Wrestling Observer Flashback – 12.05.94
Although there’s one major story that we’re just waiting for this week, we start with one of the more tragic tales in wrestling history: The life and death of Art Barr.
– Art Barr was found dead in his home, having passed away in his sleep around 11/23 in his home in Eugene, OR. The autopsy didn’t reveal a cause of death at this point. (Spoiler: Shitloads of drugs?)
– Art had flown home from Mexico City on the Tuesday and picked up his son, but the next day his mother couldn’t get a hold of him and went to the house to see if he was OK. She had to bang on the window and found both Art and son Dexter asleep on the waterbed, but Art was cold and bleeding from the nose, and it turned out that he had been dead for anywhere up to 24 hours. (Geez, that’s gonna mess the kid up.)
– Sadly, although his death was big news in Mexico and on Spanish-speaking stations in the US, his hometown paper still couldn’t say anything positive about him in death because he had been such a “political hot potato” following the rape charges. His entire career summary in the obituary was as follows: “Following the (sexual assault) incident, Barr signed on with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling in Atlanta. Arthur Barr’s father is Sandy Barr, a widely known Portland professional wrestler and promoter.”
– Art Barr was the son of Sandy Barr, and grew up around the Portland Sports Arena, which was a converted bowling alley used to run wrestling shows every Saturday. It was there that he met countless future stars like Roddy Piper, Buddy Rose, Curt Hennig, Jimmy Snuka, Adrian Adonis and many others. However, Art learned both good and bad lessons from the many wrestlers he met, as he ended up with a cocaine conviction on his record by his 18th birthday.
– Art had his first match on 04/02/87, but was immediately too small to be taken seriously, even in Oregon. He seemed destined to work opening matches and be a good hand in the local area, and that would be it. That is, until Roddy Piper told him one day in 1989 to change from standard ring gear into tattered clothes and put flour in his hair to make him up like “Beetlejuice”, after the movie was a huge hit. Soon he was the most popular wrestler in the territory, feuding with crusty old Al Madril, who would loudly proclaim every week how much he hated kids.
– Unfortunately, six months after Piper gave Art his big character change, Art met a 19 year old fan named Angela, and had a sexual encounter with her at the arena that soon resulted in Barr getting charged with rape. Soon the incident blew up like a powder keg, and promoter Don Owens was seemingly oblivious to the barrage of negative publicity that was coming down on his promotion. They continued to have Art play the Beetlejuice character, dancing with young children on TV every week while newspapers savaged the promotion with disgusted editorials. (Maybe Don should have asked Vince for some advice…)
(Right, on second thought…)
– As the date of his trail approached and the firestorm of publicity continued unabated, Barr managed to plea bargain down to first degree sexual abuse with 180 hours of community service and 2 years probation. Barr’s official testimony to police was that he was aware that the girl didn’t want to have sex with him under a dirty stairwell in a bowling alley that night, but she DID want to sex with him at some point, so in his mind he was justified. His lawyer advised him that he should take the plea rather than risking prison time by letting the case go to trial, because if he plead out, then all the negative publicity would go away and he could go back to his regular life again and everyone would quickly forget about him.
– So yeah, as you can imagine with that kind of cracking good legal advice, Barr’s life quickly went south and everything was the exact opposite of what was promised to him. Once he went back to work like “normal”, he suddenly became a shining example of how celebrities face an entirely standard of “justice”, with this arrogant young punk who admitted to raping a girl and didn’t spend a minute in prison for it, then went back to wrestling again like nothing had happened. If anything, the outrage was even worse than before the trial. The Oregon commission, which had always enjoyed putting the screws to Don Owen and Sandy Barr, took the opportunity to revoke Art’s license based on a loophole: On his original application, he had lied about his previous felony cocaine conviction. (It could be worse. He could have written “Okay” in the area where it said “Do not write in this space”). With the law now on their side, Art’s license was revoked and it was made clear that it would never be renewed again.
– Amazingly, a tape of Art Barr ended up on Jim Herd’s desk, and Herd decided that “The Juicer” was exactly what WCW needed to turn things around with the young children, despite Ole Anderson thinking he was too small. Although the rape charges were big news in Oregon, Herd and the entire WCW legal team were either ignorant or just oblivious. (With WCW, either one is equally likely.)
– And of course, WCW was immediately blindsided by people in Oregon actually watching their show and complaining to the papers there about it. Those papers complained directly to Ted Turner, and in fact one enterprising unknown troublemaker began faxing newspaper stories to cities where WCW would be stopping in advance of them getting there, highlighting the checkered past of “The Juicer”. Jim Herd announced he was 100% standing behind Barr because it wasn’t their job to punish him any further. Until crowds began chanting “rapist” at the supposed babyface, at which point he completely flip-flopped and fired him.
