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Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Kofi Kingston the King of the Curtain Jerkers?

January 25, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Kofi Kingston wwe Smackdown 5-28-19

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Grant‘s question is, appropriately enough, opening up this edition of the column:

During the pandemic, I’ve been watching a lot of WWE PPVs at night. I started in the early 90’s, wanting to see the old In Your Houses that came during a part of my lapsed fandom. I frequently fall asleep during them, to the point where now that I’m in the modern era, Michael Cole’s voice makes me yawn. As I frequently fall asleep during the events, I was wondering – which wrestler has had the opening match on the most WWE PPVs?

I had a couple of predictions here, and I’m interested if I got them right. My predictions for top two would be Kofi Kingston and Matt Hardy.

Well, Grant, your predictions were pretty solid. They’re not 100% accurate, but they’re surprisingly good guesses for somebody who hasn’t kept a formal count. It turns out that neither Kofi Kingston nor Matt Hardy are in first place, but Kofi is tied for second while Matt is tied for fourth.

The true king of the curtain jerkers is :

Dolph Ziggler, with 28 appearances in the opening matches of WWE pay per views.

It makes sense, if you think about it. Ziggler has been on the main roster in his current gimmick for twelve straight years, and he’s spent that time without any major injuries that I can recall. He’s also spent it in more or less the same position, as, even though he’s occasionally sniffed the main event picture, he’s largely been in the secondary singles title mix. An IC or US Title bout is a good way to give an audience something that will excite them at the start of the show without giving them something that ought to be positioned later on the card. Plus, though I’ve personally tired of his schtick, Dolph is a solid in-ring performer who can give you consistently good matches that make a nice start to the show.

Kingston finds himself tied for second place with 25 opening match appearances for much the same reason, as does the guy who is tied with Kofi, one Mr. Mike the Miz. They’re followed by a tie between Matt Hardy and Rey Misterio Jr. with 23 appearances each, which actually surprised me a bit because both of them had several year periods when they were not wrestling with the company. You can see the remainder of the top ten below.

10. Chris Jericho – 16

9. Bubba Ray Dudley – 17 (In case you’re curious, D-Von Dudley just missed the cut with 14 appearances, with the difference caused by the brief period where the team was split up by the WWE Draft.)

8. Jeff Hardy – 18

7. Christian – 20

6. Johnny Nitro – 21

4. Matt Hardy – 23
4. Rey Misterio Jr. – 23

2. Kofi Kingston – 25
2. Mike the Miz – 25

1. Dolph Ziggler – 28

(NOTE: This information is current as of December 26, 2020, with WWE having all of its PPV events for 2020 in the books. I’m making this disclaimer because I’ve got four or five columns in the pipeline before this one, so there easily could be two or three events between when this column is being written and when it runs that might impact the standings.)

Neal is kayfabing me:

Let’s go back yonder into the days of the territories, let’s say late 70’s or early 80’s.

If a major territory came out and exposed the business, a la Vince in 1989, (in order to avoid the NJ sports franchise tax, he declared wrestling was not a sport but a predetermined contest) what would have been the reaction? Would it have “killed” the business or would had marched on just like it always has?

It would have marched on like it always has. The conventional wisdom that what Vince McMahon did was a revelation to the public is a bit overblown, as the true nature of professional wrestling was known to many people, including fans, for decades before 1989. Though it may not have been widely read, the 1937 book Fall Guys makes no bones about what wrestling is, and, if you’re looking for something that would’ve been consumed more broadly, newspaper accounts of cards from throughout the country make snide comments about the performative nature of the matches from the early Twentieth Century onward.

Granted, McMahon’s “coming out” was still a big deal because it was the biggest promoter in the country at the time coming clean about what we all knew, but he wasn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know.

IMissMarkingOut has a question that is basically answered by the prior question:

Was Vince McMahon the first person in the business to break kayfabe and what led to his decision in 1989?

