53 years ago today in Omaha, Nebraska, Verne Gagne defeated Mad Dog Vachon to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship for the seventh time.
33 years ago today, actor Andy Kaufman dies of lung cancer in Los Angeles, California. He was 35.
Best known for his work as Latka Graves on the hit television series Taxi, Kaufman occasionally "wrestled", calling himself the "intergender wrestling champion of the world" and offered $1,000 to any woman that could beat him. Wrestling-wise, he's best known for his long "feud" with Jerry "The King" Lawler. Kaufman would be the subject of a biographical film in 1999, Man on the Moon, which featured Lawler.
30 years ago today in Atlanta, Georgia, The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane) defeated Ronnie Garvin and Barry Windham to win the vacated NWA United States Tag Team Championship.
19 years ago today, ECW presented A Matter of Respect '98 from the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Portions of the event would air on the May 20, May 27, June 3, and June 10 episodes of ECW Hardcore TV (WWE Network links).
- Justin Credible defeated Jerry Lynn 2-1 in a best of three falls match.
- Chris Chetti defeated Jamie Dundee.
- Mikey Whipwreck defeated Mike Lozansky.
- Kronus defeated Danny Doring.
- Super Nova & The Blue Meanie and The FBI (Little Guide & Tracy Smothers) fought to a no contest.
- Axl Rotten & Balls Mahoney defeated The FBI (Little Guido & Tracy Smothers).
- Bam Bam Bigelow defeated Al Snow.
- Chris Candido & Sabu versus Lance Storm & Rob Van Dam ended in a no contest.
- Spike Dudley, The Sandman, and Tommy Dreamer defeated The Dudleys (Big Dick Dudley, Buh Buh Ray Dudley, and D-Von Dudley) in a Stairway to Hell match.
18 years ago today, WWF presented No Mercy (WWE Network link) from the Manchester Evening News Arena in Manchester, England.
The UK-exclusive event would not be released for North American audiences until January 4, 2000, more than six months after the event took place (and about two and a half months after the WWF an American version of the event).
In a side note, both the VHS and the 2010 DVD releases of the event are highly sought after; the VHS for obvious reasons, and the 2010 DVD because there are no edits to the original broadcasts. Not even the WWF logo is blurred out.
- Tiger Ali Singh defeated Gillberg in just 65 seconds.
- The Ministry of Darkness (Viscera, Faarooq and Bradshaw) defeated The Brood (Gangrel, Edge, and Christian).
- Steve Blackman defeated Droz.
- Kane defeated Mideon by disqualification.
- Nicole Bass defeated Tori in just 27 seconds.
- Shane McMahon defeated X-Pac to retain the WWF European Championship.
- Mr. Ass defeated Mankind.
- Steve Austin defeated The Undertaker and Triple H in an anything goes triple threat match to retain the WWF Championship.
18 years ago today, ECW presented Hardcore Heaven (WWE Network link) from the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York.
- Taz defeated Chris Candido via submission in just 70 seconds to retain the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.
- The Dudley Boyz (Buh Buh Ray Dudley & D-Von Dudley) defeat Balls Mahoney & Spike Dudley to retain the ECW Tag Team Championship.
- Super Crazy defeats Taka Michinoku.
- Yoshihiro Tajiri defeats Little Guido.
- Lance Storm defeats Tommy Dreamer.
- Rob Van Dam defeats Jerry Lynn in a no time limit match to retain the ECW World Television Championship.
- Sid defeated Justin Credible via disqualification.
- Taz defeated Buh Buh Ray Dudley via submission in a falls count anywhere match to retain the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.
17 years ago today at a Smackdown taping in Detroit, Michigan (WWE Network link), Gerald Brisco defeated Crash Holly to win the WWF Hardcore Championship.
15 years ago today, Shoichi Arai was found dead in Mizumoto Park in Tokyo, Japan. He hung himself by the neck with a tie. Arai was just 35.
