With no exaggeration, The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal is the best idea Hulk Hogan has ever announced as one of his own. Pegged for WrestleMania XXX, the big reveal on Raw was met with unanimously-positive fan support on social media. The name Andre the Giant evokes happy feelings in all of us: his rare smiles, exposing seemingly-endless rows of teeth; his near-flawless win record, believable because he WAS the Eighth Wonder of the World. Hogan waxing poetic about his history with Andre was believable too: their feud leading up to WrestleMania III engaged an audience unlike any before. With Andre’s reputation and Hogan’s marketability, that match did more than just pull in a record-breaking gate: it turned countless children into die-hard wrestling fans.
How fitting to give Hogan the task of honoring Andre by announcing this Battle Royal, Andre’s speciality. Bringing things round to present-day WWE, the Battle Royal will also pay homage to the wrestlers who might not have a WrestleMania moment otherwise, and the wrestlers who deserve a cameo appearance at this milestone event. While it doesn’t have the “big pop” nature of a Royal Rumble appearance, it is at least a chance to participate in the year’s biggest show.
While many can rightfully scoff at Battle Royals past, this type of match has had its rightful place at the WrestleMania table. Upon review, I’ve counted 6 Battle Royals in 29 shows, and 6 additional ones in dark matches prior to the shows. That’s over 40% of WrestleManias having a Battle Royal! Did you ever think it was that many? Given my prior point that Battle Royals provide an opportunity for many wrestlers to get on the card, throwing one onto the card (especially as a dark match, to get the live audience warmed up) is a lot of bang for your buck. Likewise, what a treat for fans to witness the gamut of grapplers, many of whom don’t appear on weekly television.
The concept of a pre-show Battle Royal at ‘Mania is a recent one, with 5 out of 6 of those over-the-top-rope dark matches being contended in the last 8 years. Who remembers (or who cares?) that Yoshi Tatsu, The Great Khali, and Booker T are all past winners? I’m sure the crowd had fun seeing everyone come out and get the party started. But for every Viscera that simply won the dark match, there is a Kane, whose victory in the WrestleMania 24 Battle Royal gave him the opportunity to win the ECW Championship from Chavo later that night.
The number of Battles Royal on the main card surprised me as well, at 6. Were they worth trotting everyone out? And does history dictate whether we should hold high hopes for this year’s iteration? I got so into these that I wrote too much. Hence, I will split them up and give you the first two here.
The Chicago portion of this 3-city circus was the perfect venue for a Battle Royal studded with pro football players. What a brilliant ploy by Vince, as a means of both padding his stretched-thin roster and stirring up interest across sporting platforms.
In his biography, “Hitman”, Bret Hart explains that he was originally slated to face Ricky Steamboat at this event. Given The Dragon’s esteemed reputation, Bret was thrilled to work with him on the grandest stage. Not long before Mania, the fickle finger of Vince pointed Bret (and his tag partner, Jim Neidhart) towards the Battle Royal instead. As was customary for the duration of Andre’s life, he was going to win the match, but Hart boldly approached him with an idea for the finish. While the rest of the locker room looked on, incredulous at Bret’s testicular fortitude, Andre approved the idea!
When it was time to pull the trigger, my hat goes off to Vince for making it a big production. A match like this depends upon ceremony and embellishment, because it’s really just a mass of bodies working towards a simple goal. Add to the fact that half your bodies don’t wrestle, and you need to sex it up a bit.
Cue Clara Peller, the lady known for wondering, “Where’s the beef?” in Wendy’s commercials. I’m not sure how they settled on old Clara as the guest timekeeper; I suspect Vince thought her slogan was a real knee-slapper. When introduced, she pulls the classic old fart routine of asking “NOW? DO I GO NOW?” then waving the mic around yelling “Where’s the beef?” in an ornery fashion. Bless. They’ve also brought in Dick Butkus (and yet there’s also such thing as a Mike Ditka? Chicago, you are crazy.) and Too Tall Jones as special guest refs.
Mean Gene gives full intros to every participant as they jog down to the ring, which gives it a nice build as well. They’re worth listing, to give you a picture of the time:
From the Chicago Bears, the clearly named-to-be-a-football-player Jimbo Covert
Mr. USA Tony Atlas
Ted Arcidi, the Strongest Man in the World (not the World’s Strongest Man, so it’s all good)
From the Dallas Cowboys, the named-to-be-an-accountant Harvey Martin
Hillbilly Jim, who I forgot was billed from Mudlick, Kentucky – AWESOME
King Tonga – also known as the ass-kicker Haku or Meng; also Camacho’s father; currently manager of a car wash
The Iron Sheik
From the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ernie Holmes
The Killer Bees
Big John Studd
From the Atlanta Falcons, Bill Fralic, who looks like a real jerk
The Hart Foundation
From the 49ers, Russ Francis, who looks the least likely to be a football player in a wrestling ring
From the Bears – BIG POP – William “The Refrigerator” Perry (whose jump into the ring elicits a memorable bounce from Mean Gene)
Andre the Giant
The Fridge makes his entrance
Russ Francis wonders WTF he is doing here.
