AWA Brawl in St Paul (12.25.86) review
December 25, 1986
We’re in St Paul, Minnesota at the St Paul Civic Center. This aired on USA network on Christmas night, 1986. Hosts are Rod Trongard and Dick Jonckowski. On tap for tonight; Curt Hennig gets another shot at Nick Bockwinkel’s AWA title, the Midnight Rockers face off against Rose & Somers in a cage and a certain Leon White makes his first appearance in this odyssey.
This is my final 1986 event review. I’ll be doing a mop up/year end awards piece and then moving on into 1987.
WWE have made the choice to trim Buck Zumhofe from their version of this show on the Network. I cannot argue with that decision.
Brian Knobbs vs. Earthquake Ferris
It’s a shame they didn’t trim this off too. Not because either man is problematic. They’re just shit. Knobbs literally debuted about two months before this and doesn’t know how to do anything. Even Ferris outwrestles him! He’s only about a year in but Ferris is already way better than he was the last time I saw him. A ringside fan, yelling his support for Knobbs screams “come on Knobbers”. He’s so loud. Ferris finishes with the Ferris Wheel (an airplane spin) and a big splash. Ferris was much improved over earlier in the year, he’s starting to put it together. I wonder what happened to him?
I googled it, he became a high school football coach in California. Having seen his improvement, he could have made it.
Boris Zhukov vs. Steve Olsonoski
The crowd are thrilled by this one. Olsonoski is an AWA guy, he’s not made it onto any previous cards I’ve seen, which will tell you his ‘job’ in the company. His hobbies include counting lights and being pinned for cash. Zhukov tries to do the ‘bump all over the place’ heel routine of a Flair or Slaughter, or even Ivan Koloff. Only he can’t take the bumps. The referee is Jerry Sags. He’s wearing wrestling boots, sucks as a ref and has that shaved head on the sides.
He wrestled against Olsonoski four days after this. The worst part of this is they’ve turned the microphones up on the crowd, because the crowd is quiet, but you can hear the loudmouths at ringside, making witty comments.
This fucking guy, in the blue, is so irritatingly loud. There’s another guy in a red jacket who’s also really loud and they drown out the commentary. What the fuck were they thinking? It’s amateur hour. The crowd are heated for this but the match stinks. It’s so boring. Zhukov wins despite Steve O having his foot on the rope. Come on Sags, I know you’re fucking useless, but we sat through 13 minutes for that finish?
Greg Gagne, Leon White & Scott Hall vs. Larry Zbyszko, Mr. Saito & Super Ninja
Super Ninja is NJPW’s Shunji Takano in a hood. Usually the “ninja” guys in AWA were just white fellas trying to be more interesting. Like when some British guy on the holiday camps is from “Japan” and has a mask on but he’s actually from Redcar. Sags is the referee again here, as comms tell us it was supposed to Zbyskzo’s rival Scott LeDoux but he nixed it. My main interest in this match stems from Leon White, aka the Baby Bull, aka Bull Power, aka the man they call Vader.
Leon used to be in the NFL, although he never played a down. He was drafted by the LA Rams and ‘played’ for them for two seasons, although he broke his patella and he had to retire. This is after his first tour of Germany with Otto Wanz, so he’s already developing into quite the stud. He has his hair shaved on top, like the Roadwarriors, but apart from that he has very little gimmick compared to latter Vader.
So, we’ve got Scott Hall and Vader in one corner and naturally Greg fucking Gagne takes most of the match. Just, fuck off Greg. Nobody wants to see you. The hot tag to Vader sees him do loads of cool power moves. His press slam is awesome. It’s typical of AWA to get someone hot on their undercards, never push them and lose them to someone else who turns them into a star. Scott Hall is another prime example of the AWA getting a guy heated up in the midcard and then leaving him there. Apparently, Verne wanted to push him but just didn’t. Why is it so hard for Verne to change anything? He’s got Nick Bockwinkel sat on top of his promotion.
The finish here has Hall take a hot tag but Super Ninja throws powder in his eyes and Sags fucks up the finish. Greg Gagne breaks kayfabe by yelling at him. A mixture of competence and incompetence on display here. I really enjoyed seeing a young Leon White. He looked like a megastar in the making. All his shit looked great.
He takes offence at Sags disastrous performance as the referee and slams him on the floor. Although Jerry has great difficulty jumping into the spot and Vader has to jack him up. I have Sags entire career ahead of me. This may end me. Comms point out they didn’t see the finish, thanks to AWA’s crack production, and no decision was announced. Jerry Sags; the world’s worst. I didn’t miss a word out there, that’s the whole sentence.
