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Archive for June, 2011

“MY SHOES…COST MORE…THAN YOUR HOUSE!!!”

– Ric ‘The Nature Boy’ Flair, former WWF champion

“What I’d like to have right now is for all you high-rolling Atlantic City sweat hogs to keep the noise down while I take my robe off and give the ladies a good look at the sexiest man alive…hit the music.”

– ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, former WWF Intercontinental champion

For a period in the late eighties and early nineties, I was obsessed with the camp hysteria of WWF, a multi-million entertainment machine comprised of drug-popping egocentrics and psychopaths performing character-based wrestling for the baying masses. Nowadays, the yoof have a bevy of opportunities to escape from reality: high-definition computer games, iphones not to mention on-tap porn, but for my generation, commodore 64s, swingball and marbles was how we got our kicks, that was until our WWF awakening.

It was the recent death of the legendary ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage that prompted this recent trip down memory lane, which has left me paralysed with rapture on a nightly basis as I pore over YouTube footage of one-time WWF superstar Yokozuna lowering his beastly anus onto the face of Mr Perfect, Ric Flair listing his garage contents in a way that would make even P Diddy blush and Gorilla Monsoon talking about someone’s bread-basket. Steve Jobs can stick his keynotes about wanky overpriced shiny consumer bullshit to himself – the Cowboy’s all about cut price spandex and a free dream sleeper hold. HELL YEAH!

That’s confidence, Gorilla

To say that I can remember my first WWF experience would be a lie. As time passes, my memory continues to recoil from the effects of too much cheap cider, allowing wrestling idols and matches to merge into a fuddled tapestry of biceps and brawn. I recall luring my dad, as only the single child of divorced parents can do on a Saturday afternoon, into tawdry video shops in Jersey, angling for another VHS tape of the latest wrestling action from across the pond. My early obsessions were Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts with his sexual tash and pet python, and Rick ‘The Body’ Martel, a comedy narcissist who rarely won a match worth remembering, but was never to be seen without a dicky bow on his naked chest and a ridiculous contraption that purported to spray the world’s most expensive cologne.

However while these obsessions were intense, they were short lingering. I soon realised that the Snake was a grumpy sod whose snake never actually ate anyone and Martel had no substance to back up the style. The federation tried to push the personality void, Andre the Giant and the jarringly populist, Hulk Hogan, onto the impressionable youngsters, however for me there was only ever one choice: ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude aka the sexiest man alive. Hit the motherfucking music.

He got him

Along with Ric Flair (more on him later) Rude was one of the few wrestlers of that era to truly nail the art of authentic wrestling pantomime. Where most viewers tuned in for the fight, Rude was all about the pre-march interview, where he would stand angled to the camera, tilt back his head with a lecherous sneer to unveil his Magnum, P.I. tash, occasionally offering some enthusiastic put-down of his lesser mortal opponents. Once in the ring, he would demand the mike and heckle the audience about his supposed good looks before dropping the dressing gown and gyrating his crouch like a performing gigolo. The beauty with Rude was his raison d’être: to be perfectly ridiculous, a spirited antidote to the earnestness of Hogan and the sickly buffoonery of the Warrior. Perhaps his finest hour was his title triumph against the said Warrior, when he dropped his gown to unveil the Intercontinental belt coloured onto the front of his trousers and a crude caricature of the Warrior on his arse cheeks. Enjoy the words from legendary commentary duo Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon.

As if having a perm, tash and six-pack wasn’t enough, Rude gains further kudos by virtue of his birth name: Richard Erwin Rood. The man was even born cool. While this fact (dispensed recently by a wise friend) came as something of a pleasant surprise, it was with little shock to learn that Rude’s death at the tragically young age of 40 was due to an overdose on anabolic steroids (if you look back at the previous clip, his apparent lack of a todger may be a give away). Apparently he was survived by his wife and three children, and I can only imagine how awesome it would be to say that your Dad was Rude, albeit of scant consolation for his premature departure. Criminally, the recent WWE All Stars computer game – with its roster of old favourites – omitted Rude together with the Flair. One can only hope they’re saving them up for the invariable 2012 version.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Unlike the perennially under-rated Rude, Richard Morgan Fliehr aka Rick ‘The Nature Boy’ Flair is WWF (and WCW) royalty having accumulated 16 world titles in his various stints over all manner of wrestling associations down the years. The key to Flair’s appeal was the look: short dumpy old man with boobs and a terrible haircut, but a twinkle in the eye and more charisma than Bill Clinton at a meeting of office interns. His finisher was also the crowd pleasing figure-four-leglock; a devilishly painful move that I learnt and mastered at an early age along with the million dollar dream sleeper hold, sharpshooter and Boston crab.

