First thing first: No, this isn't the WWE series that looks at what Rob Van Dam was like in high school. You're confusing it with "Before They Were Superstars".
What I have here is a DVD distributed by Kit Parker Films (Wrestling Gold) in 2002 that highlights current wrestlers in bouts before, well, before they were famous.
This is all old Smoky Mountain Wrestling footage, the Jim Cornette-run promotion that was the early 1990's precursor to Ohio Valley Wrestling in many respects.
When I saw this DVD on sale, I grabbed it and ran (probably should paid for it first, but what's done is done). It combines my love of obscure videos and decent-quality matches.
A couple of notes before we get into this: First, you will want to change the commentary track from Jim Ross and whomever is calling the action to the "insider" commentary by Cornette and Dave Meltzer.
Folks, I can't tell you what a difference this makes. Hearing their stories and anecdotes gives a whole new perspective to each match, and one that's quite welcome.
Now, because there are 15 plus matches here, I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow for each match; just a basic description of the match and some of the highlights from the insider commentary.
Thrasher and Mosh Vs. Flash and Chris Michaels - This was about two months after Mosh and Thrasher began teaming as the WWF's Headbangers (although they were previously under masks as The Spiders). Flash (sadly, not Flash Funk) and Michaels are just jobbers, albeit competitive ones.
Cornette explains that he came up with the Headbangers gimmick after seeing Marilyn Manson in concert for the first time. It's interesting, because the two of them seem to work together as well then as they did during their WWF peak (and not in a bad way). Cornette says they eventually left the company as "a victim of Vince Russo", and seriously if that's the only reason, I don't know why they never came back later on.
Michaels and Flash actually get a lot of offense in during the last few minutes, until Mosh and Thrasher nail an awesome powerbomb/top rope legdrop combination. An easy three count from there.
Hollywood Bob Holly Vs. Paul Miller - This youngster later went on to become.. you guessed it, Hollywood Hulk Hogan. Oops, I mean Hardcore Holly. This is from his pre-Sparky Plugg days; Bob had a lot less muscle mass than he does now, a mullet, and was wearing a Bret Hart-like pink tights ensemble to boot. Very unhardcore of him, I must say.
Miller is a skinny TV jobber, as this was a match from Smoky Mountain television in 1992.Holly was introduced to Cornette at a WCW TV taping, and he reminded Cornette of a young Bobby Eaton. Interesting.
We also learn that he was a part-time welder at the time of this match, and eventually quit SMW because welding paid more. How do you like me now? A quick win for Holly after a semi-botched top rope dropkick.
Jerry Lynn Vs. Killer Kyle - This is another television match from 1992. Lynn is almost unrecognizable here, looking more like Brad Armstrong than the Jerry Lynn of today. Kyle was a 300-plus pounder wearing Big Bubba Rogers-like dress shirt and slacks (what a gimmick!) who was a mainstay in SMW at the time.
This was a very short, give-and-take match with neither guy looking particularly impressive. Kyle lifts Lynn in a bearhug, followed by a sidewalk slam, followed by Kyle accidentally stepping on Lynn's leg (oops!) and the getting the three-count. I guess Lynn was still a jobber at this point.
Dark Secret Vs. Dixie Dy-No-Mite - This is a match between two hooded, unimposing-looking wrestlers, but Cornette explains that the two foes are actually brothers: Brian and Scott Armstrong. Brian would later go on to become Road Dogg Jesse James, whereas Scott Armstrong would enjoy success as… uh, Scott Armstrong. Well at least he got to keep his real name, I guess…
Both brothers are upholding the proud Armstrong tradition of dressing up in a masked gimmick that no one even remotely cares about. Dark Secret is decked out in black (duh), while the costume of Dy-No-Mite (and no, I'm not making up the Jimmy Walker-esque spelling of that, that's how it reads on the screen) looks like what would happen if The Patriot guest-starred on a Dukes of Hazzard episode.
Road Dogg was still in the Marines at this point, thus his need for the mask, and I kid you not - the body language and charisma that would make him a success later on is already there.
A crappy-looking savate kick by Dy-No-Mite finishes off Dark Secret in under three minutes. Oh, and Mark Curtis (a/k/a the late Brian Hildebrand) was the referee for this match, I just noticed that now.
