Throughout the history of pro wrestling, there have been countless men who’ve been considered true, legitimate tough guys, guys who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Whether it be old timers like Stu Hart, Lou Thesz, or Karl Gotch, or newer guys such as Haku, obviously the business has had its share of bonafide bad asses. With this in mind, it’s somewhat surprising that it took until 1998 for someone to do what was basically a “Toughman Contest” featuring pro wrestlers, a shoot fight that would show the world who the baddest of the bad really was.
And amazingly, it was the WWF that decided to do so.
I say “amazingly”, because you’d think they would know better; there’s no question when you look at such an event, the cons seemingly far outweigh the pros. Since it is legit, Vinny Mac and his creative crew have no ability to control who would come out on top. What if it was a guy who was white bread bland, who they had no interest in pushing, who won the whole thing? And with real punches and takedowns, wasn’t the likelihood of someone getting injured in a very real fashion also there?
At the end of the day, the answers to those questions would be a resounding yes and yes.
The rules were seemingly straight forward: there were 3 one-minute rounds, and a knockout would end the match. Competitors would also be awarded points for most punches in the round, takedowns, and knockdowns. Seemed simple enough, but throughout the tournament, the announcers couldn’t figure out what counted for a takedown, and neither could the judges.
Besides, this forsakes RD’s number one rule in wrestling:you should never need a screen to explain the rules on a match. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t like TNA where they have matches that need like three screens to explain it, but regardless, keep it simple, Stupid.
Whether it be overly complicated rules or just that it was something so completely different, one thing was for certain: the crowd absolutely HATED it. It took fans approximately 25 seconds to voice their displeasure at the event during the very first match.
That’s mot me being a wisenheimer – the fans were BOOING and chanting “WE WANT WRESTLING!” that quickly. Which is hard to believe when you consider the first match had two of the WWF’s tippy top guys: Steve Blackman and Marc Mero.
What? You thought Stone Cold, Hunter, Undertaker, and the rest of the WWF upper echelon would be in a shoot fight where they could get hurt in a very real manner?
Now to be fair, I suppose you could do worse for a first round shoot fight. Mero was a legitimate New York Gold Gloves champion, and Blackman, according to the always accurate Wikipedia, had taken some, and I quote, “kindergarten karate classes.”
Make fun of Vince McMahon all you want, but you have to admit that “Lethal Weapon” had a better ring to it than “Kindergarten Chop Socker”.
After scoring takedown after takedown (no doubt learned at the Mother Goose Tea Time and Martial Arts Academy), Blackman emerged the victor.
Next, we got a match that would be a main event in any high school gymnasium in the western hemisphere: Henry Godwinn versus Bradshaw. See, now a statement like that IS me being a wisenehimer.
And yes, I am amazed that it took me over eight years to get the word “wiseheimer” on the site. And now I’ve done it twice in the span of 100 words. Yay RD!
Anyway, no one wanted to see this. Bradshaw wasn’t JBL yet, he was just a cowboy with a bad moustache.
On the plus side, he didn’t have giant saggy boobies yet. I think being an announcer is the cause of those. I know after just doing a few indy announcing gigs I felt like I needed a brassiere.
At this point, Godwinn was known as Mark Canterbury. I think he may have been part of Southern Justice at this point. If you don’t remember Southern Justice, well, don’t feel bad. I’ve been writing about wrestling for nearly a decade, week in, week out, and have written three books on the subject.
I have absolutely no recollection of them, other than there was a tag team called Southern Justice.
Again, I’d check Wikipedia, but in addition to that claim about Blackman’s background, I, RD Reynolds, have been declared legally dead on there at least three times.
(And to paraphrase an edit on the page following my demise, “I didn’t even know I was sick.”)
Now to their credit, Bradshaw and Canterbury just came out throwing punches. No technique here, just two guys looking to knock the others’ head off. Didn’t mean it was good or anything, but I applaud the effort.
It seriously looked like Punch-Out! or something.
Speaking of, I don’t know where Umaga has been lately (again, don’t email, I don’t care and I’ll just point to you as a nerd/geek/poindexter), but when he comes back, he REALLY needs a makeover as King Hippo.
Oh, and not that you really care, but Bradshaw won via decision.
And the streak of big name superstars (not appearing) continues, with Savio Vega coming to the ring. Long-time Crappers will remember Savio as the evil Puerto Rican ninja known as Kwang.
Seriously, the WWF had a PUERTO RICAN NINJA NAME KWANG. I’d rant about it, but well, been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and you can TOO!).
His foe for this immortal battle is Brakus, the most jacked up German you’ve ever seen, a guy who the WWF did approximately 48 weeks of vignettes for prior to his arrival. He then disappeared after like three matches, never to be seen in the company again.
People have been asking for me to induct him forever, but seriously, what am I going to write? I struggled to come up with those 39 words right there.
That may have passed for an induction back in 2001, but not these days, pal!
As I mentioned, Brakus wasn’t around long, and the Brawl for All sure didn’t do much to help him as he was just a human punching bag for Savio.
He was able to last all three rounds, though, so yet again, we got a decision, a trend that the already annoyed crowds weren’t exactly down with.
So you can imagine their euphoria when they were treated to yet ANOTHER three round time limit between Droz, known at the time as Road Warrior Puke, and Road Warrior Hawk. Worse, there wasn’t even a winner – it was called a draw.
And if that didn’t make the crowd boo, well…
..the two men HUGGING sure did.
I can only guess that this boring fight (and the injury he sustained in it) led to Hawk’s depression that saw him throw himself off the top of the Titantron.
But it wasn’t just the Road Warriors duking it out in the tournament, as another legendary team would also square off: the Midnight Express.
Before you weep at the thought of “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton and “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey pounding on each other, let me clarify.
