Welcome to the first-ever edition of Ripper’s Retro Review, where we look at past supercards on PPV and television and analyze the good, the bad and everything in-between. In this trip back to the past, we look at the final event of Herb Abrams’ UWF: Blackjack Brawl. Before that, let’s get you up to speed on this incarnation of the Universal Wrestling Federation.
In 1990, promoter Herb Abrams launched his version of the Universal Wrestling Federation and trademarked the brand name in June the following year since Bill Watts, who rebranded his Mid-South Wrestling company as UWF in the mid-to-late ‘80s, never trademarked it before he sold it to Jim Crockett Promotions in 1987. Unlike Watts’ UWF, which put emphasis on building newer stars and pitting existing main-event talent against each other on weekly programming, Herb’s version focused more on over-the-hill stars from the WWF and the NWA who mostly fought enhancement talent or each other, the latter often resulting in a non-decisive finish. The general quality of the matches were below par with poor booking, inept jobbers and past-their-prime stars all contributing factors. Not helping matters was the fact their attendance figures for live events were abysmal. With the exception of one or two live events, the majority of UWF’s shows seldom reached 1,000 fans. The attendance for the company’s lone PPV, Beach Brawl, only garnered 550 fans. Between low attendance, an even lower buyrate of 0.10 and critical reception of the show being less than stellar, UWF’s only contribution to the pay-per-view market was an out-and-out failure.
Herb himself was the head booker of the company from its formation in 1990 to 1992 until experimental rock musician Zoogz Rift took over from 1993 until quitting in March 1994. To his credit, Rift was able to secure home video deals for the UWF in ’93 and when he rejoined in ’95, he helped net new TV deals with SportsChannel America and Prime Network. However, the company never ran a show after 1994 again and would be gone in 1996. We’ll get into what ended the company in the end of the review, but for now, let’s dive right into Blackjack Brawl.
September 23, 1994. The venue for the event was the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, best remembered as the site of the trainwreck that was WCW Halloween Havoc 1998. Hopefully, the show will not be as woeful as Hogan-Warrior II. Hopefully.
There were 644 fans in attendance with 444 in comps. So if the show ran with only those that paid for a ticket, the attendance would have been barely one percent of the arena’s 22,000-seat capacity. With comps, the attendance was barely three percent of the arena’s 22,000-seat capacity. With lighting, materials for setting up the ring, having video and audio, microphones, entrance themes, acquiring talent and other production expenses also taken into account, they were bleeding money before the broadcast. Yikes.
Commentary for this milestone event are “The Golden Greek” John Tolos and Carlo Gianelli.
Our special guest ring announcer is Steve Rossi of the famous comedy pairing Allen & Rossi with Marty Allen back in the late ‘50s and most of the ‘60s.
Match #1: Dan Spivey vs Johnny Ace for the UWF Americas Championship
We kick off with a cold open with Rossi welcoming us to Blackjack Brawl, only the audio for the start of the broadcast was low and you could hear voices, presumably from the production booth. When the audio kicks fully back on, Rossi does an obligatory name-drop of Herb Abrams and Herb’s nicknames, “Mr. Electricity” and “Yellowbird.” Remember when Howard Finkel name-dropped Vinnie Mac at the start of WrestleMania I? Yeah, neither do I.
Our inaugural contest is to determine the first-ever Americas Champion or as Rossi stated, “the American Champion.” Not helping out was the pre-match graphic that said “America’s Champion.” Spivey and Ace haven’t even entered the ring and we already have three different names for the same title. This is going to hurt.
Dan Spivey’s out first in a leather vest, leather chaps and dark blue trunks as generic ‘80s rock music plays. Next is People Power himself, Johnny Ace sans stupid Dynamic Dudes gimmick, avec manager Missy Hyatt with Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” as his entrance theme.
Spivey starts by shoving Ace away and Ace responds with a quick roll-up that got a one-count. It shouldn’t have counted though as Spivey’s head was underneath the bottom rope. Strikes from Spivey in the corner as commentary mention his past relationship with Sid Vicious, who is in the main event against “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. The future Waylon Mercy Irish-whipped Laurinaitis into the opposite corner, only to eat a back elbow. Ace gets the timing of his reverse crossbody wrong as he hangs off of the ropes and waits for Spivey to turn around so he could awkwardly connect with the move for a near-fall. Dropkick sends Spivey to the outside, who then stalls to draw some heat. Gianelli remarks that Missy Hyatt in her tight black and white dress looks like the bumper of his car before Tolos feebly tries to save it by remarking she looks beautiful. Spivey and Ace stall some more and circle each other before locking back up as Herb makes it to ringside. In a WCW-esque spot, Ace gets thrown out of the ring, waits for Spivey to come out after him, rolls into the ring first and then waits for Spivey so he can put the boots to him. Flying spinning back elbow smash gets a one before Spivey grabs the bottom rope to stop the pin. Johnny cinches in a headlock before Spivey regains a vertical base and drops him with a belly-to-back suplex. Sloppy looking elbow attempt by Spivey misses. Not to worry. Spivey immediately regains control with punches, eye-raking, a few forearms to the back. Spivey hits a backbreaker for a two and jaw-jacks with Blackjack Mulligan or at least we hope so since the commentators say that it was Mulligan. Much like with Herb, Mulligan was mentioned by commentary, but there were no camera shots to the outside confirming this. Probably to keep from showing either man in front of a sea of empty seats, but it still looks awkward on TV. Side Russian legsweep gets another two for Spivey. Nice corner spot where Spivey charges in, but misses and takes a belly-to-back suplex for his troubles. Messy-looking diving clothesline by Ace gets a near-fall. Ace hits a belly-to-belly suplex, but Spivey denies him on the vertical suplex attempt and lands with a nice DDT. Awful, badly-applied abdominal stretch by Spivey which Ace escapes via a rope break. The camera focuses in Missy Hyatt and a towel she has at ringside, telegraphing the finish in the process. Why else would she have a towel with her at ringside? Because the apron’s grimy? The camera shot cuts back in on what looked like a side slam, but it cut back in far too late, so no idea on what the actual move was, but it got a near-fall for Spivey. Another abdominal stretch by Spivey, which was mercifully better than the first one, but still awkwardly-applied, ends with another rope break. Scoop slam and leg drop on Ace a la Hulk Hogan. Rather interesting considered Spivey drew negative comparisons to the Hulkster when he was “Golden Boy” Danny Spivey in the WWF in the mid-‘80s, complete with flowing blonde hair and yellow trunks. After the near-fall off the leg drop, the camera cuts back to Missy wadding up the towel in her hand as the commentators say neither man have waved the white flag yet in one of the most telegraphed spots ever in wrestling. Spivey returns to the abdominal stretch well with one even worse than the first one. Having completed the trifecta of bad abdominal stretches, Spivey hangs on as Missy throws in the towel, costing Ace the match and giving Spivey the UWF Americas Championship at 7:20.
Apart from a handful of decent spots, the match was rather dull and had a choppy flow, notably with Ace’s badly-timed reverse crossbody, the awkward posturing of Spivey to Herb and Blackjack Mulligan at ringside despite never seeing them on camera during the match, the trio of messy abdominal stretches and the numerous camera shots of Missy holding the towel that gave away the finish. There was little heat for the betrayal, mostly because the Missy/Johnny pairing had very little history, even in the UWF. If the two were in the company together for a lengthy period and then the betrayal happened, it would have been far more effective than what happened here.
Spivey drags in a lime-green jacket-wearing Herb Abrams and walks away with the UWF Americas Championship, which was a rejiggered WWF Winged Eagle belt. Herb then yells on the mic, calling Spivey a chicken and saying he did not deserve to win the title. If Herb is the owner of the UWF, why doesn’t he fire Spivey or strip him of the title because of the messy finish? The already-disjointed segment ends with Herb not wanting Spivey announced as the winner, Ace yelling at Spivey on the house mic in his famous hoarse voice and Rossi telling the fans to give it up for Ace to a tepid reaction. Tepid, by the way, being really generous. It came across like they were shooting an angle for a return match. Of course, that never takes place, so…. Yeah.
