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Re: 20 years Ago: Wrestling Observer

June 13th, 1988

WWF
-- There was a 5/31 TV taping of Wrestling Challenge in Fresno, and there were some small concerns about the crowd size. The day of the event they only had 3,000 tickets sold, but on the day of the show, they sold 4,000 more tickets, which Dave calls a pretty incredible walk-up, and they ended up filling 7,000 seats of a 10,904 capacity arena. Superstars was taped on 6/1 in Oakland before 12,120 fans in a 15,891 seat building. The paid attendance was closer to 9,000 and the gate was $110,000. "This was my first chance to see a taping since they were in San Francisco last August and this show was a lot better than the SF show, which wasn't hard. Really, the atmosphere at the show was impressive, and they do a great job putting on a 'show' but I think it's a detriment to any fan attending to have any knowledge of pro wrestling because that would make the show harder to enjoy." There were 29 matches on the show, which Dave agrees is too many, but he also says you know what you're getting into when you go to a TV taping. Dave says they did a really good job getting the matches in and out without huge delays between matches. The entire show was over in four hours, an improvement from the 4 hours, 45 minutes taping the last time at the Cow Palace, a show which saw fans boo everyone -- heels and faces -- because they were sick of squash matches and wanted to see Hogan and go home. "Two other negatives before getting into the report are in the advertising of the show. On the TV hype, they continually pushed the Honkeytonk Man vs. Brutus Beefcake match as one with Jimmy Hart banned from the building, however they forgot the stipulation that night, Hart was at ringside and in fact caused the win by Honkeytonk through interference, and then they had the gall to announce the next main event in town would be Honkeytonk vs. Beefcake with Hart banned from the building." Also, they advertised free T-shirts to all fans attending, but that was forgotten also. "I thought the idea of 15,000 fans wearing Randy Savage T-shirts would have been the greatest propaganda effect in the world, and maybe they'll do it some day, but this wasn't the day." Dave says overall, the fans seemed to enjoy the show but were exhausted near the end of it. He says it was way more organized than the AWA "Night of the Potato" show in Las Vegas the month before. Dave gave the Brady Boone vs Steve Lombardi dark match ***1/4 and called it the best match of the night.

-- All WWF broadcasting will now be done in their brand new studio in Connecticut with an NFL Today type set up. Jesse Ventura was not even at the taping. Vince McMahon was there, but was backstage running the show and never came out in front of the crowd.

-- Some memorable lines from Dave's full review of the show, without going into reviews of 29 squash matches:

"On a card which includes Andre the Giant, it's quite a statement to say this guy was by far the worst worker on the card. Actually he was so blown up he was arm weary, kind of like a wrestler in the third round or a boxer in late rounds, that he couldn't really even beat his chest. He was sucking air bad before the bell rang. He also got one of the three or four best reactions on the show for his musical intro, although until his press slam, the crowd was quiet for his 60 second squash." -- Dave on Ultimate Warrior

"The Big Boss Man squashed a kid who looked to be no more than 17-years-old named Louie something or other."

"There are an awful lot of fans who don't realize Bret Hart is a babyface."

"This guy had more heat on him than anyone I've seen in recent memory. Fans really hate his guts because of the Jake angle ... I haven't seen a heel so universally hated in who knows how long. Even Roddy Piper always had a large throng of fans, but with the exception of a few women -- and I mean very few women, maybe a dozen -- everyone booed Rude. I am impressed."

"Muraco gets the 'I'll kill you' look on his face and chases Hart to the back. Hart beat him by a good 40 feet in a 60 feet sprint. A guy behind me joked that Hart was the best athlete on the card."

"Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty made their return to the WWF and already broke their previous record for longevity by making it to the second night (they debuted in Fresno) ... My own opinion is for several reasons, these two guys are exactly what Titan needed, because their weakest spot in the line-up was babyface tag teams (Bulldogs are stale, Bees are 70s style wrestlers, and both Strike Force and the Barbie Dolls are too pretty and booed by fans) and none are over. They've never done the Rock & Roll gimmick even though every other promotion has done it to death, and now past death. They got a good reaction considering a lot of fans didn't know who they were (a lot did, however). They are called 'The Rockers', becaues Verne trademarked the name Midnight Rockers."

"Beefcake is over huge here because the poor folks in the Bay area actually take pride in his being billed from San Francisco. To me that's like taking pride in living in the AIDS capital of the world." (My note: Good Lord ...)

"Bad News Brown gave Devon DeLeon with the enzuigiri. Do you realize how over Bad News holding that black glove in the air after the match would have been had he done it in 1969? You'd think Verne came up with that gimmick since nobody, and I mean nobody, understand the significance of it. The only problem is Verne just learned last year that baseball broke the color barrier so it'll be at least a decade before soemone tells him about John Carlos and Lee Evans in the 1968 Olympics."

