As all good wrestling-gimmick geeks know, Barry Darsow was not the first man to portray the character of Demolition Smash during the destructive tag team’s popular WWF run in the late 1980s and early 90s. That distinction goes to Randy Colley, aka Moondog Rex, formerly a WWF tag-team champion as one half of the Moondogs, who passed away last year at the age of 69.
As has now gone down in wrestling lore, Colley debuted as the original Smash, alongside Bill “Ax” Eadie, only to have knowledgeable fans in the arena loudly chant “Moondog” at him. When this happened a second time, again threatening to damage the aura of these supposedly new, mysterious arrivals, WWF chief Vince McMahon concluded that a replacement was needed. The pair were taken off television and a permanent substitute for Colley was quickly sought.
On an episode of Jim Ross’ Ross Report podcast (September 16, 2015), Ross asked about names suggested as potential candidates for Eadie’s new partner, before Darsow was finally selected. Eadie did not quite spill the beans, but he did get tantalizingly close, confirming at least that there were indeed other names in the frame at one point. Eadie responded:
“Well I don’t want to mention particular names but I was given three or four, maybe five, different names of individuals who were all good qualified candidates, but the reason that it wasn’t going to work is that they were all recognized. People knew them as another persona. And I even told the powers that be and Vince, this is a hell of a gimmick, I’m willing to turn it over and go back and be Masked Superstar. Because I can go back to Japan and I can pick up the phone and do it, go to Georgia, go to Florida. So, he said, no, no, he says this is going to be good, you choose. So, Barry and I met in Charlotte, we sat down and had lunch and I said that’s it.”
Eadie mentions that he even admitted stepping away from Demolition himself to give another pair the chance at it, before settling on Darsow. As Soviet villain Krusher Kruschev, Darsow wrestled his final match for Mid Atlantic Wrestling on December 29, 1986, alongside Ivan Koloff, while Culley’s last outing as a Moondog took place three weeks earlier, on December 8. Three days later, the Masked Superstar made his final appearance, teaming with Dick Murdoch in Japan.
The original Demolition debuted on January 4, 1987, defeating the Islanders on a house show in Springfield, Mass. The next two nights saw them beat jobber tag teams in their first televised outings, recorded for WWF Superstars and WWF Challenge, respectively. There followed a three-week gap before Demolition re-emerged, on January 26, by which point Darsow had replaced Culley.
This gives us the amusing prospect of carrying out a little detective work to figure out who those ‘four or five’ names may have been – and we can look in a few different places for clues. This helpful website lists the stacked WWF rosters for December 1986 and January 1987. Although it’s not definitive, it’s a good start. In no particular order, this gives us the following:
George Steele, Andre the Giant, Pedro Morales, Adrian Adonis, Don Muraco, Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, Moondog Spot, Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, King Kong Bundy, Ricky Steamboat, Bob Orton, Hillbilly Jim, Randy Savage, Lanny Poffo, Corporal Kirshner, Hercules, Jake Roberts, Jimmy Jack Funk, Billy Jack Haynes, Harley Race, Butch Reed, Honkytonk Man, Billy Graham*, Blackjack Mulligan, Kamala, Sika, Koko B. Ware, Dino Bravo, Dick Slater, the British Bulldogs, Dream Team, Spivey & Rotundo, Sheik & Volkoff, the Killer Bees, the Islanders, the Hart Foundation, the Rougeaus, the Young Stallions.
A little more digging, courtesy of the History of WWE.com, adds a few additional names, mostly enhancement talent:
Sivi Afi, Mike Sharpe, Rene Goulet, Jerry Allen, Jose Luis Rivera, Mr Fuji, SD Jones, Barry O, Pete Doherty, Danny Davis, Nick Kiniski, Stoney Burke, Frenchy Martin, Tony Garea, Jerry Valiant, Tiger Chung Lee, Salvatore Bellomo, Scott McGhee, Nick Kiniski, Steve Lombardi
January 1987 also saw the introductions of the following talent:
Tom Zenk and Rick Martel, Ron Bass, Outback Jack, Tom Magee, and Brad Rheingans.
Minus Eadie and Culley themselves, the four women’s wrestlers regularly booked at the time (Moolah, Velvet McIntyre, Leilani Kai, and Judy Martin); midgets; jobbers; and tag teams (for the purposes of this exercise), this leaves 34 singles wrestlers to mull over. If we consider that the key reason for dispensing with Culley – and the other options presented to Eadie – was their existing recognisability – we may be able to make some educated guesses about who the names in the frame might have been.