Match #2: “Wildman” Jack Armstrong vs Mando Guerrero for the UWF Junior Heavyweight Championship
Much like the first match, this is to determine the first-ever UWF Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Out first is Mando Guerrero. Oh, sorry. Mondo Guerreo, as stated by the pre-match graphic. Mando comes out with a pair of bandoliers to Weird Al’s “Taco Grande” in one of the most politically incorrect entrances in wrestling history. Right up there with The Mexicools in WWE riding to the ring on a lawnmower and TNA’s Sheik Abdul Bashir’s theme starting with a plane crash.
After some tall man looking like the guy from the Six Flags adverts walks out of the entrance archway, “Wildman” Jack Armstrong comes out in blinding red trunks and elbow pads, looking like a poor man’s Randy Savage. The very notion this guy is eligible for a Junior Heavyweight title is absolute nonsense when you see how huge and jacked he is. Gianelli mispronounces Mando’s last name. Come on. Even Rossi said it right and that was what? Two minutes prior? Both men run the ropes next to each other in haphazard fashion until the legit Hollywood stuntman dropkicks Armstrong. Biel throw by Mando as Wildman scrambles to the outside. The commentary put over how Armstrong ran several marathons in the past. It’s great that he’s physically active, but what does that have to do with wrestling? It seems like they are fishing for things to say to make Armstrong sound credible. Test of strength spot is countered by Mando as he goes behind Armstrong in similar fashion to a backslide and pulling him overhead down to the mat, maintains the hold and transitions into a twisting headscissors takedown. Somewhat slow spot, but it looked pretty cool. Mando works the arm for a bit before being sent to the floor where the tall Six Flags-looking dude from earlier tries to attack Mando, only to get clocked. Armstrong rams Mando into the steel barricades and slams him on the arena floor. Mando immediately no-sells the spot and breaks out an Asai moonsault. Eddie’s brother rolls back into the ring as the camera gets a shot of Armstrong as the top of his head is bloody, no doubt from the Asai moonsault spot. Mando continues to outclass Armstrong. After a running from the corner spot, Armstrong briefly paused before Mando transitioned into a spinebuster. Gianelli wonders if Julio Cesar Chavez is in the crowd cheering for his fellow countryman. Highly doubtful. Mando goes for a diving moonsault off of the top, but misses. Armstrong delivers a pair of unimpressive elbow drops on Mando and gets the three-count and the UWF Junior Heavyweight Championship at 4:36.
Armstrong looked well out of his league mixing it up with a member of one of wrestling’s greatest families. Along with having a heavy with him, being outclassed for the majority of the match and winning only after a missed moonsault by Mando, the Wildman looked like a cowardly and inept heel. The match read like a 2007 or 2012 John Cena match: have the opponent outclass the winner for 95 percent of the match until a finisher out of nowhere for the win. Not helping is that the match was mostly slow-paced and did not have as high a work-rate like junior heavyweight matches that featured guys like Taka Michinoku and The Great Sasuke. As frustrating as the booking was that an obviously inferior wrestler went over, Mando’s spots for the most part were a treat to watch.
Herb enters the ring and buries Armstrong, saying he is not happy that he won the Junior Heavyweight Championship, but he is happy Armstrong cut the top of the head. Armstrong cuts a wild-eyed promo that the mic barely picks up before Herb turns it back to the commentary team to end this segment.
Match #3: Sunny Beach vs Dr. Feelgood
Although this incarnation of UWF mostly relied on established stars from the NWA and the WWF, they had their fair share of homegrown talent, none more prominent than the tag team Wet ‘N’ Wild. Comprised of Sunny Beach and “Wild Thing” Steve Ray, the team was over with a chunk of the UWF fanbase despite oozing banality.
Beach is out first. With his tall frame, yellow and purple attire and awesome mustache, Beach looks like a mix of Kona Crush and John Ratzenberger from “Cheers.” After his ‘50s-era entrance theme ends, Dr. Feelgood comes out billed from No Mercy Hospital with Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Loving You” as his entrance theme. In both men’s entrances, the music cut in and out at random. That’s not all, though, as Feelgood (WWF jobber Al Burke) is accompanied to the ring by Missy Hyatt.
Missy Hyatt’s heel turn happened roughly ten minutes earlier, yet she was able to find a new heel wrestler to manage. Also, of all the heels she could have managed, she chose Dr. Feelgood, someone who looks and sounds about as menacing as a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers. It feels like a lazy slapdash pairing that only succeeds in insulting fans’ intelligence.
Kick off with a hammerlock spot transitioned into a roll-up by Beach. Over-the-shoulder armbar takedown by Beach as both men proceed to trade arm-wringers with each other. The commentators try to put over how beautiful the venue for Blackjack Brawl is. I wouldn’t know since the arena is dimly-lit for the show. Arm-drags by Beach and a near-fall. Clunky-looking back body drop by Beach. After a resthold, either a headlock or chinlock, by Beach, Feelgood escapes and rakes Beach’s back. Classic heel wrestler spot. Feelgood drapes Beach over the second rope and gets admonished by the referee as Missy clocks Sunny in the face with one of her shoes. Feelgood takes control with multiple strikes and eye rakes in the corner until Beach counters with a backslide. It took him some time to get Feelgood on the canvas and when he did, his shoulders were not flat on the canvas and he only got a one-count. It did not look botched, but it was not smooth. Double wrist-lock transitioned into an overhead belly-to-belly by Beach gets a near-fall. Gutwrench suplex gets the same result. Feelgood regains control by going back to strikes, nearly putting Beach away with a throat thrust. After a backbreaker and a DDT incapacitated Beach, Feelgood went to the outside for his medical bag. He spends some time opening the bag to reveal a bottle with what looked like black ink that he poured on a rag. First off, where was the referee in all of this? Was he distracted by Missy? We never get to see because the camera crew does not bother to get a shot of him being distracted by Missy. For all we know, he could be looking at Feelgood setting up the rag or not, but based on what happened, either he comes across as incompetent or the camera crew does. Second, if he was looking, why wasn’t Feelgood counted out? It took him much longer than the standard ten-count for him to fiddle around with the contents of his medical bag. Third, if he is going to use a weapon, why not the bag itself or brass knuckles or anything that does not require a set-up so long that you run the risk of having it blow up in your face? In this case, that’s what happens. Feelgood spent so much time setting up that rag, which was supposed to be ether in kayfabe even though it was black ink, that Beach counters by shoving the rag right in his face and falling on top of him so the referee does not see the rag. Beach gets the win at 5:26, but his victory is short-lived as Missy slaps him. A few fans cheer when Beach teases he will strike her and give Missy her comeuppance, but Feelgood jumps behind him and incapacitates Beach with the same rag. This time, Beach is down as the show reaches an ad break. So smothering Feelgood with a ether-soaked rag is enough for a three-count, but using the same rag on Beach is enough to keep him down until the show goes to commercials?
Without a doubt, the biggest problem with the match was the booking. There was no good kayfabe reason for Missy to be in Dr. Feelgood’s corner, the use of an ether-soaked rag by the babyface Sunny Beach felt wrong even though it was a case of tit-for-tat and the periods of selling the rag between Feelgood and Beach were so far apart that it was intelligence-insulting. The match itself felt like a dull squash match you would see on syndicated wrestling shows. Despite Missy’s interference and the ridiculous post-match antics, Feelgood never looked like a threat to Beach because his offense was generally weak. Beach was the better wrestler of the two, but that’s not saying much. His offense was passable at times, but there were instances where he was really sloppy. In the end, the best thing about this match was Sunny Beach still had his John Ratzenberger mustache.
After the smothering spot, Herb Abrams and Blackjack Mulligan enter the ring to chastise the heels. Uh, there’s a man out flat on the canvas due to an ether-soaked rag. Shouldn’t you be tending to him rather than burying the heels? Again?
