Volume 2, Issue 142
March 13, 1997
The History of the Midnight Express
Part 7 - "The Dark Side Returns."
In 1989, the Midnight Express team of "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton, "Sweet" Stan Lane and manager Jim Cornette were faces (in fact, I think this is the only combination of the Midnights that ever were faces). But, like a lot of long-time rulebreakers, they just weren't as effective as faces. They were losing to teams with various skill levels like the Freebirds (the team of Jim Garvin and Michael Hayes, who were beneath the Midnights in my opinion), The Skyscrapers and the Samoan Swat Team (both of whom had tremendous power and skill, now these teams I could understand them losing to).
Then, in the Fall of 1989, a new tag team showed up by the name of the Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas/Johnny Ace). Off the subject, they were one of the worst tag teams I had ever seen. Me and my step-brother could've beat these guys!!! Anyway, Cornette took a job as the Dudes "advisor." Well, this didn't set in too well with Bobby and Stan. In fact, by November, the Midnights were challenging the Dudes to a match to see who would retain the services of Jim Cornette. The match took place at the Clash Of The Champions IX: New York Knockout. The match was surprisingly even (which, in my opinion, was a bunch of bullsh**!!! A weak Midnight team should've crushed the Dudes). Anyway, the end came when Bobby tried to use Cornette's tennis racquet on Douglas. Cornette stopped Eaton from using the racquet on Shane and told him to continue wrestling. When Shane went back to the action, Cornette used the racquet on Shane!!!! I laughed my butt off at this!!! Needless to say, the Midnights got the win and the dark side returned!!! Interesting enough, the Midnights still got cheered for months after the incident, even though they were officially heels again. Just shows you that today's fans are concerned with talent, not whether a team is a face or heel.
Next week: The Final Days
If you have a question, comment, criticism, or just want to talk about pro wrestling in general, please e-mail me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING SOON: IronMan: The Legend Of The Road Warriors
Ervin Griffin Jr., is a regular contributor to Solie's as well as the Ringside Insider and other publications.
The EYE on WRESTLING
Throughout the long and illustrious history of Professional Wrestling, the sport has seen its' World Heavyweight titles be dominated by one major force at a time. Consider if you will the NWA, now known as Ted Turner's WCW. Ed Strangler Louis procured a hold on the early part of our sport, covering the late 1900's into the late 1920's. Lou Thesz Dominated what we call the Golden Age of Wrestling, beginning in the 1930's, and stretching all the way into the 1960's. In the 70's? Harley Race was the man, capturing the title seven times. The 1980's saw a flamboyant throwback to those old days of Lou Thesz, a man by the name of Nature Boy, Ric Flair.
Likewise, the McMahon family owned World Wrestling Federation saw its' World championship dominated by eras. Although Buddy Rogers was the federation's first recognized titleholder in April of 1963, we think of Bruno Sammartino as the WWF's first champion. Bruno would recapture the title two times during his lengthy stay in the WWF, but it would be Bruno that would prove his worth to the throne with a longevity that has still never been matched. The Late 1970's saw an All American named Bob Backlund capture the Championship from then champ Billy Graham in 1978, only to lose it six years later to Vince McMahon Senior's need to get caught up in U.S. politics. The Iron Sheik would dethrone Mr. Backlund in December, 1983, and live as champion for only 1 month's time. In my view, a waste of Backlund's talent, and the beginning of the decline of the morals of the WWF in dealing with the title picture. As was the case in the NWA, the 1980's were dominated by one of the two most influential personalities in our sport, Hulk Hogan. Just in case you are keeping score at home, the other major influential personality in our sport? Unquestionably, Ric Flair.
