ATTITUDE ERA: Why Steve Austin had Dude trouble as WWF champion (July 6, 2021)

On My Screen This Week

I must have watched the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin versus Dude Love match from Over The Edge 1998 at least a dozen times in my life, but for some reason I had only minimal recollection of this In Your House: Unforgiven bout. In fact, had it not been brought up on The Broken Skull Sessions, my memory of it may have lay dormant for another decade or two.

Suffice to say, however, I’m glad of the reminder, and that I took the time to enjoy this for what was probably the first time in 20 years.

Main-eventing the show straight after the WWF’s first Inferno match, the initial lack of reaction to Mick Foley is concerning, although that is quickly forgotten when Austin makes a typical entrance, and the bout starts fast and hard with kicks, punches, and elbows. The pair quickly make their way to the ringside area, with Austin dashing down the aisle to deliver a clothesline from behind, before he hip-tosses Foley from the podium to the concrete floor, in a particularly sick bump that must’ve rattled every bone in Foley’s body. In another classically unnecessary bump, the former Cactus Jack also eats a clothesline in such a way that his head misses the ringside mats and smacks off the concrete.

When Foley finally gets on top in the contest, Vince McMahon strolls down to ringside and suspiciously attempts to make eye contact with timekeeper Mark Yeaton. McMahon is obviously looking for an opportunity to repeat the infamous Survivor Series finish, but when Foley locks on an abdominal stretch, Yeaton does everything in his power not to see McMahon gesture to him to ring the bell. When Austin reverses the hold, McMahon immediately pipes down.

In yet another frightening bump, Austin threatens to finish Foley by reversing a suplex into the stairs, with Foley landing butt-first into the metal. When Austin goes for the Stunner inside the ring, though, Foley’s reversal ends up with him clotheslining referee Mike Chioda, before taking Austin down to the canvas with the Mandible Claw. When he goes for it a second time, however, Austin dumps him over the top rope and kicks a chair into his face.

When McMahon tries to help Foley to his feet, Austin grabs the chair again and swings it in their general direction, connecting with McMahon’s head with one of the most brutal chair shots you will ever witness. Back in the ring, Austin finally gets the Stunner on Foley, but has to enlist the help of the audience to count Foley down, after which Yeaton rings the bell and the match is treated as though Austin had actually won it.

Subsequently, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler spend five minutes pondering whether Austin was aiming the chair for Foley or McMahon, but if that moment was designed as a debate point for Raw, Austin’s swing was a little too obviously towards McMahon.

For his part, the WWF owner then does a full stretcher job that might have been convincing enough to turn him babyface, if he weren’t opposing Austin, and if Howard Finkel did not subsequently announce to the crowd that the match had been ruled a disqualification loss for the champion. (***1/2)

  • “Wild” Bull Curry vs. Johnny Valentine (Houston Wrestling; June 20, 1969)

In the streaming era, the Houston Wrestling library is never going to get the love it deserves. A project of Bruce Tharpe at the time that he was president of the National Wrestling Alliance, these matches from Paul Boesch’s territory were remastered as part of the NWA On Demand service that ran for around two years, until Billy Corgan bought Tharpe out and closed it down. While I know for a fact that Corgan has a keen interest in classic wrestling, and preserving its history, only a selection of the Houston matches are now available on YouTube while Corgan has his priorities tied up with the latest push to bring the NWA back to prominence. Hopefully the entire library can soon return in a convenient format.

In any case, this two-out-of-three falls bout between “Wild” Bull Curry and Johnny Valentine is the kind of throwback that offers why Houston footage is so historically valuable. Both are veterans, especially Curry, who is 55 years old and 14 years Valentine’s senior, but as big a star as he was in Texas, Valentine is not afraid to sell for his opponent, who is himself a pro wrestling Hall of Famer by almost any criteria. The key point of this battle is that Valentine makes sure he retains enough of his aura to make his selling meaningful, which not only puts over Curry but enhances Valentine’s standing by being man enough to take it.

Valentine is famous today for a phrase he is known to have used in private: “I can’t make [the fans] believe that wrestling is real, but I can make them believe that I am”, and little things like him jogging around the ring to avoid Curry’s short, sharp punches create a little bit of believability that is much appreciated. When he finally gets Curry to the mat, his facelock looks solid, as he works in the hold and uses some simple psychology to get the crowd to tell the wrestlers what they want to see, before they give it to them and enjoy the obvious reaction.

