The SmarK Rant for WWE Network Hidden Gems – AWA Brawl in St. Paul 12.25.86
Well, Hidden Gems might be gone now, but I’ve still got some left on the Network that I never had a chance to finish up. And this is one that’s pretty appropriate for the season – The AWA Christmas night show in 1986, featuring the Rockers against Rose & Somers in a legendary cage match!
Taped from St. Paul, MN
Your hosts are Rod Trongard & Dick Jonkowski
Brian Knobbs v. Earthquake Ferris
This is still pre-Nasty Boys for Knobbs, as he’s just wearing the plan black singlet but still has the stupid haircut. “NICE HAIRCUT, KNOBBS!” yells some guy from the front row. Really showed him there. No wonder he became so bitter and nasty. Earthquake Ferris is not related to the more famous Earthquake who would have been very early in his career at this point. Ferris overpowers Knobbs and slams him a few times, then tosses him. Back in, Knobbs works on the arm while the Homer-like jerk at ringside keeps loudly heckling both guys to the amusement of the poor people sitting around him. Ferris runs Knobbs into the corner and hits an avalanche, then finishes with his devastating finisher, an airplane spin dubbed THE FERRIS WHEEL, at 4:30. Ferris seemed to be going for a Crusher Blackwell babyface thing, but he’s no Blackwell. *
Boris Zhukov v. Steve Olsonoski
So tying into the opening match, the referee for this match is a very young Jerry Sagnovich! Complete with his dumb haircut. Zhukov immediately backs off and stalls outside. Back in, Steve O works a headlock, but Boris uses the hair to break that up. Steve takes him down with another headlock while the announcers discuss some of the kids bringing the AWA dolls that they got for Christmas. What discount toy store were THOSE parents shopping for presents at? Actually, if those kids hung onto them and didn’t open them, they’d be worth some pretty shocking money today. But still, I think kids would have been more likely happier to get LJN WWF figures rather than the He-Man knockoff AWA figures from Remco. Steve hangs onto the headlock, but gets slammed by Zhukov and now he works a wristlock on the mat. Zhukov remains one of the strangest cases of gimmick repackaging for me, as he started out as Private Jim Nelson with Sgt. Slaughter, and then one day left and became evil Russian Boris Zhukov instead and eventually one of Slaughter’s most frequent foes. But they never put the pieces together and came up with the storyline where Slaughter’s former protégé betrayed his country. Meanwhile, the jerkass at ringside steals the show with “COME ON REF GET IN THERE! DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR STUPID HAIRCUT, IT’LL GROW BACK IN LATER!” They should hire this guy and put him on TV somewhere today. “COME ON STEVE O, MOVE AROUND A LITTLE BIT!” he adds while Steve is selling the armbar on the mat. He raises a valid point. Zhukov just continues holding the damn armbar on the mat. And he actually gets some of the other fans at ringside up and yelling, too! Olsonoski fights up, but accidentally collides with the turnbuckles and Boris goes back to the arm again. It’s really sad that there’s fans at ringside who are legit excited to be there and react and this is the trash that they’re giving them. Finally Steve O fights back against the rising tide of communism and gets a dropkick for two and an atomic drop for two. He goes up and misses an elbow, and Zhukov pins him at 13:10 despite a foot on the ropes. “YOU CHEATED AGAIN, ZHUKOV! YOU’RE GOING DOWN!” And yet, despite this malfeasance, he later won the tag team titles and then went to the WWF! Much like an impeachment killed in the Senate before it even reaches a vote, there’s no justice to be found here either. ½* Probably a little low given the commentary from the guy at ringside would normally add a couple of stars, but star ratings are a serious business.
