Part Four: SMW, FMW & ECW
SMW Volunteer Slam II Rage in the Cage
May 9, 1993
Brian Lee, The Stud Stable (Jimmy Golden & Robert Fuller) & The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express (Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson)
Kevin Sullivan, Killer Kyle, The Heavenly Bodies (Stan Lane & Tom Prichard) & The Tazmaniac
Since the introduction of Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1992, there had been one angle that stayed consistent throughout and into 1993: commissioner “Bullet” Bob Armstrong and manager Jim Cornette. Whether Bob was backing the Fantastics, the Rock N Rolls or his own boys, his feud with Jim and the Heavenly Bodies had reached a boiling point in 1993. Leading into the second annual Volunteer Slam in May, Cornette was fed up with the way that Bob was always working against him, never acknowledging the fact that it was constantly in response to Cornette’s cheating ways. On the May 8th, 1993 episode of SMW TV, Cornette cut a scathing promo with on Bob after he counted a pinfall, eventually leading to Cornette announcing on tv that the masked wrestler known for the past year as Dixie Dynamite was in fact Bob’s own son Scott Armstrong, a “coward too afraid to show his own face”. But Scott does show up and unmask, and the two cut a hell of a promo, before Bullet Bob and Cornette are face to face.
There is a quick flashback to a match between Robert Fuller, not yet Colonel Robert Parker strapping on a leg submission to Stan Lane of the Heavenly Bodies that alludes to Stan Lane entering this eventual Rage in the Cage War Games match with a bad knee.
So, we are set the first Rage in the Cage, War Games style match in Smoky Mountain history. The match follows traditional War Games style rules, in that two men from each team will start and go five minutes, then whichever team has won the advantage (more on that in a minute), will have introduce a new member of their team into the cage every two minutes. On each side of the cage are five sets of handcuffs. The match cannot end until everyone on a team is tied up in cuffs, or someone submits once everyone has entered. It’s a unique take on the match, for sure.
Before we get to the match, we are taken through the undercard of the Volunteer Slam, featuring five singles matches to determine which team would get the advantage in the main event. Robert Gibson beats The Tazmaniac with a bulldog. Killer Kyle beats Robert Fuller by dq after tricking him into using brass knuckles. Brian Lee gets the pin on Stan Lane once he bad knee gives out on a bodyslam. Kevin Sullivan uses a low blow to sneak the win over Jimmy Golden and Jim Cornette sprays an aerosol into Ricky Morton’s eyes to allow Tom Pritchard the deciding victory and give the advantage to his team. A quick promo backstage shows Ricky Morton with a bandage covering his eye, and alluding to the once heel Stud Stable to be ducking the Rock n Roll Express and Brian Lee, warning them that they better not cross em! We are set with “Bullet” Bob as the special guest referee and boy am I ready to go!
Unfortunately the match is joined in progress right before Brian Lee enters the ring as the last man in the ring. As we join the match, The Tazmaniac is cuffed on his team, while both Fuller and Gibson are cuffed on their side, leaving Ricky and Golden in a four-on-two disadvantage. Morton is down and out and the men team up to cuff Jimmy Golden, leaving Morton vulnerable to the whole team. Brian Lee comes in and wrecks house, taking on all 4 men at once. Through terrible video quality, you can assume that Ricky Morton started the match, and has been bleeding for many minutes, just barely able to be seen on the camera. Lee’s sudden burst of energy brings life to Ricky Morton who comes back like a house on fire, ripping through the crew with punches of his own, taking it to Kevin Sullivan and Dr. Tom. In the melee, Brian Lee is able to get Killer Kyle in handcuffs, while Ricky quickly gets Sullivan in a pair himself. Ricky is barely able to stagger around the ring, and the Heavenly Bodies are able to overpower Brian Lee and get him in handcuffs as well, leaving Ricky all alone. Stan Lane is hobbling around on his bad knee after Robert Fuller gives him a quick kick from the cage. Pritchard walks too close to the babyfaces and Gibson locks on a body scissors, trapping him, allowing Ricky Morton to knock down the injured Stan Lane and lock on the figure four for the sudden and surprising submission victory! Cornette’s fury knows no bound and he comes in and whacks Bob Armstrong across the back with his racket, waking up the giant man with heavy fists. All of Cornette’s men begin to get unlocked from their cuffs somehow, and the Stud Stable does as well and casually walks out as the bad guys all begin to gang up on Bullet Bob and Ricky Morton. Morton finally gets placed in handcuffs, and Bob is strung in a crucifix position on the opposite side, where Cornette and his team go crazy on him. Cornette hits Bob with a dozen or so shots with the racket, including a handful in Bob’s groin. Referee Mark Curtis is livid on the outside and keeps trying to climb the cage. Tracy Smothers and Tim Horner run out and keep trying to get in, but eventually someone gets the cage open, and the ring clears. The show closes with Cornette cutting an all-timer promo over footage of Bob Armstrong getting stretchered out of the arena.
