Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Playboy" Buddy Rose: Rest in Peace

When people list the best heat magnets from the days of the territories, Buddy Rose's name instantly comes to mind. Rose epitomized the wrestler who could turn the dial up or down, controlling the crowd in the palm of his hand. Mr. Rose had a legendary run in the Pacific Northwest Territory, playing a heel for many years before a startling face turn. He also enjoyed memorable runs in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and stood out as one of the few highlights in the dying days of the American Wrestling Association (AWA).

Born Paul Perschmann, the man who would become "Playboy" Buddy Rose trained under the legendary Gene Anderson (one half of the original Minnesota Wrecking Crew, the forerunners to the Four Horsemen), honing his skills for a year and a half before training under Verne Gagne. Mr. Rose later debuted in Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association, wrestling against Bob Remus, the man who would become better known as Sgt. Slaughter.

Like most of his peers, Rose traveled from territory to territory. Mr. Rose would find his greatest success working on the West Coast. Mr. Rose had successful runs in Vancouver's All-Star Wrestling, Roy Shire's San Francisco promotion, Hawaii, and Don Owen's Pacific Northwest Wrestling. Rose captured singles and tag gold in these promotions, showcasing his versatility as both a singles and tag team competitor. He would also work as Kevin Von Erich's opponent in Von Erich's debut match, performing as Paul Pershmann.

After several years trying to make his mark in the business, Mr. Rose adopted the "Playboy" Buddy Rose character in the Pacific Northwest and never looked back. He had a legendary run in the Pacific Northwest, teaming with longtime partner Ed Wiskowski to make life miserable for the area's babyfaces. Mr. Rose feuded with the area's biggest babyfaces including Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Roddy Piper, Billy Jack, and Curt Hennig. When wrestlers were ready to move out of his territory (it was common for wrestlers to move in and out of territories to keep their acts fresh), promoter Don Owen would put them in Loser Leaves Town matches against Rose, keeping heat on Mr. Rose by having him be the man to send their heroes packing.

"Playboy" Buddy Rose was the heel in the Pacific Northwest, helping up and coming stars such as Roddy Piper, Curt Hennig, and Billy Jack establish themselves. Roddy Piper credits his program with "The Playboy" as the one that got him over while Curt Hennig praised the mentoring Mr. Rose bestowed on him during his run in the Pacific Northwest. "Playboy" Buddy Rose continued to be the man that the fans loved to hate, irritating them with his inflammatory interviews and entertaining them in the ring with his considerable bumping abilities and ring psychology. In 1983 he shocked the fans by turning babyface, one of the greatest turns in the history of the industry. Mr. Rose would eventually turn heel, returning to the Pacific Northwest in 1984 to lay out Matt Bourne and announce that he was back to take over the territory.

During the early 1980's Mr. Rose's talent earned him a run in the World Wrestling Federation. He challenged Bob Backlund for the WWF championship, giving the champ a run for his money but always coming short of a championship victory. The "Playboy" would later return to the WWF, working under a mask as the Executioner at the inaugural Wrestlemania against Tito Santana and performing in one of the best-remembered vignettes from the Rock and Wrestling Era, the Buddy Rose Blowaway Diet.

As the 1980's winded down, the "Playboy" had one last championship run, this time in the American Wrestling Association with "Pretty Boy" Doug Sommers. Although the AWA was on its last leg, Mr. Rose gave the dying promotion one last flash of glory thanks to his work against the young team of the Midnight Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty). Managed by Sherri Martel, Buddy Rose and Doug Sommers feuded with the Midnight Rockers over the AWA World Tag Team Championship, engaging in several memorable matches including the bloodbath that would (appropriately) become known as "The Bloodbath Match". Mr. Rose would also host a talk segment known as "The Rose Garden".

As the 1990's dawned, Mr. Rose returned to the WWF for one more stint before going into semi-retirement. He would form a wrestling school with his longtime tag partner Ed Wiskowski and reunited with his fans at various wrestling conventions throughout the U.S.

Looking back at Mr. Rose's career, one cannot help but be impressed. Like "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, Mr. Rose did not have an Adonis-like physique (unless you're talking about Adrian Adonis) but he had impressive skills as a worker, on the microphone, and as a ring psychologist. The "Playboy" used his girth to his advantage, cutting promos wherein he asked that he be listed as weighing 217 pounds, asking the camera man to zoom in on his physique, and of course, to demonstrate his one-armed push-ups. The "Playboy" was a true old school legend, demonstrating that wrestling is about more than having a chiseled physique; it's about putting asses in the seats with good promos and good matches.

