Remember the good ‘ol days of pro wrestling? You’re probably too young. But if you’re old like me, maybe it takes you back to a happier time. Ah, I miss those days when the business wouldn’t overkill the roster- and what I mean by that is that in today’s pro wrestling product, there is no room for imagination; there is no room to daydream and fantasy book; there is no room for the excitement of a dream match.
It’s what made John Cena vs. The Rock at WrestleMania so special. You had a match that was built up for a year, and there was no physical activity that would take away from the magic of two opponents locking up and exchanging moves for the first time in their careers. It was a never before seen moment, and it successfully drew an audience (and profits).
When wrestlers are wrestling each other EVERY SINGLE WEEK, over and over again, you have nothing left to crave – there is no “want”. If anything, you just “want” it to be over! This video gives you the sense of what it was like to see something that you have never seen before. Something that was different to the eye and to the senses.
At the time, The Ultimate Warrior was the most popular wrestler in the company. Any match he was in generated an automatic interest. Would The Warrior squash his opponent in seconds like he did to The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental title at SummerSlam 88, or would the opponent go toe to toe for an extended period with the face-painted maniac? In this case, there was another element that added to the magic.
Tully Blanchard was a seasoned veteran – one who made his name while competing in the NWA and as one of the key members of the legendary Four Horsemen. His arrival in the WWF, along with tag team partner Arn Anderson, was a happening that real wrestling fans clamored. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and we didn’t get NWA programming. I had learned about the Four Horsemen from the thousands of wrestling magazines I had stacked in my room. Those magazines educated me and spoke volumes putting over how great these wrestlers were through rankings, articles, and black and white photos – yet never experiencing it first-hand in real form.
So when Blanchard and Anderson finally arrived on the WWF scene, under the guidance of Bobby Heenan, it was an opportunity for me to finally experience what they hype was all about. And in their matches with The Rockers, I can confidently say that I have never seen better tag team matches in history of the entire business…including the present day.
Sure, Tully had success as a singles competitor in the NWA while holding multiple championships, but my real exposure to him was in his tag team matches when he worked as half of a unit. And although this was a dark match, hearing that Tully was tapped for a singles match against The Ultimate Warrior in the WWF completely blew my mind.
Tully could have faced anyone in a singles match and I would have been happy- but The Ultimate Warrior was different. Yes, I knew the Warrior was going to win the match, but I didn’t have any interest in the final result.
Even at a ripe young age, I knew The Warrior was limited in his ring work. After he shook the ropes, what was left? Would this be yet another squash match because WWF fans were already pre-disposed to seeing Tully exclusively as a tag team competitor? Would they automatically assume he couldn’t cut it on his own, thus later using the excuse that he’s not accustomed to not being able to tag out, or was Tully planning on running circles around this jacked up clown? Was he about to expose The Warrior for what he really was – an overhyped, brilliantly marketed character from the inner McMahon vision? Was Tully going to take liberties and stretch The Warrior since it was a non-televised event? How would the Warrior respond to the scholar’s ring psychology that made masterpieces against the likes of Shawn Michaels in tag action? How would The Warrior respond to a match that actually made sense?
As a kid, I knew I would never grow up to be a wrestler. But as a movie addict, my obsession with pro wrestling was not only in the storytelling, but in the match-making, and the hypothetical scenarios of pairing opponents and pre-determining their creative outcomes. I was fascinated with having control and manipulating the audiences emotions while strategically blueprinting my ‘what if” fantasies.
The difference between what went on in my head and what I saw on TV was that I treated it as if it were REAL. I studied each individual wrestler and their body of work; I calculated the pairings and weighed the pros and cons; I gave precision and reason for every element of its design; and in essence, I created a pro wrestling “Moneyball” formula by isolating the wrestlers and structuring tiers in ways that have NEVER been conceived.
When you read my work on the current product, you mistake it as a negative opinion as opposed to constructive criticism. When most watch the current product, they’re biased for what they want, and not necessarily what makes sense. Most get lost in the entertainment and forget that this used to be presented as pseudo-sport. And while Triple H has been criticized for his “50/50” booking, it is one of the key components that killed the business.
Now when I say “kill the business”, most of you will take it out of context and argue that the business is more profitable now than it has ever been. I’m not talking about rich in profit – I’m talking about rich in art. The ART was understandably killed for the sake of business, and no one in their right mind would choose to be a starving artist over being a millionaire.
Many of you reading these words right now were introduced to wrestling during the Attitude Era – I wasn’t. I’m 41 years old and have been watching the business for at least thirty-five years, which pre-dates WrestleMania. You may see me as the old guy who can’t let go, but in reality, this generation is built on making what was old new again. The wrestling business and its fans suffer from a severe case of A.D.D. – where they live in the immediate moment, while simultaneously thinking about where they are going next.
The 50/50 booking robs you fans of dreaming; it robs you fans of fantasizing; and robs you of being truly and deeply passionate about pro wrestling. You will NEVER remember or be fully invested in ANY of the storylines of this generation (or the last twenty years) because they have no emotional value. The matches they build up for a pay per view have been seen dozens of times leading into the event – thus not giving you anything to want or need. Wins and Losses (although pre-determined) mean nothing to the value of the performer, because 50/50 booking forces them to share the equity without there ever being a decisive victor and loser in the feud. The wrestling business died with the nWo and DX – the two last great pro wrestling stories ever told.
So why is Ultimate Warrior vs Tully Blanchard so important?
Because it is a match that should have never happened; it was a fantasy someone had; and, it gave the fans something they’ve never seen and allowed them to get lost in the art. The business can be THIS again and still maintain its profitability, but the WWE needs to re-program the minds of their viewers. Why not? They’ve done it before…and it got us HERE.
I’d love to hear your feedback with your thoughts on the match! Share them in the comments section and with me on Twitter @DieHardDerekG