Follow Your Spirit
Some time back, I told you about BattleMania, the WWF's first attempt at a comic book series, featuring zany and not-at-all plausible outside the ring adventures for wrestling's biggest superstars. Today, I go back to the well to draw upon another exciting tale...
Meet Ben Bradford, a rookie professional wrestler trying to live out his dreams. Of course, if this tale took place today, NXT would have changed his name to something less human-sounding, like Turk Gibraltar or Bottle Bradlington.... but that's besides the point.
Bradford has entered Diamond Gym's first ever wrestling competition, which apparently consists of a bunch of a sweaty gym rats competing in the same ring while Boss Hogg looks on in delight.
Jefferson Davis Hogg declares Bradford the winner of the competition after he bodyslams one of the competitors (and no, I'm not exaggerating; the panel you see to the left of this text is actually the finish. Wonder what you would have had to do to lose the match?).
With his handicapped brother sitting ringside, drawing pictures for some reason, Bradford is handed a trophy (Tough Enough this ain't) and Boss Hogg brings in none other than WWF Superstar The Ultimate Warrior to give this Bradford kid his props, maybe give him a word or two of advice and possibly put in a good word for him over at Titan Tower.
Which is kind of laughable because - no offense - but I couldn't see Jim Hellwig ever participating in something like this, particularly for the winner of a glorified bodyslam match at a local gym.
Warrior congratulates Bradford on his winning ways and -- if you've ever seen even 15 minutes of professional wrestling before, you totally saw this coming -- Bradford turns on Warrior. This was the 1991 equivalent of The Megapowers Exploding, if Randy Savage wasn't an established superstar and if Miss Elizabeth were Boss Hogg.
Just as Bradford is about to lay the SmackDown on Warrior and announce that Bobby "The Brain" Heenan has agreed to manage him (okay, that's my version of events; what's yours?), The Ultimate One turns the tide and gorilla presses his younger foe over his head.
Despite Bradford's pleas to "Put me down!", Warrior isn't having any of it, and promptly dumps the Tough Enough wannabe into the first row, knocking over what I believe to be Charles Bronson. Wow.... there's a dated reference for you. But let's be honest, who else does buddy in the front row really look like?
No one in the audience chants E-C-Dub! E-C-Dub!, although I totally would have had I been all over that.
Like the douchebag he is, Bradford's little brother shows Ben a drawing of him putting Ultimate Warrior in a chinlock, as though that image would in any way put asses in the proverbial seats.
Touched by the snub, Warrior befriends Bradford (even though Ben turned on him, like, five panels earlier) and teaches him a thing or two about working out, eating right and always following your dreams (#foreshadowing).
Halfway across town (I'm guessing) Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter and his manager General Adnan are plotting -- I'm just going to come right out and say it -- to nuke America back to the stone age, when they're interrupted by an associate who has some good news/bad news to share. The good news is that the United Nations hasn't yet shut them down. The bad news is that The Ultimate Warrior (gasp!) has a new training partner!
The eeeeeeevil foreigners are concerned that Warrior's victory may compromise their delicate operation and in turn, improve PPV buyrates and the like.
Sgt. Slaughter (who has a moustache; please note this fact as it becomes important later) decides to drop his current battle plans in favor of Operation: Shut Down Warrior.
Back at Diamond Gym (because, apparently WWF Superstars aren't on the road that often in this universe), Ultimate Warrior is teaching Ben Bradford a thing or two about working out and technical wrestling. I'm fine with the first point, but a tad skeptical that The Ultimate One could even apply a hammerlock all that expertly.
All of a sudden, two complete strangers that look exactly like Sgt. Slaughter and Gen. Adnan except with dark sunglasses and obviously fake beards walk into the gym and offer to help "demonstrate" on Warrior how to escape the dreaded armbar.
But it's all just another swerve (did Russo write this?) because the two random strangers that look exactly like Sgt. Slaughter and Gen. Adnan are acually.... Sgt. Slaughter and Gen. Adnan! What are the odds?
After Slaughter kicks him in the face with a Batman-esque BUNTK sound effect, Warrior utters the phrase "Pharrgh!", which is pretty much what he used to say in his WWF promos anyways.
Then Ben Bradford (remember him?) rips off the brilliant disguise, leading the rookie to believe that maybe these weren't random strangers after all.
Not to be too skeptical.... but if Ben Bradford can't beat General Freaking Adnan, I'd say his chances of main-eventing the next WrestleMania are pretty damn slim.
And no matter what you think of Gen. Adnan as a competitor, you have to (well, not 'admire'... but maybe 'despise'?) his insanely sexist comment here.
Soon, the action spills out of the ring and into the gym, where Warrior tackles Sarge and the two crash through the (Barber Shop?) window. "Is there a problem between The Ultimate Warrior and Sgt. Slaughter? I don't THINK so!"
Then, he.... wait a second.
WHERE THE HELL DID SGT. SLAUGHTER'S MOUSTACHE GO?!?!
I mean... it was there just a few panels ago and now it's gone! Are we to believe he stopped in for a quick mid-brawl shave? Or did the shards of glass somehow cut off his cookie-strainer without the slightest drop of blood or anything?
A few more continuity gaffes like this and I'll be convinced that Russo has the pen...
Anyways, both men stand up just as Adnan returns from battle. As it turns out, Warrior is prevented from attacking his foes because he has to defend the women in the locker room.
Even Sexist Adnan has no idea what Warrior's dealio is, but Slaughter helpfully explains that, under the Warrior Code, he is duty-bound to protect women from foreign baddies from entering the room and possibly sneaking a peek at their "parts unknown", if you catch my drift.
Spotting this obvious weakness (Warrior wouldn't have lasted long in the 24/7 era), Slaughter and Adnan go in for the kill and decide to make this an impromptu handicap match.
Before we proceed any further, I'd like to point out three things:
1) Ultimate Warrior hails from Parts Unknown -- not America -- so perhaps Slaughter and Adnan should focus their global warfare efforts elsewhere.
2) Where the hell is Col. Mustafa in all this?
3) Slaughter's moustache is back. Sigh.
Sensing that Warrior is stuck on Hall Monitor Duty, Ben Bradford's little brother (yeah, I completely forgot he was there, too) rolls a set of barbells across the floor and manages to capture Adnan and Slaughter in the onslaught. The fact that he rolled the heavy barbells while sitting in a wheelchair is even more impressive.
Sarge and The Colonel trip over the weights as though they were, say, in a Three Stooges film and then both men collapse on the ground.
Convinced that they've now obtained enough information on Warrior's secret new training friend, G.I. Joke decide to get going while the getting's still good and will go on to fight another day.
And although barely visible, Slaughter's moustache manages to escape the gym with its owner.
After the battle ends, Ben Bradford comes to and realizes he's not going to last long in the wrestling business working as a poor man's Ted Arcidi.
Warrior finds Ben's brother somewhere and brings him across town, mere seconds before Bottle Bradlington is named runner-up in a local WBF Bodystars competition (that part was never made explicit, but it's not like Vinnie Mac was going to push some also-ran bodybuilding group).
Not only does Ben win the exact same trophy he won at the beginning of the comic, but now he has enough money to pay for his brother's operation. Did I mention the kid needed an operation?
FOLLOW YOUR SPIRIT!