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Ask 411 Wrestling: The Real Reason for the Rick Rude vs. Jake Roberts Feud & Why Cheryl Roberts Was Used

May 12, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Jake The Snake Roberts Cheryl Roberts

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.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Tyler wants to talk clashes of the titans:

Which match is more historically significant: Hogan/Goldberg or Hogan/Rock?

I would say that the more important match in professional wrestling history is Hogan versus Goldberg, though it’s not necessarily for the best reasons.

The Hulk versus Goldberg one-on-one encounter took place on WCW Monday Nitro on July 6, 1998 at the Georgia Dome. The show drew a 4.8 television rating overall, though the final hour of the show drew a 5.6, compared to Raw’s rating for the night of 4.0 overall and 4.4 for the hour that went head-to-head with the last hour of Nitro.

Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan versus the Rock took place at WWF Wrestlemania XVIII in Toronto’s SkyDome. Though Chris Jericho and Triple H’s WWF Championship match went on last, Hogan/Rock was clearly the main event for the evening (no, the last match on the card is not always the “main event”) and helped drive a legitimate paid attendance of 61,069 – inflated by the WWF to over 68,000 in their usual working of audience sizes. Despite two legendary figures facing off in a match promoted as “Icon vs. Icon,” the show does not crack the list of the top ten most-purchased Wrestlemania pay per views.

Ultimately, though Hogan/Rock was more of a hotly-anticipated “dream match” that fans craved for years but probably never thought that they would see, I would list Hogan/Goldberg as more historically significant, because it simultaneously represented both the height and the fall of WCW.

Hogan/Goldberg was the single largest match that WCW – at the time the largest wrestling promotion in the world – could have offered its fans, and it represented the culmination of Bill Goldberg’s ascension to the top of the professional wrestling game, making him its biggest star . . . though he would only hold that distinction for a very brief period of time. The match’s existence and the fact that WCW was able to draw the ratings and live audience that it did with it is a perfect symbol of WCW’s dominance over the WWF and the professional wrestling world as a whole at that time.

However, it is also the perfect symbol of WCW’s incompetent management that lead to the promotion’s downfall.

There is no way – and I mean no way – that Hogan/Goldberg should have been allowed to occur on a free television show as opposed to pay per view. Though WCW and WWF were in the midst of a ratings war, the fact of the matter is that, unlike today’s market in which wrestling promotions live and die based on rights fees paid by television networks, the primary revenue generator for both companies in 1998 was pay per view sales. By burning the biggest match that they could possibly promote on a card where they could not maximize revenue from it, WCW shot itself in the foot big time.

Though the money earned off of one Hogan/Goldberg pay per view may not have been enough to keep them alive past 2001 given all of the other poor decisions the company made, it was a substantial blunder that sent domino after domino cascading down en route to the promotion’s demise. There were actual historical ramifications to this match occurring and occurring in the way that it did.

Meanwhile, though Hogan/Rock may be more fondly remembered by fans as an “electrifying” moment in professional wrestling history, I wouldn’t say that it has nearly as much significance to our favorite pseudo-sport, because it does not represent to sort of major shift in the professional wrestling landscape that Hogan/Goldberg has come to represent.

Drew wants to familiarize himself with NJPW:

I’m fairly new to New Japan and like the majority of the world suddenly I’m beginning to follow it with its explosion on a global scale in the last few years. As a newb though, I have a few questions.

First, I’ve noticed a lot of the referees are fairly forgiving of using weapons in matches like chairs and some occasional ref physicality. I know it’s not a full on hardcore promotion and someone running in can cause a DQ (hello Suzuki-Gun) but why is that so forgiving?

It’s because the promotion knows that its fans want a decisive finish to most matches, particularly headlining bouts. Thus, the referees do relax the rules a little bit, though there are still rare occasions in which things get so out of hand that they have no choice but to disqualify one of the competitors.

Really, the level of interference and other cheating in New Japan matches is a fairly recent phenomenon, which started about six years ago with the heel turn of Prince Devitt (a.k.a. Finn Balor) and the introduction of the Bullet Club. Prior to that, there were little to no outside shenanigans in NJPW matches, so you almost never saw a disqualification or a no contest. Thus, when the company switched to a format where there were more weapons and interference introduced, they decided that, even though they would have that “new” element, they weren’t going to start disqualifying people left and right.

Second, speaking of Suzuki, one of the most memorable and goosebump-inducing moments of WK12 was the audience screaming his theme song. Do you know the story behind his theme and the crowd interaction?

