Friday, January 8, 2010

The Tupelo Concession Stand Brawls

Memphis Rasslin' has often been linked to the emergence of "hardcore wrestling" with all the two-fisted bloody brawls that it became famous (or infamous) for in the 1970s and 1980s.  Perhaps none was more notable than the Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl, the first of which took place in 1979.

The first came after the Blonde Bombers (Larry Latham and Wayne Ferris) were awarded the Southern Tag belts and Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee take exception to the decision.  After battling in the ring post-match with the belts as prominent weapons, they go to the floor as the TV show ends.

In the unedited version, Lance Russell urges the production crew to find this fight, which was now wild and woolly in the concession stand.  The idea of flung mustard and popcorn in a legendary match seems wacky, but those elements are secondary to the bloodbath going on.  Lawler and Dundee are two of the best punchers in pro-wrestling history and that really takes this fight to a level of greatness that a modern streetfight-type match simply lacks.

The actual sequel came the following year with the Bombers (now with Sgt. Danny Davis) taking on the Gibson brothers.  Rick, who has been lost in history, was a tremendous talent as a babyface.  While he might not have been Ricky Morton, one can see that Robert learned his role early on by teaming with his brother.  This is not so much a TCSB as a three-man ass-whippin' on Rick Gibson.

The following years involved great but all new talents.  Eddie Gilbert and Ricky Morton are the babyface here, they're great brawlers and would go on to legendary careers.  Their opponents are Tojo Yamamoto's charges Onita and Fuchi.  Onita would go on to bring aspects of this style to Japan years later and innovate pro-wrestling with his brand of garbage/hardcore/extreme wrestling.  Fuchi would return to All Japan and be a stalwart for years to come and gained perhaps his biggest fame when he and Toshiaki Kawada were the only Japanese workers who stayed with All Japan after a mass exodus in 2000.  Despite the great talent here, this is just not what the first one was.  However, this one introduced mustard as a central prop, which became the hallmark of this style of match.

Two of the original players returned for the fourth and final (well-known) version of this match, which actually took place in Kennet, Missouri (3.5 hours Northwest of Tupelo).  Jerry Lawler interjected himself in a 2-on-1 butt-whoopin' by the Moondogs on Jeff Jarrett.  The Moondogs, Rex and Spot, were prominent heels in the region and became a fixture for the region for years to come.  Spot, although he looked remarkably different, was actually Latham.  The brawl quickly spills out of the ring as trash cans, broom sticks, steel chairs and all manner of garbage are used.  This is decidedly safe, but Jarrett's back gets torn up by something (broken glass?).

This legendary gimmick "match" was actually revisited at WCW first Uncensored show (held in Tupelo in `95) by the Nasty Boys and Harlem Heat.  The match was full of mustard and wackiness, but it was not so much a heated brawl as it was a silly gimmick match.

The History of TNA: Year One

Producers: Bill Banks, Bryan Edwards
Distributor: TNA Home Video
Released: 11/07

Featured Talent
Jeremy Borash, Dixie Carter, Rudy Charles, Christopher Daniels, Chris Harris, B.G. James, Jeff Jarrett, Raven, Bob Ryder, Elix Skipper, James Storm, AJ Styles, Mike Tenay, Andrew Thomas, Don West

The Good
The story of the company now known as TNA is fascinating. There have been numerous attempts by groups of individuals with moneymarks behind them who tried to get a pro-wrestling company going. The failures of the XWF, WWA, MLW and other groups are the typical; TNA was the exception. This documentary tries to tell the story of TNA made it past that first hurdle that those companies could not. This is fascinating to see because it shows how much luck it took along with all the effort. When they lost their moneymark, HealthSouth (one of the largest healthcare services providers in the country), they were blessed by getting picked up by Panda Energy. After surviving that first year, NWA-TNA apparently was primed to greatness. That romanticism aside, this documentary had some funny anecdotes and a frankness from the interviewees that made it unique. The second disc features five matches and they are all in the good to great range.

The Bad
While this is an interesting story, it seemed lost or at least distorted in this format. There is a reason why Vince McMahon has never done a documentary about how his early time could have made him or broke him. However, the massive entity that the WWE is today is far from what TNA is current, yet they played it as if that was not the case. This had a fair amount of WWE bashing (without naming them), but played up the innovative cruiserweight division from WCW, the ravenous fans of ECW and the longstanding legacy of the NWA. In doing so, they undermined much of their uniqueness. That sort of poor production made this seem so low-rent compared to WWE’s documentaries. The negativity, the ramling, the excess kayfabe, the poor interview spaces (one room has an echo and people walking by and another has the TNA logo butchered for some reason) - those things which should have been left on the cutting room floor are in this. Another qualm was all the face time people received. Do I need to see Christopher Daniels in his makeup, yet out of character talking about things they are not showing clips or stills of? This is the first TNA Home Video production I have seen and I was so underwhelmed I fell asleep twice trying to sit through it.