Larry Zbyszko, Mr. Saito & Super Ninja v. Greg Gagne, Scott Hall & Leon “Bull Power” White
Yeah, the AWA had Scott Hall and Vader at the same time, what about it? Not 100% sure who “Super Ninja” was at this point, but Steve Olsonoski played the role later on. Larry and the Ninja quickly work on Gagne, but Groovy Greg gets a backslide on Larry for two. Jonkowski notes that “if people like tag team wrestling, and I think everyone does, then a six-man match is twice as exciting.” Can’t argue with that math. The storyline for this match, by the way, is that Special Troubleshooting Ref Scott LeDoux was supposed to be officiating, but Larry refused to work the match if that happened, so Jerry Sags is reffing instead. Saito chokes out Gagne for a while, but Super Ninja comes in and misses a legdrop. According to Cagematch it’s Shunji Takano at this point. Gagne gets the hot tag to Bull Power, who is pretty slim here actually, and he gets a powerslam on Saito for two before falling victim to Ninja’s choking on the ropes. Larry tries more choking and White shrugs him off and gets a press slam and big splash for two, but Saito saves. Over to Hall, who immediately gets a major star reaction, but the heels cheat and work him over with heelish stuff. Saito takes him down and tries for the Scorpion Deathlock, but then just goes with a figure-four instead. Hall escapes from that and comes back on Larry with a slam, and it’s back to Greg Gagne as the babyfaces triple-team Super Ninja and Greg gets two. “The action is fast and furious!” declares the announcer, although I would strongly dispute both of those points. To wit, Larry grabs an abdominal stretch on Gagne while giving him a wedgie for leverage, but Greg escapes and they collide. Hot tag Magnum TA Scott Hall and he gets a bearhug on Larry, but Super Ninja comes in and throws white powder in Hall’s face and Hall is like “OH NO I BETTER NOT SNIFF THIS OBVIOUSLY ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE” and he’s so busy rolling around on the mat trying to avoid snorting whatever it is that he gets pinned (?) by Saito at 15:45. We don’t actually see the pinfall and no official decision is ever announced. But the white powder is sure gone. And then Leon White beats up poor helpless referee Jerry Sags afterwards and slams him on the floor. Just a meandering tag team match. *1/2 And then the lights go up while they clear the ring again, and the empty arena in St. Paul is SO sad. Also, I’m pretty sure that Sags stopped pursuing a career as a referee due to the need to count to 3, 5 or 10 on a regular basis.
AWA World title: Nick Bockwinkel v. Curt Hennig
They fight for a lockup to start, but Hennig slams him and drops an elbow for two, and Bockwinkel escapes to the floor. Back in, Bockwinkel gets a top wristlock and they fight over that, which gives the jerkass at ringside a chance to chime in again. Hennig fights out of the wristlock with forearms, and runs Nick into the turnbuckles to send him to the floor. So Nick yanks Hennig down and wraps the knee around the post before going to work on it with a stepover toehold. Hennig slugs out of it, but Bockwinkel takes him down again and traps the knee again. Curt knees him to the floor for a breather and the jerk at ringside counts loudly along with special ref Billy Robinson. “THAT’S TEN! COME ON, BILLY, YOU SHOULD BE HELPING CURT WIN!” Back in, Hennig works the arm, but Bockwinkel runs him into the turnbuckle and chokes him out in the corner. Bockwinkel tosses Hennig and runs him into the announce table and into the post. He runs Hennig’s head into the apron a few times, keeping him out of the ring, but Hennig fights back in, so Bockwinkel puts him down with a forearm for two. Backdrop gets two. Hennig comes back with a sunset flip for two and mounts the comeback with a kneelift. Dropkick gets two. Small package gets two. The Axe forearm gets two. Billy Robinson gets bumped accidentally and lands on the floor while Hennig gets the visual pinfall. But then he stops to yell at the ref and backdrops Bockwinkel over the top rope in his distracted state. Back in, he goes up with a missile dropkick, seemingly winning the title at 19:20, but indeed Robinson saw Bockwinkel getting thrown over the top rope and called for the DQ. Hennig declares this is to be “Bullshit refereeing” and the fans agree with him, but this is the AWA, where bullshit referee decisions in title matches are the order of the day. But hey, what’s the worst that can happen? ***1/2
Afterwards, Hennig cuts a bitter promo about how he’s getting screwed and deserves a rematch, which actually would pay off with him turning to the dark side and winning the title thanks to help from previous enemy Larry Zbyszko.
