Back to the vault, and a very niche offering from the Network, with just two episodes available (you won’t be surprised to find out why). It’s the 25th January 1987 (filmed on the 24th) and we’re in the Showboat Hotel and Casino Sports Pavilion for an episode of the American Wrestling Association’s All Star Wrestling! Your main event tonight: Buddy Rose and Doug Somers defend the AWA Tag Team Championships against Earthquake Ferris and Tom Stone! Who?
The AWA was not in the absolute best shape at the time, three years away from its final bow. The halcyon days where it was neck-and-neck, or beating, the NWA were long gone, and Verge Gagne had spectacularly missed the boat on Hulk Hogan in the early 80’s, refusing to make him the main star when he had the chance, and then watching on, presumably with some discomfort, as Hogan went on to make the WWF the stand-out wrestling promotion. But still, it wasn’t all bad at this time, with plenty of great young talent that Gagne was trying to pivot towards, like Curt Hennig, Leon White, Scott Hall and, the main reason why these episodes are on the Network, a young Shawn Michaels, who is only 22 at the time of this show. All Star Wrestling was AWA’s main syndicated show, giving an hours worth of wrestling entertainment to various American markets.
We’re on a trip through the stars in our opening titles, including the logo zooming past the screen like it’s TNG. Larry Nielson and the unfortunately named Garry Ron welcome us to the show, and run down the card for tonight, which will include a few highlights of other shows. One of those highlights will be a match between Nick Bockwinkel and Curt Hennig recently, which Nielson describer as “one of the top three matches in the history of wrestling”, but Ron spoils the ending: it was a time-limit draw. From there we are thrown to the arena.
Shawn Michaels w/Marty Jannetty vs Frankie DeFalco
Our commentators let us know that Michaels, one-half of the “Midnight Rockers”, is subbing in for an unavailable Hennig. No idea who DeFalco is. Michaels described as “Amazing. Astounding. Totally awesome”, but in a tone that sounds dead-pan sarcastic. Lock-up, some whip chains, and Michaels dodges a “Field Goal”, ie a punt. DeFalco takes a temporary powder, but gets back in the ring after “a little intimidation” from Jannetty at ringside. This isn’t the guy Jannetty claims to have murdered is it?
Arm-lock, whip-chain, Michaels with a Crucifix Pin where DeFalco screams in pain for some reason, but only two. Scoop Slam for two, then an arm-lock, and if DeFalco can say nothing else he is selling like nobody’s business, as Michaels lays some knees in on the arm in what turns into a lengthy rest-hold spot. DeFalco eventually getting in a bit of offence, hits a Scoop Slam of his own. To the second rope, but nobody home on the world’s most telegraphed elbow-drop. Michaels with lefts, then a 360 right. Snap mare, second rope elbow drop and that’s it in five on the dot.
Winner: Mr Dyne-o-mite, as commentary says.
Verdict: Needlessly extended squash, but Michaels looked good.
After the break the Midnight Rockers are with Nielson. Jannetty insists they are the best tag team in wrestling, and are coming for the AWA Tag Titles, currently held by Doug Somers and Buddy Rose. The Rockers have been following them around the world, and Michaels, sounding so young and not croaky, says they will get the champs in the ring at some point. Nice cue card for the break is action figures in poses.
Mike Richards vs The Super Ninja w/Larry Zbyzsko
Ninja, out in full-on ninja gear and billed as “the Mystery Man From Japan”, is better known as Shunji Takano from All Japan. Richards we’ve encountered already, as one half of the Texas Hangmen over on USWA. Lock-up, Richards backs off, and gets floored easily when he engages. Flung out, and Zbyzsko starts complaining to the commentary desk about wanting a title shot against Nick Bockwinkel. Way to keep the focus on he guy in the ring. Richards eventually back in, where the beatdown recommences. A few knee strikes is his only offence, before Ninja back with various strikes.
Lengthy nerve pinch spot, Richards eats a bit kick to the face, and Ninja gets two before picking Richards up again. Another big kick to the head, then Ninja hits a double underhook suplex with a bridge, and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just over three-and-a-half.
Winner: Super Ninja, which has to be one of the laziest names ever really.
Verdict: Squash Ninja.
The “AWA Notebook” makes sure to tell us that Zbyzsko sometimes meditates before his matches to get into the right frame of mind. What is this, the WCW Hotline?
Zbyzsko himself is now backstage with “Mr Saito”, who recently attacked Bockwinkel at some event. Standard “foreign heel” promo, with Zbyzsko joining in to act as a translator. A few name-drops of Scott Hall who is also involved in this feud somehow. This bizarre heel stable is “here to take on the world”. OK then.
