National Wrestling League, 1990
It sure took him long enough, but John Cena is finally a household name. Despite his catchphrase, Cena is now highly visible, whether it be on the Today Show, at award ceremonies, or in PSAs about diversity.
Wrestling may not have been cool for the past 15 years, but its top star in that time at least has name and face recognition, due in part to the Unexpected John Cena meme that has been making the rounds online in recent years.
In my experience, the meme has introduced teenagers to Cena and/or made it acceptable for them to admit that they know who John Cena is.
Whereas a few years ago, I only ever made the “You Can’t See Me” hand gesture when I needed to activate the motion sensor on a paper towel dispenser, I can now use it in class to remind my students about how to say, “dinner” in Spanish.
The meme, as you probably know, originated in a radio prank where a morning show crew repeatedly calls a listener’s wife to advertise WWE’s fictitious “Super Slam” pay-per-view.
What you might not know is that there was indeed a Super Slam event back in the 90s…
(much like SummerFest)
…although it was promoted not by WWE but by the National Wrestling League, and it aired not live on pay-per-view, but tape-delayed on cable TV…
…and only in Guam.
Lest you be misled by the promotion’s important-sounding (if unbelievably generic) name, I should make it clear that the NWL was based primarily in western Maryland and held nearly all its shows in the surrounding areas of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Why would such a small-time organization tour an island located nearly halfway around the globe?
Well, for one thing, it’s physically possible for an island to be located *more* than halfway around the globe.
If you would like a non-smart-ass answer, their decision to tour the US territory in 1990 was probably due to a desire for some credibility as a major promotion, in addition to the total lack of competition in the live wrestling market on the island, and the fact that their American wrestlers wouldn’t need passports.
I will give the NWL credit: an indie promotion running a show in Guam was an original move. As you’ll see from the actual show they put on, this was the promotion’s only original move.
Don’t believe me? Their opening match pitted Bob Orton against Batman.
In a move that would have made Arachniman blush, a masked wrestler dressed up as Batman, called himself Batman, and entered the ring to the Batman theme from the 60s.
The superhero from Gotham City (from which he was actually billed) had limited offense to say the least.
Mostly, he did somersaults on the mat, or as the announcers called them, “flips”. In what would be a recurring theme on this show, the commentators got the name of the very first move wrong.
The “boo birds” really came out for the hated Orton, who dominated nearly the whole match with heel tactics like the “Anvil Drop”, the announcers’ name for a choke with the forearm.
He also punished Batman with a “back drop”, which is the name given two completely different wrestling moves, neither of which were the backbreaker variation that the Ace Cowboy performed.
Other moves we’d see later on included the “atomic knee drop” (a backbreaker) and the “whirlwind slam” (a body slam).
After a brief Bat-comeback, Orton pinned the intellectual property of DC Comics to cap off ten minutes of the dullest wrestling you would ever see until the next match.
The next wrestler to blatantly infringe on copyrighted characters was “John Rambo”, a character loosely based on the Sylvester Stallone character from First Blood…
…in the same way that the Sylvester Stallone character from Rambo III was loosely based on the Sylvester Stallone character from Rambo: First Blood, Part II.
Rambo hailed from Philadelphia and came to the ring to “Eye of the Tiger”. Wrong Stallone movie, guys. They didn’t even make it a First Blood match.
The announcers seemed to think that this John Rambo was the same person from the movie, calling him an American hero and comparing his match with his experiences in the POW camp.
His title belt appeared to be a shiny plaque attached to a rubber strap.
After another ten minutes of dull, dull, unbearably dull action, The Bounty Hunter decided he’d had enough and hit Rambo with the plaque/belt, then took off with it.
Rambo wouldn’t allow this, so he threw the Bounty Hunter back in the ring and whipped him like he did the ladies in The Italian Stallion.
That was a Rambo movie, right? Anyway, he got his Employee of the Month award back.
Our ring announcer informed the audience that the night’s action would be broadcast the following Saturday on Guam cable Channel 9 at 7 PM. This segment aired on television to remind viewers to watch the program they were watching right now. And you thought it was bad when WWE advertised the Network on the Network.
Next up came The Fantastics, who challenged the NWL tag champions The Satanic Warriors. In the Fantastics’ corner was Bambi, perhaps better known as WOW Women of Wrestling’s Selina Majors. Depressing.
In the the corner of the Satanic Warriors, whom the announcers insisted that kids not cheer for, was Rusty Foxx, who, contrary to the name, looked nothing like Fred Sanford.