A pinfall off an old-school hook/throw tells the story that Valentine needs to use his technique and leverage to win, while it has already been established that Curry really only has his closed fists. When Curry lands them, Valentine’s selling is at the border of pure entertainment, but it works by lifting the audience and making this a really special atmosphere.

After Curry evens up the falls, the big disappointment of the match is how obviously Valentine uses his blade, although he couldn’t have imagined a viewer in 2021 looking for such an action from the comfort of his sofa and in front of his 60in television in Ireland. This does take the spectator out of the match, but Curry punching the referee in the third fall quickly takes the attention with a cool little storyline of its own, as the official considers disqualifying him, but lets the match go based on the premise that this is finally a chance for the pair to settle their score.

As it happens, while the referee gives them every chance to make it work, he is eventually forced to count out both men. This is somewhat anticlimactic, but there’s enough action and violence here that it can’t be considered anything but a classic of its time and place. (***1/2)

Unless the WWE Network search engine is lying to me, there are no less than five Glamour Girls versus Jumping Bomb Angels matches currently available on the service, and this July 20 non-title match from Prime Time Wrestling (actually taped on June 24 in Louisville, Kentucky) is the first of them.

The Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki) both have more than five years as pros by this point, but there’s a freshness to their work in a WWF ring that is infectious. The Glamour Girls (Leilani Kai and Judy Martin) are the much bigger team, but they keep up to the pace admirably, having had experience of wrestling for All Japan Women as early as 1979. Indeed, it is clear from this performance that Kai is the best all-round wrestler of the four.

This match starts with typical rapidity, and is fought in a total AJW style, meaning that there’s lots of running in to help your partner, and little concern for tags. Working at this pace, one wonders whether anyone backstage drew a parallel between this match and the Tiger Mask versus Dynamite Kid bout at Madison Square Garden in August 1982, where the latter pairing were allowed to go out and work a Japanese style that dazzled the New York audience.

To be fair, this tag team encounter is not on that technical level, and there comes a point where the heels slow the pace to a crawl, and get some American-style heat by keeping the young, flying babyfaces grounded. As if to show that the match was now in its Western phase, the combatants (and referee Dave Hebner) conform to the tag rules for the one and only time when Yamazaki just fails to make contact with Tateno, after which Martin dumps Yamazaki to the hard canvas with one of the first powerbombs seen on WWF television.

The babyfaces jump the gun again when Yamazaki finally struggles to her corner, but Tateno’s firing up is impressive, as she hits a dropkick, an enzuigiri, and a kneedrop from the top rope. Adding to these rarely-seen-in-the-WWF moves, there is a fantastic finish where she leaps to the second turnbuckle off an Irish whip, and then comes off with a perfect sunset flip on Kai to end the match on the highest note possible. (***)

  • Footloose (Toshiaki Kawada & Samson Fuyuki) vs. The Can-Am Express (Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas) (AJPW; June 5, 1989)

The bizarrely-named Footloose wrestled The Can-Am Express for much of 1989 in All Japan Pro Wrestling, adding another classic rivalry to a year that also included Jumbo Tsuruta’s battles with Genichiro Tenryu. Indeed, on this very night of June 5, Tsuruta and Tenryu fought an all-time classic for the Triple Crown, with the card also including a Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy victory over The British Bulldogs, and one of the last matches in the short-lived co-operation between All Japan and the NWA/WCW, as Danny Spivey defeated Sting.

There’s a fascinating dynamic to this tag team affair that really helps it stand out, as Fuyuki is booed by the Budokan Hall audience at every interaction, but especially opposite Furnas. The American grappler wrestles like a green version of his best self, but is never not astonishing with his array of leapfrogs, dropkicks, and power moves.

There’s evident acrimony from the beginning of the contest as, in storyline, this title match threatens to break down when Kroffat double-legs Kawada, and their scrap has to be broken up so that proceedings can restart properly. When Furnas and Fuyuki then do battle, Furnas demolishes him with a lariat and then appears to be making a grand effort to rip his opponent’s shoulder from its socket.

