Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 5 (I Like Heels Now)

February 3rd, 1989 - The moment which altered my perception of pro wrestling forever.  It was the second annual Friday night WWF special, The Main Event.  Like the previous year, the WWF used this live primetime broadcast to set the stage for WrestleMania.  This time however it was The MegaPowers vs. The Twin Towers - a match/angle that would be the catalyst for WrestleMania V. 

For months the company had been building to the eventual breakup of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, throwing in subtle hints of dissension before eventually staging multiple in-ring arguments.  The Main Event would be the night their partnership would dissolve.

During the bout, Savage was thrown out of the ring and landed on Elizabeth, knocking her to the floor.  Hogan spent the next several minutes seeing to her care and brought her to the dressing room for medical attention (Watching this segment now is positively guffaw-inducing, mostly due to Hogan's ridiculous overacting, but to my 13-year-old eyes at the time it was intense drama.), leaving Savage alone against his two massive opponents.  When Hogan finally returned to the ring, Savage abandoned him after slapping him in the face, much to the shock of the crowd.

So goofy by today's standards, but man this angle was brilliant.



The situation came to a head after the match ended (Hogan managed to eke out a win), as Savage flat-out accused Hogan of "lusting after" Elizabeth and not having the ballbag to challenge Savage to a Title match (He never actually used the word "ballbag").  The MegaPowers split was official moments later, as Savage cracked Hogan in the face with the WWF Title belt and flung Elizabeth across the room.

I was OUT. RAGED.  My favorite wrestler, Hogan had been betrayed and assaulted by his best friend and I couldn't believe the greatest wrestling alliance I had ever seen was no more. 

Now, here's where it gets weird.  For a couple days I was livid at Savage and decided he was no longer my second favorite wrestler.  Then later in the week I watched a recap show with highlights from The Main Event, and suddenly as I watched Savage slap Hogan's face and walk out on him I realized, "Ya know what?  Savage is f*cking awesome.  I think I like him better than Hogan now."  Ka-BOOOOOOOOM!!!!

I had officially outgrown Hulk Hogan, almost overnight.

From that point on I started to root for heels more than babyfaces.  As a new teenager I developed a sudden and vehement disdain for white meat babyface characters.  Somehow I stopped being able to identify with them and was drawn to villains and ambiguous heroes (This trend would continue for many years and when the Attitude era began I was so excited that the wrestling industry had finally caught up with my tastes).  Among those who lost my fan support were Hogan, Brutus Beefcake, The Rockers, The Bushwhackers, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and later that year, the Steiner Brothers and Sting.

I knew that by jumping to Team Savage I was setting myself up for disappointment, as it was obvious Hogan would be defeating him for the WWF Title at WrestleMania.  But that didn't stop me from cheering every move Savage did during their match - yes folks, I finally got to watch a WrestleMania as it happened, thanks to good ol' closed-circuit TV!  The obligatory Hogan comeback at the end of that match still irks me, as the rest of the match was so good and deserved a more creative ending.

Look at how awesome Savage is.  Look at him!!

One of the first examples of my newfound heel-leanings was when Rick Martel dumped Tito Santana at 'Mania, and I immediately became a huge Martel mark.  For some reason during his initial heel run he was one of my new favorites.  I guess I liked his new killer instinct and the fact that he was athletic enough to back it up (this pattern repeated with even better results in 1992 when Shawn Michaels turned heel).  For some reason high-flying babyfaces gone bad end up being really great villains.  I really saw an Intercontinental Title in Martel's future, but alas the company turned him into "The Model" Rick Martel, and I lost interest.  Even with heels I had no time for dumb gimmicks.

On the NWA side of things, 1989 ended up being possibly the best year in the company's history, as Ric Flair went from an amazing series of matches against Ricky Steamboat (honestly I was a little disappointed Steamboat didn't keep the NWA Title for a while and defend against other opponents), to a face turn where he started an epic blood feud with Terry Funk.  Flair was an exception for me at this time, in that I actually liked him better as a babyface.  I think his rather prissy heel gimmick bothered me on some level and when he turned good he would just go out and tear it up rather than constantly cheating and getting disqualified.  I had also never seen Flair wrestle as a face so this all felt very fresh.

This feud was utter perfection.

Disappointingly The Road Warriors were good guys again, and par for the course with them, they got screwed a lot as good guys.  I always felt like they couldn't close the deal on a championship unless they were heels. 

But to make up for it, one of my favorite singles wrestlers at that point, Lex Luger, turned on Steamboat in brutal fashion and kicked off a fantastic dominant heel run.  Luger had improved immensely in the ring and now had a no-remorse attitude to boot.  And unlike Flair he didn't rely on underhanded tactics to win.  By the end of 1989 I figured heel Luger would soon defeat babyface Flair for the NWA Title.

For the second half of 1989 I was officially an NWA fan first, as the WWF product had gotten very stagnant with Hogan back as the champion.  In the first place, Hogan spent the summer feuding with Zeus, who was not a wrestler but played one in the ill-conceived summer flop No Holds Barred (It still astounds me that they actually built Hogan's whole summer and fall around hyping this stupid movie.).  Secondly, Randy Savage, my new WWF favorite, was all but buried by Hogan at Summerslam (thanks to Hogan's classic No-Sell on the Finisher) and by September was saddled with the King of Wrestling gimmick and feuding with Jim Duggan.  It was a time when the babyfaces had taken over all the top spots in the company and the heels were all treading water.  This is never a good thing as it makes for a dismal, boring product - if the heroes are never in danger, where's the conflict?

With that in mind, it's no surprise that the first PPV I ever purchased was an NWA event - Halloween Havoc '89.  While it doesn't rank among the all-time great PPVs it was still a very solid, stacked show featuring a bevy of strong tag team matches and a unique Thunderdome main event (incidentally I still can't figure out why that cage was called a "dome"). 

The first PPV I ever ordered. 
I was not disappointed.

The NWA was red-hot at that point - Flair, Sting, Luger, Funk and Muta carried the singles ranks while the Road Warriors, Steiners, Midnight Express, Doom, the Skyscrapers and the Freebirds held down the tag division (and soon to be added to the roster were the returning Andersons and the Rock & Roll Express).  I'd have loved to see a WWF vs. NWA faceoff in 1989 as the star power in both companies was incredibly strong.

Sadly 1990 would be, from a creative standpoint, a pretty piss-poor year for both promotions....


Part 4                                                                                                                                                Part 6

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