Monday, February 11, 2013

Hart Foundation vs. Bulldogs at a pre-WrestleMania III house show

WWF wrestling ticket stubs from Newmarket Ontario in 1987 at the Newmarket Recreation Complex.Wrestling in the Toronto area was white-hot with just days to go before the WWF's biggest event of all time, WrestleMania III. Maple Leaf Wrestling returned to my home town of Newmarket, Ontario. The Newmarket Recreation Complex was a small arena with room for about 3000 people. This show on March 17, 1987 was sold out and I had great seats with my dad.

Roughly dead-centre, five rows back in the stands. And in the main event, my favourite tag team and new champions, Bret "Hit Man" Hart & Jim "Anvil" Neidhart with Jimmy Hart - The Hart Foundation - taking on Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith, the British Bulldogs.

WWF Tag Team champions The Hart Foundation with Jimmy Hart and Danny Davis prepare to wrestle British Bulldogs and Matilda in Newmarket, Ontario in March, 1987.

The Bulldogs were accompanied to the ring by their mascot, Matilda the dog, who you see here being lectured to by Jimmy Hart through a megaphone. The Hart Foundation was accompanied to the ring by referee-turned-wrestler Danny Davis. The referee for this match was former wrestler John Bonello.

In the background above the hallway you can see a sign for Hostess Potato Chips. Hostess was running a co-promotion with the WWF, packaging small wrestling stickers in bags of chips. I stuck them on the front of the photo album these pictures come from.

You'll recognize the ring above as the same one I mentioned in my first posts on this blog, and also from the WWF TV tapings from 1985-1986 in Brantford, Ontario. The ring posts give it away.

Davey Boy Smith knocks Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart's heads together in Newmarket, Ontario.

Davey Boy Smith suplexes Bret Hart in a WWF tag team title match in Newmarket, Ontario

Jimmy Hart leads Hart Foundation from the ring with their title belts in Newmarket Ontario in 1987.

Dynamite Kid was still working hurt, so I think Davey Boy Smith took most of the bumps. As you see above, the Hart Foundation retained the titles but took a beating, with Jimmy Hart and Danny Davis looking a little worse for wear as they headed to the dressing room.

The WWF roster was working like crazy at this point in time. Legend has it that the crew rolled into WrestleMania exhausted and banged up. I'd love to hear from Jimmy Hart or anyone else on the card what it was like doing small shows like these with the biggest card in history a mere 12 days away.

And if you look closely, that's a young, swarthy, Jimmy Korderas in the lower right, helping to clear the aisle for the heels. Before he was a referee, he was on the ring crew learning from guys like Bonello and Terry Yorkston.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Andre the Giant turns on Hulk Hogan on Piper's Pit, 1987

The build-up to WrestleMania III was genius in hindsight. Most of the work was done in a simple few minutes.

Andre the Giant was hardly around after winning the 20-man Battle Royal at WrestleMania 2. He wrestled in Japan and then as one of Captain Lou Albano's Machines, Giant Machine, while supposedly suspended.

Really, Andre was off shooting a role in The Princess Bride. He was also in horrible physical condition. The acromegaly that make him keep growing and built the imposing size that made him an international attraction was disabling him with pain. The thing that made him a spectacle was slowly killing him.

Andre was welcomed back to WWF TV with a big trophy recognizing his fifteen-year undefeated streak. (The streak was a lie, but what did we know?) He began a speech to say thank you, but Hulk Hogan appeared, wild-eyed and manic. Like a bulging, tanned Kanye West, Hulkster interrupted to say he always admired Andre. Hogan went on about how Andre was the inspiration for Hulkamania.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hart Foundation wins the titles in January 1987

After that Christmas 1986 card at Maple Leaf Gardens, I got back to watching WWF wrestling on TV. Every weekend, CHCH-TV 11 in Hamilton would have my shows. Here's how Maple Leaf Wrestling ended each Saturday afternoon in 1987.

Wrestling was as popular as ever at school, and word trickled through the grapevine that there had been a big change.

I remember being by the creek in front of the Lion's Club hall at recess when Zach told me that my favourite tag team, the Hart Foundation -- Brett (now Bret) Hit Man Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart -- had finally defeated the British Bulldogs for the World Tag Team Titles!

I never understood how the news made it to us, since the title change did not happen on TV for another week or two. All I knew is that someone said it happened. I tuned in with anticipation hoping to see it for myself. We knew the TV shows were not live broadcasts, but we had no idea how long the delay might have been between the event and the telecast.

We had a hunch it would involve referee Danny Davis. Ever since Randy Savage defeated Tito Santana in Boston for the Intercontinental Title, there was an air of suspicion around this dark-haired referee who always wore long sleeves. (We didn't know he wore long sleeves to cover up the tattoos that would've given him away as masked wrestler Mr. X.)

Davis would referee matches fairly much of the time, but he showed enough bias toward the bad guys that good-guy announces like Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon would notice. A slow count, a choke ignored, a missed tag. Eventually the bad refereeing would become blatant and the announcer would suddenly notice "That's...that's Danny Davis!" Oh, you're smart. You're noticing a pattern. So are we.

Referee Danny Davis paces the ring as the Hart Foundation battles the Rougeau Brothers at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.
Referee Danny Davis paces the ring as the Hart Foundation battles the Rougeau Brothers at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.
By the end of 1986, as you saw in the previous few posts about the end-of-86 wrestling card in Toronto, Danny Davis became part of the Hart Foundation angle. Matches involving Jimmy Hart's guys would often have Danny Davis as 'Special Referee' for some reason. It added heat to see a guy we counted on to be honest appearing to be paid off by a sneaky guy like Jimmy Hart.

What we, the fans, didn't know was that Dynamite Kid of the British Bulldogs was seriously injured. During a match in Hamilton, Kid blew out his back. It was a crippling injury. He could barely walk. Whatever the plans had been -- and one could have assumed a title change was in the works for WrestleMania III -- something had to happen immediately.

Davey Boy Smith carried Dynamite Kid to the ring....then the cameras rolled.

What we saw on TV was exciting and startling. Jimmy Hart's megaphone came into play, being used to knock Dynamite off the ring apron. That freed up both Hart and Neidhart to double-team the hell out of Davey Boy Smith, as referee Danny Davis stood at the ropes, imploring Dynamite to get in the ring, allowing the carnage to unfold.

After a short but brutal beating, Neidhart lifted Smith up and Bret Hart bounced off the ropes, taking Davey Boy to the mat with a flying clothesline. It was the Hart Foundation's devastating finishing move. (Nobody called it anything. This we before people started giving all their moves names that meant nothing. A flying clothesline could be your finishing move without it having to be called the Quadruple Hart Bypass or something.)

Danny Davis suddenly became interested in the match. He spun around, dove to the mat and counted a quick 1-2-3 for the pin.

New champions. My favourite team, the Hart Foundation, with the belts, just like the schoolyard rumours had said.

How very exciting!

Soon afterward, WWF President Jack Tunney appeared on television to suspend Danny Davis as a referee. FOREVER. Never again would Davis referee another match. He just could not be trusted. Even so, the title change would stand.

Of course, Davis was eventually reinstated. Nothing in wrestling is forever. Not even corruption of an official. When you get suspended and become a wrestler, your suspension can only last if the angle succeeds. As we'll see later on, Danny Davis was a disappointment as a wrestler.

But that's another story.