What the World Was Watching: WWF Superstars – January 5, 1991 (Start of a New Series!)

In 1990 the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) decided to pivot from the formula that made it a global brand.  Hulk Hogan, the company’s longtime champion, wanted to get into Hollywood and spent much of the year offscreen.  At WrestleMania VI, Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior defeated Hogan for the WWF Championship.  The match was supposed to make the Warrior the new face of the company, and the WWF hoped that the Warrior could continue Hogan’s profitable run into the new decade.  However, the Warrior quickly proved to be a flop, drawing poorly on house shows against Rick Rude, having an awful television title defense on Haku on Saturday Night’s Main Event a month after WrestleMania, and ending up as the third wheel in the Legion of Doom’s feud with Demolition.  His run was also hurt by the WWF not fully committing to his run, giving Hogan the prime feud of the summer against Earthquake.

Other WWF talent acquisitions in 1990 also failed to make a noticeable impact.  Kerry Von Erich was signed as a replacement for Brutus Beefcake, who had the best run of his career cut short by a parasailing accident on July 4.  Von Erich was rumored to be one of the stars that WWF owner Vince McMahon considered a candidate for taking his promotion national in 1984, but his early run was disappointing.  Winning the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam, Von Erich was christened as “The Texas Tornado,” and even though he got sizeable pops from the crowd, his ring work was clunky and his backstage demons caused the WWF to get the title off of him by the end of the year.  The Legion of Doom, former tag team champions in Jim Crockett Promotions and the American Wrestling Alliance (AWA), were signed at the same time as Von Erich to improve the tag team division, but their program with Demolition quickly fizzled out and was poorly received.  And then there was Sergeant Slaughter, who returned to the WWF for the first time in six years and was cast as a heel.  Slaughter rocketed up the card as an Iraqi sympathizer at a time when Iraq invaded its tiny neighbor, Kuwait.  Although his promos were good and generated heat, the WWF played with fire since U.S. forces prepared to go to war for the first time since Vietnam to restore order to the Persian Gulf.  Other new acts like Tugboat or Saba Simba were too cartoonish to be taken seriously or downright offensive to portions of the fanbase.

McMahon came under fire for becoming distracted by side projects, spending some of 1990 laying the groundwork for his World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) by appearing at bodybuilding conventions and launching a bodybuilding magazine.  He was also starting to antagonize NBC after several episodes of Saturday Night’s Main Event and The Main Event generated poor ratings, a situation made worse by the WWF trying to negotiate a different television deal with FOX.

That is not to say, though, that there were not things that 1990 did not do right.  Mr. Perfect was damaged by decisively losing a feud to Hulk Hogan but found a niche in the Intercontinental title scene and recaptured that belt by the end of the year.  Bret Hart, who had spent the last five years teaming with brother-in-law Jim Neidhart as a tag team called the Hart Foundation, was starting to get noticed as a singles competitor, defeating the Honky Tonk Man at Survivor Series Showdown and coming up just short of a miraculous three-versus-one comeback at Survivor Series.  And new roster acts the Nasty Boys, the British Bulldog, and the Undertaker, who came in at the very end of 1990, showed potential to reshape the tag team and singles scenes, respectively.

This column, which will be released on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, will review all major WWF television shows and pay-per-views throughout 1991.  Wrestlers win/loss totals will also be provided for their matches, noteworthy house shows will be broken down, and at the end of each week a review will be provided of major backstage news that affected WWF booking and business.

Here was the WWF’s roster to start 1991:

Faces:  The Big Bossman, the British Bulldog, Shane Douglas, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Dustin Rhodes, Dusty Rhodes, Jake Roberts, Tito Santana, Saba Simba, Jimmy Snuka, the Texas Tornado, Tugboat, Koko B. Ware, the Ultimate Warrior

Heels:  The Barbarian, Dino Bravo, Ted DiBiase, Earthquake, Haku, Rick Martel, the Mountie, Mr. Perfect, Randy Savage, Sergeant Slaughter, the Undertaker, Greg Valentine, Virgil, the Warlord, Boriz Zhukov

Tag Teams:  The Nasty Boys (heels), the Bushwhackers (faces), Demolition (heels), Power & Glory (heels), the Legion of Doom (faces), the Orient Express (heels), the Hart Foundation (faces), the Rockers (faces)