AWA World Championship
Nick Bockwinkel (c) vs. Curt Hennig
These two had a banger earlier in the year where they went 60 minutes to a draw. I’m pretty sure it’s my 1986 MOTY.
We have a guest referee here, and it’s BritWres legend Billy Robinson. This match is meticulous with them working an arm for an arm routine. They switch to strikes in a heartbeat as the pace intensifies. Both guys throw great looking forearms. Bock slows it back down by taking the leg. Which is a reversal of the title match earlier in the year, where Hennig switched targets while Bockwinkel stuck to the same body part. Interesting that they switched it around here. Hennig sticks to the arm. It’s interesting because arguably both guys think they did the wrong thing in the hour draw and change here. Where this doesn’t compare to the Broadway match is that neither limb work goes anywhere.
Verne Gagne joins commentary, and his mic doesn’t work. AWA’s production was slowly going into the shitter and it’s sad to see. They do some cool stuff in this. Like Bock hitting a backdrop, going for another one and Curt recognising the set up and hitting a sunset flip. Sadly, they also work in a terrible ref bump. It’s Billy Robinson. Are we to believe he’s suddenly less durable just because he’s the ref? Hennig backdrops Bock out of the ring, and he lands on Robinson for the double ref bump. Hennig gets the missile dropkick for a visual pin but Robinson taps him on the shoulder. It’s a Dusty Finish. Robinson saw Bockwinkel go over the top rope. Hennig claims it was a defensive move and that shouldn’t count as a DQ. ***¼.
This was nowhere near as good as the 60 minute match. Mainly because of the finish but also because of the build going nowhere. They did a lot of limb work for the sake of it, rather than to build to spots and make the whole thing make sense. It just filled time. It was still a decent match, because both guys are quality pro-wrestlers, but it could have been much better. The finish in particular is a kick in the balls. Hennig calls it “bullshit refereeing” and the crowd loudly chants “bullshit” so they have to turn the mics down and when they turn them back up, they’re still chanting “bullshit”.
The post-match promo where Curt Hennig complains about the refereeing decisions and Verne Gagne comes over to explain the decision. He thinks it wasn’t a DQ, but the referee’s decision is final. Hennig has heard enough and storms off. Bockwinkel tells Hennig to learn from this and try again.
Colonel De Beers vs. Jimmy Snuka
Getting Snuka was a big coup for Verne Gagne but his booking was lame. The idea was that Snuka would draw regardless of who he wrestled, so they stuck him in with the racist character of De Beers to try and draw extra racial heat. Which didn’t work because the crowd are all white. Snuka opens up De Beers and pounds on him until he gets disqualified. Filler. Another terrible finish.
Buddy Rose & Doug Somers vs. Midnight Rockers
The heels are the tag champions, but this isn’t for the belts. Which is yet more AWA weirdness as the Rockers would win the belts soon after this anyway. AWA’s general malaise is cited as the reason why the Rockers left for WWF in 1987. Sherri is louder than commentary here, yelling and screaming at ringside. She’s the manager of the heels.
There’s only one star in this match and it’s Shawn Michaels. While the heels are hated and Marty puts in a decent shift, Shawn is head and shoulders above everyone. The heels get nothing and look like total geeks. Both Marty and Shawn refuse the pinfall victory when a bloodied Doug Somers can’t kick out anymore. The heels take over after that, showing what dumbasses the Rockers are, and Shawn gets busted too.
Sherri is grating at the crowd so much that someone dumps a beer on her. That’s proper heel heat. In the ring it looks like a war zone. There’s blood everywhere. Michaels does an unbelievable job of selling. He does this thing where he stumbles over Somers, and it looks so organic and natural. I love how dead he looks in the corner after tagging Marty too. Shawn recovers enough to superkick Somers and Jannetty hits a crossbody for the pin. The Midnight Rockers finally beat Rose & Somers and about a month later they won the belts too.
After the match Sherri distracts and the champs kick Shawn out of the cage and put a beating on Jannetty. This was a good cage match with vim, vigour and bloodshed. Rose & Somers took a beating for most of the match, which made it seem a bit strange that they still lost. ***¾.
The two big matches delivered, to varying degrees, which has to be considered a success for AWA. However, the refereeing standards and booking on this show in general was dogshit. There wasn’t a single normal referee on the entire show. It was refereed by Billy Robinson, Scott LeDoux and Jerry Sags. None of them were any good. The referee is a key element in matches and AWA just threw that away completely here. We also endured some needlessly long undercard matches. Who needs 13 minutes of Boris Zhukov in their life? It’s not even the worst AWA show I saw in 1986 but the company was in dire straits. Every time they got something going, the WWF swooped in and took it.