First off – headliners, main eventers, titleholders, or those involved in important feuds heading into WrestleMania III would have been out of the question. So, let’s wave goodbye to Hogan, Andre, Savage, Steamboat, Piper, Adonis, Orndorff, Honky Tonk Man or Roberts.
Next, any body shape (or presumably, skin color) which would have been too dissimilar to that of Eadie or Colley, or any other obvious visual clues, in the manner of Colley’s distinctive tattoos. Sadly, it’s unlikely WWF as it was at the time gave any consideration to JYD, Koko B Ware, Reed, Kamala or Sika, purely based on skin color. Bundy and Steele are out thanks to their unmistakable girth, while Poffo was surely too slight.
Former WWF champions Pedro Morales, Bruno Sammartino and Billy Graham were all still under contract and wrestled occasionally – very occasionally in the permanently injured Graham’s case – and you would imagine they would all be far too recognizable too. The same would probably be the case for former NWA heavyweight champion Harley Race. And if Moondog Rex was too well known, it’s unlikely they would replace him with Moondog Spot, isn’t it? So long, Larry Latham!
This narrows the field to the following motley crew:
Don Muraco, Tito Santana, Bob Orton, Hillbilly Jim, Corporal Kirshner, Hercules Hernandez, Jimmy Jack Funk, Billy Jack Haynes, Dino Bravo, Dick Slater, Ron Bass, Outback Jack.
A few of these fit the bill as the team’s powerhouse, if that’s what they were looking for (particularly Hernandez or Haynes), and could certainly match the muscled physique that Darsow would boast as Smash. But surely any of the above would still be far too familiar to any WWF fan, if we are to believe the oft-repeated tale that the New York audience immediately recognized one-half of underneath tag team the Moondogs in his new get-up. They’d certainly be just as likely to recognize Muraco, Orton, Hillbilly Jim or Santana, at least. Outback Jack was in line for a Crocodile Dundee-style push, and as a complete rookie, it’s unlikely he was considered.
By process of elimination, this leaves Corporal Kirshner, Dick Slater, or Jimmy Jack Funk (aka Jesse Barr). Each of these are interesting possibilities but Darsow certainly seems a smarter choice with the benefit of hindsight. If we’re to take Eadie’s words as gospel, however – each already had an existing gimmick that WWF fans would be familiar with.
So maybe, as with Darsow, the company cast its net wider and was thinking about people not currently working for them at the time but available elsewhere. A few more clues appear in the form of the industry’s record of note for the time, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, if we take into account people who weren’t on the roster at the time, much like Darsow. In the 8 December 1986 edition, editor Dave Meltzer mentioned that Ken Patera was recently released from prison and on his way back to Titan. He did in fact return, but not until March 1987. Two weeks later he notes AWA Champion Curt Hennig had turned down a contract offer with the WWF to stay in Minnesota, for the time being at least. The following week’s newsletter does hint at some more interesting possibilities though. Here we learn the following:
“Names pretty well confirmed as being on the way – just waiting for a start date – include Scott Hall, Brad Rheingans, Ron Bass, Tom Magee, and Steve DiSalvo.”
Bass and Magee we’ve covered, while Calgary-based DiSalvo never appeared in the WWF save for two house shows in Canada much later in the year. The most interesting name on the list of course is Scott Hall, who would join the Federation more than five years later, and enjoy incredible success as Razor Ramon. We learn in the following week’s Observer that Hall ultimately opted to stay with the AWA for a few more weeks, before heading to Florida.
It’s a longshot, but who knows – maybe the company was already talking to the likes of Jim Hellwig or Rick Rude. The future Ultimate Warrior and the “Ravishing” one did not start with the WWF until June and July 1987 respectively, but you never know how early these negotiations start in some cases.
Whatever the case may be, whoever replaced Culley was always going to be harsh on the former Moondog. A bitter ten-year legal wrangle over the rights to the Demolition characters between Eadie, Culley and the WWF played out during the 90s, with depositions generally agreeing that the characters had stemmed from an initial idea by the luckless Culley. Albeit, those ideas drew heavily on the hugely popular Road Warriors tag team of Hawk and Animal, itself inspired by Mel Gibson’s dystopian Mad Max movies.
So just for fun – a theoretical top-ten list of the most likely other names given by WWF top brass to Bill Eadie, before they opted for Barry Darsow. Here goes:
- Hercules Hernandez
- Billy Jack Haynes
- Corporal Kirshner
- Dick Slater
- Jimmy Jack Funk (Jesse Barr)
- Scott Hall
- Brad Rheingans
- Tom Magee
- Steve DiSalvo (Steve Strong)
- Jim Hellwig
Anyone we’ve missed?