In 1995, Arai took over Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling after buying it from founder Atsushi Onita. Under his tenure, the deathmatch style that made FMW famous was phased out. While it led to safer working conditions, attendance and revenue declined. The decline only sped up when one of his top supporters—and top draw—Hayabusa broke his neck in a match in October 2001.
Interest in the company was almost nonexistent following the injury, and FMW would close for good in February 2002 under mounting debt ($3 million against the company, and another million in personal debt by Arai to Yakuza groups). Arai hung himself so that his ex-wife (his wife left him in the months following FMW's shutdown) would use the insurance money to pay off the Yakuza. It turned out it wasn't nearly enough; the Arai family would still be paying the debt years later.
In 2015, FMW resurfaced under the name Cho Sento Puroresu FMW, with the original FMW founder Atsushi Onita was brought on board. The promotion was hit with a double whammy in 2016; Ray, one of the top joshis of the promotion, was diagnosed with stage three brain cancer in February. The tumor is inoperable. She underwent emergency surgery for hydrocephalus, an accumulation of spinal fluid in the brain, earlier this month.
Just two weeks after the announcement of Ray's cancer, one of the new FMW's founders, Hayabusa, who was the face of the original FMW, died of a brain aneurysm in March 2016 at age 47.
13 years ago today, WWE presented Judgment Day (WWE Network link) from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. 18,722 were in attendance, with 235,000 homes watching on PPV. That's down from 315,000 homes for the 2003 event.
- In a Sunday Night Heat preshow match, Mark Jindrak defeated Funaki.
- Rob Van Dam and Rey Mysterio defeated The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von).
- Torrie Wilson defeated Dawn Marie.
- Mordecai defeated Scotty 2 Hotty.
- Charlie Haas and Rico defeated Hardcore Holly and Billy Gunn to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship.
- Chavo Guerrero defeated Jacqueline to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.
- John Cena defeated René Duprée to retain the WWE United States Championship.
- The Undertaker defeated Booker T.
- John "Bradshaw" Layfield defeated Eddie Guerrero by disqualification in a WWE Championship match. The bout is noted for Guerrero lacerating himself a little too much following a chairshot, making Guerrero literally gush blood from his forehead.
7 years ago today, TNA presented Sacrifice from the Impact Zone at Universal Orlando.
- The Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) defeated Beer Money, Inc. (James Storm and Robert Roode) and Team 3D (Brother Devon and Brother Ray) in a three-way match to become the #1 contenders for the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
- Rob Terry defeated Orlando Jordan to retain the TNA Global Championship.
- Douglas Williams defeated Kazarian to win the TNA X Division Championship.
- Madison Rayne defeated Tara in a title versus career match to retain the TNA Knockouts Championship. With the loss, Tara could never compete in TNA again. In reality, it was a write-off, as Tara was on the fence about re-signing with the company. She eventually would and would return a few months later.
- The Band (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall) defeated Ink Inc. (Jesse Neal and Shannon Moore) to retain the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
- Abyss defeated Desmond Wolfe. With the win, Abyss won the services of Desmond's manager Chelsea for a month. Had Desmond won, he would have received Hulk Hogan's Hall of Fame ring that was given to Abyss.
- Jeff Hardy defeated Mr. Anderson.
- Sting defeated Jeff Jarrett in just 14 seconds. Of course, it helped that Jarrett was beaten down hard by Sting.
- Rob Van Dam defeated A.J. Styles to retain the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
6 years ago today, TNA rebranded their weekly television show as Impact Wrestling, using the tagline "Wrestling Matters Again".
The campaign included purchasing billboard advertising across the country, including a few in Stamford, Connecticut, home of World Wrestling Entertainment.
At the first taping of the rebranding at Universal Orlando, Abyss defeated Kazarian to win the TNA X Division Championship.
5 years ago today, Ring of Honor star Tommaso Ciampa announces via his Twitter that he had been diagnosed with diverticulitis. Ciampa in 140 characters or less:
"Apparently even beasts can be slowed down. Had the flu and a stomach virus last week. Found out today I have diverticulitis. Down 12 pounds. Still plan on murdering some b*tches this weekend. I have a loss to redeem and more to prove than ever before."
