By Martin Dixon ( @BunnySuicida )
And so a bold new era begins. I leave the cut and thrust of the Monday Night War and delve deeper into the dark recesses of the WWE network for something really old school and find myself beginning a new education in the AWA, the American Wrestling Association. I had always been aware of the AWA and it’s history but only through reference material and retrospectives. Never had I actually sat down and watched any shows from beginning to end so in an effort to refresh my blogging and the wider scope TWx3 affords me, I fired up the Network and dove headfirst into the Vault section to watch the topic of this post, the March 4th, 1986 edition of AWA ESPN Championship Wrestling, from the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas.
A snazzy CGI intro heralds the start of a packed 45 minutes of wrestling. The show is introduced by the dapper Larry Nelson who after a brief chat with the hotel’s manager who understandably shills her establishment and forgets where Scott Hall hails from, Nelson runs down the card (some of which we will actually never see but I’ll explain that later). Scott Hall and his mustache will face Pretty Boy Doug Summers, The Long Riders will wrestle despite their “controversial footwear”, Jerry Blackwell will fight Boris Zhukov and in the opening segment, a young newcomer by the name of ‘Sean Micheals’ makes his AWA debut. “It’s going to be a dandy” exclaims Nelson but time will tell I guess.
I must say it’s fun watching something for the very first time with no prior knowledge, even from historical text so I’m going into all this totally blind and right away I knew this was a good choice as soon as I laid eyes on the gangly ‘Micheals’ in his headband and sparkly purple waistcoat as he prepares to face Buddakhan who neither I or the announcers (including Greg Gagne) can divulge any more information on. Not that it matters, Khaney boy here is the Shawn Stasiak to Sean’s Kurt Angle in that he is here for the future HBK to start his run off with a win. Buddakhan doesn’t make it easy for the youngster however throughout the match which begins with a lock up where the bigger Khan uses his bulk to shove Michaels around until taken off his feet by the popular debutant with a fireman’s carry. Michaels continues to frustrate Khan with a waistlock takedown and some great amateur wrestling style holds on the mat in a far cry from the flashy “Heartbreak Kid” I’m so used to.
A sneaky punch from Buddakhan during a second lock up gives him the opportunity he needs to play spoiler and rough up the handsome Michaels including a spot I have genuinely never seen before. This spot sees Khan rolling HBK up with a traditional schoolboy pin that earns him a two count but instead of releasing the hold when Sean kicks out, he keeps his weight pressing down on his opponent forcing Michaels to kick out multiple times before shoving Khan away with a big push from his legs. I really liked the realism of that little sequence.
The two exchange armbars with Khan being admonished by the referee for using the ropes to escape Sean’s clutches with him telling Khan to “wrestle your way out” in the future. Support for Budda grows as one fan in attendance cheers him on and boos the “pretty boy” Michaels. Buddakhan has made at least one fan it seems.
We see a glimpse of the high flying Shawn Michaels we know and love as he leap frogs over Khan to deliver a dropkick after he spent most of the match with a more traditional mat based style.
Michaels continues his assault with a series of forearms to the face as well as mounted punches in the corner followed by a backflip and backdrop in a great sequence that illicits many high pitched squeals from the ladies in attendance.
Michaels finally finishes off Buddakhan with a superkick and splash off the top rope for a debut win that has more than a few boos from the men in the crowd who dislike the handsome Michaels.
So my first morsel of AWA wrestling was a very enjoyable match that was basic by today’s standards bit felt very “real” and the AWA’s production values shine through. The well lit arena and good picture quality are better than the WWF’s WrestleMania 2 from the same year.
After the match the victorious Sean Michaels is joined in the ring by Larry Nelson for a few words. The humble Michaels puts over the competition in the AWA before talking about his ‘boyhood dream’ of winning a world title but not before winning the tag team titles with a partner to be determined. This was in another dimension compared to the brash and, well, “degenerate” Michaels we are all familiar with.
