OPINION: Was ‘Heroes Of Wrestling’ Really That Bad?

OPINION: Was ‘Heroes Of Wrestling’ Really That Bad?
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Truly great moments in professional wrestling create memories that fans cherish for a lifetime. Interestingly enough, truly terrible moments do the same thing, well except for the “cherish” part. Recently, I asked a group of friends what they felt was the absolute worst wrestling show they had ever seen. A few shows kept popping up in response, and topping the list was the infamous “Heroes Of Wrestling” pay-per-view from 1999. This is the near-legendary show that saw an inebriated Jake Roberts stumbling through a match with Jim Neidhart while using his snake in a less-than-acceptable-for-general-audiences manner. I remember watching that show as it happened live, and my memories have always revolved around four moments:
– The aforementioned Jake antics.
– Yokozuna being insanely large.
– Tully Blanchard cutting a great promo.
– Abdullah The Butcher and the One Man Gang spilling buckets of blood.

That show was over 20 years ago. Two decades had passed, and it was still being referred to as the worst show ever. I began to wonder… was it really as bad as people claim it to be or had the legend of how bad the show was overshadowed what really happened. Part of me wondered if it was truly bad, or just bad in comparison. Remember, this was 1999, and fans still had WWF, WCW and ECW programming giving them their fill of quality (and sometimes not-so-quality) wrestling every week. Heroes Of Wrestling definitely ended with a train wreck, but what about the rest of the ride? Was the show really as bad as I (and others) remembered it?

Only one way to find out. Digging deep into Box #40 of wrestling DVDs in my garage, I located the copy of Heroes Of Wrestling alongside other bad PPV events I saved for… actually, I got no idea why I saved them. I guess someday I knew I would want to do a column looking at how bad the show was. Anyway, let’s travel back two decades and see what Heroes Of Wrestling was all about… and determine if it was really that bad.

The show opens with a quick graphic commemorating the passing of Gorilla Monsoon, then there is a bizarre opening package focusing on a hurricane that had hit Mississippi, before interspersing some footage of a few of tonight’s competitors from an independent show in a what looks like a high school gym. There is also some cool still photos, arranged as if they are in an attic somewhere, pushing the theme that this is a “legends” show with names from the past. They probably should have just stuck with one theme for the opening.

Anyway, we are live in Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, with a crowd of around 2,000 fans. Our hosts are Randy Rosenbloom and Dutch Mantell, and we find out Gordon Solie, who was advertised as hosting the show, could not be there due to health issues. They run down the matches on the show, and for some reason every bout has “Grudge Match” listed above it. Most of the lineup is made up of matches that pit top WWF stars of the 1980’s, but there is some other talent sprinkled in there, as we see in the opener….

The Samoan Swat Team vs. Marty Jannetty & Tommy Rogers.

The SST for this match is Samu and Fatu (aka Samoan Savage/Tonga Kid/Tama) and they are being managed by someone named Paul Adams. Can’t say I remember him from any other shows. Sika is at ringside, and the SST pose with him while Adams cuts a pretty weak promo (his material included saying the fans didn’t have the guts to get in the ring). Not quite the way I’d start a show. Their opponents are half of the Rockers and half of the Fantastics. Marty is wrestling in jorts, and I swear Tommy Rogers never aged his entire career, the guy looked perpetually young. Unfortunately, one of the issues with this show became instantly evident: Bad commentary. Rosenbloom doesn’t know any of the moves, with Dutch having to explain what an armdrag is. Unfortunately, Mantell isn’t on top of his game either, which makes me wonder if he was brought in last minute for this show.

