What the World Was Watching: Wrestling Challenge – January 1, 1995

Although I have reviewed some of the early Attitude Era action on the Blog, I am going to embark on a new project:  reviewing all of the major televised action for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1995.  Readers are likely aware that 1995 was a terrible financial year for the company, with James Dixon writing in Titan Sinking that Vince McMahon and Titan Sports lost $6 million.  The wrestling industry was in the doldrums in the mid-1990s, reeling from declining ratings; the end of the Hulkamania boom; and lingering suspicions from sponsors about steroid and drug use, which caused the federal government to put McMahon on trial in the summer of 1994.

On a personal note, 1995 was the year that I got into wrestling.  Being exposed to the business during one of its worst times did not phase me since I had nothing else to compare it to.  I knew nothing of workrate or star ratings and accepted Diesel as the WWF champion.  However, it was painfully obvious to me that Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were clearly the best and I enjoyed their televised matches throughout the year.  Little did I know at the time that both men had a significant rivalry behind the scenes and when it exploded in Montreal two years later it would help the WWF regain its position as the supreme brand of professional wrestling in North America.

These reviews will chronicle major WWF programming in 1995.  We will go through Wrestling Challenge, Monday Night Raw, Superstars, and The Action Zone.  Pay-per-views will also be covered, as will the occasional Sunday Night Slam where warranted.  Win-loss records will be provided for talent throughout the year and matches will be recapped, with reflections on the purpose of those matches and how they fit into existing storylines.  I will also compile other statistics – house show attendance, drawing power for champions – that I will share periodically.  Furthermore, for each week of action I will try to provide a brief calendar of notable events so readers can see the context that all of this booking is fitting into.  The reviews will be posted to the Blog on Tuesdays and Fridays going forward.

Oh, and in case you were not familiar with what the WWF roster looked like as 1995 began, here were the face and heel alignments (rosters provided courtesy of http://www.solie.org/wwf95.txt):

Faces:  Diesel, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Lex Luger, The British Bulldog, The 1-2-3 Kid, Adam Bomb, Bob Holly, Aldo Montoya, Man Mountain Rock, Doink the Clown, Duke Droese, Alundra Blayze, The Smoking Gunns (Billy & Bart Gunn), Men on a Mission (Mabel and Mo), The New Headshrinkers (Fatu and Seone), The Bushwhackers (Luke & Butch)

Heels:  Shawn Michaels, Bob Backlund, Owen Hart, Bam Bam Bigelow, Tatanka, Yokozuna, Jerry Lawler, Jeff Jarrett, The Roadie, King Kong Bundy, Irwin R. Schyster, Hakushi, Henry Godwinn, Kwang, Skip, Rad Radford, Mantaur, Nikolai Volkoff, Pierre Oullete, Bull Nakano, The Blu Brothers (Jacob & Eli Blu), The Heavenly Bodies (Tom Pritchard & Jimmy Del Ray), Well Dunn (Timothy Well & Steven Dunn)

Notable Enhancement Talent:  Barry Horowitz, The Brooklyn Brawler

And here are our champions as we begin the year:

WWF Champion:  Diesel (defeated Bob Backlund at a Madison Square Garden house show on November 26, 1994)

Intercontinental Champion:  Razor Ramon (defeated Diesel at SummerSlam on August 29, 1994)

WWF Tag Team Champions: Vacant (Titles previously held by Shawn Michaels & Diesel and declared vacant after the pair split up at the Survivor Series.  An eight-team tournament on Superstars has been ordered by WWF President Jack Tunney to fill the vacancy and started in late December)

WWF Women’s Champion:  Bull Nakano (defeated Alundra Blayze at the Big Egg Universe card in Tokyo, Japan on November20, 1994)

Notable Events

Late December 1994:  Jim Ross, who had been released a second time by the WWF at the end of the summer for leaking sensitive company information, is rehired.  News circulates that Ross will serve in a booking and administrative capacity, but it is unclear whether he will return to announcing.

Late December 1994:  Chris Candido, who had been working in Japan and in Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW) with his girlfriend Tammy Fytch, tells friends that he is headed to the WWF.  He was putting on a series of well received matches with Cactus Jack in SMW.

So with all of this established we go into the first televised show of 1995:  an episode of Wrestling Challenge that aired on January 1, 1995.

