Dwayne Johnson’s TV Debut, Tugboat vs. Roadblock (and other Dream Matches)

Just a picture of Flex Kavana, anyone knows does he still wrestles, I remember seeing him USWA back in 90s. : SquaredCircle

Welcome back to more Dream Matches! Now, if you’re anything like me, every once in a while you wake up and go “I really want to watch a dozen Roadblock matches”, but I wasn’t sure about doing a “Best of Roadblock” column or just spreading the joy throughout multiple columns. But watching him fight Tugboat in 1991 just needs some focus on its own, you know?

Also, this week we’ll see the TV debut of some tall guy named Dwayne Johnson as “Flex Kavana”, as he teams up with Brian Christopher against Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee in the Memphis territory, while Dwayne prepares for his WWF callup in one of the few old territories left. Also, it’s a Berzerker frenzy, as John Nord squashes both Shawn Michaels and Jim Powers in different decades! Who knows if either of those pretty boys will recover their careers?

Also, come watch Blitzkrieg fight Super Calo! With NO BOTCHING! Swear to God! Except once. Where Blitzkrieg nearly dies. But other than that it was clean!

(USWA, mid-1996)
* So yes, this is the first EVER televised match for one Dwayne Johnson, as he appears in his USWA incarnation, with barely any training under his belt (he graduated college only the year before), as “Flex Kavana” (a nickname 411/Inside Pulse’s Eric S would always use to make fun of him). And he’s teaming with “Too Sexy” against the old men of the territory, Jerry & Bill, at a combined age of 970, with Bill in yellow tights and Jerry in his blue one-strap. Flex is in black trunks, Brian in white tiger-striped tights. Flex, with the same heelish tint in his voice that the Rock would later use, declares his team “Naughty by nature and violent by design”. There’s barely anyone at all in this embarrassingly-tiny red TV studio as the USWA promotion dies and dies. Lawler is actually a heel at this point.

Brian scores a bunch of slams on the oldsters and struts, just looking like the most indieriffic guy ever- his act always seemed so “small-time” for me, just preening and cackling with no presence to him. Lawler gets a slam of his own as two minutes have elapsed. I swear every single move is followed by a minute of looking around and pointing. Flex gets tagged in casually, and immediately does the “Early Rocky” stuff, with the kip-ups, simple “training school” sequences, and those armdrags he always used to do, Lawler bumping around for the kid. Bill comes in and gets shoved around, then eats the worst dropkick- like, to the hip- but sells it like a gunshot, lying dead in the corner. The commentators even call it out as looking like shit, but pass it off as Flex being just SO STRONG that Bill was hurt anyways. Lawler cheap-shots Flex a couple of times from tests of strength and the heels double-team him, but Lawler misses the fistdrop and it’s hot tag Brian, who hits… some uncoordinated shots and then the faces get double abdominal stretches to REALLY ramp up the excitement. And Dundee slugs the ref while in the hold, and it’s a DQ when he recovers at (9:07).

Man, fuuuuuuuuuuuck the Memphis style at this point. It’s just “heels whining” after every ’80s move done to them and offense from the 1970s- no wonder Christopher was such a mediocre Cruiserweight coming up in that territory (Taka Michinoku was doing state of the art stuff and all Brian could do against was “like heavyweight stuff, but from a smaller guy”). Flex seems to have had only two months in the USWA, which is weird because I remember seeing his name a lot in PWI and the like- I guess Uncle Pat & Vince gave him the call really, REALLY soon… which kind of explains a lot. He had a ton of natural athleticism (which is probably why he was as advanced as he was with so little ringtime), but couldn’t put the pieces together for a good while- it didn’t help that apparently they only taught him the 1980s basics, instead of stuff guys were doing in 1996.

Rating: DUD (it’d be worth like half a star if they didn’t pad NINE MINUTES for that)

(Mid-South Wrestling, 1985/03/22)
* Shawn is green as grass at this point, wearing green tights and having short curly hair as a jobber in what is I believe Mid-South. Nord, roided to the gills and wearing black trunks, jumps him before the bell and launches him across the ring as the ref finally calls to start the match.

Nord gets a one-handed release bodyslam and a back elbow as Shawn ragdolls around the ring for him. Lazy big boot and a big clothesline have Shawn spinning all over the place, and a Full Nelson finishes at (1:14). Nord just dumps Shawn face-first to the mat, out cold. A complete squash- dudes must have loved working with Shawn at this point, as his selling was above and beyond even back then.

Rating: DUD (no offense at all from Shawn, and even Nord did very little)

(WWF in Toronto, 1991)
* This is still in the “blue shirt” phase of Nord in the WWF, but he’s switched his name from “The Viking” already. The ENORMOUS mullet of Powers cannot be undersold, here.

Powers walks right into a boot to the gut as Berzerker gets so worked up he starts fighting the friggin’ air while Powers is selling. Big boot (much more effort than the last match, with Nord’s trademark LONG outstretched leg) and legdrop have Powers thrashing, and Berzerker adds running headbutts but spends most of his time with theatrics. Berzerker whips Powers into a snap-chokeslam, then “ties him” (not really) in the ropes for a running boot as Powers has gotten NOTHING. And then he finally tries something and it’s the single-worst “slide under the legs” spot I’ve ever seen, as he hits the mat like a ton of bricks, halting his momentum and Berzerker doesn’t move his feet to get out of the way and awkwardly just dives on him. Powers tries a cross-body but gets caught with a rib-breaker, and Berzerker hits a big kneedrop off Bret’s Rope… for the pin (4:05)! Wow- not even a COUNT-OUT win for him!

