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Monday, 2 March 2009

Retro Mania - Wrestlemania 2

After the success of Wrestlemania, Vince and co. knew that it would not be a one-time-only deal, and set abut plans for the sequel.

Rather than settle for one big arena, they decided that Wrestlemania 2 would take place in three venues. In New York, Chicago and LA they would have an hours worth each, giving the show a very different feel.

Frankly, it was a mistake, and this show did not live up to the first edition. However, that shouldn’t stop us taking a look at his historical significance.

And making fun of it, of course.

We start by heading to New York and Vince in the ring, where he announces his co-commentator. Bruno Sammartino? No. Maybe Pat Patterson will do a stint? Nope, not even him.

“The number on actress in the United States today.” Susan St James. She was, and indeed is, married to Dick Ebersol who has been one of the biggest names in American TV, an important executive for NBC, and a personal friend of Vince McMahon. St James was legitimately a big-name American TV actress, earning tons of Emmy Award nominations.

Those credentials do not translate to wrestling commentary, though.

Ray Charles sings America the Beautiful for about seventeen minutes, then Gene Mean says hi from Chicago. Quickly they send it to Piper, who does a characteristically mad promo about Mr T, who he will have a boxing match with in New York’s main event.

First in the ring, we have Mr Fuji and Don Muraco, stars of the wonderful skits such as Fuji Vice on the TNT programme, who will face Paul Orndorff. Orndorff was in the main event as a heel last year, but is now jerking the curtain as a babyface.

Some comments play from each man, but they are not shown in screen, which actually makes it a bit creepy. Susan says her first words on commentary, but frankly I’m watching Orndorff do the ‘slitty eyes’ gesture to the Japanese Mr Fuji. Hmm, how cosmopolitan. They’d probably get sued if he did that now.

Anyway, the fact that I didn’t listen to Ms St James to begin with was a blessing, because she seems to be saying “woah” and “That’s going to make him mad” like a Susan St James doll with a pull string in the back.

Orndorff has a wristlock applied for several minutes, to which our expert suggest he is “using some ancient Chinese techniques”. Erm, ok, if you say so Susan.

The match is pretty slow. Two (allegedly) jacked up guys who are not very mobile. Eventually they spill to the outside and get counted out. Paul throws a chair into the ring, prompting Vince to suggest he might get DQ-ed. But he doesn’t, apparently, notice Howard Finkel in the ring, because this one is over – double count out.

Howard takes a week to announce the decision, while the crowd chant bullshit. Vince panics, and sends it backstage to Mr T, along with Joe Frazier and a midget. T is talking rubbish, and Finkel now gives the verdict over the top. This hasn’t been the most technical show so far.

Next we have IC title action, with George “the Animal” Steele challenging Macho Man Randy Savage for the gold. It’s the old-fashioned “idiot babyface love beautiful valet of nefarious heel” story. Susan is really up for this, explaining how Macho Man needs to be taught a lesson and that she is rooting for the animal.

She has, by the way, added “uh-oh” to her pull-string vocabulary, and as the simian-like Steele gnaws on, well, the boot of Macho Man, she utters the immortal lines “Yey, George, eat her leg.” I actually miss Gorilla’s lateral collaterals and all that jazz.

If you are upset that I am not talking about wrestling, it’s because very little is happening, and Susan St James is so staggeringly inept. To be fair, she is stunningly out of the depth, and she shouldn’t be blamed for not calling wrestling very well. I’d be no good on the runways of Milan during fashion week, but no-one would ask me to.

Anyway, as I type, George Steele has ripped up the turnbuckle pad and eaten some of it, then rubbed it in Savage’s face. Very little action. Meanwhile, the “Uh-oh” level has gone through the roof.

Steele is distracted by Elizabeth, allowing Randy to capitalise, and even hit his big elbow. Steele kicks out, but Savage soon pins him using the ropes. The Animal attacks another turnbuckle and the ref, and we’re done.

Over to Chicago, where Atlanta Falcon’s footballer Bill Frenic calls John Studd “the dud”, and the big man proves he’ll win a wrestling match by squashing a football.

