It seems not a day goes by when my inbox isn’t hit at least once asking me for my opinion of wrestling books are worth checking out (so much so that I’ve created an area of this site where I review all of them I own). Obviously, I do my best to shill my books, but to be fair, I always state that there are a great number of really good books covering the wrestling world. One of my favorites is Pure Dynamite by Tom Billington, whom longtime fans will remember as the Dynamite Kid. Newer fans who might not know the name need look only at Chris Benoit, who would be the first to tell you that he has done everything humanly possible to emulate the Kid, who was his childhood idol. In fact, it is almost eerie to watch old tapes of the Kid; it really does feel like you are watching Benoit twenty-some years earlier.
Billington made a name for himself in Britain, Canada, and Japan before Vince McMahon came calling and brought in both he and Davey Boy Smith as the British Bulldogs in the mid 1980’s. It was almost bizarre to see the team, which was almost without peer as technical grapplers, competing in the very cartoonish WWF. Both guys were a lot smaller than the standard superstars of the time, but it didn’t matter; their skills inside the ring were so great that fans stood up and took notice, and the duo became among the most popular wrestlers in the promotion. They won the WWF tag titles from the “Dream Team” of Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine at WrestleMania 2, and proceeded to hold onto them for the remainder of 1986.
Sadly, however, years of high risk moves (and by Billington’s own admission, rampant steroid abuse) destroyed the Kid’s back. He was in such bad shape, in fact, that during a title defense in which the Bulldogs against the Hart Foundation, Smith had to literally carry Kid to the ring piggyback. Obviously, the pair dropped the belts and Kid went back to the hospital to recuperate.
Upon his return, Billington was a shell of his former self. Even at that, he was about a zillion times better than almost anyone else on the roster. However, that wasn’t good enough for McMahon, who decided that the Bulldogs needed something else to really grab the crowd’s attention. And since they were the British BULLDOGs, he decided they needed just that – a real, live Bulldog.
You can just imagine Billington’s reaction to THAT.
In fact, don’t imagine it – here’s what he wrote in Pure Dynamite: “Whatever you thought about Hulk Hogan, his gimmick was a big draw, no question about it. And it sparked off a whole load of wrestling gimmicks – some good, some awful. Vince McMahon was always coming up with new ones. Some were just plain stupid, for example, Ricky Steamboat, when he became Ricky ” The Dragon” Steamboat, and he had to do all that Bruce Lee bullshit on the top rope. And Terry Taylor as the Red Rooster, with his hair painted red, walking round the ring, going, “Cluck, cluck, cluck.”
But all of that was just for Vince’s amusement – at least, that was my opinion. I’ve seen him many times, sniggering and laughing behind the curtain at some of the things he had the wrestlers doing in the ring. And either you did, or you were fired. So when he walked in the dressing room one night with our gimmick – a pair of real bulldogs – I thought we’d got off lightly. In fact, the dogs weren’t a bad idea. We walked them down to the ring – the people loved them – we wrestled, and after the match we handed them back. A few weeks later, at the next television taping, Vince brought just one bulldog. He handed the lead to Davey Boy Smith and said, “There you go, take her to the ring.”
We needed to think of a name for it, and if it had been a male dog, we’d have called it Winston (note from RD: when Davey Boy was a solo act in the WWF years later, his male dog mascot was in fact named Winston). But it was Vince who came up with the name Matilda. Me and Davey looked at each other a bit blank, shrugged, and set off down the aisle with our new mascot, Matilda. Waltzing fucking Matilda. When we came back to the dressing room, Davey handed her back to Vince, but he said, “No, that dog’s yours now. You keep her.”
And they did. Wherever the Bulldogs wrestled, from New York to Los Angeles to London to every point in between, Matilda went with them.
And by golly, those boys sure loved their pooch. Here they are celebrating Christmas with her, with Davey Boy forcing his bitch (that is, after all, the proper name for a female dog) to deep throat a bone.
And I am kind of with Dynamite on this – she would have been ok if they just walked her to the ring and kept her at ringside.
So of course, that didn’t happen. No, what happened was that Kid and Smith would “get advice” from Matilda. They’d lean down and put their ear to the mutt’s face and act like she was giving them tips on how to wrestle. Amazingly, I believe there were only one or two occasions when fans at home actually heard her voice, and sadly, I don’t have that footage in my collection.