As referenced in the answer above, nope. At the very least, the author of Fall Guys, Marcus Griffin, did a pretty strong expose in 1937.

As referenced in the question above, McMahon’s “revelation” in 1989 was based on a desire to not be taxed and regulated as a sport.

Steven is on the catwalk, you know what I mean?

I’ve been watching the career of Rick Martel on the WWE Network and it made me think:
Did we have a long term plan for Martel before he was injured? If so what was the deal? So much went on during the Monday Night War that Martel’s impressive comeback went almost unnoticed which made me think about a possible long term plan for him.

Any light you can shed on this would be appreciated.

For those of you who aren’t 100% certain what Steven is talking about, after Rick Martel left the WWF in 1995, he took a couple of years off from wrestling at a high level and worked in smaller territories in Canada in addition to focusing on some real estate investments that he had made. According to the August 17, 1998 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, when Martel saw wrestling on an upswing in 1997, he made a move to get back into one of the national promotions, initially putting out feelers to the WWF about coming in with his indy tag team partner Don Callis, currently of AEW/TNA fame, as “The Super Models.” However, Martel had concerns about some of the Fed’s more risque Attitude Era content and ultimately decided to sign with WCW instead. (Callis maintained the original plan and joined the WWF as the Jackyl, though reportedly there were no hard feelings between the two.) Martel immediately made a splash in his new promotion, debuting on the January 5, 1998 episode of Nitro and almost immediately entering a three-way feud with Booker T and Perry Saturn over the Television Title, ultimately winning the belt from Booker on the February 16 Nitro.

However, his run was cut unfortunately short by a series of injuries. At the February 22 Superbrawl VII pay per view, Martel was going to defend his TV Title against Booker T., with the winner then wrestling Saturn. The original plan was for Martel to win the first match and go on to defend a second time against the ECW alum, but unfortunately he tore his MCL against Booker and a finish had to be improvised with the challenger winning and going on to the Saturn defense. The former Model was able to return to the ring on the July 13, 1998 Nitro, facing Booker T.’s brother Stevie Ray. In a situation where somebody’s bad luck just got worse, Martel was dropped on his head while taking Stevie’s Slapjack finisher, which caused a vertebral injury that lead to him retiring from the ring. After this, he worked as a French language announcer for WCW and had only one more match in his career, on an indy show in Hawaii in March 1999. I’m going to make a wild guess and and say he mainly took that booking for the free vacation.

With all of that said: Was there a long-term plan for Martel when he joined the company?

I’ve not found anything that definitively speaks to this one way or the other, but based on inferences it sounds like the answer is “no.” Martel did a shoot interview about his entire career with RF Video several years back, and he tells a story about his first shot with the company, where he was called out of the blue and told to get to Boston for his debut, even though given the logistics of where he was at the time he wouldn’t have the ability to get back home and grab his gear before making the flight. That tends to indicate to me that there was not a lot of long-term planning going on as it relates to people at Martel’s level on the cards. He also more generally discussed his WCW career during the interview, and, though he wasn’t directly asked what plans for him were notwithstanding his injury, he also did not bring anything up.

Emperor Genghis Khan is a real bruiser:

Just read Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling’s Rebel which is co-written by Brody’s wife and Larry Matysik. Even with the positive spin that blankets every story about Brody he seems to be an asshole. He would screw over other workers either sandbagging, changing finished or legit hitting them. He seemed to be ready to argue over a cent if he thought he was being underpaid. The book even talks about a time he was angry because someone else on the card got paid the same as he was. So was he that bad? Worse? And do you think he could have worked with Vince McMahon in WWF? And lastly, do you think anyone could get away with this type of behavior now?