My reasoning for spending so much time on the two organizations' title histories will hopefully now start to become more clear. We are right now in a state of limbo in both federations, as it relates to the World Heavyweight Championship. No more do we see the champions holding onto their respective titles with any brand of respect or invincibility. Just for a few examples, I will bring up the events of the last few months. In the WWF, Sid captured the WWF title in November, only to lose it back to Shawn Michaels in a little more than eight weeks' time. Michaels would then forfeit the title on a night where he was to defend against Sid. Somehow that night, the rules were changed and Sid was not awarded the title. Bret Hart would go onto win the title in the most unscrupulous manner, in a match where participants could lose by being thrown over the top rope and onto the floor. Hart would then lose the title One day?! later to Sid.
As far as WCW is concerned, I will say one phrase that captures all my feelings on this organization's title picture: Hulk Hogan VS. Roddy Piper!
Being that we are in such a state of confusion right now, it can be safe to deduce that the title can be won by anybody on any given night. That got me to thinking about something. Suppose this state of Limbo hit us in a sooner era? Who might have earned the Heavyweight championship? I have compiled three names below, and I call it the champions that never were.
One could accurately make the statement that the pioneer of rule breaking was Killer Kowalski. In an Era where men like Pat O'conner and Lou Thesz were the wrestling craftsmen, Kowalski took it a step further. He was, if not the first, one of the first to brutalize their opponents on their way to victory. I always like hearing the story of a match that took place in Montreal. Kowalski actually bit the ear of Yukon Eric, and tore it half off! Kowalski also was the first to master the abdominal clawhold. Many wrestlers stated that it was like being put in a vice whenever the Killer got the hold on you.
Despite all his accomplishments, the Killer was never awarded his place in the sun. In early 1963, some regional promoters rumbled that Kowalski was a claimant to the World Heavyweight title held by then Champion Buddy Rogers. However, all these boasts were squelched when Kowalski and Rogers had a match in Chicago in 1963. Rogers would defeat the Killer two falls to one, and keep his grasp on the title.
It is a shame that Ted Dibiase let his career decline at such a rapid pace. Many fans might not be aware, but back in the late 70's and early 80's, Dibiase was carving one hell of a career for himself in the Mid South Territory. His classic battles with Paul Orndorf, the Freebirds, MR. Wrestling ii, and the Junkyard Dog, were classic battles. For years, Dibiase was a babyface, or hero to fans in the Mid South area. From what I have been able to examine on video tapes, Dibiase was across between a Ric Steamboat, Ric Flair kind of athlete. Even in his days as a monster heel, Dibiase managed to keep his technical abilities, and blend a cunningness to his persona. He would have made a great champion on either side of the fence, and probably would have if not for his career ending neck injury.
Perhaps the greatest man to never hold a World Championship is Roddy Piper. Here is a man who was years ahead of his time, both in and out of the squared circle. Piper is the one who really took the verbal part of wrestling and brought it to the front of the consciousness of the public. Piper also had that air of invincibility, which is one of the most important ingredients in creating a titleholder. The innovative style that Piper has given to this sport has in my view never been justly rewarded, and sadly, never will be.
I hope that the reader of this column is seeing a pattern here. All the men I have discussed have a lot of the same traits. All have a sense of pride to them. All know what to do to get the job done. All have a certain air of domination to them. All have the ability to bounce back from adversity. When I scan down the current rosters of the "big two," I see only one man who has proven himself to have these traits. I only hope that Vince McMahon will utilize the talents of Steve Austin wisely, and not let him fall to the bottom of the pack as a Champion that never was.
And with that, the eye on wrestling is closed until next time.
Note, comments or questions can be emailed to me at the following address: email@example.com. I have really been enjoying the feedback from many of the fans reading this newsletter on a weekly basis. Let's talk wrestling!
Jeremy Hartley's The EYE on WRESTLING is a regular feature of Solie's Wrestling Newsletter.
Vader: Can This Career Be Saved?
He is The Man They Call Vader, mostly because the copyright to "Vader" is most likely owned by Lucasfilm Ltd. Most people would rattle off a long list of wrestlers who aren't living up to their potential, who never made it as big as they should have, or who are squandering their talents. Vader would not be at the top of most lists. He's a big guy with a push in the big league of the WWF. But you might agree that something just doesn't seem right. The past year in the WWF should have been an escalation of the legend of this man. What happened? Vader is doing okay lately, but will it ever really be "Vader time" again?
