Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D and occasional guests write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Friday, May 17, 2019

New Footage Friday: ANDRE, ANDRE, ANDRE (and Tom Magee)

Andre the Giant vs. Jerry Blackwell AWA 11/2/80

MD: I knew we had this JIP, but we had less of it than I thought. What we basically had before was Andre's last comeback and the finish. It stood out, however. Why? because in those few minutes we had 1980 Andre, far more agile than he would be a few years later but closer to the wide-as-well-as-tall giant physique than what he was a few years earlier, taking that back-body drop which is one of those life-changing wrestling spots you never, ever forget.

Blackwell's amazing. There are people who weren't born until after he died in 1995 that will see this match because of the Network and get some sense of it. That makes me happy. I was barely familiar with him until the DVDVR AWA set. He's this amazing mix of size, preternatural physical speed and prowess, and the wherewithal to balance his the threat of his size with comedic timing. He's both dangerous and hugely giving.

What we missed when we just had the back body drop and the slam was some really good wrestling, including the second most impressive and memorable spot in the match, when Blackwell held on to a top wristlock as Andre threw him over his shoulder. It's the sort of thing you'd see all the time in a Ricky Steamboat match and the familiarity helps give it meaning, but two guys this size working that sort of spot took something relatively simple though always cool, and pushed it way over the top.

After Andre took over (absolutely killing Blackwell with chops and headbutts, constantly forcing him out of the ring), I loved the urgency in which Blackwell would try to attack Andre on his his way back in. It gave everything an air of believable desperation.
As much as lore has it that Andre hated other giants, you have to wonder what he thought about Blackwell, being a guy who could work with him like this, that could bump for him like this. I can't imagine Andre, even 1980 Andre, would do a rope running spot with just anyone, and certainly that he would take that back-body drop for just anyone.

ER: I love stuff like this, a regular match but with a $5,000 bodyslam stipulation added in. You don't win the match by bodyslamming your opponent, but you win 5K which is nice incentive. It also means you don't get an entire match of two gigantic guys stuffing their hands into the other's taint, that's just added as sweet delicious icing. I really loved Roger Kent's commentary during the ring intros. When Blackwell is billed at 485 lb. he goes "Blackwell actually gained weight just for this match!" which is an excellent piece of psychology, knowing that Blackwell wolfed down extra buckets of fried chicken just to make himself harder to body slam. And about Andre he says "You might recognize Andre from his appearances on BJ and the Bear, or as Bigfoot." Like people watching at home somehow only knew of Andre as a furry Steve Austin foe. But this is great. Blackwell is good at working Andre over logically, going after his arm (which would conceivably be one of Andre's weak points) and working in some clever spots around Andre's status as unmovable object. My favorite was Andre getting up off the mat while Blackwell was charging in, unaware that Blackwell was charging in, only to see Blackwell run straight into Andre's butt and go recoiling backwards. It felt like Frank Drebin neutralizing a shooter by unknowingly opening a door into him. Andre's big shots look fantastic. His lean back straight right punch across face in the corner is arguably my favorite punch in wrestling. And I dug the few bodyslam teases, with Blackwell inevitably getting squished from falling under Andre. The finish was really cool as once Andre got the slam the fireworks really picked up, Blackwell knowing he could no longer win 5K so just unleashing a nothing to lose attack on him was great, but Andre turns it on him very quick, tosses Blackwell into the ringpost, and then just launches him over the top rope...for the loss!! Blackwell takes a huge bump to the floor, total avalanche. Love this.

PAS: This was a great battle of the giants I didn't know happened and was totally amped to see. Blackwell is basically shaped like a square, like not a human shape and is amazingly agile for a guy who looks like he should be stuck in a Rascal Scooter. That Andre backdrop was amazing, can't believe he got him up and he landed like that. Blackwell lifting Andre for the slam and getting engulfed was awesome, it looked like a ghost being eaten by Pac-Man. I thought some of the mat stuff was a bit slow, but still this delivered what you wanted it to.