Anyway, the match itself is perfectly fine. Marty is so fluid, it is a reminder of how good a worker he was inside the ring. The SST are bumping for him, but eventually cutoff the ring and work him over until Fatu misses a splash and Jannetty gives Rogers the hot tag. There’s a great sequence of spots here, as Rogers tries a double noggin knocker (which never works on Samoans), but he hits a double DDT, and then Jannetty follows with a double bulldog. A double dropkick sends Fatu out, then Jannetty dives out of the ring onto him. In the ring, Samu scoops up Rogers in a fireman’s carry, teasing a Samoan Drop, but instead swings Rogers into a stunner for the clean win. This was a perfectly fine match, although Rogers didn’t get much time in the ring, and it was strange booking to have the heels win clean. Still, we’re off to a solid start.

….and then it gets strange. We see George “The Animal” Steele and Sherri Martel checking into the hotel together earlier today. The announcers talk over this whole segment, so we can’t hear what Sherri is saying to Steele, and then they totally ignore that Steele starts pulling Sherri’s dress off as they go into their room. Then again, maybe it is better they ignored that.

We then go live to the back, where Sherri cuts a promo praising Steele, who enters saying he wants to “fight” and Sherri has to direct him in the right direction to head to the ring. We also get a promo from Greg Valentine, stating that his father had feuded with Steele, that Steele was going to “die in the ring” and he would beat Steele with the figure four, then walk off with Sherri.

Greg “The Hammer” Valentine vs. George “The Animal” Steele, with Sherri Martel.

Valentine stalks Sherri at the start, then Steele bites his arm on the lockup. The referee then decides that Steele needs to take his shirt off, and as he does, Valentine attacks, with Steele blinded by his own shirt. As the referee backs off Valentine, Sherri reaches in and chokes Steele. Well, that didn’t take long. Valentine stays on offense, and the announcers try to put over that Steele doesn’t know it was Sherri who choked him, because the shirt was over his face. Steele makes a comeback using a foreign object and does his old bit of hiding it in his mouth while the referee checks his tights for it… except Steele had just used it right in front of the referee. Steele gives the object to Sherri… and she gives it right to Valentine to use.

Steele fights back, then there is this weird pause, and Valentine goes to the floor. Steele leans through the ropes to talk to Sherri, who hits him with a chair. Valentine then gets the pin. Okay, that was pretty bad. I understood some of what they were going for, but the execution was botched and there was no build at all to Sherri’s turn. It was just her and Valentine messing with Steele for the whole match. Post-match, Steele hits Valentine, then throws Sherri over the top rope to the floor (the biggest bump of the match). Valentine and Sherri leave, and Steele eats a turnbuckle to the delight of the fans. Valentine runs back out with a chairshot to the Animal’s back. Steele no-sells it… and Valentine ran away again. This whole segment came off flat

We then have an interview with Julio Fantastico, who is under 30 years old, which makes you wonder what he is doing on a show that is emphasizing stars of the past. He gives the standard heel promo, which is more mic time than he ever got in ECW as Julio Dinero. He’s going to be facing 2 Cold Scorpio, and this match doesn’t seem to fit the theme of the show at all.

2 Cold Scorpio vs. Julio Fantastico.

Scorpio has an imitation “Big Gold Belt” title with him, but the announcers never identify what the championship is that he holds, or if it is even on the line. For some reason, Captain Lou Albano joins the announcers… which baffles me. The previous match featured two wrestlers Lou managed, Valentine and Steele, but they send him out for this bout? There’s some nice chain wrestling with armdrags and hammerlocks, and the crowd is into Scorpio, chanting his name. This is the first match the crowd really seems to be into. There are some good highspots, including dives to the floor, and Fantastico taking a big bump to the floor when Scorpio backdrops him over the rail at ringside. They brawl in the crowd, but unfortunately the cameras can’t follow, and we lose the action for a bit.

When they get back in the ring, we have some near falls with Fantastico hitting an exploder suplex into a bridge and Scorpio delivering a slingshot splash. Fantastico hit a second rope bulldog, but Scorpio blasted him with a spinkick, a slam and then a second rope flip into a legdrop. Scorpio then went to the top for the tumbleweed, but was off-target, pretty much hitting Fantastico with just his hand, and got the pin. This was a really good match, unfortunately the Tumbleweed missed (and they showed replays that just made it look worse). The match probably would even be better if Albano hadn’t spent the whole match proclaiming how big Heroes of Wrestling was going to be.