Honestly, I interpret his behavior quite a bit differently than you do. Back in Brody’s day, professional wrestlers were true independent contractors, working for themselves primarily and the promoters secondarily. This means that wrestlers – particularly major stars like the Bruiser – had to do what they had to do in order to protect their own personae. If they were involved in a finish that could hurt their drawing power, they needed to refuse for the betterment of their career. This was doubly true of Brody, who was a main eventer in Japan in addition to the United States, and at that point in time Japanese promotions not only had strict requirements for what jobs their performers could do but were also paying top Americans far more than promoters in the U.S.

For a more contemporary analogue, I would compare this to Steve Austin refusing to lose to Brock Lesnar in the first round of the King of the Ring tournament in 2002, all with no build or advance promotion. Could somebody make an argument that Austin refusing to do what his boss told him to do was unprofessional? Sure, you could make that argument. However, when you think about what was best not just for Steve Austin’s career but also for Brock Lesnar’s career and the promotion’s bottom line, giving away that match and that victory at the beginning of Lesnar’s push was an idiotic move, as it would’ve hurt Austin less, helped Lesnar more, and earned more money for Brock to down Stone Cold after being built up further and as part of a well-promoted, major event. Sometimes talent has to take a stand if the promoter is doing something that just doesn’t work for them.

As far as demanding more money from promoters is concerned, that doesn’t bother me much, either. Brody wasn’t working in an era where wrestlers had multi-year guaranteed contracts. They were largely being paid per shot, and, though there were some promoters who were known for being fair payoff guys (like the Japanese promoters mentioned above), there were plenty of them who were known to try to pay as little as possible, sometimes welching on amounts that were previously committed to. I will almost never complain about a territorial era wrestler trying to get more money out of a promoter. Usually, they had it coming to them.

Could he have worked for Vince McMahon? Well, technically he did – though it was the elder Vincent J. McMahon and not the younger Vincent K. McMahon. He main evented on several occasions against Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Title at the Philadelphia Spectrum and in Madison Square Garden. He even put Bruno over when it was necessary for him to do so. Would thinks have worked out if he were signed by Vince Jr.? The answer, as with most hypotheticals, is “it depends.” As many people have discussed over the years, the real money in Brody heading to the WWF in the 1980s was in a Bruiser vs. Hulk Hogan match, and I think that Brody would have done it under the right circumstances, with the right circumstances being the Bruiser putting over the Hulkster towards the end of Brody’s career, because I doubt that he was going to lose a nationally televised match clean in the middle unless he was done with the business (or at least dialing back his involvement). Unfortunately, Brody was killed before doing this would have made any sense for him.

Then we turn to the final part of the question, i.e. whether anybody today could behave like Brody did. I strongly doubt that’s the case, and it has to do with a sea change in the industry that we’ve discussed a couple of times before in this column. It used to be that wrestling was a star-driven business, with companies rising and falling on their ability to create and promote larger than life personalities. This made those personalities vital, and the biggest among them had leverage to do the sorts of things that Brody did. However, these days – particularly in WWE – the brand name of the promotion is used to draw eyeballs to the product far more than any individual. This results in the wrestlers being more beholden to the promotion than vice versa. If nobody is more important than the brand, then anybody can be let go at any time.

Aaron is coming at us with two disparate questions:

1. Why are some names (i.e. KENTA, EVIL) written in English instead of Japanese?

It’s really just a stylistic choice that some wrestlers have made. Originally, all of the wrestlers who did this were heels (the first one I became aware of was TAKA Michinoku), but even that’s not a hard and fast rule anymore, as some babyfaces have also adopted the practice.

2. I have a hazy memory of a 1980s match from World Class. Five-on-five in a cage in which the winning team had to handcuff all of its opponents to the cage. Then the winning team had five minutes to pound away on the losers. Did this really happen? Because I can see Cody and Dustin bleeding buckets at a future AEW pay-per-view.