Flair was traditionally a bad guy and is often cited as the dirtiest wrestler in history, frequently gouging opponents and playing loose with the rules. His other antics include the signature cry of “woooo!!” both before, during and after a fight, for no apparent reason other than its patent amusement. He also developed a bizarre method of falling flat on his face, as if in a trance like state, in what I always believed to be a tactic of luring the opponent into thinking he had the upper hand, as well as flipping around the ring like a fish out of water. Amazingly, Flair was wrestling up to this year, meaning he has been wrestling for close to 40 years but it seems as if he’s now settled for a position behind the cameras. Despite his recent retirement, appetite for the Flair charm is as ferocious as ever, with the Carolina Hurricanes ice-hockey team using Flair’s signature cry to celebrate every home goal scored. I’m not sure how WWF goes down amongst middle-class Devonians, but I might make a spirited pitch to the Exeter Chiefs’ rugby board to ask that it make a similar homage to Flair. Despite his unrivalled successes, Flair is not immune to the seemingly standard post-wrestling death/meltdown, with his originally titled ‘Ric Flair Finance’ company opening for trade in September 2007, before Flair filed for bankruptcy in early 2008. In terms of clips of the great man in action, I can do no better than this ray of pure sunshine, followed up by some vintage Flair acrobatics:

Oh Yeaaaaaah

The golden age of WWF saw numerous rivalries: Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart v Mr Perfect, Undertaker v The Ultimate Warrior, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase v Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, ‘Sergeant’ Slaughter v Hulk Hogan and – perhaps most famously of all – Hogan v the late ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.

I always had a lot of time for Randy Savage, a visual oddity who bore an uncanny resemblance to Animal from The Muppets with a mane of stringy hair and a dense beard hiding his peculiarly small mouth. His physique was intimidating with every ripped muscle seemingly inflated to its maximum capacity. When he spoke, a gravelly ashtray spewed its contents at the microphone, his grizzly tones occasionally infiltrated with some African American jive, not dissimilar from Vic Reeves singing in the style of a club singer on Shooting Stars. The words that came from his minute mouth seldom made sense and the overall appearance was that of a junkie experiencing a drug high and comedown simultaneously, which turned out not to be too far from the truth.

In the ring, the Macho Man was peerless, combining occasional dirty tactics with genuine athleticism and clinical execution. Favourite moves include the ‘hair-pull hangman’ where he would run at the ropes holding his opponent’s hair in his hand, before bouncing their throat off the top rope; the ferocious running clothesline and the greatest finisher of all time: the flying elbow off the top turnbuckle.

She wants a rude awakening

The flying elbow was the perfect marriage of simplicity and aesthetic crowd-pleaser. While a basic move in many respects, Savage seemed to hang in the air for seconds before landing the crunching connection. Whereas some finishers, such as the ludicrous ‘three point stance’ offered by ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Dugan, failed to merge seamlessly into the pin, the flying elbow allowed Savage a second to marvel at his work before hoisting up a leg to seal the deal. It is worth remembering that the elbow was really stage two of the finisher, invariably being preceded by the tried-and-tested scoop slam.

The scoop-slam I remember the most came during the epic Savage v Hogan fight of Wrestlemania V when Savage surrendered his belt to the moustached mega-brand. Although not a precursor on that occasion to the finisher, Macho Man did land the patented elbow prompting Jesse Ventura into a rapturous squeal of “he got him!” However Savage was vanquished by Hogan’s shit leg-drop finisher in what must surely go down as the greatest travesty of justice in the history of sporting entertainment.