Andre The Giant/Hulk Hogan vs. Bobby Heenan/Nick Bockwinkel/Bobby Duncum/Ken Patera AWA 11/7/82

MD: If you could only pick three matches to express to people exactly what the AWA was in the first half of the 80s, this could be one. You can see so clearly here some of the homesy elements that Hogan took with him to New York and that helped defined the entire era to come. Andre got in on the dance, basically being Dancing Andre during the times they were in charge. The fans were hot for everything they did and they were elated to shout weasel at Heenan. Bockwinkel was absolutely amazing just always being a presence in the match (the other guys were too but he stood out to me; there was one moment where he was on his way out of the ring after getting thumped by Andre where he tried this kick out nowhere to Andre's legs, just always so present in the match). There was double face-in-peril. The comeback was hot but maybe wore out its welcome a bit (not that the fans cared). I liked the structure, where the numbers game finally overwhelmed Andre though Hogan could take on one at a time in the meantime. Then, when Andre got worn down, they could work on Hogan a bit too, all til Heenan got over confident and dared to face Andre. The second FIP was focused on Hogan's previously-injured arm so everything made sense despite the feeling of constant over the top (and like I said, sometimes hokey in that charming AWA way) chaos. The most fun you'll have watching wrestling this week.

PAS: This was four great pinballs being bounced around by two of the greatest paddles in wrestling history. Loved all of the heels running right into Andre and Hogan and getting consistently repelled. When they finally get Andre on his back they swarm like ants on a leftover french fry, only to the have the Hulkster run wild on them. Heenan was a wild bumper as one would expect, and Bockwinkle was great at sneaking in a shot or two. Wholly satisfying wrestling, which sold a ticket to everyone in the arena for future permutations of this feud.

Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd WWF 7/20/84

MD: As best as I can tell, next week will be the one year anniversary of us doing New Footage Fridays. We've done at least three matches every week for a year. There's a ton of new or very rare footage that has been uncovered in the last year that we haven't even gotten to yet. Let me put it this way, just from Japanese handhelds and some older years of Japanese TV alone, we could do this for another year; just with what we have right now.

This is all the writing I've done for the site this year and most of the wrestling I've watched this year, and it's one of the best experiences I've had in a couple of decades of interacting with other people online about wrestling. It's been a great time searching for footage, checking with people to see if it's new, scanning through it to see if it's worth talking about, and then seeing what Phil and Eric have to say about it too. With a lot of the non-network matches, we're not just reviewing but also highlighting so others can watch as well. I can't speak for the other two (though I bet I speak more for Eric than Phil on this one), but I love when we get comments and people tell us what they think about the matches we're dredging up. We don't get enough. Chime in. It's appreciated.

All that said, I'd like to introduce everyone to the hill I am going to die on this week: Big John Studd. Studd is, I think, one of the most wildly underrated wrestlers of all time. He's not a total package like Eric's Berzerker-era Nord. In fact, one element of his game is actually quite flawed and I'll get to that. It's more the case that he's one of the biggest victims in history of workrate primacy and the undervaluing of stalling and stooging that afflicted wrestling writing and thought for much of the last forty years.

Studd more often than not is the world's largest Larry Zbyszko. He's a heat-generating magnet, made all the more so by the fact he's so damn big and so damn powerful. He's a giant. Even facing another giant, there's massive dissonance in the idea that he's going to take five minutes walking around the ring jawing with fans or that he'll do everything he can to avoid a lock-up. That's part of what made it all so brilliant. This isn't base laziness. It's premeditated and effective.

This match is as perfect an example as you'll get. He absolutely takes his time getting in, making at least one full, languid, rotation of the ring, interacting with the fans, taunting Andre, drawing heat. The second he starts to get in, Andre is on top of him. This is a return match (though the return was a few months and other shows in the making) so everything was primed and the fans absolutely love Andre not letting Studd do what he wanted to do. That loops us right into the second half of the Memphis-equation, the stooging. If the stalling is the build, the stooging is the payoff. Studd sells everything happening in the ring as only a guy his size could, with massive limbs flailing and body bouncing all over the place, gigantic recoil. His robe ends up over his head. This never aired. It has no commentary. It was filmed to potentially air (much of this show ended up on TV or on videotapes) and they occasionally cut to members of the crowd looking absolutely delighted. As good as Andre was at being Andre, that's not him. That's all Studd.

When Studd takes a powder out to the floor and is surrounded by the crowd, the two cops come down to stand on either side of him. The visual is striking. Everyone's so much smaller than Studd and here he is, running away, in hostile territory, Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, and he needs these two tiny cops to protect him from all the other tiny people. People are most affected by things when there is a gap between their expectations and reality; that's John Studd in a nutshell and it works.