Back to Vinny and Suse, who seem to have armchairs. Seriously, armchairs. Like its a daytime chat show. Next up is George Wells, and he will face a man keeping the anuimal theme going, Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

And this is more like it. The match is pretty high octane from the start, with Wells looking good, including an impressive headscissor-like takedown. Jake cuts him off with a thumb to the eye. One knee-lift and a DDT later, and this is over.

Jake pours his python over Wells, and Vince and Susan make all kind of noises to indicate that they disapprove.

Or do they? Maybe those grunts and groans mean something else is going on inside that commentary box. “Put that thing back inside it’s bag” Says Susan. Is she talking to Vince?

“Does he remind you of anyone you know, Susan?” Says Vinny Mac. Maybe he is talking about a snake. Who knows?

Vince throws it to Jesse in LA, who is with Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster is sporting the worst bandanna/headband I have ever seen. They play up the fact that Hogan’s ribs are hurt, but Hulk says he’ll be fine, essentially.

From LA and Hogan to NYC and......Joan Rivers? Ok, whatever. Rivers says this is wonderful, just incredible. She does this apparently from a position standing on a roundabout. She is guest ring announcer, it seems, and she introduces the judges......eventually. Also some guy called Herb, who I think was from an advert in the States for Burger King or Wendys or something.

When you think of how slick proceedings are for WWE events these days, this looks so shoddy it is untrue. Joan Rivers doesn’t know who people are, the commentators speak over her, there is no music for the participants to emerge to, Mr T was shown while Piper was getting announced – general chaos.

The match isn’t wildly better. It’s one thing to work an arm bar or learn how to receive a suplex, and sell it to make it look as though it hurts. When you have to make it look like a legit boxing contest, with essentially a wrestler and an actor, it isn’t so easy.

It is basically a hugging contest with the occasional weak punch. Piper tries a few heel tactics such as hitting T when the ref is trying to separate them, but the crowd aren’t that keen on Mr T. Midway through round two Piper (sort of) lands some blows and down goes T. These people are cheering Piper. A “Roddy” chant starts up.

Round ends, and during time Bob Orton, seconding Piper, throws water over T. Round 3 sees a comeback, with T landing a huge left which causes Piper to powder. One other knockdown (although Roddy just sat in a neutral corner, really)means T has two knockdowns, so Vince starts playing up the idea that one more ends the match.

Round four starts with Piper throwing his stool (the one he sits one, not the dirty one) at T, and they start trading punches without covering up. Piper soon throws the ref down and bodyslams Mr T. It’s chaos.

And Susan says “Uh-Oh”

That’s it for NYC, and we’re with Gorilla, who will be commentating with Gene Mean. Or will he, we now have Cathy Lee Crosby, in an outfit that Max Moon and Techno Team 2000 both rejected. Another American TV actress, this time one that says “this is my first ever wrestling match in person” – we have quite the expert.

We start with Velvet McInitye v Fabulous Moolah, and it lasts but a short while. Moolah wins after Ms McInyre misses a splash, and then covers her in a very worrying manner. If you are watching the footage along with this review, you will see just how bizarre this image is.

Gene Mean, in between matches, asks Cathy Lee what she thinks about the upcoming Wrestlers v Football players battle royal because “Cathy Lee, you’ve been aligned with a football player or two.” I have no idea of Ms Crosby’s relationship history, but Gene seems to be suggesting she is sleeping her way through the NFL. How nice.

Flag match next, with Corporal Kirchner getting the biggest reaction of the night so far for interrupting Nikolai Volkoff’s rendition of the Soviet anthem. Not enough people sing their own anthems any more. Maybe Koslov could try that.

Kirchner emerges to the strains of the Army Goes Rolling Along song that I know better from Hoover adverts, and makes short work of Volkoff. Nikolai’s manager Freddie Blassie throws his charge a cane, but the Corporal intercepts, and larrups the Russian with it. The ref was down, by the way.

