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This Day in Wrestling History (Dec. 15): Bret Hart’s WCW Debut

this day in wrestling history

53 years ago today, Rikidōzan dies from complications from a stab wound he suffered in a Tokyo nightclub. He was just 38.

Born Mitsuhiro Momota November 14, 1924 in South Hamyong, Korea, he was an adopted son of a farmer family. Training to be a sumo wrestler under the Nishonoseki stable, he debuted in May 1940 as Mitsuhiro Momota (named for his adopted family, a family that would later disown him) of Omura, Nagasaki due to discrimination against Koreans in Japan. He was renamed Rikidōzan.

In 1946, he reached the top division in the sport in 1946, and would finish first runner-up in a tournament in June 1947, won by yokozuna Haguroyama. He reached the sekiwake rank of sumo wrestlers, the third highest rank in sumo, behind yokozuna and ozeki. Over a ten-year career in sumo, he compiled a 135-82-15 record.

He retired in September 1950 due to financial reasons, though it could possibly also be due to discrimination. He turned to professional wrestling in 1951, going to a ten minute draw with Bobby Bruns. With Japan decimated following World War II, the Japanese saw Rikidōzan as a hero as he went on a winning streak against American opponents (this was partly helped by said opposition agreeing to portray themselves as villains in his bouts); conversely, in the States, Rikidōzan was always the foreign heel.

Rikidōzan newfound success got him into real estate, as he began purchasing nightclubs, hotels, and condos. He even got into promoting, establishing Japan's first pro wrestling promotion, the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance in 1953. His biggest feuds would be against his trainer Masahiko Kimura, Lou Thez, Freddie Blassie, and The Destroyer. Two of his biggest bouts are among the most watched programs in Japanese television history: a one-hour draw against Lou Thesz for the NWA world title in October 1957, and a best of three falls match against The Destroyer in May 1963. Rikidōzan would appear in more than two dozen films, and a biographical film was released in 2004.

Rikidōzan would win the NWA International Heavyweight Championship in Japan on August 27, 1958 over Thesz. Thesz at the expense of his own reputation willingly put over the challenger, leading the two to mutually respect one another for the remainder of his life. Rikidōzan would go on to train wrestlers himself, including future legends Antonio Inoki, Ooki Kintaro, and Giant Baba.

On December 8, 1963, Rikidōzan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by Katsuji Muruta, a member of the Sumiyoshi-ikka Yakuza. Whether or not he sought medical attention is up for debate (one report said he did see a physician, but the wound was not serious; a conflicting report had Rikidōzan not seeking help at all, instead continuing to party as before). Muruta claimed the stabbing was in retaliation for Rikidōzan attacking Masahiko Kimura after Kimura inadvertently kicked him in the groin.

Rikidōzan would die a week later from peritonitis, an inflammation of the tissue covering the abdominal organs. Muruta was eventually convicted of manslaughter in connection with the stabbing, and would serve seven years in prison. Muruta claimed that on every December 15, he would call Momota’s family and apologize for his actions before visiting Rikidōzan’s grave. Muruta would die of natural causes in April 2013 of natural causes.

Members of Momota's family would follow in his father's footsteps: one of his sons, Mitsuo won the All Japan World Junior Heavyweight Championship in 1989, and though he still freelances to this day, never reached the heights of his father. Rikidozan’s other son, Yoshihiro Momota, wrestled from 1975 to 1987. He died of liver failure in 2000 at age 54. Mitsuo's son, Chikara, made his debut on the weekend of the fiftieth anniversary of Rikidozan's death in 2013.

Rikidōzan, considered the father of puroresu, was posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Puroresu Halls of Fame in 1996, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006, and the NWA Hall of Fame in 2011.

39 years ago today in Tokyo, Japan, Terry and Dory Funk, Jr. defeat Abdullah the Butcher and The Sheik to win the inaugural All Japan Pro Wrestling Real World Tag League tournament.

The match is often cited among the greatest in Japanese professional wrestling history, and would cement the World Tag League tournament as one of the biggest events of the year in Japan.

29 years ago today, the WWF presented the second Slammy Awards from Caesars Atlantic City in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The show is best remembered—or only remembered for that matter--by Vince McMahon's awfully awesome (or awesomely awful) performance of "Stand Back". The video would first resurface more than a decade later on the May 28, 2001 RAW is WAR, but most notably in 2006 during the D-Generation X-McMahons feud in 2006.