Yes, this absolutely happened on several occasions in 1988 and 1989. It was referred to as the “Thunderdome Match,” not to be confused with the Thunderome cage match that WCW also ran around the same time, or the Thunderome that WWE currently uses to bring us virtual fans each week on Raw and Smackdown. (For anyone who has been living under a rock, “Thunderdome” is a reference to the Mad Max movies, easily the films that have had more influence on pro wrestling than any other.) Though most of the matches were five-on-five, there were also one-on-one and two-on-two versions of the bout, as well as one twelve-man tag.

I was able to find record of five different Thunderdome matches occurring in WCCW, as follows:

January 22, 1988: The Fantastics, Kerry & Kevin Von Erich, and Shaun Simpson vs. Buddy Roberts, Eric Embry, Iceman Parsons, Jack Victory, and John Tatum

January 26, 1988: Chris Adams, Kerry & Kevin Von Erich, and The Fantastics vs. Buddy Roberts, Jack Victory, John Tatum, Angel of Death, & Real Thing (a.k.a. Rip Morgan)

February 20, 1988: Kevin & Kerry Von Erich vs. two unknown opponents

March 20, 1988: Bill Irwin, Kevin & Kerry Von Erich, and Steve & Shaun Simpson vs. Angel of Death, Buddy Roberts, Eric Embry, Iceman Parsons, & Real Thing

June 9, 1989: Al Perez, Cactus Jack, Corporal Braddock, Gary Young, PY Chu-Hi, & Taras Bulba vs. Billy Travis, Chris Adams, Eric Embry, Jeff Jarrett, Jimmy Jack Funk, & Matt Borne

There were also versions of the match held under the USWA banner once that promotion took things over in the former World Class territory. This is the source of the video linked to above.

Tyler from Winnipeg is pulling a name out of obscurity:

What can you tell me about a guy named Chip Burnham from mid 90’s WCW?

Well, that’s not a name that I ever expected to see pop up in this column.

Burnham was an office employee with WCW from about 1988 through at least the mid-1990s. He was originally hired to be the company’s “controller,” which is essentially an individual who oversees all of the financial or accounting operations of a company. He came to WCW because he had previously acted as a controller for other large corporations, not because he had any particular familiarity with the wrestling industry.

Eventually, Chip moved out of that role and became a local promoter for WCW, being assigned to various territories and trying to drive ticket sales to arena shows.

That’s really it. That was his entire job within the professional wrestling industry, and there’s not a lot of information out there that could allow me to write a narrative biography of him. However, here are a few tidbits that I could gather about Burham and his time in wrestling:

1. In the February 28, 1994 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, it was noted that Burnham was getting praise for his promoting prowess, as he completely filled the Albany, Georgia Civic Center for the Superbrawl IV pay per view. In a particularly odd note, the full house was credited in part to a promotion in which a person could receive four free tickets to the event if they surrendered a handgun to WCW. (Though not noted in the Observer, WCW presumably then gave the gun to the authorities so it could be disposed of and taken off the streets.) According to the publication, 290 guns were rounded up as a result.

2. According to a November 2000 interview with Alex Marvez for the Wrestling Observer, Triple H credited Burnham with getting his foot in the door with WCW. Apparently, HHH was managing a gym at the time and went to a gym convention, where he met Burnham and made a connection with him that resulted in Trips getting his first job a major wrestling promotion.

3. Burnham did have at least one appearance on WCW television, portraying a company executive who suspended (and was then beaten up by) Randy Savage on the May 25, 1996 episode of WCW Saturday Night.

4. Finally, in a bit of an unfortunate note, Tony Schiavone on the episode of his What Happened When podcast that covered Fall Brawl 1997 claimed that one of the “ribs” the Steiner Brothers once played backstage was duct taping Burham’s hands together, pulling down his pants, and inserting markers were the sun don’t shine. Ask 411 Wrestling does not condone this behavior – we just report what we hear.

Unfortunately, Burnham passed away on January 9, 2017 at the age of 61. I could not find a cause of death listed, but his obituary requested donations be made to the American Stroke Association, so you can make an educated guess as to what did him in.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].