Archive

Wrestling Superstars

In a tradition laid down only a few months ago, I thought it adequate use of my quiet afternoon to sort my second lot of wrestlers into a pack of trading cards. A rather different style, this time, as I feel this bunch is generally edgier than the last – this has allowed me to go rather Photoshop happy with gradients. There’s no wildcard this time, sadly, but the much sought after ‘supercard’ has made a return visit!

Whether any more will come in the future, I’m not sure. They’ve again been great fun. Throughout these series I’ve been progressively ticking off a list of potential candidates, and many are left waiting. I do have some other ideas in terms of execution, too – we’ll have to see if they pan out!

For now though, what better way to round off the year than with a class photo?

wwf-class16-3

They may look a troupe of burly, unforgiving chaps, but they ask me to wish you a very peaceful and prosperous 2017. Indeed, I’d like to say the same; enjoy yourself this evening if you’re up to mischief, and I hope next year brings you all that you want from it.

Oh, and speaking of traditions… though I’m not sure the Countdown clock takes into account this ‘leap second’ business – hat tip to JP and Guido, there – so you’ll have to bear that in mind!

To 2017! x

therock-2-1

Finally… The Rock has come back….. to Jaywalks! Cue the cheap pop! And so it is that The Rock marks the final chapter in this series of superstars, last but not by any means least.

As a young man, Dwayne Johnson always hoped to make it big in football, playing for both Miami Hurricanes and Calgary Stampeders. However, in the mid-nineties a combination of injuries and cuts left him in a deep depression, to the extent that, when called back, he declined and instead looked to a new path in professional wrestling. This didn’t come on a  whim; wrestling reached far in the family. His father was wrestling star of the seventies and eighties Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather ‘High Chief’ Peter Maivia. Several of his uncles and cousins are noted performers past and present.

The first third-generation performer to wrestle in WWF, his lineage was blended to give the name ‘Rocky Maivia’ and he made his debut in the summer of 1996, pitted against legendary Brooklyn Brawler in a series of trial matches. Johnson was so strapped for cash that he had to borrow an uncle’s trunks. Epitomising the clean-cut, smiling blue-chipper, his impact on fans was modest, to put it lightly. It wasn’t really until a year or so later, when he became part of the Nation of Domination, that audiences really felt the extent of Maivia’s prowess. Ditching the bright blue gear and going by the far harder moniker of The Rock, his sassy insults and entertaining mic work saw him propelled to leader of the stable, and subsequently Intercontinental Champion throughout 1998, giving fans all the more fuel to shout, “Rocky Sucks!”. Some hard-fought rivalries with crazy Ken Shamrock, and later Triple H, put on impressive shows and made promising signs of things to come. His SummerSlam ’98 ladder match with HHH stands out as one of my favourites of all, and indeed the first ever wrestling figures I bought were commemorative of this contest.

The sheer entertainment value of Rocky’s turns, however, would win fans over, and soon he was being cheered even as a villain. He’d be World Champion before 1998 came to a close, and later his escalating popularity was fully embraced with a turn to good guy, hailing himself ‘The People’s Champion’, and ‘The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment’. It’s hard to disagree; The Rock had already become one of wrestling’s most influential draws, and soon ended up appearing on all manner of TV shows across the world. People just seemed to love him. Shows and video games were being branded on the strength of his slogans and catchphrases.

After spending much of late 1999 battling The British Bulldog and then forming an inspired tag team with Mankind as Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection, 2000 would consist largely of trading the World title with Triple H. The two collided month after month, but it was ultimately young Olympian Kurt Angle to whom Rocky would drop the belt. He’d regain it in February of 2001, only to drop it to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XVII, with Austin turning heel in a moment many claim to be the death of the golden ‘Attitude Era’. Rock disappeared for several months to film his first movie, The Scorpion King. Acquiring a taste for the silver screen, this was the story of The Rock for the next couple of years, really; return for a few months, lose the title and then disappear to make another movie. Fans started to resent this, and by late 2002, chants of “Rocky Sucks” could be heard for the first time in years.

