Hey all! It’s an extra Dream Matches column this week as I take a look at a request and just stick a random depressing match to the end of it. LOU THESZ vs. VERNE GAGNE for the NWA World Title in 1952! Come see just how epic a heel Lou Thesz was in 1952 against a short, spunky Gagne!
Also come see the origin of the dreaded “Conway Pop” as Rob Conway debuts as a charisma-vacuum with the most horrendous theme song in the history of the business, against poor “JTTS era but in retrospect he deserved this” Val Venis!
NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
BEST TWO OF THREE FALLS:
LOU THESZ vs. VERNE GAGNE:
(Chicago Ampitheater, Jan. 25th 1952)
* Oh yes- it’s time. I dare to tackle what NWA Title matches looked like 70 years ago. Lou is the 233-lb. World Champion, while Gagne is his 218-lb. opponent. Best of all, it’s Russ Davis as the commentator again! This is so long ago that Vern is called “the most upstanding of the young challengers”. Both guys have mean widow’s peaks, and Lou’s hairy as all get-out with a mean dad look- Verne must be pale as hell because he’s basically reflecting the ring spotlights. You know it’s 1952 because every single man in the audience is wearing a suit. Imagine that at a wrestling event now.
FALL ONE: They fight for lockups to start, Thesz immediately drawing boos for a slight shove instead of a clean break, and gives the ref a nasty look for getting in his way. Multiple lockups go nowhere until Thesz finally rolls him into a headscissors- after about a minute flailing & twisting, he finally forward-flips out of it to a POP! Thesz growls in pain in a hammerlock and goes down- Gagne resists a snapmare counter as Davis comments on how both fight instinctively when hurt, like boxers, and “both men are in beautiful shape… as pretty as has ever been”. Man is he watching Dragon Gate? Mean ol’ Thesz grabs a HEADLOCK too quick out of a rope-break to more boos, but Verne feints him and goes back to the hammerlock- Davis notes he’s adding a Japanese-style twist for no “immediate effect” but slowly builds up pain in the tendons “over the long haul”. Thesz makes the ropes a couple times and swats at Verne’s back, then snaps on his headlock and works counts with it until Verne reverses for two and they’re in the ropes. MORE boos for Lou’s dirty breaks and then Verne rears back to build anticipation and HE does it, earning a pop! See? Two wrongs make a right in pro wrestling, and the top babyface is always allowed to cheat! Hogan didn’t invent that!
Verne takes him down with a toehold, but Verne pulls him into a hammerlock, eventually breaking Verne’s grip- ref finally makes him break for seguing to a choke after boxing the ears with his knees. Davis says it was clearly inadvertent, but then Lou just CLOCKS him with a forearm out of a rope-break and this is ON. Verne sells like nuts and comes up with his fists balled up, so of course Lou now insists on proper decorum and tells the ref to make him open ’em up. Lou tries his arm thingie again but Verne bucks him off- Verne just starts shoving him, and then gives a dirty break! Dirty elbow from Thesz! Verne works the leg and a headlock and just cranks that sucker as both are soaked with sweat. After almost three minutes (and a lot of shifting around) Verne blasts him with a shoulderblock but Lou’s saved by the ropes. Verne keeps on the headlock takeovers, holding this for I swear to god TWEVLE MINUTES, but then Lou finally catches him and just bolts up with a high-angle Backdrop Suplex for the pin at (27:14 of 32:10 shown)! Lou wins Fall One!
FALL TWO: Both guys are F’d up from that fall, Verne selling his head like it was a rabbit punch and Thesz just being worn out, but the wily 33-year old just clobbers Verne with quick axehandles. But Verne absolutely decks him with his arm and the middle-aged women in the crowd are marking out like crazy on-camera! Lou with a “broad-arm lick” to the back as Davis calls it (“not a rabbit punch, it’s alright”), Verne still struggling to get it together, but he manages to pull off a Body Slam (HOLY SHIT THE MDK OF 1952) and nearly gets two before the ref noticing Lou’s leg over the rope. Thesz looks like he’s dying on his feet and keeps having to make the ropes to avoid sleepers & stuff, and stretches out his back to put over the sheer brutality of the body slam, then whines at the ref when Verne copies his same shots. Thesz then scores a cheap elbow to put Verne on the floor, but earns some “flat-palm licks” to the top of the head and sells like crazy… but scores that elbow-pop again, two kneelifts and the THESZ PRESS~~ for two! Hahaha all three women on the hard camera shit a brick on that one- one had her hands on the side of her face and everything.
Thesz works the count with a body-scissors as Verne looks to be cooked, but he scores a broad-arm lick to the chin to escape! Lou hangs in the ropes to avoid follow-ups and the two keep countering- Lou’s toehold with his legs figure-fouring Verne ends with a headlock to a headscissors to what would today by the Pause for Applause but is just them getting frustrated in 1952. And then Verne pulls off the ROLLING CRADLE, a move Manami Toyota would be using throughout the ’90s! Lou gets tossed “like a bag of old dry rags” (Davis is the BEST) and Verne shoulderblocks him in the stomach- Lou gets hot and tries to choke him in the ropes but Verne pinballs him with a shoulderblock and Lou’s saved by the ropes again. Verne skips out of the drop toehold and a guy in the front row LOVES that and Lou even wants to shake hands to congratulate him for it, but they’re grappling again- Thesz buffets him with shots but suddenly comes off the ropes and it’s a Body Slam into the SLEEPERHOLD, and Thesz is a limp rag at (16:55)- Verne wins Fall Two!
FALL THREE: Lou keeps stalling for time to wait out the clock, but Verne keeps going for the Sleeper- Thesz is dying on his feet and Verne gets it… but Time Expires at (4:26)! Lou Thesz retains! Yeah you had to see that one coming. Verne is disappointed but the two shake hands like good sports (alas, we’re not in the era where Lou could ballpunch him and turn full heel).