Enhancement Talents:  Black Bart, the Brooklyn Brawler, Jim Powers, Buddy Rose

And here is a list of the WWF’s champions to begin the year:

WWF Champion:  The Ultimate Warrior (defeated Hulk Hogan on April 1, 1990 at WrestleMania VI)

WWF Tag Team Champions:  The Hart Foundation (defeated Demolition on August 27, 1990 at SummerSlam)

Intercontinental Champion:  Mr. Perfect (defeated the Texas Tornado on November 19, 1990 on WWF Superstars – match aired on television on December 15, 1990)

The first WWF broadcast of 1991 was the January 5 edition of WWF Superstars, featuring Vince McMahon, Roddy Piper, and the Honky Tonk Man on commentary.  It was taped in Tampa, Florida on December 11, 1990.  According to thehistoryofwwe.com, the taping drew a crowd of 11,500.

Opening Contest:  The Texas Tornado beats Tom Stone after the discus punch at 1:48:

The Tornado was Kerry Von Erich, a second-generation wrestler from the famed Von Erich wrestling family of Texas.  Booked as a main event talent in his father’s promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), Von Erich defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship in May 1984, holding the belt for eighteen days.  In December 1988, he lost the World Class Heavyweight Championship in a bloody match to AWA World Champion Jerry Lawler at SuperClash III, later leading to the creation of the USWA Unified Championship.  He started 1991 locked in a feud with Ted DiBiase, who cost him the Intercontinental Championship against Mr. Perfect shortly after Survivor Series.

Stone was used as a preliminary worker for much of his career, wrestling for the AWA, Central States, Mid-South, and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).  In 1990, he earned a rare jobber victory on television, defeating Jake Roberts by disqualification when Roberts shoved the referee on a November 17 Superstars episode.

As McMahon hypes his Bodybuilding Lifestyles magazine, Stone tries to attack the Tornado before the bell but that backfires and he gets slammed on the floor.  The Tornado applies the Claw and then uses two discus punches, one to the gut and one to the had to win the first match of 1991.

Gene Okerlund’s Update segment provides a taped promo from Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri.  Savage says that he is going to win the WWF Championship from the Ultimate Warrior before The Royal Rumble, which will make the Warrior’s match against Sergeant Slaughter non-title.  Okerlund does a locker room interview with the Warrior, who claims that the love of his warriors is stronger than the Iraqis that support Slaughter.

The Warlord (w/Slick) beats Donny Steel via submission to a full nelson at 1:37:

The Warlord, who began his wrestling career for Jim Crockett Promotions in 1986, had spent most of his career in tag teams, most notably with the Barbarian as part of a duo called the Powers of Pain.  The Powers came to the WWF in 1988 where they feuded with then-WWF tag team champions Demolition.  They lost that program and were gradually shuffled down the card until early 1990, when Slick and Bobby Heenan separately purchased the contracts of the Warlord and the Barbarian from Mr. Fuji.  In 1990, the Warlord got a strong push against enhancement talents, defeated Tito Santana at SummerSlam, and reached the Grand Finale Match of Survival at Survivor Series.  He also began a feud with the British Bulldog over who the strongest man was in the WWF, which carried into 1991.

In the split screen, the Warlord alarms Slick by saying that the Royal Rumble is every man for himself and he is willing to throw out Power & Glory to win.  During 1990 the Warlord used a running powerslam as a finisher so this squash marks a change where the Warlord uses a full nelson to finish, which looks impressive against the much smaller Steel.

Sean Mooney’s Event Center segment provides hype for The Royal Rumble.  Bret Hart says he might have to fight Jim Neidhart but its okay because they know the rules.  Paul Roma claims that Hercules knows his place and if the Royal Rumble comes down to the two of them, Hercules will bow before the glory.  Jimmy Snuka recaps the rules and woos.  The Undertaker and Brother Love say that happened at Jonestown will pale in comparison to the mass burial that the Undertaker will pull off in the Rumble.  And the British Bulldog puts over his physical conditioning for the match.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan pins J.T. Smith after the three-point stance clothesline at 1:15:

Duggan, a former professional football player, became a star in Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling in the 1980s, working programs with Ted DiBiase, the Junkyard Dog, Butch Reed, and Magnum T.A.  He came to the WWF in 1987, adopting a patriotic gimmick where he carried a 2×4 to the ring, which was also his weapon of choice in Mid-South.  After winning the first Royal Rumble in 1988 and becoming the King of the WWF in 1989, Duggan settled into a gatekeeper role in the upper midcard, becoming an obstacle for heels en route to facing Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior.  In 1990 he was a foil for Earthquake and by the end of the year was doing the same with Sergeant Slaughter.

