The year 2016 was a momentous occasion in that it was the first time in history a WrestleMania was able to take home the coveted Gooker Award, our annual award for the very worst of the very worst in pro wrestling. It was a show that seemingly never-ended, and sources have told this reporter that the 2017 version isn’t going to be any shorter, but in fact may be longer.
I don’t even know how that’s possible.
Further complicating matters is the somewhat baffling line up. While I’ve heard many bemoan the fact that two part-timers, in the form of Goldberg and Brock Lenar, will be in the main event, that doesn’t really bother me. I mean, I grew up in the mid 80’s when top stars such as Hulk Hogan were very rarely on the weekly shows, and honestly, that helped build my interest as a fan. They were by their very presentation special attractions, and I think we are seeing the same thing here.
No, my bigger concern is how other talent is being utilized. The guy everyone hates, Roman Reigns, taking on an Undertaker who looks so hobbled as to legitimately be one foot in the grave? About 47 different multi-team, multi-man, and multi-woman matches? The annual geek battle royal that continues to demean the good name of Andre the Giant?
John Cena in a MIXED TAG MATCH?
With THE MIZ????
Wait, wasn’t that a WrestleMania MAIN EVENT a while back? I mean without the women? And didn’t it stink so much that we inducted it?
Why I think we did!
Sigh. Eh, on the plus side, it did give us this fantastic skit in which Maryse proves to be better at playing the role of Nikki Bella than Nikki Bella is at playing the role of Nikki Bella.
Still, this all begs the question: is anyone at all even remotely interested in this show?
Let alone sitting through like seven hours of it?
Speaking of, hi AJ.
Wait, no. Wrong one.
Jeez, that’s freaking horrible. Maybe you do deserve to be saddled in a match with Shane McMahon.
No one does.
But that’s what we’re getting so I guess we all need to just accept it and hope for the best, the best meaning that whatever high thing Shane jumps off doesn’t actually kill him this time. And while I know none of us are happy about this stupid match that is hitting us in the face in about 10 days, we can take condolence in the fact that AJ is used to taking on old guys.
Case in point (or I guess induction in point): Larry Zbyszko.
Yes, THAT Larry Zbyszko, the guy who basically retired before he started commentating on Nitro. A quick check of the ever accurate Wikipedia says that he joined the crew in 1996, so no doubt when you read that, you, like me, are racking your brain trying to figure out how this could even be possible. After all, I never remember seeing AJ Styles on my television screen prior to say the late 90s, so how on earth could their paths have crossed? WHEN could their paths have crossed?
The answer lies in 2003 in TNA of all places. Typing that sentence is pretty amazing in and of itself, the fact that TNA is still alive FOURTEEN YEARS LATER. Sure, it’s on its deathbed but its been there forever. Consider this: the original ECW lasted nine years. WCW truly came into existence when Turner brought out the Crocketts in 1988, so that means it lasted 13 years. TNA has outlasted either of them. That’s horrifically depressing on countless levels.
When the company was originally founded, the idea was not to do weekly television shows, but weekly pay-per-view shows. That’s right – the basis of its existence was that they would put out weekly shows you had to pay to see with no television whatsoever to support it. You will be shocked to learn that didn’t really work out for them. But hey, it was the location of our subject today so I guess it does have that to hang its hat upon.
At the time, AJ Styles was an up and coming star, yet one who felt he wasn’t getting his just due, namely championship opportunities. As characters in the Russoverse are prone to do, he staged a sit down protest and threatened to hold the show hostage unless he was given what he wanted.
You know what, kid, if it’s watching you sit in a chair or forcing me to watch another stinkin’ Cheex match, you just stay put.
But lo and behold, we get someone else entirely making his way to the ring: the living legend himself, Larry Zbyszko. He speaks of how he’s come to the NWA-TNA (its original name) because it is steeped in tradition. I should note he says this while girls are dancing in cages in the background.
Yep, just like during those classic Race-Flair matches of old.
Larry explains that Styles has sold his soul to the devil, in this case apparently meaning Vince Russo.
Now how can you call my pal Vince Russo the devil? Look at his angelic face!
Styles eventually gets sick of Larry’s yakking and slaps him in the face. And thus the match is on: the high flying AJ taking on the never ending stallmeister Larry!
Believe it! This match actually happened.
And this actually happened as well – Larry outwrestled AJ.
Hold after hold after hold we got, with Larry controlling a good 95% of the match. After Larry threatened a top rope dive (!!!!), AJ was able to take over.
And it went about as well as you’d expect. I’ve heard of wrestling yourself to get a match over before, but that’s a bit ridiculous.
Somehow AJ nearly crotching himself then falling flat on his back led directly to the finish of the match, wherein he grabbed Larry, shoved his head in his nether regions, and pinned him for a three count with his feet on the ropes for leverage.
You know, that’s one thing in wrestling I’ve just never understood – how on earth does putting my feet on the rope give me additional leverage? Grabbing the tights I get, that makes sense, but somehow removing a good chunk of my body weight as a cheating method I don’t get.
But hey, the right guy went over.
Well, until the rematch.
Yes, the following week Larry came out once more, browbeating AJ for not going through the school of hard knocks. Pretty sure this was the exact same promo as the week before, with the exception of Larry “double dog daring” AJ to yet another match. But this time it had a stipulation: if AJ couldn’t beat Larry twice in the span of 10 minutes, Larry would become his manager.
And just like the prior match, Larry takes complete control from the outset…
…with more holds…
…than you ever did see…
…or for that matter…
…ever wanted to see, including…
…unearthing the STUMP PULLER out of the mothballs! Somewhere, Doink the Clown (or was it Big Bully Busick? Maybe both?) nods in appreciation. If Shane uses that in the Mania match, I’d almost forgive WWE for putting the match together in the first place.
Finally out of nowhere, AJ scores a pin after an inverted DDT. But again, that doesn’t make him the winner – remember, he has to get two pins for whatever reason to give him the duke. So we go into the final 180 seconds (yes, the first part with all of Larry’s wacky holds took nearly seven minutes!) with…
…yes, Larry applying MORE HOLDS!
AJ’s former manager, Mortimer Plumtree (remember him? Of course you don’t!) shows up and hands Styles brass knuckles…which he immediately drops.
Then he attempts to throw salt in the eyes of Larry.
Which Larry ducks. Man, that guy is a terrible manager. And I should know, because back in the day I was a terrible manager myself.
The rest of the match? It’s basically Larry and AJ just exchanging random blows then running into each other and falling down. The match doesn’t end with AJ winning; it ends with Larry getting a two-count on AJ.
And yes, that means that AJ Styles lost to LARRY ZBYSZKO.
This is where I would generally say something witty, but honestly, I just can’t.
If 25 year-old AJ lost to to 51-year old Larry, what chance does he possibly have against Vince McMahon’s much younger (Shane’s a spry 47!) kid?
Get those Gooker votes at the ready, kids!