockouts match but that’s really about it. More critical people might suggest that Ryan v Snow is more suited to Impact but I’m of that opinion – it’s not like it’s the headline match, is it?

Worth watching?: Yes

Jamie: Definitely should be worth a look. The matches that I don’t have high hopes for should still be good matches, I just don’t feel drawn to certain participants. It’s personal preference who you like and don’t like but you can’t question that this should be a great wrestling show.

Worth watching?: Yes

Moments that changed wrestling history: The Four Horsemen

FourHorsemenCraig Wilson 

The history of wrestling is littered with stables of wrestlers from the Heenan Family through to the Hart Foundation and NWO. Some of these stables were great and undoubtedly played a crucial role in that era of wrestling while others fell well below that level (I’m looking at you, Million Dollar Corporation). But one stable holds legendary status even to this day and that group is the Four Horsemen.

The original quartet, Ole and Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and The Nature Boy Ric Flair with J.J Dillon as their manager, dominated Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA and created something special. It is fair to say that what they did create has often been imitated but never duplicated, let alone bettered.

They set the standard for excellence in professional wrestling, a standard that has never been equaled. Not only in terms of in-ring work and in promos but in the way that they lived the gimmick giving it even greater authenticity as a result

The reason for this is really quite straightforward. The whole concept of The Horsemen did not come from a booker’s pen. The Four Horsemen wasn’t the creation of Jim Crockett nor was it even Dusty Rhodes, a man responsible for many of the great storylines of that day in the NWA. No, instead, the Four Horsemen just happened. All four men were friendly, and being heels, were often thrown together in tag matches and six-man tag matches but it was an interview that really set the ball rolling.

After enough exposure to one another, the idea of a group began to take shape. Their images, their gimmicks, began to mesh. Each man’s constant drive to be the best, the same drive that brought them together, unified them into the greatest heel faction of all time. They didn’t just act as if they were part of The Four Horsemen. They WERE The Four Horsemen. They lived that gimmick.

Formation and the Horsemen era

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The Horsemen began when an impromptu tag team interview threw Flair, the Andersons, Tully Blanchard and Dillon together. During this interview Arn Anderson stated “The only time this much havoc had been wreaked by this few a number of people, you need to go all the way back to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” From that moment on the comparison and the name stuck.

From the beginning the four men ran roughshod over the NWA. The Andersons were in tag team title contention, Tully was the National Champion and ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair was the NWA World Champion. Their biggest nemesis during this era was unquestionably Dusty Rhodes. The most famous incident of this feud, and indeed during this era, was when they followed Rhodes’ car and filmed themselves breaking his arm with a baseball bat.

In early 1987 Ole was thrown out of the group and replaced with Lex Lugar. The group’s main rivals at this point were the Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) and the Super Powers (made up of their long-term rival Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff). In an effort to attempt to settle this bitter rivalry the WarGames match was created. This is arguably the finest creation of Dusty Rhodes and also easily the greatest stipulation match in the history of wrestling.

The match originally consisted of two teams of either four or five men each facing off with each other in staggered entry format. The setup of the cage consisted of two rings side by side with a giant ring-encompassing cage that covered both rings. The match began with one member of each team entering the cage. After five minutes, a member from one of the teams would enter the cage, giving his team the temporary handicap advantage. After two minutes, a member from the other team would enter to even the odds. Entrants alternated between teams every two minutes, giving the coin toss-winning team the temporary advantage in the numbers game before giving the other team the advantage with the freshest man and even odds. Once all men had entered the cage, “the match beyond” commenced. Both teams would brawl in the cage for as long as it took until a member of either team submitted, surrendered, or was knocked unconscious. There was no pinfall and no disqualification, which often led to brutal and often very bloody confrontation.

The very first WarGames match took place at the Great American Bash 1987 and pitted the Road Warriors, the Super Powers and Paul Ellering against the Four Horsemen (Flair, Arn Anderson, Blanchard, Lugar and J.J Dillon). The Four Horsemen lost this bloody and brutal match when Dillon submitted after injuring his arm as a result of a botched Doomsday Device.