A bulldog giving advice to two of the top wrestlers in the business would have been dumb enough, but it was about to get much, much worse.
Because Matilda was about to run into the Brain.
Heenan didn’t like the dog. So naturally he had his men, the Islanders, dognap her. Because, you see, that’s a Brain kind of thing to do.
Haku, Tama, and Heenan nabbed the mutt and headed for the hills…
…with Heenan later showing up on TV with one of those old invisible dog leashes.
I LOVE that bit.
It seemed that every single soul in the promotion was emotionally scarred by the heinous actions of Heenan and the Islanders.
Vince McMahon, whose sole on-screen persona was just a play by play man at the time, was appalled by what he had seen.
Announcer Bruno Sammartino nearly wept on air.
And of course, Lanny Poffo, the “Poet Lauret of the World Wrestling Federation” (how did THAT not get over?), had something to say as well.
Yet no one was as hurt as the Bulldogs themselves. Even when the pair finally got poor Mattie back, they bemoaned the fact that she wasn’t the dog she used to be (and trust me, the acting level here makes the current Lita/Kane pregnancy deal look like Citizen Kane in comparison).
They urged fans to write in and wish Matilda well.
Oh yes…the WWF was asking fans to send in cards and letters to a DOG.
Not only that, but I GUARANTEE that one of our fellow Crappers actually did this. I just KNOW it.
And sure enough, we had countless Crappers who fessed up to it, and I did my best to make fun of them (although I feel I didn’t really do the Brain justice. )
Thankfully, Matilda fully recovered and remained with the Bulldogs until their departure in the late 1980’s. But not before she left them something to truly remember her by:
“One of the last times we wrestled Volkoff and the Sheik, before he left, was the night I was shamed in front of 20,000 people. The trouble with having animals at ringside was that you never knew what they might do. With Matilda, we had to make sure she didn’t have anything to eat or drink just before we went to the ring, in case she did anything in it. We were in the Nassau Coliseum in New York getting ready to wrestle Volkoff and the Sheik. Matilda was in the dressing room, and without me or Davey Boy Smith knowing it, Nikolai decided to feed her and give her a big bucket of water to drink. We got to the ring – it was a sold-out crowd – and Davey put Matilda in the ring so that she would chase the Sheik out the other side, just like she always did that. But on this night, she stood in the middle of the ring and wouldn’t move. Me and Davey looked at each other, wondering what was wrong with her. Then she squatted and did the biggest piss I have ever seen in my life; it was running over the edge of the apron. I didn’t know where to look. The State Athletic Commission called Vince McMahon and told him the dog was barred from ever coming in the building again. And after the match Nikolai admitted to us, a bit sheepishly, that he’d given her the water, because he felt sorry for her. Can you imagine what we felt like? Bloody shamed. All the people were laughing – even Vince thought it was funny. We had to get the ring boys in with brushes to sweep the piss off the mat so we could wrestle. The only people who weren’t laughing were the wrestlers who hadn’t had their matches because the mat was wet through, and it stunk.”
And while that’s not exactly WrestleCRAP, it’s pretty damn close.
– Bruno Sammartino: “Speaking of Matilda, in the WWF Magazine, there’s really a sad article…*mumbles something in a completely incoherent manner, the likes of which even Steve McMichael couldn’t comprehend*…what they went through, the pain, the agony, the sleepless nights…it’s really a touching article.”
– Howard Finkel: “And now a poem from Leaping Lanny.”
Lanny Poffo: “The stealing of Matilda was a rotten thing to do/but I still say she’s prettier than Tama and Haku!”
Vince McMahon laughs his fool head off.
– Davey Boy Smith: “All you people want to know the condition of Matilda. Well, she’s lost a lot of weight…”
Dynamite Kid: “She won’t eat. She’s terrified when people come towards her. The only time she wags her tail is when Davey Boy and I are together with her in the same room.”
– Bobby Heenan (in “rare form”, as Monsoon used to say): “What a bunch of morons! To write to a dog…just like I think that anyone who owns an animal has an IQ of maybe 4. They say, “Does he want to go out? Does he want to go bye bye? Does he want to do his thing?” The dog never answers! Don’t talk to animals, don’t write animals, have nothing to do with animals!”