wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Were WWF Stars Jealous of Lawrence Taylor?

June 14, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Lawrence Taylor Bam Bam Bigelow Royal Rumble 1995

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Donny from Tamaqua, PA is a mighty good man:

I was always wondered if there was any backstory to the Wrestlemania 11 match between Bam Bam Bigelow and Lawrence Taylor. Despite the national coverage that the match had gotten  and the handsome payday Bigelow received, were any of the boys unhappy that an outsider not even a wrestler was coming in and going over on one of their own? Did they look at it as a slap in the face to the pro wrestling industry?

If there were any wrestlers who felt that way, it doesn’t seem to have been recorded in the pro wrestling press at the time, nor was I able to find any subsequent shoot interviews on the topic. Honestly, the notion of a wrestler being upset because a celebrity has come on board to go over one of them has always seemed a little bit silly to me, because the involvement of Mr. T and Mike Tyson in pro wrestling helped to launch the two biggest boom periods the WWF has ever seen. Wrestlers should accept the fact that, when the right star is used, this stuff works and can put them in a far better financial situation than they may have been otherwise.

Getting back to Lawrence Taylor, the general vibe that I got was that people in wrestling were on board with his role, though a lot of mainstream sports writers decried his involvement in wrestling as being something that was beneath him. In the March 13, 1995 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which covers LT signing on for the match, it was reported that “[V]irtually everyone within wrestling accepts that the WWF made a major score for both publicizing its shown and for its faltering company image.”

In other words, getting Taylor involved in wrestling was largely seen as a positive in the industry.

The only reference that I was able to find to a negative reaction to LT came in the January 29, 2007 edition of Figure Four Weekly. In an obituary of Bam Bam Bigelow, the match against Taylor was obviously discussed, and there was a passing reference to the fact that Kevin Nash and Shawn Michaels were not happy with the fact that Bigelow/Taylor was positioned to close the show instead of their WWF Championship match. (There was even some implication that this may have played a role in the Clique kneecapping Bam Bam’s babyface run later in the year.) However, that’s not an objection to Taylor being involved in wrestling as much as it is an objection to Nash and Michaels not having the top spot.

Murmurdamadman is speaking up with two questions about the WWE Hall of Fame:

1. What was the last calendar year in which a current or future WWE Hall of Famer DID NOT pass away?

As far as current Hall of Famers are concerned, you might consider 2006 to be the last year where nobody passed away. I say “might consider” because WWE introduced a “Legacy Wing” to the Hall of Fame in 2016, where each year they toss in a bunch of older wrestlers (mostly pre-1980s) with very little fanfare or acknowledgment. Though there were no mainline Hall of Famers who passed away in 2006, there was one Legacy Wing member who died, namely Sputnik Monroe.

2002 is also an interesting year that might fit the criteria depending on how you want to count it. Davey Boy Smith died in that year, and he was scheduled to be part of the Hall of Fame induction in 2020, though the ceremony was postponed and has yet to actually occur . . . so is he in the Hall of Fame, or is he not? Outside of Smith, Legacy Wing members Lou Thesz and Wahoo McDaniel also died that year, but no mainline HOFers did.

To get to a year in which absolutely nobody in any aspect of the Hall of Fame died, I believe you have to go all the way back to 1996. There were some notable deaths in professional wrestling that year, including Ray Stevens and Dick Murdoch, but neither of them have ever made the cut into the Hall.

If you’re asking about a year in which no “future” Hall of Fame died, that is hard to say because you never know who is going to be a future Hall of Famer. As we’re going to discuss in a minute in response to Murmur’s second question, there are no objective criteria for who gets to be inducted, so literally anybody could go in. Don’t forget that this is the wrestling Hall of Fame that includes Vince McMahon Sr.’s limo driver and Drew Carey.

I will say 1986 seems like the first year in which it’s safe to say that no future Hall of Famers passed, because, if the records I’m reviewing are correct, the “major” pro wrestling deaths that year were Warren Bockwinkel (Nick’s father), Gino Hernandez, and luchador El Solitario. The elder Bockwinkel and Hernandez might have an outside chance as future Legacy Wing inductions, but even that seems like a stretch.

2. In your opinion what step or steps does WWE need to take in order for most people to consider it a legitimate Hall of Fame and how likely do you see them being in the next few years?

I don’t see any change in the format of the Hall of Fame coming anytime soon. As I’ve said in past editions of this column, the primary purpose of the HOF isn’t to be a “legitimate” hall of fame the way most other professional sports halls of fame are considered to be legitimate. It’s meant to be a mechanism through which WWE can make money off of ticket sales to the live event, create content for their network, and occasionally reintroduce modern fans to older stars who the promotion is attempting to merchandise. If they manage to honor some legends along the way, that’s a side benefit everybody can feel good about.