Great stuff, but wish we could get the whole match.
SMW Fire on the Mountain
August 14, 1993
Cornette’s Criminals (Jim Cornette, Bruise Brothers and Heavenly Bodies)
The Armstrong Army (Bob, Scott and Steve Armstrong and the Rock ‘N Roll Express)
Flash forward to August and landscape around Smoky Mountain Wrestling has changed a bit. Bob Armstrong, fed up with Cornette once and for all has given up his role as commissioner for a chance to step in the ring with Cornette, first at a house show Lumberjack match, one on one and then in another Rage in the Cage match, teaming with his boys – Scott and Steve. Cornette has introduced a new dominant team in the meantime, The Bruise Brothers, otherwise known and The Harris Brothers, in a pretty killer Bruiser Brody/biker type gimmick. The Bruise Brothers have walked through the SMW tag division, won the titles and looked unstoppable – that is, until The Rock n Roll express get a surprising, non-sanctioned pinfall over them following a squash. The Express rounds out Armstrong’s Army, while Cornette’s Criminals will feature The Bruise Brothers and The Heavenly Bodies (now with Jimmy Del Ray!), who are about to challenge the Steiners at WWF Summerslam ‘93.
Oh, and The Big Bossman is the special guest referee this time out, and as a big time Bossman Bossfan, the less said about his appearance here, the better. He stinks and does jack shit.
Cornette looks like the King of Kings here, sporting Heavenly Bodies trunks over a full body suit of red tights, like he has long underwear on underneath his wrestling trunks. Before the match begins, Cornette takes the mic and tries to appeal Bossman due to their past partnerships, but Bossman stands for LAW AND ORDER (and being really boring and inconsequential for this whole match).
The match starts once again with Ricky Morton and Tom Pritchard, because Ricky Morton and Tom Pritchard are gods at working the crowd and taking a beating. We have new camera angles this time around, so WHEN Ricky and Tommy bleed, we’re going to be able to see it and it is going to be fantastic. Dr. Tom hits a sitout powerbomb out of nowhere, countering an irish whip, but a second attempt allows Ricky to use the frankensteiner. Throughout the early parts of the match, the usually excellent Dutch Mantell is really taking away from the ring as he isn’t working with Bob Caudle and instead starts strategizing for both teams, rather than call any action in the ring. It’s quite distracting, but all you need to know is that the two dudes go at it, but one of the huge Harris twins comes in once the bell rings and before you know it – Ricky is fuckin’ gushing blood like he’s Abdullah Kobayashi. Truly, the amount of blood that Ricky blades is astonishing and comes out QUICK, down his chest, through his hair, it’s awesome. Ricky Morton does what Ricky Morton does best, give it his all, but ultimately fall short as the two men take it to him. Steve Armstrong is in next and he quickly evens the field, throwing both Tom and Ron/Don into the cage, and before long Tom is bleeding himself! Morton gets back to his feet but before long Jimmy Del Ray enters the cage and puts the heels back on top. Dutch tells the audience that Morton is bleeding the most of anyone he’s seen in years, Les tells the audience that he hasn’t seen anything this bloody since Bob Armstrong fought Bobby Duncum in the 60’s. The first real attempts of locking Ricky into handcuffs occurs here, but Ricky has too much spirit and keeps himself out. As Robert Gibson enters the ring, there is this incredible long shot of Ricky attempting to walk across the ring, but completely blinded with blood. The other Harris brother comes in next, and before long big Steve Armstrong is overpowered and cuffed the cage. Every time the Rock N Roll’s get an opening, they are overpowered.
