NEWS, HISTORY AND ANALYSIS THAT MATTER TO THE SERIOUS WRESTLING FAN
NEWS: FOURTEEN WEEKS IN 1990: SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL
Published Monday, December 12, 2005 by DEVELOPMENTALspotlight | E-mail this post
As a part of The Pro-Wrestling Chronicle's Fourteen Weeks in 1990 series, the following three newspaper stories represent a fraction of the coverage that Wrestlemania VI was recieving on Wrestlemania weekend, 1990. The first, printed a day before Wrestlemania, focused on the challenger in the Toronto main event, The Ultimate Warrior. Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer provided quotes for the story. The second, printed on the day of Wrestlemania, pays tribute to Vince McMahon as a promoter. In the third, printed the day after Wrestlemania, a stunned columnist explains his heartache over the clean pinfall loss of Hulk Hogan, and his resentment towards The Ultimate Warrior. This columnist correctly points out the problems that would plague The Ultimate Warrior as the WWF Champion.
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THE DAY BEFORE: March 30, 1990
"The Wrestling Doc' "
Just call the Ultimate Warrior "doc."
The heir-apparent to the World Wrestling Federation title has magic fingers. Those grappling hooks can also bring relief to opponents in the locker room.
That's because the Ultimate Warrior, a.k.a. James Hellwig, trained to be a chiropractor in Atlanta, Ga. before pursuing a career as a bodybuilder. Today Hellwig lives in Grapevine, north of Dallas, Texas with his wife Sherri, a beautiful dancer. The path to wrestling was a strange turn for a man who started out to be a chiropractor, studying for four years at the Life Chiropractic College.
In real life, Hellwig is no neanderthal. To be accepted at the school students need two years of college with mandatory science credits and a 2.25 grade point average. In 1984 Hellwig suddenly quit his studies and headed for Los Angeles and Gold's Gym. A long-time friend who knew him and Sherri during those years says the dream of being a bodybuilder was just too strong. He "fell" into wrestling when a promoter dropped by the gym and picked out the four biggest guys. A few weeks later Hellwig enrolled at a California training camp under tag-team wrestler Red Bastien.
"He came in about six weeks late because one of the guys dropped out," says Bastien, who held the 1968 world tag-team championship with partner Billy "Red" Lyons, of Dundas, Ont. After training, Hellwig started out with three other wrestlers, the Power Team USA. James "Justice" Hellwig, Steve "Flash" Borden (now wrestling as Sting in the National Wrestling Alliance), Garland "Glory" Donoho and Mark "Commando" Miller were touted as the "Ultimate American Athletes."
He didn't have a lot of talent, but he did have determination," said Bastien. "Talent doesn't always mean anything these days anyway. He stuck to it and would work on moves until he got it." Gerry Jarrett of the Championship Wrestling Association picked up Borden and Hellwig but recalls they were a disaster.
"They had great bodies, looked like a million dollars, but couldn't wrestle a lick," he said. After three months he dumped them and Hellwig drifted out to Oklahoma where he wrestled under the name Bladerunner Rock. He moved to Dallas in the summer of 1986 with World Class Championship Wrestling but things weren't easy and his wife Sherri worked as a dancer at clubs like the renowned Million Dollar Saloon in Dallas to pay bills. When Hellwig was refused a salary raise to $450 a week, he quit. He then went to New York, where he signed with the WWF, was named the Dingo Warrior and worked the "C" Team - warmup matches. But, such was his appeal to the fans that by 1988 Vince McMahon Jr. dubbed him the Ultimate Warrior and moved him up to top billing.
Yet, some things never change, says Dave Meltzer, publisher of Wrestling Observer. "He's better than he was, but he's still a poor wrestler," he said. "In fact, when Hellwig first started wrestling in the WWF in 1987 he was an outcast," says Meltzer. "They resented that he was getting breaks because of his body and not his wrestling ability." But looks, not talent, had become the main selling factor of the WWF. Hellwig, however, was not deterred by the rejection by his colleagues."He started helping the other wrestlers with their backs and injuries, using his chiropractic skills," says Meltzer. "He won them over."
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THE DAY OF: April 1, 1990
They call him The Man. That's all. Short, concise, direct.
You don't cross The Man. It's simple. It's understood. You wrestle when your wife is nine months pregnant, because you have to. You wrestle with pneumonia, because you have to. You wrestle when your muscles are so sore that even the staged moves bring tears to your eyes, because you have to.
You wrestle because The Man says you wrestle. Vince McMahon. The Man. Godfather of professional wrestling. The creator of a billion-dollar business known publicly as the World Wrestling Federation. Ask about The Man and almost everyone has an opinion.