I knew watching this episode was a good idea as in the next match I was introduced to my new favourite wrestler ring name of Bun Boy Barton, clad in generic white singlet and plain mask as he teams up with the lanky Tim Patterson to face Kid Rock and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Oh sorry I mean Wild Bill Irwin (later known as The Goon in the WWF) and Steve “Hog” Irwin, collectively known as the Long Riders. The story of this match is that the cowboy boots favoured by the Irwin boys are causing debate within the AWA with many questioning their legality due to the pointed tips and hard soles. I can see their point as two vicious kicks to Bun Boy’s mask are enough to give the rough, tough Minnesota pair a decisive victory over their opponents. The match itself was a very brawling affair in which the Long Riders did impress with their basic but ‘raw-bones’ style of battering and chucking their opposite numbers. I’m secretly hoping for more of them in the smattering of other AWA shows to watch and for pure hilarity’s sake, I hope for a lot more of El Generico 0.1, Bun Boy Barton.
Larry Nelson is back to interview Wild Bill and Hog who are angry with the AWA Championship Committee who are hesitant to give the Irwins a championship match as well as the champions Scott Hall and Curt Hennig. Bill accuses the champs of ducking them and even insinuates that the two “Pretty Boys” are favoured by the Commitee for other, salacious reasons. He basically calls them gay, ah the tolerant 80s.
“Big” Scott Hall brings all the fringing in the state of Nevada on his outfit and good lord that mustache! Sorry I got distracted for a second there. It’s just that Hall’s top lip is home to perhaps the greatest facial hair in wrestling history. Dammit focus man!
The future Razor Ramon is here to take on the distinctly un-pretty “Pretty Boy” Doug Summers in a singles bout. Hall is in phenomenal physical shape here and looks every inch the superstar as he and Summers engage in a very even handed match, both exchange holds and strikes with neither gaining much of an advantage over the other as on commentary we learn that in his spare time, Hall wrestles alligators at a Florida carnival, God I love kayfabe.
Summers eventually begins to take control by impressively throwing the massive Hall around with suplexes and takedowns but can’t quite keep Hall down for the count. After taking a huge bodyslam Summers resorts to classic heel tactics, hitting a low blow to the “lower stomach” and repeatedly raking the eyes of “Too Sweet”.
All of this is in vain however as the night belongs to Hall who hurls Summers across the ring with a hiptoss, another bodyslam and finally a powerslam to seal the deal and end another inoffensive encounter. After the bell tag champs Hall and Curt Hennig (who had been in Hall’s corner) have a chat with Nelson as is customary it seems. Again the humble and determined hero interviews of both men are so jarring to see when all I know is the “Perfect”, “Survey Time”, “Machismo” and “Hey Yo!” of their later incarnations. It’s like happening upon a mirror universe where everything looks familiar but behaves quite differently. The point of this was that both Hennig and Hall want a crack at Stan Hansen’s world championship. Rather them than me I wouldn’t dare deliberately anger “The Lariat”.
In what turns out to be the final segment of the show (the main event is totally missing from the WWE network version), Larry Nelson is joined by Larry Zybszko to discuss the popular Marty Jannetty who is delighting crowds with his rock star looks and high flying. We are shown a highlight video of Marty doing his thing before Jannetty himself pulls up a chair to chat. Dear Lord, Marty was not put upon this Earth to deliver dialogue as he mumbles and stumbles through a speech revealing that him and Sean Michaels are to team as The US Express to make a run for the tag team championship with him promising their unique aerial moves with counteract the weight and size differences between them and their often larger opponents. Larry Z steps in to berate Marty over his less than enthusiastic delivery and Jannetty’s lack of discipline (he means in the ring but if only he knew eh?) and as the atmosphere becomes heated, Larry opts to end the segment before violence erupts.
And that’s it, although I can live with no Boris Zhukov, it would’ve been nice to see an AWA ‘main event’ but that didn’t stop me enjoying this fascinating peek into a wrestling “else world”. Seeing such early and such different versions of wrestlers I would grow to love and seeing the stellar production of the AWA tv has left me with a real desire to watch all the AWA I can before sampling the likes of
World Class and Mid-South wrestling. If you have the network and especially if you’re an old school wrestling fan based in the UK where the AWA never really had a presence this is an essential watch for an education in what could’ve been.
As always thank you for reading and your feedback is greatly appreciated in helping me improve as I continue telling everyone That Was The Wrestling That Was.