In the sequence of the match, Scott Armstrong comes in house of fire, but instead gives a low blow to each member of Cornette’s team, completely changing momentum and causing the crowd to come unglued. One of the Harris twins is cuffed soon by Ricky and Robert, as the countdown continues, we get flashes of Cornette wanting anything more than to be in the ring, but referee Mark Curtis, the ultimate good guy ref shoves him into the ring and closes the door behind him. In the meantime, Robert Gibson, always the weakest of the Rock N Rollers, gets cuffed, essentially off camera. Come the fuck on, Robert. Scott fights back with big superkicks to his opponents, but gets overpowered and Cornette rakes Ricky across the cage in front of the camera. And just like that, our last man is in – old man Bullet Bob Armstrong. And Bullet Bob clears the fuckin house, clad in camo like his boys. As Bob enters the ring, Cornette scurries up on top of a turnbuckle, trying to get away, but Bob catches him and throws him off into the middle of the ring. Del Ray has been cuffed, the other Harris brother has been cuffed, Tom gets trapped by Steve Armstrong on the side, while Ricky gets trapped by Bruise Brothers and we get a terrified Jim Cornette facing off with his nemesis, Bob Armstrong in the center of the ring. It doesn’t take long, as Bob gets the quick submission with a really weak spinning toe hold in the center of the ring, as Armstrong’s Army gets the victory!
While not on the level of the classic War Games matches, this was nonetheless likely the best Smoky Mountain Wrestling match up to this point in the promotion’s history. Always a promotion built on logical storylines and excellent promo work, this was one of the first big time matches that delivered on it’s promise and came across as a match that could be placed alongside the things happening in WCW, WWF and Japan. This match is a little under the radar, but it gets a high recommendation, overall.
Star Rating: ****
Follow Voices of Wrestling’s War Games Week below:
ECW introduced their own War Games-style match—Ultimate Jeopardy—in 1994. They brought the match back at December to Dismember 1995 and again at Cyberslam 1999.
Unfortunately, these matches were hard to come by with some only available on fan cams and others tucked away on WWE Blu-Rays. As a result, we were unable to watch and review ECW’s contribution to this project.
ECW Ultimate Jeopardy
March 26, 1994
Shane Douglas, Mr. Hughes and The Public Enemy (Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge) vs. Terry Funk (c), Road Warrior Hawk, Kevin Sullivan and The Tazmaniac
ECW December to Dismember
December 9, 1995
Tommy Dreamer, The Public Enemy and The Pitbulls vs. Raven, The Heavenly Bodies, The Eliminators and Stevie Richards
April 3, 1999
The Dudley Boyz (Buh Buh Ray and D-Von) and Mr. Mustafa vs. New Jack, Axl Rotten and Balls Mahoney
FMW War Games
December 22, 1997
Hayabusa, Masato Tanaka, and Jinsei Shinzaki
Yukihiro Kanemura, Mr. Gannosuke, and Atsushi Onita
A War Games in title alone, the FMW version of the legendary Dusty Rhodes spectacle cashes in on the name and the cage gimmick, but does away with the double ring and roof. To be more specific, in the midst of a short ECW/FMW talent exchange over the course of a few days in Japan, FMW headlined their final show of the “Super Extreme Wrestling War” with a Barbed Wire Baseball Bat Ladder War Games match. It’s a mouthful as much as it’s an eyeful.
