The Way Too Long Review of History of the World Heavyweight Championship: Disc One

Sorry about the Hulk Hogan set getting another delay.  What can I say?  It’s fucking TOUGH to do a set that’s all about the Hulkster, brotha.  Right now I’m fourteen matches in, and I’m struggling for my sanity.  They haven’t all been bad.  Two of the ones I reviewed thus far scored **** or better.  One I’m calling the best Hulk Hogan match ever.  Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one it is.  The review is coming.  I swear.  On a stack of bibles.  Even though I’m an atheist.

Ahem.

So mucho thanks to Red (Captain Hindsight) for sending me this DVD for Christmas.  This is the most requested review I’ve ever had, so hopefully it isn’t a letdown.

Unlike previous sets dedicated to title belts, the History of the World Heavyweight Championship features a roughly 55 minute documentary (minus opening title and closing bullshit) that covers what went into the belt that is currently on Smackdown.  Funny enough, the WWE is now actively recognizing the bullshit history of the title that WCW created in 1991 that the belt dates back to the turn of the century.


THE FEATURE

-We go over the full history of wrestling itself.  Mike Chapman, director of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum, calls wrestling mankind’s oldest sport.  It goes back thousands of years.  In the amazing piece of fictional literature called “The Bible” (an uninspired name if there ever was one), an angel is sent down to wrestle Jacob.  He even brings up the old chestnut that Abraham Lincoln was a pro wrestler.  How did I know they would bring this shit up?

Okay, so let’s play myth busters.

Myth: Abraham Lincoln was a professional wrestler.

Truth: In the 1800s, carnivals didn’t have rides or that kind of stuff.  They had acts like sideshows, comedians, magicians, and athletic exhibitions.  In some cases, those acts involved a type of wrestling.  The idea was simple.  One guy was ‘unbeatable’ and people would have to pay money to try and either beat the champion, or last a set amount of time, like sixty seconds.  But the catch was, the guy WAS unbeatable, and was also a showman.  The first people who would pony up the money were in on the scam and would seem to ALMOST beat the champion, to make it look like it could be done.  Soon, everyone wanted a piece of the champion and would pay up.  They had no chance of course, but the champion was good enough to toy with them in a way where it looked like he was losing, then pull off the win just before time expired.

Here’s where the Lincoln part comes into play.  In major cities, people scoffed at how ignorant backwoods rubes were to fall for the act.  It was so obvious they were being scammed.  Hence this type of wrestling exhibition was considered lowbrow and only for total ignoramuses.  You know, kind of like professional wrestling is viewed today.  And as Lincoln ascended the political ladder, people who opposed him used political cartoons to make fun of the load of shit he was selling to hicks and hillbillies and how they believed they had a chance with him, much like a wrestling act at a carnival.  And that’s where the Lincoln myth comes from.  It wasn’t the only thing that was considered lowbrow or wasteful that Lincoln was parodied as doing in political cartoons.  One drew him playing Bagatelle, which was a primitive form of pinball.  Others drew him as a person who played Three Card Monte.  Remember, he’s beloved today but in his time Lincoln was so divisive he would make our recent presidencies like George W. Bush or Barack Obama blush.  While half the nation mourned his death, the other half (including some people from the union) celebrated the death of what they considered to be a tyrant.  President Grant was actually the most popular man of his century.  Lincoln’s popularity didn’t really take off like it did until much later.  He’s the Star Trek of Presidents.

-At the dawn of the 20th Century, wrestling crowns it’s first “World Champion”, a man by the name of Georg Hackenschmidt.  How original was Georg?  Ready for this?  He spoke seven languages and was so smart he issued a challenge to ALBERT FUCKING EINSTEIN on the theory of relativity.  Jesus Christ!  Just picture in your head Hulk Hogan challenging Stephen Hawking to debate string theory.  You would think Hogan had gone fucking mad.  He would be taken away in a paddy wagon before Hawking could even make his little voice thing tell Hogan to fuck off.

Hackenschmidt was also a physical specimen the likes of which were rarely seen during his era.  He could do a clean jerk of 360lbs at age twenty.  He started to enter Greco-Roman tournaments and was so strong that if he could get his arms all the way around you in a bear hug, you were screwed.  Wrestling started to draw crowds in places like London and the “Russian Lion” was destroying everyone.  At this point, wrestling is still more UFC then WWE.

-Hackenschmidt comes to the US and takes on Tom Jenkins.  Tom was a catch-wrestler.  Remember those carnivals I was talking about earlier?  The ‘champion’ of those would be considered a catch-wrestler.  It’s more of freestyle.  Today the term ‘catch’ is used to describe the mort artful European style that guys like William Regal and Drew McIntyre use.  Jenkins was considered the best in the world at the catch style, while George was the best at the traditional Greco style.  So naturally the two face off.  First, they had a Greco style match, which Hackenschmidt won in two straight falls.  Next up was a catch style match.  Jenkins was the favorite because it was his style, but George polished him off in that as well, two falls to none, and was now considered by most to be the World Heavyweight Champion.

-Hackenschmidt would meet a man by the name of Frank Gotch in a match in Chicago.  George was undefeated at this point in 1908, but the streak would end.  After over two hours of what I’m sure was the most boring wrestling ever, Gotch snatched the Russian in an ankle lock and won by submission, effectively making him the new World Heavyweight Champion.  Mind you, there was no governing body that sanctioned Hackenschmidt or Gotch or anyone else as being a champion of anything, but it was still a big moment, even if Gotch cheated by greasing his body up.  The fans rushed the ring, draped him in an American flag, and carried him out of the ring.  It also touched off a national fad.

-Over 30,000 fans filled Cominski Park in Chicago to watch the rematch, which Gotch also won.  It was the largest sporting event ever attended in the United States at the time, but only because they hadn’t yet invented a professional sport that didn’t suck.  Basketball was still considered a school thing, football was struggling to draw four hundred fans a game, and baseball hadn’t found a national superstar yet (although Ty Cobb was catching on).  Gotch was a national celebrity and even got an invite to the White House to meet Teddy Roosevelt.  It’s not mentioned here but Roosevelt actually challenged Gotch to a match.  No word on if it took place, but I wouldn’t bet against it.  Roosevelt was known to challenge leaders from other countries to boxing matches and would insult their mothers if they didn’t except.  Why can’t we get a cool president like that anymore?  Anyway, Gotch never lost a match and retired undefeated in 1913, and then died four years later at age 49 due to kidney failure.  Thankfully over the next hundred years the sport would evolve pass the point where top stars would keel over before they reached fifty, and we’re all grateful for that.