Match #4: “Cowboy” Bob Orton vs Finland Hellraiser Thor for the UWF Southern States Championship
On a night where several championships were added for the sake of “Hey, there’s going to be some title changes,” the next match is for one of the few championships that the UWF had that actually has a prior history. After his brief stints in the WWF and NWA in 1989 and 1990 ended, Orton hopped around the indie circuit before joining the UWF in time for Beach Brawl in 1991. The following year, Orton was awarded the UWF Southern States Championship with the storyline excuse being he beat Ron Garvin to become the inaugural champion. Orton would drop the belt to “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff three days later in a match considered to be the best in the history of Herb Abrams’ UWF, becoming one of the few veteran big-name wrestlers in the company to job clean. Orndorff held the title until he left for WCW by the end of the year and the title remained vacant until Blackjack Brawl when Orton was awarded the title. Why? Because reasons.
After getting the pre-match graphics, Gianelli tells Tolos that the audience at home and live that we have seen some great matches at Blackjack Brawl. Now that is a bold-faced lie.
Rock music plays as Finland Hellraiser Thor comes out. You might know Thor as WWF New Generation-era baddie Ludvig Borga, an environmentalist from Finland who ran through jobbers, ended Tatanka’s lengthy undefeated streak with one finger and main-evented the 1993 Survivor Series before an ankle injury ended his WWF run in January 1994 before he could face Earthquake at WrestleMania X. He was trained by AWA promoter and wrestling legend Verne Gagne in 1989, but would not debut until 1990 when he wrestled in the UWF under a generic Viking gimmick. Eight months after his WWF run, Borga is back in the UWF this time as Finland Hellraiser Thor. Despite this, his singlet remains very similar to what he wore as Borga in the WWF. In addition to wrestling, he would become a mixed martial artist in the mid-to-late ‘90s. He was unsuccessful as he racked up a record of 0-4 with his last loss being a submission via rear-naked choke against a debuting Randy Couture. Hey, to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.
Next out is “Cowboy” Bob Orton in his dusty brown fringe jacket and hat. He comes out to the theme from “Bonanza.” For an organization completely in bedlam, the UWF seem to have the royalties to non-public domain songs sorted out. Either that or they don’t and are lucky they are so relatively unknown that they can get away with it.
The commentary team talks about how Steve Rossi was very funny. I can imagine he was funny, just not on this show.
The match starts with a jab by Thor and a collar-and-elbow tie-up with Thor asserting his physical dominance. Immediately after that, Thor botches a collar-and-elbow tie-up before Orton transitions into a waist-lock that Thor easily escapes. After a “try and knock me down” shoulder tackle spot with Orton failing to knock Thor down, the two circle each other before another lock-up. Thor knees Orton in the stomach a few times and whips him across the ring, but misses a charge on him. Awkward moment as it appears Orton was possibly going to charge towards Thor, but Thor was too far out of position. Thor regains control by working Orton over in the corner with a series of punches. Tolos calls one of Thor’s shots to Orton’s ribs a kidney punch. Thank goodness I did not have him as my science teacher. Sidewalk slam as Thor nearly puts Orton away. Thor works over Orton at a glacial pace as the commentary team tries to amuse themselves with a discussion about Thor’s tattoos that transitions into Vikings, then Christopher Columbus, then Herb Abrams. Of course. After a keylock spot, Orton fires back with a series of punches and a dropkick. Orton tries to piledrive Thor, but gets back-dropped to the outside where he throws water in Thor’s face, drags him to the outside, whacks him in the back with the Southern States Championship belt and brawls with him some more until the referee calls for the double disqualification at 6:12. I get Orton being disqualified for the belt shot, but what did Thor do other than punch Orton that merited a disqualification?
There was so much potential with a David/Goliath dynamic and the wild brawling we saw sprinkled throughout, but the concepts were never balanced properly in the match. What we ended up getting was a mediocre match with flashes of interest that never really went anywhere. The match ground to a crawl whenever Thor was on the offense and by the time Orton was stringing together offense to perk up the crowd, the match was already over.
Post-match, the two continue to pummel each other and Thor is handed a chair by Herb Abrams. Wait, after spending so much time burying your heels, you actually hand one of them a chair and run the risk of getting hit with it. What an idiot. Orton counters and proceeds to clean Thor’s clock with punch after punch as we see that Orton has a cut under his right eye. Thor scurries away, shoving Abrams down on his way out.
Blackjack Mulligan interviews Orton in the ring, but much like the Herb/Armstrong exchange from earlier, the mic barely picks up anything they are saying as the post-match segment, which was more interesting than the actual match, comes to a close.
Match #5: Little Tokyo vs The Karate Kid for the UWF World Midget Championship
Third title match of the evening where the title up for grabs was created just for Blackjack Brawl.
Little Tokyo comes out looking older than he was when he worked at WrestleMania III and The Karate Kid is out next dressed like a stereotypical karate student with a Mike Awesome-esque mullet.
After Karate Kid shows off his flexibility with a series of spinning kicks, Tolos says “Why do they call him The Karate Kid? Because he’s into karate.” I thought it was because the UWF were not afraid of John G. Avildsen’s attorneys. Tokyo gains control with a side headlock transitioned into a takedown. Karate Kid tried to roll up Tokyo, but Tokyo maintains the headlock until he is shoved into the ropes, knocks Kid down with a shoulder tackle, Kid drops down following Tokyo running the ropes and then gets hip-tossed by the Kid, who then follows up with a Finlay senton. The two circle each other as Kid takes control with an overhead keylock and drags down Tokyo before releasing the hold. Tons of grating commentary as Tolos makes fun of Gianelli’s size and then Gianelli tries to say he is much tougher than Tolos despite being smaller. Both come across as obnoxious, especially Gianelli. As this goes on, there’s a comedic criss-cross spot where both men run the ropes, Karate Kid hides behind the referee and watches Little Tokyo keep running until he gets exhausted. The hilarity ends when Tolos drops a slur in reference to Little Tokyo. That sort of stuff was not OK in the ‘90s and in 2015, dropping slurs would go over like a lead balloon. Not well. The two trade arm-wringers with Karate Kid kicking Tokyo in the gut and backside while maintaining the hold until turning him over and hitting a leg drop on Tokyo’s weakened left arm. Test of strength spot where Tokyo kicks Karate Kid to remain on top, but is flipped overhead by his hands in a lucha-esque spot and has his hands in Kid’s as Kid tries to shove both arms down for the count. Kid tries twice, but fails twice. Tokyo takes control and tries to pin him, but the referee is painfully slow with his counts. There’s no good reason why since he did the same spots with Karate Kid and counted regularly for him. The commentary do not pick up on the slow counts and when Tokyo makes fun of the referee by pantomiming the slow counts while picking his nose. Scoop powerslam gets a near-fall for Karate Kid. After a shot to the throat and an eye poke, Tokyo slaps on a full nelson, but Karate Kid counters with one of his own. Tokyo drops down, but Karate Kid grabs his legs and flips him to where he’s standing back up, traps him in another full nelson and waits until Tokyo drapes his legs over the top rope so he could drop him upon the rope break. Pair of hurricanranas by Karate Kid, but Tokyo sidesteps a dropkick. Irish-whip reversal spot sends Tokyo into the corner, but Karate Kid runs right into a double throat thrust. Little Tokyo makes the cover and gets the three-count, the win and the title at 7:33.
Easily the best match so far and a contender for match of the night. Despite the commentary being horrid, the actual meat of the match was entertaining. Fun bursts of comedy throughout with some solid mat wrestling, crisp sequences and more athleticism than most of the previous matches. My one nitpick would be there was not a well-defined face/heel dynamic. It seemed like Karate Kid was the face, but he kept bragging about his intelligence and he even gave a fan the bras d’honneur, which is an arm gesture on par with the middle finger as far as obscenity goes. Still a fun match though.
Herb Abrams, looking disheveled, enters the ring because it is apparently mandatory that he be in every post-match segment. He gets on the mic and says this is a first for wrestling that there is a dwarf wrestler who won a world title in their division. Pretty sure the NWA beat you to it by about 45 years. Herb uncomfortably talks about sake, then says “kanpai,” which is “cheers” in Japanese. Tokyo looks perplexed that Herb would know that word. He asks Herb how he knew the word and Herb says it was because he was married to a Japanese woman once. Painful and awkward. Blackjack Mulligan tries to salvage the interview by congratulating Tokyo on his win. Yeah, it is apparent in this segment that Herb was off his tree. I fear it won’t get any better with him as the program goes on.