Off the bat, like many other War Games matches, this is one that needs context to be fully understood. Watching it on it’s own, one would wonder – “Holy shit, is Atsushi Onita a heel?” Yes, far before his more recent heelish runs in All Japan and elsewhere, Onita was forced to work heel in 1997, so as to not overshadow the major babyfaces, Hayabusa and Masato Tanaka. It started back in September, as Onita main evented the annual Kawasaki Legend show against WING Kanemura, putting his career on the line (duh!) against Kanemura’s dominant W*ING heel stable. Though the match failed to deliver, the explosions did and when the smoke settled, Onita had defeated Kanemura, now Yukihiro Kanemura.
As Kanemura was helped backstage, helpless and beaten and showing emotion that only Onita himself can muster, Onita had a change of heart, helped Kanemura and his stablemates to the back. Upon passing Hayabusa, Koji Nakagawa, and Masato Tanaka, Onita cried out that he was sick of what FMW has become, that he was leaving. Days later, Onita would hold a press conference introducing his new wrestling group ZEN, featuring the members of the former W*ING stable. With Onita’s presence, the group was bound to lean babyface, but FMW brass needed a heel unit, much to Onita’s dismay and thus a new rivalry was born – FMW Vs. ZEN, Hayabusa Vs. Onita.
Mr. Gannosuke & Hisakatsu Oya were two of the top heels in the company, engaging in a feud with the babyfaces like Jinsei Shinzaki. They would soon leave the Funk Masters of Wrestling to join ZEN, in a move that instantly boosted the group’s credibility. ZEN then captured the 6-man titles and tag titles, though in different combinations, due to Onita’s lack of working dates, as well as their major rivals Hayabusa and Shinzaki working the All Japan Tag League. Fast forward and The Gladiator would turn on Super Leather to cement the end of the Funk Masters of Wrestling and join up with ZEN, now the single dominant force in FMW. If it sounds familiar to any other major stable in 1997, it is. It absolutely is. The FMW Vs. Zen rivalry would continue, with Onita taking a fall for the first time in years against Masato Tanaka. Hisakatsu Oya then left ZEN to become a babyface in a role reversal that hadn’t been seen in quite some time. Things got really confusing when Koji Nakagawa, fed up with Hayabusa and company, “left” FMW earlier in December.
Long story short, we enter December 22nd with a united, but downtrodden babyface team of Hayabusa, Masato Tanaka, and Jinsei Shinzaki taking on a team at-odds in Yukihiro Kanemura, Mr. Gannosuke, and Atsushi Onita (in black tights and sleeveless shirt!)
The match starts as one would expect an FMW clusterfuck to start – with Hayabusa and Kanemura racing to the ring and trying to beat the shit out of each other. Hayabusa throws the ladder at Kanemura early, but Kanemura is able to come back, throw Hayabusa into the ladder and hit him with a nasty sideslam onto it. The crowd is hot, booing loudly every time that Kanemura is on offense. While it is true that Hayabusa never reached the stardom and fandom that Onita did, Kanemura was certainly amongst the most hated heels in Japan at the time. Kanemura makes the first attempt to climb the ladder and retrieve the barbed-wire bat, but Hayabusa knocks him down with a high kick, also knocking down the bat. Hayabusa is able to retrieve the bat and we get vintage FMW here, with Hayabusa rocking Kanemura in the mid-section with the barbed bat.
The countdown to our next participants commences and for the first time we see that this has done away with the War Games structure as both Masato Tanaka and Mr. Gannosuke rush the cage and attempt to climb in. There is a distinct lack of drama in doing the match this way, not allowing the heels to get the obvious upper hand each period. It makes the match feel truncated and forced, and while it may not be as easy to telegraph what will happen as in those traditional NWA/WCW War Games matches, it makes it very hard to get real heat segments. Furthermore, without the teams at ringside (but up the aisle), we get a lack of cheering, strategizing and cage-shaking that makes traditional War Games matches so much fun.