The Flag match rules just mean that Kirchner is allowed to wave his flag by way of celebration. It has to be reiterated that the crowd go wild for this win.

Gene Mean takes over the ring announcing duties for the battle royal. Firstly, he announces a lady called Clare Peller, who has one line to say, and fails to say it into the microphone. Dick Butkus and Ed “Too tall” Jones are introduced as guest referees. What a great nickname, that is. “Too Tall”. I bet they were up all night thinking of that one, his team mates.

“Hey, this Ed Jones guy, what shall we call him?”
“Maybe we could call him shorty?”
“Nah, he’s too tall.”
“Yeah, that’s the one! We’ll call him Too Tall.”

The combatants are announced by Gene Mean, and I’m afraid I can’t keep up with all the footballers, but from the wrestling side of the equation we have Pedro Morales, Tony Atlas, Ted Arcidi (interestingly Tony Atlas immediately preceded Arcidi to the ring. Arcidi at this point was billed as the strongest man in the world), Danny Spivey (Waylon Mercy), Hillbilly Jim, King Tonga (Haku), Iron Sheik, B. Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell, Big John Studd, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant.

William Perry, of the Chicago Bears, in announced second to last. “The Refrigerator”, as he was known, was one of the biggest stars of Pro Football in the 80s, and the Bears had just won the Superbowl, so this was a clever piece of booking. Perry is one of the celebrity inductees in the WWE Hall of Fame (with Pete Rose) and was a big deal here.

A footballer and Haku are gone first, as commentary is provided by Ernie Ladd, also a hall of famer. Bruno slings another footballer, while Andre and Studd lock up in a rematch from last year. Brunzell is next to go, and meanwhile it should be pointed out that Cathy Lee is doing a far better job than Susan St James. Mainly because she knows to say very little apart from wonder about how big people are or say “look, they’re out.”

Perry eliminates Atlas to a big cheer, and Morales takes a footballer out and goes himself. Hillbilly Jim throws Arcidi, and Sheik drops the shoulder on “Golden Boy” Spivey. The Iranian then topples Hillbilly and Brian Blair. Iran, Number one!

Studd gets rid of Fralic, who he faced off with on camera earlier. Bruno gets rid of Sheiky, but the camera misses it. Seven guys left – a footballer, Andre, Studd, Bruno, The Hart Foundation and Perry.

Bruno is next out thanks to Big John, and a big tackle by the Fridge knocks Bret and Anvil over the ropes, but not to the floor. Studd gets rid of Perry, and Perry offers a hand of friendship. Double cross, and Perry pulls Studd out.

The sole remaining footballer is called Russ Francis, it seems, and Andre gets tied up while Francis is beaten by Bret and Anvil.

They sling Russ, and it’s two on one. Andre, of course, is man enough to hold both Hart Foundation members off. Andre hits a big boot and Neidhart takes the most stupid bump over the top you’ve ever seen. Andre then lifts Bret over and throws him onto Anvil. Andre wins.

That was fun. It wasn’t superb, but the crowd ate it up, especially the sideshow involving Perry. Andre built a career on winning Battle Royals, so it’s fitting he got to win one at Wrestlemania.

Back to Vince and Susan (oh joy) who are with Piper. They’d obviously realised at this point that you can give Piper air time for as long as is necessary and he’ll just go off on one. Standard cocky heel rhetoric really, but when Piper does it, it is simply more entertaining than most.

Back in Chi-Town, a footballer from the Bears says he got cheated, while the Iron Sheik talks his usual sense. He’d have won f Nikolai was there, he says.

Next up, it’s a tag team match, pitting Luscious Johnny Valiant’s team of Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine. They are champs here. Poorly piped in Rule Britannia signals the fact that the opponents are the British Bulldogs. Their manager is Capt Lou, and they have Ozzy Osbourne with them.

Gene Mean says that Ozzy is from Manchester (he is from Birmingham). Monsoon asks if that is where Lord Alfred is from. Gene says that’s Windermere. In fairness, Lord Alfred was billed from Windermere, but was actually from Luton. At least he went to school in Luton. I know this because it’s where my entire family are from.