  • Best Performance by an Animal: George "The Animal" Steele
  • Woman of the Year: Miss Elizabeth
  • Best Ring Apparel: Harley Race
  • Hulk Hogan Real American Award: Superstar Billy Graham
  • Jesse "The Body" Award: Rick Rude
  • Greatest Hit: Jim Duggan
  • Best Vocal Performance: Jim Duggan
  • Best Group: One Man Gang
  • Humanitarian of the Year: Ted DiBiase
  • Best Head: Gene Okerlund and Bam Bam Bigelow
  • Bobby "The Brain" Heenan Scholarship Award: The Islanders, Andre the Giant, Hercules, King Kong Bundy, and Harley Race

21 years ago today in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a Stu Hart tribute was held at Calgary Corral, the homebase for many Stampede Wrestling events. In the featured bout, WWF Champion Bret Hart defeated Davey Boy Smith.

20 years ago today, WWF presented In Your House 12: It's Time (WWE Network link) from the West Palm Beach Auditorium in West Palm Beach, Florida. 9,649 were in attendance, with 121,000 homes watching on PPV. That's up from 110,000 homes for the December 1995 offering, In Your House 5: Season's Beatings.

  • In a Free For All preshow match, Rocky Maivia defeated Salvatore Sincere by disqualification.
  • Flash Funk defeated Leif Cassidy.
  • Owen Hart & The British Bulldog defeated Fake Diesel & Fake Razor Ramon to retain the WWF World Tag Team Championship.
  • Marc Mero defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley by countout in a WWF Intercontinental Championship match.
  • The Undertaker defeated The Executioner in an Armageddon Rules match.
  • Sycho Sid defeated Bret Hart to retain the WWF Championship.
  • In a post-show dark match, Brakkus defeated Dr. X.
  • In a post-show dark match, Steve Austin defeated Goldust.
  • In a post-show dark match, Shawn Michaels defeated Mankind.

19 years ago today on Nitro from Charlotte, North Carolina (WWE Network link), Bret Hart makes his WCW debut as the announced special referee for Larry Zbyszko versus Eric Bischoff at Starrcade.

Hart was last seen at Survivor Series when he was infamously beaten for the WWF Championship by Shawn Michaels (i.e. the Montreal Screwjob). Technically, Hart was at the time still under a 60-day no-compete clause, meaning his in-ring debut would have to wait another month (not helping matters, Hart was nursing a broken hand, which he got when he hit Vince McMahon in the moments after the Screwjob).

Hart was actually close to signing with WCW following Wrestlemania XII, but the WWF’s counteroffer was simply too much to pass up for Bret. In Bret’s first act with the company at Starrcade, Hart assisted Larry Zbyszko in a win over Bischoff, but his more memorable first act was when he helped screw Hollywood Hogan out of the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in a failed recreation of the Montreal Screwjob.

Bret would have a successful, yet inconsistent three years in WCW. While he would win their company’s Triple Crown (WCW world, United States, and tag team championships), he would never reach the height of his popularity in his WWF run. After suffering a concussion in a match with Goldberg in late 1999, Hart sat out most of 2000 before being fired on medical grounds late in the year. Bret soon announced his retirement from full-time competition afterwards.

19 years ago today, Vince McMahon announces a change in creative direction on an episode of RAW is WAR (WWE Network link).

The two-minute commentary, dubbed "The Cure for the Common Show", was in line with USA Network's tagline at the time and outlined the future of the WWF's programming, particularly their flagship show:

"It has been said that anything can happen here in the World Wrestling Federation, but now more than ever, truer words have never been spoken. This is a conscious effort on our part to "Open the Creative Envelope", so to speak, in order to entertain you in a more contemporary manner. Even though we call ourselves "Sports Entertainment" because of the athleticism involved, the keyword in that phrase is "Entertainment".

The WWF extends far beyond the strict confines of sports presentation into the wide open environment of broad based entertainment. We borrow from such programs niches like soap-operas, like "The Days of Our Lives", or, music videos such as those on MTV, Daytime talk-shows like "Jerry Springer" and others, cartoons like "The King of The Hill" on FOX, Sitcoms like "Seinfeld", and other widely accepted forms of television entertainment. We, in the WWF, think that you, the audience, are quite frankly, tired of having your "intelligence insulted".

We also think that you're tired of the same old simplistic theory of "Good Guys VS Bad Guys". Surely the era of "The super-hero urge you to say your prayers and take your vitamins" is definitely, passe. Therefore, we've embarked on a far more innovative and contemporary creative campaign, that is far more invigorating and extemporaneous than ever before.