Match #6: Samson vs. The Irish Assassin
The pre-match graphic bills this as a revenge match, but the two never had a match together or onscreen interaction prior to Blackjack Brawl, rendering the “revenge match” billing about as meaningful as Macho Man/Avalanche’s no-disqualification match at Uncensored 1995 than ended via disqualification. Much like “Wildman” Jack Armstrong and Sunny Beach earlier in the show, Samson and The Irish Assassin are two homegrown competitors with very little experience, if any, outside of the UWF.
The Irish Assassin is out first looking like a member of the IRA with a streak of war paint and a beret on with stock bagpipe music playing. Upon further inspection, he looked jacked, but rather than being ripped and bulging with muscles, he looked rather swollen with his most prominent feature being his ‘roid gut.
Samson is out next. Rossi says that he’s filling in for Hercules. Either he was too busy competing in the points system-oriented AWF or watchful for his career or both. Probably both. Another ‘roid monster like Assassin, Samson comes out to Vince DiCola’s “War” from Rocky IV.
We start with collar-and-elbow tie-ups as Tolos says the fans are going crazy for this. They haven’t even rustled yet, so that’s another outright lie from the commentary team. Another collar-and-elbow tie-up that goes nowhere. Another one ends with Samson on the ropes barely taking a knee to the gut by Assassin. Assassin gets muddled, missing Samson’s hand when going for an Irish whip, but grabs it a second time. How does a wrestler screw up something as fundamental as an Irish whip, especially someone who is billed from Ireland? Samson runs the ropes, ducks underneath a clothesline and collides with Assassin, but neither man goes down. What little momentum off of that spot gets cut off with the two circling each other and going back to the collar-and-elbow tie-up. Luckily, Assassin counters with a knee to the gut and one awful forearm club to the shoulder. Irish whip by Assassin and he awkwardly pauses as he waits for Samson to be in position. He then runs and does an awkward jumping clothesline spot that has very little weight and force behind it. As this was going on, Gianelli tells us to keep a lookout for Blackjack Brawls II and III. He says throughout the night that Blackjack Brawl I is going to part of a trio of Blackjack Brawl supercards coming soon. Sorry, Carlo, but spoilers: they never came. Samson sells the weak clothesline like somebody shot him and takes an awful powerslam. Assassin lifted him in a scoop slam position, but Samson posted his legs too far high to where Assassin arched down and gravity did the rest of the work. Assassin picks him up again and does a falling powerslam. It looked like he picked him and was unable to rotate Samson to give him a proper scoop slam. He missed wildly with an elbow drop and Samson gains control. Awkward pause before an Irish whip followed by a clothesline. Samson works over Assassin with clotheslines and forearm clubs as the commentary team with Steve Rossi brag about the UWF being a real wrestling league and make snide remarks at each other with commenting on what is happening in the ring. After a scoop slam, Samson hits a vertical suplex for one of the worst bridging suplex pins ever to get the three-count and the win at 4:13.
And we go from the best match of the night to one of the worst. It was transparent to everyone not named Herb Abrams that the two men involved were green as gourds. No psychology, no real story, laughable selling, poor timing. It’s not a good sign when the commentators were so bored they just spent half of the match throwing barbs at each other, inviting the ring announcer to help brag about the UWF and throw more barbs without acknowledging what is going on in the ring. The crowd was dead for this and only rustled after the match was over. The match was short, but it felt longer because of the two guys plodding around. This needed better booking to hide their imperfections, but with no remarkable spots and no match structure, they plodded around aimlessly until they did their go-home spot. If this was designed to get at least one of these guys over, then whoever booked this failed that objective miserably. No big-name promoter would ever hire either of these guys on the back of their dire performance. This ranks right up there with the Hogan-Warrior match with one of the worst matches to ever darken the doors of the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Like the afterthought he is, Samson celebrates for a few seconds before they immediately go to commercial. Thankfully, no Herb Abrams this time.
Match #7: Tyler Mane vs “Wild Thing” Steve Ray for the UWF MGM Grand Championship
For the fourth time in the night, a title that was created purely for the Blackjack Brawl event is up for grabs. At least the other titles sound like legitimate titles. This one sounds like UWF shamelessly pandering to the crowd and the venue that is hosting the show. For this to be a remotely legitimate title, this would have to be defended exclusively at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Even if the company did not cease operations in ’96, it is highly doubtful that the MGM Grand would ever allow them back for another show again on the back of a staggeringly bad attendance of approximately 600 fans.
Before I continue, it’s amazing that we are seven matches in and we haven’t delved into how well Steve Rossi did as ring announcer. Yeah, he was terrible. He fumbled over names throughout, but the worst offense was repeatedly asking the fans to cheer for both participants. If the participants are over or not, let them get a reaction organically. Don’t shove them down the fans’ throats, especially since the matches featuring big-name talent so far had underwhelmed. The worst example so far was when after the Orton/Thor match, Thor shoved Herb down to the floor and ran away. As this happened, Rossi got on the mic and constantly kept asking the fans to cheer for Orton and Thor. Thor just knocked down the guy who paid you to do this ring announcing gig and you are wanting the fans to cheer him? Ridiculous.
First out is “Wild Thing” Steve Ray in a set of airbrushed tights and colorful jacket with a cover of “Wild Thing” as his entrance theme. Possibly the most well-known homegrown talent of the UWF, Ray was the breakout star of the Wet ‘N’ Wild tag team with Sunny Beach. Despite being over, Ray’s behind-the-scenes relationship with Herb ruined any chances of him ascending up the card. Ray jobbed to established names like Ivan Koloff and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams on his way out in ’91 before returning in ’94. In the match where he jobbed to Williams, Williams shoot-kicked his nose, breaking it in the process. This happened because Williams was paid an extra $100 by Herb to do it since Herb thought Ray stole his stash of cocaine and had his eyes on Herb’s girlfriend. Dead serious.
Tyler Mane is out with a ridiculous furry pancho with a fake lion’s head at the front. His face looks tough, but the scariness is diminished greatly by that cartoonish lion. However, it is fitting considering he goes on to play Sabretooth in “X-Men.” Before he transitioned into acting, Mane was a wrestler who broke into the business in 1986 after being trained by Mando Guerrero, Red Bastien and Stu Hart. He is best remembered for his brief tenure in WCW as Nitron, Doom’s bodyguard in 1989, and as Big Sky in 1993 when he formed a short-lived tag team with Vinnie Vegas before Vegas left for the WWF and was given the Diesel gimmick.
We kick off with Ray going to the floor and does a Bret Hart-esque spot where he hands his jacket over to someone at ringside. Tumbleweeds. Mane shoves Ray down to the canvas off of a collar-and-elbow tie-up to assert his size and power advantage. Ray does a roll-up and clothesline to Mane, sending Sabretooth rolling to the floor. As Mane heads back into the ring, we get a better look at his gold and black tights with “Sky” on his right side. Why do you have that on your attire if your gimmick is that of a lion? Unless there is somebody special in your life who you refer to as “Sky,” there is no reason it should be on your tights if you have a lion-based gimmick. After a bit of circling, Mane works over Ray’s arm with clubs and a leg drop. Ray runs the rope and tries a crossbody, but Mane catches him and just drops him down like a sack of potatoes. Mane does a running jumping knee drop that Ray dodges, but he landed the knee inches away from where Ray was. He would have missed the knee drop if even Ray did not roll out of the way. Ray kicks Mane’s leg out of his leg (We love you, Owen!) and starts working over the injured left leg on the canvas by sloppily elbow-dropping it. Gianelli says that the crowd is into the match. Again, tumbleweeds. The referee wants Ray to break the hold for unspecified reasons. As bad as he was at working over the leg, Ray didn’t look like he did anything illegal. Referee keeps shooing Ray into the corner so he could check on Mane, which causes the already slow-paced match to grind to a halt. Mane jumps Ray in the corner to get things started again and hits a belly-to-back suplex. After working Ray over briefly in the corner, Mane sends him into the ropes for a chokeslam that got very little hang time. Not quite ‘Taker/Hogan at Judgment Day 2002 bad, but still not a good-looking chokeslam. After bodyslamming Ray to the canvas, Gianelli says that he saw a couple of fans go get hot dogs, basically burying the match. Mane misses a knee drop from the middle rope as Ray takes control with a graceless clothesline, a few corner punches and a twisting scoop slam. Ray charges towards Mane, who pulls down the rope and sends Ray tumbling to the outside. Awful, messy finish as Ray does a sunset flip and it takes Mane ages to drop down. Mane drops down with a modified seated senton, grabbing the top rope for leverage. The referee does not bother to see if Mane is using the ropes and counts the pin. Mane wins the match and the UWF MGM Grand Championship at 7:25.