Crash The Terminator Vs. Miguel Perez - Although he looks like could be Road Warrior Animal's younger, fatter brother here, this is actually Hugh Morrus/General Rection/Bill DeMott in a mohawk and face paint. Perez was best known (in North America, that is) as one of the legendary Los Boriquas stable, the one with the reallllly hairy back. Should be a classic!
Both men were wrestling in Puerto Rico at the time, but local promoter Victor Quinones wanted to get them some U.S. television exposure, which is how this match ended up in SMW. Meltzer jokes about how Perez eventually shaved his back during the end of his WWF run.
Miguel and Crash manage to pull off several high-flying moves (especially impressive because neither of these guys are exactly cruiserweights). After only a few minutes, though, both guys are attacked by Kevin Sullivan and a guy known as The Nightstalker, who would later go on to fame as Adam Bomb, Wrath and Kronic's Bryan Clark. You'd think there would be one decent gimmick between all four of these guys, but nope. A no-contest, I guess.
Kevin Sullivan and The Nightstalker Vs. Brian Lee and Tim Horner - Lee, of course, later went on to fame as Evil Undertaker (or, if you will, The Underfaker) and even later as Chainz, while Horner is described as a "perennial Southern favorite" (read: jobber).
This match happened in 1993, so I'm guessing Sullivan must have been on loan from WCW at the time, whereas Nightstalker hadn't quite become radioactive yet as Adam Bomb in the WWF.
Cornette and Meltzer discuss Sullivan as a draw in Florida, how he used to be a bodybuilder (!!!), and his prowess as a booker, revealing that he invented SMW specialty matches such as "The Singapore Spike". I think I had two Singapore Spikes at the bar last night; too much Vodka.
They also tease Clark as having "one of the worst matches in the history of television" in his early career, an NWA Clash of the Champions bout with Sid Vicious. I actually remember that match, and they ain't joking.
Out of nowhere, some stocky, face-painted guy in jungle-motif tights attempts to leap off the top rope onto Lee while the referee is distracted. This plan fails miserably, with Lee moving out of the way in the nick of time and scoring the pinfall on Nightstalker.The caveman guy, by the way, was The Tasmaniac, now better know as Taz.
The Tasmaniac Vs. Robert Gibson - You have to see Taz here to appreciate him. In addition to the aforementioned jungle tights and makeup, he's wrestling barefoot and has "Blue Chipper" Rocky Maivia-style frizzy hair. Gibson is, of course, one half of the Rock 'n' Roll Express and this being 1993, it wasn't exactly BEFORE he was famous. It may have very well been AFTER he was famous. Though to be fair, the Express were still big draws in the South at this time.
Taz, who I honestly believe was one of the more underappreciated stars of his era, came into SMW with his friend Chris Candido and got a tryout with Cornette as a favor to the future Skip. Candido passed his tryout that week, whereas Taz didn't make the cut. Not because he wasn't a good wrestler, Cornette says, but because he wasn't a fan of the over-the-top savage gimmick. "The character was at odds with his strong points and his talents," Cornette says.
True enough, Taz busts out some awesome suplexes on Gibson here. Gibson does his partner proud by selling like a pro for his three-foot-tall opponent, then nails Taz with a bulldog (a move named after yours truly!) for the pin.
Tammy Fytch Interview This is the first on-screen presence for Tammy Fytch, later known as Sunny, later known as Strung-Out-On-Crack Sunny, later known as Out-Of-Shape, Strung-Out-On-Crack Sunny, later known as Out-Of-Shape, Pose-Nude-For-Money Strung-Out-On-Crack Sunny. Although she looks quite attractive here, and has a cool gimmick playing a Hilary Clinton wannabe who wants more equality in wrestling, Tammy cannot act to save her life here. It reminds me of someone performing a skit in my seventh-grade drama class.
Heavenly Bodies-Bruise Brothers brawl - The backstory here is that, Jim Cornette was managing both of these teams at the time. The Heavenly Bodies (Tom Pritchard and Gigolo Jimmy Del Ray) had just been called up to the WWF, and The Brothers Bruise (a/k/a Ron and Don Harris, a/k/a DOA, a/k/a Jacob and Eli Blu, a/k/a Creative Control) were complaining that THEY should be the ones in the WWF. Um, I've seen both teams wrestle, and I've got to side with Corny on this one.
And just an aside: doesn't it sound really bush-league whenever these guys admit they're not good enough for the big company? I mean, I know they still do this kind of thing in OVW, but what purpose does it serve?