However, due to the live nature of "RAW" and the "WarZone", we encourage some degree of parental discretion, as relates to the younger audience allowed to stay up late. Other WWF programs on USA, such as "The Saturday Morning LiveWire", and "Sunday Morning Superstars", where there's a 40% increase in the younger audience obviously, however, need no such discretion. We are responsible television producers who work hard to bring you this outrageous, wacky, wonderful world known as the WWF.

Through some 50 years the World Wrestling Federation has been an entertainment main-stay here in North America, and all over the world. One of the reasons for that longevity is: As the times have changed, so have we. I'm happy to say that this new vibrate, creative direction has resulted in a huge increase in television viewership, for which we thank the USA Network and TSN for allowing us to have the creative freedom. But most especially, we would like to thank you, for watching. RAW and the WarZone are definitely the cure for the common show."

This episode of RAW was also the first introduction of the company’s “scratch logo”. The scratch logo was briefly used with WWE’s “new generation” slanted logo for a few months before transitioning fully to the scratch logo at Wrestlemania XIV.

Just one segment prior to McMahon’s commentary, Stone Cold Steve Austin made good on his promise to do something with the Intercontinental Championship belt he had forfeited to The Rock the previous week. Not only had Austin stolen the belt from The Rock immediately following the show, he kept it with him long enough to throw it in the Piscataqua River.

The belt (as far as we know) was never recovered, and a new design of the Intercontinental Championship (the oval design) was introduced the next week.

In a rare bit of continuity, The Rock would return the favor and send Steve Austin—and a replica of Austin’s custom Smoking Skull WWF Championship belt—over a bridge in April 1999.

15 years ago today, Thomas Russell Haas, aka Russ Haas, was found dead in his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was 27.

Born March 27, 1974 in Ednard, Oklahoma, Haas’ is a third-generation sportsman; his grandfather, Hugh Devore, had two stints as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, and was a head coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1956 and 1957 and was an assistant for the Green Bay Packers and Houston Oilers.

Haas wrestled collegiately for Seton Hall University, then transitioned to the pros under training from Mike Sharpe. He joined his brother Charlie as the Haas Brothers and would win tag team championships for northeastern promotions Jersey All Pro Wrestling, the East Coast Wrestling Association, and Combat Zone Wrestling.

Following a tryout in August 2000, the brothers signed a contract with the World Wrestling Federation, and would wrestle for their developmental territories at the time, the Heartland Wrestling Association and Memphis Championship Wrestling. It was in MCW where they had their biggest success, winning their tag titles three times in early 2001.

On September 24, 2001, Russ suffered a heart attack. Though he would recover, he would have a second heart attack while sleeping on December 15, 2001. The second one proved fatal. Russ was found dead by his wife Deedra in their home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Russ was just 27 years old.

Charlie briefly wrestled as R.C. Haas in tribute to his brother, writing RUSS on his wrist tape (he continues to do so to this day). Tributes poured in from around the wrestling world following his passing, including Combat Zone Wrestling, Jersey All Pro Wrestling, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, William Moody, and Kevin Kelly. Low Ki dedicated his Ring of Honor championship win back in 2002 to Haas.

In June 2010, Charlie Haas and his wife Jackie Gayda named their first son Thomas Russell Haas.

16 years ago today, ECW presented a Hardcore TV taping from Elks Lodge in Queens, New York.

A few notes: The Dudley Boyz and Taz, all contracted to the WWF at the time, returned to the promotion for a one-off appearance. Also in the crowd for the show was Smashing Pumpkins frontman (and future wrestling promoter) Billy Corgan.

Most importantly, this would turn out to be the final taping of Hardcore TV. With money becoming increasingly harder to come by following TNN’s decision to cancel ECW, the decision was made to end the series following the December 30, 2000 episode, just a week before Guilty as Charged, ECW’s final PPV. The series, dating back to September 1993 when the E in ECW stood for Eastern, ended with 401 total episodes aired. The complete series is available for on-demand viewing here (WWE Network link).

The final episodes aired December 23 and 30 (WWE Network links).

  • Rhino defeated Spike Dudley to retain the ECW World Television Championship
  • Chilly Willy defeated Mike Bell.
  • The Unholy Alliance (Mikey Whipwreck & Yoshihiro Tajiri) defeated the Full Blooded Italians (Little Guido & Tony Mamaluke).
  • EZ Money and Julio Dinero defeated Balls Mahoney and Nova.
  • Jerry Lynn defeated Christian York.