First, some history. In the mid to late 1980s, Vader was unknown in the States, but toured Europe and Japan, winning the Catch Wrestling Association, the IWGP, and Mexico's UWA titles. He feuded with Stan "the Lariat" Hansen extensively. The first time I ever heard his name mentioned was a paragraph in PWI about Sgt. Slaughter. Sarge had just signed with Hasbro to join the G.I. JOE cartoon series, and Vader was coming with him! Obviously, that didn't happen.
I remember seeing Vader on TV for the first time at the 1990 Great American Bash. He beat Z-Man Tom Zenk in about 2 minutes. Big Van Vader, however, wasn't so much a brand-new WCW wrestler as he was a guest from New Japan. He and Stan Hansen fought at WrestleWar 91 to a double DQ. And again he didn't hang around. He was very impressive. He wore a big black demon helmet which poured smoke. Under it, he wore a full-face mask that only revealed his mouth. He fought El Gigante at a WCW/New Japan show. He teamed with Bam Bam Bigelow to win the IWGP tag belts. He only showed up in the States occasionally.
He was in an 8-man "Chamber of Horrors" cage match at the second Halloween Havoc in 1991. The hotlines made a big deal about it being the first time he had appeared in the States without a mask. Ever since, he has worn that head net. His partners were Cactus Jack, Abdullah the Butcher, and Diamond Studd. They were beaten by Sting, El Gigante, and the Steiners. Sting and Cactus, of course, would later become rather prominent players in Vader's career. Vader could not break free from the crowd. His only TV appearance that I remember was a weird 6-man tag with partners Jack and Terry Taylor. Vader set the big helmet in the ring before the match and he and his partners bowed down to it as it poured smoke.
In January of 1992, he showed up in WCW, finally ready to take care of business, apparently. Harley Race managed him, and he began to splatter many a jobber with big 450 lb. splashes. After a dozen first impressions, he finally made a lasting one by hurting World champion Sting at the Omni in Atlanta, and beating up a referee to boot. This set up his big title match at Great American Bash 1992.
Here's where "Vader Time" truly began. Bill Watts was in charge of WCW. While the WWF is built around heroes, WCW is and always has been heel-centric. While the WWF believes in ending big shows on an up, with fans going home happy that their heroes beat up the bad guys, WCW fans apparently must always go home, frustrated and stewing over the fact that some no-good SOB escaped defeat again. WCW even changed their top face (Luger) to a heel and their top heel (Barry Windham) to a face in the course of a single match. When Sting beat Luger and Luger likewise left WCW, Vader was ready to step in as top bad guy.
I remember watching this on PPV. I fully expected WCW's hero, Sting, to clobber Vader. Not only did Vader win, but he won without cheating, and in devastating fashion. Sting bonked his head on the turnbuckle, then Vader power bombed him.
Vader's career became unique at this point. He was a big man in WCW, a federation that had never relied on big men. He was a heel champ who won by beating the fool out of his opponents, unlike the tights-yanking and loophole-stretching Ric Flair. He was a champ with one manager and no stable, unlike Flair with his manager and menagerie of Horsemen. If you'll pardon the reference, Big Van Vader was a one man gang.
I've always been happiest with booking that bounces back and forth, with the bad guys winning, then the good guys, then back to the bad. Neither the WCW nor the WWF believes in this, really. In Vader's case, the heel-centric WCW made his career. His early career, at least. It's symptomatic of his problem now. But I'll get to that in Part 2.
Solie's is pleased to welcome our newest contributor, Joe B. Crowe. Joe is 26 years old, a book editor and stand-up comedian based in Birmingham, Alabama.
That's it for this edition. I will be back this weekend with the Weekend Review, Bret Hart's Column and my in depth WCW Uncensored report. Until then...
Anyway, that's the way I see it...
editor Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
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