Speaking of Captain Lou, the announcers read a proclamation that he is going to be the commissioner of Heroes of Wrestling. Lou acts totally surprised by the news, but then when Randy asks about the future of the company, Lou has a whole spiel he delivers. Not bad for someone who “just found out” he has the job.

King Kong Bundy gives us a promo about how he is going to deliver the avalanche to “Porkozuna” and win with a five count.

Back to the ring, we have former WWF World Tag Team Champions The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff, who have generic Russian manager Nikita Breshnikov. Well, I think he was supposed to be the generic Russian, except his accent sounded more Italian than Russian. The Sheik does the Iranian Clubs bit, which the announcers are clueless on. Volkoff sings the Russian National Anthem. Fun note: Sheik and Volkoff headlined the first show I ever attended live, which took place 15 years before this PPV.

Luke & Butch, who are introduced as “Formerly The Bushwackers” to get around WWE owning the name, come out and get a nice reaction from the crowd. Then, the match begins….

The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff vs. Luke Williams & Butch Miller.

The heels stall on the floor, threatening to leave if the fans keep chanting “USA” (yes, I know Luke & Butch are from New Zealand). We then get what I guess could be considered “action” which is mostly Volkoff stomping Luke and Sheik, who is not very mobile at this point, hitting what I will charitably call a “shove” as Luke came off the ropes. This is just plodding. Dutch, out of nowhere, points out that Volkoff was part of the Mongols tag team. Um, but he’s Russian, not Mongolian. Volkoff hits Luke with a slow-motion backbreaker (Randy calls it a “soft slam” which isn’t helping). Sheik applies a camel clutch, which Butch breaks up. Volkoff misses a kneedrop and Williams finally tags in Butch. All four men are in, and Volkoff accidentally hits Sheik with a foreign object when Butch ducks. Butch pins Sheik and Williams keeps Volkoff from breaking it up. Butch was barely in the match, Sheik was only slightly more active so this was really just Volkoff stomping Butch and a finish. Post-match, Shiek and Volkoff argue, but then hug it out.

Then, it was time to switch the channel from the WWF to the NWA, as Tully Blanchard vs. Stan Lane was up next. We see footage from earlier today with Lane attacking Blanchard in the parking lot as he exited his limo. This is followed by a promo from Blanchard, which was every bit as good as I remembered it. Tully talks about how he had been out of wrestling for ten years, but now everything was bubbling up inside him. Tully rips into Lane, saying he rode a “tidal wave” he had nothing to do with building, and he was carried by Bobby Eaton and Jim Cornette in the Midnight Express. Tully brings up his anger with those in management in WCW and WWF, how mad he is over all those who screwed with him. He tells Lane that he would see what being a Horseman is all about tonight. This promo was just phenomenal.

Stan Lane vs. Tully Blanchard

Lane comes out in his old Midnight Express robe and cuts a heel promo about his success in broadcasting (he was working for ESPN at the time). This was smart, as it established to the audience that Lane was going to be the heel in this match, since most fans probably remember both of them as “bad guys” back in the day. They go back and forth at the start, and then brawl on the floor, and neither man has lost a step. Blanchard gets sent into the ringpost, then Lane chokes him with a camera cable. “Sweet” Stan does his old dance moves, then hits a neckbreaker.

Fans are starting a “Horseman Style” chant, and Tully teases fighting back before Lane chops him down and applies a cobra. Tully then makes the comeback and thrashes Lane on the floor, including putting him in a figure four on the outside. Lane sells the move as they get back in, and Tully applies a sleeper. Lane busts out of it by pulling Tully into the corner, then goes for a piledriver, but Blanchard backdrops him. Lane delivers a back suplex and holds Blanchard down with it, and the referee counts both men down, only for Tully to lift his shoulder at the last second and get the pin. Great match, good finish… unfortunately, the camera man missed the shot, and the announcers had no clue what was happening. Finally, there was a replay shown that made it clear. Fun match.