Anyways… the discussion quickly denigrates into a brawl, with Cornette throwing talcum powder into one of the Bruise Brothers. Minutes after the brawl apparently ends, the two teams and Cornette fight backstage, in the parking lot, everywhere.
It's just a tremendous, fun brawl that would really build to a future match between these teams. Makes me long for the early days of the WWF's hardcore division, actually.
Chris Canyon Vs. Prime Team Brian Lee - Canyon, later to become Kanyon, is clean-shaven and wearing a light blue singlet, looking like a taller version of the 1-2-3 Kid (and no, that ain't a compliment). Yet another match on this tape for Lee here, who at least has Tammy Fytch with him this time around.Before I can get around to typing how hot Tammy looks (answer: very), Lee has already nailed a top rope dive (maybe a two-star frog splash at best) on Canyon for the three-count. We're talking maybe 50 seconds of match.
Interview with Louie Spicolli - Cornette explains (as Meltzer has mentioned in his Tributes book) that Spicolli was on his way to greatness before his untimely end at the age of 27. In this interview, he looks like quite the jobber but has decent mic skills.
Louie Spicolli Vs. Chris Candido - This is for the U.S. Junior Heavyweight title. Candido would later become Skip of the Bodydonnas. The lovely Tammy Fytch is once again at ringside.
Cornette reveals that, even before starting up SMW, his longtime plan was to bring Spicolli in as Bobby Eaton's long-lost brother because they looked so much alike. Now, wait a second… he said earlier that Bob Holly reminded him of Eaton, yet Holly and Spicolli aren't exactly identical twins. Which is it, Jimbo?
To be fair, Candido was quite good here, with the look and ring presence of a veteran. Now, I can kind of buy Candido as a junior heavyweight because of his size, but Spicolli? He's roughly the weight of Hugh Morrus in this one.Thanks to some minor interference by the lovely Tammy, Candido gets a rollup on Spicolli to end the match, again before it really had a chance to get going.
The Thrillseekers Vs. The Infernos - The Infernos are two masked guys named Fire and Brimstone, who Cornette points out "later went on to obscurity" (hey, that was my line!) whereas The Thrillseekers were… ummm… I'm just trying to remember their names… oh yeah, Chris Jericho and Lance Storm.
This is the first U.S. match for The Thrillseekers, although Jericho had made some indy appearances south of the Canadian border. Both Storm and Jericho are on fire here, looking incredible with their moves. I daresay that Storm was a lot quicker here than he was towards the end of his WWE run.
Cornette tells some amusing stories about how Storm and Jericho were wrestling's best-kept secret, and I can see why. A picture-perfect top-rope double dropkick finishes off the jobbers quickly
The teenage girls are going wild for Storm and Jericho. Both of these guys are extremely charismatic on the mic (yes, even Lance Storm). Fun little segment.
The Rock 'n' Roll Express Vs. The Gangstas - This is where New Jack and Mustafa Saed got their start as a team on television (although Saed had been used in WCW apparently. News to me.)
This was an extremely controversial program at the time (1994), because of the way The Gangstas were portrayed. As Cornette explains, this was when the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson stories were fresh in people's minds, and having two South Central L.A. types inciting fans with racial slurs was quite an innovative gimmick.
Unfortunately, The Gangstas were getting "the wrong kind of heat," Cornette explains, because they actually scared fans off to the point where his house show business dropped dramatically!
This leads into a tirade by Cornette of how he actually called his longtime enemy Paul Heyman and helped get The Gangstas into ECW, yet Heyman screwed him in the end.
Onto the match: As Ric Flair has pointed out in his book, Ricky Morton is one of those guys who could make anyone look great, and he does so here with The Gangstas. To be fair, Gibson does his part, and Mustafa isn't that bad, either. A double-team into a sunset flip by Gibson on Mustafa leads to the win.
After the match, The Gangstas' posse runs into the ring and quadruple teams Morton and Gibson with nightsticks (which Cornette said was supposed to be a take-off of the Rodney King beatings). This lasts a good several minutes with Morton taking most of the punishment, natch.
Interview with The Gangstas - A note on the screen reminds us that "The views of The Gangstas are not those of Smoky Mountain Wrestling or this station." Whether they actually had to make that disclaimer or not, I'm not sure, but it's a nice touch nonetheless.
