The inspiration came from The New Generation Project/Podcast. My collaborator sent me a link about their review of In Your House 3, the same show I reviewed a few months ago. To my surprise, a lot of the tiny little details mentioned in my review were part of the NGP podcast too.
So it went like this :
1.I carefully chose one of their review with something that connected with my memory. I saw one that had Ken Shamrock with a subtitle that he beat the shit out of Vader (considering he’s often credited as the stiffest and toughest guy in the business).
2.Then reminisce when was the first time I seen those guys in my childhood
3.Watch the PPV on the network, skipping 90% of the other bouts
4.Listen to the NGP podcast
5. Write my own review
So now here is my recollection as a kid (step #2). The first time I saw Vader I think was during a televised WCW match. I was probably 8 or 10. All I remember is that this Vader monster was legit scary for a kid. He vaderbombed that poor guy like 4-5 times in a row, wouldn’t listen to the referee stoppage, didn’t even bother pinning him. I was scared for that jobber life (no idea who that was). At that point it crystallised in my memory that : huge ugly masked guy are unearthly abominations that became wrestlers with the sole purpose of not winning, but injuring other wrestlers.
Just around that time, my dad allowed me to watch the first Alien movie (supervised). The Alien is the perfect monster. All it cares it’s about killing. Well Vader was to me the perfect human monster. He didn’t care for wins, he cared about maiming the other guy.
Sidenote : The game Saturday Night Slammaster from Capcom totally ripped of Vader character with Alexander the Grater. So did Takara in Fatal Fury with the Bear character.
My Ken Shamrock recollection came a bit later. The first time I saw him wrestling was on TV was in feud against Steve Blackman. I was a big martial art fan back then so I was naturally rooting for Blackman. I didn’t think much of him besides just being a generic wrestler who screams a lot.
But all that change when during my bi-monthly trip to the video rental store( I was 15 at that time), I stumbled across a new section in the sport rack. The owner bought a bunch of UFC VHS tapes, which was something unheard off at that time. Then I saw this one :
“Holy shit that is Ken Shamrock!” that I thought. So that guy is legit and could probably beat all the WWE roster with ease ! So why is he a mid-carder and doesn’t have a belt on him? He’s legit ! So I brought it home and start watching the thing. During the viewing I had like 2 epiphanies :
1. This is so much better than wrestling ! (that I thought back then)
2. My previous assumption as a kid (about big ugly men being dangerous), got completely shattered.
About #2, it is important to point out that there were no weight category in the early UFC days. Not only that, but it was a tournament format. To win this thing you needed to have 3 consecutive real fights in the same night. The promoters did a good job of showcasing various martial arts with very different athletes of very different sizes and shape.
In short, big monsters sucked in the UFC. Like almost all of them. For a simple reason : they all gas out pretty quick and a lot of them gets knocked out pretty easily. There is no downtime or resting holds or recovery time in a MMA fight, they were all in until the time expire (which was 30 min + 3 min OT). I can go on with a list of monster who did poorly :
Tela Luli : 400+ Sumo, knocked in 10 sec. by a 190lbs savate guy
Emmanuelle Yarborough : 600+ Sumo, gets knocked by a 200 lbs kenpo karate guy
Scott Ferrozo : 400+ wrestler, gets choked by a Shamrock student 200 lbs lighter
Fat taxi driver from Puerto Rico (no kidding) : 400 + freestyle?, gets knocked by Don Frye in 10 sec.
Then some semi-monster did meh :
Paul Varelans : 350 lbs freestyle, was killing inexperienced smaller guys, but got destroyed against the well rounded fighters
Tank Abott : 350 lbs bar fighter, that guy had jackhammers for punches but lost every fight that lasted more than 1 min due to gassing out
Gary Goodridge : 350 lbs Canadian martial artist, somewhat not great on mat, got destroyed a bit like Varelans against stronger competition
Then the great semi-big guy were only 2 :
Dan Severn : 260 lbs real wrestler, real life incarnation of Mike Haggar from Final Fight. That fight he had with that smaller tae kwon do guy is legendary. He suplexed that guy to oblivion. Proving that suplexing for real someone could knock the F out of them.