The announcement comes just four days after suffering his first pinfall loss in Ring of Honor. Despite the diagnosis, Ciampa continued to wrestle and was at Best of the World: Hostage Crisis the next month.
Plenty of birthdays today, so the profiles will be brief.
It's a happy 43rd birthday for Alexander Wright, or simply Alex Wright.
The German-born Wright was trained by his father and British wrestler Steve Wright. Wrestling for the first time at age 16, Alex joined WCW in 1994 while the company was on tour in Germany.
Nicknamed "Das Wunderkind" (German for "prodigy", literally meaning wonder child), Wright went unbeaten for nearly a year, beating veterans such as Bobby Eaton and Paul Roma (Roma was fired in February 1995 for being too stiff on Wright), and Arn Anderson (albeit not by pinfall or submission).
In his PPV debut at Starrcade 1994, Wright defeated Jean Paul Levesque (who would go on to have somewhat moderate success as Triple H in WWE). In 1995, Wright participated in New Japan's Best of the Super Juniors tournament, finishing in a five-way tie for fourth, missing the playoff by a single win.
Wright toiled mostly in the mid-card, including teaming with and occasionally feuding with Disco Inferno. Following his first heel turn in the summer of 1997, Wright won his first title, defeating Chris Jericho for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. He lost the title just three weeks later back to Jericho, but less than a week later, would win the WCW World Television title from Ultimo Dragon. He held the title for a month before losing to Disco Inferno.
Wright was set to be repackaged as Berlyn in the spring of 1999, but the Columbine school massacre that took place in April of that year put the plans on hold as the company did not want to invoke similarities between the character and the teenagers responsible for the event. Berlyn didn't debuted until late August, but the character was virtually dead on arrival, as fans were non-plused towards the new Alex Wright (who arrogantly refused to speak English, and was accompanied by a bodyguard named The Wall). Compounding matters, Wright faced an uncooperative Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who substituted for Buff Bagwell at Fall Brawl (Bagwell refused to job on PPV; Duggan no-sold Berlyn's offense). Berlyn and The Wall would be split up in November, but the Wall was the one that got the push.
Wright would be off television for most of the next year, returning in September 2000 and reuniting with Disco Inferno (now named Disqo) as The Boogie Knights. Wright would win the tag team titles in November 2000 in his homeland, but with General Rection (Disqo was sidelined with an injury), but would lose them to Chuck Palumbo and Shawn Stasiak of the Natural Born Thrillers.
As Wright was signed to a contract with AOL Time Warner, he was not picked up following the sale of WCW to the WWF in March 2001. In fact, Wright has largely retired from active competition. He took a break from wrestling due to being burned out by backstage politics in WCW. He would wrestle occasionally for German wrestling promotions, and even started one himself, New European Championship Wrestling, in 2009. Wright also has his own wrestling school, "The Wright Stuff" in his hometown of Nuremberg.
It's a happy 56th birthday for Charles Wright. Wrestling under such names as Sir Charles, Kama, and Kama Mustafa, Wright is probably best remembered as The Godfather.
Breaking into the wrestling business while bouncing for a bar while wrestlers filmed Over the Top, Wright landed with Jerry Lawler's United States Wrestling Association in 1989 as The Soultaker. He briefly held the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship in the fall of 1989.
After a tour of New Japan Pro Wrestling and the independent circuit, Wright joined the WWF in 1991 at the suggestion of Mark Calaway, aka the Undertaker. He wrestled as Sir Charles, a play on both his real name and the nickname of NBA player Charles Barkley. The character was hardly used, but his first big break came in early 1992 as voodoo practitioner Papa Shango. Shango carried a skull with him to the ring and could make strange things happen, from controlling arena lights to making opponents come down with pain and make them vomit. Shango was thrust into a featured feud almost immediately... where he also gained infamy. Shango missed his cue to run in during the Wrestlemania VIII main event between Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice; the cue created a unique quirk in WWF history: Sid became the first man to kick out of the Hogan leg drop. Shango and Sid would double team Hogan until the returning Ultimate Warrior made the save.