The Smith in this match is not the same one of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) fame.  Duggan does a split screen promo about how he is coming to The Royal Rumble looking for a fight.  Smith mocks Duggan before the bell, which results in him getting clotheslined over the top rope.  He fares no better when he re-enters the ring as Duggan slams him and finishes with a three-point stance clothesline.

Mooney does more hype for The Royal Rumble.  In Rumble promos, Tugboat promises that the weather will get rough in the ring and he will sail to victory.  For other matches, the Barbarian and Bobby Heenan deliver a confusing promo daring the Bossman to “enter the Barbarian’s way.”  Dusty & Dustin Rhodes promise that Ted DiBiase & Virgil will feel their wrath.

Brother Love’s guest is Hulk Hogan.  Hogan is a forgiving guy to come back on Love’s show since it was the same one where Earthquake laid him out a year ago.  Hogan says he welcomes a confrontation with Earthquake and Dino Bravo in the Royal Rumble, going as far as to say that he hopes to draw the first number.  Love brings up Hogan having to fight Tugboat and Hogan claims that he and Tugboat have talked it over and how no quarter will be given if they have to fight.

Okerlund does The Royal Rumble Report.  Footage is shown of Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior battling on last year’s show to sell the “Anything can happen!” aspect of the bout.  More Rumble promos air.  Smash is not afraid of facing Crush, Earthquake promises to go through anyone to win, and Jake Roberts says that Rick Martel has two weeks to get lucky to avoid a trip to hell.  To hype other matches, the Big Bossman looks forward to getting his hands on Bobby Heenan after going through the Barbarian.  And Ted DiBiase and Virgil visit a horse stable in Texas, who put over the power of money.  To prove this, DiBiase has an unhappy Virgil clean horse manure from his boot.

The Orient Express (w/Mr. Fuji) defeat the Mulkey Brothers when Tanaka pins Randy after a superkick-German suplex combination at 2:08:

This was the second edition of the Orient Express as Akio Sato left the ring for a front office position with the WWF after Survivor Series.  It was composed of Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond, the latter masking up and taking on the name Kato.  Before coming the WWF, Tanaka and Diamond had a successful stints in Memphis’ Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) and the AWA, winning tag team titles in both promotions.  On house shows, the Orient Express and Fuji were wrestling the Legion of Doom in handicap matches but they were also booked for a match with the Rockers at The Royal Rumble, restarting a feud from the previous spring.

The Mulkey Brothers, Bill and Randy, were notable enhancement talents in the NWA whose great achievement was qualifying for the Second Annual Jim Crockett Memorial Cup Tournament in 1987.

McMahon gets the Mulkey’s names wrong, referring to them as Bill and Tony.  In the split screen, the Rockers promise to prove that they are the WWF’s best tag team against the Express at The Royal Rumble.  The Mulkey’s take a great beating, highlighted by Randy’s selling of a Kato gourdbuster.

Mooney provides more Royal Rumble hype.  Luke gives a crazed promo about how he is looking for a fight with everyone, including his cousin, Butch.  Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect and Bobby Heenan claim that they have perfect odds, while Dino Bravo says he will go through anyone to win.  Rick Martel promises that he will come looking for Jake Roberts rather than the other way around, and Jim Neidhart says anything can happen in the Rumble.

Tune in next week to see Rick Martel, the British Bulldog, the Undertaker, the Big Bossman, and Ted DiBiase in action!  And WWF Champion the Ultimate Warrior will appear for a special interview!

The Last Word:  There are two weeks before The Royal Rumble and this show did a good job to hype it, providing segments for all of the announced matches on the card.  The WWF is doing some foreshadowing of a Tugboat heel turn on Hulk Hogan because they implied on several broadcasts at the end of 1990 and this one that Hogan and Tugboat could fight and ruin their friendship.  And there are also hints of a Virgil babyface turn since Ted DiBiase has made pointed digs at his bodyguard in recent weeks and forced him to do humiliating tasks.

Up Next:  Wrestling Challenge for January 6!