In dark matches not airing on Hardcore TV:

  • Michael Shane defeated Belvis Wesley
  • Justin Credible defeated Kid Kash.
  • Danny Doring & Roadkill defeated The Baldies (Angel & Tony DeVito) to retain the ECW World Tag Team Championship. Late in the match, Taz interfered, choking out the referee with his Tazmission and distracting the challengers. Post-match, Taz congratulated Doring and Roadkill, two men he had trained at ECW’s House of Hardcore (the promotion’s wrestling school).
  • Steve Corino defeated The Sandman in a last man standing match to retain the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.
  • The Dudley Boyz (Buh Buh Ray & D-Von) defeated CW Anderson, Johnny Swinger, and Simon Diamond.

14 years ago, WWE presented Armageddon (WWE Network link) from the Office Depot Center in Sunrise, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. About 9,000 were in attendance, with 335,000 homes watching on PPV. Though it's up 20,000 homes from Vengeance held in December 2001, it's down from 465,000 homes for the last Armageddon in 2000.

  • In a Sunday Night Heat preshow match, Jeff Hardy defeated D'Lo Brown.
  • Booker T and Goldust defeated Lance Storm and William Regal, The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von), and Chris Jericho and Christian in a fatal four-way elimination match to win the World Tag Team Championship.
  • Edge defeated A-Train by disqualification.
  • Chris Benoit defeated Eddie Guerrero.
  • Batista defeated Kane.
  • Victoria defeated Trish Stratus and Jacqueline in a triple threat match to retain the WWE Women's Championship.
  • Kurt Angle defeated The Big Show to win the WWE Championship.
  • Triple H defeated Shawn Michaels 2-1 in Three Stages of Hell match to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Triple H won the street fight, with Shawn Michaels tying it up after winning a steel cage match. Triple H won the deciding fall, a ladder match.

10 years ago today, CBS announces via press release they would air reality series Armed & Famous, chronicling five celebrities becoming sworn police officers in Muncie, Indiana.

The series, featuring Erik Estrada, Latoya Jackson, Jack Osbourne, Jason "Wee-Man" Acua, and Trish Stratus, would be cancelled after just two episodes, though two more episodes would air on VH1. Three episodes of the series ultimately went unaired, including one "lost episode".

3 years ago today, WWE presented Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (WWE Network link) from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. 14,120 were in attendance, with 181,000 homes watching on PPV. That's up slightly from 2012's event with 175,000 buys.

The show's main hook was a unification match for the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships.

  • In a preshow match, Fandango defeated Dolph Ziggler.
  • CM Punk defeated The Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose) in a 3-on-1 handicap match.
  • AJ Lee defeated Natalya to retain the WWE Divas Championship.
  • Big E Langston defeated Damien Sandow to retain the Intercontinental Championship.
  • The Rhodes Brothers (Cody Rhodes and Goldust) defeated RybAxel (Ryback and Curtis Axel), Big Show and Rey Mysterio, and The Real Americans (Jack Swagger and Antonio Cesaro) in a fatal four-way match to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship.
  • R-Truth defeated Brodus Clay.
  • Kofi Kingston defeated The Miz in a no disqualification match.
  • The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan, and Luke Harper) defeated Daniel Bryan in a 3-on-1 handicap match.
  • Randy Orton defeated John Cena in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships.

2015: Dean Ambrose & The Usos finally showed up, to celebrate Roman Reigns WWE title win after Raw went off the air (Roman’s “family” wasn’t there for him during his WWE title match, but they were there to celebrate with him…when the TV cameras stopped rolling)

2014: We need to talk about The Ascension's debut video from WWE Smackdown (The Ascension’s main roster debut vignette is… something else)

2013: Another side of the AJ Lee-Michelle Beadle confrontation comes out in new report (Multiple reports say AJ Lee and then-NBC Sports personality Michelle Beadle had a verbal confrontation at Tribute to the Troops)

2012: Insane Joey Ryan video promo for ShopTNA commercial (Joey Ryan’s ad is… something else. And probably NSFW, all things considered)

2011: Bret Hart: I'm so sick of all the characters WWE has right now (Wrestling legend/curmudgeon Bret Hart in an interview with Vezzy Parmesan says he hates the direction of the shows and lacks compelling characters)

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