Sid was set to feud with Ultimate Warrior, but Sid failed a drug test shortly after Wrestlemania VIII and was fired from the company. Shango would get the spot; the feud is commonly cited as among the worst in wrestling history, with plot points including Warrior vomiting and inexplicably bleeding. The feud went nowhere, as Warrior would feud with Randy Savage by the summer. The Shango-Warrior bout never took place, as Warrior was fired by the company. Shango's only notable moments from there were a loss in a WWF Championship match against Bret Hart on the final Saturday Night's Main Event in its original run in 1992, and a quick elimination in the 1993 Royal Rumble match. Shango did defeat Tito Santana in dark matches at Summerslam and at Wrestlemania IX.
In 1993, Wright returned to the USWA as Papa Shango and won the Unified World Heavyweight Championship for a second time. Wright wanted no part of the title, as he felt the belt was only put on him to appease the African-American audience. He dropped the belt to Owen Hart just over a month later, and soon returned to bar tending.
The Papa Shango character is often regarded as among the worst in wrestling history; the gimmick was panned by fans and critics alike. Shango was voted both Worst Gimmick and Most Embarrassing Wrestler in the 1992 Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards. Power Slam magazine write Fin Martin didn't mince words when describing the gimmick in 2013, calling it "a total embarrassment. Fans exhaled loudly each time he appeared on screen. Shango bombed, and deservedly so."
Despite that, it was nearly brought back in the fall of 1994 by the WWF. They toyed with the idea of Shango being behind Bob Backlund's suddenly erratic behavior, but ultimately decided not to run with it. Instead, Wright was brought back as shoot fighter Kama, "The Supreme Fighting Machine". He was a part of Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Corporation; his only notable feud came in the spring and summer of 1995 when Kama melted the Undertaker's urn and made a necklace out of it. After Undertaker defeated Kama at Summerslam, Kama's only other major appearance came in the 1996 Royal Rumble match, where he was eliminated by Diesel after about 16 minutes.
The WWF again thought of reviving the Papa Shango character in 1997 when Wright returned to the company; but instead he returned under his more recent gimmick, Kama Musfafa, as a member of the all-black group The Nation of Domination. They feuded with the all-white Disciples of Apocalypse and all-Latino Los Boricuas in the "gang warfare" storyline that ran throughout the year. Mustafa became known as "The Godfather" of the Nation; the nickname stuck, and Kama Mustafa became The Godfather. He stood with the Nation as part of a mutiny on its leader, Faarooq, following Wrestlemania XIV.
That summer, The Godfather, a known tough guy amongst the locker room, competed in the WWF's shootfighting/boxing tournament, Brawl for All. The Godfather made it to the semifinals before being knocked out by the eventual winner, Bart Gunn (of note, Godfahter upset former UFC and NWA champion Dan Severn in the first round). Around that time, Godfather debuted his "hoes" in a tag team match with Mark Henry against the Legion of Doom.
The persona would be turned up following the Nation's disillusion in the fall; The Godfather, now a storyline pimp, would be accompanied by his "hoes", usually ladies from the local area strip clubs. The hoes would serve multiple purposes, from the usual distraction, to bribes in exchange for forfeiting a match to him. The Godfather, wildly popular with audiences, would experience some success in the ring. In April 1999, The Godfather defeated Goldust for the Intercontinental Championship. He held it until late May when he was defeated by Jeff Jarrett (he was originally booked to lose the title at the Over the Edge event to The Blue Blazer, aka Owen Hart). His biggest win came in March 2000 when he defeated Triple H in a non-title match on Smackdown.