– Amazingly, Barr benefitted from another coincidence, as Konnan was in for the Starrcade ’90 “international” tournament and immediately took a liking to The Juicer, basically telling EMLL that they needed to sign him for big money. And so The Love Machine was born in 03/91, which may or may not have been a broadside at the newspapers the persecuted him. (Oh damn, I never even made that connection before!) Although Oregon continued to be disgusted by his existence, all the hatred stopped at the border, and Love Machine could go as far as his talent would take him, in a promotion where he was no smaller than anyone else.
– Barr was making upwards of $3500 a week in Mexico and flew his family down there to stay in hotels with him during the week, but they hated it. Eventually they left for America again and Barr had to stay because he was making more money than he had ever seen in his life. On 04/03/92, Barr lost a mask v. mask match to Blue Panther, selling out the 18000 seat arena, with another 8000 fans watching on a hastily erected screen in the parking lot. A month later, Konnan left EMLL to form AAA, and Barr jumped ship along with him for $4000 a week, making him one of the highest paid wrestlers in Mexico.
– After a brief return to Oregon, with the negative heat having finally died off for good, Barr and Konnan took the PNW tag titles to AAA and they became the AAA World tag team titles. This led to Barr having a final blowoff as a babyface against Blue Panther at a show on 07/18/93 in Guadalajara, in a match where he finally found the key to true stardom. During the third fall, he suddenly decided to lift up Panther’s shoulder at two and gave a cocky smirk to the audience, at which point he was suddenly a heel and it was like a switch went on for him. He lost the match by DQ and had his head shaved, but a month later Eddie Guerrero turned on El Hijo del Santo in a match against Barr and Los Gringos Locos were born.
– The two immediately became the top heels in Mexico, with Guerrero introducing New Japan style while Barr did American style bumps and mannerisms, and it changed the business. Konnan quickly joined the group, and Barr & Guerrero won the tag titles by literally paying off heel referee Tirantes during the match. Mexican wrestling magazines complained that the angle was “just too silly”. (LUCHA LIBRE magazines complained that an angle was TOO SILLY!)
– As it turns out, Barr’s final match was the When Worlds Collide PPV, which he agreed to work for a bargain rate because he knew major people were scouting the show and it was his one chance to get exposed to North American audiences, so he and Eddie decided to steal the show by any means necessary. And they did, but ultimately it didn’t matter for Barr.
(Of course, we now know that while Barr was unable to make the big break in the US he wanted, Eddie certainly did, essentially dedicating his career to Art and making the most of it before ending up the same way. Damn, wrestling, man. Damn.)
– So moving onto an ENTIRELY different subject, Diesel won the WWF title from Bob Backlund in 8 seconds on 11/26 in MSG, in an attempt to create another Hulk Hogan. Backlund had won the belt three days earlier at Survivor Series. The match was announced as “no DQ, no countout, no submissions”, which meant that Bob’s chicken wing was useless.
– The Garden crowd was only 7500 for the title change, but the crowd reacted big and on RAW the next night, Diesel was introduced as the leader of “The New Generation”. Backlund will work the house show circuit against Diesel until Shawn Michaels recovers from a hand injury enough to take his place.
– In more depressing news, Ricky Steamboat decided to retire at the age of 41 due to a herniated disc in his lower back that was suffered during a match with Steve Austin at the Clash of Champions on 8/24. He tried to work through it but it was too painful due to nerve damage in his leg.
And now, the Survivor Series! It was a very mixed reaction to the show, and Dave was bored silly by the endless title match. The show drew a legit sellout of 8000 in San Antonio.
1. Razor Ramon & 1-2-3 Kid & Davey Boy Smith & The Headshrinkers beat Shawn Michaels & Diesel & Owen Hart & Jim Neidhart & Jeff Jarrett in 21:45. Shawn never really tagged in because he’s still working with a broken hand. Diesel stayed out for the first 13:00 and then tagged in and immediately powerbombed both Headshrinkers and the Kid to eliminate them. Davey Boy was counted out soon after and Ramon was left alone against the entire heel team, but the heels argued and were improbably all counted out to make Razor the sole survivor. Shawn and Diesel split after an errant superkick and Shawn threw down the tag titles afterwards. *1/2 (Wait, Shawn Michaels giving up a title rather than do a job? SHOCKING.)
