Thursday, August 26, 2021

Mt. Rushmore: Gone Too Soon

Kevin Hunsperger @kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter Listen to the podcast  Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Wrestling has had more than its share of losses through the years. This week, on the Mt. Rushmore blog, a look at four wrestlers who left us way too soon. Obviously, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds of wrestlers, announcers, and managers I wish were still with us. Also, I'd like to thank Jittery Monkey Podcasting Network founder Greg Mehochko for this idea. 

Kerry Von Erich was my first favorite pro wrestler. When I first saw him wrestle Ric Flair in late 1982 inside a steel cage, I was sold on pro wrestling. He and his brothers ruled the ring in World Class Championship Wrestling. In early 1984, big brother David died unexpectedly, and Kerry later beat Flair for the NWA Championship. That remains one of my favorite moments in wrestling.

He'd later wrestle for the WWF, and shortly after that run, he ended his own life. It was a tragic ending to a string of tragedies the Von Erich family faced. I remember reading the news of Kerry's death in the newspaper in my college library. Someone on my floor had told me the news, which I didn't believe. Remember, this was pre-internet, so I had to read all about it in the newspaper.  

Yes, Kerry battled demons. You'll see a few others on this list did as well. Kerry was only 33. I'd like to think he had at least another decade in him, had he stayed healthy. We have the legacy of his nephews, Marshall and Ross, and his daughter Lacey who have all contributed to the business. 

Eddie Guerrero is someone  I admittedly did not appreciate enough when he was alive. Yes, I thought he was an amazing wrestler. First, really seeing him in action in ECW. His time in WCW and WWE made him a household name. I never dreamed he'd be the man to beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, but he did it, and despite his brief reign, he made a lasting impression.

I was stunned when I went into work in 2005 and learned the news that Eddie had died. His star was still shining so brightly. At just 38, I figured he had at least another run or two as World Champion in him. I have no doubt he'd still be involved in the business in some capacity today. Viva La Raza!

Owen Hart's death may be the most tragic in wrestling history. I listened in shock to Jim Ross tell us that Owen had fallen and a short time later that he had died from his injuries. It made no sense, and I couldn't wrap my brain around it.

While wrestling as the Blue Blazer, Owen was likely to win the Intercontinental Championship the night of his death. There are plenty of stories that Owen had intended to retire from the ring in a few years. I believe had he lived and continued to wrestle, he would have had at least one run at the top of the mountain. 

Brian Pillman was someone that caught my eye during his time in Stampede. I read about him in the Apter mags, and a short time later, he ended up in WCW as Flyin' Brian. His character development was as amazing as his skills inside the ring.

I loved it when Brian showed up in the WWF in 1996 and looked forward to him being healthy enough to wrestle full-time again. In fact, I was in the crowd at In Your House Badd Blood in St. Louis in October 1997. However, they never announced to the crowd that Pillman had died, just that the match wasn't happening. I got the news the next morning after calling a wrestling hotline. I was crushed.

I'm happy to see Brian Pillman, Jr. is tearing it up in the ring. I have no doubt his father is smiling down and so very proud.  

As far as honorable mentions, I have to add Gino Hernandez and Brodie Lee to the conversation. I hated Gino when I was a kid as he was a huge foil for the Von Erichs, but I know he was a great performer with the benefit of hindsight, and I believe he would have been a huge star in WCW or WWE eventually. And we just lost Brodie Lee last year as he seemed to reach new heights of popularity in the ring. His potential was finally being realized at the time of his death.

It is hard saying goodbye to our heroes. They're gone but not forgotten. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Mt. Rushmore: SummerSlam Main Events

By Kevin Hunsperger @kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter Listen to the podcast  Follow my blog with Bloglovin  

SummerSlam makes its return this Saturday, so I thought, what better topic for this week's Mt. Rushmore than my favorite SummerSlam main events. Please note I said my favorite vs. the best because I think those are two very different things. My list, as you will soon see, is built mostly on nostalgia. 

Courtesy: WWE

John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan (2013):
This match, I realize, is probably a happy accident in terms of how it all played out. Daniel Bryan, my favorite wrestler of that era, was finally getting some main event love. Sure, he'd been the World Champion earlier, but I felt like he was truly over now, and the powers that be seemed to be on board.