-- From Electronic Media magazine: "While sports prognostication is normally a risky business, the scenario of who becomes the World Wrestling Federation's champ is scripted out months in advance. It's based on the popularity of the wrestler, not his record, according to the results each performer inspires in WWF's multimillion dollar merchandising sales. Based on that criteria, insiders are laying odds that the next WWF champion will be 'Million Dollar Man' Ted DiBiase. But look for Hulk Hogan to reclaim the crown in a matter of months." Dave expands on this by saying Savage is drawing better as champion than anyone would have expected, and Hogan will draw against Andre and Boss Man in fall, with or without the belt. "Really, this summer reminds me of New Japan's 1983 summer. Everyone assumed the big boom for New Japan (when they sold out every night -- well actually 90% of shows from January through August sold out) was because of the big draw, Antonio Inoki and without Inoki, the business was sputter. Many assumed that this summer, without Hogan, WWF would sputter. New Japan didn't, and it touched off the biggest and most well-known 'scandal' of the decade. WWF won't have anything of the sort, but people are realizing the WWF will survive just fine without Hogan, which conceivably could hurt Hogan's 'pull' even though he is certainly still the main man. There isn't going to be a coup for the top spot because now more than ever, wrestlers are paranoid, and have a right to be, because nobody isn't expendable right now. If Hogan were to never return, sure, WWF would be hurt, but they would survive and still flourish even though they wouldn't reach the Hogan-level of interest for a while -- maybe a long while. And Titan really has no viable competition right now because the NWA is in financial turmoil. From a business standpoint, it looks logical to keep the title on Savage if he can continue to draw. However, the question is, does Hogan's ego need the belt and will he demand the belt upon his return? Will he have the same power to basically call all his shots as he had when he left and when many felt he was the entire promotion and the WWF would collapse while he was gone? If Savage's drawing power fails, then sure, give the thing to DiBiase for the interim and go to Hogan. But if not, you've got two attractions (Savage and Hogan) who can draw in the fall, and with Titan expanding its schedule, two good houses per night are better than one. In fact, Savage as champion may be even more valuable because Savage will wrestle 10 days on, three days off as everyone else does. Hogan will only work weekends and TV nights -- so mainly three nights most weeks."

-- The WWF will be expanding its schedule starting on 7/7. Not only will they have a C team, but they will also have a D team, which will do more small towns and charity shows. They will generally run cities considered too small for them to bother with in the past. They see this as their chance to really make the big kill and finish the job against the remaining territories. On the charity shows, the WWF can offer a better deal than the territories can afford to offer. "In other words, say Ron Fuller is trying to get a charity show in some small Kentucky town. Titan can offer a better deal, and Fuller doesn't get the show, and that's one less night of work for Fuller's crew." It will also allow the WWF to seriously deplete the NWA roster if they decide to do so.

-- The WWF has signed Terry Taylor, the Iron Sheik, and possibly Owen Hart. Iron Sheik has to go to rehab before reporting to work.

-- The WWF drew its biggest crowd ever in Oregon on 5/30 (they couldn't even get over 5,000 in the past with Hogan in Portland), drawing 7,500 headlined by Brutus Beefcake vs Honky Tonk Man.

-- Tama quit the WWF and Sivi Afi has replaced him in The Islanders. "In one fell swoop they go from one of the best teams in wrestling to one of the worst." Dave has heard two reasons for Tama quitting. One is that he was upset with his Wrestlemania check. The other was a family pride thing, as he was pressured by the rest of his family to walk out after Vince got rid of Sika.

-- "You'll get a kick out of this one. At the tapings in Rochester, MN on 5/11, Vince gave the troops a speech about the evils of steroids, saying that our TV will make you larger than life and you don't need them. This came in the wake of an employee at some auditorium accidentally finding steroids and a needle left over from a WWF show and the employee freaked out because he was afraid he might have gotten AIDS or something from it." (My note: What's with Dave's AIDS hysteria this week?)

-- 6/3 in Tacoma, WA drew 11,000 fans headlined by Savage vs DiBiase. 6/4 in Boston drew 8,000 fans headlined by Andre vs Duggan. 6/4 in Los Angeles drew 10,000 fans headlined by Savage vs DiBiase. 5/28 in Providence, RI, drew 5,400 fans headlined by Savage vs DiBiase.

-- There is talk of a valet feud between Raven (My note: Who?? Dave says she's Rude's sister) and Cheryl Roberts, but Dave is told there will be no physical interaction if it happens.

NWA
-- The Clash line-up was changed with a Barry Windham vs Brad Armstrong opening match added, which Dave thinks can make the entire card if they're given time. The TBS press release about the Clash heavily features Dusty Rhodes, calling him "one of the two biggest stars in professional wrestling today, along with Ric Flair." The Windham bio was obviously old, as he was called "a frequent tag team partner of Lex Luger."