Jimmy Snuka v. Col DeBeers
This was a super-hot feud for them, actually, with DeBeers giving him the piledriver on the floor to pile on top of the obvious racial angle. Snuka storms the ring and beats on DeBeers to start, but a low blow turns the tide. Snuka comes back with headbutts and goes up with a fistdrop, then picks him up and delivers more punishment with a headbutt that sends DeBeers flying. He goes up with another flying fist and slugs away on the mat, but shoves away Special Troubleshoting Referee Scott LeDoux and gets DQ’d at 3:53. DeBeers wisely runs away to fight another day. Very good short brawl while it lasted. **1/2 Sadly the feud never really led anywhere as this was the closest we got to a blowoff.
Cage match: Doug Somers & Buddy Rose v. The Midnight Rockers
Although the Rockers were chasing the tag titles at this point, this is non-title. The Rockers double-team Somers and run him into the cage immediately, and then Rose gets run into the steel and he’s bleeding. Shawn slugs Somers down for two while Marty runs Buddy Rose into the cage again. The champions have their noggins knocked and Shawn runs Somers into the cage again and bites the cut. They whip Somers into the cage while Sherri has a conniption at ringside, and the Rockers take turns holding Doug and jumping off the top rope with fistdrops on him. Somers is a bloody mess and Marty tries to ram their heads together, but finally they trap Marty in the corner and take over. Rose runs him into the cage and goes up, but Marty kips up and brings Buddy down to crotch him. Marty follows him up and slugs away, and a slam gets two. Back to Buddy, and the Rockers double-team him and run him into the cage some more, actually picking him up two. Marty with a powerslam on Somers and Shawn goes up with a flying elbow for two, but he also picks up Somers at two. They double-team Somers and give him the cheese grater on the cage, and Shawn invites Buddy in to try to stop him, spitting at him in disgust. And then of course it backfires on him, as Rose catapults him into the cage and Shawn is BUSTED OPEN. Rose immediately pounces on him and runs him into the cage some more as Shawn is instantly channeling every bit of Ricky Morton he can and selling the shit out of it. Rose with a piledriver on Shawn and this time he’s the one who picks him up at two. Back to the cage and Somers stomps on the cut while Sherri just screams at him. I guess she was secretly impressed with him all that time! Somers with a suplex and Rose comes in and pounds on the gory cut, and someone actually jumps out of the crowd and dumps a drink on Sherri! Now that’s heat! Marty nails Rose from the apron, but Shawn is staggering around and can’t find his own corner due to being blinded by blood, so Rose drops him on the top rope and Somers drops a knee on his nuts for two. Shawn fights back from the bottom and kicks him in the face from his back, but Somers trips him up and cradles for two. Shawn fights back one more time with a kneelift, and it’s HOT TAG MARTY as the crowd goes nuts. Marty with a powerslam on Somers, but Buddy tries to climb out of the cage and Marty grabs him by the hair to stop him. They slug it out on top of the cage and Marty comes off with a flying bodypress on Somers to finish at 17:43. Shawn Michaels was just out of his mind great here, putting on one of the best individual performances in a match like this I’ve ever seen. ****1/2 And then the champs trap Marty in the cage and just destroy him before Shawn fights back in and makes the save. Honestly, I don’t know why this wasn’t a title match, because the Rockers finally won the damn titles a couple of weeks later anyway.
The undercard was kind of crap here, but with the Nasty Boy Referee and some great stuff to close out the show, this makes for some fun nostalgic viewing and fills in some gaps leading up to the end days of the company. Give it a look for some old school AWA goodness!