This was ENDLESS by squash standards, especially since Powers didn’t even get a single real bit of offense in, and Nord spent most of his time jumping around and looking at Fuji. Eventually he’d just start doing “HUSS!” with his one pose consistently. But squashes aren’t the best use of Nord, since he’s best off with his cartoonish over-selling.

Rating: DUD (way too long for a jobber match that’s 100% one-sided)

(WCW Saturday Night, March 20th 1999)
* More Blitzkrieg action, as he takes on Super Calo on the weekend C-show. They actually wrestled only two weeks later on Thunder as well, but I can’t find the complete version of that on YouTube. Blitzkrieg is in a more red version of his gear in this one, while Super Calo is in all-black, with a do-rag instead of his hat. Those amazing sunglasses remain.

Calo catches Blitzkrieg trying acrobatics, hitting an elbow and a tilt-a-whirl slam for two. Blitzkrieg recovers with a wheelbarrow armdrag, backflip dropkick and lands on his feet missing an Asai Moonsault, only to eat a leg lariat. Calo keeps taking his sweet time between moves, hitting a 2nd-rope kneedrop- Blitzkrieg keeps doing backflips onto his feet and getting caught, but finally dodges a shot and does flash pins, but Calo pops up with a leapfrog back-kick, again taking forever to capitalize. The crowd shits on him for trying an armbar, but Blitz catches him and hits a rolling snap-senton & standing corkscrew moonsault, just going crazy-flippy. That gets two, but Calo’s right back up and dropkicks him while Blitz is on his knees, then hits a corner clothesline and puts Blitz up top- Blitzkrieg backflips out of that, dropkicks Calo to the floor, and tries a pescado, but Calo turns sideways for a half-powerslam and dunks Blitzkrieg STRAIGHT the fuck on his head in what could have been a tragic bump. Like, holy shit, that was a mid-air Northern Lights Bomb. Blitzkrieg goes into the guardrails a few times, but gets whipped in and turns it into a Manami Toyota-esque no-hands leap straight onto the railing and moonsaults off! He prepares to finish, but springboards right into a Ligerbomb in the ring! Two-count for Calo off of that death-move. An awkward leap up to the top rope and he misses by a mile, and Blitzkrieg handily pins him with the Phoenix Splash (corkscrew 450 splash) for the pin (6:29).

Pretty wild match, with Blitzkrieg doing his best stunt-show stuff- almost every move he did was insanely flippy to the extreme, leaving Calo to do the “meat”. Aside from a lot of standing around and yelling, he did okay. This is also EXACTLY what a lot of wrestling looks like today. Like… the “rookie doing needlessly flippy moves in regular situations to show off” stuff, the “high-flying move into a near-tragic bump” spot, an impossible stunt, a VICIOUS reversal that only gets two, and more. Like you could put this exact match from 1999 on in 2021 AEW and nobody would think anything was up. It’s both incredibly state of the art and kind of weirdly emblematic of what “the indie style” became.

Rating: **1/2 (started a bit slow, but Blitzkrieg’s got some good flips and that Ligerbomb reversal was SICK)

(SWS Japan, 07.06.1991)
* !!!!!! Tugboat wrestled Roadblock!!! My life is complete! This wondrous FAT MAN STAND-OFF hails from Tenryu’s SWS promotion, which was actively working with the WWF at the time- “Rochester” Roadblock was a regular there, and now Tugboat comes from the WWF to fight him. Both guys are hilariously wearing the same sort of gear tonight, with Roadblock’s old gear being a white & red striped shirt, except he’s wearing black pants with road markings on them. Tugboat is in his usual white & red-striped WWF gear, coming down to his goofy “TOOOOOT” theme song. Both guys are absolutely huge, with Roadblock being a bit taller, but Tugboat having a lot more mass- his back is wide as a theater screen and he’s got a HUGE gut compared to RB, who was apparently more slender back in 1991. The YouTube video here is some white guy overdubbing what he calls the “Goofy Language Commentary” stuff, and the title of this video series is, um… well, it wouldn’t pass even in 2014, much less now.

HELL YES NO-SOLD FAT GUY SHOULDERBLOCKS IMMEDIATELY- they know what I like to see! Tugboat is too big to bodyslam, but he manages one on Roadblock, then delightfully toots for the audience. A big clothesline in the corner and his “Casual Walk-By Clothesline” puts Roadblock down, but he tries a bearhug and Roadblock headbutts free before knocking TUGBOAT down with a clothesline. Two elbows get two, and he hits a back elbow… and two more elbowdrops, I guess only having a couple of moves at this point. But he goes up to the second rope and… wait, he was doing this back then, too? Yes, it’s his standard Match-Costing Mistake (in *1998* he was still doing this), as he aims for a big fat splash and whiffs on it, faceplanting on the mat. And so Tugboat hits the corner avalanche, another bodyslam, and finishes him off with the Running Splash in a crazy (3:06)- haha, they gave them THREE MINUTES? In JAPAN?

Very short match, but adequate as far as Big Fat Guy matches go- many of the mandatory spots, though it was kinda weird how the invited guy (Tugboat) just eats alive the featured player, even resisting bodyslams and hitting his own effortlessly. At least it was quick enough that neither guy got tired, though it’s funny seeing guys repeat moves in a three minute match.

Rating: *1/2 (short but okay)