-- The NWA has committed to additional Clash shows on 9/7 and 12/7.

-- The Great American Bash has cleared 9 million homes, so it should be available in about the same number of homes as Wrestlemania IV. If they only do half as well, it will be huge for them and will take care of many of their financial problems.

-- Because Rude and Roberts' feud is getting over big in the WWF, the NWA has put more heat on the Jimmy Garvin/Kevin Sullivan feud with Precious, with Jimmy Garvin doing a terrific interview on TBS admitting Precious is his wife.

-- The TV taping on Memorial Day in Savannah, GA drew $40,000, one of the biggest ever in that city. 6/3 in Richmond drew 1,500 fans, one of the smallest crowds in years, headlined by Luger vs Windham.

-- The Midnight Express and Jim Cornette attacked The Fantastics on TBS while Bobby Fulton was demonstrating how the straitjacket works. Dave says he knows people who weren't aware of the Mid South angle at all who still thought it was really predictable.

-- Dave says they are doing a great job hyping Flair vs Luger as THE world title match of the year for the Bash. Dave says most people he talks to expect a title change. "Let's just say nothing is certain right now."

-- Steve Williams and Nikita Koloff have formed a tag team.

MEMPHIS
-- To set up Hennig vs Lawler on 6/6, Hennig was in the studio making fun of the local Toyota dealer who sponsors the TV show. He attacked him before Eddie Marlin, Jerry Jarrett, and Randy Hales had to intervene. Later, Hennig came out and demanded Lawler come out. He destroyed the set, the table and the backdrop, but no Lawler. Finally, he grabbed Lance Russell by the neck and said he would count to ten and if Lawler didn't come out, he would beat up Russell. At seven, he came out, but was held back by Gary Young and Robert Fuller. Hennig spit on him, slapped him in the face, and kicked him low. The sponsor "guaranteed" Lawler's win by saying they would refund all ticket money to the fans if Lawler didn't beat him.

-- Dutch Mantell seems to have already disappeared.

WCCW
-- The Memorial Day card in Ft. Worth drew 1,500 fans, which is their biggest crowd there in a long time.

-- Jerry Lawler will not wrestle Kerry Von Erich in Dallas after all.

-- Kamala starts up part-time in mid June.

-- Angel of Death is leaving for Stampede and John Tatum & Jack Victory want to go to Stampede also.

-- Gordy says he's his own man, not a face or heel. They are doing this to hold back the reuniting angle with Hayes.

-- Steve Casey is getting a big push and feuding with Eric Embry.

CONTINENTAL
-- They ran a TV angle where Eddie Gilbert threw powder in Austin Idol's eyes.

-- 6/1 in Meridian, MS before 600 fans saw The Nightmares face Tracy Smothers & Shane Douglas in a ***1/2 match, and Tom Prichard face Tony Anthony in a **** first blood match.

STAMPEDE
-- 5/27 in Calgary drew 500 fans. 6/4 in Edmonton was headlined by Benoit vs Smith in a **** match.

-- Many feel Makhan Singh will be cheered feuding with Jerry Brown, although the intention is for it to be the other way around.

-- There has been a ton of heat on the territory to completely eliminate blood.

OREGON
-- Johnny Ace, The Terminator, and Ricky Santana -- all of whom just quit the NWA -- appeared for Haynes' group on a 5/28 card in Oregon City.

NEW JAPAN
-- Originally, the main event on the 5/27 card in Sendai was going to be Fujinami vs Seiji Sakaguchi, but Riki Choshu did a lot of complaining about it and the match was changed. Choshu was bleeding and in his comeback, the ring broke as he was going for a lariat and when Fujinami moved out of the way, he sprained his ankle. Choshu started kicking the bad ankle and Fujinami took off his boot -- a la Randy Savage on Saturday Night's Main Event. Fujinami tried to fight with one leg but the match was stopped and ruled a no contest. The title is now held up since Fujinami couldn't continue. The title will be decided on 6/24 in Osaka. The match went 20 minutes, and Dave is told it was really good because they completely broke formula. The injury was a work.

-- Adrian Adonis was cheered heavily upon his return to Japan, but fans were shocked by his change in physique. Dave says even though he's lost quite a bit of weight, he's still much bigger than he was in his glory days.

-- Steve Williams isn't welcome back, because he cancelled appearances on several tours.

ALL JAPAN
-- 5/27 in Fukui drew a sellout 3,600 fans.

-- Baba loved Dan Spivey on the last tour and it is expected he will become a regular in Japan, getting 12 weeks of work per year just like Terry Gordy.

UWF
-- They are negotiating a Bob Backlund match against Maeda for later this year, but it's dependent upon Backlund agreeing to do the job.

