wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Didn’t Billy Gunn’s Main Event Push Work?

February 22, 2018 | Posted by Jed Shaffer
Billy Gunn Billy Gunn’s

Hilarious intro!

Self-referential comment to the column title!

Unwitty banter!

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(I’m writing this one in sort of a rush. Sorry.)

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I’m still thrown off schedule, probably because I write these far more ahead of time than Sforcina did. The difference between being single and being married with children.

Roman Reigns
Lots of discussion about him. As many different ideas about whether he can be saved or not, and if so, how. As I said, I think he can, but it’s more a matter of how they book him, and not any one thing that he does. Personally, I think it would’ve been a much more compelling build to Wrestlemania if he’d lost to Cena last year. Here’s this passing-of-the-torch moment, big moment, Reigns doesn’t respect how Cena has gone part-time … and Cena whips his ass anyway. Reigns has serious soul-searching to do. Maybe he isn’t ready to be The Man, not as he is currently. This gives his character a chance to evolve. Maybe ditch the flak jacket and old Shield music. Have him put through the paces, work his way back up (no pointless secondary title run, though). This way, when he gets to Wrestlemania and his title shot, it feels like he’s faced adversity and had a character arc. And then, sometime in the spring, or maybe even Summerslam, you do Reigns/Cena II, where Cena loses. The torch is passed.

You Q, I A

Brian Garber lights our candle this week with a question about that most sacred of IWC totems, John Cena!

Little early for you to come out, don’t you think, Chandler?

If Cena’s next title win is the Universal title, will that count for breaking the record?


Our next ques–

Oh, you’d like me to elaborate somehow? Sure, I guess.

WWE’s definition of a world title, and viable world title reigns by extension, doesn’t always align with, say, PWI’s definitions. Or yours and my definitions. Or general, objective logic. A great example of this would be the NWA World Title situation in the spring of 1991. WWE recognizes Ric Flair’s title reign beginning Jan 11, 1991, when he defeated Sting at a house show. This is considered a WCW World Title run, while also being an NWA World Title run. They also recognize Tatsumi Fujinami beating Flair for the title at the Starrcade In Tokyo Dome event on March 21, even though it was only the NWA World Title that changed hands.

But Ric Flair winning that title back from Fujinami on May 19 at the first Superbrawl? Not recognized by WWE. Despite the fact that they honor most of the other NWA World Championship runs, aside from those overseas house show runs (e.g., Jack Veneno or Carlos Colon), this reign, which was done under WCW’s banner, at a WCW event, on America soil, is somehow not a valid title reign. But the concurrent WCW World Title reign, which had no interruption? Valid.

And then we have oddities like the ECW Title, which was considered a world championship during its initial run by most independent sources, not to mention the promotion itself, but is not considered as such by WWE. And nor was the WWECW run of the title considered a world-level championship. You never hear Kane being a three-time world champion. No, he’s a two-time world champion and an ECW Champion too.

So, all this is a way of saying WWE’s definition of what constitutes a “world title” and what doesn’t is, to say the least, slippery. And while the Universal Title doesn’t have the history of the other championships, and doesn’t have “world” in the name, and was named after a corporate buzzword, and looks like a class ring, they view it on the same level as the championship over on Smackdown. So, if Ric Flair’s 16 reigns can be a combo of NWA, WCW and WWE reigns cherry-picked for their preferred version of history, Cena’s can be WWE, WHC, Unified WWE and, if necessary, Universal.

Gary Newton takes us from a very new champion to a very, very old one.

Was there any personal animosity or heat between the Funks and Jack Brisco that led to Dory Funk Jr. refusing to drop the title to Jack? Or was it more just “politics as usual” and Funk didn’t want to drop the title for fear of being outdrawn and not getting it back?

This is one of those situations where there are a number of factors and a number of sides, and I don’t know that we’ll ever get to the truth, like that Bulldogs/Rougeaus question a few weeks back. And like that question, I’ll run down all the pertinent points I can find, draw my own conclusion, and let you, dear reader, draw your own.

Firstly, you have to take into consideration how heavily political the NWA was. While the NWA was ostensibly formed to eliminate territorial animosities and foster partnership among the promoters, what it did not quash was internecine politics. Many of the greatest fights in NWA history probably happened in the annual NWA meetings, where promoters jockeyed and lobbied for their chosen territorial stars. If a promotion needed a boost, or someone was “due” after a long wait, or it was just maneuvering to outflank a business rival, there was no shortage of reasons someone might become champion. And it cannot be overstated that Jack Brisco had a prominent supporter in Eddie Graham, impresario of Championship Wrestling from Florida, Brisco’s home promotion. Reportedly, Graham was heavily lobbying to have one of his boys – Brisco, namely – get the strap after years and years and years of the title orbiting wrestlers representing St. Louis (via LouThesz), Vancouver (via Gene Kiniski) and Texas (Funk). But countering the power of St. Louis meant locking horns with Sam Muchnick, long the most prominent member of the NWA, and its multi-time President to boot. And he wanted Harley Race. So, it’s entirely possible that they gave Race a nominal run (57 days) to get some championship cred on him for down the line, while use him as leverage to put it on their immediate future, being Brisco.