This is immediately following the aforementioned R 'n' R beatdown, and Mustafa, in particular, looks particularly insane with his eyes bugged out while picking his nose. New Jack cuts just an incredible promo warning the R 'n' R's not to mess in their business. I'm not even kidding; it was excellent.
Uptown D-Lo Brown Vs. Steve Armstrong - My gosh, does D-Lo ever look fat! This was in 1994, and only his fifth or sixth match. Brown was introduced to Cornette through a mutual friend by saying that he looks "just like Ernie Ladd." Of course, he doesn't look like Ladd in the slightest, so that didn't work. Perhaps he should have said D-Lo looked like Bobby Eaton.
Off-camera, D-Lo became part of the SMW ring crew (and we hear some interesting stories about that), while on-camera, he became a member of The Gangstas' posse. Although, at this point in his career, he might as well be called D-Lo Green for all of the offense he gets in.
This is mostly about Armstrong here, for whatever reason. The Gangstas attack Armstrong, only to be saved by his brother Scott. Armstrong won by DQ, I think.
.Cactus Jack Vs. Boo Bradley - Boo Bradley, a knock-off of the To Kill A Mockingbird character Boo Radley (but why?), would later go on to become the feared Xanta Claus in the WWF and then Balls Mahoney in ECW.
He looks absolutely terrible here, a kind of fat version of Eugene, wearing a torn-apart T-shirt and what appear to be actual boxer shorts. Yuck. Or maybe he's better described as a homeless Norman The Lunatic. No, no, no, wait… I've got it. He looks like the unemployed father character from You Can't Do That On Television. Talk about obscure references!!!
His opponent, this Cactus Jake guy or something like that, went on to become… uh, some guy I think.The storyline here is that Foley was trying to turn the simple-minded Bradley away from the evil clutches of Fytch and Candido, and to do that, he had to show him some tough love, as he says in the pre-match promo. Perhaps he would have been better advised trying to save Skip and Sunny from evil instead.
The match is over quickly - surprise, surprise - when Cactus and Boo are both counted out. This was apparently the warm-up for a grudge match at something called "Christmas Chaos". Hey - wasn't that the name of one of Foley's children's books?
The Rock 'n' Roll Express Vs. Unabom and Eddie Gilbert - So the only guy who wasn't actually famous yet here was Unabom (I remember the Apter mags used to spell it 'Unibomb', but whatever, I guess), who would later become Isaac Yankem, The New Diesel and, of course, Kane. The loser of this match has to impregnate Lita.
This is also the final U.S. match for Gilbert and is roughly six to eight weeks before his death, says Cornette. If nothing else, the commentators provide some interesting details on Kane's early days and how he got into the WWF. He's dubbed "Sid Lite" by Cornette because he had a similar size to Sid Eudy but none of the attitude. To me, here, he actually looks like the love child of Sid and Dr. D. David Schultz.
The match itself is going fairly well until Unabom and Gilbert get DQ'd for double-teaming Morton. Nothing bad, just way too short.
Al Snow Vs. Ricky Morton - Snow was teaming here with Unabom and as I remember, they had quite a feud going with The Rock 'n' Roll Express. Al is painted a veteran 12-year journeyman grappler who had never received any television exposure until his run with SMW.
His exposure here eventually led to a deal with the WWF (the infamous Avatar and Leif Cassidy gimmicks). After watching so many quick squashes on this tape, this one is a nice surprise, with tons of reversals and counter wrestling. There's even some color by Morton, thanks to some outside interference by Unabom.
The extra time for this match allows Cornette and Meltzer to get behind the psychology of Ricky Morton and how he's one of the most respected wrestlers in the locker room. Interesting…Morton steals Snow's brass knux and nails Snow with them for the three-count. Unabom attacks the referee post-match, and then Morton and Gibson for the hell of it.
In terms of extras, there's not really much to speak of here. There's a bio section where Bryan Alvarez provides a text biography of guys like Jericho and Kanyon - stuff you can find at virtually any website. And of course, you can switch the commentaries back and forth at your leisure. No Easter Eggs that I could find.
Is this DVD worth tracking down a copy of? I say absolutely. The wrestling and picture quality certainly aren't spectacular, but they're not terrible, either. The reasons you want this disc, though, are to see what some of the top names of the 90's and beyond looked like while they were still getting started, and the awesome "insider" commentary. Trust me, I didn't spoil anything here in this review; there are tons of other great stories. Plus, it's about two hours, almost all matches, and virtually no backstage skits.