“The single most interesting thing in pro wrestling in the modern era is the interplay between the real and the fake.”
Grantland’s David “The Masked Man” Shoemaker relayed this statement to me during a January Q&A for WrestleCrap.com. I’d asked what it is about the concept of the ‘shoot’ that is such a lure to fans that buy into scripted athletics, and he spoke of the rareness of such occurrences, and the “was it or wasn’t it?” that follows the incident. A shoot interview is one thing, but a needle of reality in the haystack of fiction is a more gleeful find.
Although there’s likely a vast ocean of these gems that could be mined, I decided to write about ten that I recall with fondness. These are moments where a WWE announcer either towed the company line in an unconventional manner (i.e. burying someone), or said something cringeworthy, perhaps telling a tale out of school, so to speak.
Here’s ten of the best that are out there.
VINCE MCMAHON RAILS ON A FAT JOBBER (1985)
WWE World Tag Team Champions Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham were performing squash duty on an episode of Championship Wrestling in the summer of ’85. Their opponents were Barry O (uncle of Randy Orton, brother of The Cowboy) and a man with no promising wrestling bloodline, Larry Finnegan.
Good thing Finnegan didn’t produce rasslin’ offspring, in McMahon’s eyes. Babyface Vince on headset lambasted Finnegan for his slovenly physique (“That’s the biggest piece of garbage I think I’ve ever seen”, “He could be wrapped in a Glad Bag! Give me a break!”). It’s rare for congenial, camera-smooth Vince to harp on a portly jobber with such viciousness, but maybe McMahon could foretell the future: Finnegan was arrested in 1988 for murdering a prostitute that allegedly bit him, and served twelve years in prison.
MONSOON AND HEENAN TEAM UP TO CALL TOM ZENK A COWARD (1987)
“The Z-Man” partnered with pre-Model Rick Martel in 1987 as The Can-Am Connection, and looked to be poised to unseat the Hart Foundation as champions. In mid-year, Zenk left the company after what’s believed to be a contract dispute, but WWE spun it more viciously.
Squeaky-clean Martel, still a face, declared Zenk a coward who deserted the team. Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, always at odds as wrestling’s Abbott and Costello, joined forces to agree that, yep, Zenk was a sissy-boy that couldn’t handle the competition.
OF COURSE, MARTEL’S NOT IMMUNE EITHER (1988)
Martel found a new partner in veteran technician Tito Santana, and together as Strike Force, they took the Harts’ gold instead. Heenan, ever the antagonist, referred to Santana as “La Bamba” and Martel as “Lucky Pierre”.
Not merely a dig at Martel’s French-Canadian heritage, “Lucky Pierre” is a slang for a middleman in a male group sex act. While Heenan probably went over the heads of 98% of the audience (especially the kids), comedian Artie Lange explained the act in greater detail on the ill-fated ‘Joe Buck Live’ in 2009.
TERRY GARVIN IS ‘BAD TEACHER’ (Various, late 1980s)
While Martel was, in all likelihood, not any sort of deviant, that didn’t stop Gorilla Monsoon from touching upon the behind-the-scenes notoriety of others. Terry Garvin, former wrestler-turned agent for the company, would resign in 1992 upon accusations of sexual impropriety from several ring boys, and the aforementioned Barry O.
Garvin’s homosexuality was open, and Monsoon would make obscure reference to certain jobbers (namely The Brooklyn Brawler) as having graduated from The Terry Garvin School of Self Defense. What specifically this entails of probably wasn’t worth going into detail for a family show. While esoteric then, knowing why Garvin resigned makes the reference more cringeworthy.
TOE TO TOE WITH MEL PHILLIPS (1989)
Garvin wasn’t the only WWE staffer that was subjected to some ribbing. Mel Phillips, a ring announcer of the 1980s and early 1990s, was reputed to have a serious foot fetish (Bobby Heenan and Bret Hart reference it in their respective books, with Hart detailing an alleged incident involving a sleeping referee).
