WM: Absent Friends
HeadLocker — Jay Shannon
Absent Friends: The WrestleMania Performers We Have Lost.
Our resident philosophers, Jay Shannon, pays tribute to the men and women who helped establish Wrestlemania as the greatest wrestling card of all time. These great performers are gone…but never forgotten.
With the recent passing of Andrew “Test” Martin, I got to thinking about other stars that we’ve lost over the years. As part of my Wrestlemania series, I wanted to take a few minutes to pay my respects to and bring up a few remembrances of some of the best in the business. While they’ve moved on to the next reality, their legacies will shine like the noon-day sun, forever. I dedicate this column to my own late wife, Linda, a life-long wrestling fan who sat with me for 14 of the previous 24 Wrestlemanias. I watch this year’s show…for both of us.
He was squashed by King Kong Bundy in mere seconds at the very first Wrestlemania. It was the quickest Wrestlemania match for many years. Jones was a solid mid-card performer who was loved and respected by everyone he worked with. He was always a fan favorite.
Andre The Giant:
He was involved with Hulk Hogan in perhaps the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. Their battle at Wrestlemania III is the measuring stick that all other Wrestlemania matches are compared to. Andre fought in numerous battles over the years, until his health declined. Andre was the first man inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. His performances at the Wrestlemanias played a key part in his elevation to wrestling legend.
Big John Studd:
His most memorable fight was against Andre during the very first Wrestlemania. He was also in the battle royal during the second big show. Studd fell to cancer, several years ago. He was a great “big” man that helped cement the company’s top PPV from day one.
He was a fantastic wrestler in the 60s and 70s. During the Wrestlemania years, he was one of the top announcers for the show. His interactions with Bobby Heenan were classic. Seeing a 400 pounder wearing a toga at Wrestlemania IX is so memorable.
I first watched JYD during his Mid-South and World Class days. JYD never won a championship in the WWE, but he was a cornerstone in the whole Hulk Hogan Rock and Wrestling Connection era of wrestling. His battle against Harley Race for Race’s crown was amazing. Unfortunately, a late night car accident took the Dog from us.
He was one of the best managers in the history of pro wrestling. He worked the stick as strong as anyone in the game. He helped The Iron Sheik and Nicolai Volkoff take the tag straps from Windham/Rotunda at the first Wrestlemania. He was the most beloved heel manager of all time.
She was the ultimate female wrestler. She worked the first Wrestlemania and showed up to just about every one of them until her passing. There would be no Diva or Knockout division, were if not for Moolah.
She was the most popular manager/valet of her era. Her fan base rivaled that of Hogan, Flair, Savage and all the other top male stars. She really got all that physically involved in the matches, due to her diminutive size. Her beauty was her best weapon. I have to admit to shedding a tear when I learned of her death.
Davey Boy Smith:
The British Bulldog did well in singles and tag matches during his WWE career. Poor choices took him from his fans and family, far too soon. His best Wrestlemania matches, in my humble opinion, were with the Dynamite Kid. Watch the matches between the Bulldogs and the Hart Foundation and you will see the best tag matches in the history of pro wrestling.
Hercules switched between heel and face, numerous times, during his WWE career. His match against Billy Jack Haynes was a true test of two powerhouses. Hercules also had great success in Power and Glory (with Paul Roma). He was a solid mid-carder who just never quite reached the top spot. He did, however, help catapult many stars to the top tier.
He was one of the stronger men to compete in the WWE. After leaving the company, he got himself involved with the black market cigarette trade in Canada (according to official police reports). Bravo was gunned down in his own home. He did have several good battles at Wrestlemania.
I first saw Adonis on the old Southwest Championship Wrestling program that ran on USA, prior to the WWF/E taking over. Back then, he was a black leather-clad biker character that tore into everyone in sight. The Wrestlemania version of Adonis was the transvestite tussler who was more interested in his golden locks than championship gold. Adonis left us as the result of a late night car crash. He was one of the most memorable characters in the WWE.
He started out as the third member of Demolition. Eventually, he would strike out on his own. His later character was more of a Don Muraco combined with Sting, only nowhere near as popular. Crush was a solid mid-carder that had some great feuds with Randy Savage and Doink.
Bam Bam Bigelow:
He was a top star in WWE, WCW, ECW, World Class, and just about every other place he plied his trade. A heroic rescue of Bigelow led to severe burns. The pain of those burns were being controlled by painkillers. Sadly, the painkillers led to his untimely death. Bigelow’s feud against Lawrence Taylor was a pre-cursor to later intersport cross-promotions, such as Big Show v Floyd Mayweather.
Big Boss Man:
He went under several names: Bubba Rogers, The Boss, Guardian Angel, Ray Traylor (his given name) and Big Boss Man. It was as the Cobb County prison officer that he shined the brightest. He bridged the several “generations” of the WWE’s evolution.
Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig:
He was the greatest star to never win the World or WWE title. He was a multiple time Intercontinental champ. His battles against Bret Hart, Kerry Von Erich and others were tremendous. He proved that he wasn’t quite as Perfect as his name indicated, when he allowed his own inner demons to cost him his life. He was pushed by WWE as a tragic hero, but he was just another wrestler who could not handle the excesses he chose to experiment with.
The battle against his brother is the blueprint that WWE is currently using for the Hardyz War. Owen was great both under his given name and as the masked Blue Blazer. He is a truly tragic figure in wrestling. A stunt gone tragically wrong caused Owen to plunge from the top of the arena, striking his head on the ring post. He died far too early. It is Owen that I think I miss the most.
He was one of the best stick men in the industry. His ring wars with Ultimate Warrior were off the charts. He also morphed into a great manager. He was the first person to appear on both Raw and Nitro on the same night. (Raw was taped, while Nitro was live). Rude’s death is slightly shrouded in mystery but drugs may have played a part in his demise.
Bad News Brown:
Often over-looked by the fans, Bad News was one of the toughest men in the business. While he didn’t create the Enziguri kick, he was the first to really bring it to the forefront of the American wrestling scene. Brown had many multiple matches in the WWE. The best feud had to be the one against Roddy Piper.
“Earthquake” John Tenta:
Tenta was another man who adjusted his gimmick, from time to time. He was the masked Golga, as well as The Shark (WCW). He even battled under his own name. His greatest moments were as one-half of the Natural Disasters.
She was the most unlikely of valets. She was over-weight and middle aged. With women like Sherri Martel and Elizabeth leading their men to the ring, seeing the rotund Sapphire stroll out in polka dots with Dusty Rhodes should have seemed so wrong. It just fit. Her turn on him for the money of Ted DiBiase was a sad ending for her character. I can still smile as I remember that sea of polka dots shimmy-ing and shaking in the ring.
She led Shawn Michaels and Randy Savage to the ring. She wore bizarre face paint and screeched like a banshee. She was a tremendous female wrestler that moved into the valet/managerette role easily. She was the model for the heel Divas that WWE uses today.
Kerry Von Erich:
He was a train wreck. He had all the skills in the world but squandered it to satisfy his desires. He lost his foot due to a motorcycle accident. According to the book Wrestling Babylon, Kerry lost his spot in the WWE due to a huge drug problem. Kerry was facing prison time for forging prescriptions when he took the coward’s way out and took his own life.
Road Warrior Hawk:
He was 1/2 of the greatest tag team of all time. Hawk wrestled hard and, according to the Road Warriors DVD, played hard. He lived his life on the razor’s edge for years. Later in life, Hawk cleaned his life up and became a good family man. The years of abuse on his body caught up with Hawk, and he passed away. A quiet ending for a larger-than-life character. I’m not saying Hawk should be made a saint, but he turned his life around. I applaud him for that.
He was one of the largest World champions of all time. He was a member of the legendary Anoi’a family. He scored the biggest upset victory of all the Wrestlemanias, when he took out Bret Hart at number 9. He also dropped the belt to Hulk Hogan in quick order, in what we seen as one of the biggest swerves in wrestling history. Yokozuna’s immense size led to heart problems. Those heart problems ended the big man’s life prematurely.
The circumstances around Test’s death are still uncertain. Test could have been where Triple H is now if fate had played him a different hand. He was involved, story-wise, in a romance with Stephanie McMahon. Had Stephanie stayed with Test, perhaps they would be the married couple. If that had been the path chosen, Test would have possibly become Vince’s son-in-law (and the top dog in the fight).
He was the most unlikely of superstars. He was too small and didn’t have the right look. Regardless, he shined brighter than guys twice his size. He was the most successful Hardcore Champion in the belt’s rather bizarre history. He also had a great tag team with his “cousin” Bob Holly. Crash had a reaction to prescribed medications that sent him to the next realm, far too soon.
I recently watched Viva La Raza and Viva Guerrero. During those two video programs, I saw one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He was the brightest of faces and the darkest of heels. Eddie was always on the top of his game. Years of self-abuse finally caught up with Latino Heat. No one will ever match his craziness or his talent.
We all know about the murders and suicide. That is not the Chris Benoit that I chose to remember. I remember the wrestling machine that could go toe to toe with anyone placed in front of him. The WWE chooses to remove Benoit from their history and perhaps that is the right choice for them. I see Benoit as two people: the performer who thrilled the crowds and the person behind the curtain who chose the darkest path to follow. I can’t ignore that person, but this column is about the performer…not the man.
This column originally started as a way of paying tribute to fallen stars. As I wrote it, some anger and pain came out of my typing fingers. Owen, Adonis and JYD died due to circumstances outside their control. Andre, Studd and Sapphire lost their battles with natural disease. Hawk and Eddie died due to their past choices catching up with them. Some of the others lost the most precious gift of all due to suicide, both direct and indirect. Those are the saddest of all. Regardless of how they left us, I still raise my glass (of diet soda) to salute the men and women who have passed beyond the veil to the next reality. You are gone…but not forgotten.
To Absent Friends…
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