Genius.Greedmonger. Monopolist. Paradox. The descriptions all apply to Vince McMahon, a complex, confusing and brilliantly successful 42-year-old man who in the past seven years has transformed wrestling from schlock sport to high-priced industry.
Today, at SkyDome, the live gate of some $5-million will only begin to touch the surface of the total take of WrestleMania VI, the Ultimate Challenge. The ultimate challenge for McMahon is revenue, and today's exhibition of strength, science, and soap opera could score more than $30 million in receipts when the vast totals are amassed. Through manipulation of television, his vast understanding of cable and pay-per-view, his ability to create wrestling attractions and his keen eye for promotion, packaging and glitz, McMahon has become the only wrestling promoter that matters in a game where many previously flourished.
"He's the Howard Hughes of promotion," said Mike Trainer, attorney for boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who knows of McMahon's reclusive ways, But even Trainer is somewhat surprised by them. On one side, McMahon is his company's No. 1 television announcer, a very public position. On the other side, he is a man who shuns publicity. He rarely grants intervies and when he does he is hardly revealing. Through a WWF spokesman, he sent word he did not wish to be interviewed for this story. Trainer worked with McMahon on the promotion of the Leonard-Donny Lalonde fight. McMahon's Titan Sports, the parent company name of the WWF, held television rights to the fight and Trainer came away with some insights into McMahon. He has nothing but admiration for the business acumen and promotional skills the boss of wrestling possesses. "If he ever went into boxing, with his zeal, he'd wipe out Don King and Bob Arum in a moment," said Trainer. "When you sit back and consider what Vince McMahon has done, not just in the U.S. but on a world scale, you can't help but be amazed. "The thing about McMahon is his great understanding of television. He has a studio in his facilities in Connecticut that is better equipped than what NBC has. If such a thing as a television expert exists, that expert is Vince McMahon."
And it was through television the WWF was launched into a financial orbit. Wrestling, before McMahon, was primarily a regional attraction. Every area had a promoter, a circuit, and a champion all its own. McMahon, whose father, Vince Sr., was the regional promoter in New York area, set out to change all that when he succeeded his father in 1983. Using his Ivy League background and his prior career as rock concert promoter, McMahon utilized a national cable wrestling show, a weekly Johnny Carson-like WWF talk show and regular weekend syndicate wrestling programs to flood the market with his product: a higher scale, glitzier, cartoon-character-like event, rendering the competition to near submission.
Out were the blood capsules of days gone by. In were big, stronger, bodies with better gimmicks. And always, the quality of the television program mattered most. The quality of wrestling mattered least. "TV is what matters to Vince," said Trainer. "He has an incredible eye about what works on television and what doesn't. I remember before the Leonard-Lalonde fight and he's talking to the announcers we're using, experienced guys like Roy Firestone. And he's telling them things that really matter. He's very hard on his TV people." McMahon's television programs have had such an impact in America that his No. 1 commentator, Jesse (The Body) Ventura, has been able to translate his wrestling career into an acting career, which includes television commercials, and a place on the broadcast crew of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the realm of popularity, Ventura is almost as recognizable as football's John Madden and more recognizable than most American announcers.
When it comes to television and promotion, McMahon doesn't simply have an eye for what works, he has an uncanny sense of what sells. He has so many strengths: understanding the story, developing characters and plot, and maintaining subplots and rivalries. He is not only promoter but playwright. He views society through his sharp vision and shapes his wrestlers accordingly.
When the Iran hostage crisis was angry news in the U.S., McMahon took advantage of it, utilizing an Iranian bad guy called the Iron Sheik as his feature attraction. The Iranian vs. The all-American hero. Perfect pathos for the staged violence that is professional wrestling. Nothing like political turmoil to bring out the best and worst of the paying public.
First McMahon employed an army man, Sergeant Slaughter, as the foil for the Sheik. Later came the Real American, Hulk Hogan, who seven years later is still making a seven-figure salary living off his original act. The interest in trends remains. During the Elvis-is-alive period, an Elvis act-a-like, The Honky Tonk Man, became prominent. When Donald Trump became big news, so did a wrestler, the Million Dollar Man. And even in failure, McMahon can be entertaining. When the movie Crocodile Dundee was doing boffo business a few years back, McMahon introduced an Aussie of his own, Outback Jack. The fact Jack didn't make it was more a tribute to his lack of charisma than it was to McMahon's idea. The rest of the wrestling business, so put off by McMahon's success and the manner in which he has operated, has taken to bad-mouthing the big act. In deference to the WWF, where story is more important than style, the chief competitor - the Ted Turner-owned National Wrestling Alliance - introduced an advertising campaign intended to steal fans. "We're the NWA," the ads read. "We wrestle."