Another sloppy, disjointed match that is hurt by the start-stop booking trend in every match of the night. They circle each other, do a few moves, wait for the other person to get into position, do a few more moves, wait again, rinse and repeat until they start the go-home spot. The crowd were sitting on their hands for this despite the commentary team saying Steve Ray was so popular. Although he had an OK look, he was your generic long-haired, rock music-loving babyface. You could have had Tyler Mane taking on Marty Jannetty or Ricky Morton and it would have had the same effect. As for his offense, it was too sloppy and plain for somebody who looks so energetic. Mane’s offense was OK in parts, but was generally unimpressive. Officiating for this was frustrating as was commentary once again. Even the lousiest matches on WWF Wrestling Challenge or Prime Time Wrestling were elevated by a couple notches thanks to enjoyable commentary from Jesse Ventura, Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and even Vince McMahon. Here, Gianelli and Tolos are so catty and snide with each other that they actually take away from the matches, but they fail to put anybody over. What a shame.
Post-match, Mane is presented with the title by Herb, cuts a short yet bad promo on Ray and leaves the ring to end the segment. It is worth noting that Mane being presented with the UWF MGM Grand Championship got more of a crowd reaction than anything in the actual match.
Match #8: Candy Devine vs Tina Moretti for the UWF Women’s World Championship
Aside from the Southern States title defended earlier, this was the only other title up for grabs at Blackjack Brawl that actually had some history outside of this event. At Beach Brawl, UWF’s only pay-per-view, in 1991, Rockin’ Robin defeated Candi Devine to become the inaugural champion. She remained champion until her retirement in 1992, so the title was vacated until it was reinstated at Blackjack Brawl.
Candy Devine is out first to generic jazz music as Rossi introduces her as “Candy Devy-ann” and the pre-match graphic spells her last name “Divine.” The misspelling of the graphic is forgivable, but Rossi’s “Devy-ann” is not.
Tina Moretti is out next with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” as her entrance theme. Good song, by the way. Rather interesting to see Moretti several years before her successful run as Ivory in the WWF.
Devine’s the more experienced of the two, having wrestled since 1980, but given the trend of other veterans, she is probably well past her prime. We shall see.
Before the match starts, Gianelli tries to cover up Rossi’s “Devy-ann” faux pas. Too late.
Devine kicks things off with a shove into the ropes and an awkward knee lift that looked stilted. Not-so-smooth back body drop on Moretti, who dropkicks Devine after running the ropes. Devine ends up on the outside and Moretti goes out after her. Hair-pulling spots a-plenty before Devine drops Moretti with an ugly-looking body slam. The start-stop trend in previous matches affect this one too as Moretti takes a long time getting back into the ring, circles Devine and gets arm-dragged to get things rolling again. The two trade poor-looking armbars on each other as Tolos says you cannot spell wrestling without the UWF. For starters, there’s no “u” or “f” in “wrestling,” so already that’s not true. Head-scissors spot by Devine that is stopped with a rope break. Awful punches by Devine as she whips Moretti into the corner. The former four-time AWA World Women’s Champion goes toward her and does a Moolah Whip. Devine continues striking Moretti with horrible-looking slaps and punches. In addition to that, her movement is very stiff and awkward. It’s as if she is made entirely out of wood. Moretti tries to save this match with a crucifix pin, but the momentum sends Devine on her knees and preventing a pin. Moretti also tries an O’Connor roll, but it is turned into a schoolgirl because Devine was too far out of position. Time to go home. Devine regains control and continues her abysmal punches in the corner. After one of the worst rope-assisted chokes ever, Devine does a double-handed chokelift to Moretti until she turns it into an elevated scoop slam. This is somehow enough to put Moretti down long enough for Devine to get the three, the win and the UWF World Women’s Championship at 3:26.
Poor Ivory. You could tell she wanted to inject some life into the match, but she is dragged down by Devine. If it’s any consolation, Ivory goes on to have a well-received match with Lita at the 2000 Survivor Series while WWF Women’s Champion. As for the match, all the good work Moretti tried to do was undone by Devine and the match died because of it. It was incredibly stupid to book the match with Devine in control for most of it when it was obvious she moved around the ring with the grace of a puppet. Hair-pulling, bad bumps, bad selling, multiple botches. This match had all the earmarks of a woman’s match that is the antithesis of what WWE’s current Divas Revolution is trying to go for. If you want to see a women’s match that is a genuine MOTY contender, check out some stuff from Japan or the recent pair of Bayley/Sasha Banks matches at the last two NXT TakeOvers. If you want a halfway decent women’s match, I’m afraid you won’t find it here.
Devine kisses her newly won championship as we go to commercial.
Match #9: The Killer Bees (Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair) vs The New Powers of Pain (Warlord and Power Warrior) for the UWF World Tag Team Championship
This is during the “who gives a hoot about legal red tape” stage of UWF’s existence as evidenced by the fact that Brunzell and Blair come out as the Killer Bees despite the WWF, where they previously worked under that name, threatening legal action on the UWF if they used the name. UWF complied for some time, billing them as Masked Confusion before deciding not to care and billing them as the Killer Bees anyway. Luckily for Herb, the UWF was so low on the wrestling food chain in 1994 that WWF probably didn’t even notice.
They are taking on The Warlord and Power Warrior, the latter being one of the Power Twins, a generic big man team in the UWF. Warlord and Power Warrior are billed as The New Powers of Pain. How uninspired was the booker to name them The New Powers of Pain? You can probably count on one hand the number of tag teams or factions that ever had any considerable amount of success that had the word “New” in their name.
Yet another match where the championship up for grabs was made for Blackjack Brawl.
Warlord has his cartoony trident with the W on it, but looks more bloated than he was earlier in the decade. Anyway, restholds galore. The majority of the match is spent with the woefully inept Power Warrior being subjected to a clinic of restholds by Brunzell and Blair. Spinning toe holds, wristlocks and armbars, especially armbars. Apart from a bearhug spot, Warlord spends much of the first half of the match on the apron as his less-experienced partner gets trapped in resthold after resthold. Basically a formulaic match of two smaller guys trying to counter their larger opponents with superior mat wrestling, but the crowd is dead for this.
Around the second half of the match, the baddies take control with Warlord working over Blair after a double clothesline spot. Warlord goes to the middle rope and jumps right into a boot before Blair makes the tag to Brunzell, signaling the go-home sequence. We get a ref bump and after a double dropkick, someone who looks like the Power Warrior enters the match. It’s the other half of the Power Twins comprised of Larry and David Power. No idea which is which in this scenario. Having completed Twin Magic, the new Power Warrior attacks Blair and slaps on a full nelson. The camera work here is so bad they cut to outside of the ring and then back in where Blair covers the new Power Warrior. Despite having no replay of what happened that put the new Power Warrior down and the fact that he was not the legal man for his team, the decision stands and Blair gets the three, the win and the UWF World Tag Team Championship at 11:49.
