It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the late Art Donovan’s classic terrible commentary at King of the Ring 1994. Given my pen name (based on Gorilla Monsoon’s botched introduction that evening) and my blog entitled, “How Much Does This Guy Weigh?”, it should come as no surprise that Harry Simon’s induction of Art Donovan at KOTR 1994 is one of my all-time favorite Wrestlecrap articles.
So when it came time to decide whether to revisit that memorable night in Baltimore and induct its main event, I naturally reread my old favorite and received this unambiguous answer: According to Mr. Simon, the final match of the evening was “so dog-scaldingly boring, it could have been inducted even without Art’s presence.”
I’ve said it before*, and I’ll say it again: Wrestlecrap is better than any Magic Eight-Ball.
*I’ve never said this before
Now recall that by 1994, many of the WWF’s biggest stars (in terms of both popularity and chemically-enhanced musculature) such as Hulk Hogan were long gone, so Vince McMahon promoted the company’s most dependable worker, Bret Hart, to main event status while also pushing other younger, smaller, and/or fresher talents like Shawn Michaels, 123 Kid, Razor Ramon, and Owen Hart.
On commentary, Randy Savage and Vince constantly put over the new, faster-paced, higher-risk style, and after Wrestlemania X, the “New WWF Generation” campaign officially kicked off.
The stage was thus set: 1994’s King of the Ring pay-per-view would be the coming-out party for the New Generation.
So naturally, Vince chose Jerry “The King” Lawler and Roddy Piper to headline the show. Yes, on a card where eight mostly fresh faces in the company battled to become King of the Ring, and where Bret Hart led Diesel to a miraculously good title match, the main event featured two men in their early forties with a combined 50 years of wrestling experience.
To put that in perspective, both Roddy (who debuted in 1968)…
…and Jerry (who debuted in 1970)…
…had more years in the ring than any of the Hall-of-Famers (and Macho Man) on the announce team: Gorilla Monsoon (22 years), Randy Savage (21 years at that point), and Art Donovan (0 years, but with a lifetime’s worth of curiosity).
Or, think of it this way: Both men had been wrestling since before Mabel and the 123 Kid, two participants in that night’s tournament, were even born.
When you take into account that Lawler became a household name back in 1982 during his feud with Andy Kaufman, while Roddy Piper main-evented the first Wrestlemania in 1985, it’s fair to say that these two veterans who had been wrestling since the Beatles were still together did not represent the New WWF Generation in any way, shape, or form. But hey, at least they weren’t on the gas, so Vince could still get away with using them two weeks before his federal trial for steroid distribution.
Still, you would need a pretty compelling angle to justify bringing two wrestlers out of semi-retirement. Well, maybe you would, but Vince didn’t. That’s how we got week after week of King’s Court segments where Lawler belittled Piper and his old “Piper’s Pit” show, followed by Roddy responding via home video.
Since Roddy was too busy filming the action classic, “Tough and Deadly” with Billy Blanks (of future Tae-Bo fame)..
…or hanging around his Portland, Oregon home with his family, animals, and Adrian Adonis’s ghost (though that’s another story for another induction)…
…Jerry brought in an impostor Piper to beg the King not to hurt him and then kiss his royal feet. If Lawler really wanted to make Roddy mad, he should have told him that in 19 years, he would be swapping wives with Ric Flair and filming the whole thing.
What really got Piper’s (son of an unnamed) goat, however, was when Jerry called the children at a Toronto hospital that Roddy visited, “brats.” That set the rowdy Scot right off, as he vowed not to let this disparagement of the children go unpunished. Not only would he wrestle “one last time,” he would even use his prize money, should he win, to help the kids in need at the Hospital for Sick Children (“Who ever heard of a hospital for well children?” asked Johnny Polo. Good question). If he lost, they would presumably die horrible, painful deaths.
Forget what I said about Vince making a bad decision with this angle; this feud was clearly booked by Helen Lovejoy, not McMahon.
And speaking of McMahon, his trial was looming and he had just had surgery (neck braces get great sympathy from juries), so he took the night off come pay-per-view time. That explains why Art Donovan filled in as guest commentator (actually, nothing could ever explain that), but it also meant that Gorilla Monsoon would be responsible for putting over the event’s proceedings. Unsurprisingly, the man who called 44-year-old Carlos Colón a “youngster” had no problem telling audiences that Roddy Piper vs. Jerry Lawler was what the New Generation was all about.
As Jerry Lawler made his entrance, Art Donovan asked whether he was ever crowned the king. The announcers wisely ignored that question, as the honest answer would have been, “Yes, in 1974.”
New Generation! Yeah!