Backstage, there is an interview with Jim Neidhart and King Kong Bundy. Neidhart doesn’t like snakes, and Bundy teases that he will take care of the reptile Jake Roberts will be bringing to ringside. Short interview, but it made a lot of sense to tell the viewer that Neidhart was going to be the heel in his match with Jake Roberts, since fans have seen both men as faces and heels at different points in their respective careers.

Quick interview with the One Man Gang, who tells us his match with Abdullah The Butcher will not be for the weak of stomach or heart.

One Man Gang vs. Abdullah The Butcher

If Lane vs. Blanchard was like changing the channel to watch the NWA, this was like changing the channel to watch some old World Wrestling Council from Puerto Rico. Gang jumps Abby as he enters the ring, uses his chain and in less than 60 seconds Abby is bleeding like crazy. All the early offense belongs to OMG, using his chain and chairs to continue his assault. The Butcher finally blocks a shot and hits a throat chop. Abby pulls out the fork and now Gang is busted open. Abby starts wiping the blood from his head and licking it. Yeah, this is not a family-friendly bout. Abdullah hits his trademark elbowdrop (the one legal wrestling move of the whole match), bit the camera misses it. Gang rolls to the floor and they brawl to a double-countout. Security tries to break it up, but they get tossed around. The fans seemed to love that. Gang and Abby brawl all the way up the aisle and out. This was your classic Abdullah The Butcher bloodbath, which is what you expect from him. Seriously, did anyone think they were going to do armdrags and leg scissors?

We see footage from earlier today of Jimmy Snuka, Bob Orton and Captain Lou Albano having a card game, where Orton apparently was hiding a card, leading to him brawling with Snuka. This was just sad on two levels. First, Orton was part of the legendary Snuka-Roddy Piper rivalry in the 80’s, did we really need this lame angle to create heat between the two for the match? Second, considering the show was being held in an actual casino, couldn’t they have arranged a better setup? It looked like they were playing in an empty warehouse. We get the usual crazy Captain Lou promo, with Snuka standing stoically the whole time. Orton then does a promo, claiming Albano “planted” a card on him.

Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, with Captain Lou Albano, vs. Cowboy Bob Orton

The announcers say this will be Albano’s last match as a manager, since he is going to be the commissioner for Hereos Of Wrestling going forward. They also point out how Snuka and Orton have done battle in Madison Square Garden as well as “the garden in New York”… yeah, didn’t make sense to me either. The match started off faster than you would think, with Snuka hitting a second rope bodypress and small package right away, while Orton came back with a vertical suplex and a slam. Dutch Mantell decides this is a good time to talk about how the “Heroes” are older, so moves hurt them more.

As if Orton and Snuka heard him, we then enter a long section of Orton working on Snuka’s arm. A really long section. Snuka eventually comes back with a headbutt, and goes to the top rope, but Orton cut him off and got set for a superplex. However, Lou Albano, the babyface soon-to-be-commissioner, hooks Orton’s legs so he can’t finish the move. Orton gets down and takes a swipe at Lou, which allows Snuka to nail a top rope bodypress for the win. Yes, the babyface manager interfered, causing the heel to lose. Match was okay, even though the finish didn’t make a lot of sense. That arm section made it one of the longest matches of the show though, and it shouldn’t have been.

I feel like this is a good moment in the show to pause. Right now, I would say the show is pretty even. There’s been three good matches (Blanchard vs. Lane, Rogers & Jannetty vs. SST, Scorpio vs. Fantastico), two bad matches (Shiek & Volkoff vs. Luke & Butch, Valentine vs. Steele), one okay match that went a bit long (Orton vs. Snuka), and one match that wasn’t much of a bout, but was exactly what you would expect (Gang vs. Abby). If we stop now, this is hardly the “worst show ever” by any stretch.