Returning the next year, The Rock became ‘Hollywood Rock’ – essentially capitalising on the prior reactions of the crowd, branding WWE a stepping stone and no longer a priority. Though the stint was brief, it was some of Johnson’s best work. After beating Hulk Hogan (for the second time) and Steve Austin at consecutive pay-per-views, he came unstuck against Goldberg and then vanished again – this time, actually leaving WWE to become a film star. He made one more special appearance at 2004 for the twentieth WrestleMania, but wouldn’t wrestle again until 2011, where he appeared to make a fairly substantial return and continues to drop in to this day.

A recent article identified Johnson as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, earning $64.5million in a year, so it seems he’s certainly found a way to transfer his in-ring skills with great effect. He comes across as a very humble and charitable person, both in and out of the ring; he always seemed quite happy to go out there with a young star and make them look good, for the benefit of business. And of course he was hugely entertaining… if you smell what The Rock is cookin’!

What better way of spending Christmas Eve than at a concert – a Rock concert, no less? In the pomp of his ‘Hollywood’ run, we were gifted a performance from the man himself. It is pitch-perfect. Rarely have I heard such heat from a WWE crowd.

Merry Christmas to you all!

goldust-1There have been some interesting performers stepping through the ropes over the years, many of whom have cropped up in this series. Goldust has to be tangling with the best of them. Cryptic, twisted and spooky, every outing with Goldust promised something different.

In a mode that seems at odds with the eighties hangover that was the WWF of 1995, this Oscar-esque figure would take down foes not just inside the ring, but out of the ring also. Sneak attacks, secret messages and stalking were all textbook Goldust, but an apparent favourite was to mess with his opponent’s head via flirting. With their guard down, Goldust would pounce and, unleashing his enviable ring skills, seize victory.

Meddling with minds from the get-go, Goldust notched up victory after victory before coming unstuck (and undressed, for reasons I’m glad I can’t recall) against Roddy Piper at WrestleMania XII. Around this time, a smoking valet by the name of Marlena, she too dressed entirely in gold, had begun accompanying him to the ring. To complete the gimmick, she would not stand at ringside but sit in a specially commissioned director’s chair, smoking a golden cigar.

When the pair went their separate ways in late 1997, a new look was called for: enter The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust. Over this brief but colourful period, he would appear not in his trademark golden jumpsuits but in attire to mimic rival grapplers and various celebrities – we were gifted appearances from Chynadust, Hunterdust and MarilynMansondust, among many, many more. After a subsequent run under his real name of Dustin Rhodes, Goldust was revived in 1998.

Rhodes left the WWF in 1999 after a string of brisk and uninspiring storylines. All revolved around Goldust lusting after [wrestler]’s female valet, and him coming up short before moving on. It’s curious, with the WWF at the time really pushing the envelope as they were at that point, that Goldust, a character with perhaps the biggest scope for craziness in both deranged and comedic modes, wasn’t pushed and didn’t seem to much benefit. If there were any big plans for Goldust, as was continually rumoured, they simply didn’t materialise. It was almost as if he was lost in the mix, which seems a crazier prospect than anything the character ever did!

Goldust came and went several times throughout the 2000s, most notably for me providing comedy gold a-plenty as a tag team with Booker T in 2002-3. A decade later, he seems to have settled into the WWE full-time, still running with the gimmick and recently tagging with younger brother Cody Rhodes, who even adopted the name Stardust for the union.

Goldust is quite a ridiculous character. I understand the character was quite heavily ridiculed in its infancy, which in the context of the wrestling ring must take quite some doing. But I expect those critics are silenced somewhat by the sheer fact that, more than twenty years after his debut, Goldust is still going strong and continues to evolve. In fact, many of the comments I’ve read in research claim that Rhodes is putting on some of his strongest showings today, at nearing fifty years of age. It’s all testament to the man beneath the gold and his dedication to the performance, for there are generations of wrestling fans who will never forget the name, Goldust.

jakethesnake-2Slithering into the spotlight next, we have Jake Roberts. With his long, lean physique and intimidating presence, very early on in his career, he’d earned himself a nickname, ‘The Snake’. Upon 1985 and his arrival in the WWF, it seemed only right for Roberts to further embrace the moniker and actually come to the ring with a snake, Damien. It certainly made for one of the more iconic images of the period.