The points were made. But the business hasn't changed. The NWA struggles. The WWF doesn't. All because of McMahon, and the creatures he's created, and the way he has disarmed the competition. Red Bastien, a former wrestler and local American promoter, has all but given up. He is now working with wrestlers in Mexico, carefully avoiding the WWF. "If I step on McMahon's toes, he'll step on my neck," says Bastien.
Of all the characters McMahon has come up with Hulk Hogan remains not only the most successful but the most remarkable. Some will insist that Hogan's persona was purely a McMahon creation. But Verne Gagne tells a different story. Gagne, who heads up the struggling American Wrestling Association, says McMahon stole Hogan from him, seriously harming his promotion. "Wrestling was a handshake business until this kid (McMahon) came along," said Gagne. "Then he took a lot of us (promoters) by surprise. He started stealing our best performers "I developed Hulk Hogan. When he came to me he was almost begging for a chance. He couldn't even do an interview, let alone wrestle. We had to have a manager do the talking for him. We had to teach him everything. "He was developing into a pretty polished star - we taught him to pose and all that stuff he does now - and they just took him, without warning or anything. We had him booked in for a number of big cities and were left with egg on our faces. Sure, they're (WWF) successful, but without the people they took from us, they wouldn't be anywhere today. "You can call that smart. I call it greedy business. I can't say anything nice about the way this all came along." Other than Hogan, the list of Gagne graduates on the WrestleMania stage are many. Announcers Ventura and Mean Gene Okerlund started with Gagne. So did Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig; Bobby (The Brain) Heenan; The Rockers and Rick Martel. "Hell, he hired a number of people who worked in the office here, he even hired the guy who puts up the ring."
McMahon now employs more than 400 people and there are only slight indications he is slowing down. And the other wrestling organizations have died, so has the pool of wrestlers shrunk. "One day, he's not going to have anyone to steal wrestlers from, there won't be any wrestlers left," said Gagne, "and he hasn't developed any of his own."
Knowing The Man, he will come up with something. The Godfather of wrestling always finds a way.
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THE DAY AFTER: April 2, 1990
"Hulkamania Not Forever"
How am I going to explain this to my three-year-old? How can I look him in the eye and tell him all is not well in the world today? How do you tell a three-year-old that Hulkamania is dead?
In this historic sporting season in which Mike Tyson went down and the Maple Leafs went up, there is only depression today.
Hulkamania is dead. And even the return to wrestling of the lovely Miss Elizabeth could not alter that cold, harsh reality. The champion is gone. There is nothing left to believe in anymore. For years, a legion of wrestling fans said their prayers, ate their vitamins. did their exercise. What now is there left to cheer for but a painted-faced phoney. What is there for our children, the next generation, to believe in? In the screaming frenzy of a sold-out SkyDome, our man Hogan was beaten, defeated, downed, trounced, bounced, and everything else by a chemical creation called the Ultimate Warrior. The Warrior is a screaming savage who scares children - the reason I know this is my three-year-old, a budding Hulkamaniac, cries every time the Warrior is seen on television. My three-year-old calls the Warrior "Damien," which happens to be the name of Jake Roberts' snake.
The little guy knows a painted snake when he sees one. The Warrior, in case you're not educated to the ways of the wrestling world, is supposed to take over as the new hero of the World Wrestling Federation. This is regrettable. Besides, it won't work. You could tell by the reaction in SkyDome, not just from the kids, but from the big kids disguised as adults. There was no hysteria when the Warrior pinned Hogan. Only remorse.
Wrestlers invariably need one of two skills to be successful in this hyped religion: either their act is so good they can't miss or, God help us, they can actually wrestle.
As wrestlers go, the Warrior has no skill. As gimmicks go, his is annoying. As personalities go, he doesn't have one. The WWF, which has ridden the Hulk Hogan gravy train through a run of success, is about to find itself in difficulty. It won't be able to sell The Warrior as its largest attraction. It won't be able to pull in large network audiences for this screaming madman. And even the predicted entrance of Ric Flair to the WWF - who many believe is the best combination wrestler-personality in this so-called sport - may not be able to add life to what will likely become a struggling product.
As for Hogan, we are told he is on his way to the world of Disney. The deal, we've heard, is signed, sealed and delivered. You can't blame Hogan for wanting to move on. A wrestler's life is not an easy one. But you can't help wrestling fans for wanting him to stay. Especially the kids.
Cartoon characters, not even Ninja Turtles, get any better than this. The Warrior won't take Hogan's place. He's not qualified. In fact, we loathe such a move. In Hogan, there was a symbol. We watched him go bald, but we still believed. We watched him deal with every conceivable challenge, and we still believed. We watched him get beaten up, but never beaten. Until yesterday, when this fairy tale ended without the happily ever after.
My three-year-old will never understand.