JOSHI
-- Chigusa Nagayo will be retiring from AJW over summer. They are planning a baseball stadium show to commemorate her retirement. Dave says it is a very safe statement to say that she is the most popular and highest paid female wrestler in the entire history of wrestling. From a business standpoint, it's coming on the heels of retirements of Dump Matsumoto, Yukari Omori and Devil Masami. This leaves only Lioness Asuka to carry the promotion, and her popularity is down from the peak years of 1984-1986 for the Crush Girls. What is surprising, Dave says, is that AJW wants her out as badly as she wants to get out, because she is really hard to deal with, and the Matsunagas do not feel they need her enough to give in to her demands. There is also extreme paranoia about continuing to build around a fading star because they've seen so many other wrestling companies die doing this. "The promotion believes, probably truthfully, that they would be unable to get any newcomers over to top-star level as long as Chigusa is around, because her popularity can't be surpassed and nobody is close to her ability so they can't easily remove her from the top spot. At the same time, she's been on top for five years and she's no longer a hot teen idol like she and Asuka were a few years back."

-- AJW wants Yumiko Hotta and Mitsuko Nishiwaki to be their next hot babyface tag team, similarly to how the Crush Girls stepped up just as Nancy Kumi & Jackie Sato were beginning to fade. "While they will certainly have a miserable year after Chigusa leaves, if they are successful in getting these new girls over as big stars, they can start building up once again, whereas with Chigusa there is nowhere to go but down." Dave says Chigusa recognizes this as well, because she has turned into the elder statesmen of the promotion. She also has a clothing company which is doing well, and she can do the lucrative game show circuit, which Dump Matsumoto has done since her retirement, since Chigusa Nagayo is a celebrity in Japan. Dave says there is even speculation that she could start her own promotion if she can get together a few other wrestlers, but that they would need to realize that with the primary audience being teenage girls, they really want to see stars closer to their own age, both in the ring and on the concert stage.

-- "I think I mentioned before that when I was in Japan in 1984, there were many famous teen idols (The Crush Girls were among them), teenage girl rock star/beauty queens, etc. and when I went back three years later, there was no sign of any of them, with the exception of Chigusa (and truthfully the only reason that was is we were in a wrestling environment). They were replaced by a whole new group of teenage girl rock stars. Apparently Japan is famous for this in their pop culture, and pro wrestling, both in Japan and in this country, is pop culture when it's handled correctly. Anyway, the original fans of Chigusa have grown up, at least the ones who followed her from the bottom up. Anyway, this business of pop idols and creating wrestling stars is fun to follow."

-- Devil Masami has come out of retirement for the new JWP promotion, which was going to fold on 5/29. They will not be running a full schedule, just spot shows promoted by the local mob.

OTHER
-- The June issue of Washington Monthly has a story by Irv Muchnick on commission regulation in pro wrestling, which pokes fun at the way wrestling is regulated in the United States. The tentative plan for Muchnick's Von Erichs story is for it to air in Penthouse in September.

-- Scott Hall is in Europe working for Otto Wanz.

-- The AWA is running a Battle of the Belts card on Labor Day, and hopes to get wrestlers from Memphis, WCCW, and Oregon

-- Dave on the letters page asking about the possibility of Ric Flair going to the WWF:

"Being that I truly believe there is a greater chance of Flair going to Titan now than ever before (don't get that rumor mill going, it hasn't happened yet), it's an interesting question. I'm convinced that if Titan wanted to, it could make Flair into a tremendous drawing card, but the way this business is, I'm not sure this would happen. You have to realize that more than anyone else in this business, Flair represents, to the vast majority of fans, the NWA itself. If Flair jumps, unlike Ricky Steamboat or Greg Valentine or even Harley Race, in many fans' eyes he will still be an NWA wrestler, just fighting against WWF guys. Because of the ego involved, in order for the WWF to say, 'See, we were better all along', their office may come up with reasons (and valid ones, age, size, thrives on long matches) to convince themselves he won't get over, and of course that would turn out to be prophetic because they would push him in such a way where that would be the case. Remember, that if Flair were to go to Titan and gain his rightful position, which would be right at the top, in a sense it would be Titan admitting parity with the NWA which is something they've strived to disavow. I can recall when Vince McMahon was on a Larry King interview a while back and literally one caller after another brought up Flair's name while McMahon was going on how his group had all the top stars and has no competition in the business (which, while somewhat true today, wasn't at all true at the time) and King said, 'boy this kid Flair must be something.' McMahon basically complimented Flair as being a great athlete, but followed it up while fans talked of a match with Hogan as saying he didn't think if Flair came to the WWF his size would allow him to be any competition to Hogan. Of course, Flair is 38 now, and at this stage of his career, the lure of a big bucks run has to be more tempting than ever, because even though he is still one of the game's top performers, he is facing that inevitable battle of being an elder statesman in what is a young man's business."
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