Unlike most of the music in New Japan, Minoru Suzuki’s most well-known entrance theme is performed by a legitimately well-known singer-songwriter in Japan. Her name is Ayumi Nakamura (no relation to Shinsuke), and she has been a recording artist in her home country since 1984.

Suzuki has always been a huge fan of Nakamura’s music, and he became a pretty big star in the combat sports world in his own right during the 1990s in the sometimes-legitimate, sometimes-worked MMA promotion Pancrase. He gained so much clout in that world that, in 2004, he was able to reach out to Nakamura and request that she record a custom entrance theme for him.

The result was the song that Minoru entered to at WrestleKingdom 12, entitled “Kaze ni Nare,” which translates roughly to “Become the Wind.” You can read a full translation of the lyrics here, but it is essentially a song about a never-ending fight to accomplish one’s goals. Speaking of a never-ending fight, Suzuki celebrated the 30th anniversary of his first becoming a professional wrestler in 2018, and, to commemorate the event, Nakamura re-recorded and re-released an updated version of his theme.

As far as the crowd interaction with the song is concerned, it’s just one of those things that fans decided that they were going to do one day with it later catching on. It’s sort of like fans deciding that they were going to belt out “IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN” when Bryan Danielson or Sara Del Rey entered to Europe on the independent circuit or WWE fans realizing that they could chant “You suck!” in time to Kurt Angle’s music. The phenomenon owes itself primarily to the structure of the song, which provides a perfect opportunity for audience members to belt out the first line of the chorus.

Third, I notice that they are still strong pushes for the weight classes to be in effect. Despite WWE calling their title a “Heavyweight” title, we’ve seen guys like Eddie, Beniot, Jericho, Mysterio and Bryan all win it. How strict is the weight limit rule and can someone like Kushida be allowed to face for the Heavyweight title at his weight or does he have to gain some pounds first?

There are still some lines between the heavyweight and junior heavyweight divisions in NJPW, though the distinction between the two classes of wrestler has become more blurred in recent years.

For the record, in order to be a junior heavyweight, a New Japan wrestler has to weigh less than 100 kilograms, which is 220 pounds. As most reading this no doubt know, there are separate singles and tag team titles for the junior heavyweight division, and they also have their own special tournaments that are the equivalent of the heavyweights’ G1 leagues.

For most of the company’s history, you only very rarely saw heavyweights and junior heavyweights interacting with each other in singles matches, and when it did occur they were usually billed as special division versus division bouts. Heavyweights and juniors being on the opposite side of tag team matches was more common, though typically it would be one heavy and one junior facing a similarly comprised team as opposed to a pure heavyweight team facing a pure junior heavyweight team.

The other interesting thing about the promotion’s history was that, when a heavyweight face a junior heavyweight, the heavyweight almost always won. I don’t have statistics in front of me, but, anecdotally, we’re probably talking about the heavyweights winning ninety percent of the time or more, and those mixed division tag matches would often end with a heavyweight member of one team isolating the junior heavyweight member of the other and then pinning him. This wasn’t necessarily an effort to bury the junior heavyweight division or portray them as being lesser. It was really just New Japan attempting to emulate real sports. The reason that weight classes exist in legitimate combat sports is that, if two competitors of equal skill face each other but one has a significant weight advantage, the bigger guy will have a significant advantage.

Because of this, when wrestlers did move between the two divisions in the past, there usually was a storyline mention of the fact that the wrestler had bulked up, and there were often even real-life attempts for the grapplers to put on some extra pounds, sometimes with them returning heavier after a planned hiatus from the ring.

However, as noted above, this has started to shift a bit in recent years. First, New Japan introduced the NEVER Championship as an “open weight” title, meaning that members of both divisions can compete for it (thought it has primarily been held by heavyweights). Second, at times when the company’s roster got a bit more thin, they started using any wrestlers that they could in top positions, which meant some smaller guys got into the mix for heavyweight championships even though they hadn’t really gotten any bigger. We saw some of this with Prince Devitt, who was a junior heavyweight for most of his run in the company but switched to the heavyweight division for his last run, and very recently with the Young Bucks, who were a junior heavyweight tag team that outgrew the division in terms of popularity if not outgrowing it in terms of actual size.

Fourth and final, WrestleKingdom I’ve notice has a unique set up for their stages. The wrestlers each come out from a different side of the stage, usually the challenger stage right and the champion stage left. Then later in the show with the higher ranked matches, they begin to use a different entrance, either higher like this year’s or in the center like last years. Any word on why for this set up? It’s interesting and different, but I’m just curious.