-Gorilla Monsoon and Ted DiBiase are doing commentary and they are taped from Lowell, Massachusetts (noted by its special balcony-style design for the upper deck).  This show was taped back on November 30, 1994 and only 1,700 fans attended it.

Opening Contest:  Hakushi (w/Shinja) defeats Scott Taylor with a flying headbutt variation at 2:31:

One of the few international acquisitions for the WWF in late 1994 was Jinsei Shinzaki of Michinoku Pro Wrestling.  Shinzaki fit the mold of smaller talent that were given an opportunity due to the fallout of the 1990s steroid scandals and given the gimmick of a Buddhist pilgrim named Hakushi (which translates as “White Angel”).  To fit the gimmick he wore Buddhist sutras on his body, giving him a distinct look.  Since he was of Japanese descent this made him an immediate heel as the WWF preferred to book foreign talent in that role during this time period. Shinzaki was given a manager in Akio Sato, a former member of the Orient Express with Pat Tanaka in 1990, who donned white face paint and went by the name of Shinja.  Scott Taylor would obviously go on to bigger things during the Attitude Era as “Scotty 2 Hotty” but he is nothing more than enhancement talent in 1995.  This squash served to put over Hakushi’s high flying offense, which includes a springboard splash off the apron and a flying headbutt.  It is somewhat interesting that the company let Hakushi use that maneuver since it was the finisher of Bam Bam Bigelow, but his prayer before it, combined with doing a full somersault in his variation, must have convinced the company that it was different.

Tamara Murphy, soon to be known as Sunny to WWF fans, hypes some WWF house shows at the Nassau Coliseum and Madison Square Garden.  Some of the matches that are hyped include WWF Women’s Champion Bull Nakano defending her title against Alundra Blayze, the British Bulldog & Lex Luger facing King Kong Bundy & Bam Bam Bigelow, the Undertaker against Tatanka, Bret Hart squaring off with Owen Hart in a no holds barred match, and WWF Champion Diesel defending his title against Bob Backlund.  We will talk more about this card in the future.

The British Bulldog pins Chris Avery after a running powerslam at 3:11:

The Bulldog, a former Intercontinental champion, returned to the company from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1994 but was still trying to find his footing.  The Bulldog wrestled former WWF Champion Bob Backlund on some house shows after Backlund won the belt from Bret Hart at Survivor Series but lacked a sustained push that would get him back into the singles title picture.  In early 1995 the Bulldog was gravitating towards a tag team with Lex Luger, whose star dimmed significantly in 1994 after failing to defeat Yokozuna at WrestleMania X.  The super team would come to be called the Allied Powers.  The Bulldog runs through his usual power offense on Avery and finishes him without breaking a sweat in roughly three minutes.

Todd Pettengill hypes the Royal Rumble card, which is three weeks away, and the card will take place in Tampa, Florida.  Two awkward promos by WWF Champion Diesel and Bret Hart follow – both men are scheduled to square off at the event- with Bret reflecting on his Christmas and Diesel making his eyes big and saying that Bret will have a hard time regaining his championship.  Other matches hyped for the card include an Intercontinental title match between Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett, the Undertaker squaring off with Irwin R. Schyster, the finals of the WWF tag team championship tournament, and the Rumble match itself.  Those announced for the Rumble include Lex Luger, Bob Backlund, King Kong Bundy (said to be the “odds on favorite), Doink, Kwang, Adam Bomb, Duke Droese, Dick Murdoch, Henry Godwinn, Aldo Montoya, the British Bulldog, Men on a Mission, the Bushwhackers, the 1-2-3 Kid, Bob Holly, and Shawn Michaels.  Oh, and Pamela Anderson of Baywatch will be at the event because she will accompany the winner to the ring in the WrestleMania main event.

King Kong Bundy (w/Ted DiBiase) beats Steve King with an Avalanche at 1:35:

Bundy was a grizzled veteran brought back by McMahon in 1994 as a special attraction.  He added depth to the big men on the WWF roster, which also included Mabel and Yokozuna, but his presence did not really fit the “The New Generation” booking that McMahon was pushing during this time frame.  His style was also not readily accepted by fans as it harkened back to an older era.  Nevertheless, Bundy was enjoying a healthy push during this time and some pegged him as someone that could win the Royal Rumble match in a few weeks.  Bundy uses his size to demolish the much smaller King, squashing him in the corner and winning the bout, although the referee refuses to do the five count that Bundy demands.