This would be the NEW Midnight Express of “Bodacious” Bart Gunn and “Bombastic” Bob Holly.
And no, I’m not making those names up. That’s really what the WWF dubbed them. Egads, man.
Despite having a reputation as a legit tough guy, Bart just obliterated Sparky. Again, though, he couldn’t knock him out, so again we had another three round decision.
Want excitement? This isn’t the tournament for you!
Now no doubt you’re saying, “Waitaminute, RD…didn’t the WWF have a legit UFC legend on the roster at the time of this stupid thing?” Actually, they had two: Ken Shamrock and Dan “The Beast” Severn.
Shamrock was apparently smart enough to avoid BFA altogether. Severn, though, decided to throw his hat in the ring. Still, considering that his first round opponent was best known for pimping and lighting up fatties…well, you can kinda give him a pass.
So yes, we have Dan Severn vs. The Godfather of all people.
And literally nothing happens at all.
Seriously, I tried to get a good screen shot of punches being thrown, of take downs, of any type of action.
This – THIS! – was pretty much the best I could get.
The decision was given to Dan Severn, for no real reason I can come up with.
My best guess is they just flipped a coin.
Avast ye, mateys! That’s trouble ahead as we get Jean Pierre Lafitte walking the plank (to the ring).
Sure, it may have said “Quebecer Pierre” on the screen, but anytime the dude has a SKULL & CROSSBONES on his chest, that makes him a pirate to me.
His foe would be the man the tournament was more or less designed for, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams.
The basic idea behind Brawl for All was that Doc, who had the rep for being the toughest man in the biz, would plow through the competition.
This would thus set up the company’s hottest act, Steve Austin, versus a man who had proven he could legitimately injure people.
A fantastic theory.
And sho nuff, Doc pretty much mauled the dude with one good eye. Nothing like putting the guy you want to win in against a guy who can’t see punches coming at him.
And while I’d never claim this thing was rigged (as several guys got legitimately hurt in it), doesn’t it seem a bit odd that every other contest was like 10-5, and this one was 35-5 in the SECOND ROUND?
So yeah, Doc pummels the poor one-eyed to move on.
And the never ending first round finally ends with Too Cold Scorpio versus 8-Ball of DOA. I thought that WrestleMania IV title tourney was the longest and most boring thing I’d ever seen until this happened, but after seeing this stupid thing drug out through 27 matches, I was begging for a Dino Bravo-Don Muraco snoozefest.
So I entertained myself the only way I know how: by going back in the archives and finding a zany photo of Scorp.
No wait, there’s something missing.
Oh my GOD have you seen the size of my penis?
Ah, much better.
Finally…FINALLY…we get to round two, with Doc coming out to what everyone was no doubt thinking was a cakewalk match against Bart Gunn.
I mean really..who was going to give THIS guy a chance in hell of winning?
And, giant foam hat aside, they were sure positioning it that way, as again, despite things looking pretty much even, we saw Doc having a decided advantage in the scoring.
It would wind up not mattering, though, as Bart would take Doc down, blow out his knee, and then KO him with less than 10 seconds left.
And with that blow, Steve Williams saw his wrestling career go down in flames. What was to be his crowning moment, wherein he would plow through the rest of the roster and prove himself to be the ultimate tough guy thus setting up a feud with Steve Austin, turned into a time where his pal Good Ol’ JR nearly began to weep.
Epic Fail, as the kids like to say these days.
(Do they still say that? I’m not the hippest dude on the planet.)
I could go through the rest of the tournament, but I really don’t feel like torturing anyone with long, drawn out descriptions of the matches, as really, what’s the point?
Do you really need in-depth analysis of Puke vs. Savio Vega?
Or how Scorpio said no to Ho’s in order to fight – and lose – to the Godfather?
Or how Dan Severn basically said “screw this” and dropped out of the tournament entirely?
Instead, let’s just fast forward to the end, which sees Bart Gunn taking on Bradshaw. But unlike any other bout in the tourney, this one was actually a lot of fun as a) it was quick b) it was brutal and most importantly, c) it featured Bradshaw getting cold cocked.
And I mean he got absolutely floored within 30 seconds, barely regained his vertical base…
…only to get pummelled again.
Maybe I’m just a jerk, but I just like seeing Bradshaw flat on his face.
And so it seemed that Bart Gunn had the world in the palm of his sweaty, concrete laced hands.
And much as what they were looking to do with Doc, he would get a WrestleMania showdown against that big, bald, goateed mean ass son of a bitch!
What? You thought we were talking about Steve Austin?
No no – it would be “Butterbean” Eric Esch, a very real and very scary heavyweight boxer, who heading into the showdown had won like 40 fights, all but 2 or 3 by knockout.
So while Bart wasn’t getting Austin, in theory (and you’re probably noticing a trend here), this could be even better.
Seriously – hear me out here.
A battle with Steve Austin would just be two wrestlers against each other. But if Bart could prove that not only was he the baddest the WWF had to offer, but had the ability to KO a big name boxer? Then he really COULD write his own ticket, in two different sports.
Again, this was all in theory.
Unfortunately, the same theory that saw Doc winning the tournament also didn’t account for a giant right hand from Butterbean, one that knocked poor Bart right onto Dream Street.
And thus, despite being the best “brawler” in the WWF, he was no match for a real fighter.
Which meant, of course, that in the “real world”, no one else in the company was all that tough either.
Not only that, but the tournament left those in it literally battled and bruised. In addition to Williams’ basically blowing out his knee, both Hawk and Blackman wound up with injuries that left them out of the company for several months. That paled in comparison to poor Savio Vega, though, who wound up with an arm injury so severe that it ended his WWF career.
Is there any wonder why there’s never been another Brawl for All?