World Wrestling Insanity wishes to send its condolences to the friends and family of "Playboy" Buddy Rose. Mr. Rose was 56 years old.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review of Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 90's

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

- A Tale of Two Cities

The 1990's was a strange time for professional wrestling. As the decade began, most of the territories were out of business, WCW was running on fumes, and the WWF was at the tail end of the momentum from the Rock and Wrestling Era. By the end of the decade, wrestling was bigger than ever with the WWF, ECW, and WCW doing record-setting business. Now, the WWE takes a look at the men and women who transformed the industry and helped bring about the most successful period in its history.

For many fans, the 1990's was the time to be a wrestling fan. Recently I've had the opportunity to do book signings for Wrestling's Greatest Moments. It's fun because it's a chance to talk with fellow fans. I am constantly amazed at the number of people cut their teeth on professional wrestling during the 1990's. Regardless of whether they watch wrestling now or don't, they still have fond memories of people like Sting, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, and The Undertaker. Regardless of whether or not they're still fans, these performers have left a lasting impression on many people.

Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 90's provides a look at many of the top WWF and WCW Superstars from the past decade on a two hour documentary along with seven hours of matches showcasing the talent. Most of the profiles are short; similar to the kind you see at the WWE's annual Hall of Fame ceremony. While the profiles aren't long, there are a lot of Superstars profiled. This DVD is more of a sampler platter of big names from the 90's with fans having the option to see more detailed bios on the individual DVD's the WWE has put out over the last decade.

Like any "best of" package, there will be debates over who made the cut and who didn't. The biggest names missing have to be Bill Goldberg, Vader, and Sid Vicious. Goldberg's exclusion is an interesting one. While his period of fame in the 90's was short, it was at the level of a supernova. His absence from the DVD is likely more to do with the way he left the WWE (and buried the company following his departure) than with his importance. In the case of Vader, it's hard to say why he wasn't listed. He was a top star in WCW during the first half of the decade and a featured performer in the WWF (even though it's hard to qualify his tenure there as a success). In Sid Vicious' case, who can say what. Sid was never a consistent player but his look and size kept him in the spotlight throughout the 1990's.

ECW fans will likely be furious that no one from ECW made the grade. Although ECW never made it to the same level as WCW or the WWF, its contribution to the business' resurgence is undeniable and I've always maintained that without ECW, there would have been no Attitude Era. Paul Heyman's vision of wrestling energized a moribund product and it's impossible to deny the contributions of wrestlers such as Shane Douglas, Raven, and Sandman. They may not have attained superstardom in the WWF or WCW but their work inspired the revolution that brought WCW and the WWE to new heights. Although ECW (and Paul Heyman) is acknowledged, the DVD pays lip service to the land of extreme, acknowledging stars who passed through ECW and went on to fame in the WWE like Steve Austin and Mick Foley but ignoring people who deserve recognition.

The DVD's other flaw is that the documentary features way too much recycled material from previous DVD's. There are way too many interviews you've seen before on previous DVD's and not enough fresh interviews. Worse yet, the stuff that is new is largely interviews with CM Punk and John Morrison and the documentary gives them way too much to share their thoughts on the Superstars they grew up watching. CM Punk takes a cheap shot at Lex Luger on the DVD while Morrison delivers his lines as if he's a prisoner in an Al-Qaeda video. It's a definite weakness in the documentary feature.

Despite these weaknesses, the DVD is a great stroll down memory lane, taking you back to some great times in wrestling and reminding you how many great wrestlers there were. You also begin to realize how fleeting fame can be. In the case of former wrestler Lex Luger, it's downright astonishing. Watching the DVD, it was interesting to be reminded of just how big a star Lex Luger was (both physically and in the business). Luger never seemed to break through to superstardom like Hogan, Austin, or the Rock (as the DVD mentions several times) but he was a top star nonetheless. He's one of those guys who was so big at one point and now he's little more than a footnote in wrestling.

While the DVD is about the top stars of the 90's, it's also a lesson in how you build up a company. Watching the DVD, you can't help noticing how many stars were made during the 1990's. Time after time, you see established stars putting over newcomers, creating a fresh crop of main eventers. Both WCW and the WWF built up an impressive roster (especially the WWF which found most of its main eventers gone after talent raids by WCW's Eric Bischoff) during the 1990's. It's a time-tested formula but one that WCW failed to continue following (part of the reason the company eventually folded) and one the WWE apparently forgot about until recently.

Fans of the Attitude Era should dig this DVD. It's a fun-filled trip down memory lane. While you're not going to learn anything new about the stars, you will remember what made you such a fan during this time. Personally, it's hard to beat nine hours of wrestling for $20.00. WWE Home Video has got to the point where I'd much rather lay down a Jackson for a DVD than two for a PPV. Even with a phoned in documentary and the absence of ECW's top stars, this is one worth picking up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wrestling's Unsolved Mysteries: Tommy Rich

n an industry purposely mired in mystery, it's no surprise that professional wrestling has its share of mysteries that continue to puzzle its fans. Even with the explosion of shoot videos and tell-all books, fans still talk about some of wrestling's unexplained happenings, wondering what really happened.

