What the World Was Watching: SMW Thanksgiving Thunder ’95 (Cookeville) – Last of the Series!

This event – the last in Smoky Mountain Wrestling’s history – took place at the Cookeville Community Center in Cookeville, Tennessee on November 26, 1995.  Attendance for the show could not be found, but there are lots of empty seats and a generous estimate of the crowd might be 150 people.  Like the Thanksgiving Thunder show in Johnson City, this event was recorded by a fan.

Fans do not take kindly to the announcement that Terry Gordy is not in attendance because of a “concussion.”

Buddy Landel and Bob Armstrong do their bit from Johnson City where Armstrong vows to help Landel find a tag team partner because Jos LeDuc no-showed due to a family issue.

Opening Contest:  Sergeant Rock (w/Jim Cornette) (2-0) pins the Wolfman (1-8) with a DDT at 2:50:

Rock spams snapmares, which is tough to buy because of how much larger the Wolfman is.  Her forearm strikes are incredibly stiff, though.  The Wolfman gets a few more moves in than he did the night before, slamming Rock several times and dropping a leg.  However, Cornette’s interference allows Rock to finish the Wolfman with a low blow-DDT combo in a quick opener.

Before the next match, Cornette does a Jerry Lawler-like schtick of insulting the audience to build heat.

Butch Cassidy (1-0) pins Jim Cornette (w/Sergeant Rock) (1-2) via disqualification when Rock interferes at 17:45:

They use different comedy than Johnson City, with Cassidy mocking Cornette’s mannerisms after the opening bell and Cornette challenging Cassidy to a push-up contest, only to end up doing push-ups on his knees to match what Cassidy can do.  A funny test of strength follows, with Cornette forced to flee after Cassidy prevails.  They reprise the spot from Johnson City where Cornette gets mad at referee Mark Curtis and Curtis responds by dropkicking Cornette out of the ring.  The match should not go as long as it is booked since crowd interest dwindles when Cornette goes on the offensive and the finish is lame.  The first ten minutes was filled with a lot of funny stuff, though.  Rating:  *½

After the bell, Rock drops a few elbows and stomps Cassidy until the Wolfman makes the save.

Even though there have only been two matches, SMW does an intermission.  It is during this intermission that Cornette told the SMW locker room that the promotion would be closing.

Brad Armstrong Serves as Lumberjack:  Buddy Landel & Bob Armstrong (1-0) defeat Tommy Rich & the Punisher (w/Jim Cornette) (1-2) when Landel pins the Punisher after a corkscrew elbow drop at 12:18:

Even though Rich won the SMW Championship the night before he does not wear it to the ring for this match.  Armstrong reprises his role as Landel’s partner, working under a mask as “the Bullet.”  The heels learned from the previous night not to get bogged down in the babyface’s antics, seizing the advantage over Landel after a lengthy stalling period.  Like the previous night, the heels do a good job cutting off Landel’s efforts at the hot tag – although Johnson City featured better heel offense – and that riles the crowd up.  Armstrong is eventually tagged and shortly thereafter the Punisher is finished off with a corkscrew elbow drop.  Rating:  **¼

The THUGS & Ricky Morton defeat the Heavenly Bodies & Robert Gibson (w/Jim Cornette) when Morton pins Gibson after heel miscommunication at 11:45:

The crowd loves the Morton reveal, which is different than the previous night as Morton is under the dark sheet instead of Flash Flanagan and Cornette does not attempt to hit the masked wrestler with his tennis racquet.  The heels take a while to get on the apron to start the match and after that it takes them eight minutes to put Tracy Smothers in peril.  One would have thought much of the story of the match might hinge on a clash between Morton and Gibson or even Dr. Tom Prichard’s loaded boot, but neither are emphasized.  Morton gets the hot tag, rushes the heel side, and when Gibson tries to hold him in place for a Cornette racquet shot, Morton moves, heel miscommunication occurs, and the babyfaces prevail.  This was a perfectly acceptable, paint-by-numbers six-man tag.  Rating:  **

In the last segment in SMW’s history, the heels argue amongst themselves and Cornette bites off more than he can chew so the Bodies and Gibson beat him down.  The THUGS, Morton, and Buddy Landel come into the ring and they beat him up so that referee Mark Curtis can pin him.  Even that is not enough, though, as Morton implores the Bodies to “kill” Cornette for all the problems he has caused.  The Bodies tease another attack but decide to help their manager.  Everything after the Curtis pin took too long to play out, but the first half of it was great.

The Last Word:  While none of the matches broke the star ratings, the fans who did attend seemed to enjoy most of the matches presented.  Jim Cornette getting a beating from the babyface and heel side was as good a way to end the promotion since Cornette was the biggest character in the promotion over the last few years of its life.