Before dwelling on the fight itself, it’s worth reviewing the background. Savage and Hogan had been a celebrated tag team known as ‘The Mega Powers’ who were managed by Savage’s off-screen wife, Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a kind of low-grade Princess Diana figure in the wrestling scene and frequently subject to the sexual advances of other wrestlers, including the lecherous Hogan (see below) and – more amusingly – the Nature Boy. WOOOO!

The Mega Powers disbanded following a disastrous Royal Rumble when Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage. There then followed a period of goading, with Savage accusing Hogan of trying to tap Miss Elizabeth, backing up his claims with cleverly edited footage showing Hogan in various states of flirtation with the Princess. Hogan hit back, giving interviews to showcase unedited footage of his encounters with Elizabeth complete with innocent explanations to rebut the salacious claims. Matters came to a head at Wrestlemania V at the Trump Plaza in New Jersey, when Savage – now officially ‘a baddy’ – came up against Hogan managed by the ho-for-hire that was Miss Elizabeth.

Puke-a-mania will die right here, Gorilla

As is par for the course in such headline fights, the match went for an eternity. Watching its five parts on YouTube some twenty years later, I laughed all the way through as Jesse Ventura puts on a commentary masterclass, labelling Elizabeth ‘a gold digger’ and rightly hailing the Macho Man at every possible opportunity (“Macho – you ARE a great champion”).

Despite the Body’s audio treats, the match itself was a non-event, featuring much posturing, headlocks and hair pulling. All the while, ‘the pukestars’ as the Body calls Hulk’s fans, scream every time he moves. Towards the end, Macho starts pulling out his repertoire of knee drops and chokeholds before clambering to the top turnbuckle and delivering the greatest flying elbow of his career. Despite knowing the result, I watched fixated, sure it was over, but then the inexplicable happened…

Aside from always liking to back the underdog, my dislike of Hogan as well as the Ultimate Warrior rests with their super-hero ‘powers of recovery’ whereby no matter how badly they’re getting bummed, they can at any given moment puff out their cheeks, charge around the ring and land a pin at will. While of course the whole charade is staged entertainment, for your purist writer, this was a step too far, and I’ll let the tape show you what did indeed happen after Savage landed the elbow (incidentally, note Savage being genuinely hurt after landing his elbow).

I am a real American

Shocking. The years after the fight saw Savage turn into a visual car-crash, as he engaged in a further feud with The Ultimate Warrior whom he attacked with his intercontinental belt during a Warrior v Sergeant Slaughter fight, before the Warrior defeated him at Wrestlemania VII. By this time, Savage was being managed by the wonderfully named ‘Sensational Sherri’ (think Amy Winehouse cross-bred with Grace Jones) who shamelessly attacked him while he lay vanquished on the canvass. Miss Elizabeth raced in to intervene prompting some closing good will for her and Savage, despite his past misdemeanours.

It will surprise most non-wrestling fans to know that they will likely have seen Savage in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, with Savage playing ‘Bonesaw’ who sported the trademark beard, albeit a heavily dyed version of the early incarnation. It was a shame that his film career failed to kick on, as I’m sure Martin Lawrence could have ordered an extra rubber mask for Big Momma’s House 3.

As for the death itself, reports state that he lost control of his Jeep Wrangler and slammed into a tree near Tampa, Florida. While a heart attack at the wheel was a rumoured cause, the autopsy was ‘inconclusive’ with the smart money surely being placed on the traditional cocktail of prescription drugs. Indeed, both Sensational Sheri and Miss Elizabeth died while chasing the dragon, respectively in 2007 and 2003. In Miss Elizabeth’s case, she was shacked-up with Lex Lugar thus laying bear the incestual nature of WWF’s Golden Age. You couldn’t write this shit.

I must confess to having little clue as to the main players in today’s glitzy world of WWE. While at my sixth-form college, wrestling did have a renaissance, with various Sky recordings being delivered into the common room for mass consumption. The tape that sticks in my mind included the infamous fight between Mick Foley’s ‘Mankind’ and The Undertaker, a brutal spectacle that would make the most ardent denouncer of all things make-believe appreciate the skill and bravery on show. I’d like to stay and write more but I’VE GOT A LIMOUSINE WAITING OUTSIDE THAT’S A MILE LONG, WITH TWENTY-FIVE WOMAN JUST DYING FOR ME TO GO WOO!

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