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Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Didn’t Steve Austin & HHH Headline WrestleMania X-8?

November 1, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
RAW Reunion Stone Cold Steve Austin

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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It’s St. Jimmy:

I had a question with regards to the buildup to WrestleMania 18. They obviously went with Triple H and Chris Jericho but why? I understand Stone Cold had turned back to face after the horrible heel run through ‘01. But why not have postponed that just a bit have Austin win the matches at Vengeance and the returning Triple H comes back for revenge on the dastardly Rattlesnake who made all those terrible comments when he first got hurt. Just seems to me that would’ve been a way bigger match than Trips and Jericho.

It potentially was a bigger match than Triple H and Chris Jericho, but you have to remember two things here:

First, Wrestlemania XVIII already had Hulk Hogan versus the Rock. Once you’ve got a match of that caliber selling tickets, you really don’t need Triple H vs. Steve Austin. It would be gilding the proverbial lily.

Second, though you’ve stated it was “horrible,” I think that you’re understating just how toxic the Steve Austin heel run and 2001 overall were for the WWF’s bottom line. If you go back to the first part of that year and throw out holiday shows that really shouldn’t count, Monday Night Raw was regularly drawing television ratings that were north of 5.0. Fast forward to the end of they year and, again discounting holiday shows, they were down to a 4.0 on average and even dipped down to a 3.9 on a couple of Mondays during football season.

This was imminently concerning, and reestablishing babyface Stone Cold Steve Austin was one of the best things that you could attempt to do to reverse course. However, Triple H was coming off of his torn quad and almost had to be positioned as the conquering hero returning home. Neither man being a bad guy made sense at the time time, so they weren’t going to be locking it up on the biggest show of the year.

Tyler from Winnipeg is making things personal:

Do you remember the first time you watched wrestling?

Very vaguely. I grew up in a rural area at a time where cable was pretty widespread but hadn’t come out to where we lived yet, so, even though it was the early 1990s, we only got four stations (five on a good day) through an old school analog antenna. I remember being bored one Saturday afternoon and flipping back and forth between our four channels on rotation because nothing was catching my interest. Eventually, one of the WWF’s syndicated programs – probably Superstars – came on our local Fox network affiliate, and I came across a “Rowdy” Roddy Piper promo. I don’t remember many of the details of the promo or even who he was cutting it on, but I do remember that the guy’s presence and charisma hooked me in, and I started watching weekly after that.

Lev wants to hear a tale of broken faces:

I was recently watching a list about wrestling shoots and wanted to know more about Act Yasukawa vs. Yoshiko. It was so brutal, unprovoked, and only ended because they had to drag Yasukawa out. Otherwise, she would have kept wrestling. What is the story behind the match and what caused Yoshiko to do what she did?

I don’t know why I’m bothering to answer this question, because no matter what I say, Frank Pozen is going to show up in the comments and tell the story better than I could. I’ll give it my best shot, though, and Frank can do cleanup work.

For anybody who doesn’t know what match Lev is referring to, it’s a February 22, 2015 bout from the joshi promotion STARDOM, which for the last several years has been the biggest women’s wrestling group in Japan. (Though being the biggest women’s wrestling group in Japan is something like being the world’s tallest jockey.) In that match, Yoshiko was defending the World of Stardom Title – the company’s top championship – against Yasukawa in the main event.

I’ll embed the match below, but let me just say from jump that it can be pretty difficult to watch. It falls apart immediately, as the two women exchange blows and one of Yoshiko’s early shots breaks Yasukawa’s nose and bloodies her up pretty badly. The two are separated for a while so that Yasukawa’s corner can check on her, and when the match resumes it seems that Yoshiko is obsessed with hitting Yasukawa directly in the face as frequently and as hard as she can. This is pretty easy for Yoshiko to do, too, because she’s got a significant weight advantage and can basically plow Yasukawa into the corner or down on to the mat to impose her will. This goes on for an uncomfortably long period of time, though in the middle of it there is an odd sequence where they start doing worked pro wrestling spots with each other, including some Irish whips and Yasukawa taking a hair beal at one point. Eventually, Yasukawa spills out to the floor and her corner checks on her again. After that, one of her cornerwomen throws in a towel and referee Kyohei Wada, who probably should have intervened sooner given what was going on and the fact that he had been refereeing wrestling since the 1970s, calls for the bell.

After the match, Act was diagnosed not just with the obvious broken nose but also a concussion, a broken cheek bone, and a broken orbital bone.