Much like Beach Brawl where Brunzell and Blair fought the Power Twins, this was the longest match of the night. You know what is messed up? Like that match, this was one of the better matches of the evening. That is a testament to how low the standard of quality was in the UWF. This was resthold after resthold after resthold in front of a lifeless crowd. At least this was a little more structured than the other matches that went before it, but not by much. Brunzell and Blair looked OK, but they just couldn’t drag a good match out of Warlord and Power Warrior, especially Power Warrior. Major criticisms would have to be the messy finish, the shoddy camera work at the finish and the fact neither of the actual members of The New Powers of Pain actually did the job. I can understand them trying to protect Warlord, but do we really need to keep one of the Power Twins’ image intact by jobbing out the other one? For goodness sake.
Match #10: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka vs Cactus Jack in a Lumberjack Match
It is well-documented that Mick Foley was inspired to enter pro wrestling as watching Jimmy Snuka splash Don Muraco from the top of a steel cage after their WWF Intercontinental Championship match at Madison Square Garden in 1983, so imagine how happy Mick was that he would get the chance to wrestle his idol over a decade later. Good for him, bad for us.
As Mick was on his way up during his work in the latter days of the territory system and in WCW, Snuka was on the downslope of his career, touring with Paul Heyman’s Eastern Championship Wrestling back when ECW was an NWA affiliate rooted in tradition.
Rossi fumbles on the mic, saying the next match is for the lumberjack match. Thank goodness he did not say Lumberjack Match Championship because there’s only so many meaningless titles a person can take before a wall gets headbutted.
On paper, this sounds like the first interesting match of the night, but let’s see what materializes.
Both men make their entrances and the ring is eventually surrounded by lumberjacks. Notably The Killer Bees and the New Powers of Pain are a few of the lumberjacks. After what happened minutes ago, what is keeping the New Powers of Pain from trying to batter Brunzell and Blair?
Cactus Jack shakes Snuka’s hand to start things off. Even though it felt weird considering his character, it’s great to see him and Snuka show their mutual respect for each other. How does the commentary team put over this dream match that Mick is having with Snuka? With Gianelli making a John Wayne Bobbitt joke. Are you kidding me?! He is awful at commentary. Headlock spot where Snuka maintains control but Jack attempts to pull the hair to escape, but is stopped by the ref. Jack briefly escapes, but is back in the headlock. Gianelli tells us that if you are just tuning in, the show has been going for about two hours and that the fans have seen some good matches. Where? Jack pushes Snuka off of him, but takes a shoulder tackle with such force that he crawls to the corner to check if he lost a tooth. Shaking the cobwebs, he locks back up with Snuka, who puts him in another headlock. Another tackle spot sends Jack down, but he answers back with a knee right in the gut that sends Snuka to the lumberjacks outside. Luckily for Snuka, they are civil with him and gently get him back in the ring. Punches, forearm clubs and headbutts by Jack on the inside. However, because of Snuka’s hard head gimmick, Jack sells the contact with Snuka’s head by being groggy. Finally, somebody on the show who has an understanding of psychology. Hooray! Snuka headbutts Jack to the outside, who gets hoofed back into the ring by the lumberjacks. Herb Abrams joins the commentary team. Groan. Thankfully, Jack sends Snuka tumbling to the announce table so we don’t hear any more of him on commentary. The lumberjacks storm the table as Jack gets on the apron and stomps on a prone Snuka’s midsection. Gianelli remarks that this shouldn’t happen in America, a commentary call so bad and so lame that it wouldn’t be equaled until Michael Cole’s cautionary line about getting your finger caught in Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania XV. The lumberjacks go crazy trying to get Snuka back in the ring as seen by the tall Six Flags-looking dude from the junior heavyweight match clubbing a random tuxedo-wearing ringside worker in the shoulders. Both men are back in the ring and Jack cinches in a chinlock as Tolos goes nuts, saying he is amazed with what had just happened. The commentary team try to put over how awesome the chaotic scene was, but the live crowd barely reacted to it. Herb is back at the commentary booth. Boo. He puts over both men as two of the greatest high-flyers of all time. Snuka, yes. Jack, he’s OK with his elbow off of the ring apron to the floor, but he was more of a brawler and a hardcore wrestler than a high-flyer. After a lengthy chinlock, the crowd chants “Superfly.” It took 10 matches, but we finally got some life out of the dead crowd. Then the booking comes back and kills them dead again. The two brawl on the outside and go up into the stands as the referee counts both men out at 9:03. A double countout in a lumberjack match? Where’s that Cornette face when you did it?
From what I gather, Herb did not want Mick to lose, but also did not want Snuka to job either. So both men improvised the double countout finish with nobody, not even the lumberjacks, the commentary team or the fans in attendance expected. Typical UWF match involving two top-tier talent: wrestle each other to an indecisive non-finish. Theoretically, you cannot move up the card if you do not get quality wins over top talent and you cannot move up if you are unwilling to job. Apparently, Herb rarely got the message that in a match with two stars, there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. Really disappointing that the booking reared its ugly head again. This was the first match of the night that had a big-time feel to it, but it was booked similar to every previous match. As choppy as it was, Snuka looked OK out there and was one of the few people that the fans treated like a star despite being long in the tooth. Jack demonstrated a better understanding of wrestling psychology than most of the wrestlers that competed earlier in the show. There’s not much meat to the match due to how the match was booked, but what little meat there was happened to be actually enjoyable. It’s a shame these two were not left to their own devices because this had the potential to be so much more than it actually turned out to be. One of the better matches of the evening, but very disappointing.
Post-match, Cactus takes a vertical suplex into a row of seats by Snuka and Rossi gets on the mic to gratingly tell the fans to give it up for both men to end the segment. And with that, it’s time for our MAIN EVENT!
Match #11: “Dr. Death” Steve Williams versus “Malicious” Sid Vicious for the UWF World Heavyweight Championship.
You saw that right. They billed Sid Vicious as “Malicious” Sid Vicious. Way to diminish how menacing Sid is, UWF.
There were two promos shown throughout the broadcast by both men regarding the World Title match. Oh, by the way, this is the final title tonight that was unveiled at Blackjack Brawl that had absolutely zero history beyond that night. Sid’s promo was barely picked up by the microphone because he does not hold it anywhere near his face. Of course, this is Sid we are talking about. If his best promo ever was the “half the brain” bit he did in latter-day WCW, we are not missing out on anything great. Then we got a Dr. Death promo where the champ breaks the cardinal rule of calling out other organization’s champions and top stars, namedropping Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. No idea if it was Herb or Steve that came up with the promo, but either way, it is stupid to call out stars of other organizations because it puts emphasis on the fact that your organization’s talent pool is weak. Not only that, but it also makes you look desperate. It was horrendous, but it was marginally better than Eric Bischoff challenging Vince McMahon to wrestle him at Slamboree ’98.
Sid’s out first with “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project as his entrance theme. Out next is the UWF World Heavyweight Champion, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. Both men look like they are ready and much like the previous match, this felt big time despite Sid being in-between stints with WCW and WWF and Steve tearing it up in Japan, but not having as good a domestic following. You thought King Kong Bundy’s WrestleMania drop was bad? Think about this. Sid main-evented WrestleMania VIII in 1992, was scheduled to win the WCW World Championship in 1993 and is main-eventing UWF Blackjack Brawl in 1994. That is just sad.