The match, said the announcers, was “your typical good guys against your bad guys”, in case the name “Satanic Warriors” was too subtle. “I certainly wouldn’t invite them over to dinner!”
The badass masked Satanic Warriors, it turned out, were very sensitive and loved to hug.
Tommy Rogers then pranced around the ring and gave a limp wrist taunt, insinuating that they were gay (much like Liberace)…
…in addition to being Satanists…
…(much like Liberace).
In a break from the two horridly boring ten-minute matches preceding it, this one was a horridly boring twenty-minute match, consisting mostly of stalling and posing.
Even during the heat spots, where the heels are supposed to dominate, the Fantastics still looked like they were in complete control of the match, as the Satanic Warriors clearly had no idea what they were doing. Here, Tommy Rogers sold to the best of his ability this “arm lock” by one of the Warriors, who wiggled that arm around for added pain.
The Fantastics won with the Warriors’ own powder to gain the tag team titles.
The NWL’s only chance to inject some life into this card was Larry Zbysko.
No, really. He wrestled USWA champion Kerry von Erich in a match to unify both men’s “belt titles”, as our expert announce team explained.
One announcer mocked the “big, gaudy belt” that Zbysko wore to the ring…
…perhaps not realizing that it was the AWA World title and that it was supposed to be prestigious.
The Guamanian fans chanted, “Larry sucks”, prompting Zbysko to get on the mic and say, “Guam sucks!” Could they even use that word in 1990? Apparently not, as Zbysko never wrestled in Guam again.
Kerry and Larry pulled out all the stops in this match, even using vertical suplexes. If there was one upside to the snoozer of an undercard, it was that the main event matches could look spectacular in comparison. Right?
As soon as the action really got going, though, Von Erich locked Zbysko in a sleeper hold, tumbling out of the ring. Now, given that this match was an important unification match for the titles of two different semi-major promotions, and that a great number of Americans had never even heard of Guam (let alone would have been able to locate it on a map), do you think these two champions were going to make it back into the ring and have a clean, decisive finish?
I say, emphatically, yes!
Ah, but I’m wrong. Both men got counted, and no one lost his title.
For our main event, the Iron Sheik teamed with Kamala, who he explains is “not jabroni”. Good to know.
Clearly missing Nikolai Volkoff, Sheiky Baby sang this time around, belting out Iran’s national anthem. Worth noting is that this was the anthem of pre-revolution Iran, despite Sheik holding a flag with the Ayatollah’s face on it. Sheik concluded by declaring Iran “number one” and USA “hachh-ptooo”. No word on where Uganda and Guam fit on that scale.
Backstage, opponent Sergeant Slaughter recalled the previous night’s injustice, when Sheik and Kamala double-teamed him before Don “The Rock” Muraco emerged from the crowd to make the save. Muraco just happened to be in Guam that weekend.
After the bell rang, Iron Sheik grabbed the house mic to admonish the crowd for chanting “USA”. They weren’t.
In the opening minutes, Slaughter and Muraco worked over Kamala’s arm, in the words of the announcers, “something terrible” (such as this entire event).
Iron Sheik tagged in and got worked over himself, with his cut from the previous night opening back up. He even fell victim to the dreaded “reverse clothesline”, otherwise known as a back elbow.
The heels took over briefly, targeting Sarge’s throat before he made the hot, er… lukewarm tag to Muraco.
Kamala cut off Don’s momentum with a “belly punch”, which is what the announcer called a knee to the gut.
Kamala then missed Muraco on the outside and hit the ring post, allowing Slaughter to throw his partner into the ring and pick up a countout victory that utterly confused the commentators.
Fortunately, the ring announcer cleared up any confusion by announcing Slaughter and “Don ‘Marock’ Muraco” as the winners “and champions”, despite their tag team titles not being on the line because they didn’t have any.
Just a few months later, many of the talented stars of the NWL would move on to much bigger things. The Satanic Warriors, for instance, would join the WCW as the famous African-American tag team Doom…
…Batman would join Demolition as its third member, Crush…
…and Sgt. Slaughter would return to the WWF, align himself with Saddam Hussein, and win the world title.
Only those first two are made up, of course.
Also joining the Federation would be Kerry Von Erich, who would wrestle as the Texas Tornado…
…and the Iron Sheik, who abruptly joined the army of Iraq, possibly due to a typo.
And as for the NWL, it continues running shows to this day and features a rich history of totally original heavyweight champions, such as the aforementioned John Rambo, the swashbuckling Pirate of the Caribbean, and the unauthorized Tom Brandi version of The Patriot.