The intimidation and menace of this enigma came to the fore immediately, with devious Roberts dominating opposition before unleashing Damien on their fallen prey. Watching Damien wrap himself around these men – who would then apparently convulse and foam at the mouth – makes for unsettling viewing, particularly harrowing in the context of eighties WWF, and is probably part of the reason I still won’t go near a snake. But it worked; Damien gave Jake an edge that literally nobody else had, and his notoriety skyrocketed for his slithery companion.

He wasn’t just intense in the ring, either. Jake Roberts was one of the most skilled talkers wrestling has ever seen. Locked onto camera with an ice-cold stare, he wouldn’t have to raise his voice or spout catchphrases, instead just speaking in a chilling quiet tone. To capitalise on his charisma, he was even given his own talk show-style segment, The Snake Pit, which was used for him to develop his own plots as well as storylines of other superstars.

Jake Roberts proved so engaging that he became a good guy after a couple of years, and it says much of just how popular he was in that he didn’t really change his character that much at all. He was still devious, still all about mind games, and still employing the assistance of Damien as an illegal equaliser. Most notable of his rivalries in this period was probably “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and André the Giant, who, it turned out, was absolutely terrified of snakes and, in another tasteful plot line, suffered a heart attack when Damien got too close. In their clashes throughout 1988 and 89, it was certainly different to see André exhibiting vulnerabilities in such a way; Jake was perhaps the only person beside Hulk Hogan who you felt could get past The Giant.

Though it seemed he could do no wrong, he did go a step too far when, in 1991, he sent the ‘newly-engaged’ Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth a box full of cobras, and later had Savage bitten by another serpent when tied up in the ring ropes. He formed a delightfully dark partnership with The Undertaker, but even the gruesome ‘Taker showed heart and refused to go after Elizabeth, as Roberts had ordered. When The Snake lost to Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII in 1992, he vanished from the company, apparently to take care of personal problems.

Behind the monumental in-ring success, dependence on drugs and alcohol had dogged much of Roberts’ career. There was a return to WWF four years later, which gave fans promise, but it was clear he wasn’t in a great place, mentally or physically, and this ultimately lead to a brisk dismissal. With the reputation of being unreliable, no big promotion would sign him up, so Roberts travelled the world, picking up work wherever he could. But perseverance won the day, and a few years ago enlisted the help of fellow wrestler and friend, Diamond Dallas Page. With DDP’s assistance, Jake was able to not only get back in shape but also kick the habits, and I understand now lives a healthy life. He has since been inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame and made several appearances on their programming.

Having been out of the loop for so long, it’s great to read this about Jake. All too often, we who grew up watching these performers have to deal with terribly sad realities – it’s nice to be uplifted once in a while. Furthermore, it’s great that WWE are now rewarding him with greater recognition, exposing his excellence to young fans of today, because he really was a massive part of what many call a golden era. One of those so superbly entertaining that they didn’t ever need a championship for artificial elevation. Just Jake and Damien will do.

jericho-3Welcome to Jaywalks is Jericho! It’s none other than ‘Y2J’ Chris Jericho up next in our tussle with WWF superstars, no doubt to save the series from the boring wannabes who have come before him.

That would be just as he arrived to save the WWF in late 1999, after several years presumably propping up WCW, and before that ECW. Jericho’s debut was much hyped, teased with a series of clocks gradually counting down to the ‘millennium’. When the timer appeared and finally hit zero, our new hero and party host arrived! Not only that, he had the gumption to interrupt The Rock, and next week, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer were on the receiving end of Jericho’s sass. ‘Y2J’ may have been cocky, but he was at least seen to have guts in cutting off two of the WWF’s biggest and most intimidating figures.

The reaction to his debut was so vocal, and his microphone work so fantastically entertaining, that it really wasn’t long before fans were cheering him. In fact, they had to put him in a feud with Chyna to try and stop fans from cheering him so soon. When it didn’t work, they put the two together and kick-started his run as a good guy. Over the next couple of years, Chris would elevate to the point where, really, there was only The Rock above him in terms of popularity. On one occasion, he even beat Triple H for the World Championship, but sadly ‘The Game’ used his backstage sway to have the decision immediately reversed, much to the crowd’s dismay. The two would go onto have a cracker of a feud, culminating in a brutal Last Man Standing match where, even in loss, Chris Jericho was with great success shown to be far, far more than a comedy character or runt.