Anyway, back to the match, and the incomparable Dynamite Kid is all over Valentine. Dynamite, real name Tom Billington, was light years ahead of his time. So great to watch.

This is a fun match. A proper tag affair with the momentum switching from one side to the other. Eventually the heels get the upper hand, with sporadic comebacks keeping the crowd alive. Gene Mean says “At ringside Ozzy Osbourne is literally shaking” – that will be some sort of downer he is on, I would expect.

Dynamite tags Bulldog in, who hits the running powerslam, but I guess it’s before he was an established finisher, because the Hammer kicks out and nothing much is made of it.

Hammer goes for a pin but pulls Davey up before the three, in another heel manoeuvre you see little of nowadays. Soon, the match is over, but in a strange way. Dynamite climbs up a rope or two, and Davey manages to fling Greg into the corner. Valentine and Dynamite slam heads, Davey covers, and it’s three. Wow. That was unexpected.

General nonsense from Albano, stoned out one-liner from Ozzy, then Davey Boy promises they;ll stay in America. Of course you will, you moron, you’re the champs, you can hardly bugger off home now.

Back to Vince for a moment, and Susan expresses her love for that last match in a voice I would imagine a castrated Road Warrior Hawk to speak in. Vince asks her who’ll win the main event. She says “Well, Hulk, come on. For sure. Definitely.” Wow, Susan must have been in the booking meeting.

Vince’s eyes are all over the place, and I get the feeling he is being told to stall in his headphones. Vince must hate that – people being annoying in headphones is not his style, I wouldn’t think.

Jesse Ventura welcomes us to LA, and he has Elvira, a glamourous, risqué character of the time. She has a low cut dress on, showing off her obvious charms. Ironically, the other side of Jesse is Lord Alfred, who was a big tit.

Ricky Steamboat takes on Hercules Hernandez first off, and it’s always a pleasure to watch Steamboat. He has a scarf tied around his knee, and Elvira shows she is playing heel a little, suggesting it makes Ricky look like “a wimp”. Jesse agrees, and seems happy that he might have something to work with here.

Impressive early stuff from Steamboat, before a cheap one from Hercules turns the tables. The match slows right down so he can hit some power moves and build some sympathy for The Dragon.

Herc goes aerial and flies into Steamboat’s knees, so Ricky dives up top and hits his signature flying bodypress. A very quick count and it’s over. Jesse bemoans the fast count, and he’s right. Lord Alfred says that the ref could have counted four.

A cut on the DVD there, as maybe a local promotion spot or something was deliberately left out.

In the ring is Adorable Adrian Adonis, resplendent in a dress and make up. The crowd chant “Faggot”. Oh, these were enlightened days, weren’t they? Orndorff making fun on Mr Fuji’s eyes, Piper talking about blacking up and now ‘faggot’ chants. Hmmm. Thank God we’ve moved on (well, most of us. WWE are a little bit behind on occasions)

Adonis will face “Uncle Elmer”, who is one of a proliferation of Hillbillies that abounded at this time. Like most of them, he had no talent. Adonis was a huge man, but could bump like a mad thing, and the opening exchanges look ridiculous as Elmer hits weak looking Irish whips and punches, one of which is so terrible he falls down himself.

Adonis wins, which is only right, since he was the only worker in the match. Elvira says she never trusts a man in pink legwarmers. That’s a very good rule to live by. Although it’s only really this match and the movie Fame in which that tends to apply.

Elvira suggests it’s a shame that such a big guy (Elmer) has to suffer such pain. Jesse says he doesn’t mind it, and Elvira says “so I’ve heard”. Alfred doesn’t like this flirtation, so coldly (and hilariously) says that he is a wrestler and that’s what he signs up for.

Backstage, it’s Lord Alfred with Hogan, for no apparent reason, because we’ve already seen Hogan talk trash to Bundy once. Hogan still has the same stupid headband/bandanna on, and even Alfred gets bored of him and talks over the last bit of the interview.