What could be done in order to legitimize the HOF? The biggest thing would be to take the decision of who gets into the Hall out of the hands of one or two people and institute a voting process like that used for the baseball hall of fame, involving former players and journalists who have covered the sport in a legitimate balloting process in which potential inductees have to pass a certain vote threshold in order make the cut.

Joseph throws an interesting thought experiment my way:

King of the Ring 1995 is often held up as one of the most rightfully derided events of the 90s, if not the entire “modern” era. Hey, I’m not entirely disagreeing. I’ve derided the event myself. I’m not saying that there are no good reasons for this derision.

What I am saying is that from time to time I’ll look at the talent that they had available for this event, and I am taken aback.

Bret Hart. Owen Hart. Lex Luger. The British Bulldog. Sid. Bam Bam Bigelow. The Undertaker. Shawn Michaels. Yeah, okay Razor Ramon is hurt, but the talent is there. If you could rebook the card, what would it look like?

I think I’m up to this challenge. According to stalwart wrestling website Solie’s, the WWF roster in June 1995 looked a little something like this:

The Brooklyn Brawler, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Bushwackers, The Undertaker, I.R.S., Tatanka, Owen Hart, Barry Horowitz, Fatu, Razor Ramon, Bob Backlund, Yokozuna, Bam Bam Bigelow, Jerry Lawler, Lex Luger, Men on a Mission, The Smoking Gunns, The 1-2-3 Kid, Adam Bomb, Jean Pierre, LaFitte, Doink the Clown (Phil Apollo), Jeff Jarrett, Savio Vega, Bob Holly, Duke Droese,
Davey Boy Smith, King Kong Bundy, Aldo Montoya, Henry Godwinn, Hakushi, Skip, Rad Radford, Man Mountain Rock, The Roadie, Jacob Blu, Eli Blu, Sid Justice, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Waylon Mercy

First, a couple of ground rules in my rebooking the show. I’m going to try to somewhat keep in line with the booking style of the time, which means that I’m sticking to babyface versus heel matches up and down the card, and I’m keeping all of the wrestlers in the heel/face alignments that they actually had at the time of the show. I’m also going to try to get the company to roughly the same place it would have been otherwise, meaning that I’m going to keep the same basic feuds and long-term plans in place. And, of course, I’m not going to use anybody who was on the injured reserve at the time, which means no Razor Ramon and no 1-2-3 Kid.

Finally, in 1995, the King of the Ring wasn’t just an eight-man tournament. In the weeks leading up to the show, there were eight “qualifying matches” to determine who would get on to the pay per view, meaning that it was really a sixteen-man tournament. So, I’m going to rebook the qualifying matches as well.

King of the Ring Qualifying Matches

a. Shawn Michaels def. Yokozuna: In reality, Michaels qualified over King Kong Bundy via pinfall, whereas Yoko won his qualifying match over Lex Luger by count out. My thought here is that Shawn/Yoko is a better match than Shawn/Bundy, and you could use the count out finish from Luger/Yoko here, because you probably didn’t want to give away HBK pinning Yokozuna on free TV.

b. Hakushi def. Bart Gunn: If Bart Gunn getting a singles match like this seems weird, it’s better than Jacob Blu of the Blu Twins getting one, which is what occurred in the actual tournament. Hakushi was criminally underutilized at this point after his loss at In Your House to Bret Hart, and this gives him an opportunity to display his talents.

c. Jeff Jarrett def. Aldo Montoya: Jarrett lost to the Undertaker in a real-life qualifying match, and I would prefer to have him remain in the tournament to utilize his in-ring talents. Montoya makes a capable opponent for him here, albeit one that he can beat cleanly without too much controversy.

d. The Undertaker def. Bob Backlund: Though 1995 Undertaker was nowhere near the in-ring performer that the Undertaker of the 2000s would become, he was still one of the bigger stars of the company, so he wasn’t going to be left out of KOTR. Having him beat Backlund here creates a match with enough star power for a Raw main event of the era.

e. Owen Hart def. Doink the Clown: I have no idea why Owen Hart was left out of the ’95 King of the Ring tournament. He was even on the show, getting involved in tag partner Yokozuna’s first round tournament match. In any even, I’m going to right that wrong. He’s a definite improvement over the Road Dogg, who is the guy that beat Doink to qualify for the tournament in the real world

f. Bob Holly def. Skip: At this point in time, Holly was an underrated good hand, the perfect guy to use as fodder in the first round of a tournament. He did that in the actual ’95 KOTR, though I’m giving him an upgraded opponent, as in my version he goes over Chris Candido instead of the mighty Mantaur.

