Well, things are really heating up for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal! As of this writing, we have a dozen entrants from what I’d deem the upper-mid card of the WWE roster. There is still plenty of room left for the Hornswoggles and the Van Dams, and I will cover it all in the last week leading up to WrestleMania XXX.
On this week’s agenda, we have two more Battle Royals from past Manias: the Battle Royal for the Hardcore Championship at WrestleMania 2000 (WM 16) and the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania X-Seven. I’m not going to dwell too much on the former, as it turned out to not be a true Battle Royal. Besides, the latter is a beloved match that deserves deeps analysis and celebration. There’s something for everyone between these two spectacles. Ring the bell!
WrestleMania 2000 – Battle Royal for the Hardcore Championship
What a misnomer, but I’m including it here by virtue of it being called a Battle Royal. It’s actually a “he who had the last pin (on the most recent champion) by the end of the time limit is the Hardcore Champion” and it starts with 13 men in the ring. It’s pins and submissions, not over-the-top eliminations, and so there are fights happening all over the place for the full 15-minute limit.
Viscera - rest in peace, Nelson Frazier.
The Mean Street Posse
Kai En Tai
The Headbangers - these guys made NO sense! What are you? You have shaved heads, clown faces, outfits that scream "goth drag queen" and then metal-head tongue action. Given these guys are following a match with The Godfather and his Hos, I guess I shouldn't complain.
Crash Holly - the incumbent champion; rest in peace, Mike Lockwood.
The Head Scratchers
Tazz gets the first pin (on Crash Holly) with a wicked capture suplex. I didn’t see Tazz wrestle a lot, but he had a really interesting body type, like a bulldog. Good lord, Lawler is in full idiot mode, acting all incredulous that the match continues even though there was a pinfall. There’s clarifying the rules, then there’s catering to the lowest common denominator, then you fire up one of those mining drills to dig deep into the earth’s core to find Lawler’s approach to commentary. “This continues, right? Haha!” Yes, Jerry, you friggin' idiot, it continues.
Viscera then pins Tazz, much to Jerry’s bafflement once more. At ringside, they’re using telephones, box fans, fraternity paddles and street signs as weapons. Of them all, my favorite has got to be the tin foil baking pans, the disposable kind that an infant could bend. There’s just a whole lot of bashing around, totally ridiculous head shots ringing out in rapid succession.
But the crowd is really enjoying the drama, as the Acolytes fling Viscera from the top turnbuckle down into a bouncy landing on the mat. Next, they break a 2x4 over his back and throw Kai En Tai on top of him for the pin. Because Funaki is deemed the official winner, his partner Michinoku is immediately incensed and turns on him. The fans are loving this non-stop craziness, as the battle moves backstage and Rodney of the Mean Street Posse pins Funaki. The ironically-named Joey Abs pins him, then he’s pinned by Thrasher, who’s pinned back at ringside by Pete Gas (whose bloody sweater vest is giving him an American Psycho vibe).
The carnage continues around the ring again, a constant symphony of weaponry as the Holly cousins and Tazz exhaustedly battle it out the centre. As the clock winds down, Tazz has champ Crash Holly in a half-nelson choke, but Hardcore Holly comes blazing in and smashes something over Crash’s head. In exact timing with the last few seconds of the match, the referee counts three – ish. It kind of looks like he counts three, but his hand doesn’t strike the mat that third time, and Jim Ross says that Crash got his shoulder up at two. To make matters even more confusing, Hardcore Holly is announced as the winner, but Crash grabs the belt and heads for the back. Referee Tim White chases after him, and gives the belt to Hardcore Holly, who celebrates with it.
It is an unfortunate finish after these guys killed themselves out there for 15 minutes. I'd personally give it a thumbs-down, because it seemed like a very long 15 minutes, and I don't think a WrestleMania should have wrestling happening backstage. That being said, I cannot deny the live audience's apparent satisfaction.
WrestleMania X-Seven Gimmick Battle Royal
What a perfect palate cleanser between two huge matches. As the ring crew slogs ladders backstage after the TLC II match, old-timey music starts up for Mean Gene. I love that he’s sporting a white tuxedo for the occasion; he’ll be helping to call this match. His broadcast partner comes out next, BOBBY HEENAN! My heart grows three sizes to see The Brain come down that aisle, and he looks wonderful. It’s funny how I hated Bobby Heenan so much as a kid, not realizing that it was because he was so very good at his job. By the end of his tenure on commentary, I had definitely grown to appreciate him, and it's heartbreaking to see how he's been plagued by poor health for so long.
And then come the participants, all guys from the past who had gimmicks (a character to play, a costume, props, etc.).
The Bushwackers – who must have had to burn their original bushwacking outfits, and are wearing glitzier versions thereof. One of them licks Mean Gene, and I'm starting to understand that Gene may have enjoyed it.
Duke “The Dumpster” Droese – proving that no gimmick is too stupid for Vince McMahon; and Duke is looking quite trim!