Back ringside, Jesse and Alfred (man, he can move quick) talk about The Funk brothers, Terry and Hoss. Hoss is Dory, by the way, and this is the combination who will be indicted into this year’s Hall of Fame class. Not Jimmy Jack. Not Flash, either.

They will face Tito Santana and Junkyard Dog, who start off like the proverbial House of fire. It takes Terry to break up a pin after Tito hits his flying forearm, and then he nails Santana in the back when the future El Matador runs the ropes.

From here its the Funks all the way until Tito gets the hot tag to JYD. Then it’s havoc. Terry Funk starts to show his hardcore colours, taking a big clothesline over the top (no mats on the floor) then gets slammed onto a combination of chairs and tables on the outside. Jimmy Hart gets a slap from the Dog and Tito gets a figure four on Hoss. While the ref tries to get Tito out, Jimmy throws Terry his megaphone, and the younger Funk smacks JYD with it. The fans chant ‘bullshit’ as the Funks get the win. Terry would be gone a few weeks later.

More Hogan stuff, as they are really bigging up his back and ribs injury. They show footage of Bundy attacking Hogan on Saturday Night Main Event, and then Hogan working out in his private gym. It now seems a bit overkill, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Hogan was such a major star at this point that all this was done to make sure there was doubt amongst the Hulkamaniacs that Hulkster might not retain.

Bobby Heenan and King Kong Bundy confidently predict victory in an interview with Jesse Ventura. Vince and Susan waffle for a bit. They are stalling a bit here because of the time taken to set the cage up.

Finally we are ready for the match. The timekeeper is a young actor called Ricky Schroeder, while the ref is Wild Wild West star Robert Conrad.

This is a cage match, and I’ve always thought it odd that these matches have the clause that you can win by walking out the door. Climbing over the top I’d let slide, but through the door? Imagine having a match without a cage that you could win by falling through the ropes.

Hogan is on top early, pummelling with punches, big boots, clothelines and so forth. Bundy catches Hogan in ribs, and from here the formula is Bundy knocks Hogan down and goes for the door, then Hogan fights back. Then repeat process. Bundy pulls Hogan’s bandages protecting his ribs off at one point and Elvira excitedly thinks clothes are being shed.

Hogan comes back and rams Bundy into the bars. Bundy blades and Hogan is all over him. Hulk climbs and chokes Bundy as he goes. Deciding against escaping, he descends and tries to slam Bundy. No dice and he falls back. Lord Alfred makes a logical call and says it was the rib injury that stopped Hogan.

Bundy goes for the door but Hogan chokes him with the bandages. Bundy turns tables and hits an avalanche. Bundy follows up with a splash which is caught by a terrific camera angle. Hogan just makes it to stop Bundy. Second avalanche is met by the Hulk-up eyes. Reversal of a whip into a corner followed by a powerslam. Leg drop, and Hogan ascends the bars. Bundy stops him but Hogan kicks him back down. Heenan stops Hogan, and Bundy crawls for the door. Hulk makes it first, and it’s over.

It, of course, was not a great wrestling match, but it had plenty of excitement. The crowd were completely into it, and it had the right pay off. Hogan bashes Heenan around a bit, and the announcer says “.....of the world, Hulk Hogan.” I assume that should have been “winner, and still champion......” and not “news” or “King” or “His favourite Carpenters song is top......”

Hogan poses while Jesse exclaims disgust. They send it back to Vince and Susan, who says virtually nothing, and this one is over.

The important aspects to look at here are really the developments in character and presentation. This was far inferior to the previous year’s show, but you’ve only got to look at the crowd reactions to certain elements to tell Vince where he needed to go. T and Piper got shit on from a great height by the New York crowd, but anything with Hogan, a celeb with as high a profile as William Perry, and pro-USA sentiment went over big. Steamboat, Savage and Jake Roberts all looked impressive in their encounters, as did the British Bulldogs.

There were far too many boring filler matches, and the celebrity involvement for the most part was embarrassing and made little sense.

Onto Number three, and the Pontiac Silverdome.......

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