Backstage News*:  One of the reasons Jim Cornette decided to pull the plug on Smoky Mountain Wrestling was that the four Thanksgiving Thunder shows drew $13,000 less than last year.  Typically, the Thanksgiving Thunder cards have been some of the company’s strongest, but the poor gates are indicative of the promotion’s struggles throughout 1995.  SMW reportedly has $29,000 in debt to payoff, with more than $22,000 of that owed to television production costs.  Cornette hoped that the Thanksgiving Thunder shows would allow him to catch up on bills for production and wrestler payoffs but that did not materialize.  And the lack of revenue generated by the Thanksgiving shows imperiled the company’s ability to do a new television taping on December 4.  Cornette has promised that everyone owed money by SMW will be compensated and one of the reasons he decided to shut things down was so that debts would not grow to an unmanageable level.  Music producer Rick Rubin has supported the promotion from the beginning but in August he decided to no longer fund it since the company did not appear to be making anymore forward progress.  SMW still had enough money to probably keep going for a few more months but Cornette argued it was best to shut things down since there was no chance of making it profitable over the short or long-term.  After the Cookeville show, Buddy Landel and Tracy Smothers approached Cornette with backers to keep the company running but Cornette decided on Monday night that SMW was over, a decision owned to a lack of new creative ideas and a wrestling economy that shows no signs of getting better.  One way that SMW plans to pay its debts is to sell videotapes and the merchandise that it has left.

*While some might argue that the failure of SMW illustrates that a traditional wrestling product no longer draws, Cornette disagrees, arguing that the changing nature of television makes it hard for a small promotion to be successful.  He points to how house shows cannot provide enough funds to produce television and then pay for airtime on television networks.  This was compounded by independent stations selling slots to FOX and the WB, as well as competition from other wrestling programs that drove up costs to $600 to $1,500 per week in the smallest of markets.  When SMW started, Cornette wanted to run 20 house shows per month but things never got to that point because Johnson City and Knoxville were not big enough draws to sustain that type of activity and SMW was not able to get enough television markets to sustain a large circuit.

*Creatively, there are questions about how Cornette was never able to replace the Heavenly Bodies as a top act when they left for the WWF in August last year.  The Gangstas were positioned as a top heel team but did not draw as well as the Bodies and Cornette never found anyone else to replace them.  Outrage over the Gangstas gimmick weakened spot show attendance as well, so that was a creative misfire.  The WWF turning the Bodies into a jobber-to-the-stars tag team also did not help SMW when they returned.  Some also question turning Buddy Landel babyface and using him to carry a company, arguing that Landel has no track record of success in such a role and how big matches with Tommy Rich drew sparse crowds outside of Knoxville.

*The family emergency excuse for Jos LeDuc was made up.  LeDuc told Cornette he was going to make the Thanksgiving Thunder cards even though he was suffering diabetes complications and then never called him back.

*The reason for the long Brad Armstrong-Tommy Rich title defense in Johnson City on November 25 was because Ricky Morton was driving in from Virginia and had not showed up yet.

*In talent relations news, SMW talent are said to be looking for jobs with the USWA or Bert Prentice’s North American All-Star Wrestling.  The USWA only wants Tracy Smothers on a full-time basis.  The WWF is going to bring in Buddy Landel for television tapings in December and possibly the Royal Rumble.  They are also going to bring the Headbangers in for a tryout match.  The Heavenly Bodies are ECW bound, booked for some shows in December.  Brad Armstrong may work more in Europe next year as he is doing a show in Germany soon.  Terry Gordy will continue work in IWA Japan for the foreseeable future.  The Dirty White Boy seems to have few desires to work outside of East Tennessee and Kentucky, prioritizing work in his father’s plumbing business.  And Flash Flanagan, who got a push near the end of the promotion’s life, is likely bound to return to the Midwest independent circuit.

*Backstage news provided courtesy of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer for December 4 and 11.

Here are some final statistics to wrap up SMW’s 1995 run:

Top 25 Overall Records:

T1—Billy Black (3-0)

T1—Sergeant Rock (3-0)

T1—The Undertaker (3-0)

T4—Butch Cassidy (2-0)

T4—Dan Severn (2-0)

T6—Bryant Anderson (1-0)

T6—Cactus Jack (1-0)

T6—Mark Curtis (1-0)

T6—Ron Wright (1-0)

T6—Shawn Michaels (1-0)

T6—Terry Funk (1-0)

12—Terry Gordy (10-1)

13—Flash Flanagan (5-1)

14—Brad Armstrong (15-4)

15—Jimmy del Ray (9-2-2)

T16—J.C. Ice (3-1)

T16—Wolfie D (3-1)

18—Dr. Tom Prichard (9-3-2)

19—Ricky Morton (13-5-1)

20—Robert Gibson (16-6-2)

21—The Dirty White Boy (21-9-1)

22—Bobby Blayze (12-6-1)

23—Boo Bradley (18-10)