Monsoon and DiBiase recap the WWF tag team title tournament.  Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka have defeated Men on a Mission to advance to the semi-finals, while the Heavenly Bodies advanced after defeating the Bushwhackers.  WWF Superstars, which is hosting the entire tournament, will feature another first round match between the Headshrinkers and Owen Hart & Jim Neidhart, with the winners getting Bigelow and Tatanka in the next round.

Well Dunn (w/Harvey Wippleman) beat Phil Apollo & Tim McNeany when Timothy Well pins McNeany after a stun gun at 3:46:

Well Dunn, a team composed of United States Wrestling Association (USWA) staples Rex King (who wrestled as Timothy Well) and Steve Doll (who wrestled as Steven Dunn), had a playful name but that is where their credibility ended.  The duo first came into the WWF in 1993 but was stuck in a never ending feud with the Bushwhackers for much of their WWF tenure.  Having Harvey Wippleman as a manager did not help either as Wippleman’s charges rarely won their feuds, but Wippleman did have connections to the USWA so his association with the duo made sense to smarter fans.  The team lacked a strong gimmick too, with both men wearing pink bow ties to the ring, constituting a departure from the Southern rock shtick the two used in the USWA and Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW).  This squash, which was pretty dull, served to put over Well Dunn’s tag team work because they have a tag team title tournament bout with the Smoking Gunns in a couple of weeks but I do not like their chances.

A vignette hypes the debut of Kama, the Supreme Fighting Machine.  The gimmick is a way for Charles Wright to reinvent himself as he had played Papa Shango in 1992 and 1993.  Reports at the time were that it was a ripoff of UFC fighter Kimo, who pushed Royce Gracie to the limit at UFC 3.

Lex Luger defeats Reno Riggins via submission to the Rebel Rack at 1:46:

As noted above, Luger was treading water by this point in his WWF run.  He had not wrested the WWF title from the grips of Yokozuna in 1993 or 1994, was upstaged on the face side by Bret Hart, and McMahon had seemingly lost interest in pushing him further after that.  A heel turn would have been well advised, but one did not appear to be on the horizon.  The piped in cheers and accompanying fireworks made it seem that Luger is over like Hulk Hogan and he makes short work of Riggins with a series of power maneuvers.  This whole match and celebration came across as weird since there is still one more match in the show.

A house show interview of Bob Backlund done by Raymond Rougeau is aired.  He claims that he will indent “former” in WWF Champion Diesel’s forehead when they face off in the future and how he will win the Royal Rumble match, thereby being “by the side of God” again.  I loved Backlund’s gimmick but his style did not mesh with many opponents in this period and his status on the card fell significantly as 1995 wore on.

Duke “the Dumpster” Droese pins an unnamed jobber with the Trash Compactor at 1:50:

The story goes that Droese secured employment after someone showed McMahon a copy of the inaugural PWI 500 that ranked Droese at #500 and McMahon vowed to show he could make a star out of anyone.  Droese’s gimmick as a garbage man, replete with carrying a trash can to the ring and dressing like a garbage collector, perfectly illustrates how the WWF was going off the rails during this period as wrestlers like Droese had a limited ceiling and the product lacked a dose of credibility and realism.  This squash is nothing to see as Droese attacks the unnamed jobber shortly after the bell and checkmates him in five or so moves.

Tamara Murphy hypes the house show circuit again.

Tune in next week to see Adam Bomb, Henry Godwinn, and Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon and there will be a special interview with Jeff Jarrett!

The Final Report:  Are you not excited about what 1995 has in store?  We have the big King Kong Bundy, a trash man, apparent Chippendale rip-offs in Well Dunn, and Lex Luger still waving the American flag like it is 1986!  It is very jarring how cartoonish all of this looks compared to the product today and all you have to do is watch the Royal Rumble report for the promos done by Razor Ramon and the Undertaker.  For example, the Undertaker is outraged that IRS would mess with the graves of the dead and that warrants a feud!  It is only going to get worse before it gets better…

Up Next for Tuesday:  Monday Night Raw from January 2, 1995