Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Planet Velvet: Prime Time Wrestling

From Velvet Jones:

Stock prices may be dropping on WWE stock (as they usually do around this time of the year), but pro wrestling seems to be rather healthy. A clear indication of this would have to be the weekly offerings of wrestling on broadcast and cable television. There is wrestling on TV Monday through Friday. The first three days of the week are defined (and somewhat saturated) by the WWE. Monday Night Raw, SmackDown Live on Tuesdays, and NXT on Wednesday. Thursdays are for IMPACT Wrestling while Fridays sees AXS TV bless us with matches from New Japan Pro Wrestling.

But alas, there is more backstage dialogue than there is wrestling these days. Pro wrestlers are given time to further their issues and promote their matches in the most transparent of ways. It didn’t always used to be like that. For this reason, RAW is sometimes all of WWE I can stand in a week’s time. I’m writing this on a Wednesday morning; meaning last night was Tuesday. Now I could religiously watch SmackDown Live. But instead, I ventured to the WWE Network. I’d just gotten home from the gym and showered. I was looking for something to view in the vault and what I stumble upon?

WWF Prime Time Wrestling.

This year was 1987. Prime Time Wrestling was the predecessor to Monday Night RAW for years. It was a sit-down studio show hosted by the legendary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Monsoon was always the straight man: a former wrestler who would confuse me and countless youth with his random offerings of medical terminology. Thanks to Monsoon, I could say terms like medulla oblongata and medial collateral ligament long before I could spell them. To his right was none other than Heenan. Still managing at the time, Heenan had one-liners that would make you laugh, cringe, or both. Heenan’s trademark sequined bowtie and jacket made him stand out.

Several matches that didn’t look exciting on paper were actually pretty good for many reasons. The matches on this show would take place at several arenas around the world. The show opened up with Greg Valentine earning a cheap win over “The Rebel” Dick Slater in the legendary Boston Garden. A camera shown from ringside in the direction of the competitors also showed the Garden filled to capacity. The mezzanine seats were full and this was a damn house show! The next match saw one of my all-time favorites Sika defeat Cpl Kirschner at the Meadowlands Arena. That alone brought back memories of me and my brother arguing with grown-ups as kids in the same arena and almost getting kicked out just before The Ultimate Warrior challenged Rick Rude for the Intercontinental title years later.. ..but that’s another story.

Siva Afi pinned Frenchy Martin a match that was short, sweet, and won via sunset flip. I always knew Afi was good but didn’t know he was that athletic and graceful. There were a few 80’s skits, but they were short and took less than five minutes to view. There was Blackjack Mulligan riding horseback and rustling up some longhorns. All the while, he said he was coming to WWE and hunting for the Heenan family. Awesome visual simplicity. Next was the ill-fated Outback Jack. Jack was in Australia getting war paint put on his face by members of an Aborigine tribe. After the skit, Heenan quipped “Who was that with Jack? The Temptations?”. Hilarious! Finally, Jesse Ventura (with a head full of hair, no less) stood in the lobby of hotel with a mic in hand. Ventura heard screaming female fans and assumed that “Macho Man” Randy Savage is causing the commotion. To his dismay, the female fans are trying to get to the Can-AM Connection of Tom Zenk and former AWA World champion Rick Martel. Zenk is awestruck while Martel’s shirt is torn to shreds. Cool stuff.

Back to the action and tag team wrestling is at the plate. First, The Hart Foundation took on The Islanders at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Highly athletic and entertaining match. Anyone that knows me knows I absolutely LOVE the Anoa’I family. To get the chance to see Tama (Tonga Kid) work again was great. Next, WWF World Tag Team champions The British Bulldogs took on the Slick-led team of Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik. Sheiky Baby and Volkoff won after Matilda the Bulldog earned her humans a disqualification. Finally, it was main event time. “The King” Harley Race took on the modern-day concussed crybaby Billy Jack Haynes. Haynes used his size and strength to batter Race all over the ring. About three or four years removed from his last NWA World title reign, Race sported quite the belly. Still, it didn’t stop him from going to work on the big man from Oregon. The match ended when Heenan ran in the ring to stop Haynes from locking Race in the Full Nelson. So what did Haynes do? He put Heenan in it. Classic material!! The show would end with Monsoon telling fans to tune in next week for a cage match featuring World champion Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff.

Prime Time Wrestling would go on for about six more years. Near the end, it lost its identity. There was now a studio audience. Vince McMahon and his unflinching hair would greet weekly viewers wearing a puffy tracksuit, high top sneakers, and his trademark bravado. Even still, this trip down memory lane did what wrestling today can’t do: keep my attention for two hours straight. These guys FOUGHT with fists and feet. It was compelling. It was consistent. But most importantly, it was CONVINCING.

Ah, the good old days…….

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