This, believe it or not, is where things get complicated.

Because the next factor is a questionable truck accident for which Dory may the driver. In his autobiography, Terry Funk says that Dorys Original and Extra Crispy slid down an embankment and into a creek, injuring his shoulder in the process. This accident happened very close to the scheduled Funk/Brisco match, which had been building for a very long time. Terry directly references the Briscos’ claim that this was a political maneuver to keep the title off Brisco, and turns it back on them, saying Graham was trying to muscle the Funks and their territory out of the picture. Given Graham’s desire to get himself a champion from his territory, this is not out of the realm of possibility. Plus, per Terry’s book, Dory himself made the decision to drop the strap, as he’d grown tired of the champion’s grind. So why would he be fussy about to whom he dropped it?

But then there are rumors that say Dory I went to the NWA board and expressed concern that having Dory II: Freddy’s Revenge lose to a fellow face that was a “pure” wrestler would damage his brand. So, maybe the Funks weren’t above politics as well. Also – or, perhaps, alternatively – having New Dory come back from injury and lose to Harley could allow them to spin the yarn that he came back too soon, Race took advantage, and that would keep him in the main event as a former champ by circumstance, not legitimate.

And then there’s the question of the legitimacy of the truck accident at all. The Briscos and Graham (and, reportedly, other, unnamed members of the NWA) had serious doubts that the accident happened at all, and that it was made up for #reasons. Some say the aforementioned damaging of Dory’s brand, some say Dory was doing a favor for Muchnick, and some say they just didn’t like the idea of a face/face transition. Whatever the case, the Brisco family is resolute in believing that the accident was just a figment of the imagination of Golden Age Dory, protecting Silver Age Dory and trying to dictate terms on the end of his son’s reign, at their expense.

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get a straight answer one way or another. As for my opinion? I … honestly don’t know.

Untimely injuries and real life occurrences torch angles all the time. In WWE in the past three months, we’ve seen the Shield reunion go up in flames not once but twice due to injuries, 205 Live get rebooted again due to Enzo Amore running afoul of the law, and Jason Jordan’s career track also get derailed twice over. Using “timing” as an excuse is as weak as a mixed drink in a strip club on a Tuesday afternoon. But it doesn’t make it impossible either. Dory Jr. losing the title would have an impact on the Amarillo territory, of which Dory Sr. was an owner, so he had material investment, and thus, reason to attempt political manipulation. And, truthfully, face/face transitions were more or less unheard of back then, so there could’ve been some box office damage done to Dory Jr from such a dethroning. But then again, Dory was scheduled to drop the strap to Brisco on March 2, and ended up dropping it to ]Race on May 24. Can anybody say with a straight face that the two and a half extra months was the difference between life and death, enough to screw over Brisco with a lame car accident excuse? It just don’t hold much water in my book. And I hate to think the Funks would carry on with the car accident story if it were a lie well into the 21st century … but then again, they’re old school. The kind to maintain kayfabe until the day they die. So … yeah. I still don’t know. As Carlin said, “could be meat … could be cake”.

Moving on now after that amazingly, and surprisingly, long answer, either Brian or Patrick (the formatting of the list put two names on one page) asks about zebras.

There are several notable cases where a wrestler went rogue/off script, but is there ever a case where the ref did? Perhaps a time when they counted fast or DQ’ed someone? I’m not counting the scripted “evil hebner” or obviously crooked nick

Well, would we count it when the boss tells the ref to RING THE FUCKING BELL?

Granted, that only counts as off-script if you’re Bret Hart. From Vince’s point of view, it went exactly to plan.

In the modern era, you don’t really see it anymore, because the ref’s role is to guide the match and be the communication link between the back and the wrestlers. A ref going into business for himself would, without question, be putting a bullet in the head of his career by going off-script.

Now, if you want to turn back the clock … and I mean WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY back, say, to the Goldust Trio era, you might find it. For example, Joe Stetcher vs. John Pesek clashed in 1926 in a 2/3 falls match. Pesek tried to double-cross Stetcher in the third fall so he could take the title for himself. The ref acted on his own and called for a disqualification that, by all accounts, had no visible justification. This launched a huge investigation by the local athletic commission, but nothing much ever came of it (bribery and grift was not uncommon in the business at the time). Much like Bret Hart, Jim Londos found the ref going off-script in a 1933 title defense against Joe Savoldi in Chicago. The ref and Savoldi had both been bought off by New York promoters, who wanted to steal the title and bring it to NYC, so the ref ignored Londos touching the ropes during a submission hold applied by Savoldi. So, yeah, it’s happened, but it’s far, far less common these days.

