Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: Brawl For All – WWF, 1998
It was June of 1998 when Bradshaw had an idea. With so many “shoot-style” fighting companies such as UFC gaining in popularity, why not try something like that in the WWF? Thus, the Brawl for All was born.
The Brawl for All was set up as a kind of MMA tournament with the following rules. There would be three one-minute rounds. A fighter would gain five points for the most punches thrown in a round. A takedown earned five points. A knockdown (note the difference) was worth ten. A knockout ended the fight.
Got that? Because the fans watching didn’t.
There was another catch as well. The matches would be truly shoot-style, with wins being legitimate and no predetermined finishes.
The tournament started on the June 29 Raw. The opening match saw Steve Blackman taking on Marc Mero. On the surface, this would be an interesting MMA match with Blackman’s martial arts expertise vs. Mero’s boxing experience (a three-time former New York Golden Gloves winner). The crowd hated it as Blackman kept hitting Mero with takedown after takedown which earned him the win.
Also that night, we got Bradshaw taking on Mark Canterbury. There was no technical finesse here. This was a good old-fashioned punching contest, which Bradshaw wound up winning.
The next week opened as Brakus took on Savio Vega. This was an interesting case. The WWF had been searching for a way to introduce Brakus as a tough guy for months, and it looked like this was going to be his chance. Well, it would have been if Savio didn’t punch his way to victory. Brakus was never seen again.
Later in the night we had Hawk taking on Droz. Hawk took the first round easily, but then Droz rocked him as the second round started and dominated that round. The third round saw Hawk losing his mouthpiece twice, which caused Droz to spit his own out and continue the fight. The fight was ruled a draw.
We got another interesting matchup the next week as Bart Gunn took on Bob Holly. The interesting point here was the fact that these two were tag team partners in the New Midnight Express. (On a side note, this marked the official NME breakup, as it was announced that Jim Cornette had resigned as their manager out of protest to their taking part in the tournament.) Bart wound up winning the match cleanly. Afterward, he went to shake hands with Holly and Holly clocked him, which resulted in a brawl between the two.
Dan Severn took on Kama Mustafa, the Pimpin’ Papa (or Godfather if you don’t get the joke) in the night’s other round. The problem here was that Severn was focusing on takedowns – UFC-style, which means that once he had Godfather down, he didn’t let go of the hold and wound up suffering a penalty for refusing to break. Despite that, Godfather wasn’t able to land a solid punch and Severn won.
The next week’s competition opened with Pierre Oulette taking on Dr. Death Steve Williams. Much like Brakus, the WWF wanted to bring Williams in as a tough guy, and most likely favored him to win the entire thing. Williams dominated the Quebecer (at points even challenging him to throw a punch) and easily took the match.
They then showed only highlights of the (2 Cold) Scorpio – 8-Ball (Don Harris) match. The first round saw Scorpio seizing control with punches. In the second he went to takedowns, and in the third he just landed whatever punishment he wanted on the visibly-winded 8-Ball. Needless to say, Scorpio advanced.
The next week we moved into the quarter-finals as Bart Gunn took on Dr. Death. Here we saw the dangers of a “shoot-style” tournament, as Gunn took Death’s head off with a solid left hand for the knockout and the win. Jim Ross was left to try and gloss over the fact that the WWF’s favorite to win the whole thing was now lying on the mat unconscious.
The August 3rd Raw opened with Godfather taking on Scorpio. Yes, Godfather had lost to Severn, but Severn had withdrawn. In a short speech where Severn withdrew from the tournament, he basically said that if he had nothing to prove, and if he did, then he’d do it without the required gloves. Godfather easily won the match as Ross continued the Dr. Death cover by saying that Doc had dislocated his knee the week before (and that’s why he lost).
The next week we had Droz taking on Savio. Yes, the Droz-Hawk match was a draw, but since Hawk was entering his “drunken Hawk” stage, Droz advanced. Droz took most punches and landed some takedowns to get the win.
