The SmarK Rant for WWE Network Hidden Gems – Black & White Era!
OK, so the first couple of parts did really well this week, and now we carry on with more of the random and wonderful stuff found in the Hidden Gems of the Network, starting all the way back in the 50s and 60s when you had two colors to choose from: Black and white. As always, we’ll rate these Coliseum Video style, a point for something that works and no point if it doesn’t.
NWA World title: Lou Thesz v. Ray Gunkel (05.30.51)
I thought this was going to be clips, but it’s seemingly the entire match. Good thing I didn’t have any plans tonight. We’re in the Dallas Sportatorium back in 1951, with Gunkel the local babyface and Thesz slightly heelish as defending champion. Gunkel signing autographs in the ring during the introductions makes me wonder why they don’t do that anymore. Wouldn’t it be kind of cool of them to bring some kids in the ring and have Roman Reigns signs autographs like a real human being? People might actally cheer that. Thesz is actually managed by Ed “Strangler” Lewis here, one of the few times I can even recall seeing him outside of still photos. Lewis was Thesz’ personal hero and one of the guys that trained him. They fight for a lockup and Gunkel takes him down and works a toehold on the mat. Thesz fights up and complains about a back injury in the corner, but then suckers him in and gets a cheapshot. Thesz keeps retreating into the ropes to evade takedowns, but Gunkel finally gets him down with a side headlock, which Thesz eventually reverses into a hammerlock. And then Gunkel grabs him with the headlock again and grinds on that for a while, but Thesz goes with another cheapshot to the ribs to break. And the crowd is OUTRAGED that he would punch a man in the short ribs, like this is the most dastardly thing a man could do. Gunkel goes back to the headlock and threatens his own punch, but Thesz gets the ropes and backs off again. Gunkel finally gives him back his own medicine with a punch, and now Thesz hides in the corner before catching him with a front facelock. Thesz wraps him up with a short-arm scissors and the announcer matter-of-factly tells us that Gunkel’s in no danger of losing from that. I really like that they’re going slowly enough that the announcer has a chance to explain the hold and how it works and what it targets. Gunkel keeps attempting to roll him over for a pin while in the hold, but Thesz keeps bridging out. Finally he goes the power lift and drops Thesz on his head, but Thesz goes right back to the arm. Gunkel fires back with an elbow for a big pop and ironically uses a Thesz Press for two. They fight over that pinfall, with Gunkel struggling to hold his shoulders down, which is a dynamic you NEVER see anymore. Now any time the shoulders are in the general vicinity of the mat, it’s counted as a pin. Thesz works his way into the ropes to break again, so Gunkel drags him out of the corner and slams him for two. Three more slams, with Gunkel struggling to hold him down for each pin attempt, finally get the first fall at 21:52, as Thesz made him WORK for that one.
Second fall and they fight over a wristlock, which Thesz wins. Gunkel now takes a swing at Thesz on the ropes and apparently the scientific portion is over. Gunkel takes him over with another headlock and just cranks the shit out of it while Thesz does an amazing job of selling frustration with it. Hot take: This Lou Thesz kid has a bright future in the pro wrestling business. Thesz counters out with an airplane spin, but Gunkel actually gets a nifty reversal into another pinning combo for two. Thesz hangs out in the corner doing an amazing job of communicating “What the hell do I have to do with this guy?” without saying anything, and Gunkel goes right back to the headlock again. Thesz rolls him over with a leglock, but Gunkel keeps grabbing the headlock and so Thesz hides in the ropes again. This gives him the chance to hit more rib shots on Gunkel, which finally seems to be the counter to the headlock. And then Gunkel takes him down with the bodyscissors this time, and Thesz again makes the ropes. More short punches from Thesz in the corner and they do a series of bridges and pinning combos, and Thesz picks him up with a GODDAMN POWERBOMB for the second fall at 35:40. I’m not even joking, he literally pulled him up into a body vice and then slammed him straight down. So there you, Lou Thesz invented the powerbomb in 1951 and there’s video proof. Gunkel is DEAD and they literally haul him away on a stretcher after that. No shit, if you didn’t know how to take that bump you’d be in trouble.
Third fall and Gunkel is a REAL MAN who wants to continue, but those damn quack doctors won’t let him continue. Probably voted Democrat, those commie bastards. The ring announcer declares that Gunkel has a “dislocated vertebrae” and can’t continue, so Thesz wins by forfeit. I really enjoyed the slow and deliberate psychology here, as I’m endlessly fascinated by the old-timey wrestling and the ways that they used to build a match, but it might not be your cup of tea. However, Lou Thesz wins with a FUCKING POWERBOMB in 1951, so 1 for 1. Gunkel went on to become a promoter and gained some sad posthumous fame by dying in the ring at age 48, allegedly from a heart punch delivered by Ox Baker.