Still, not every embarrassment could be avoided, as proven by an interview conducted by Todd Pettengill (who is not the embarrassment I’m talking about. Try to follow me, here). Live on the air, Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer told the Toddster that he’s a Hulk Hogan fan.
That would be the same WCW-bound Hulk Hogan that the WWF was burying as part of that “Old Generation” of ancient relics on the pre-show, even while hyping up a match between two of his contemporaries. Would you believe that they cut this interview out of the home video release?
Lawler had some choice words for the governor, who he claimed was “living in the past.” Harsh accusations from a grown man still dressed as a king because he won a scripted match 20 years earlier. The King should have been great friends with the beloved governor, as they actually had a lot in common. For instance, late in Schaefer’s career, he leered at a young female staffer exiting a room, then told her to come back in so he could watch her leave again.
Then came the Scottish band, signaling the arrival of Roddy Piper, who promised to donate a portion of his winnings to the Hospital for Sick Children. Only a portion? Hey, electric bagpipes don’t grow on trees. Speaking of bagpipes, the band sounded like the piping equivalent of Jillian Hall until Roddy’s pre-recorded theme finally played over the P.A.
Hot Rod didn’t come alone, though, as he was led to the ring by the same Piper impersonator that The King had hired weeks before. Monsoon made it sound like Jerry had mistreated the kid for real, while Macho explained that the kid wasn’t to blame. As a result, the commentary, uh, kind of ended up sounding like a “very special episode” of Diff’rent Strokes:
Remember, Arnold and Dudley, it is NEVER the kid’s fault. By the way, do you think Lawler would have sounded less guilty or more guilty if he had insisted to the announcers that it was consensual?
After paraphrasing “They Live” and literally tearing the roof off the Baltimore Arena (causing extensive structural damage to the building), it was all downhill for the match and the pay-per-view.
Long story short: Lawler was the heel, Piper was the face. Lawler was cowardly and hated sick children, Piper protected even the most twig-like of young men from harm at his own expense.
Roddy and Jerry proceeded to sleepwalk through every trope and cliché in the wrestling world.
Cowardly heel trying to leave the match early? Check.
Improbable ref bump? Check.
Bad guy reaching into his tights for a foreign object? Check.
After an evening full of up-tempo, athletic matches, it was refreshing to see the two veterans effortlessly perform timeless spots. You know what else is refreshing? A fifteen-minute nap. That doesn’t mean anyone wanted to pay admission or a bigger cable bill for it, though.
Roddy might have been wrestling for sick children, but he and the King acted like they were performing for the visually impaired, instead, exaggerating every move like a Vaudeville slapstick show.
Sometimes, the match resembled something from Saturday Morning Slam. Here, Jerry Lawler ducked under Roddy Piper, but then just stayed on the ground as if expecting the Hot Rod to keep running the ropes for the next five minutes.
If all these animated GIFs give you the impression that this was a passably exciting match, keep in mind that these goofy exchanges were actually the high spots. The rest of the match was enough to leave a viewer feeling like Piper over there. That’s him locked into the King’s “patented sleeper hold,” as Monsoon put it (despite it having been Roddy’s finisher for years).
That’s not to say that the match was mostly rest holds. No, it’s very hard to tire one’s self out in the first place when most of your match consists of punches delivered at a pace that gives new meaning to the term, “slug fest.”
Finally, it was time to go home (something most of the older and wiser fans in attendance had already done), so Jerry Lawler tried to pin Piper with his feet WAAAAAAY up high on the ropes. So high, in fact, that he was hardly even touching Piper and looked like the kid in middle school gym class who fakes doing push-ups. The Hot Rod, however, still writhed and struggled to break out of the pinfall before the referee could finish his slow-motion three-count. Remember, this was a must-win match for Roddy and the sick kids, as Lawler had vowed not to donate one cent of the winner’s share of the purse money (a phrase that Gorilla Monsoon somehow avoided using the entire night).
Fortunately, Piper’s sidekick rushed in at the last second (or, more appropriately, the eleventh hour) and pushed Lawler’s feet off the ropes. Unfortunately, this moment was captured by WWF Magazine’s cameras, revealing exactly how little pressure the King was applying.
Incensed, Jerry stood up to yell at Roddy Pipe-Cleaner, allowing the real Rowdy One to very delicately execute a belly-to-back suplex and score the 1-2-3… eventually. Hey, Hebner’s got to be consistent, even if little sick children’s lives are at stake.
In Harry Simon’s original induction, he chalked up Art Donovan’s near-silence during this match to his being ignored by the Macho Man and Gorilla Monsoon. That may have been so, but could it instead have been that every spot in this entire bout was so obvious that no questions were necessary?
Donovan’s silence may have been for the best, though. For a match as hokey and uninspired as this one, it’s only fitting that the commentary would also be completely Art-less.