-A bunch of nobodies would go on to hold the title, and then a man by the name of Ed Lewis would win the title on December 13, 1920.  A newspaper clipping notes that it was an unusually fast match, lasting only one hour, forty-one minutes, and fifty-six seconds, or roughly the length of the Undertaker’s entrance at Wrestlemania.  Ed Lewis was flashy and fit in with other sports stars of the time, including Babe Ruth, who he’s pictured with here.  We get an interview with NWA president Bob Geigel who said he could talk to anyone and do stuff other then wrestling and hold his own.

-The downside to Lewis?  He was boring in the ring.  One match lasted an incredible five hours.  Three referees passed out during it, or possibly fell asleep.  A fourth referee came down to call it off after the entire audience had left.  Both guys ended up in the hospital for a couple days after the match.  Presumably they fell into a coma during the contest and nobody noticed until five hours had passed.  Thus, they decided to start to fake matches to make them fun to watch.  Besides, in real matches people got hurt and couldn’t make money afterwards.  Where’s the fun in that?

-Midway through the century, wrestling was dividing into multiple territories, with each one claiming THEY had the heir to Frank Gotch’s title and thus the real World Champion.  This would have been fine, except people being the nomadic creatures we are, tend to travel and we picked up that there were lots of people out there claiming to be the world champ.  Obviously something had to be done about this.  Thus, the National Wrestling Alliance is formed in 1948.  The first order of business was to crown JUST ONE World Heavyweight Champion.  Everyone got a vote, and Orville Brown was crowned the champ.  He was to challenge a young up-and-comer by the name of Lou Thesz, but Brown was seriously injured in a car accident and Thesz was given the title by default.

-Thesz dominated the sport, holding the title for multiple-extended reigns.  One reign lasted nearly seven years, which is a record that still holds for the NWA belt, which had an onion on it.  It was the style at the time.  Larry Hennig says he’s the best in his lifetime.  Bill Watts and everyone else note that he carried himself as a champion by acting classy and dressing sharp.  Around this time, television comes into play and Thesz becomes a national star.  Even people who didn’t watch sports watched wrestling from Chicago on the Dumont Network.  Thesz was such a star and wrestling such a good TV draw that networks would air Thesz’s workout sessions.  This worked to draw more fans to the arenas.  A match against Michele Leone of Italy drew over 25,000 fans in Los Angeles paying a gate of over $100,000, which was the largest gate of all time.  Thesz was the most prolific TV star of the era, getting more airtime then any television or movie star.  And for those who doubted the story about Verne Gagne being on the same level, which was said in the AWA, think again.  Many wrestling stars were featured on television more then actors.  Wrestling was cheaper to produce and didn’t require as many viewers to turn a profit.

-We quickly roll past some other champions of the era and skip to Buddy Rogers.  He was one of the first characters of wrestling, in that he invented a gimmick for himself.  In reality, he was just a slightly altered version of Gorgeous George, with the cowardly stuff toned down a bit and the arrogance dialed up a notch.  Buddy gets over like evil Jesus and gets a world title match with Pat O’Connor.  On June 29, 1961, Rogers wins the championship in what was billed as the match of the century.  It set an attendance record that held until Wrestlemania III in 1987.  Upon winning the title, Rogers grabbed a mic and declared that to a nicer guy, it couldn’t happen.  Awesome stuff.

-Buddy “Nature Boy” Rogers was a new breed of world champion.  All previous champions were strong men with solid athletic backgrounds.  Rogers was the antithesis of that.  He hated working long matches, he hated doing boring wrestling holds, and he was all about the entertainment.  Not mentioned here is that he was among the most hated wrestlers of all time among his peers.  Imagine the Ultimate Warrior times a million.  That’s how hated Rogers was.  On a personal note, I’m sure most of it has to do with him having an unconventional style, as he was more interested in having a fun match to watch then a technical masterpiece.  Then again, stories of his cruel practical jokes are legendary.  In Freddie Blassie’s book, he tells a story about Rogers replacing the medicine in some asthmatic person’s inhaler with lighter fluid.  That’s just plain fucked up, yo.

-Thesz didn’t want to get out of the title picture, so at age 46 he took the title back in 1963.  Thankfully the DVD skips all the stuff that goes into the creation of the WWE and the AWA.  This is the WWE’s policy of course, to go over as much new ground as possible every time a new feature is created for a DVD.  It’s also worth noting, and you might not be shocked to learn this, that the WWE has planned for 2010 a “History of the WWE” DVD set that will be along the lines of the AWA/ECW/WCCW/WCW sets they’ve done.  Could be okay.

-Thesz’s sixth reign ends at the hands of the mighty Gene Kiniski, who took the title on his first try at it, which was rare at the time.  Modern fans likely know Kiniski more for blowing the finish of the five-star Harley Race/Ric Flair match from Starrcade ’83.  The year was 1966 and the title change took place in St. Louis, which was Thesz’s home town.  The Canadian hero Kiniski figured (in kayfabe) that he had been disqualified when he heard the bell, and was shocked when his hand was raised.  Kiniski had a successful title reign as a heel.  He held the title for three years before…

-Dory Funk Jr. ends up taking the title in Tampa, FL.  Kiniski was a huge draw for the business, but it was felt that they should try someone else and not wait for him to get cold.  The title change took place in a one-fall match, which was unusual at the time.  Kiniski used it as an excuse as to why he lost.  Dory had him in a spinning toe-hold, and Kiniski suffered a brain fart and submitted, thinking he had two falls left.  He didn’t, and Funk was the new world champion.  But man, were the fans happy to see Kiniski lose.