Later in the night, Bradshaw was taking on Mero. Yes, Mero had lost to Blackman, but it turned out that Blackman had injured his knee training and was forced to withdraw. Mero blasted Bradshaw with punches in the first round, although he did give up a takedown. In the second, Bradshaw hooked Mero in a head lock and just peppered him with punches. He then landed a takedown, but Mero was back up and took this round for most punches as well. In an exposure of what the tournament had become, Bradshaw began blatantly cheating by refusing to break after takedowns. In the end, Bradshaw was announced the winner.
The reason I mentioned above what the tournament had become is for one simple reason – it appeared that WWF management had been terrified by their plans regarding Williams going so far astray, and they decided that the shoot nature was over. The finishes were now predetermined, and the Mero/Bradshaw match (where all you had to do was to see it to know that Mero had the fair win) telegraphed to almost everyone that the tournament was now fixed and the last interesting thing about it was gone.
The semifinal round occurred on the seventeenth. The first match saw Gunn taking on the Godfather. The match started with Gunn trying (and failing) for a takedown, but still taking round 1 with punches. Godfather dominated Gunn down to the wire in round 2, but Gunn caught fire and took that round as well. The third round saw Gunn land a solid punch to the Godfather’s chin that put him out.
Later that night, Droz met Bradshaw. Bradshaw again landed some takedowns and refused to break, but still won it anyway.
That set Bradshaw/Gunn for the finals the next week. It was also stated that the winner would receive 75,000 dollars, while the loser would get a measly 25 grand. At roughly 0:30, Gunn knocked Bradshaw off his feet. Bradshaw got back up, but his eyes were already glazing over. It took Gunn two more punches to completely knock Bradshaw out and win the match.
The Brawl for All would only make one more appearance in the WWF. At Wrestlemania XV, Bart Gunn was set for a Brawl for All-style match against professional boxer Butterbean. It took roughly 30 seconds for Butterbean to annihilate Gunn, and Gunn vanished from the WWF shortly thereafter.
Ever have an idea that sounds good on paper that stinks in execution? That’s what we had here. Although the idea of finding out which wrestlers in the WWF were “legitimately” toughest is extremely interesting, the fan response was, shall we say, negative. Very negative. So negative that they crapped on the thing from bell to bell.
Part of the problem was the scoring. Fans couldn’t keep up with what constituted a “clean” takedown, and their frustrations grew as they saw flaws in the scoring structure. Also, fans paid to go to Raw to see wrestling, not MMA events.
The final blow was the Bradshaw/Mero match. It was extremely obvious that Mero won the fight, but the WWF had fixed it to ensure a Bradshaw win. The Droz match was another fix, but to the WWF’s credit, this time it wasn’t so blatant.
Perhaps the most interesting question that still lingers is whether the final match was fixed or not. And, of course, the follow-up is: if it was fixed, did things happen the way they were planned? I’ll admit I don’t know the answer to the first, but if it was fixed, I would say that Gunn stole the match.
After all, Bradshaw had been booked as a tough guy, overcoming Mark Canterbury, Marc Mero, and Droz, despite sucking wind by the end of every match. Also, Bradshaw won every match by points – every one of his opponents was still fully cognizant at the end of the fight. Gunn then easily blasted Bradshaw into dreamland with time to spare in the first round.
Also, take a look at the follow-up. Bradshaw and Faarooq continued operating as the Acolytes (later the APA), a tag team that used size and power to dominate the tag division.
As for Bart? He was barely seen on WWF TV again until the Butterbean match at Wrestlemania XV, then he disappeared immediately thereafter. A case could easily be made that he had someone upset with him backstage.
Where are they now?
Steve Blackman would wind up forming a fan-loved tag team with Al Snow known as Head Cheese, and would then follow up by moving into the hardcore division. In 2001, he began being paired with Grandmaster Sexay (Brian Christopher (Lawler)). After Sexay was injured, Blackman was soon released. Today he owns a self-defense school in Pennsylvania.
Mark Canterbury would retire later that year due to a neck injury caused by a botched Doomsday Device. Today he is working in OVW where he is training and hoping for a WWE return.