The Iron Sheik – who I did not have any comments for, until my 6-year old daughter cried out, “HIS NIPPLES ARE REALLY FAR APART!!”
Earthquake – also looking rather trim; rest in peace, John Tenta.
The Goon – okay, I seriously had never heard of The Goon until I saw this match years ago. Turns out he only wrestled for the WWF for a few months in 1996, and now I’m not sure whether the garbage man gimmick is worse than this. His wrestling boots are made to look like skates! And he has them inexplicably tied like ballerina shoes... It is the worst. I’m frankly shocked that they didn’t try all the other sports as gimmicks too. What would be the funniest one, in your mind?
Doink – rest in peace, Matt Borne. Doink gets one of the biggest reactions from this crowd in the Houston Astrodome.
Kamala – with Kimchee and Harvey Wippleman, more gimmick for your buck. I found out that Kimchee was usually played by Steve Lombardi (the Brooklyn Brawler, who also played Doink for awhile, AND briefly a baseball player called Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz, whose face was painted like a baseball. Wow. I just don’t know.) On the scintillating side, Bret Hart implied in his biography that Lombardi was an intimate of Pat Patterson, which may explain why the sub-par wrestler was always so gainfully employed. In researching these Battle Royals, I discovered that the Brooklyn Brawler had more dark matches at WrestleManias that were his due. A squash match does not a warm-up make.
Repo Man – "Last week he repo'd his own car!"
Jim Cornette – I don’t know why he’s in a Battle Royal, but I’m happy to see him regardless. If you ever get a chance, look up the interview with him telling the story about threatening to shoot Brock Lesnar. If you can get past all the f-bombs, and I hate to say it but that’s part of the charm, it’s classic Cornette fare.
Nikolai Volkoff – it’s just not the same without the Sheik or Zukoff beside him, AND am I the only one who sang the Russian national anthem under her breath whenever a Russian won a gold medal at these Olympics? Wrestling is educational.
Michael P.S. Hayes – I won't comment on allegations of him making some pretty stupid decisions backstage, but I will say that his dance down the aisle is tremendous! It makes me want to get up and try to copy it, boogeying through my kitchen and lip-syncing to my own theme song, imagining that I have an aged mane of frizzy bleached hair cascading behind me.
One Man Gang – and here is where I confess that as a kid, I wondered if the One Man Gang and the Big Boss Man were the same person. Now I see how idiotic that was. “Looks like your haircut inside out!” Bobby Heenan says to Mean Gene. I also bought into the fake Ultimate Warrior myth. I totally thought he looked different!
Gobbledy Gooker – Every time I see this match, the Gooker grows on me more. I'm getting sentimental in my old age. Wait a second, they're spelling it "Gobbly Gooker". I thought it was Gobbledy!
Tugboat – seriously, most of these guys look healthier now than during their in-ring careers; he was also known as Typhoon; is Cody Rhodes’ uncle, and played the notorious Shockmaster.
Hillbilly Jim – the water in Mudlick, Kentucky must be the fountain of youth!
Brother Love – as annoying and useless as ever, and yet we welcome him back with open arms because sometimes anything is better than the present-day offererings.
Sgt. Slaughter - oddly, instead of showing his live entrance, as they did for everyone else, they use this time to show old footage of Slaughter shooting guns, riding in a military jeep, and looking gruff/patriotic. "Now he's shooting blanks!" says Heenan.
Everyone's faces are shining as they walk to the ring, many getting their sole WrestleMania moment. "The crowd is gonna come unglued for this one!" vows Mean Gene, who is really just throwing out all his signature sound bites, sometimes appropos of nothing. The crowd doesn't really come unglued, but this match has found a warm place in our WrestleMania memories. Heenan kicks things off by calling Gene "Tony", I think mistakenly, because he worked with Shiavone in WCW. But both men look so happy at the announce table together; their steady stream of one-liners is likely the reason why this match has become a cult classic. "I'm very happy," says Mean Gene. "If you wrap this cord around my neck a couple times, I'll be happier." That's a hot mic, Gene, and thank god we can hear you.
The match goes quickly, likely to allow for most of the entrants to take their back pills on time. "NOOOO! Farmer Joe!" yells my daughter, as Hillbilly Jim is tossed over the ropes. I guess she was rooting for him. Meanwhile, my son was apparently rooting for Sgt. Slaughter, always amazing me that maybe WWE knows what it's doing in terms of appealing to kids. They flash back to Mean Gene dancing with the Gooker at Survivor Series, and Gene says, "How'd you like to do criss-crosses with that guy all night long?" Bobby Heenan replies, "How'd you like to wear his shoes... to a trucker bar?"
The Iron Sheik wins, which surprised me at first because it seemed like the type of match that a babyface would win. But in comes Slaughter to put the evil foreigner in a Cobra Clutch, and everyone has their feel-good moment (my son included). Bobby and Gene say their good-byes, with Mean Gene throwing in one last joke: "Hey, get your hand outta my pocket!" It's a hot cam, Gene, and we can see that Bobby's hand isn't near your pocket.