The Rating: ***1/4

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In honor of Bret Hart's return to live WWF/WWE television, here's a review of his WWE distributed documentary and DVD set from 2005: 

Bret "Hitman" Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be

Director: Kevin Dunn
Released By: WWE Home Video
Release Date: 11/05

Featured Talent: Animal, Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, Jerry Brisco,Christian, Bret Hart, Jimmy Hart, Steve Lombardi, Vince McMahon, Gene Okerland, Roddy Piper, Bruce Pritchard, Jim Ross

The Good
The Bret Hart story is one of the most fascinating in pro-wrestling and this WWE production with Hart's close involvement does a respectable job. His early years are covered in pretty good depth, which is not often the opposite in these documentaries. It talks about his amateur background, his legendary father and shows more Stampede than you would expect. Although it is in highlight form (Stampede's library is limited), it focuses on his greatest rivals, which are consequential some under appreciated talents like the Kiwis (later known as the Bushwackers), Bad News Allen, The Stomp, David Schultz and it shows plenty of the Dynamite Kid. Then his legendary thirteen year run with the WWF is covered in great depth. From his early days as a near jobber and later half of the extremely talented Hart Foundation, his abilities as a young worker and heel are displayed. Then his singles days as the “excellent” Intercontinental Champion workhorse, the unlikely World Champion and then the superstar in his prime. This climbing-the-ladder story is a simple and frequently used one on the WWE documentaries, but it plays well here because it is a drawn out story. After he reached the pinnacle, it discusses the many hardships that befell him – unexpected hatred from the American fans, the Montreal screwjob, his pathetic WCW run, the death of Owen Hart, his sudden retirement and his stroke in 2002. The documentary stays away from the numerous deaths that Bret experienced over the last ten years and that prevents this from becoming too morbid, although the DVD Extras has a nice piece about Bret's dead colleagues. This a well put together DVD package and it has many great matches to boot. The star commentary here is from, not surprisingly, Bret Hart himself and the DVD Extras add some of the bits that couldn't neatly fit into the documentary.

The Bad
In these WWE documentaries there is often a lack of duality to the commentary. Bret Hart really believes in his legacy and he is the overwhelming presence here and not many other views squeak into the story. Vince McMahon and Jim Ross provide some good perspective, but they are not exactly critics of Bret Hart. This is not surprising because it was a tricky operation to put this DVD package together. There is a shocking lack of diversity to the commentators though, which is tragic. None of his family members are featured, most notably Jim Neidhart, there is a lack of Stampede personalities and even old veterans (Nick Bockwinkel, Harley Race, etc.) who could have been interviewed. There is plenty of Ed Whalen in the Stampede highlights, which is unfortunate because it makes the product seem so far league. Otherwise, this is a solid documentary and a great DVD package.

The Rating: *****

New direction for this "blog"

I recently realized that a lot of my old material is no longer available since Geocities was killed off by Yahoo!, so I've decided to start putting my media reviews up on this blog. They were getting to be too much for my previous single-page organization, so this seems like a natural evolution.

I will include:
- OLD reviews, perhaps I'll even dig up some from my long abandoned pro-wrestling video site
- NEW reviews, continuing forward with perhaps some new twists

My content will include:
- Documentaries - from the WWE revisionist history ones to the The Wrestling Channel's "Icons" series
- Books - mainly autobiographies, but an serious, kayfabe-free works
- Matches - while not extensively for time constraint reasons, I'd love to start recommending and directing people towards legendary or simply great stuff (perhaps Youtube videos, so we can all enjoy them)

I may include:
- Shoot interviews - I listen to so many hours, it seems foolish to not mention some of these
- Websites/Wikis/Blogs - I've poured over so much online content, I feel I need to give more kudos to those who I gather info from.
- Music videos - There are so many out there, many good, many bad, but the standouts should be recognized.

I will not include:
- Current product (i.e. WWE, TNA, ROH, Japan, Mexico, etc.) - unless something REALLY catches my attention because I do not closely follow these anymore.
- Tape traders - I used to roll with this crowd and depended on it for a long time, but not much anymore and therefore my opinions would be outdated.
- Toys, clothing, belts, etc. - this simply is not my thing.
- Live show reviews - I have nothing against live shows, but they've not fit into my schedule since 2004.

With those parameters set...ENJOY!