-Dory’s father told him that if he accomplished nothing else in the business, he would still have accomplished a lot.  Funk held the title for over four years, and was a successful champion in terms of drawing ability.  Dory says he didn’t feel the grind as much as some and had a blast as champion.  His reign was the second longest uninterrupted reign the NWA had.  And as far as Dory’s father goes, he didn’t have to worry about him accomplishing nothing else.  After retiring, Funk would go on to become a trainer, and modern fans will appreciate his prized student, a guy you might have heard of: Kurt Angle.

-On May 24, 1973, Funk dropped the belt to Harley Race, but only as a product of some very real rivalries between promoters.  Dory Funk Sr. and Eddie Graham of Florida were butting heads politically.  The NWA board voted to make Graham’s top star, Jack Brisco, the champion.  The title change was scheduled for a Friday in 1972 in Houston, TX.  The NWA wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having a babyface drop the title to a babyface to begin with, and Dory Sr. wasn’t thrilled with his son losing the title in Texas.  Well, as luck would have it, Dory allegedly breaks his shoulder in a car accident on a Wednesday, two days before the title change was to happen and the match was cancelled.  Brisco, still apparently quite bitter with the situation to this day, notes that he knew what it was like dealing with Dory Sr. and smelled bullshit.  Funk claimed a broken shoulder, but regardless they still wanted to switch the title.  Thus Dory goes to Kansas City and drops the title to Race.

-Brisco does take the title a month later.  After two years, he was tired of doing the broadway (hour long draw) matches and the endless travel.  By the time he dropped the title to Terry Funk on December 10, 1975, he wanted out.  He ended up spending six months at home and would get physically ill every time he heard a plane fly overhead.  Meanwhile, Terry’s victory made the Funks the only pair of brothers ever to both be world-level champions.  Terry Funk ended up breaking the nose of the referee during the climatic pinfall, and we get a replay of it.  He really couldn’t believe that he was chosen to be the champion.  The best part of being champion for him was getting to wrestle all the best guys in the country.  He went to thirty-two territories and worked with thirty-two main eventers.

-In 1977, Harley Race defeated Terry Funk to win his second belt.  He ended the reigns of both Funks.  Race won the confidence of the board and went on to be a huge draw across the country.  Terry Funk calls him the best the NWA ever had.  Jim Ross talks about how tough Race was.  Personally, I would love to see a Harley Race DVD.  If you want to know who was the 70s version of Triple H was, at least in terms of ring style, it was Race.  Jericho talks about how his style was very aggressive and his promos were a combination of being in-your-face but matter of fact, with a touch of seething anger in them.

-Race held the title, for better or worse, over the next six years.  We skip over Dusty Rhodes’ brief title reign that was designed to get the belt on Flair and instead cut to Starrcade ’83.  Jim Crockett shows intellectual honesty (a rarity in wrestling) by admitting that, although he never outright told anyone this, if they wanted to use Ric Flair he had to be the NWA Champion, or else he wouldn’t loan him out.  Jim Ross calls the belt a political hot potato.  Flair was a good draw in a few places, especially in St. Louis, which held all the political capital in the business.  Thus, Flair was given the belt back.  Race had all the confidence that Flair was the new man in the business.  For Flair, it was the defining moment of his career, what solidified him as not being a flash in the pan.

-Flair was better as champion during his second reign.  Ric says that his job was to be the best worker on every card.  Meanwhile, the DVD gets candid in admitting that although the WWE had Hulk Hogan and the AWA had Nick Bockwinkel, most people in the industry considered the NWA title to be THE title, the only one where the holder could legitimately claim to be the champion of the world.  And the men who were behind it all were now Jim Crockett and Dusty Rhodes.  Rhodes and Flair had a huge rivalry.  Flair clarifies that Steamboat was the best wrestler he ever stepped in the ring with, but Dusty Rhodes was his greatest opponent.  We get highlights of Dusty’s multiple title wins, some of which actually stuck!

-In 1988, Jim Crockett Promotions had amazing matches, but Crockett was a shoddy businessman.  He ended up selling the company to Ted Turner.  The NWA Championship was called the WCW Championship for the time being, when in reality those left in the NWA considered it to be separate.  We get to see highlights of the Flair/Steamboat series, with Steamboat winning the championship in what many thought most likely would be a Dusty Finish, and instead was a payoff to all the times the fans were screwed thinking the title had switched when in fact it hadn’t.  Flair ended up taking the title back not too long afterwards.  We quickly glance over Luger and Sting’s title wins.

-Flair jumps to the WWE and he takes the title belt with him.  Both WCW and the NWA balked and sued the WWE, although the NWA was much slower in doing it.  Why were they slower?  According to some in the industry in a story that might or might not be bullshit, the NWA asked the WWE if they could attach themselves to the WWE instead of WCW from now on.  Vince McMahon allegedly said that doing so would make him a necrophiliac.  “So that’s a no, huh?”  So thanks to the lawsuit, the title belt was digitized so that it couldn’t be seen.  Meanwhile, back in WCW, we completely ignore Lex Luger’s title reign and a LOT of other stuff.  Meanwhile, Vince McMahon couldn’t get the idea of necrophilia out of his head, and would pay it off years later by creating the hugely successful Katie Vick angle.  Not really.

-Ron Simmons beats Big Van Vader with a powerslam to win the World Title.  We move onto Sting, who gets a lot of love from Triple H, John Cena, and Big Show.  Then in 1993, the title lineage gets murky.  WCW breaks away from the NWA.  In my opinion, I think all the title history from the NWA is at this point absorbed by the WCW title.  Some purists will argue otherwise, but arguing over the history and fate of a fake sport’s championship is like trying to explain to a retarded child that you don’t wear shorts on your ears.  Just let them do it and laugh.

-The Monday Night Wars kick off, and thus the title belt starts to change hands more frequently, and end up in the hands of some “dubious” champions.  Shown during this section?  Sid Vicious, who was also the WWE Champion twice.  Dubious?  I think not.  The guy was over and was no better or worse a draw then anyone else they had at the time.  Jeff Jarrett is next in the dubious champions file, and that’s fine with me.  Unlike Sid, Jarrett was never over and never drew a dime or had a fan EVER!  A mediocre wrestler with a king sized ego that happened to finally make a decent political move for once in his pathetic life by becoming buddies with Vince Russo.  Speaking of which, Russo is the next person show wearing the title, followed by David Arquette.  But the announcer notes that despite having a couple dark moments, there were some good moments.  Hulk Hogan, Sting, and Goldberg for example.