In early 1988, after dropping the US Title and stopping Dillon winning a Bunkhouse match, Lugar was thrown out of the Horsemen and a few months later replaced by Barry Windham. With Windham as a member, it meant that the Horsemen now held all of the top belts in the company at the time. However, owing to pay issues, Blanchard and Anderson left the company that summer and moved to the WWF as ‘The Brain Busters’. In their absence, Barry and Ric tried to continue the Horsemen with a new manager, Hiro Matsuda as Dillon had accepted a front office job with the WWF, but the group quietly folded.

In-ring impact

From the outset, the Four Horsemen were a force to be reckoned with as the created problems for other wrestlers in the promotion. They feuded with many of the top babyface stars that Jim Crockett Promotions had at the time including Dusty Rhodes (breaking his ankle and hand), Magnum TA, Barry Windham, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express (breaking Ricky Morton’s nose), Nikita Koloff (injuring his neck), and The Road Warriors.

I’ve recently immersed myself in Joe ‘Road Warrior Animal’ Laurinaitis’ autobiography ‘The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling’ in which he talks about the Four Horsemen. After riding roughshod across various wrestling promotions, it was the Horsemen that gave the Road Warriors their first real beat down in the ring. That action showed how highly regarded the Four Horsemen were that even though they were smaller wrestlers they were able to dish out such a beating and despite those actions, the Road Warriors were not damaged in the eyes of the fans as a result.

It was their heavy involvement in each title division that gave the group added legitimacy as a force to be reckoned with. When Flair was the World Champion and each of the others either held their respective titles or were heavily involved in the title scene, it made the group look unstoppable as they dominated everyone that stood in their way.

As a result, it is little wonder that nearly a decade later when it was the NWO that were creating havoc in the WCW that the Four Horsemen were heavily involved in attempts to bring down this new faction. Of course, it wasn’t the original quartet but this demonstrated just how highly regarded the Horsemen were by fans – many who may not have seen much of the original grouping – that they were seen as a legitimate threat to the NWO.

Later versions

When Ric Flair returned in 1993 after a brief spell with the WWF, the Horsemen reformed with Ric, Arn, and Paul Roma. Roma had previously been, at best, a mid-carder in the WWF and not the elite superstar that fans were used to seeing as a member of the Four Horsemen and his spell with the group didn’t last long. The Horsemen again reformed in 1995 this time with Brian Pillman and Chris Benoit. When Pillman left WCW, he was replaced by the former American Footballer Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael. Jeff Jarrett was to later join the group after defeating both Benoit and McMichael in a series of matches but he too was later kicked out.

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In the summer of 1997 Arn Anderson was forced to retire as a professional wrestler and gave his position in the group to, after much fanfare, Curt Hennig. However, Hennig quickly turned on the other members. In 1998, Dean Malenko joined the group. This final incarnation of the Four Horsemen ended when Benoit and Malenko left the group and joined Shane Douglas and Perry Saturn to form the Revolution.

Imitators and Influence

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Such was the success attained by the Four Horsemen that it was of no surprise that various promotions attempted to recreate the magic but none came close. Arguably the closest any promotion got was the WWE in 2003 with the creation of Evolution. That group again featured Ric Flair, but it was Triple H that was the stable’s leader with Randy Orton and Batista making up the quartet. Evolution worked in a very similar manner to how the Horsemen did in NWA: dominating the titles scene and feuding with the promotions top babyfaces.

In 2010, TNA tried to get in on the Four Horsemen imitation stakes with their grouping of Fortune (originally titled Fourtune). This stable consisted of leader Ric Flair, A.J. Styles, James Storm, Kazarian and Robert Roode and later also included Christopher Daniels, Douglas Williams and Matt Morgan. In similar style, Fortune were heavily involved in the various title scenes and even used a variant of the Four Horsemen hand gesture.