So the 1950s style is kind of a fascinating one to watch for a while, as cheating isn’t really allowed, so guys have to get heat off of things like refusing a clean break- Thesz draws great reactions just for little shoves, and ultimately puts his elbow against Verne’s head and pops his fist to create impact, someting as Davis says is not TECHNICALLY against the rules but is still super dirty, and it’s amazing. But then you hit the “10 minute mid-match headlock” and then we’re back to parts of the game that were just exiled in the 1970s. Like they’ll move around and stuff, Verne repeatedly having to flip him back over, but holy cow. At least you could almost pretend this was real back in the day- anyone who’s been in a fight knows that a headlock can be a match-ender and here Lou had no answer save “sit in it until the other guy is tired or loosens his grip, and BAM!”.
It’s interesting because the first fall is in ***+ territory until the headlock and it’s hard to rate a match highly with THAT, but then the second fall is ***+ all the way, with actual chain-wrestling and great heeling by Thesz, plus the MOVEZ of 1952, as they pull out a body slam, Thesz press (hey I betcha that’s why they call it that!) and a rolling cradle. Lou’s selling is great, and both guys have spectacular cardio, doing an hour broadway and yet are still moving quickly and only pretending to be all “ugggh I can’t mooooooooooove”.
Rating: ***1/2 (you kinda gotta throw out the second half of Fall One and JUST go with the smart psychology and the playing it up like it’s real, but a lot of it “works”. Lou’s subtle heeling was tremendous and he made Verne look like he could’ve had him at any moment)
“Just LOOK at me…. YEAH… just LOOK at me…”
“THE CON-MAN” ROB CONWAY vs. VAL VENIS:
(WWE RAW, 01.08.2005)
* Ever heard the expression “Conway Pop”? It’s an infamous terminology for a wrestler getting ZERO reaction- not fans’ boos, not cheers, not “Go Away/X-Pac Heat” or anything- just complete, blank silence. It’s eery and fascinating and pretty much never happens except when inexplicable junk is foisted upon the fans. For context, it comes from the singles run of Rob Conway- a particularly un-gifted generic guy from the “Ruthless Aggression” era. A generic pretty-boy wrestler with a good physique, he was charisma-free and just slapped on as a “Johnny Ace Hire” among a bad era of cookie-cutter guys for WWE, as nearly everyone in the company was a tall ripped guy at this point. He had been the only American member of La Resistance as a third man (more polished than Renee Dupree & Sylvain Grenier, it was hoped he’d shore up their weak tag matches). And then they repackaged him… and he came out in see-through leather daddy gear and assorted other Gay Pride paraphernalia despite being pushed as an arrogant heterosexual… with THIS THEME. Someone doing a Randy Newman impression with the song “Just Look At Me” (“ain’t I a sight to see…?”) with a slow piano beat and a sing-talking cadence. And he’s paired off with Val Venis, who at this point had been exposed badly as a mid-level wrestler with no charisma if Vince Russo wasn’t writing Joel Gertner ripoff lines for him, so he’d tumbled down the card and spent several years as a Jobber To The Stars, only rarely making RAW.
If the vortex of silence wasn’t a bad enough sign for Conway, he does an cutaway promo promising to do things “My way… the CON…way” with an inhuman smile, and holds his arms up to do a taunt at random moments with no rhyme or reason- absolute death. Just look at the crowd on the hard camera shot- not a single reaction. Things get “2005 WWE” immediately as they do dramatic headlocks & wristlocks (this was when they tried to extend match times from the Attitude Era style, but with guys who knew jack shit about technical wrestling so they could only do the basics from wrestling school), then Rob loses his sunglasses off a shoulderblock and shouts “Now you’re gonna get it!”. Conway lands elbows and chops, and to his credit Val is like “AWWWWW OH GOD!” about it, flailing around and writhing in agony on the sell-jobs. Oh yeah, he knows how to keep this job.
Val comes back with ’80s stuff and smashes Rob into the barricade, but goes into it himself repeatedly as Conway is at least getting individual people to inform him that he sucks. Their numbers increase as this goes on. Conway does an over-the-shoulder chinlock, but Val comes back with the Blue Thunder Bomb (backdrop to sit-out powerbomb), some running moves and leg stuff like an inverted figure-four as the crowd finally loses their patience and starts a “This match sucks! *clapclapclapclapclap*!” chant and thank god they go to the finish, as Val hits a spinebuster and aims for the Money Shot (flying splash) but takes a big bump getting knocked off (bouncing off the cable then landing on the apron/steps) and Conway hits the Ego Trip (draping him from the ropes & doing a spinning neckbreaker, for the pin at (5:28).
So yeah- they go 5:30 and get the crowd so noticeably pissed off they start disrespecting both wrestlers, and that’s after a reaction so infamous it’s now NAMED after one of the guys. That’s the sign something horrible has happened. Part of it’s the all-time bad theme- the slow piano music to start just sucks the energy out of the arena, and then the VOICE just starts going on and nobody can believe this is occurring. Then Rob Conway comes out with his “build the SmackDown! meter at random” taunting but no actual charisma, and perfunctory/fine but utterly generic wrestling between bell-rings. Both guys were bad for that “My offense is running elbows and headlocks” shit, not helped by lame finishers (a SPLASH?) or Conway just filling the match with running Val into stuff. The only nice things I can say is that nothing was screwed up and Val was going all-out to show Vince that he shouldn’t be fired. And IT WORKED- he honest to god stayed until *2009* and wrestled guys as late as CM Punk!
Rating: *1/2 (I’d say it’s an “inoffensive match” but the CROWD sure as shit didn’t think so- it’s just hopelessly basic)