If one was to watch the entire 64-week run of The Honky Tonk Man’s WWF Intercontinental Championship reign in its entirety:
- Don’t do it.
- You’re going to find a lack of classic matches throughout the entire reign.
That’s not to say The Honky Tonk Man didn’t have the occasional good match, rare but did happen, it’s more back then the standards for wrestling quality (especially in WWF) was way lower. The Honky Tonk’s legendarily lengthy reign was cowardly and cheap, and it worked. WWF knew he wasn’t a very good wrestler, the fans knew he wasn’t a very good wrestler, Honky Tonk Man definitely knew his limitations (as in, he wasn’t a very good wrestler) so what did they do: accentuate the positives.
What were the positives? He could piss people off. After bringing Ricky Steamboat’s Intercontinental reign to a surprising end, The Honky Tonk Man would weasel, cheat, and run away to retain his title. He would gladly take losses, and lose out on the winner’s purse, if, in the end, he was still the champion. It worked. Fans sank their teeth into it, seethed, booed, got fed up, and frustrated with this coward of a wrestler. This no-talent hack who through technicalities and pure and utter bullshit continues to cling to his championship reign, padding his length more and more. Given the change in standards and qualities these days it’s an idea that would probably not work, although it doesn’t stop people from trying. It worked because of the era it was in, and because by all means, they did the undeserving gimmick for a truly undeserving wrestler, who then proceeded to his credit to make it work. He milked it for all it’s worth, talking about being the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. He would start to believe his own legend, thinking that he was truly great, that his reign wasn’t because of loopholes and bending the rules, but because he was this awesome wrestler who outsmarted and outmaneuvered his opponents. Such wonderful hubris deserves a brutal and fantastic downfall, and WWF would do something they rarely do these days…. they delivered.
First, they needed the perfect stage. The first SummerSlam was a great stage for such a moment. A debut event, having a significant and important moment would instantly give it teeth and buzz. This was the best place for Honky Tonk Man to lose his title. Not on a random episode of superstars, not at a house show, but at a debuting PPV that needed all it could get to make it a talked about event. The perfect stage isn’t all one needs though. They had the outlet, they had the date and place of the moment, but now they needed the most important piece of the puzzle. They needed the right opponent. Such a cowardly long reign that has been baiting the crowd forever couldn’t just go to no one. Beefcake who was cheated out of the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania 4 seemed like a good choice, but he would be angled out for a better and more significant choice.
The Ultimate Warrior.
The Ultimate Warrior was a rising star. What he lacked in wrestling ability, and make no mistake he lacked the wrestling ability, he made up for in other easy that ticked Vince McMahon’s boxes. Charisma, presence, the look, the gimmick. He was still finding his way, working out the kinks, building and increasing his fan base and importance. All he needed was a spark, a moment, something to really highlight him and put him over the edge. This was it, The Honky Tonk Man, the man who has weaseled his way out of every title defense somehow clinging on to his championship. He was never dethroned but he never looked like the winner. He was exhausted, tired, beaten up, almost out of it completely, but always clutching to his precious Intercontinental Championship. The only thing he can use to point at as proof that he was as great as he pretended to be.
It was beautifully set up. With Ron Bass brutally taking Brutus Beefcake out of the scenario, the Honky Tonk Man had no opponent. It looked like once again his reign would live on through more happenstance and luck.
Then, it happens.
That beautiful hubris all good heels fall for. The Honky Tonk Man buys his own hype, his own legend, his own accomplishments. He comes out to brag, to boost, milking, and feeding off the hate of the crowd. This undeserving coward coming out to tout his own accomplishments. The legendary Howard Finkel (the best) would say and his opponent…. And no one would come out.
Then he says it. He demands an opponent, he’ll face anyone. An open challenge. The door is cracked, and it’s about to be busted wide open. The crowd knows someone is coming out, they legit don’t know who. The anticipation is buzzing and you can feel it building.
Then that theme.
That legendary theme hits.
The crowd begins to erupt, Monsoon calls it an explosion and he’s not fall off. The Ultimate Warrior runs out wasting no time as The Honky Tonk Man looks around in disbelief and panic. Most importantly, he looks around in concern and fear, he knows his title reign is in legit jeopardy and there may be no tricks this time.
Ultimate Warrior does not permit him time for bullshit. Punches, bodyslam, clothesline, a splash… then it is over as the crowd erupts in relief, in celebration, in appreciation that this damn title reign was now over. Sixty-four weeks of building paid off beautifully and executed perfectly in 31 seconds. It is the greatest squash in my opinion ever. It worked because of how undeserving, how needling, and how cowardly The Honky Tonk Man had been. Finally put in a situation he couldn’t get out of, couldn’t escape, had no plan for because he had no time to plan, he gets his major comeuppance in the absolutely best way possible. He sells it perfectly, with shock and anguish beforehand, then rag dolling and selling everything from Ultimate Warrior to maxim effect, putting him over as the destructive force he had no comeback to.
As I alluded to above, the greatest squash of all time.
It’s the greatest for the long setup, for the perfect execution, the best ending to the Honky Tonk Man’s Intercontinental Championship reign we could get, and successfully elevating the Warrior and continuing his rise that would ultimately lead him to championship gold at WrestleMania VI. This would’ve been a failure if done any differently. If Warrior was announced ahead of time if they went to have an actual match afterward (can you imagine?). Instead, it was pure and utter devastation. Honky Tonk Man had no chance, no opportunity. Sixty-Four weeks and now it was over.
And over it was indeed for The Honky Tonk Man. He would never reach these heights in wrestling again. His Intercontinental reign is undoubtedly the highlight of his wrestling career, and deservedly so. This pudgy, brass, loudmouth, sleazy Elvis impersonating wrestler lacking very much most wrestling skills somehow achieving a title reign, a successfully done title reign, by playing into that absolute fact. An Intercontinental title reign that will most likely never be matched given the eras we lived in is something not to be sneezed At. He insinuated his positives and covered his weaknesses long enough to become one of the best heel mid-card champions WWF ever had. He was an undeserving champion in a time you could milk that for all it’s worth, and he got every drop of it out, but once the cow was dry, that was it, and there was no more to be had.
Thirty-one seconds in exchange for 64 weeks of bullshit. It may not seem like a great exchange rate these days, but when you listen to that crowd, when you consider that era, when you think about the significance and what it meant to the Warrior’s career moving forward, it was the best you could get. It was the ultimate squash.