A lesser known imitator was the Xtreme Horsemen. This group came together in Dusty Rhodes’ Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling promotion and comprised of Steve Corino and “The Enforcer” C.W. Anderson who were joined by former ECW superstars Justin Credible and Simon Diamond with the group also being briefly managed by former Four Horsemen manager J.J. Dillon.

In terms of influence over other stables, it would be difficult to narrow that down. As Jim Ross stated in the excellent Four Horsemen DVD, stables such as DX, NWO and the Million Dollar Corporation would never have existed had it not been for the Four Horsemen demonstrating how good a stable could be and the success that could be attained.

Few would argue that Evolution were the closest any promotion has gotten to replicating the Four Horsemen, but virtually every wrestling stable since been influenced by the Horsemen and their heyday in the mid to late 80s.

Legacy

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The Horsemen concept helped define the NWA in the mid to late 1980s. The Four Horsemen were quite simply the greatest stable of all time in wrestling. Whilst I grew up a WWE fan and missed the Four Hoursemen the first time around, I’ve started watching Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW events and was blown away by the group.

Not only was it helpful that each of the members was an established start from the outset, it also helped the group no end that Ric Flair was generally the NWA/WCW Champion, certainly during the early years, meaning that the group was the elite entity at the time and when other members also held titles they looked close to being unstoppable.

They set the standard for what it meant to be the best in every single aspect of the wrestling business. Their matches were generally regarded as being the best, few superstars could cut promos of the standard of the Four Horsemen and they lived the Horsemen lifestyle outside of the ring putting the business ahead of everything else.

The group was unquestionably helped by the fact that they were close friends and outside of the ring lived their gimmicks but their role in the history of wrestling cannot be underestimated. No stable beforehand or since has come close to equaling either their style or their in-ring success and the group’s induction into the WWF Hall of Fame in 2012 was long overdue.

The Horsemen paved the way for future stables such as the NWO, Evolution, Fortune and DX. The Horsemen rode roughshod over everyone and everything that stood in their way which made the group look unstoppable. The original quarter were highly skilled workers yet could easily mix it up and brawl if necessary making the group look even more dangerous. The various angles of injuring the promotion’s top babyfaces at the time, coupled with their dominance in the title scenes, gave the Four Horsemen unmatched legitimacy. The Horsemen were a promoter’s delight with huge amounts of money being made as fans desperately craved for babyfaces that could stop their dominant run.

Even as the groups weakened as members left and were generally replaced by poorer superstars, the group was still seen as the real deal and no doubt superstars such as Pillman, Lugar, Benoit and Malenko would have greatly benefited from the rub that they received as part of the Horsemen and extra TV exposure that came with the position.

It is unlikely that wrestling fans will see such a powerful stable ever again yet to this day it is still a great joy to look back on those old clips from the 80s and early 90s and see their arrogant promos and the way that they took on all comers as they became the most dominant stable in wrestling history.

Even with, in Ric Flair, perhaps the greatest wrestler of all time in their ranks, the other members of the members of the original Four Horsemen never looked like supporting stars. Each and every one was the real deal and that’s what made the group the best in the business. I mean, look how over they were even as late as 1998:

Sunday Sermon: Would Razor Ramon have made a better champion than Diesel?

Craig Wilson, James Giles and Jamie Lithgow

Craig: Interesting discussion point here. Background of course being that Diesel is regarded as one of, if not the, worst drawing WWF champions in the history of the company.

But could Ramon have done any better? Not a guy without his problems, which are well documented, but back in 94/95 things looked good for him.

Good run with the intercontinental title and match of the night effort at Wrestlemania X but couldn’t scale that next rung.

James: I think that for Razor to have taken Diesels place he would have to have been a face and as popular as Razor was, it was due to him being an entertaining heel. He played that role much more effectively and I don’t think he would have worked as a face champ.

I’m feel he would have made a good heel challenger for Bret or HBK thou, and maybe even have had a short heel reign.