Kick off with Sid controlling with a side headlock and being pushed into the ropes where we get two “try and knock me down” shoulder tackles spots with Williams before the good doctor is taken down with a boot to the face as Sid poses. Williams goes after Sid, but takes a kick to the sternum and is put in a modified double chickenwing. Williams tries to twist free, but fails as Sid maintains control until Dr. Death puts his feet in the ropes to force a break. Staredown into a waist-lock by Dr. Death that Sid reverses, but Dr. Death takes him down to the ground and the two get back up. Both men do side headlock takedowns and headscissors spots with Dr. Death’s being the smoother of two, but after Sid was put in a headscissors, he did a kip-up. Very impressive for a man his size to do that. One-armed chokeslam to Dr. Death that does not get a lot of hang time, but the good doctor sells it well as Sid does the Hogan hand-to-ear gesture. Sid grabs Williams by the throat and shoves him into the corner twice and works him over with punches and a hard Irish whip. He kicks at Dr. Death as he tries to get back up, takes a hard forearm to the chops and dishes out some stiff kicks and clubbing blows in response. Rope choke spot by Sid which looked better than Candi Devine’s by a country mile. Dr. Death hits a Stan Lane-esque side kick before his hope spot is cut off again. Scoop slam by Sid gets a two. As Sid gets Williams in a chinlock, we see that the crowd on the side of the hard camera is much smaller than it had been previously. Tons of empty seats on the hard camera. Williams breaks free, but takes a Sheamus-esque club to the chest. After Sid works Dr. Death over in the corner, he Irish whips him, but runs right into an explosive lariat by Williams. The hope spot goes nowhere as Sid regains control with a twisting scoop powerslam for a two. This match is not over and this is probably the best Sid match I have seen so far. He and Dr. Death have good chemistry with each other. Chinlock spot by Sid followed by another scoop slam. Dr. Death makes another comeback, countering Sid’s punches, hitting him with some alternating jabs and giving him a scoop powerslam for a two. Irish whip into a Stinger splash by Dr. Death and a scoop slam, but Sid sidesteps him diving towards him. Upon further look, the powerslam from Williams’ comeback earlier has caused the ring to break, leaving a noticeable bulge in the center of the ring. Super back body drop by Dr. Death as it is time to go home. Dr. Death hits his gutwrench powerbomb on Sid, but Dan Spivey comes in to break the count, meaning Dr. Death retains the UWF World Heavyweight Championship via disqualification at 11:01.
Highly enjoyable match between Dr. Death and Sid that would have felt right at home on one of the Clash of the Champions episodes. Both men played their face/heel roles very well, had remarkable chemistry with each other and made the most of their surroundings. What hurts the match is the commentary (no surprise), the finish and what had happened previously. Could you imagine sitting through two hours of badly-booked and generally unsatisfying matches and having the main event, which was actually really good, end with a disqualification? You would be furious. You would be so angry that you spent two hours in a poorly-filled arena, watched bomb after bomb and got cheated out of a decent payoff. It makes a little bit of sense that Spivey interfered so the Skyscrapers could reunite and continue the feud with Dr. Death and presumably Johnny Ace. It’s one of the few plot threads that makes any bit of sense. That’s good and all, but what about tonight? This was supposed to Herb’s way of convincing TV stations to continue supporting the UWF and this is his answer? A good match sullied by an indecisive finish? He misjudged it badly and ended what was already a catastrophic evening on a sour note.
Herb and Blackjack chastise the reunited Skyscrapers, Herb checks on “Dr. Death” and teases a steel cage return match and Mr. Electricity drunkenly brags that Steve was still the champion as the crowd quickly pipe down and clear out after realizing they were cheated out of a satisfying conclusion to the show. The two parties build up a set of matches that will never take place.
Good night, Las Vegas! There will be no encore!
Before the wrestling happened, Blackjack Brawl was a bust. In an arena with a capacity of 22,000 seats, they were only able to fill 644 seats with over two-thirds of that figure coming from comps. Even if they did pay for tickets, the revenue from ticket sales and merchandise would not have even covered the expenses of getting the materials to set up the ring, constructing the ring, having a PA system, lighting, functioning microphones, audio/video presentation and paying the performers. I was going to add entrance themes, but given the fact that Herb carted out Blair and Brunzell in their Killer Bees despite being threatened with litigation by the WWF in the past, I’m not too sure he actually paid royalties to use the entrance music. Also, the UWF had zero impact in a town where the proven commodities were WWF and WCW. Despite Herb pulling out all the stops to convince SportsChannel America to air the 11-match card on TV, even snagging Dr. Death an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the show failed to draw ratings that were good enough to impress SportsChannel America. So with the ratings and attendance figures being subpar, how was the actual content of the show? I’ll break it down in positives and negatives.
- Most of Guerrero’s spots in the junior heavyweight match.
- Orton trying to work a David and Goliath match with Thor as well as most of their post-match segment.
- The Tokyo/Kid match. Far and away the best match of the first half of the show. Healthy dose of comedy with a mixture of solid mat wrestling and some crisp sequences that all built to one of the most athletic matches of the evening. Really enjoyable contender for match of the night.
- Snuka/Jack having some of the best psychology of the evening as well as Jack fulfilling a personal dream by wrestling the man who inspired him to be a wrestler. The handshake at the start was a bit awkward and out of character for the vicious Cactus Jack persona, but it was still great to see the two acknowledging each other and showing each other mutual respect.
- The main event between Dr. Death and Sid. Despite the indecisive finish, this felt like a match worthy of a place on an episode of Clash of the Champions in WCW. Great chemistry, well-defined face/heel roles and succeeding in making the most with what was available. It solidified Dr. Death as the MVP of UWF since its formation in ’90 and was also one of Sid’s best singles performances.
- Ace/Spivey. Dull match riddled with badly-executed moves, notably Ace’s reverse crossbody and Spivey’s trio of abdominal stretches, and a flat finish with Hyatt throwing in the towel for Ace, turning on him and giving Spivey the win. The betrayal was completely ineffective due to the fact that Ace and Hyatt never were in a lengthy wrestler/manager relationship, especially in the UWF. It was just a slapdash pairing that did not give fans any reason to be emotionally invested in them and sure enough, they were not invested.
- Armstrong being out of his depth in his match with Guerrero and a considerable lack of athleticism in a match billed as a junior heavyweight match. Even the worst matches from the Super J Cup earlier in the year would have blown this match out of the water.
- Beach/Feelgood. Booking Hyatt as Feelgood’s manager felt like another slapdash pairing and the post-match spot with Beach selling a kayfabe ether-soaked rag until the ad break after Feelgood sold it long enough for a three-count before jumping back up was an insult to the fans’ intelligence. As for the match itself, highly dull squash match punctuated by some very sloppy spots.
- The way the Orton/Thor match was structured and how the pace of the match when Thor was in control was agonizingly slow. The elements of a David/Goliath dynamic and a spirited brawl were there, but they were never balanced properly and the match suffered because of it.
- Samson/Irish Assassin. Completely killed whatever small semblance of momentum the show picked up from the previous match. Although there were matches that ranged from dull to bad, at least some of the bad matches had some level of competence. This didn’t. It became apparent very quickly that both man had very little training, if any, before the top brass shoved them out there for this match. Bad match structure, bad selling, bad application of moves, bad timing, no psychology, no story, no flow, dead crowd. This was just a complete and utter mess that made Hogan-Warrior II four years later look like a three-star match. This was one of the worst matches in the history of the MGM Grand Garden Arena’s history and it was the worst match of the night.
- Mane/Ray. Disjointed big man/little man match. Both men looked generic in their respective roles and despite some OK spots, their combined offense just was not impressive at all. When the most memorable spot of the match was Mane’s sloppy leverage pin, then there’s a problem.
- Devine/Moretti. Moretti had energy and it was clear she wanted to do all she can to make the match better, but Devine’s poor offense and graceless movement in the ring killed any chance of saving the match. The match embodied what modern women’s wrestling is striving to avoid: poor striking, poor selling, poor bumping, poor movement, numerous botches and trashy catfight spots.
- Killer Bees/New Powers of Pain. Highly forgettable formula tag team match that was the spiritual successor to the Masked Confusion/Power Twins match at Beach Brawl. Even with the addition of Warlord to the mix, it was just as boring as the Beach Brawl match. Hurting it more was a messy finish involving the other Power Twin who was not in the match do Twin Magic, only to get pinned following something that is not seen because the camera work was so pathetic.
- The poor performance of the lumberjacks outside the ring for the Snuka/Jack match. They looked lethargic out there and they also looked like they wanted to be anywhere else but there. It looked very tame when both men were out there with the lumberjacks and only when it was just Snuka and Jack in the ring or outside did things get remotely interesting. The double countout finish was a copout because the booker wanted neither man to do the job. Sadly, this was not the only time this happened in important matches in the UWF.
