Ever play an unlicensed video game?
You know, where they couldn’t license a big league or big promotion so you wind up with the character “El Tigre” instead of “Tiger Mask” a la Tecmo World Wrestling on the old school NES? Heroes of Wrestling, what was billed as a wrestling supercard that was meant to be the first of a franchise of pay-per-views, feels a bit like that. It’s an unlicensed wrestling event. Some approximation of the real thing. It’s no wonder that rather than being the first of a franchise, the October 10, 1999 event from Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi was the only event produced under the Heroes of Wrestling banner, and perhaps the worst wrestling event ever staged.
By comparison, everything that AEW did right with All In in Chicago in 2018 to launch its new promotion, Heroes of Promotion did wrong in its launch, and crash.
Let’s stop and appreciate how hard it is to put on the worst wrestling show ever in 1999. Wrestling was so big, so hot, so part of the mainstream in ’99 that a supercard with popular wrestlers from the early 90s and 80s should have been a sound investment. I mean, promoter Bill Stone should have been able to put up hand drawn posters and fallen ass backwards into profit with an idea like that. Problem is, he didn’t quite appreciate the depth of wrestling fans’ understanding and appreciation of the product, nor that relying on wrestlers to pull anything off can always turn into a circus.
Wrestling is popular? Well let’s get popular wrestlers and put on a show! Makes sense to a non-wrestling fan. But a wrestling fan now or in ’99 knows that the game changes as wrestling constantly evolves. Fans enjoying ECW or the hardcore divisions in WCW and the WWF or the general edgier nature of wrestling in 1999 were not interested in the cartoonish Bushwackers or the clumsy foreign heel Nikita Koloff. But sure enough, they’re in a match against each other on Heroes of Wrestling, and it’s as bad a match as you’d expect. Dave Meltzer called the match and “absolute zero.” Bryan Alvarez went slightly further, rating the match “minus more stars than there are in the universe.”
Imagine having watched the Hart-Austin matches over recent years, or being witness to the new work rate of Malenko and Benoit and Jericho and Mysterio and all the cruiserweights that revolutionized the American product in WCW, or the Hell in a Cells between ‘Taker and Michaels or ‘Taker and Mick Foley of late, then being asked to buy a PPV with the Bushwackers versus Koloff and a less than able Iron Sheik or Greg Valentine versus George Steele on the card. Fans in 1999 just weren’t going to bite. It only sold to 29,000 homes.
Don’t get me wrong. Heroes of Wrestling has a lot of talent on it that meant a lot to my childhood wrestling viewing. That I still think fondly on. I could corral an OSW Boys’ Stable out of this card. Tully Blanchard, Stan Lane, One Man Gang, 2 Cold Scorpio, King Kong Bundy, Yokozuna, Jake Roberts – I love them all; especially Bundy and Jake the Snake. If you’ve read some of my previous columns here at TWM you’ve probably guessed correctly that Jake Roberts is my favorite wrestler of all time. Unfortunately, we’re talking about Blanchard and Lane and Gang and Scorpio and Bundy and ‘Zuna and Roberts in 1999, well past their collective primes. And, if you’ve seen Beyond the Mat or The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, you know that 1999 was not a sober time for Roberts. Add that to some overrated names that were never good wrestlers really: the aforementioned Bushwackers and Steele and Koloff, plus the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Jimmy Snuka, and Jim Neidhardt. It’s just not an equation that works for smart wrestling fans in ’99.
It feels like someone who knew nothing about wrestling except what you could read on video rental store videotape boxes in 1993, or what wrestler action figures were in the clearance bin in ’95, decided to put on a wrestling show.
The product was as bad as the premise. Bad wrestlers from the 80s were, shocker, even worse in the late 90s. The ones that did have good in-ring chops in their heyday didn’t anymore. Promoters didn’t respect fans’ expectations for good commentary (much like the current WWE product), the main event was switched-up mid-show, and, well, 1999 Jake Roberts showed up and made a fan rub his nipples.
I’m sure Randy Rosenbloom is a decent fellow. But a fan actually buying Heroes of Wrestling, on a lark or a nostalgic whim or actually expecting it to be good, tuning in with the promise of the great, legendary, pre-Jim Ross best-wrestling-commentator-ever Gordon Solie and getting Randy Rosenbloom. That’s what happened twenty years ago, and Rosenbloom was one of the viewers’ biggest complaints. It’s tough to blame the promoters on this one. They tried—Solie was hired to do the gig. Sadly, Solie had fallen ill with the disease that would eventually be his end.
Replacement Rosenbloom, a veteran Olympic and NCAA basketball commentator, clearly knew nothing about wrestling. Instead of calling moves by their well-known names, he described moves off the cuff. He called an arm drag a “reverse slam takedown.” He called drop kicks, at various points, “a flying kick,” “a flying leg kick,” and “a leg drop.” There’s no better way for a wrestling show to lose instant credibility with fans of any season at all.
The in-ring action was fairly predictable. In addition to the already described worse match ever, you had Abdullah and Gang go to a very predictable double count out brawl, and an absolute train wreck of a main event.
The latter was the fault of Jake Roberts. Clearly and unbelievably inebriated, his pre-match interview was rambling mess, based around gambling metaphors. While the event was in a casino, that was the only part of the comments that made any sense. And we’re talking about the greatest stick man of all time as far as I’m concerned. But the Jake Roberts that showed up this night was not of the old ilk. While he’d been known in his heyday to slap himself during promos, during the pre-match interview he awkwardly swatted at himself and luxuriously rubbed his own hair. Odd, uncomfortable behavior.
Beyond that, he couldn’t really make it to the ring. To be fair again to the promoters, this was one of Roberts’ advertised periods of sobriety. If you’ve seen the excellent ‘Resurrection of Jake The Snake, documentary you know that he made many attempts at staying on the wagon before the current extended recovery he has undergone. 1996 was one of those periods, when he came back to the WWF as a born again christian with the white python and put Stone Cold Steve Austin over at the King of the Ring where Austin coined the legendary “Austin 3:16” line in response to Jake’s biblical preaching gimmick. 1999 was supposedly one of those periods too. Unfortunately, before this night, he relapsed, and was completely trashed.
He stumbled to the ring and dropped his snake. Then he seemingly went back toward the curtain area. However, he reversed course and started high-giving and glad handing with the fans. He grabbed one female fan by the arms and made her rub his bare chested nipples. As the ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith might say, it was bizarre. Further degrading the situation, Jake made it to the ring, pulled his python out of the bag, and simulated masturbation using the snake before collapsing on the mat with the snake on top of him. He proceeded to pretend to make out with the the snake.
While Jake Roberts versus Jim Neidhart and King Kong Bundy versus Yokozuna were meant to be separate matches, the panicking Bill Stone decided to combine the matches into a tag team contest given Jake’s state. Bundy was sent out as Neidhart’s partner and Yoko was sent out as Jake’s.
Unable to do anything with Roberts in the match, Bundy just quickly splashed and pinned him. Afterwards, to put a cherry on top, Roberts started stripping and producers had to cut the live feed.
A fitting ending to a terrible, mismanaged, haphazard show.
In the end, Heroes of Wrestling was painfully ironic. Twenty years ago we were reminded with a slap in the face that those heroes of wrestling are often anything but what we hold in our nostalgic memories of them, anything but heroic.
Still, it’s an important landmark for any 80s and 90s wrestling fan, and worth watching, if for no other reason, so you can say you have watched the worst wrestling pay-per-view of all time.
You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.