Where it falls apart, generally, is when he takes over on offense. Some of his stuff, the clubbering, some of the intensity with the choking, is really good, but it almost always settles down into a bearhug or a chinlock and Studd, while so good at giving and giving and giving, at delaying and delivering with his stooging, wasn't great at making his holds compelling when he was on top. Someone like Flair or Bockwinkel absolutely were, and even a guy like Zbyszko could take that first half of his act and pay it forward into the second part. Studd couldn't or wouldn't. That's half of the problem. It's what people remember. It's what stands out because it falls later in the match. Even so, the fans were completely into Andre's comeback (so much of that based on the heat that Studd had drawn previously in the match) and it all finished both definitively and well.

Like I said, the chinlock was half the problem. Only half. The other half is the workrate bit. We spent decades in a dark age where stalling was frowned upon as the opposite of everything wrestling should be. Why care about the acting in a movie when there are special effects to look at, right? They're flashier. They involve less thought and less nuance. People have turned the corner on wrestlers like Lawler and Zbyszko. Studd isn't on that same level. He's only half the act, but I feel like it's time he finally got proper credit for that half, which was truly exceptional. That's the hill I'm standing on. Shoot your arrows accordingly.

ER: I think I was more excited for Matt's review of this match, than I was about the match itself. I think I have had upwards of 5 different conversations with Matt about Big John Studd: Giant Stalling Stooge, and he's been absolutely dying to tell all of you about it at length, and I'm happy we finally got there. The match itself was short and fun, but Studd's stalling really was memorable. Look at his faces as he stalks the ring, watch the fans and his reactions to the fans as he retreats deep into the aisle. I also liked the twist on Andre getting trapped in the ropes, with Studd beating him into place instead of Andre falling and letting gravity trap him. But the real satisfaction comes when Andre unleashes his payback and splats him with his butt, crowd going even more nuts for an Andre comeback because of Studd being such a weenie for so much of the match. I really loved the optical illusion of these two hulking dudes battling in the corner, as it really looked like the ring posts were going to bend and collapse.

Bret Hart vs. Tom Magee WWF 10/7/86

ER: I finally got around to watching the mini doc on this match, and what a fun little piece of history. WWE taking the time to film people talking about this match that only the nerdiest of wrestling nerds would know about really feels closer to Phil writing up every PWFG show or me writing up every Berzerker match than anything else WWE has ever done. Think of the man power they utilized and the quick turnaround time to get all of this filmed. The idea that they would bug Bret in 2019 to ask him to talk about a 4 minute match from over 30 years ago is such a joy. A 30 minute doc on a short match involving a guy who 99% of modern WWE fans have never even heard about who has no involvement in any way with pro wrestling since the 80s is like getting a 30 minute documentary about the cop's brutally bad fake mustache at the end of Sleepaway Camp. But I thought they did a really excellent job at highlighting this kind of lost footnote, thought Waltman had some nice insight, thought DBS Jr.'s Bret impression was tremendous, and was only disappointed that we didn't get any comments from Bret or Magee after we had seen the match. Magee came off down to earth, totally cool with the fact that wrestling wasn't for him, and I loved his note that they shielded him from all of that "next Hogan" talk. The match itself was the same kind of thing we saw Bret do for 35 years. It was very clear that Magee had no offense whatsoever outside of his dropkick (which Bret made look especially great during the spot in the corner where he took two, crashed hard into the mat and rolled to the floor to take off). It was amusing seeing Magee take extra long to pick Hart up off the mat, only to pause and just do an inside cradle or a small package. Hart was patient and polite while looking downright mean. When he puts the boots to Magee he's fully protecting him while looking like he's toeing him right in the eye. He even handles Magee not moving out of the way of a second rope elbow that was clearly supposed to miss, going right back on the attack and planning what the actual finish should be. You could see Magee's specific potential, see his freak athletic gifts, in the way he casually leapfrogs over Bret. I don't think I've ever seen a leapfrog look so effortless. It looked far more like Hong Kong wire fighting than Magee actually using his legs to leap over Bret, and his sunset flip was genuinely great, keeping a really tight roll so that the physics of it make sense. Bret's chest first bump into the corner is probably one of my top 3 favorite bumps in wrestling, always looking like his skeleton should be permanently wrecked each time. We knew this wasn't going to be any kind of classic, but not a single soul cared about that. The fact that we got to see this fun historical footnote while getting a neat story out of it was really special.

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