-Eric Bischoff notes that Hulk Hogan legitimized the title belt.  Flair calls Hogan the greatest champion of our time.  Up next is the Giant, who had his first ever match at Halloween Havoc in 1995.  He walked out of that match as the World Heavyweight Champion.  Big Show notes that he was humbled that he got it right off the bat, considering all the people who worked their entire careers and were never given consideration for it.  Diamond Dallas Page gets a turn, at a show I attended live, Spring Stampede 1999.  He beats Flair in a fatal four-way match.  Hilarious moment as the fans popped for the three-count, then went totally numb.  The fans were more interested in seeing Hulk Hogan walk with the belt, but he got ‘injured’ early in the match.  Let’s go back to 1998 for Goldberg’s title win.  Goldberg says he held his head high.  And that’s all there is to him.  Really?  Wow.  Booker T talks about how proud he was to win it himself.  This is all copied and pasted from an episode of Confidential if I’m not mistaken.

-Then in March of 2001, the WWE buys WCW.  On the final night of Nitro, Booker T beats Scott Steiner to win the World Title.  Funny story I heard.   It goes something like this: Shane McMahon is watching the Steiner/Booker match and says “Watching these two guys fight for the World Title reminds me of when Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart fought each other in 1992, after having just gone singles.”  Then Arn Anderson allegedly quipped “Yes Shane, but this is WCW so this is more like Jim Neidhart wrestling Marty Jannetty.”  Not sure if it’s true or not, but hilarious if it is.  I’ve heard Anderson is one of the best off-the-cuff wits in the business.

-This leads to the WCW title appearing on Raw.  I was there, and the fans did not take well to it, needless to say.  Go to Scott Keith’s blog and look up Red29’s “Captain Hindsight” review of the InVasion ppv, which has my full account of what that night was like.  So after a while, the WCW title was unified with the WWE title by Chris Jericho.  He beat the Rock first for the WCW title, then Steve Austin for the WWE title.  Jericho says its bragging rights that he uses to this day.  Then the company was split into two brands.  Brock Lesnar wins the title and refuses to defend it on both shows.  Triple H is given the WCW title, which is then renamed the World Heavyweight Championship.  Over the next seven years, it would jump around to Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, ***** ******, and Rey Mysterio.

-Triple H says that it puts you on a short list with some of the best names in the business.  Guys like Lex Luger, Tommy Rich, and Ron Garvin.  Okay, he didn’t really say that, but I thought it was funny.  Rey Mysterio talks about how it’s something he never thought would happen.  That makes two of us.  Mysterio is like “I wasn’t a heavyweight!”  So for a while he was just called the World Champion.  CM Punk calls his title win the greatest moment of his life, especially since he doesn’t have a wife or kids.  We get to see Edge and Batista’s title wins as well, and then John Cena beating Chris Jericho in Boston for the belt.

-And now the big go home montage, and everyone talks about how cool the belt is.  The end.

I’m stunned by the quality of this documentary.  In previous sets where a quickie feature was done, such as the Starrcade set, it didn’t turn out so well.  Here, the feature was informative, fast-paced but very well done and entertaining, focusing most of the set on the early days of the business and fast-forwarding through the more modern era that everyone already knows about anyway.  Big props to the WWE for not just dong a throw-away documentary.  Not everything is covered, but if it was it would get boring.  This was well done, even if it got less interesting once the WCW stuff started.

And now for the matches.

Match #1: NWA World Heavyweight Championship
(c) Pat O’Connor vs. Buddy Rogers
6/29/61 from Chicago, IL

This was billed as “The Match of the Century” which might seem a little arrogant, but who could have foreseen that one day Pat Patterson would wrestle Gerald Brisco in an evening gown match?  This match is two-out-of-three falls, like most NWA title matches of the era.  Since the match presented on this disc only says twenty minutes, I’m guessing we’ll deal with clipping issues.  I will score a rating based on what is presented here.

Lockup leads to O’Connor catching an elbow on the rope, which pops the crowd.  Another lockup and they fight over a top-wristlock, which Rogers gains advantage on.  O’Connor looks to muscle out, but Rogers takes him down to the mat.  Back up, O’Connor tries to muscle out again, and again Rogers takes him down to the canvas.  The ref forces a clean break.  Lockup and O’Connor takes Rogers down with the top-wristlock.  Rogers is up and shoots off O’Connor only to eat a shoulderblock and a spinning armbar.  Fans are going nuts for this.  Now THAT’S how you work a hold.  Damn, it sure looks stiff too as far as armbars go.  Considering how hated Rogers was by everyone, it wouldn’t surprise me if O’Connor was going for a legitimate injury.  Rogers reaches for the ropes, so O’Connor torques on the hold.  Rogers gets out with a punch, knocking O’Connor off the ropes and allowing him to fire off another shoulderblock.  O’Connor springs off the ropes only to slammed.  Rogers charges into a bodyslam and an armdrag into an armbar.  They hold onto this armbar for a while.  Rogers up and he shoots off O’Connor, who hits another shoulderblock, but this time O’Connor bounces off the ropes and runs into a forearm.  Rogers goes for his figure-four but O’Connor kicks him in the head.  O’Connor loads up a piledriver but both guys tumble into the ropes to cause a break.  Circle and lockup leads to Rogers grabbing a chinlock.  Patty to his feet.  He maneuvers Rogers into the corner and absolutely drills him with some solid looking punches.  O’Connor charges into the corner but Rogers gets a knee up and O’Connor knocks himself out, giving Rogers the pin.