The match is mostly a whole lot of jostling about. Gorilla Monsoon does his best to give it some zest. I think The Fridge is wearing a onesie, which detracts from his cool factor considerably. But the fans are happy, as this is more about seeing football players go toe-to-toe with some gimmicky wrestlers. It’s a spectacle, and it works because it doesn’t get drawn out. The last football players left are Refrigerator Perry and (what?!) Russ Francis. The Fridge has a brilliant flopping moment, then lures out Studd with a faux-sportsmanlike handshake. It’s good fun.
Andre is left with the Hart Foundation. He gives Neidhart the big boot, prompting The Anvil to offer the most damning evidence that wrestling is fake, by hardly selling the boot WHILE whoops-a-daisying himself over the top rope.
Thank you, Casey, for your helpfulness and expertise with this treasure of antiquity.
We finally get to the spot proposed by Bret, aided by Bret climbing up onto the top turnbuckle. All the easier for Andre to press him out onto the awaiting Neidhart, and raise his hand in victory. I would give this Battle Royal a thumbs-up in terms of purpose. The crowd loved seeing the football players, the introductions made it exciting, and the match didn’t over-reach its abilities (okay, well maybe The Anvil’s abilities).
Fast-forward 2 years, and Vince informs Bret, with astonishment, that Bret’s been receiving more fan mail than the Hulkster himself. “So I’m turning you babyface.” Without addressing the fate of The Hart Foundation, Vince tells Bret to put over Bad News Brown as a heel in the last moments of the Battle Royal – which would make Bret look a hero in the process.
Now I was certain that the WrestleMania IV VHS tape shows the referees gingerly carrying down the trophy for this Battle Royal; I can picture them ferrying it down the fancy aisle at Trump Plaza, set to swirling piano music. Alas, I am too lazy to fire up my VCR and check, but the DVD cuts right to the opening bell.
Shout-out to trophy-brandishing ref Jimmy Korderas, far left
This Battle Royal is the first match of this prestigious event, and it’s deemed an “Invitational” Battle Royal which sounds pretty exclusive. Let’s take a look at the invitees, shall we?
The Hart Foundation
The Young Stallions (beautiful 80’s tag team name)
Sika – Roman Reigns’ father
Dangerous Danny Davis, whose antics as a referee caused my beloved British Bulldogs to lose the tag titles the previous year, sending me into repeated fits of rage in front of the TV every time he came on.
The Killer Bees
Bad News Brown
Sam Houston – whose half-brother is Jake “The Snake” Roberts
The Rougeau Brothers
The Outlaw Ron Bass
Junk Yard Dog
George “The Animal” Steele
It’s really not a terrible lineup, considering how many members of the roster were otherwise-occupied in the round-robin tournament for the vacant WWF Championship.
Not bad work if you can get it
The announce table is in a jovial mood, with Jesse Ventura and Bob Euker trading backhanded compliments and winking innuendos – you know they’ve enjoyed a few drinks together since the Uke’s first stint at WrestleMania III. For his part, Gorilla Monsoon plays the long-suffering straight man to perfection. At one point, we are given an insight into how different it must have been on commentary back then: The Anvil is playfully eliminated from the match by George Steele, who is yet to even enter the ring. Gorilla Monsoon argues – with what I believe to be sincerity – that The Animal HAD been in the ring during introductions, and they simply missed him being eliminated. Don’t hold your breath waiting for The Animal’s duplicity to pay off at the end, as everyone forgets about it, including George Steele.
Otherwise, there’s not a lot to remark upon, other than showing us that Harley Race was a great bump-taker. He flips right over that top rope, stiff as a board! He is 45 years old in this match. “At least the guys who went out early got their per diem money,” quips Euker, reminding me of how much I enjoyed his wit. No one on the inside could drop truth like that.
Bret and Bad News are left to deal with the Junk Yard Dog. What most of us wouldn’t have known at the time was that these two heels had a long history together in the Hart family’s Stampede Wrestling outfit. Bret was not fond of Brown’s surly attitude, but they cobbled together a makeshift “understanding” for the sake of ejecting JYD. Once he is disposed, they make like the match is over, and the announcers wonder if they’ll share the trophy. Oh, that trophy is awesome! But there will be no sharing, as Bad News hits Bret with a Ghetto Blaster (an enziguri to the back of the head) and ejects him for the win.
Oh no! Oh yes.
I was at least as angry as they hoped I’d be! And how I loved seeing Bret destroy that trophy. I watched that moment so many times that I was recently inspired to garbage-pick a similar trophy from the curb while out jogging. I am saving it for this year’s WrestleMania pool winner. I will not be upset if it gets destroyed in the process.
That’s all I have time for this week, but I shall review the remaining 4 Battle Royals and make predictions for this year’s version as we count down to WrestleMania! Thank you for reading, and feel free to leave your own memories of the Battle Royals and thoughts about the upcoming one below. You can also follow me on twitter @kickyhick or send me your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.