“A Killer Challenge”
Killer Kowalski v. Mr. Moto & Duke Keomuka (04.29.52)
More from Texas Rasslin’, with babyface Kowalski (who of course gained the most post-retirement fame by being the guy who discovered and trained HHH and Chyna) facing the evil Japanese/Hawaiian heels. Keomuka was a longtime Texas heel who is actually the father of Pat Tanaka. There’s also a wacky subplot here with the ring announcer wearing a top hat and tails in Kowalski’s corner. Local big fat heel George Bolas (not sure of the spelling) goes after Kowalski and makes a nuisance of himself, and that allows Keomuka to throw deadly martial arts blows to gain control. Mr. Moto, by the way, was better known as Tor Kamata and in fact lived here in Saskatoon until his death a few years back. He went to the same church as a friend of mine and used to claim to him that he was actually Toru Tanaka. Close enough, I guess. So there you go, my own personal connection to this match. The heels double-team Kowalski, but Killer just pounds Moto down and holds a hammerlock until Moto quits at 4:08. The announcer points out that falls don’t actually count and it just means that we take a brief intermission for the man to recover, because the match continues until someone on either side decides that they don’t want to continue. But…isn’t that what just happened? These rules are pretty nebulous. Second fall and Keomuka is going it alone because I guess Moto has indeed decided not to continue. Kowalski controls with some holds on the mat, but Kowalski suddenly drops down in pain and they stop the match. Apparently some fan chucked an object into the ring and beaned him right in the eye! I don’t know if that was a worked spot or what because I didn’t see anything on screen. Duke goes to work on the injured eye, so it probably was a phantom object. Kowalski runs Keomuka into the corner to break, and then hits a pretty impressive kneelift and rolls him over with a bodyscissors. Keomuka fires back with karate, but Kowalski just throws him around and drops a knee. The announcer clarifies the rules of Texas Rasslin’: You can pretty much do whatever you want up to actually punching the guy in the face, which earns you a warning. And now George Bolas runs in again and splashes Kowalski a bunch of times, which draws the DQ at 16:48. So you see, shit finishes are by no means a modern invention. 1 for 2.
Dave Ruhl v. Gino Marella (03.16.61)
Moving ahead to the next decade now, as we head up to Stampede Wrestling for early Gorilla Monsoon. Should Ruhl be able to best Marella in a pro grappling exhibition within 10 minutes, he will earn $550. Ruhl manages to wrestle Marella to the mat, but Gino gets a full nelson and hangs on while Ruhl takes him down. Ruhl finally pounds him down and grabs a facelock, Marella just hurls him across the ring. Ruhl takes him down and tries a hold, while Marella is just laughing at him. Ruhl tries working the arm and Marella tickles him to get out and casually lays on him. Ruhl keeps trying the headlock with time running out, so Marella hurls him across the ring again and time expires at 10:00. 1 for 3.
OK, time to learn strength and conditioning the VERNE WAY. I have no idea what this is from, but it’s Verne Gagne doing what appears to be an infomercial about isometric exercises. It’s exercises for lazy people, he excitedly tells us! Exercise #1: Stand in a doorway, push up on the frame for 10 seconds. Exercise #2: Sit in the doorway and put your feet on the frame, push out for 10 seconds. Exercise #3: Do a deadlift on a railing or other immovable object. This was…kinda interesting, actually. 2 for 4.
“Legends of Texas Rasslin’”
Joe Blanchard, Cowboy Bob Ellis & Duke Keomuka v. Bob Geigel, Gary Hart & Waldo Von Erich (1966)
This is quite the mixture. Waldo was the supposed father of Lance Von Erich in storyline. I’ve never actually seen “Gay” Gary Hart in the ring before, and his look is more like Buddy Rogers at this point, so that’s kind of jarring. Gary actually wrote about this period in his book, as he was a tough guy from Chicago up until that point, and suddenly he went to Texas and the promoter basically told him to go out and play a flaming pretty boy. Gary was of course not thrilled with this character change. Ellis holds a full nelson on Waldo and the babyfaces harass him in their corner. They get some mileage out of that and we cut to Ellis being double-teamed by the heel side. Keomuka comes in with a stomach claw on Geigel and puts him down for two, and everyone runs in to break things up. Duke goes back to the stomach claw on Geigel. Hart comes in and Keomuka chops him down as it breaks loose AGAIN. Gorilla Monsoon would be losing his shit at the low quality of the refereeing here. The heels are all rammed together and finally the two referees regain control, which results in Waldo getting abused by Joe Blanchard. We get a triple collision from the heels, but they regroup and everyone pounds on a babyface. Blanchard gets trapped in the heel corner until Ellis breaks it up. Blanchard slugs it out with Hart and wins that battle, and we suddenly cut to the babyfaces having won somehow at 13:35 shown. OK then. Crowd certainly seemed happy about it, so good for them. 2 for 5.
Next time: It’s COLOR TV!