Second fall and O’Connor takes Rogers to the ropes and wants to punch away, but the referee breaks it up.  Rogers, cheating bastard that he is, grabs a hammerlock but uses his free hand to choke away at O’Connor.  He takes him down to the canvas, and then slings him down by the arm and shoulder.  O’Connor tries to escape but Rogers mounts down on the hammerlock.  O’Connor to his feet again and he tries to shoot off Rogers, but gets slung down to the canvas.  Fans are hate hooing the shit out of Rogers.  Buddy doesn’t give Patty a chance to escape and keeps him on the canvas.  O’Connor snatches Rogers’ leg out of nowhere and places him in a toe-hold.  Rogers kicks off of it, but O’Connor nips up and takes the leg again.  Nice.  And another nice touch is O’Connor stepping on the free foot of Rogers to prevent his escape.  O’Connor gets himself free but charges into a dropkick.  Another nip-up by Patty and he snatches Roger’s foot again.  Rogers wiggles free but can’t quite get a pin attempt.  O’Connor is up with a big punch.  Rogers begs off and gets punched in the mouth a couple times.  Rogers rolls through a snapmare but gets caught in a rollup to give O’Connor the pin.

Third fall and Rogers struts around the ring.  Lockup leads to a criss-cross sequence.  Rogers puts on the breaks and struts around the ring like he’s the Pope of Chilitown.  Big heat for him.  O’Connor gets to the ropes, so Rogers gets a kneelift, but it’s not really sold.  Both guys run into each other and it’s a double KO.  The fans are hotter for this moment then anything else in the match.  Crazy how times have changed in that aspect.  Both guys almost tumble out of the ring, but the referee saves them from doing so.  O’Connor takes control in the corner and slings Rogers down.  Rogers fights out and hits a shoulderblock, but O’Connor nips-up as he does every time he falls down and fires off a bodyslam, and then another one.  It gets two as Rogers gets a foot on the rope.  Rogers begs off but gets slung across the ring.  O’Connor fires off another bodyslam.  These ones are more fanciful then the types of slams shown today.  They look excellent, quite frankly.  O’Connor covers for two, as Buddy gets his foot on the ropes again.  O’Connor punches the shit out of Rogers, knocking him down to the canvas.  O’Connor is feeling good and ties up with Rogers in the corner, then slams him into the turnbuckle, which doesn’t seem to have very big padding on it.  O’Connor takes Rogers across the ring and slams him even harder into the opposite corner.  Still not satisfied, he throws him EVEN HARDER into the opposite corner.  Rogers is selling this so brilliantly.  Rogers fires off some sissy punches, but he’s got nothing left.  O’Connor punches him out and covers for two as AGAIN Rogers gets his foot on the ropes.  Man are these fans going to be pissed.  Rogers gets slung across the ring and dropkicked, but a second dropkick completely whiffs for O’Connor and he nearly breaks his neck bouncing off the ropes.  O’Connor tries to crawl away but Rogers catches him and covers for the pin and the title.  After the match security has to surround the ring to prevent Buddy Rogers from getting murdered.  Rogers isn’t scared to jaw with the fans a little bit.

****1/2 Even if this was clipped it wouldn’t matter, as you can’t tell where the clipping (if any!) took place.  What we get here is a very fast-paced and fun to watch match of the old school variety.  Of course, back then it was just called school, but you catch my drift.  All the moves were stiff and realistic looking, and yet both guys were good enough to put on a show for the fans instead of just laying there.  I certainly can’t recommend this to anyone who’s just a casual fan of wrestling, but for you hardcore smark types, take a look and watch wrestling start to become what it is today, because Rogers is the guy who set the ball rolling on that.  Previous users of ‘gimmicks’ had never been the main champion until this point.

Following Rogers’ title win, Toots Mondt and his partner Vincent J. McMahon would start to hold the NWA title hostage, requiring rival promoters to pay premium prices if they wanted to have Buddy Rogers wrestle on their cards.  The NWA played ball at first because the New York territory, which previously held little political capital, had become a hot bed for wrestling, thanks in no small part to the success of another unorthodox star by the name of Antonio Rocca.  Top stars across the country suddenly didn’t want New York to end up blacklisted (which was the standard threat when the promoters of the world champ didn’t play ball) because most of the wrestling magazines at the time came from New York, which meant national exposure if they wrestled there and a higher standing in the card when they jumped territories.  Additionally, McMahon and company were among the generous promoters when it was time to cut checks, and a small stint in New York could net you as much money in weeks as you would make in months or even a year elsewhere.

During the two years that Rogers was World Heavyweight Champion, the New York territory reinvented what its fan base perceived wrestling to be.  Out was long, boring technical exhibitions featuring former armature stars turned pro.  In were exaggerated ethnic characters (such as Rocca), big muscular guys, shorter matches, and larger then life characters such as Rogers.  By the time the NWA had lost its patience and decided to remove the belt from Rogers, the New York territory had become the home base for guys who had charisma but not the legitimate tough-guy credentials the NWA usually required from its champions.  Bigger guys from all over the country flocked to New York, putting them in a position to break off from the NWA and form the World Wide Wrestling Federation, and name Rogers its first champion.  Officially, he won a tournament for the title in Brazil.  Unofficially, no such tournament ever took place.

Rogers only held the title for about a month before it was time to move the belt to Bruno Sammartino, who was to be the first in a long line of “Next Big Things” for the WWE over the next fifty years.  The match only lasted thirty seconds and ended when Buddy submitted to a backbreaker.  Rogers claimed he had a heart attack days before the match.  Sammartino claimed the match was a shoot.  Neither is true.  Rogers simply didn’t want to work with Bruno because he was too stiff and had bad body odor, and the heart attack was his way of covering his loss.  Sammartino and the WWWF office quietly circulated the rumor that the match was a shoot to give Bruno credibility among his peers that, although he might not be Lou Thesz in the ring, he could and would defend himself and win matches by force if necessary.  Rogers’ reputation made it easy to believe that someone would be required to shoot on him to take the belt, given his history of being difficult to work with.

Match #2: NWA World Championship
(c) Gene Kiniski vs. Dory Funk Jr.
2/11/69 Championship Wrestling from Florida

Joined in progress and clipped to nothing, which is fine as the tape is in bad condition, being nearly unwatchable.  What is shown here has signs of a really great, almost 1980s Mid Atlantic quality match.  Dory takes the title with a spinning toe-hold, with under 4:00 of actual match aired.  Poor Pulse Glazer.  He actually argued with me that this stuff wouldn’t be clipped.  Lesson learned?  Don’t ever argue with me, because I’m always right.
No Rating, too much clipping and too poor of tape quality.