Unfortunately, we’re not done. There are two more scheduled matches. Jim Neidhart vs. Jake Roberts and the main event of King Kong Bundy vs. Yokozuna. Let us resume….

Jake Roberts does a promo about gambling, noting that he cheats and doesn’t like to lose. Roberts teases the snake in the bag at his feet, then yells at the cameraman for focusing on it before trying to prompt a “DDT” chant that doesn’t really catch on. You get the feeling Roberts had the idea for one of his classic promos, but he just couldn’t complete his thoughts.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart

They had pyrotechnics go off for Neidhart and Roberts entrances, but after Jake got to ringside he slid the snake bag into the ring… then he left. He walked right back up the aisle and through the curtain. He came back out with his shirt off, then as he walked around ringside he stopped and had a woman at ringside rub his chest. That was disturbing. Roberts finally gets in the ring, and we have some lockups and slow back and forth. To be honest, it was more fascinating to notice how the snake was starting to work out of the opening in the bag. Apparently Jake noticed it to, so he pulled out the snake. Neidhart bails to the floor, and Jake proceeds to act like the snake is his genitals. Thankfully, we get a lot of crowd shots while Roberts is playing with the snake.

Eventually, Roberts puts the snake back in the back. King Kong Bundy comes down, and does not look pleased. He distracts Roberts and Neidhart attacks him from behind. Neidhart applies a chinlock briefly, but Roberts gets out and hits a clothesline. Roberts then gives Bundy a middle finger salute. Bundy gets in the ring and he and Neidhart just stomp down Roberts. Yokozuna, looking massive, comes down and fights off Bundy and Neidhart. The heels retreat to the floor, and apparently our planned main event and this “match” (using the term loosely), have now been combined into a tag team match.

Yokozuna & Jake Roberts vs. King Kong Bundy & Jim Neidhart

Neidhart pulls Jake to the floor and hits him with chairshots while Yoko and Bundy stand on the apron. Unfortunately, Jake doesn’t get knocked out. The heels have a manager, who the announcers refer to as a mini Bundy-look-alike (turns out, it is promoter Bill Stone). The heels work over Jake for a bit, including pulling off his boots. This is not good stuff, folks. Jake finally hits a low blow on both opponents and tags in Yoko, who cleans house and starts working over Neidhart in a corner. Meanwhile, Bundy knees a charging Jake and hits a splash for the pin. Yeah, they weren’t the legal men, but at this point it doesn’t matter. The heels head out, but Yoko gives mini-Bundy a Samoan Drop and Jake puts the snake on him as the show abruptly fades off with no signing off from the announcers.

Jake was in no condition to wrestle, Yokozuna barely did anything, and there is no way to describe this as anything short of a colossal train wreck.

The original plan was for there to be quarterly “Hereos Of Wrestling” events with different legends, but those plans were scrapped when the buyrate for this show came in incredibly low. This was also the last major U.S. match for Yokozuna, who passed away a year later. In a much happier post-script, as most fans are aware, Jake Roberts was able to eventually overcome his demons and has become a regular fixture on the wrestling convention circuit, and recently began making appearances for AEW.

So, is Heroes Of Wrestling the worst show of all time? It is pretty bad, and the fiasco of an ending tends to overshadow the few good moments on the card. That said, I’ve been to independent shows that were worse, and had no redeeming value at all. The issue here is that because this show was on Pay-per-view during a time when there wasn’t a ton of smaller organizations doing PPV events, it has had a much wider audience than an indy show, and the legend has grown over time. In the end, I will say that Heroes of Wrestling is not as bad as some people make it out to be… but it is a lot better if you skip the last half-hour of the show, which is enough to definitely get it a spot on the list of worst ever.

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