What makes these actions by Yoshiko all the more disgusting is that she went into the match knowing that Yusakawa had a history eye surgeries to correct issues related to Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid in which often causes in misalignment or bulging of the eyes. (If you’ve ever seen the actor Marty Feldman, who played Igor Young Frankenstein, his prominent peepers are a result of Graves’ disease.) Because of her history of eye problems, Yoshiko’s assault on Yasukawa easily could have blinded her. Fortunately, it did not. Unfortunately, it did end Act’s career. After the February 22 match, she was out of action until September 23, 2015, but the return did not go well. Yasukawa never fully recovered from her injuries in the Yoshiko match, and she was forced into retirement with her last show as a wrestler taking place on December 23, 2015, about ten months after the shoot.

In an sad coda to Yasukawa’s portion of this story that highlights some of the differences between Japanese and American culture, according to the February 27, 215 edition of the Figure Four Weekly newsletter, Yasukawa actually made a blog post apologizing for how the match went down shortly after it occurred. Yes, that’s right, the victim in this whole mess publicly apologized. However, F4W was also sure to note that Yasukawa’s mother had to type the blog post for her, because, at the time it went up, Act’s eyes were still swollen shut from the beating.

Yoshiko, for what it’s worth, was immediately and indefinitely suspended by STARDOM, including being stripped of her World of Stardom Title. Eventually, the “suspension” turned into outright termination. However, even though this was the end of Yasukawa’s career, it was not the end of Yoshiko’s career. You see, Yoshiko was a protege of 1990s joshi puroresu star Nanae Takahashi, who was also the head trainer responsible for teaching STARDOM’s young roster the ropes. Takahashi, as trainer, took some of the heat for the Yauskawa/Yoshiko incident, as it was publicly claimed that if her trainees were exhibiting this behavior, she was not teaching them properly. This lead to Takahashi parting ways with Stardom not long after the February 22 match. It’s not entirely clear when she left because she was out of active competition with an ankle injury, but a public announcement was made in May 2015.

As most 1990s women’s wrestlers who are still active in Japan do, Takahashi just started her own promotion when she left STARDOM. The group, which has the odd name of SEAdLINNNG, ran its first show on August 26, 2015, and would you like to guess who Takahashi brought in to work with her in the main event of the promotion’s March 7, 2016 show?

If you answered “Yoshiko,” then you’ve been around pro wrestling enough to know that it’s a miserable, shitty business.

(Also, I’d just like to point out that this show had the unfortunate title of “Let’s Get D!”)

So Yoshiko breaks the cardinal trust that exists among professional wrestlers and legitimately ends another competitor’s career, with her grand punishment being one measly year on the sidelines. In fact, Yoshiko is still active to this day. I’m writing this answer on October 28, 2020, and as of this writing she just had her last match eight days ago. She even had a brief MMA career, taking three fights for the South Korean-based Road Fighting Championship and amassing a 2-1 record, though not exactly against stellar competition. In a classy move, Road FC used footage of he Yasuawa match to promote Yoshiko’s debut with the promotion and gave her the nickname “Face Breaker.” I wish I was kidding.

That’s a lot of information, but it still doesn’t quite answer Lev’s primary question . . . what caused all of this?

Unfortunately, that’s still not 100% clear. I have seen some people make the claim that one of Act Yasukawa’s strikes on Yoshiko early in the match was stiff and that this let Yoshiko to retaliate. However, this doesn’t make sense to me, as an errant strike by Yasukawa may have justified a one-off receipt, but it certainly would not have warranted a career-ending beating.

The March 2, 2015 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the first issue of the publication to cover the shoot, says that there was “legitimate heat” between the two women before the bell but neglects to go any further than that. The January 25, 2016 Observer, which was covering some of the buildup to Yoshiko’s return in SEAdLNNNG, makes the claim that animosity between Yoshiko and Act started in 2014, when the two had a match and Yasukawa accidentally dropped a sake bottle that was part of her gimmick on Yoshiko’s face. There were also vague comments made about Yasukawa generally being a pain in the ass to work with backstage, to the point that there were a handful of Yoshiko supporters who saw the whole incident as being Act’s fault, which, again, is something that I would vehemently disagree with.

Then, the February 6, 2017 Observer brings up the Yoshiko/Yasukawa match again as a tangent in a story about another joshi promotion. In this iteration of the story, Dave Meltzer writes that Yoshiko was “told point blank” to shoot on Yasukawa by Nanae Takahashi. It’s not clear WHY Takahashi would tell Yoshiko to do this, but that would clarify why Takahashi and STARDOM parted ways over the incident, because the story that I told earlier about Nanae not conveying the right message to trainees sounds like the sort of yarn that would be spun to cover something more sinister.

I should note that I have also read some fan theories stating that Yoshiko saw Yasukawa as a threat to her spot as top heel in the company, but those are merely fan theories as far as I know, and I’ve not seen them backed by anybody claiming to have insider knowledge.

So that’s the whole sordid story as far as I know it. There’s still a bit of mystery here, but one thing that is clear is that Yoshiko’s actions were totally unjustified.