Match #3: NWA World Heavyweight Championship
(c) Jack Brisco vs. Terry Funk
12/10/75 Championship Wrestling from Florida

Tape quality is better, but we’re still joined twenty minutes into the match, and still get some clipping afterwards.  Plus a lot of the stuff is shown in slow-motion.  Ugh.  Another match that seemed like it would be really good quality if shown in full.  What a shame.  Brisco goes for a figure-four but Terry snatches him in a small package to take the pin, the title, and break the nose of the referee while swinging his arm out in celebration.
No Rating, too much clipping.

Match #4: NWA World Heavyweight Championship
(c) Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes
8/21/79 Championship Wrestling from Florida

Holy clippery, Batman, another match that isn’t shown anywhere close to full.  This one isn’t even joined in progress and is just a collection of match highlights.  Race goes for the headbutt off the top but ‘hits Dusty’s elbow’ but it sure didn’t look like it.  Dusty follows with a couple elbow drops to take the belt.
No Rating, too much clipping.  This is the reason why I never finished reviewing the Dusty Rhodes DVD.  It’s also the reason why a Best of Florida won’t be coming anytime soon.

Match #5: NWA World Heavyweight Championship
(c) Ric Flair vs. Magnum T.A.
9/28/85 AWA Superclash

This could be fucking awesome.  I gave the previous Magnum/Flair match I reviewed, from the WCW set, a pretty solid ****1/4 which was really high for what many considered to be a giant cock-tease of a match.  Here we get nearly thirty minutes to watch them strut their stuff.  Magnum wasn’t yet penciled in for a World Title reign, though that would change shortly after this.  Stadium seems to be remarkably empty for the most part.  This is an outdoor show at Comiskey Park (White Sox old stadium), but not all the floor seats are taken up, and not a single outfield seat is occupied either.  This is also the main event in a show that was promoted mostly by Verne Gagne but featured NWA and WCCW talent as well.  Everything before this match sucked a penis-shaped bottle rocket.  Now Flair gets a chance to show people why they shouldn’t waste their time with the AWA or WCCW.  Man, this whole Superclash concept was STUPID from a promotional stand point.  Without his AWA guys upstaging everyone else, it just hammered home how dated and bad Gagne’s crew was.

Lockup goes nowhere.  Horrible camera work misses everything because there’s not a decent hard camera set up.  Flair gets a waistlock-takedown but that doesn’t go anywhere as well.  Lockup and grabs a headlock, that he spins around into a hammerlock.  Magnum tries to reverse it, but Flair takes him down with a toe-hold.  Magnum turns that into a hammerlock, and then works it casually with a knee drop.  To their feet, where Magnum keeps Flair’s arm tied up.  They get to the corner and have to break.  Lockup and Flair grabs a top-wristlock.  We have a bridge sequence where Magnum struggles to fight back, and he finally does.  Camera is just not getting ANYTHING in frame.  The WWE was much better at filming stadium shows then anyone else.  Even WCCW, the first wrestling promotion to invest major money into production, struggled with filming in baseball parks.

Magnum gets an armbar, then Flair shoots him off and swallows a shoulderblock.  Hiptoss and a dropkick by Magnum, then a press slam.  Flair begs off and stays in the corner, so the referee starts to count him down.  Flair is like “Psssh, who cares?  I don’t lose the title then.”  But then Flair is a nice guy and decides to give Magnum a chance.  Knee to the gut by Flair and a chop that sends Magnum to the canvas.  Flair sets him in the corner and chops some more.  Meanwhile, announcer Larry Nelson has to be the most bland, monotone guy they could have gotten.  The WWE should really consider overdubbing this stuff with fresh commentary.  They certainly have enough guys on staff to pull it off.  Flair shoots Magnum to the corner, but gets reversed and backdropped for two.  Wristlock by Magnum, then he wrings it around and grounds it into a hammerlock.  They get to their feet, where Magnum has turned it into a front-armlock.  Flair tries to dump Magnum, but T.A. lands on his feet and comes back in, only now he’s pissed.  A big flurry of punches and then a hiptoss that sends Flair across the ring.  Magnum whiffs a dropkick and Flair takes control and chops away.  Snapmare into a knee drop, which Flair deems “Woooo!” worthy.

Flair struts around a bit and the pace slows to a crawl.  Knee to the gut by Flair and a double-arm suplex for two.  The announcer is so bad he claims that Magnum hooked his own leg.  Ugh.  Flair goes to an abdominal stretch, and he uses the trunks for leverage.  He gets caught doing it and starts to jaw with the referee, who pushes Flair.  Ric would get all kinds of venom from promoters and old timers for using referees to get heat off of him.  Flair’s attitude is he would get heat anyway he could.  The fans certainly aren’t that into this match, so I can’t blame him for pulling out all stops.  To the corner where Magnum gets chopped around.  Snapmare into a knee drop, which we’ve already done.  This time it misses and Magnum wastes no time in slapping on a figure-four.  Both guys do a good job of working the hold, and then Flair gets to the ropes to force a break.  Flair begs off, but Magnum wastes no time and slings Flair off the ropes.  He tries for the figure-four again but Flair kicks off.  Headbutt to the balls by Flair buys himself some time.  Flair actually sells the injury from the figure-four, something that is considered purely optional by most wrestlers these days.  Magnum shakes off the hurt on his nuts and fires off a suplex for a two and one count.  Shoot-off and Flair lowers his head into a backslide for two.  Magnum tries to slug it out in the corner, so Flair thumbs his eye, and then dumps him between the ropes.  Magnum lands on the very hard grass with a sickening thud.  Chop on the floor by Flair and a whip into the post, then another chop.  Flair returns to the ring, then Magnum follows and goes for a sunset flip, but Flair blocks it with a punch.  Kick by Flair and a grounded hammerlock.  Flair is a cheating bastard in and out of the ring, so he uses the ropes for leverage and gets multiple two-counts out of it until the referee catches him using the ropes.  Flair winds up Magnum’s arm and pulls him down by the hair, then locks in an armbar.  Magnum tries to get up and so we repeat the sequence.  Flair mounts on the armbar this time, and we take maybe a bit too long with no working of the hold before Magnum gets up.  He tries to fight back but Flair chops away.  Snapmare and Flair shoots in a keylock and Flair mounts an armbar again, using the ropes for leverage, then turns it into a rollup for two.  Pretty pathetic way of kicking out by Magnum, as he tries to lift a bridge up and out of it, but his shoulders are clearly still down.  It still gets a couple two counts.  Lame.  This goes on too long as well.