Craig: Razor, in fairness to him, had a repertoire of moves – not something you can say about Diesel. Did anyone else get so far with so few moves?

James: Possibly only Hulk Hogan and at least he had tremendous charisma to make up for it.

I think if i was looking at it objectively, Razor would have been a better champ – as you said, he had more moves and was generally a better worker than Diesel, he could work with a bigger variety of opponents and had way more charisma and personality. He was probably more popular overall too (Diesels surge in popularity was only short lived). Just taking those factors into account, i would say Razor was a much better candidate.

But the question of whether he would actually have been more successful is less clear cut – Craig mentioned Razors catalogue of personal problems, which would probably have had an impact. The pressure of carrying the company is immense after all. And WWE would have to have toned down the heel elements of character to get him over a face champ, which may have dented his overall appeal.

Jamie: I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and question if Razor would have done better, as a babyface at least. As a heel Razor was immense, such a good character for the babyfaces to play off. Also, as previously mentioned his move set was far superior to Diesel’s. The first time I saw Razor was in the co-main event of Survivor Series ’92 where he teamed with Flair to take on Savage and last minute Warrior replacement Mr Perfect. At the time I first saw this I had no idea who Razor Ramon was, but he managed to slot right in and didn’t look at all out of place despite being surrounded by legends. However, if we fast forward to Wrestlemania 10, which was the first time I saw him perform as a babyface, I found him really bland. I still can’t help but cheer for the far more interesting Shawn Michael’s character in this epic match. As a babyface Razor was a watered down version of the same character and was frankly rather boring, much like Sheamus today if I’m honest. Deisel on the other hand broke free from Shawn Michael’s so WWE could establish his character more as a babyface, whereas Razor was already a strong character having already been such an effective heel.

Craig: We agree Razor had the attributes to be a better champ, but would he have been a better champ i.e. Could he have done it?

Jamie: Razor probably would have been a better champ than Deisel but I would have doubts about just how much better he would have been. However, as a heel he could have been a monster. In the 1994/95 period there was no big heel characters, there was no clear number one bad guy. Yokozuna had served his purpose and the biggest heel was Intercontinental Champ/challenger Shawn Michaels. At this time WWE was crying out for Razor to be The Bad Guy.

James: I think he could have managed a decent run, providing his ‘demons’ didn’t get in the way. As a face, I reckon he would have only been a marginally bigger draw, but unquestionably would have had better matches, and provided a damn sight more entertainment than Diesel. If WWE has seized on the opportunity when he was at his height as a heel, he could have been massive.

I do feel that if WWE had tried to keep the title on him for as long as Diesel though, he would have eventually crumbled under the pressure. So, overall I feel Razor would have been a better champ, just doubtful he could have managed it as long as Diesel.

Moments that changed wrestling history: ECW is born

Craig Wilson

This piece appeared on 411mania yesterday and is an updated version of an earlier piece from this blog.

In a new weekly feature, I will look at moments throughout the history of wrestling that were game changers. No era will be off limits for this column, although I will ease into it gently.

The scope for this column is incredible and can take in fairly recent events such as Ted Turner bankrolling Eric Bischoff to run the WCW, the Monday Night Wars, the NWO or go further back in time Bruno Sammartino dropping the WWWF title after an 18 year reign at the top to Hogan winning the WWF Championship for the first time and the birth of Wrestlemania.

The first moment I will look at is from the not too distant past, August 1994, when Extreme Championship Wrestling was born and changed the landscape of professional wrestling forever.

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Before we start looking at ECW, first we have to look at the state of play with the NWA – of which ECW then known as Eastern Championship Wrestling was then member. In September of 1993, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) formally withdrew from NWA leaving Eastern Championship Wrestling as the most watched televised NWA show.

Despite losing WCW as its flagship promotion, the NWA picked up some new members and remained in existence as a legal entity. After the best part of a year, the organization scheduled a tournament to crown a new champion, and brought back the “Domed Globe” belt from the ’70s to early ’80s to represent this new Champion.