Leave it to Monsoon to name-drop Phillips on an episode of Prime Time Wrestling in late 1989, by coming out of match footage with, “Boy, as Mel Phillips would say, that match would knock your socks off!” Again, we didn’t get it then, but thanks to hindsight and video archives, it’s much more laughable.
DETECTIVE JOHN MUNCH GETS BENOIT’D (1990)
Jesse Ventura, for all of his bashing of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, was respectively impartial during the pair’s title-for-title match at WrestleMania VI. Despite his knowledgeable call of the match, “The Body” couldn’t resist one little dig at Hulk during the contest, one that has since been muted off of all subsequent video releases of the match.
As Hogan locks Warrior in a front-facelock, Monsoon puts over the danger of the hold applied by Hulk’s ‘Pythons’. Ventura added, “Yeah, just ask Richard Belzer!” Fans will remember when Hogan injured comedic actor Belzer on a 1985 talk show appearance with a similar hold, and Belzer won a settlement from World Wrestling Entertainment. No wonder Vince hates Jesse.
YOU CAN’T FOOL THE HOT ROD (1990)
Saba Simba. Long time fans immediately remember the face-palmingly racist gimmick that Tony Atlas endured in his short-lived return to the company. Dancing barefoot with a spear and head-dress was quite an indignity, almost as much as the fact that he was no longer mentioned as being “Tony Atlas”, a former Tag Team Champion that once cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan.
In the inception of Simba’s ill-fated run, the sudden tribesman appeared on WWE Superstars, with McMahon and Rowdy Roddy Piper on the call. Piper called BS, and wanted to know why Tony Atlas was calling himself Saba Simba. McMahon sputtered, explaining that Atlas had rediscovered his roots (bad word choice) and Piper continued burying the gimmick.
BUY THE SHIRT! (1997)
This one is less humorous than it is ironic, and certainly bitter. During the February 24, 1997 edition of Raw, Paul Heyman and ECW staged a sort-of takeover that served as a commercial for Barely Legal, the company’s first PPV. Stevie Richards, in character as Big Stevie Cool, was flanked by the Blue World Order as he defeated Little Guido early on in the broadcast.
McMahon, losing the ratings war handily to WCW, declared, “This is the bWo! Not to be confused with the clothing line ‘nWo’!” In other words, he dismissed the New World Order as a silly marketing campaign. Of course, once the Attitude Era kicked off, and Stone Cold and DX were selling millions of shirts, he never dismissed either as being clothing shills.
NEW GUY MOCKS THE OLD GUY, FROM HIS CHAIR (2001)
It was certainly a surprise when Paul Heyman showed up on the March 5, 2001 episode of Raw, sitting in the commentary chair vacated by Jerry Lawler. Lawler quit WWE in protest a week earlier, after the company released his wife, Stacy “The Kat” Carter.
Heyman proved much more bombastic, and generally a better salesman of the product, than The King, but couldn’t resist a jab at Lawler, asking Jim Ross during one segment when the time would be right to scream, “PUPPIES, PUPPIES!” Of course, that could be Vince’s way of imploring Heyman on headset, a means of pettily grinning “checkmate” to jobless Jerry.
LAWLER GOES QUIET (2003)
Lawler, of course, got his job back, reunited with Good Ol’ JR. Things got heated between the friends at WrestleMania XIX, when Lawler told one prison joke after another about Booker T during Booker’s World Title loss against Triple H. Ross blew his stack and began mocking Lawler in a near-rage, as The King simply wouldn’t end the barrage of Booker T slags, even after the dead horse had been whipped enough.
Less than three months later, at Bad Blood, Booker took on Christian for the Intercontinental Title, and Lawler started up once more with the prison jokes. Ross cut him off for good by quipping, “There’s a lot of people *cough cough* that could’ve been in the can if things had gone different.” Lawler’s sudden silence, and subject change, were as amusing as Ross’ verbal smack.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.