To their feet, where Magnum reverses a whip and sends Flair to the corner, then hooks in a sleeper.  Flair struggles to get to the ropes.  He touches them but can’t get a hold of it, which is what is needed for a break of course.  T.A. thinks he has it and takes Flair down with a cover for two, as Flair gets a foot on the rope.  Scoopslam hits, but a big splash leads to him eating knees.  Both guys up and it’s time to go home.  They trade shots, and Flair ends up getting a half-drop and the figure-four.  Magnum struggles with the hold for a bit, and then turns it over.  Flair breaks the hold without the ropes and is the first up.  He grabs Magnum’s leg but gets snatched in a small package for two.  Now to the corner where Flair tries to chop away, but Magnum fights back.  Magnum takes control and whips Flair into the corner, sending him up and over.  The announcer thinks it’s a DQ, but it’s not as Magnum didn’t intentionally dump him.  They brawl on the floor, and then Flair sends him back into the ring.  Flair is bleeding and eats a ten-punch.  Worry not, blood enthusiasts, as this set is TV-14 and the blood is not censored.  Flair misses a haymaker and gets taken down.  T.A. mounts some punches.  Magnum punches him some more and Flair flops down for two.  Magnum punches some more and whips Flair to the corner, then fires off a backdrop for two.  Flair lies on Magnum with a bridge for two, which Magnum bridges out of with a backslide for two.  Belly-to-belly suplex but Flair’s feet catch the referee.  It takes the zebra only a couple seconds to recover, but that’s all Flair needs to kick out at two.  Rollup by Magnum gets two, reversed by Flair with a handful of tights for the pin “and the title” says the douchebag announcer.  Flair jaws with the fans in Chicago for not being used to having a winner.  Who could have foreseen Michael Jordan, the White Sox actually winning a World Series, and Barack Obama?

***1/4 Likely catch heat for this rating, but what can I say?  A decent but hardly spectacular match.  It might have been the outdoor atmosphere.  Chicago in September isn’t exactly a prime location for an outdoor show and I’m sure it affected both guys, plus the fans were dead and it’s tough to get heat in a open stadium where the noise tends to escape instead of reaching the ring, as many wrestlers have complained about over the years.  Since the main issue here is related to pacing, I’m guessing it was due to not getting a good read on the crowd.  What a shame.  Still a good match but a huge waste of potential and one of the biggest letdowns for me from a DVD this year.  Scott Keith gave it **** so your mileage may vary, but man, I think he got this one wrong.

Match #6: NWA World Heavyweight Championship, No Disqualifications or Count-out
(c) Ric Flair vs. Sting
7/7/90 Great American Bash

It’s been at least ten years since I last watched this match.  I remember not liking it very much, but then again I’m NOT a fan of Sting’s at all.  I still say he’s the most overrated wrestler of all time.  I get accused of saying a lot of stuff to ‘flame bait’ or whatever is the hip internet term for it, and I figured people would say that’s what my hatred of Sting from any era, past or present, is all about.  Funny enough, nobody really has complained about it.  A few people were like “well, I don’t think he’s the most overrated EVER but I could see why some people would feel that way.”  I just never got the appeal in him.  He wears face paint and looks like a million bucks, but in the ring he always struck me as being lost.  He also seemed to be devoid of having chemistry with anyone, which is really rare in wrestling.  People say his series with Vader says otherwise, but actually I never got into that either.  The problem with those matches was that Sting would fire off power stuff as soon as the match started and negate the easy big man vs. little man dynamic that has been tested and true for decades now.  But in a sense, all of Sting’s matches were like that.  They never felt like they were building up to something.  Since this is the match where he takes the title for the first time (sorry for the spoiler) maybe it won’t be like that.  We shall see.  For reference sake, I’ve reviewed two other Sting/Flair matches.  I gave the legendary Clash of the Champions match **1/2 and called it among the most overrated matches ever.  I gave their match at Starrcade ’89 ***3/4.  My expectations here are set low.

Historically, there is some significance to this match.  The original plan was for Sting to win the title a few months earlier, but an injury prevented that.  Ole Anderson insisted that Flair had to drop the title to Lex Luger instead, but Flair refused.  This wasn’t out of some kind of real life rivalry with Luger, but rather because Flair had promised Sting in the dressing room right after the injury happened that he would save the belt for him.  Flair was on the booking team at the time and figured he had enough stroke that nobody would question his decision on that.  Wrong.  Ole, more or less the head booker, wanted to throw his weight around and tried to pull rank on Flair.  Ric said he absolutely would not, under any circumstance, drop the belt to Lex because he wanted to keep his promise to Sting.  They only gave into Flair because he remained loyal to the company in 1988 when the WWE offered him a lot of money to jump to them in time for Summerslam of that year.  But the fall out was Flair was removed from the booking team.  Some people assume that Luger must have heat with Flair to this day, but the truth is Luger didn’t care.  He’s BFF with Sting and is on the record as saying that he would have refused the belt if he had known they were going to drop the Sting title change and spared Flair his spot on the booking team.  Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, no?  Sting recovered and thus we get this match, where Flair makes good on his promise.

To the match.  Sting has all the babyfaces at ringside to watch the Horsemen.  Sting shoves Flair down off a lockup a couple times.  It looks like crap.  I’m not trying to bust on Sting for the sake of hating, but Jesus Christ, he’s so stiff in all his movements that you can practically tell that he’s winning the championship and is nervous about how it’s going to come off.  I got the same vibe from Chris Benoit at Souled Out in 2000 and Wrestlemania XX, but at least he was good enough in the ring to not totally stiffen up and look like someone had sprayed him with rubber cement.