g. Bam Bam Bigelow def. Jean-Pierre LaFitte: Yes, I took Bam Bam out of the main event of the pay per view, for reasons that will be explained later. Putting him in the ring against the future PCO is a bit of a dream match for yours truly, as I’ve always been a fan of surprisingly agile big men, a category into which these two guys definitely fall. You would probably have to do a DQ finish or something similar, though, as LaFitte was still being built up for his match against Bret Hart the following month.

h. Henry O. Godwinn def. Billy Gunn: This is another unusual match and probably a bit of an upset, but, trust me, I have my reasons. We’ll see those in a bit.

King of the Ring Quarterfinal Matches

1. Shawn Michaels def. Hakushi: Though they probably wouldn’t have much time due to this being a first-round tournament match, these two men would be capable of putting on a hot opener that would get the crowd going. It’s actually a bit of a shame that we never got to see this singles matchup happen in any context.

2. Owen Hart def. Bob Holly: There’s not much to say about this match. It really just exists to get Owen into the next round while having him work with an opponent who could give him a pretty solid match for the limited ring time they would be likely to have.

3. Jeff Jarrett def. The Undertaker: These two actually had a qualifying match against each other in the real 1995 King of the Ring tournament, though the result was the opposite. Obviously there is no way that Jarrett would be going over Taker clean at this point in their careers (or at any point, really), so we would have to have some shenanigans here – perhaps interference by Mabel, who I’ve mercifully kept off the show.

4. Bam Bam Bigelow def. Henry O. Godwinn: This wouldn’t be a five star classic, but it would be two big guys who could move and would be willing to hit each other hard, which is sometimes all you need. It also serves a storyline purpose, as you want to give Bigelow at least one win due to the babyface push he was receiving and HOG is a good choice for him to go over, because he was an affiliate of the Million Dollar Corporation, who Bammer was feuding with at the time.

Non-Tournament Match

5. Bret Hart def. Jerry “The King” Lawler: Yeah, that’s right, I’m keeping this match on the show. Though the “Kiss My Foot” stipulation and related vignettes were super-hokey, the actual feud between the two men was as hot as just about anything else in 1995 WWF, probably one of the few things that would booked halfway decently. These two were master storytellers, and it would be a shame to not let them tell their story.

King of the Ring Semifinal Matches

6. Owen Hart def. Bam Bam Bigelow: Though it would probably be better with the heel/face roles reversed from what they were in 1995, I have no doubt that these two could have an excellent physical match, which could potentially have some odd callbacks to the battle that Bigelow had with Owen’s brother Bret as part of the 1993 King of the Ring tournament. In order to protect Bam Bam’s status as a rising babyface at this time, I would probably have members of the Million Dollar Corporation get involved in the finish.

7. Shawn Michaels def. Jeff Jarrett: Jarrett and Michaels had a barnburner of an Intercontinental Title match at the In Your House pay per view that followed King of the Ring 1995. If you book the match on this show, not only does it help strengthen the card, but having HBK go over Double J this month actually sets up their IC Title encounter better than it was set up in real life, where Michaels just seemed to get a championship match at random.

Non-Tournament Match

8. Diesel & The Allied Powers vs. Sid, Tatanka, & IRS: This isn’t too much of an alteration from what happened on the actual show, which was Diesel and Bam Bam Bigelow against Sid and Tatanka. I tweaked the match for a couple of different reasons. The first is that, given their positions in the company at this time, you have to have Disel and Sid on the show against each other, and that’s never going to be great. However, if you put them in a six man tag as opposed to a four man tag, they’re that much more hidden. Plus, Luger, Bulldog, and IRS are probably better equipped to work with each other to carry the match than Bigelow and Tatanka were. (That’s not to say Bam Bam and Tatanka were bad, they just didn’t gel together well.) Second, I really wanted to get Bigelow into the KOTR tournament, as he’s much more valuable there.

King of the Ring Finals

9. Shawn Michaels def. Owen Hart: I don’t think that I have to say anything about the quality of this match. These two locked up on several different occasions, and it was always excellent, so there is no reason to believe it would be anything else here. Plus, even though it doesn’t necessarily help build up a contender for Summerslam, putting Micahels over in the tournament does play into the company’s long-term plans, building his resume as he moves towards winning the WWF Championship for the first time at Wrestlemania in 1996.

So, there it is, King of the Ring 1995 rebooked by yours truly. How terrible am I as a booker? Feel free to tell me in the comments.

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].

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers