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Gimmick Some (Wrestlemania) Lovin': The Blue Bars of Doom

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Justin Hofstetter
If you're squeamish, this one might be a bit more palatable than our last cage match feature.

In each edition of Gimmick Some Lovin', we take a look at one iteration of a gimmick match available on the WWE Network. Some are iconic for their success, others for the extent to which they flopped, and some just... happened.

We defined a "gimmick match" as, in any way, adding a rule/stipulation to or removing a rule from a match, changing the physical environment of a match, changing the conditions which define a "win", or in any way moving past the simple requirement of two men/women/teams whose contest must end via a single pinfall, submission, count out, or disqualification.

It's inevitable that a Wrestlemania retrospective would, at some point, have to focus on the controversial Great Orange One (not that one; we won't be talking about Wrestlemania 23 today).

After main-eventing the event's first offering in 1985 in a tag team match, Hulk Hogan defended the World Wrestling Federation Championship against King Kong Bundy in a steel cage as part of Wrestlemania 2's three-city spectacular.


Night and Day

If you lived in the American south in the mid-1980s, professional wrestling meant blood feuds carried out in dirty, smoky arenas and, occasionally, cages made of chain link fence meant to shred and slash combatants until they were a bloody mess.

For the promotions that formed the National Wrestling Alliance and their fans, a cage match was the ultra-violent blowoff to a larger-than-life feud, with no escape until one man or team met their doom.

North of the Mason-Dixon Line, however, wrestling was defined by bright colors, broad characters, and MTV presentation to accentuate a much less intense in-ring style. Promoter Vince McMahon (who once, reportedly, told new competitor Ted Turner that McMahon wasn't in the "wrasslin' business; [he was] in the entertainment business") looked to offer a family-friendly product which easily lent itself to commercial endorsements, toy lines, merchandising options, and Saturday morning cartoon shows.

Conrad Thompson probably has serious opinions about this one, which you'd probably never see happen in Jim Crockett Promotions.
Conrad Thompson probably has serious opinions about this one, which you'd probably never see happen in Jim Crockett Promotions.

Where pay-per-view spectaculars for the NWA and its affiliates squeezed in as much workrate, blood, and in-ring action as possible, the WWF sought to maximize their mainstream, casual-fan appeal as much as possible (which they would never seem to grow out of).

The cards were filled with shorter matches featuring McMahon's silly creations parading alongside celebrities from all forms of media; Wrestlemania 2's luminaries included Cathy Lee Crosby, Elvira, Lee Marshall, Mr. T, the "Where's the beef?" lady, and a bevy of NFL stars like William "Refrigerator" Perry.

And, somewhere in the middle, The Hardcore Legend Terry Funk during his blink-and-you'll-miss-it 1980s stint in the WWF.
And, somewhere in the middle, The Hardcore Legend Terry Funk during his blink-and-you'll-miss-it 1980s stint in the WWF.

Crockett Did What?

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When we looked at the infamous "I Quit" Match from Starrcade 1985, we noted that the match was part of a two-city spectacular emanating simultaneously from Greensboro, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia; fans watching on closed circuit (since the pay-per-view era wouldn't begin in full until after the match we're focusing on today) were treated to a broadcast alternating between the two cities throughout the evening.

McMahon, seeing an opportunity to one-up the competition, announced that his company's next spectacular would air from three separate cities, in three separate time zones, no less! Each city would have its own card, with its own main event. Unlike Starrcade, however, each city would present an uninterrupted stream of matches and segments before handing the broadcast over to the next town.

Thirty-two years later, fans were still somehow shocked that McMahon sold them tickets to basically watch wrestling on an arena's jumbo screens while the ring sat empty.
Thirty-two years later, fans were still somehow shocked that McMahon sold them tickets to basically watch wrestling on an arena's jumbo screens while the ring sat empty.

The Uniondale, New York, portion of the card would be headlined by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs. Mr. T in a boxing match, Chicago's main event saw The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) capture the WWF Tag Team Championships from The Dream Team (Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Brutus "Not Yet the Barber" Beefcake), and, closing out the show both in Los Angeles and nationwide, was Hulk Hogan defending his WWF Championship against King Kong Bundy in a steel cage match.

The Build

Happier times, long before a much more iconic
Happier times, long before a much more iconic "Hogan vs. A Big Guy" match.

Hogan and Bundy first tussled on television on the November 2, 1985, edition of Saturday Night's Main Event, when Hogan and Andre the Giant would defeat Andre's Wrestlemania I opponent Big John Studd and Bundy via disqualification in a tag team match.

On the March 1, 1986, edition of Main Event, Hogan looked poised to easily dispatch The Magnificent Muraco when Bundy interfered, instigating a two-on-one attack orchestrated by perpetual Hogan foe Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

Around the same time the Four Horsemen broke Dusty's leg in a steel cage, this was a
Around the same time the Four Horsemen broke Dusty's leg in a steel cage, this was a "serious injury" angle for McMahon and company.

Bundy and Muraco laid on the assault, with Bundy repeatedly splashing Hogan and delivering his "Avalanche" finisher in the corner (think Stinger Splash, but done at a third of the speed). Storyline doctors would rule that Bundy had crushed the Hulkster's ribs, and declared that Hogan would not be medically cleared to defend his WWF Championship at the second annual Wrestlemania.

Bundy and Heenan amped up the verbal assault, however, taunting Hogan's medical condition and demanding Bundy receive a title shot until The Immortal decided to throw caution (and medical advice) to the wind and accept the challenge. Hogan, however, stipulated that the match must occur in a steel cage, to ensure that Heenan and Muraco would be unable to affect the outcome of the match.

The Rules

Hogan rallies the Hulkamaniacs from the top of a solid steel cage.
Hogan rallies the Hulkamaniacs from the top of a solid steel cage.

The match is contested under WWF cage match rules, where pinfalls and submissions do not count (yet former Wild Wild West star Robert Conrad serving as a special guest referee is still needed), and the only way for a competitor to win is to escape the cage, either through the door or over the top.

Jesse "The Body" Ventura helpfully points out on commentary that, though cage matches are typically contested inside chain link cages, Bundy's massive girth and scale-breaking 450-plus pounds necessitated the first use of the reinforced blue steel bars, a bit of trivia about the blue bar cage I never knew.

The Match

This image is considered iconic, but the match much less so.
This image is considered iconic, but the match much less so.

There are two ways to think about this match, both equally valid: the modern context and the context in which it was presented (WWF's 1986 Rock 'N Wrestling boom and the meteoric rise of Hulkamania).

First, the modern: this match is dull. Dreadfully dull. Painfully dull. You could count all of the non-strike-based wrestling maneuvers in this match on one hand and still have fingers left over to let Hulk know what you think of his verbiage on that Gawker tape. It's a lot of punchy-kicky-clothesliney nonsense that doesn't have much internal consistency, especially compared to the NWA's traditional "work a body part" psychology.

Pictured: roughly 1/3 of the actual wrestling moves in this entire match.
Pictured: roughly 1/3 of the actual wrestling moves in this entire match.

Hogan enters by climbing over, and immediately takes control with a series of punches, kicks, clotheslines, and shots to the bars (where it's often difficult to tell if Bundy countered or not; the selling is very broad and the hits go very wide). Bundy uses Hogan's injured midsection to take over, and works the ribs for a long time after removing the seemingly-magical ACE Bandage covering the Hulkaribs.

Hogan regains the advantage by sending Bundy into the cage yet again, and the camera lingers on a very-obviously-blading Bundy receiving something from Heenan and working his own forehead. Sure enough, a trickle of blood has started when Bundy gets back up.

Hogan attempts a slam, to no avail, in a series of spots that would be duplicated step-by-step a year later, and Bundy manages to take control with the Avalanche and Big Splash, but Hogan blocks his escape.

Hogan then enters the mystical state of Hulkamania, hulking in a noticeably upward direction (although the exact choreography of "hulking up" was a few years away); he no-sells a series of Bundy attacks, including the allegedy-lethal Avalanche and hard shots to his shattered ribs before finally nailing the bodyslam and hitting the Atomic Leg Drop.

Hogan climbs for the win, but Bundy miraculously recovers long enough to be kicked back down off the top rope; Hogan goes for the top again while Bundy attempts some drama by going for the door, but is a good five feet away from even touching the door when Hogan drops down to the arena floor. As Bundy collapses at ringside, confused by the sight of his own blood, Hogan celebrates by chasing Heenan into the cage so the Hulkster can assault a man roughly one-half to one-third his own size.

Because he's the babyface, you see. This is what good guys do, right?
Because he's the babyface, you see. This is what good guys do, right?

In the modern context, it's sloppy, overly broad nonsense, but that's watching the match in a 2018 where men like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, and even Roman Reigns push workrate into new directions constantly, and each show strives to provide several solid "OMG!" moments, especially in matches such as this one.

Think about watching this one in 1986, though (although, if this writer were to watch this match in 1986, his eleven month-old mind would just be happy to see so many bright and shiny colors). Listen to the crowd respond to Hogan, and understand how this match is a perfect example of the WWF's style in 1986.

The crowd is absolutely LIT here; think Austin glass breaking pop multiplied by People's Elbow cheers.
The crowd is absolutely LIT here; think Austin glass breaking pop multiplied by People's Elbow cheers.

Hogan requires an entourage of security guards just to make it to the ring, and the Los Angeles crowd absolutely explodes when he does. They're totally abuzz during Hulk's opening offensive flurry, and Bundy's crimson mask sends them into a frenzy, topped only by the post-match beating delivered to The Brain. Paying attention to that crowd, rather than the abysmal commentary (more on that later), this match becomes something special, a perfect picture of what worked for WWF crowds at the dawn of the pay-per-view era.

My Rating

There's no context where I would ever defend this as a good wrestling match; both in the modern context and compared to cage matches of its day (like the Magnum T.A.-Tully Blanchard classic previously covered here), it's a stinker.

There's so little actual wrestling, and most of its runtime is given over to Wrestlemania pageantry instead of the match itself; the segment lasts a little over 20 minutes, but bell-to-bell, this one goes only ten minutes and fifteen seconds.

The commentary is a mishmash of unintelligible (Ventura), too serious ("Lord" Alfred Hayes), and far beyond the realm of any comprehensibility (Elvira).

In fact, Elvira shows herself to be a combination of a female Jerry "The King" Lawler (ogling and objectifying the scantily-clad performers before her) and Art Donovan, the Baltimore Colts legend who famously (or infamously) stumbled his way through King of the Ring 1994 with no idea how the event actually worked. Elvira drifts between misinformed, disinterested, and blandly titillated, detracting from the performance every time she speaks.

She actually celebrates this moment as
She actually celebrates this moment as "more clothes coming off".

That's not the point of this match, though. This isn't wrestling, and Vince McMahon, like he told Ted Turner, is not in the wrestling business. This is Wrestlemania, which, then, now, and forever, is about the spectacle and celebrity, and there this match excels.

It absolutely cannot be overstated how over Hogan is here; whether Bundy seemed in 1986 to just be another "Monster of the Week" like he does 32 later I can't say, but Hogan was obviously charisma incarnate.

His every move is met with raucous cheers, and he gains so much goodwill with so little effort that it's obvious why Hogan's workrate could never match his Southern counterparts: he could get the same wild reaction from a few punches and headshakes that Magnum T.A. would literally need to attempt murder to gain.

Being disappointed in this match is your fault for expecting anything more out of Hogan and Bundy in the 80s; they presented their style of match, and the LA crowd ate it up.
Being disappointed in this match is your fault for expecting anything more out of Hogan and Bundy in the 80s; they presented their style of match, and the LA crowd ate it up.

Nobody, not even Reigns, could pull off such softball booking today; this is 100 percent a mid-1980s artifact. Just like Rocky IV pulls off a dramatic and emotional ending with a mixture of easy stereotypes and foregone conclusion plot points, this match grabs its intended audience with the standard "Hogan can probably do it, but what if he can't?" booking, and holds them tight through the finish.

Sting vs. Triple H failed where a glorified legends segment tried to pull off a legitimate match, but Hogan vs. Bundy finds some success in telling the emotional, archetypical Hogan story on Wrestling's grandest stage.

This one slightly edges out our previous Wrestlemania entry on those grounds, and I'll go 5/10; it's not good by any means, but it's a great slice of 1986 WWF for anyone's time capsule.

It is possible for Dave to absolutely adore a bloodless, blue bars cage match, but that does not happen here.
It is possible for Dave to absolutely adore a bloodless, blue bars cage match, but that does not happen here.

Meltzer says:

Meltzer gives this one a star and a quarter; if you're expecting a match with such low workrate to get any higher from the Observer, you're as insane as Ventura seemed on the headset.

Edited by Anirudh

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