Flair quickly begs off, then we lockup again.  To the corner where Flair is supposed to break clean, but instead he fires off a shoulderblock and a few chops, all of which are no-sold.  Sting shoots Flair to the corner and press slams him.  Flair begs off again and gets hiptossed across the ring and dropkicked to the ramp.  Flair tries to fight back with a chop, but Sting no-sells that as well.  Hiptoss on the ramp, then Sting clotheslines him back into the ring.  I have to say, the parallel ramp created some really neat situations in WCW and might be due for a comeback.  Flair begs off again, and then thumbs the eye.  Snapmare and a knee drop by Flair, then a delayed suplex.  And again, it’s no-sold by Sting, who’s up almost as fast as Flair.  A pair of clotheslines and a really awkward crossbody off the top gets two.  Flair bails to the floor.  Despite the presence of the Steiners, Junkyard Dog, and the Dudes with Attitude, this is not a lumberjack match and they can’t toss him back in.  Flair takes his time and gets back in.  He calls for a test of strength, but then kicks away.  Flair chops away and shoots Sting to the corner, but Sting explodes out with a clothesline.  Big elbow drop misses for Sting, but he blocks Flair’s attempt at a figure-four and we have a standoff.

We once again go to the test of strength tease.  Sting grabs a single knucklelock, but Flair punches him around and then chops him down.  Flair dumps him between the ropes and chops him on the ramp.  Flair tosses him back in the ring and brawls him in the corner.  Flair kicks Sting in the knee, and now he’s selling the previously injured knee.  Then he starts to no-sell it and fire off a series of kicks.  Big dropkick whiffs and Flair takes advantage by dropping his weight on the injured leg.  More chopping by Flair, and then another kick to the knee.  He tries to drop his weight on Sting’s leg but it misses.  Flair is smart enough to not really sell this too much.  He fires off a snapmare but a knee drop misses and Sting hooks in the figure-four.  Hmmmmm, where have I heard this before?  From the previous match:

“Snapmare into a knee drop, which we’ve already done.  This time it misses and Magnum wastes no time in slapping on a figure-four.”

Here, the hold doesn’t last as long and we spill out to the floor.  Flair fires off a chop and whips Sting into the guardrail, but Sting is back to being Superman and no-sells it.  Flair bails back into the ring and begs off, but Sting won’t hear it and mounts some punches.  Flair kicks low and climbs, but gets caught and tossed off the top.  Flair punches Sting in the gut and tries a hiptoss, but Sting turns it into a backslide for two.  Sting bitches at the ref for the slow count and gets his legs swept.  Meanwhile, we’re reminded that Ole Anderson is handcuffed to El Gigante at the top of the entrance ramp to prevent him from interfering.  You know what else would prevent him from doing that?  Putting him on an airplane and sending him far away from the match.  Quite frankly being handcuffed to El Gigante is cruel and unusual punishment and should only be reserved for Osama Bin Laden or possibly Michael Cole.

Flair is arrogant and grinds his foot into Sting’s knee, then stomps it and knees the back of it.  Snapmare and a pair of stomps to the face by Flair.  Sting tries to bail but Flair catches him with another kick to the knee.  Flair feels he has him and spins around for the figure-four, but Sting kicks him off.  Flair takes him to the corner and fires off those chops that have been SO effective thus far.  He takes Sting across the ring, bitch-slaps him, and fires off more chops.  Clearly, for this match at least, those chops are the WORST MOVE EVER~!! because all they’ve done this match are heal Sting’s injuries.  Someone make a note: if Sting gets sick and things look bad, just track down Ric Flair and have him chop Sting back to life.  So Sting’s alive again and press slams Flair down.  Clothesline gets two.  Ten-punch in the corner and a hard whip across the ring that sends Flair up and over to the apron.  Flair runs the apron and gets clotheslined down.  Sting suplexes him over the ropes and back into the ring for two.  Sting sends Flair to the corner and actually hits the Stinger Splash.  He hooks in the Scorpion Deathlock, and Ole can’t make a move.  BUT WAIT~!! because here come the Horsemen.  Which means nothing because the babyfaces won’t let them get near the ring.  Sadly the production fuckwits are more interested in focusing on the fight that’s NOT HAPPENING outside the ring rather then this potential title change moment.  Thankfully, Flair makes the ropes.  Sting fights Flair on the apron.  Flair gets a shoulderblock and covers with his feet on the ropes, but Scott Steiner throws Flair’s feet off the ropes.  Flair goes to jaw with Steiner and gets rolled up by Sting for two.  Headlock-takeover by Flair and a cover for two, bridged out by Sting with a backslide for two.  A few nice false-finishes there.  More chopping by Flair and you have got to admire his never-say-die attitude when it comes to those chops.  Sting isn’t effected by these either and sets up Flair for the Stinger Splash, but we don’t get to see him miss it as the production fuckwits cut to a shot of a fucking banner hanging from the ceiling.  You miserable fuckers, I hope all those involved with the production of this match have since died a slow and painful death from spider bites.  Flair goes for the figure-four but Sting catches him in a small package for the pin, the title, and the death of his career.  Are those streamers coming down?  Nope, it’s just that all twenty-thousand fans in attendance came at the same time.  Huge pop, one of the biggest celebrations ever by the fans.  All the babyfaces storm the ring, but he kind of ignores them and walks off with the belt on his own.  Weird.

**** Despite all my bitching about the no-selling, Sting worked the stiffness out by the end and this was actually one of the better matches of his career.  Well paced and pretty exciting and the big title change was actually a really great moment.  Of course, his entire run as champion would be torpedoed by the inept booking of Ole Anderson, so what should have been the start of a great run was actually the start of a huge downward slide that would last years.

THE STORY THUS FAR: The feature was fantastic and actually shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought by those who purchase this set.  As for the matches, of the three complete ones here you get two ****+ matches.  Sure, the Magnum TA/Flair match was a letdown, but it’s still watchable.  I wish they had skipped the three clipped Florida matches and instead given us one more complete match, but otherwise no complaints.  The next two discs will be interesting.  The match listing for disc two is downright scary to look at.  Disc three will feature a couple cut-and-paste jobs from me and should breeze right on by.  How will the overall set get ranked?  Tough to tell due to the very questionable (on paper) match listing of disc two.  Tune in tomorrow to Inside Pulse.

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