I don’t know that there is a real explanation, aside from the fact that it looks cool and the company is trying to mix up how it stages things for a big show, not unlike the more elaborate sets that you see in WWE when it’s time for Wrestlemania or a particularly important pay per view.

Chris B. is podding hard:

As there seems to be a plethora of former (and sometimes current) wrestlers and backstage staff producing podcasts, from Eric Bischoff to Tazz to Good ol’ JR to Jericho to Stone Cold Steve Austin, I can’t help but wonder why ol’ Vinny Mac has yet to start his own show telling stories from the past and then put it behind a paywall. At this stage, McMahon is probably the guy EVERYONE would love to hear from, and I’m sure WWE could make a dollar or two from it all.

Why do you think McMahon has never taken this option up (if he has even considered it).

I’ve never heard this considered as a real option, but I can think of two reasons off the top of my head that this has never happened:

1. If you read enough stories about Vince McMahon, you come to understand that he doesn’t always have the best grasp on popular culture outside of the small portion of it that he has direct control over. As a result of that, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that McMahon isn’t entirely clear on what a podcast is or how popular they are, particularly among professional wrestling fans in 2019.

2. The man has no free time. The other thing that you come to understand about Vince McMahon if you read about him fairly regularly is that he spends an absurd amount of time working and gets less than six hours of sleep each night . . . and that’s when he was JUST in charge of running WWE full-time. Over the course of the past year, he’s had to work even harder, as he’s been attempting to get his Alpha Entertainment-backed relaunch of the XFL up and running.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that hearing Vince shooting on the regular would be supremely fascinating, but I don’t know that it’s going to happen, if it ever does, until he’s retired from running WWE full-time . . . and I don’t see that happening until he’s physically incapable of doing so.

Bryan J. wants to change it up:

Back in 1988 when Rick Rude and Jake Roberts were feuding, I thought to myself, “If you substitute Jake and Cheryl Roberts with Macho Man and Liz, you basically have a license to print money.” Do you think a feud between Savage and Rude over Liz’s honor would have a lot of heat? Or would Savage have been too unstable to agree to it?

That could have been a remarkably effective angle, perhaps even more effective than Roberts and Rude, if for no other reason than the crowd already had an existing connection to Miss Elizabeth, so they would have cared more about her than Cheryl Roberts. However, you also couldn’t exactly have done a surprise reveal of Rude hitting on another wrestler’s wife if you’d used Elizabeth, who was a known commodity by that point . . . so there is some tradeoff.

However, Rude vs. Savage was never going to be the feud, as there was a very specific reason that Jake Roberts was given this angle. According to a couple of different shoot interviews with the Snake (and not the one linked to above – that’s a totally different issue), he had just gotten out of rehab at the time that this angle began, and those in WWF management thought it would help keep him in line if his wife came on the road with him. Thus, this storyline was devised to give Cheryl something to do while she was essentially babysitting her husband while he was on tour.

Night Wolf the Wise is back with two presumably unrelated questions:

1. What are the top ten most violent wrestling matches of all time? And by violent, I mean they were so brutal they had to stop showing it on T.V.

There really isn’t an answer to this question if you’re going to define “violence” on whether something is or is not allowed to air on television.

Though violence is naturally part of wrestling, it’s incredibly rare that it gets to the point that television networks have a problem airing, and, when you get to the point in wrestling’s history that there might be some matches which make censors uncomfortable (say the 1990s) you also reach a point where the majority of major wrestling television shows are presented live, so it’s virtually impossible to stop violent moments from airing as they happen . . . and, given the nature of wrestling television, matches typically aren’t going to re-air anyway, regardless of their violence level.

I did answer a more general question about the most violent moments in wrestling back in September, so you can check that out if you’re interested in violent matches that don’t necessarily involve removal from television.

2. I read a rumor somewhere that right before Jack Swagger left WWE, they were going to put him, Shelton Benjamin, Chad Gable and one other in a stable called The Varsity Club. Any idea why this plan fell through?

The September 26, 2016 edition of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that some members of the creative team had considered putting Swagger, Benjamin, and Dolph Ziggler (but not Chad Gable) into a stable based around the three men’s amateur wrestling experience. The report did mention Gable’s name, but only because it was pointing out the irony of him not being included in the group despite being the most accomplished amateur wrestler under contract to the company at the time, since he was a former Olympian.

There is no definitive answer as to why the faction never actually formed, though the speculation in the Observer was that it didn’t go anywhere because Vince McMahon has never really cared for “shooter” gimmicks.

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

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers