By Art 0’Donnell & RD Reynolds
In 1995, Milton Bradley finally produced its answer to the 1960s classic toy, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. While Milton Bradley’s version may not have earned the name recognition of its spiritual predecessor, it did leave a legacy in the world of sports-entertainment through its perennial sponsorship of the WWF in general and Survivor Series in particular. Despite being neither fruity nor delicious, Karate Fighters was shilled into the history books as one of the WWF’s most memorable advertisers, sponsoring four pay-per-view events and two tournaments that played out on Monday Night Raw during the ’90s.
In 1995, with Milton Bradley’s Karate Fighters sponsoring Survivor Series, the WWF put together a few segments of wrestlers duking it out on the pedestals, frantically twisting knobs in hopes that, by pure chance, their doll would knock the other doll off. If that sounds lame, no fret – we got WWF SUPERSTARS handling the chaos for us! That makes everything better.
So yeah, we got Bart and Billy Gunn channeling their mutual frustrations into a duel between Skull Crusher and Thunder Foot (both of which, like all Karate Fighters figures, performed exactly the same), exchanging victories and delaying their break-up as a tag team by a full year.
Barry Horowitz, in the midst of teaching former Bret Hart-rival Hakushi the ways of the Americans (and the jobbers), got into a heated argument with his Japanese protege about baseball players, food, and colas, nearly erupting into a wrestling match before Hakushi suggested they do battle in Karate Fighters. The showdown between Red Ninja and Dragon Kick (and you thought NXT’s names were bad) resulted in Barry’s second-ever victory over the Modern-Day Kamikaze. I’m sure this clip of Jinsei Shinzaki playing with toys to the strains of Hava Nagila baffles Japanese fans as much as that Japanese air-conditioner commercial with Hulk Hogan and the baby baffles Americans.
And while Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler never did battle in the ring, they did square off in Karate Fighters, with the King emerging victorious, although closer inspection revealed that Lawler had taped his Skull Crusher’s foot to the pedestal, preventing him from being knocked off.
The Karate Fighters competitions abruptly stopped, however, after Survivor Series, perhaps for fear that if the Superstars continued settling their disputes with the toys instead of wrestling matches, the WWF would soon go out of business. Either that, or because Milton Bradley’s sponsorship had ended.
Come 1996, however, the WWF was ready to risk the very foundation of their business by re-introducing the stellar competition of Karate Fighters, this time in the form of an annual Holiday Tournament pitting 8 of the WWF’s most formidable martial artists against one another. And, against all odds and dignity, the tournament then returned for a second year. The result was so much karate action that it would take two members of the Wrestlecrap Universe just to cover it all: Art0Donnell and your old buddy and your old pal, RD Reynolds!
Here’s Art0Donnell with the scoop on 1996’s action!
Tonight’s induction has a lot of personal meaning for me. As a kid, I had some Karate Fighters — in fact, the “electronic talking” kind. The figures themselves were still just plastic, actually, but the pedestals you attached them to would trigger “karate sounds” every time you moved the knob. When your fighter got hit in the button on its chest and popped off its pedestal, the speaker would play the same stock scream your mother might make if Brak threw her into a pool.
After a while, I got bored with the realistic karate action (karate being that martial art where two guys plant one foot on the ground and flail their other limbs at random) and just used the figures in my toy wrestling league. Still, the memory of Milton Bradley’s action toy series lived on, as the talking pedestals would sporadically sound in the middle of the night. It took years of being woken up by bloodcurdling screams and hi-yas in the middle of the night to realize that I could just take the batteries out.
This year’s tournament opened with a “selection show” revealing the eight-person bracket, which included four managers (including the mysterious “Sabel”), two broadcasters, and two wrestlers from Arkansas. Presenting the action were Todd Pettengill and Karate Fighters veteran Jerry Lawler, along with unseen commentator Carve Albert.
First, Mr. Perfect breezed past Phineas Godwinn, distracting the hog farmer with a false Dolly Parton sighting. It seemed that the first lady of country music had a headlock on his heart. Curt Hennig took the opportunity to kick the hillbilly out of the first round. Perfect won with such ease that you would think his mastery of Karate Fighters would have made it into one of those montages, wedged somewhere between his touchdown pass to himself and his perfect game of bowling.
Next up were Sycho Sid and Goldust’s mysterious director Marlena, who had kept a mystique during her whole tenure by not saying a word and puffing away on a cigar from her director’s chair. Tonight, however, she not only played with a children’s toy, but she talked to it as if it were an actor, promising to make Tiger Ninja a star should he win this fight for her. I’ve heard of a “casting couch” before, but never a “casting Karate Fighters pedestal.”
Still, her pseudo-sexual pep talk couldn’t stop Sycho Sid, the #1 contender for the WWF title, from beating her with his figure, Cyber Fist. Marlena then threatened to blacklist Cyber Fist like some kind of communist, never working in “this town” again. Raw happened to be in Hershey, PA that night, and to this day, Cyberfist still can’t get hired at the chocolate factory!
Immediately following this toy fight, Raw cut to live scenes of Steve Austin preparing to break into Brian Pillman’s home, where Pillman brandished a 9 mm Glock. The path to edgy, mature programming was not a smooth one for the WWF.
Next up were Dok Hendrix and the very classy Sable. Dok couldn’t help but slobber over Sable, who got to speak her first lines ever. Since her debut in April, Rena Mero hadn’t been allowed anywhere near a microphone — or, for that matter, a telephone.
And what did she have to say now, for the first time, that was so important? “When it comes to Karate Fighters, Tiger Ninja’s my Wildman!” Now I know how Lisa Simpson felt when she got her talking Malibu Stacy doll.
Sable defeated Dok, who asked her for a rematch (in bed, I bet!).
Sunny then faced Mr. Bob Backlund, who, convivial individual that he was, lambasted Sunny’s accoutrements and told her to put morality into her life. And this was before she even ventured into Skype-based pornography.
Sunny toppled the would-be President and celebrated in bratty fashion like only Sunny could until Backlund told her that her preponderance was abomination to him. Replays showed that Sunny’s Samurai Ninja defeated Headstone with a flying leg kick, a move later made famous on the Heroes of Wrestling pay-per-view.
Thus, Sunny advanced to face Sable. Yes, despite being two of the hottest Divas in WWF history, with real-life animosity to boot, the only time the WWF ever had these two women square off was with toys.
Children’s toys, that is.
You know, I’ve always much preferred Sunny over Sable, and if there were any justice in this world, Sable would be the one reduced to exposing herself for money, while Sunny would have posed for many lucrative Playboy centerfolds.
Anyway, Sunny appeared to pick up a victory over the classy Sable until the referee discovered that she had secured her Karate Fighter, Cyber Fist, to the pedestal. Sound familiar? Well, this time it wasn’t tape, but gum, which led to a string of bad puns by analysts Lawler and Pettengill about chewing gum. At least, I hope that’s what they were going for when they said this loss would be “hard for Sunny to swallow.”
Once again, Sable had prevailed over Cyber Fist, which was not only the name of a Karate Fighter, but also something you can now do to Sunny for a hundred bucks on Skype.
The victory by reverse-decision meant that Sable advanced to the finals, but to face whom? The Karate Fighters tournament got complicated by the fact that Mr. Perfect, Sycho Sid’s scheduled opponent, had quit the Federation weeks earlier. The Federation opted not to air the Perfect-Sid bout that had no doubt already been taped. Instead, the WWF found a suitable replacement for Curt Hennig in the form of Todd Pettengill.
Bet you never thought you’d read that sentence, did you?
Sycho Sid wasn’t about to show up (with the WWF title now around his waist, mind you) for playtime with Pettengill (a proposed title for the new WWF Livewire program), so Todd’s fellow Karate Fighters analyst Jerry Lawler stepped up to the plate to pinch-hit for Sid, to use a softball analogy.
King easily beat Todd, insofar as a competition that can only be won with a lucky shot can be said to be “easy.”
At last, in a live segment in the middle of the ring on Raw, King faced off against Sable. Jerry, fearing the Marc Mero’s presence would give Sable an unfair advantage (how exactly, no one knew. Sunny and Jerry had already established that the only way to cheat at this game was to glue down your figure’s foot), enlisted Mero’s rival Hunter Hearst Helmsley to even the odds.
Sable told “The King” that she would make a Popper out of him, a reference to John Popper of Blues Traveler.
Or maybe it was a “pauper.” As Jim Cornette once said, “I don’t know what they got for putting a live microphone in front of Sable’s mouth, but it should have been three to five years.”
Sable then handed Jerry his first official loss in Karate Fighters history, which Vince McMahon deemed a public humiliation. That made Sable the first-ever Karate Fighter Champion. Jerry and Hunter certainly wouldn’t stand for this, delivering a two-on-one beatdown to Marc Mero until Goldust rushed to the ring, tripping the Karate Fighters Champion on the way in.
What a prize!
And now onto 1997…and RD Reynolds!
It was funny, when Art came to me with the idea of doing a split induction based on Karate Fighters, I was baffled. How could we possibly break that apart I wondered? It couldn’t have lasted more than 5 minutes total, right? Then he explained to me that they milked this thing for three years.
If Vince can get three years worth of material, surely Art and I can cobble out at least 3,000 words together, right?
In 1997, both the WWF and Milton Bradley brought their A-game, adding new spins on the tournament. I will present their respective improvements and allow you, dear reader, to be the judge as to who was victor.
The WWF ditched announcer Carve Albert, and replaced them with two men who might look familiar (but honestly, really don’t):
Vin McManequin (they really can’t spell “mannequin”?) and Jumbo Jim. No idea who was playing Vin, but Jumbo Jim was your pal and mine, Brother Love, Bruce Prichard. See, even back in 1997 they didn’t like Ross. But hey, at least Vince wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. Not only was he mocked with his name, but Vin also wore SHOULDER PADS in his jacket in an awesome little touch.
However, I think you will be in agreement that what Milton Bradley gave us was slightly more interesting:
That’s right – MORPHING ACTION! You may wonder how plastic figures can morph, but let me tell you, when you see it, you…well…you won’t have any more of an idea than I do. And rest assured, I watched and studied intently. Never thought I’d say, “so Brother Love is WAY better than our other option”, but there you go. Thanks, MB!
Let’s take a look at the brackets, shall we?
Either my eyesight has gone horribly bad, or that there’s a whole slew of blurry names. Best I can tell, we have B.C., Carlos, Dok, and Sunny. At first glance, I know one of those people. I have an idea of who the other is but I sure hope I am wrong. I think I also make out El Matador. At least I hope I do.
Beyond that? Seriously, zero idea.
Whatever, ring the bell and let’s get this sucker going!
The 1997 extravanza kicks off with father-son showdown for the ages, as we get Jerry Lawler versus Brian Christopher. So BC = Brian Christopher. Hey, how about that, one mystery solved. Which leaves just one unanswerable remaining: why the WWF never acknowledged that Lawler was Christopher’s pappy. I mean, yeah, at some point I remember they did, but it was way later than this and amounted to nothing. For this knockdown drag out, Razor Jaw will be in the hands of The King, but the comedy here is that Christopher is the SON WARRIOR. If WCW could do it back in the day for that horrible Slam Jam CD back in the day (when Dustin Rhodes was a “Son of a son” – check the archives, kids!), I can too.
The battle starts with Lawler wishing his kid good luck, and Christopher goes to shake his hand…which is, of course, a ROOKIE KARATE FIGHTER MISTAKE. Lawlers starts spinning his little plastic figurine, which allows him to win. Better luck next year, kid.
Except there isn’t going to be a next year.
And hey, what’s the deal with the set?
Are they in the Dungeon of Doom?
And how much better would this have been if Yeti were taking on the Zodiac?
The match reveals that Dok is the Dok I feared it to be: Dok Hendrix. That would be Freebird Michael PS Hayes repackaged as the shilliest shillmeister this side of Barry Didinski. If I’ve never inducted him, that needs to be my absolute first new year’s resolution. It was horrible.
Even Vince Russo, err VIC VENOM, couldn’t handle the idiocy of that (audio is rightchere).
Ah, LiveWire…what a glorious train wreck you were. Faxes from fans, AOL, and shoots, BRO. I should really do an induction of that as well sometime.
Back to the tourney, as Dok’s foe tonight is a mini…named Shrimp Scampi. I know the company wasn’t politically correct back in the 90’s (and before), but that doesn’t even make sense. Scampi is Italian, not Mexican, you dopes.
Prior to the battle, Scampi rags on Dok. Of course, he rags on him in a little pitch-shifted cartoon voice. And then we get screaming from Jumbo Jim and Vin Mac. I can’t imagine a much more random collection of audio than this, honestly.
And Scampi wins, leaving Dok flustered yet again. Hopefully Russo was slightly off screen telling him that Michael Hayes would have never lost to a midget.
And hey, what happened to El Matador vs. Carlos? Who was Carlos? Santana? Pena? Colon?
And hey, SPEAKING OF colons, I did go back and scoured through the previous Raw to see if I’d missed that match. All I got was this:
Yeah, let’s bring back the Attitude Era…so we can see Shawn Michael’s anus while they shill toys. Always important to try to cater to as many demographics as possible.
Round one ends with Karate Fighters veteran Sunny taking on George of Adam and George fame. And by “fame”, I do mean “WWF personalities so obscure that I am not sure that we’ve ever even mentioned them on WrestleCrap.com before.” And consider the ground that covers. But hey, since they’re here now, their backstory: Adam and George were two WWF SUPER FANS. And yes, that meant the company portrayed them as total geeks. Maybe they could bring them back for the next Old School Raw and make fun of them for paying full price for PPVs instead of watching them on the Network.
And of course they do the job. Because, as I mentioned, they’re WWF fans. Geeks.
And to reiterate what Art mentioned above…if all you know of Sunny is the 2000’s version, specifically where in 2014 she’s a butt of every other joke, and you always wonder why she was anything special to begin with…hunt down some old Raws from 1996/1997. You’ll understand the appeal real fast.
So Sunny advances as Jumbo Jim tells us we can hear more of the aftermath of round one on the Superstar hotline. I pray that was true. The company needed the money back then, and I am sure WWF super fans were lining up to pay $.99 per minute to hear more.
As if to prove what I was babbling above about Sunny was indeed factual, she goes up against the midget…who is totally in love with her. Just in case we weren’t sure about that, we get bubbly sound effects and heart graphics all around his head.
Yep, no mistaking that.
Oh, and she’s the Son Warrior, but since it’s Sunny, we’ll call him the Sun Warrior here. See what I did there? That’s a joke. Why I can almost hear Mrs. Deal saying, “Yeah, but it wasn’t funny.” Which actually happened the other night at the Reynolds Ranch.
Anyway, she wipes the floor with the smitten midget. She’s off to the finals!
Lawler vs. El Matador is next, as apparently he beat Carlos in their match in Rio De Janeiro. You can tell they’ve pretty much given up on this bit, as we don’t even get info on what characters the guys are using as we have during the whole tourney before this.
We do however get Tito calling Jerry the “Burger King”, while Lawler responds by calling him the “Taco Bell.”
Ok, that doesn’t even make sense.
Still, I forgive such atrocities by Tito selling his back upon losing this battle. This battle where he turned a knob to make a toy karate man spin and kick. Such dedication to his craft is sorely missing in wrestling today.
All of this madness leads us to THE FINALS:
Lawler vs. Sunny for the undisputed Karate Fighter Championship of the World!
Lawler notes that the best MAN is going to win tonight, which has Sunny completely appalled. Hey, toots, at least he didn’t call you Taco Bell. Be thankful for small favors.
So they start and it’s over before it seemingly even begins, with Lawler winning quick.
A hidden video (not G-TV) shows us that Lawler put gum on the bottom of his guy to keep him down. So yes, every single year they did the EXACT SAME THING. It’s like 2014 all over again!
But unlike prior years, we get more in the manner of Lawler paying off the ref and then looking at a male and female toy looking to consumate their relationship in a VERY creepy manner. Seriously, look at this:
That’s just flat out disturbing on countless levels.
Anyway, some dude shows up and announces that “The Tribunal” has stripped Lawler of the title and awarded it to Sunny. Really, THE TRIBUNAL.
She gets flowers, Lawler gets annoyed, and you get done reading this.
We’re all winners!