Kawada, of course, sees this as a challenge to which to rise, and minutes later, he makes sure to clothesline Furnas around the neck as hard as he possibly can. Kawada can be just as devastating with technique as with force, though, and he later bridges with Kroffat into a beautiful German suplex, for a pinning predicament that has to be broken up by Furnas.

The bout has been fast-paced to this point, but moves up another level when Furnas finally has enough of Fuyuki, leaping from the mat to dropkick him while he’s standing on the top rope, and then throwing him onto a ringside table for good measure. Furnas repeats the dropkick feat on Kawada, this time with the future “Dangerous K” held aloft by Kroffat, and then crushes him with a top-rope splash and a powerslam.

Kawada and Fuyuki have held the All-Asia Tag Team champions since September 1988, though, and Kawada is doing everything he can to survive the pinfall, with little help from his ineffective partner. It’s Kroffat who puts the final nail in his coffin in the next flurry, however, taking out Fuyuki with a side kick and then hitting a thunderous Tiger Driver for the three-count. (****)

  • The Hellraisers vs. Bobby Eaton & Tony Halme (NJPW; June 14, 1993)

The Midnight Express never did wrestle in Japan, so when I chanced upon this opportunity to see Bobby Eaton compete in Antonio Inoki’s promotion, I took it simply because of the oddity of his style in comparison to the other members of the roster.

Eaton was thrust back into tag team competition in New Japan, with his surprising teammate being Tony Halme, who was on his final tour for the promotion before heading to the WWF as Ludwig Borga. As it happens, they swept through the ranks, defeating luminaries such as Hiroshi Hase and Keiji Muto, and Riki Choshu and Takayuki Iizuka, on the way to this IWGP Tag Team title match with The Hellraisers (Road Warrior Hawk and Kensuke “Power Warrior” Sasaki). Halme had been a thorn in the Hellraisers’ side for much of their run as a team, as although he and Scott Norton dropped the titles to Hawk and Power, he came back at them first with Brad Armstrong as a partner, and then with Eaton in this June encounter.

All of this is quite the build-up for a match that goes seven minutes, and is very one-sided. Indeed, the story of the bout is told in its first moments, when the heels attack but find themselves on the end of a powerslam and a press slam right away.

Halme seems very interested in being in the ring with Hawk, and with the Finn, you never quite know his real intentions. That too ends up being moot, though, when he gets legitimately stunned on a simple shoulderblock spot, and such is his confusion in the immediate aftermath that he can’t even complete an Irish whip reversal during the next spot. Typically aware, Eaton recognises this and takes over.

“Beautiful” Bobby is still only 35 years old here, and looks great in bumping big for the babyfaces, but also striking with a neckbreaker and his famous Alabama Jam. That doesn’t render much of a mark in this fast-paced affair, though, and when Hawk and Sasaki roughly dispatch Halme, they strike Eaton with the Doomsday Device for the three-count. (**3/4)

On My Podcast App This Week

A unique podcast from Mike Sempervive (@sempervive), this near four-hour audio delight brings together all the hype prior to the first annual Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team tournament, with some added context from the host. As such, it’s a smorgasbord of promos and announcements about the event that was held in New Orleans in April 1986, and there really are some classic interviews here. At this duration, you might want to break the podcast up for yourself, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it’s something you ache to go back to until you complete it.

Rich Kraestch and Joe Lanza don’t often review pay-per-views on their Flagship show, preferring to do so on their excellent Patreon site, so it was pleasing to hear how much they were displeased with WWE’s Hell In A Cell event. Thankfully, though, they don’t bog down this edition of the Flagship with awful WWE talk, instead also getting in some chat about the current situation with the All Japan Triple Crown, as well as the popular GLEAT promotion. There’s also plenty of amusing non-wrestling talk, including a very important debate on the merits of ice cream versus gelato.

Everyone knows what they’re getting when they tune into a Jim Cornette podcast, and like the old ECW tagline, “it’s not for everyone”. However, there’s an especially interesting segment in this episode relating to payoffs in the territory days, as Jim and co-host Brian Last have access to some financial documents from Paul Boesch’s Houston Wrestling. If you’re interested in how the business worked back then, and/or like to compare to today’s industry, you’ll want to hear this discussion.

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