As Tanaka attempts to climb the cage, Gannosuke throws a chair at him, knocking him down and climbing in first to take advantage of Hayabusa, but Hayabusa is ready and nails Gannosuke with the bat. Tanaka enters the ring with the chair that took him off the cage and is ready to go classic Tanaka, whipping Gannosuke into the corner turnbuckle before following up with a jumping chair splash into his face. The teams go back and forth, with the babyfaces controlling most of the match, but when the next countdown starts, Onita rushes to the babyface aisle and attacks Shinzaki, before entering the cage and taking control. Jinsei eventually gets to the center of the ring and delivers his Mandala Hineri dragon screw to both Gannosuke and Kanemura – one of the prettiest moves in all of wrestling. Shinzaki sets up Gannosuke for the Koya Otoshi, but Gannosuke weasels out and knocks Shinzaki out with the low blow. Gannosuke pulls out handcuffs and attempts to get them onto Tanaka, but fails. Gannosuke teams up with Kanemura to choke Shinzaki with the ladder against the cage, immobilizing him and allowing them to cuff him to the cage. With this act, the heels have taken control.
Having the numbers advantage, Mr. Gannosuke picks up a downed Hayabusa and delivers a german suplex right onto his head, spiking him into the ground. Kanemura picks him up and delivers one of his own, and just for good measure and pure shit-baggery, Gannosuke spikes Hayabusa again in a truly shocking and disturbing series of moves. Ever the fighter, Hayabusa kicks out at two! Kanemura delivers an elbow drop off the ladder onto Hayabusa for another two count and just like that mother fuckin’ Jinsei Shinzaki has broken the cuffs. Exhaustion has taken its toll though and the heels get him again, partially cuffing him back to the cage. With Hayabusa and Tanaka down, Shinzaki gives it his all, punching and chopping Kanemura with all he has left. Gannosuke attempts to slow down the chained Shinzaki, but eats a superkick which is followed up with a nasty roaring elbow from Tanaka.
Gannosuke stumbles back into Shinzaki, who grabs a choke, making Gannosuke a non-entity. Hayabusa is back on his feet, suplexing Kanemura as Tanaka nails Onita with a tornado DDT. The four men go at it, but Onita is able to sneak out a Thunder Fire Powerbomb onto Tanaka, but Hayabusa breaks it up! Kanemura finally breaks the chokehold on Gannosuke, and the two deliver a double team cutter on Hayabusa that looks as though it separated his head from his neck. Onita nails Tanaka with a second Thunder Fire Powerbomb, but Tanaka is the goddamn champion and kicks out at two! Tanaka hulks up, reverses a third Powerbomb attempt into a death valley driver, and sets Onita up on the mat, holding him down.
And then it happens. In a callback to their legendary match from 1995, Hayabusa climbs to the top of the cage, eyes the downed Onita, and finally, nails him with the high-arching moonsault and the victory! Team FMW wins!
But wait, Kanemura and Mr. Gannosuke let it happen! The two make it known they were sick of Onita and his babyface leanings and beat the shit out of him with slaps and kicks and cuff him to the cage. Tetsuhiro Kuroda attempts to rescue Onita, his leader in ZEN, but is beat up and thrown out of the cage. Gannosuke and Kanemura are in control, until a man in a black leather jacket and hood enters the ring with a chair, clearing house. It’s the recently departed Koji Nakagawa, who has saved Onita and cuts a promo with him in the ring.
In the aftermath of this match, Onita continued on with ZEN, now as a babyface unit with Nakagawa, Kuroda, and The Gladiator, eventually running their own shows. Mr. Gannosuke, Yukihiro Kanemura, and Hido joined forces with Kodo Fuyuki, Jado & Gedo to form Team No Respect, and Gannosuke soon beat Tanaka for the Double Titles. The ECW crossover continued, with Hayabusa, Shinzaki, Kanemura, Tanaka, and The Gladiator/Mike Awesome all being key players into 1998 and 99.
This match was good, not an all-time classic good, but certainly entertaining. Unfortunately, just like a lot of War Games styled matches, this was the cap of a hot angle, so watching the match without the context does you no favors.