24—Buddy Landel (22-13-1)

25—The Punisher (7-5)

Top 15 Singles Records:

1—Flash Flanagan (5-0)

T2—Billy Black (3-0)

T2—Sergeant Rock (3-0)

T4—Butch Cassidy (2-0)

T4—Dan Severn (2-0)

T6—Brian Armstrong (1-0)

T6—Bryant Anderson (1-0)

T6—Cactus Jack (1-0)

T6—Eddie Gilbert (1-0)

T6—Mark Curtis (1-0)

T6—New Jack (1-0)

T6—Ron Wright (1-0)

T6—Shawn Michaels (1-0)

T6—The Undertaker (1-0)

15—Brad Armstrong (15-2)

Top 10 Tag Team Records:

1—The Heavenly Bodies (7-1-1)

2—The Headbangers (6-2)

3—PG-13 (3-1)

4—The Rock N’ Roll Express (8-3)

5—The THUGS (12-5)

6—The Gangstas (4-4-1)

7—The Dynamic Duo (7-8-1)

8—The New Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1-2)

9—Tommy Rich & the Punisher (1-3)

T10—Robert Gibson & Chris Michaels (0-1)

Top 10 Appearances (Smoky Mountain TV + Supercards)

1—Buddy Landel (32)

T2—Boo Bradley (28)

T2—The Dirty White Boy (28)

T2—Tracy Smothers (28)

5—Robert Gibson (25)

6—Unabom (24)

7—Al Snow (23)

8—Ricky Morton (20)

9—The Wolfman (19)

10—Bobby Blayze (17)

Top 5 SMW Matches of 1995:

1—The THUGS vs. the Heavenly Bodies (SMW Tag Team Championship Match, August 4, The Super Bowl of Wrestling) – ***½

2—Marty Jannetty vs. Al Snow (MTW Midwest Championship Match, August 4, The Super Bowl of Wrestling) – ***½

3—The Dynamic Duo vs. the THUGS (Career Match with Jim Cornette as the Special Guest Refereee, August 12, Fire on the Mountain) – ***

4—PG-13 vs. the THUGS (USWA Tag Team Championship Match, May 19, Volunteer Slam IV) – ***

5—The Heavenly Bodies vs. the THUGS (SMW Tag Team Championship Match, October 7, Smoky Mountain TV) – ***

And so the journey through 1995 Smoky Mountain Wrestling comes to a close.  As the backstage news bits reveal, the promotion suffered big financial setbacks in 1995.  The 1994 Night of Legends card was the promotion’s climax as the company started to shed major talent from that point forward and never recovered.  The fact that SMW’s last-ever card was opened by Sergeant Rock vs. the Wolfman and Butch Cassidy vs. Jim Cornette shows that more than anything.  SMW also did a poor job promoting its own title as the SMW Championship became an afterthought once Jerry Lawler won it at Super Saturday Night Fever in January.  Putting the title on Bobby Blayze devalued it and even after Buddy Landel captured the belt it was largely defended in midcard bouts.  There might have been value for SMW in a big interpromotional angle with the USWA but the USWA got the better end of that deal because they could afford to do weekly television (due to not having to pay for their television production costs).  SMW taped four shows in one place on one day and was never able to do something like that in its territory.  As a result, the USWA saw great business in the summer due to the angle whereas SMW only got one big house with the Super Bowl of Wrestling card, a show that reinforced the notion that the WWF’s talents were better than SMW’s when Shawn Michaels beat Buddy Landel and the Undertaker defeated Unabom.  Couple this with Jim Cornette reviving his feud with Bob Armstrong, a move that reeked of creative desperation because no new ideas could be thought of, and the promotion was stuck in the mud the last several months of its existence.  That said, SMW did offer opportunities for young talent (and even some old acts) to get the attention of the WWF and other promotions.  The Headbangers, who cultivated their famous gimmick in the company, would be signed by the WWF and would become short-lived WWF tag team champions in 1997.  Similarly, Boo Bradley would get a quick run as Xanta Claus before finding fame in ECW as Balls Mahoney.  The Rock N’ Roll Express would have a cup of coffee run in WCW the following year, while the Gangstas paved a path of destruction and chaos from SMW to ECW.  And others like Marty Jannetty, Chris Candido, Tammy Sytch, Al Snow, and Unabom would all migrate to the WWF after their time in SMW finished at various points in 1995.  Cornette would also get another run as booker under the WWF umbrella with Ohio Valley Wrestling in the 2000s, helping to produce a crop of talent that would lead the WWF’s Ruthless Aggression era.  So even though SMW did not survive 1995 its legacy was assured due to the impact that its wrestlers made on the business in subsequent years.

FUTURE SCHEDULE:  My ECW reviews will now run Monday-Wednesday-Friday to finish off 1995.  After that I’m contemplating my next project.