During the days of kayfabe, fans were lucky if they could find out a wrestler's real name, let alone more substantial information such as why a wrestler left a territory unexpectedly or who was running the show behind the scenes. This was a time when promoters and wrestlers diligently guarded the business, leaving more than a few fans wondering whether or not what went on in the squared circle was legit.

The rise of the dirtsheets led to more insider knowledge followed by the expansion of Internet access began to change things but not always for the better. For every list of "wrestler's real names" published on the Internet, crazy rumors spread beginning with multiple Ultimate Warriors and ending who knows when.

Disproving some of these rumors has led good men to the brink. Anyone who prowled the old wrestling newsgroups like can attest to the crazy stories that were passed on. No matter how much someone pointed out the follies of stories claiming that the original Warrior had died and been replaced, enough people were gullible enough (nastier folks might say stupid enough) that the story was passed on.

As a fan and amateur historian, the thing that interests me are what I call the unsolved mysteries of wrestling. These aren't the far-fetched urban legends that pop up on message boards and in fans' casual conversations but the real-life mysteries that no one is able to answer. These are legitimate situations that actually happened but which no one is able to conclusively prove what exactly happened. These are wrestling's unsolved mysteries.

One of the biggest mysteries in wrestling involves the NWA title reign of Tommy "Wildfire" Rich. In April of 1981, Rich defeated NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race to become the holder of the most prestigious belt in wrestling at the time. Four days later, it would be over and Race would be champion again. While Rich would compete for the gold again, he would never be world champion again.

The big question has always been why was Rich made champion and why was it such a short reign. Why Rich was made champion isn't difficult to understand. Rich was enormously popular, especially in Georgia Championship Wrestling. However his four day title reign was unprecedented, causing some skeptics to wonder what was going on behind the scenes. At the time, the NWA title was carefully administered with a board of directors convening to discuss who would be champion and for how long. Title switches were rare, sometimes taking place only every few years. Why would Rich be awarded the belt for such a short time?

Through the years, various theories have sprung up concerning the title switch. The simplest explanation (and one that pops upa lot) is human error. Fans have speculated that Race forgot to raise his shoulder at a three count and the referee was forced to award the belt to Rich or that the referee accidentally made a fast count. The belt was reluctantly awarded to Rich (in order to maintain kayfabe) but quickly taken off of him four days later.

Another theory holds that this was a screwjob by a shady promoter. This theory holds that a referee made a crooked pinfall count in order to put the belt on Rich, in order to enrich the promotion he was working in. This theory just doesn't hold up as it's doubtful the National Wrestling Alliance would have let anyone get away with this. Rich would have been blackballed and the rogue promotion would have been shut down by the NWA (This was during the era when the NWA still maintained a tight grip on its members and any would-be rivals). The final factor in this equation is the presence of Harley Race. Race has a well-deserved reputation as one of wrestling's toughest men and it's difficult to imagine anyone stealing the belt from Race without getting a receipt. I've yet to hear anything which supports this theory.

A third theory holds that this was hot-shot booking by Jim Barnett, co-owner of Georgia Championship Wrestling as well as booker for the NWA championship. The idea behind this theory is that Barnett booked a short title reign in order to jump-start GCW's business by giving the fans the idea that the title could change place at anytime or anywhere, and that Rich had the potential to win the title again in future contests. This theory holds a lot of water in my book, especially when you look at the NWA title situation at the time. Although the NWA title had rarely changed hands during the 1960's and 1970's, the belt changed hands a remarkable number of times in 1981. Rumor has it that several promoters got in on the idea of "hot-shotting" the title in order to boost local business. Of all the theories that have been thrown out there, this one seems to make the most sense.

The fourth and final theory holds that there was a quid pro quo between a promoter/official and Tommy Rich. Although wrestling has had its share of unscrupulous individuals, it's difficult to imagine the NWA allowing a title change for the personal pleasure of one of its members or officials. Still, given the allegations raised over the years by wrestlers such as Barry Orton and Jim Wilson, you can't completely discount this theory. The problem here is that I have yet to hear anything substantial to support this theory.

Whatever the reason for Rich's win, he will forever be among the elite few who have held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Rich's career would peak in Georgia Championship Wrestling during a feud against "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer. While Rich would have memorable programs afterwards in Memphis, his best days were behind him by the mid 1980's. Still, whenever knowledgeable fans speak of Rich's world championship reign, there is usually a brief hesitation as people wonder if there was something more to it than just business.