Bret is taking us back to Slamboree 1993:

I was wondering who you thought was best version of the Four Horsemen? For me it was Flair, Tully, Arn, and Windham. Also whose idea was it to put Paul Roma in that group? I was watching it that day thinking it was gonna be Tully Blanchard or someone else and saw Roma come out I’m like what?? Was that planned or was he thrown in there last minute?

As far as the best combination of the Horsemen is concerned, I agree 100% with your assessment. In fact, I think that’s the general consensus among wrestling fans, though you’ll occasionally run across a purist who won’t accept anything but the originals with Ole in the place of Windham. I will also say that I thought the combination of Flair, Anderson, Pillman, and Benoit had a megaton of potential, but unfortunately they were short-lived due to Flyin’ Brian’s departure from WCW.

Regarding Paul Roma’s insertion into the group, your suspicion that it was not the original plan is 100% correct. In fact, WCW was actively promoting Tully Blanchard as showing up for a Horsemen “reunion” at Slamboree ’93. According to an interview with Tully on Hannibal TV in August 2016, he was contacted for the slot and turned it down because they were not offering him what he thought he was worth in terms of a payoff.

In the May 24, 1993 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (the last issue before Slamboree), Dave Meltzer made an oddly prescient prediction stating, “The Tully Blanchard deal is dead . . . someone will be brought in as a new Horseman, believed to be an ex-WWF mid-card performer who has never gotten a major push before but has talent.”

Of course, Big Dave hit the nail on the head, because Roma got the slot. If you could somehow separate this from the fans’ expectation that they were going to get Blanchard, Roma wasn’t necessarily a terrible pick for the slot in my opinion, but the audience’s disappointment in not getting what they were originally promised tainted the whole thing and essentially doomed Roma’s tenure with the group before it started.

IMissMarkingOut is like Rhyno, looking for a little bit of gore, gore, gore:

Does WWE need ‘blood and guts’ to attract a wider audience again? Personally, I don’t, but there are times when I think it’d be appropriate. When the Attitude Era ended, the ‘blood and guts’ continued though the ratings declined. Recently Daniel Bryan mentioned that he wants to fight with ‘blood and guts’ and he arguably had the best match on the card with Drew Gulak. I think this era is missing it’s attitude and needs a ‘ruthless aggression’ mindset. AEW of course has it’s occasional ‘blood and guts’ but they’ve gained popularity based on being an overall alternative.

There’s no real objective evidence that a “blood and guts” approach does anything to help attract mainstream fans to professional wrestling. It is true that, during the WWF’s Attitude Era, the company employed a more physical style of wrestling than what they do now, with plenty of blood, weapons, and a handful of extreme bumps. It’s also true that, during that time, the company was more popular than it’s been at just about any other point in its history.

However, there’s no indication that the more hardcore style is what caused that popularity. To the contrary, if you look back at the Rock n’ Wrestling Era, when the company’s popularity rivaled that of Attitude, things were remarkably toned down by comparison. They did allow blood under limited circumstances, but by and large the wrestlers had a relatively “light” style and were only doing highly physical spots every few months as opposed to on every single show.

Plus, if you look at wrestling’s history, truly hardcore, blood and guts wrestling typically only lasts as a fad. ECW was only at its most extreme for about half a dozen years. FMW in Japan lasted longer than that, but not by much. This makes sense, because at a certain point you build your hardcore spots to a level where they just can’t get anymore hardcore. Once you hit that peak, things start to get repetitive, and you ultimately risk burning out the audience. There are a handful of hardcore/deathmatch promotions that have managed to last longer (e.g. Big Japan), but they tend to have a small, niche audience who have an almost vampiric fascination with blood.

James is the intellectual property savior of the masses:

I’ve noticed that in the last 30 days, there have been roughly a dozen articles on 411Mania involving WWE and Trademarks. Is there an official number of how many current trademarks that WWE owns to their name? I assume that a trademark can eventually expire, so this answer may be subject to change or variances.

Kind of.

Because, in the United States, trademarks have to be registered with the federal government in order to receive the maximum protection available to them, there is a publicly searchable database of all marks registered, whether they are “live” or “dead” to use the terminology of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The searchable online database is called the Trademark Electronic System Search or TESS for short, and it can be accessed here.

You can search TESS by the name of the individual or entity who registered the mark, and, as of this writing, there are 2,280 live and dead trademarks or 1,009 live trademarks that pop up if you search by the owner name “World Wrestling Entertainment.”

Unfortunately, the TESS database is designed to help you locate a particular trademark or trademarks and is not necessarily designed to run a report on all of the marks that a particular company owns. This means that, even though the search page will give you the number of responsive entries to your search, you can only actually view the first 50 items on the list. In other words, at any given time, you will only see the 50 most recent marks WWE has listed if you search their name.

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