He challenged John Cena to a great match for the WWE Championship and ends up winning. I was pumped until Randy Orton comes out to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase. Triple H, who was the special guest referee, double-crossed Bryan, and Orton won. Of course, the underdog prevailed in the end, winning the undisputed championship six months later at WrestleMania XXX (a match I was there to see). 

Courtesy: WWE

British Bulldog vs. Bret Hart (1992):
My all-time favorite tag team is the British Bulldogs. In the 80s, that duo feuded with the Hart Foundation. The matches were incredible. Fast forward a few years, and now Davey Boy Smith and his brother-in-law Bret Hart are feuding for the Intercontentinal Championship. Both men were good guys, but that didn't stop them from bringing out all the stops.

Hart and Smith closed the show at Wembley Stadium. It was the first and only time in SummerSlam history that the event was held overseas and that the IC Title match was in the main event. Bulldog got the victory in this hard-fought match. Unfortunately, his reign and his time in WWE were cut short, but that doesn't take away from this incredible matchup. 

Courtesy: WWE

The Mega Powers vs. The Mega Bucks (1988):
 I can't leave off the first SummerSlam main event. This was reffed by Jesse 'the Body' Ventura and featured the new WWF champ Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan teaming up against Andre the Giant and 'The Million Dollar Man' Ted DiBiase. It was a solid main event for the inaugural event. 

The match ends with Elizabeth showing off her legs and distracting the Mega Bucks. It was great storytelling as the seeds were being planted for the eventual breakup of the Mega Powers, which would culminate at WrestleMania V.

Courtesy: WWE

Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter, Col. Mustafa, and Gen. Adnan (1991):
What an awesomely bad main event this was. It's the era I grew up in. I have to pick it. I loved this time and everything that was going on in the WWF at the time. Newcomer Sid Justice had just arrived and was the referee for the match. Ric Flair was being talked about coming in at the time. I was so stoked.

But yes, the match quality here was low, but it was fun. As a fan, I had no clue about the tension with the Warrior at the time. Little did we know that would be the last time we'd see him for six months until WrestleMania VIII. As I write this, I'm noticing many connections between SummerSlam and WrestleMania... go figure.

So what are your favorites? I think John Cena and Roman Reigns will close the show this year and do an excellent job. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Mt. Rushmore: Ric Flair's 80s Feuds

By Kevin Hunsperger @kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter Listen to the podcast  Follow my blog with Bloglovin  

Last week, I launched a new concept for the blog with the Mt. Rushmore of Hulk Hogan's 80s feuds. So it only seems fitting that we hop over to the NWA side and look at Ric Flair's top four feuds in the 80s. I found coming up with this list more difficult than Hogans. I also discovered last week that most people agreed with my picks (read them here); however, this week, I expect to get some backlash. 

I'll preface this by saying in the 80s, I despised Ric Flair. He was one of those wrestlers I loved to hate. However, today, he's my all-time favorite. Sometime in the late 80s, I began respecting Flair and becoming a fan. By the time he arrived in the WWF in 1991, I was all-in with Naitch. 

Dusty Rhodes
has to be the best foe for Flair of all time and not just the 80s, right? 
I mean, Rhodes-Flair has to be on the Mt. Rushmore of wrestling feuds. Maybe I'll make that list soon. Their battles in the ring and on the microphone were what made Jim Crockett Promotions so great. Saturday nights at 6:05 (5:05 CST) was where I spent my time taking in all the action.

The bloody battles they had in singles, tag team, six-man tag, and even War Games matches were the personification of intense. Trading the NWA Championship, main eventing the Great American Bashes, and Starrcade kept fans at the edge of the seat time after time. The two even battled it out in the final WCW pay-per-view in 2001 in a tag team match with Dustin Rhodes and Jeff Jarrett as their respective partners.  

Ricky Steamboat had a few runs against Flair. Since I'm sticking to just 80s opponents, I feel justified in this as the two had some great matches in the early 80s before Steamboat heading to the WWF, where he spent the mid-80s and returned to the NWA in 1989 to face Naitch.

At that time, the two put on some highly regarded matches, including the night Steamboat won the big gold belt from Flair. Their trilogy is still talked about to this day. (I know both have acknowledged their non-televised matches in the 70s were even better.) 

Harley Race may be a surprise pick to some, but when I was growing up and watching Wrestling at the Chase, I remember Race calling out Flair and wanting another shot at the NWA Championship. The two traded the belt, and Flair beat Race for the gold in the main event of the very first Starrcade. My buddy Chad Smart has told the story of watching these two battle it out in a high school gym at the first wrestling show he attended. So whether on closed-circuit television or a small house show, these two always seemed to go at it.

Lex Luger is probably the most controversial of my choices. But I'll explain as best I can. When Luger came to JCP and joined the Four Horsemen, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he'd split off and challenge Flair for the belt. As his nickname implied, Luger was the 'total package .' When he was kicked out of the Horsemen, I fully expected him to beat Flair for the championship.

I was genuinely disappointed when he came up short at the 1988 Great American Bash, and the match was called due to Luger's intense bleeding. Then a few months later, I was certain Luger would beat Flair at Starrcade but again came up short. In the meantime, it seems like the company was grooming Sting for that spot. (By the way, Sting will definitely be on the Mt. Rushmore of Flair opponents in the 90s.) 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Mt. Rushmore: Hulk Hogan's 80s Feuds


Kevin Hunsperger @kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter Listen to the podcast  Follow my blog with Bloglovin  

It's been a long time coming, but I'm doing something to get this decade-old blog up and running again. While it's not an original idea by any means, I am going to start writing weekly with a Mt. Rushmore theme. I mean, wrestling fans these days seem to create some sort of Mt. Rushmore of Wrestling ____ all the time, so why not me? And for the record, I actually took a picture of Mt. Rushmore I'm using while on vacation earlier this summer in South Dakota. 

First up, the Mt. Rushmore of Hulk Hogan's 80s Feuds. With the recent passing of 'Mr. Wonderful' Paul Orndorff, I got to thinking about his significance in pro wrestling and quickly deduced that he is on the shortlist of Hulk Hogan's greatest foes (not just the 80s, but of all-time).

Courtesy: WWE
Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan were the best of friends during the first few years of Hulkamania. Andre was in the locker room celebrating Hogan's victory over the Iron Shiek at Madison Square Garden. They teamed up to face members of the Heenan Family. That's why it was all the more shocking when in January 1987, Andre declared war on the Hulkster and hired Bobby Heenan as his manager.

The two had a huge main event at WrestleMania III and went on to battle against each other for the next 18 months, meeting in tag matches, singles matches, and the big blue steel cage. More than 33 million people watched their epic match on NBC's 'The Main Event' in February 1988. I still remember crying when the crooked referee counted Hogan's shoulders to the mat. Yes, I was 14 at the time... 

Courtesy: WWE
'Rowdy' Roddy Piper was the man I loved to hate in the early days of Hulkamania. He set the standard for a wrestling heel back in those days. He was a master on the mic and someone hard to beat in the ring. Hot Rod was front and center in the Rock 'n Wrestling Connection which, of course, led to the first-ever WrestleMania. While we never got a one-on-one encounter between Hogan and Piper at WrestleMania, their work before the event to set the tone for 80s wrestling is unforgettable. 

Courtesy: WWE
'Macho Man' Randy Savage came into the WWF in 1985 and quickly set his sites on Hogan's championship. The two had some great matches even before Savage won the Intercontinental Championship. Those matches continued to impress after Savage's win over Tito Santana. Then, of course, we had the epic build of the Mega Powers. This is without a doubt one of the best stories ever told in wrestling. It wove in nicely with the previously mentioned Andre the Giant match on NBC.

The explosion of the Mega Powers added a new element to WWF programming. It all came to a head at WrestleMania V, with Hogan once again winning the gold. Savage tried the rest of the year to regain his belt but always came up short. The Hogan-Savage story worked on so many levels and one that the creative team could depend upon. 

Courtesy: WWE
'Mr. Wonderful' Paul Orndorff, as I mentioned, is the inspiration for this blog. He, too, had some matches with Hogan before the first WrestleMania. His association with PIper made him another one of those guys I loved to hate. But then, after the mishap at Mania, Orndorff became a good guy and teamed off and on with the Hulkster. Then in the summer of 1986, Orndorff snapped and turned on Hogan, rejoining former manager Bobby Heenan. 

This feud was the most serious threat to ending Hulk's first title reign. I thought WWF might make the switch a couple of times, most notably on the January 1987 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. Inside the Big Blue Cage, the match saw both Hogan and Orndorff escape at the exact same moment.

So there you have it. A very concise but precise list of Hulk Hogan's best four feuds in the 80s. Who is on your Mt. Rushmore of the Hulkster's foes?