Having notched up a glut of title reigns by December 2001, Jericho was credibly entered into a tournament to unify the now-defunct WCW Championship with the WWF Championship. Y2J had lost the love of a lot of fans by this point, clashing with The Rock over the former belt for a few months prior. But at Vengeance, Jericho was able to worm his way past both Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, pinning both on the same night to become the first ever Undisputed Champion. Sadly, Jericho’s run here was less than brilliant, for, as soon as HHH returned, we all knew what was going to happen, and their rivalry paled in comparison to their 2000 battle.

After losing the title to Helmsley at WrestleMania 18, Jericho seemed to flounder somewhat. It seemed that he was a victim of a very bloated roster. But he’d go one to have a great feud with Shawn Michaels, his own boyhood hero, culminating in a fondly-remembered tussle at WrestleMania 19. He would drift in and out of the title picture for the next couple of years, ultimately notching up a record nine Intercontinental championships before leaving WWE in 2005. He’d return in 2008, though, and I’m pleased to read that he had another stellar feud with Michaels and has bagged a handful of World Title reigns. He still competes to this day, juggling wrestling with acting, music with his band Fozzy, and television presenting.

We’re surely not supposed to believe that Jericho arrived to save the WWF, but in a way, he did. Looking back, there’s a definite sense of shift when Chris arrives on Raw – the product becomes inherently better for him being a part of it, and furthermore, his debut beckons the imminent coming of several young performers utterly wasted in WCW – Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, among others. Throw olympian Kurt Angle into the mix, together with a fantastic tag team division, and you had a batch of excellent wrestlers who were stealing the show in the mid-card. It made each event so much more exciting, for it was not just the main event that you cared about, but every match. WCW simply could not compete, just as few can compete with Jericho when it comes to performing – how heartening indeed to observe his success in the WWF, ‘breaking down the walls’ to become the star he knew he could be.

bigbossman-3Uh oh, looks as if we’re in for some hard times! Having dished out punishment as bodyguard Big Bubba in Jim Crockett Promotions and UWF, Ray Traylor morphed into law enforcer in 1988, appearing in the WWF as The Big Boss Man. At six-foot-six and nearly three hundred pounds, hopes weren’t high for those pitted against Boss Man – they became even less when, after the punishing offence, he’d  brandish his trusty nightstick, ball-and-chain and handcuffs. Police brutality indeed, and certainly a hard-hitting gimmick for a superstar of 1988 WWF to be given.

The Boss Man’s presence and rampant dominance meant that an encounter with Hulk Hogan was inevitable – Hulkamania was the target of all the monsters, bar none. Coupled with another huge man, Akeem, the pair became known as The Twin Towers and set their sights on the red and yellow icon. Hogan was teaming with Randy Savage at the time, and as a consequence The Boss Man was given several really entertaining matches with ‘The Macho Man’ over the World Title, besides some big cage matches with Hulk. Though The Twin Towers were materially unsuccessful, their meddling in the affairs of Hogan and Savage would lead to their disbanding and eventual face-off at WrestleMania V.

Continuing to brutalise the opposition throughout 1989, The Big Boss Man came to the attention of ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase, who rather liked the idea of owning a crooked cop. When Boss Man refused DiBiase’s handsome payments, he won over the crowd and became a fan favourite. Splitting from Akeem – and beating him at WrestleMania VI – he adopted a purer pursuit of justice, saving the beatings only for the WWF’s real evildoers. Like The Mountie, a crooked Canadian cop, whom he beat in the first ever (and only) Jailhouse Match at SummerSlam 1991, sending his toppled foe off to prison for the night.

Boss Man (sadly) spent much of 1992 battling Nailz, a deranged ex-convict who apparently arrived in the WWF specifically to get revenge on the law enforcer, subjecting him to beatings that were characteristic of his own villainous roots. The feud finally ended at November’s Survivor Series, with justice prevailing in a Nightstick Match.