2. Jerry Lawler & Queasy & Sleazy & Cheesy beat Doink & Dink & Wink & Pink in 16:05. Dave very loosely calls it “comedy”. Lawler pinned Doink with a handful of tights and then all three evil midgets pinned the clowns in succession to make the heels the winners. -**1/2
3. Bob Backlund won the WWF title from Bret Hart in 35:11 of a submission match. Very little happened for the first 14:00 and Backlund’s work was awful. Bret got run into the stairs and Backlund put him into the chickenwing for 9:00 with Owen crying at ringside and turning fake babyface. Finally Owen guilted Helen Hart into throwing in the towel, at which point he revealed the ruse. **
4. Tatanka & Bam Bam Bigelow & King Kong Bundy & Heavenly Bodies beat Lex Luger & Mabel & Adam Bomb & Smoking Gunns in 23:21. The babyfaces got picked off, leaving Luger alone with Bundy, Bigelow & Tatanka. Luger managed to pin Tatanka with a surprise cradle, but Bundy immediately splashed and pinned him to win. **1/2 (What a geek.)
5. Undertaker beat Yokozuna in a casket match in 15:24. Chuck Norris got the biggest reaction of the night, and the match was much better than the house show ones. Norris took out the Million Dollar Team and prevented them from interfering, with Jeff Jarrett getting to be the lucky guy who took a kick from Norris, and Undertaker broken the Japanese flag over his knee and put in on top of Yoko before closing the casket for the win. **1/2
– Over to Japan, where Muto & Hase won the IWGP tag titles from the Hell Raisers, which spells the end for that team because Sasuke is going solo again.
– At the NWA meetings, Steve Rickard was named chairman, with Dennis Corraluzzo and Howard Brody getting named to the Board of Directors. But without any actual wrestling promotions, it’s, like, so what?
– John Studd is recovering well from a bone marrow transplant, but is still hospitalized. (That recovery didn’t go well for him, unfortunately.)
– To WCW, where Blacktop Bully finally debuted at the Center Stage tapings, playing a green rookie.
– Jeff Gaylord got a tryout and looked bad.
– Rick Rude and Curt Hennig actually showed up at the tapings in suits and ties and were introduced to the crowd, and stayed to heckle Barry Darsow during his match. Hennig is still negotiating and Rude is trying to settle his lawsuit with the company. Gene Okerlund is also starting rumors of Bret Hart and Ultimate Warrior coming in, although in both cases it’s complete bullshit started by himself only.
– The Omni Thanksgiving show that was cancelled only had an advance of 285 tickets, although in typical WCW fashion they continued advertising it for a week after it was scrapped.
– Bischoff has been given even more power, taking over most of the daily duties of Bob Dhue.
– Apparently people behind the scenes are starting to get pretty pissed off about Hogan pushing all his friends, most notably Jim Duggan as US champion.
– Over to the WWF, where there’s a bunch of new talent coming in. There’s Shinzaki, Brian Armstrong, Louie Spicoli, Mark Canterbury, Brian Lee, and possibly Chris Candido & Tammy Sytch. (So strange that out of all those, it was jobber Brian Armstrong and manager Tammy Sytch who had the biggest impact on the business.)
– ICOPRO has been sold off and is no longer part of Titan’s structure.
– Word is that Vince has now decided that the problem with the TV product is that they need to get out of the Northeast and start shooting in bigger arenas again, and that will surely fix all of their problems. (Same old Vince even 25 years later.)
– Vince and Jacques Rougeau had an ugly falling out over a proposed Montreal show, where Vince was portrayed in local media as denying Jacques the chance to give $60,000 to charity by blocking the show. Pierre, caught in the middle but ultimately siding with Vince, looks to get a big push as a pirate character as a result.
– Yokozuna is out for a while with surgery, although Hogan is pushing to get him into WCW.
– Trivia note: Bob Backlund’s one and only title defense was against British Bulldog in Pittsburgh on 11/25, where he lost via countout.
– The 11/20 Survivor Series preview show drew the lowest rating in history for a pre-PPV special, with a 2.1. (Maybe they need to shoot in a bigger arena?)
– And finally, Dave’s take on the Diesel turn after watching RAW on 11/28: “This isn’t to say this isn’t going to work, but if the Diesel thing is to work they have to be careful and leave it in short doses, like 911 in ECW, because it won’t work if they don’t keep the matches and interviews short. His weaknesses will be exposed if they aren’t careful not to let them be exposed, because a great deal of his charisma was the ability to stand there and do nothing and take the rub off Michaels.”
But, I mean, how bad could things get, anyway?