- The finish of the main event. If it was like WrestleMania VIII where the main event had a DQ, but the Intercontinental and WWF World Championships more than compensated for it, then it would have been fine. Here, the Tokyo/Kid match was a fine match, but not enough to elevate a show that had clunker after clunker. After sitting through a dull undercard, a mostly appalling midcard (Samson/Irish Assassin and Devine/Moretti in particular) and an underwhelming penultimate match, a satisfying conclusion to the main event needed to happen and it didn’t. All the good work that Dr. Death and Sid did ended on a sour note just so creative could hot-shot an angle between the reunited Skyscrapers (Spivey/Vicious) and Dr. Death and Ace that never saw the light of day.
- None of the titles up for grabs having any real prestige. There were eight titles on the line at Blackjack Brawl. Of those titles, the Americas Championship, the Junior Heavyweight Championship, the World Midget Championship, the MGM Grand Championship, the World Tag Team Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship were created either days prior or on the day of the show. That’s six titles! As for the other two, the World Women’s Championship and the Southern States Championship, they had prior history, but were in a state of dormancy before being reinstated at Blackjack Brawl. The closest that any of the titles look to being prestigious was in the main event, but other than that, it generally felt like those in charge added several titles for the sake of trying to make the show look good. In reality, the lack of credible titles actually hurt the show even further.
- The commentary team of Carlo Gianelli and John Tolos. They are right up there with Randy Rosenbloom and Dutch Mantell as one of the worst commentary teams on a TV or PPV broadcast. They often go from talking about the match to making stray observations about the wrestlers that is impertinent to what was going on in the match to making snide remarks at each other out of boredom. It did not take too long before it became so grating on the ears. Gianelli was the worst of the two, sounding inexperienced, obnoxious and idiotic when he keeps telling the viewers that this was a great show and the crowd was into it despite everything looking and sounding contrary to his statements. Tolos on commentary was better, but still obnoxious. It’s like comparing an F+ to an F-. They were so bad that they actually took away from the quality of the matches. On WWF Prime Time Wrestling, at least bad matches had someone like Gorilla Monsoon or Bobby Heenan to ease the pain. If it’s a dud, so what? The good commentary elevates it. Here, the bad commentary took duds and dragged them down to negative star territory. By the time that the main event happened, I had had enough and I had to mute it so I could watch Dr. Death/Sid for what it was. If I had listened to the commentary for the match, I probably would have rated the match a lot lower.
- Ring announcer Steve Rossi. I never saw Allen & Rossi’s material from their heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but I’d imagine the Rossi of 1964 would have had more charm, more energy, more wit and more competence than he did as a ring announcer in 1994. Tons of fumbling on the mic, interjecting at inappropriate times and worst of all, constantly asking the fans to applaud the wrestlers after the match and if they are having a good time. First of all, if a wrestler is not over, let it go. Don’t shove them in the fans’ face. Otherwise, the only heat they get is X-Pac heat. Let the talent get over organically, not mechanically. Also, “Are you having a good time?” Only 200 people paid for any of this while the remaining 444 fans had their tickets comped. Most of these people were obviously casual fans who may have been interested because of the main event or the possibility of seeing big stars, but not much else, so a lot of the show fell flat with them. The few who were die-hard fans spent the better part of two hours having their intelligence insulted and being bored to tears. What do you think, Rossi?
- UWF owner Herb Abrams’ onscreen role and booking decisions. It became apparent as the night went on, Herb drank more and more alcohol as his role in post-match segments got incrementally worse. For the first two matches, he buried the first two winners (Spivey, Armstrong). Third match, he spent his time chastising Feelgood and Hyatt as one of his wrestlers is unconscious. Fourth match, he hands Thor, a heel wrestler, a chair to use on Orton, a face, despite his role as the face authority figure. Fifth match, he conducts a downright insulting interview with Tokyo. Thankfully, his involvement in every match up until the penultimate match was minimal, although he looked noticeably disheveled after the Mane/Ray match. Penultimate match, he drunkenly joins the commentary team despite adding nothing substantial. Main event, he drunkenly rocks side-to-side after the match and gloats about Dr. Death winning the match while trying not to fall down. This was basically Herb’s last chance to make his UWF a success and not only did his booking have holes you could drive a Peterbilt through, but he decided to sit back, down several cocktails all night long and try to amuse himself by interjecting whenever possible to put the spotlight on him as his program turns into an absolute horror show. By far, the worst of his booking decisions was hot-shotting an angle with the Skyscrapers and Dr. Death despite that the two hours leading up to it was such a disaster that no TV or PPV channel would pick them up from failing miserably in both markets, preventing the angle from going any further and rendering the main event meaningless. This goes back to Herb very rarely allowing his big-name talent to job cleanly. He never understood that in wrestling, there has to be a decisive winner and a decisive loser. That is how you create a lower card, a midcard and the main event scene. If everybody refuses to job clean, there’s no way you can move down the card, but there’s no way you can advance up the card. It’s just one big plateau where everybody’s the same.
Overall, an abysmal television broadcast with very little worthwhile substance (Tokyo/Kid and Dr. Death/Sid). I hear there is a DVD of this show. After watching the matches separately on YouTube, I highly recommend that you avoid buying the DVD. It is not worth the price of purchase as well as the shipping and handling fee. The only way I could recommend watching Blackjack Brawl is if you want to see the prime-time television answer to Heroes of Wrestling and you enjoy a tall glass of schadenfreude.
Final rating: 1.5/10.
With no TV deal and no way to promote live events, Blackjack Brawl would ultimately be the final UWF show. Herb would try in vain to get back in the game, even gaining another deal with SportsChannel America in 1995 with the help of the returning Zoogz Rift, who became the new vice president. However, Herb’s personal demons would catch up to him in the summer of 1996. As alluded to earlier in the Mane/Ray match recap, Herb was a drug addict with his go-to drug being cocaine. He also was so paranoid about federal agents tracking him that he would have conversations if he turned on his hotel bathroom’s water faucets to the highest possible setting. On July 23, 1996, Herb’s combination of paranoia and cocaine addiction finally caught up to him as he went in a blind rage with a baseball bat and destroyed the furniture of his New York office, presumably because he was paranoid that federal agents had bugged the place, as women looked on. When police arrived, they found a naked Herb still destroying his office furniture, coated in a Vaseline-like substance with cocaine sprinkled all over him. He was arrested and while in police custody, Herb suffered a cocaine-induced heart attack and died shortly afterwards. He was 42. The over-the-top circumstances of Herb’s death were confirmed to be true by several wrestling newsletters that year and in the autobiographies of his former UWF employees Steve Williams and Mick Foley. Herb’s passing also signaled the end of the UWF. Having no TV deal at the time and no CEO any longer, those that were still in some position of authority all threw in the towel on the Universal Wrestling Federation, which quietly faded into obscurity shortly thereafter.
Thanks to the advent of internet, several past UWF matches made the rounds on sites like YouTube, giving the company far more exposure than it had when it was active. In recent months, it came to light that the late Herb Abrams had a son. Like his father, Herb Abrams, Jr., became a wrestling promoter and announced plans to revive his father’s UWF in 2016. Also like his father, Jr. has started trying to acquire established veterans for his show, most notably Hulk Hogan. Given the controversial circumstances surrounding his departure from WWE, it is unknown if Hogan will sign with the UWF. Given that Hogan’s last attempt at elevating an independent promotion, Micro Championship Wrestling, back when he was still in the general public’s good graces did not go too far, it is doubtful that the Universal Wrestling Federation will get much of a profile boost from The Hulkster mere months after his public image was tarnished. Other than trying to acquire Hogan, it is unknown what Herb Abrams, Jr.’s creative direction for the UWF is. One thing is for sure: I am genuinely worried that Herb Abrams, Jr. is in danger of falling into the same creative traps that his father fell into. Herb, you have plenty of time. Please prove me wrong. Please.
Next time on Retro Review, Triple R will delve into a hybrid of triumph and tragedy with WCCW’s inaugural David Von Erich Parade Of Champions.
Until next time, thanks for reading and have a nice day.