He disappeared from WWF in early 1993, spending five years in WCW with a character that began as a near-identical retread of the Big Boss Man mould. One wonders how WCW managed to get away with that; was it because he was wearing a black shirt instead of blue? Hmm!

He’d be back in the Federation by late 1998, initially under a balaclava and mostly serving as a hired gun for the dominating ‘Corporation’ faction, headed by owner, Vince McMahon. His gimmick now able to get really brutal in line with the change in product, he gelled perfectly with the hardcore division, and he was a multiple-time Hardcore champion. This being said, he still mingled with the top stars, engaging in rivalries with Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and The Big Show over the WWF title.

When the hardcore product started to fizzle out in the early 2000s, many of its associated performers did too, Boss Man being one of them. He had a last hurrah, again under the employ of McMahon against Stone Cold in 2002, but after that he retired to behind the scenes, working with up-and-coming talent. Sadly he would die of a heart attack just a couple of years later, at only forty-two.

Traylor knew how to play the crowd, particularly as a corrupt lawman, and even though some of his outings are looked back on less than fondly – being hanged by The Undertaker at WrestleMania XV… yes, really – one cannot fault Traylor’s commitment to the role and each of the wacky plots he was thrown into. I’ve no doubt that’s a big reason why he was continually rewarded with such strong billing. He certainly commands respect – and well, I suppose those that don’t give it him can expect hard times!

rvd-6Our next grappler comes at the request of Korey at Let’s Talk Wrestling. Here is Rob Van Dam – “The Whole F’n Show”, “Mr. Pay-Per-View”, “Mr. Monday Night”, RVD fans certainly have a wealth of nicknames to choose from!

Van Dam is a fine candidate for recognition, for he was one one of the most technically-gifted athletes I can remember from my time as a fan. His skills in karate, Tae Kwan Do, Aikido, Kendo and kick-boxing legitimise him as far more than a sports entertainer – indeed, legend has it that, on starting out in 1990, his ring-name was given to him on the basis that his talents could test the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Praise indeed.

But the required entertainment was there in bucket-loads, too. As well as being so well-equipped on the fighting side of things, RVD oozed charisma to the extent that, once established, it was virtually impossible for him to be placed in a villainous role; the crowd were so devotedly behind him, they’d cheer him and boo the good guy. It seemed his cool, laid-back demeanour was impossible to dislike. Evidenced in 1997, when, two years into his tenure at ECW, the ambitious Van Dam ‘invaded’ the WWF’s Monday Night Raw programme, hence earning the titular moniker. The fans loved him, but sadly the curious ‘invasion’ was short-lived, and he went back to Philadelphia.

But he’d be back. When the WWF were bringing in new blood under the guise of a WCW/ECW invasion in 2001 – the WWF had in fact bought out the two rival promotions earlier in the year – Federation fans were cheering Van Dam as he took it to their men with his bewitching blend of technical and smash-mouth hardcore wrestling. It was quite extraordinary to me at the time. While the Invasion angle was largely a misfire in the extreme, Van Dam came out of it looking very strong indeed.

Once in the WWF limelight, his popularity would soar to its highest heights and he would go on to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship in 2002. Van Dam at this point has been named ‘No.1 Wrestler in the World’ by a Pro Wrestling Illustrated poll. This seems, therefore, like this should have been RVD’s time, but, for whatever reason, Triple H kept his mitts on the strap, kicking off a period not-so-fondly remembered as ‘The Reign of Terror’.

It could be argued, though, that Van Dam never really needed a big championship. He was still huge, and his popularity never really seemed to wane – certainly not in the time that I was following the product – meaning he was always at the top of the bill even when not gunning for gold. He did eventually win the now-WWE Championship in 2006 – this strikes me as a little late, but nevertheless it’s sweet that he finally got to the top. Though he left in 2007, he returned to WWE briefly in 2013, showing no sign of slowing down and taking down Cesaro at SummerSlam.

These days, Van Dam is semi-retired, but that in itself means that any day now he could be back and bolting around the ring, quick as a hiccup, or flying off the top rope with his Frog Splash. Regardless, the legacy is already there; perhaps the most iconic ECW up-and-comer of all, a star in WWE – of all the nicknames acquired over his twenty-five year career, I’d think The Whole F’n Show not in the slightest unjust.