Back from the break and Nielson/Ron set-up the promised highlights of Bockwinkel/Hennig. “The reason it’s so hard to beat the champion, is that you have to beat him”. If only there was another way Larry. We cut to footage from that match. Right near the end of Bockwinkel’s run, and it’s so weird to look back and realise he was the guy Gagne bet on over Hogan. Hennig looks good at this time, and even blades in this match. The actual contest seems to have consisted of Bockwinkel beating Hennig down, and watching the time count away to a tie. Naturally Hennig gets comeback spots to keep the crowd interested, but this is every bit the well-established “Heel champion retains by time-limit draw/face challenger just runs out of time”, that was the bread and butter of the territories. Hell, Ric Flair made a career out of it.
In fairness to AWA they actually show the full final eight or so minutes of an hour-long contest. Both guys bathed in blood, and the crowd super into it by the conclusion. Finish is Hennig putting Bockwinkel into an extended Figure 4, but Bockwinkel withstands it until the bell. Hennig’s hand raised first, but of course so is Bockwinkel’s after, which just leaves the crowd confused. One of the best matches in history? I don’t think so.
Hennig is with Nielson, who runs down his accomplishments in AWA. He’s off to Japan for a few weeks, but when he’s back he’s coming for the Heavyweight Championship. Good promo from a guy who was taken from us way too young.
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka vs Rick Gantner
Just four years removed from Snuka murdering his girlfriend, and a few decades away from him essentially getting away with it. Gantner another Texas Hangman as it happens. Gantner poses for the crowd, to their displeasure. Lengthy wait for this one to get going. Lock-ups, and Gantner complaining once he gets out of them. Snuka gets an in-match title card, which I don’t think I have ever seen before. Wrist-lock from Superfly, more circling, lock-up, head-lock from Gantner, and then suddenly things get a bit fast and furious with a leapfrog chains and a few hip-tosses. Gantner takes a powder, comes back into the ring, takes another powder, and man this is getting a bit boring. Superfly gets him back in the ring, hip-lock takedown. Running forearm, Gantner prone, Superfly to the top, splash, and that’s it in just under five.
Winner: The Murderer
Verdict: Even for a squash this was bad.
After the break we get a brief intro to the main event, which is actually a recording of a match that took place a little while ago. Actually impressed they’re putting a title match on TV, even if its a recording.
Buddy Rose & Doug Somers (c) w/Sherri Martel vs Earthquake Ferris & Tom Stone (AWA Tag Team Championships)
I don’t know who any of these guys are, excepting Martel. Rose in with Ferris to start, and unable to knock him down, knocking himself out of the ring in the attempt. Somers in, and takes a Scoop Slam and elbow drop pretty quickly. Tag to Stone who takes down Somers and puts him in a headlock for a while. Ferris in and he does pretty much the same. I thought the champs were heels, but Somers certainly playing a face-in-peril here. Ferris floors Somers with a shoulder-charge, another Scoop Slam, Stone back in. Somers gets the “hot” tag after a reverse suplex. “The secret to a great team, the tag” says the announcer, which in terms of inane commentary is pretty special.
Rose getting the upper hand on Stone, some heelish double-teaming, so I don’t really know what is going on here. Stone trying to mount a comeback, “two-and-a-half” says the announcer on what was clearly a one count after a knee drop. Rose suddenly hits a DDT for the win in around five-and-a-half.
Winners (and still AWA Tag Team Champions): The Rose and Somers Connection
Verdict: Nothing title defence, felt like a house show (and maybe it was).
Still four minutes left in the show, so time for some interviews/promos. First up Boris Zhukov, whose manager is apparently in Iraq fighting American aggression. Zhukov has trouble talking into the mike, so we miss some of what he’s trying to say, but the gist is that this villainous Russian is calling out Sgt Slaughter. Zhukov was actually from Virginia.
Next up are the Tag Champs. They aren’t impressed with the Rockers’ pretensions of being their next challengers. They plan on taking every belt in AWA. I doubt that somehow.
We finish with Nielson and Ron again, who basically sum up the show. Such a weird way of doing things, but twas the style at the time. Credits and that’s it.
Best Match: I suppose I’ll say the main event, but mostly because of how unique it was to see a title match on a squash heavy TV show.
Best Wrestler: Almost by default, has to be Michaels, who can go and is soon going to be on to bigger and better things.
Worst Match: Lets say the Ninja/Richards squash.
Worst Wrestler: Jimmy Snuka should have died in prison.
Overall Verdict: In truth this was a pretty decent package for the time and place. Squash centric of course, but at least some of them still had the facade of being a match, and the Hennig/Bockwinkel highlights were a good inclusion. Still, easy to see why the WWF was steaming ahead of its opposition.
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