Aaron Greenfield wants to make like Shane’s entrance theme and talk money.

At this point, it’s obvious wrestlers get booked better and can have better matches at NXT than the main roster. What is the pay difference between the two? I’m assuming the main roster is bigger. But is it small enough that being happier at NXT is worth it?

That second question, I feel I need to answer first, because it is more about intrinsic value than tangible value. By that, I mean that if I made the salary I do know working in the industry I do, but I could write about wrestling at home in my PJ’s instead? Same salary, but the intrinsic value would be far, far better.

But if we’re talking tangible value? Strictly talking about salary … yeah, NXT is not exactly a gold mine. Maybe if you’re an indie god (Samoa Joe) or a high profile talent from a competitor (Bobby Roode), the story might be different. But everybody else? Per the Observer from a month ago, the top salaries of NXT’s top stars caps out at $65,000 US. And yes, that includes indie darlings like Adam Cole and Ricochet. Meanwhile, a report by Sportskeeda has a breakdown of the downside guarantees of all the main roster stars. The absolute lowest – and the only person with a five-digit salary – was Alicia Fox, at $85,000. The next lowest salary appears to be Tyler Breeze, at $150,000, and then the Vaudevillains, at $175,000 apiece. Those are the only wrestlers on the main roster below $200K, and there’s only a handful of wrestlers between $200-250K.

And, remember, that doesn’t include bonuses. Not all but a lot of the bigger stars have cuts on the merch. The upper echelon get travel & accommodation comped. Big Show has a personal tour bus. And the truly elite (McMahons, BUUUUHROCK, Trips and Cena) have private plane usage.

So, if you’re measuring strictly on the dollars and cents, NXT won’t get a wrestler retirement money. But then again, they also don’t travel nearly as much as the main roster, work far less, and typically have a set base of operations (Florida) they get to see more than on occasional weekends. Depends on what a person values, I suppose.

Nick will close us out this week, and wants to know if two failed pushes and their common thread is correlation or causation.

Billy Gunn and Rikishi had similar runs where they were being pushed hard in the summer of 99 for Gunn and 2000 for Rikishi. They both faced the Rock in their pushes and were quickly de-pushed afterward more Gunn than Rikishi. Was the reason because they just couldn’t keep up with the Rock and the high ups felt that they could not compete on a main event level? What do you think the main reason was or you heard it was? I no fan of either guy but it was just odd they both went against the Rock and got sent to the mid-card pretty much right afterwards.

I think they both had their own unique problems.

For Billy Gunn, putting him against The Rock was an attempt to get a heel on the rise some upper level cred by positioning him against The Rock. The only problem was one that hadn’t really been exposed until this program: his time in the New Age Outlaws masked that he was dumpster fire on the mic. If the dumpster were full of week-old mayo left out in the sun, and several dozen skunk corpses. And maybe a a few durian fruits too. What I’m trying to say is he was awful on a scale that qualifies as a war crime. And when The Rock cut that famous promo …

Not only was Billy’s egregious flaw laid bare, but so was the nakedness of the Billy Gunn/Rock feud. It was obvious Billy had been put in a position where they expected him to outkick his coverage, and the crowd knew it. Instead of being able to stand and deliver, he just got owned and it killed his heat dead. It also didn’t help that WWE were heavily invested in getting over Triple H as a main event heel at the time, so Billy didn’t have a whole lot of room for upward mobility anyway. Maybe if he’d had a mouthpiece (say, someone who knew people and, if you didn’t, could recommend calling one of them), he could’ve been … something. Maybe.

Rikishi, however … his problem wasn’t that he couldn’t keep up. Rikishi was the victim of being the wrong man for the job. Rikishi’s original motivation didn’t make any sense. What help did The Rock need getting to the top? Dude was a multiple-time WWE Champion by then. There was no need to remove obstacles when he’d already proven he could win the race. And then, when that went over like a fart in church, WWE retconned it by making Rikishi just the driver, and the real culprit was Triple H, which means all the heat he might have had was now sapped away because Rikishi was the Renfield to Triple H’s Dracula. So, they turned a beloved, middling comedy character into a bloodthirsty attempted murdered with a dubious motivation, and then stripped that away to make him nothing more than a hired gun to prop up another heel. Hard to maintain any level of credibility as a heel after that, I’d say.

Somebody play me off!

A Question I Want Answered!

I think I’m going to alternate this between fun interaction questions and philosophical questions. Not on a regular basis, just as they come to me.

And as such, I am sort of combining the two.

Who do you think has been the greatest loss in terms of talent for WWE in the past ten years?

And by this, I mean, whose loss has created the greatest gap in the roster that, so far, they’ve been unable to fill. Whether its due to departure, death or injury, as long as they were once there and now they’re not, and they’ve left a hole you don’t think has been filled, it qualifies. So as not to poison the jury, I’ll keep my comments until next week’s edition. I think my answer will surprise you.

See you in a week-ish.