While The Godfather was a hit with audiences, it wasn't so much with critics and whistleblower groups, including the Parents Television Council. Restrictions began to be placed on what Wright could do or say thanks to the controversy, hurting his popularity. He became a tag team specialist, teaming with the likes of Val Venis, Mark Henry, and D-Lo Brown. The Godfather gimmick would be dropped for good at the hands of Right to Censor, a parody of the Parents Television Council. Bull Buchanan defeated the Godfather; per pre-match stipulations, Godfather had to give up pimping and join the group. He became the Goodfather and denounced his past. The duo briefly held the WWF Tag Team Championship before the stable split up just before the Invasion storyline began in 2001.
The Godfather would return in 2002 as the owner of an escort service. But Godfather, escort service owner, never quite caught on the way Godfather the pimp did. He was briefly turned heel following the brand split of 2002, feuding with Val Venis on Smackdown. Wright was suspended in April after a planned attack on Val Venis, he told fans to "stick it". Though he made a notable appearance interrupting the "wedding" of Billy and Chuck in September 2002, Wright never really recovered from "stick it". Wright was released in December 2002.
Though Wright has wrestled occasionally since his release (most notably for the Hulkamania: Let the Battle Begin tour in 2009, Future Stars of Wrestling in 2013, and Preston City Wrestling in 2014), Wright for the most part stayed away from the business for the next decade. He made occasional appearances for WWE (interrupting a Viscera-Lilian Garcia marriage proposal in 2005, interrupting a Teddy Long-Kristal Marshall wedding ceremony in 2007, and appearing in the 2013 Royal Rumble match) since his retirement. He resumed wrestling on the independent circuit in 2013 and is considered semi-retired.
In addition to occasionally wrestling, Wright manages a strip club in Las Vegas. In 2016, Wright as The Godfather was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
It's a happy 78th birthday to Johnny Rodriguez, aka Johnny Rodz.
A member of the WWE Hall of Fame class of 1996, Rodriguez was a mainstay during the WWF's early days and worked for NWA Hollywood in the 1970s.
Rodriguez is best known these days as a trainer, running a wrestling school in Brooklyn for a quarter century. Some of his most famous students include the Dudley Boyz, Matt Striker, Tommy Dreamer, Taz, and Bill Demott. His more recent graduates include Colin Cassidy and Marti Belle.
Today would have been the 89th birthday of Alfred Manuel Martin, but he's best known to baseball and wrestling fans Billy Martin.
Martin played for seven teams in his eleven year career as a player, most of them with the New York Yankees, where he won five World Series championships. After four seasons as a coach for the Minnesota Twins in the mid-1960s, he would begin his managerial career with the Twins in 1969.
He would manage four different teams, but he's best remembered for his five stints with the New York Yankees from 1975 to 1988, including a World Series in 1977. His volatility on and off the field made him mostly a fan favorite, but very hated amongst adversaries. In 1986, Martin's #1 was retired by the Yankees.
Wrestling connection: he was the first baseball celebrity to appear at a Wrestlemania, serving as a guest ring announcer for the show's main event.
Martin was killed in a single vehicle accident when the car he was in slid off an icy road down a 300-foot embankment near his farm in Port Crane, New York on Christmas Day in 1989. He died at a hospital in Johnson City, New York that evening. He was 61. Martin was set to manage the Yankees for a sixth time at the time of his death.
Today would have been the 98th birthday of Wladziu Valentino Liberace, or simply Liberace to his many fans.
Known sometimes as "Mr. Showmanship" for his flamboyant performances and lifestlye, Liberace's five-decade career included numerous concerts, recordings, televisions, motion pictures, and endorsements. He won two Emmys, had six gold albums, and a pair of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And a trio of autobiographies. Despite publicly fighting the perception that he was a homosexual, Liberace at the height of his popularity was the highest paid entertainer in the world.
Wrestling connection: Liberace was the guest timekeeper for the main event of the first Wrestlemania; the night before the event, he guest starred on Saturday Night Live with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
Liberace died of cytomegalovirus, an AIDS-related illness, on February 4, 1987, just three months after his final performance at Radio City Music Hall, and just two months after his final television appearance (it was on the Christmas 1986 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show). Liberace was the second major celebrity death of HIV/AIDS following the media frenzy surrounding the disease, after Rock Hudson in 1985.