Eastern Championship Wrestling

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Eastern Championship Wrestling was created by Tod Gordon. Previously known, from 1989 onwards, as Tri-state Wrestling Alliance, Gordon bought out his partner Joel Goodhart in 1992 and soon renamed the promotion Eastern Championship Wrestling. The company was originally booked by Eddie Gilbert but after a fall-out he was replaced by Paul Heyman. Heyman’s, previously known to wrestling fans as Paul E. Dangerously from his stint with the WCW, was in search of a new challenge and his vision for wrestling was completely different to that which had gone before, as wrestling fans would soon see.

The President of the NWA, Dennis Coralluzzo, was under the belief that that Crockett and Gordon were going to try to monopolize the title and publically stated that Crockett did not have the approval from the NWA board to run this tournament and placed himself in the position of overseeing the forthcoming tournament.

Unsurprisingly Gordon did not take kindly to this and began contemplating removing the ECW from NWA. Any plan would court controversy but also attract great public interest – a tactic that ECW would use time and time again. The plan was to have Shane Douglas, who was scheduled to face 2 Cold Scorpio in the tournament finals, win the title then throw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship upon as an act of defiance.

This was planned by Gordon and Heyman. Heyman persuaded Douglas by noting that the only real negative of this move would be that NWA traditionalists would just see them as traitors to the tradition of the NWA. It’s difficult to imagine that Heyman cared all that much about the traditions of the NWA at this point.

There was also some bad feeling between Douglas and Coralluzzo. The NWA President had been quite vocal in his criticism of Douglas and told NWA affiliated bookers not to book him for shows as he believed Douglas had the tendency to not appear at events in which he was scheduled.

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Shane Douglas moments before throwing down the NWA title

Douglas ultimately decided to go through with Gordon and Heyman’s plan, inspired by his father’s motto of “doing right by the people that do right by you.” After looking up and saying, “This is it tonight, Dad,” Douglas threw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship stating that he did not want to be champion of a “dead promotion” that “died seven years ago”. He then proceeded to raise the Eastern Championship Wrestling title and declared it to be a World Heavyweight Championship and cut a quite magnificent promo, as you can see below.

The Legacy

When Heyman began booking the promotion as he searched for a new challenge, I doubt he could have envisaged the way that ECW really did change the wrestling landscape.

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ECW head honcho Paul Heyman

While the then WWF were intent on booking cartoon characters and latterly guys with gimmicks that involved them having day jobs and while the WCW saw a procession of former WWF guys join their ranks, ECW were creating a stir by having a product unlike any other. They popularised three way dances (triple threat matches) and their performers were being thrown through tables long before the WWF started booking Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches.

It would, however, be naïve to suggest that ECW was all about hard-core wrestling and that alone. That’s not the case at all. ECW also offered incredible wrestling action not seen anywhere else in America. Wrestlers such as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho and the luchadores Rey Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera got their first real breaks in ECW.

It’s fair to say that ECW really was the first victim of the Monday Night Wars. Both the WCW and the WWF raided the promotion for its top talent and it was no real surprise when ECW closed its doors for the final time – other than a few reunions and spin-offs – in April 2001 when the company was declared bankrupt.

The main legacy of ECW, though, was the way that it forced other promotions to up the ante. The WWF got rid of the cartoon characters and outlandish gimmicks that largely made up New Generation wrestling fans saw the birth of the Attitude Era. A new dawn for the WWF led by a beer swilling, middle finger waving and foul mouthed anti-hero in Stone Cold Steve Austin. So while they did not win the battle, you could certainly argue that their ideas won the war.

The attitude era is clearly heavily influenced by what happened in ECW. We saw table matches, hardcore wrestling and bouts descend into brawls. This was the change in direction that WWF needed and eventually saw Vince McMahon’s promotion regain the initiative from the WCW after a prolonged period of losing in the Monday Night Wars and the rest is, as they say, history.