Brakus departed the WWF immediately after being defeated by Bart Gunn. He would go on to have a short stint in ECW, but has not been seen in a US ring since. It is likely that he returned to his native Germany.
Hawk passed away in 2003 of a heart attack.
Bob Holly remains with the WWE on the Smackdown brand. Holly has been out of action due to injuries since late 2005. Recently, Holly was advised that he was suffering from MRSA, a very severe staph infection that could end his career or possibly even become fatal.
Dan Severn wound up leaving the WWF shortly thereafter. He would turn up in the short-lived WXO. In 2001, he won the NWA world title and was shortly stripped of the belt when he was unable to defend it on the first TNA weekly pay-per-view.
Pierre Carl Oullette would leave the WWF in 2000 after extensive stays in Japan through talent loans. He would then have a short stay in ECW before arriving in WCW in August, where he began working with Lance Storm’s Team Canada. Oullette showed up in TNA in late 2003 as X. Today Oullette wrestles mainly for Montreal’s Internet Wrestling Syndicate.
8-Ball and his brother Skull (Ron Harris) left the WWF soon thereafter and jumped to WCW, where they became known as Gerald and Patrick, Creative Control under the Russo regime. They remained in WCW until the WWF buyout, and then went touring with the Australian World Wrestling All-Stars promotion. In 2002, they were hired by TNA, where they still work behind the scenes as road agents.
Dr. Death Steve Williams would be managed shortly by Jim Ross and soon left the WWF. In 1999, he was hired by Russo’s WCW and paired with Oklahoma (Ed Ferrera). Williams soon departed and returned to Japan. In 2004 he had surgery to remove cancer from his throat. He was declared cancer-free in 2005 and hopes to eventually return to the ring. Most recently, he has been working as a special guest referee on some shows during WWE southern tours.
2 Cold Scorpio was fired by the WWF shortly after the Brawl for All. Today Scorpio competes mainly overseas, although he still does make US appearances for companies such as Ring of Honor. Scorpio also appeared at Shane Douglas’s Hardcore Homecoming show.
Savio Vega retired from the ring in 2001 due to a lingering back injury he had originally suffered during the Brawl for All. Today he continues working with the WWE as a pay-per-view analyst and also with IWA: Puerto Rico.
Marc Mero would remain with the WWF until his wife Sable (Rena Mero) left the company. He was granted his release as part of a WWF settlement with her. Following Mero and Sable’s 2003 divorce, he would go on to have a short stay in TNA.
The Godfather would turn heel and join the Right to Censor faction in 2000 as the Goodfather. Following the end of the Right to Censor, the Godfather would vanish until the 2002 Royal Rumble. Later that year he was released and virtually left the wrestling business, instead becoming the general manager of a gentleman’s club in Las Vegas. The Godfather’s last appearance was during the 2005 Vengeance, when he convinced Viscera to give up his plans of marrying Lilian Garcia. The Godfather, Viscera, and the ever-present hos left Garcia crying in the ring.
In October of 1999, Droz was wrestling D’Lo Brown when D’Lo hoisted Droz up for his finisher, a running powerbomb. D’Lo’s foot hit a wet spot in the ring and he fell on top of Droz, breaking Droz’s neck. Today Drosdov remains in a wheelchair and is still working for the WWE by providing content for wwe.com.
Bradshaw (now known as John Bradshaw Layfield) remains with the WWE. He was last seen on the May 26, 2006 Smackdown, where he said if he lost a match against Bobby Lashley he would leave Smackdown. He lost and has not been seen since. In reality, Layfield has been suffering from several injuries, and this time off is obviously an attempt to let him heal up.
Bart Gunn would be released from the WWF after his loss at Wrestlemania XV. Today he competes in Japan (mostly for New Japan and All Japan) as Mike Barton. Ironically enough, his knockout of Japanese favorite Dr. Death pushed him to the forefront of Japanese wrestling fans and turned him into a star.
Take one hugely popular ECW wrestler. Bring him into your company and put him in the hardcore division. Not even WCW could screw this up, right? Wrong.