Oleg Taktarov : Russian Sambo specialist. The real Rusev. He was the one actually fighting Ken Shamrock on that VHS tape. They went over the OT limit (33 min fight) leaving the guy in a bloody mess, but he never tapped out.
So where am I going with this ? One question should arise now :” So who beat the crap out of all those monsters ?”
-Middleweight, faster, well-rounded fighters with better conditioning
Don Frye, Dan Severn training partner was the first true well rounded fighter. He was as dangerous standing up as he was clinching up or on the mat. Plus he had that killer mustache too that made him look like Magnum P.I.
The other one of interest here is Marco Ruas. A Brazilian Vale Tudo fighter. If you need a quick mental picture, it looks like a cross between Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai.
In that tournament, Ruas made it to the final against Varelans, who had two easy fight. Varelans towered over him and the weight difference was over 100 lbs.
So what did Ruas do ? He aimed for the legs and knees. He roundhouse kicked the big Varelans’s leg as if he was chopping down a tree trunk. And damn were those kicks stiff. Around 50 kicks later ( I don’t know the actual count), Varelans legs give up and referee stops the fight as a TKO.
Meanwhile in Japan…
A new sport was beginning. Pancrase. Created by two Japanese professional wrestlers and guess who ? Ken effin’ Shamrock. The idea was too have real fights (not predetermined) in a wrestling ring, allowing real strikes, submissions and throws. To keep thing interesting, some pro wrestling rules were enforced :
The rules allowed closed-fisted punches, except to the head, and palm strikes to the head. A wrestler must break a submission hold when the opponent reaches the ropes, but a wrestler who claims a rope break loses a point. A wrestler who claims a specified number of rope breaks (between 3 and 5) was disqualified.
Basically, you were allowed to wear shin guards and kick your opponent in the head to win by K.O. See where I’m going with this ? I’m finally gonna talk about the actual wrestling match.
So as I listened to the podcast, they referred to Shamrock as the most dangerous/boring man. Mocking his satin red robe, which is actually the same he wore in his UFC entrance (minus the clover). I think Shamrock came as half-failed experiment. They might have expect him to get over just on the fact that he was a legit fighter. The thing is, he didn’t have the ability to construct/work matches for the main event level. He had the looks (although generic by WWE standard) and the credentials, but not the charisma or pro-wrestling gift (for lack of better word) to make it to the next level. As opposed to a successful experiment like Kurt Angle who had all the above. A fail experiment would be of course Dan Severn and Tank Abott. But was Shamrock boring ? His best work is actually out of the UFC. Look up his feud with Tito Ortiz, the press conferences trash talking sessions are absolute gems.
Sidenote : In those early UFC VHS tapes you can see Shamrock sparring on the beach with a partner, wearing only jeans, making it a very Top Gun moment.
Pitting him against Vader was probably the best idea on paper for Shamrock’s transition to pro wrestling simply because Ken could handle Vader’s stiffness and huh… well Vader was probably the only guy able to defend himself if things go sour.
So as stated in the Podcast, Shamrock starts the fight by unleashing a flurry of stiff MMA rated kicks to Vader’s legs. I’m already thinking : Big guys = Bad knees. I think this could have ended has a re-enactment of Ruas Vs Varelans if it was a real fight. I agree on the fact that Ken should have get the message but I think he was just showboating at some point. He was actually not scared at all that Vader shoot back on him. My only gripe in this match is that it actually made Shamrock look stupidly strong. I mean at some point, he belly to belly him with ease. Some guys like Bret or Owen, played along the trope of David Vs Goliath. Using their speed to run circles around Vader, which made it believable. Which is an interesting duality here. When I watch this fight, I totally believe Ken can go Ruas on Vader. I believe at the end that both guys are actually hurt. The strikes looks real, the submissions and reversals are believable, but the wrestling is not (suplexes, throws, moonsault). By that I mean, all that effective striking makes everything else look fake in comparison.
Triangle choke to samoan’ish drop. I actually enjoyed that Vader went power over technique in this match. That was probably the only way to still make him a threat.
Did I enjoy the match ? Actually yes. Shamrock might have been a little too much in Pancrase mode, but it was fun to watch. It sure didn’t help Vader’s mystique already freefalling in WWE, but in retrospect, it is fun to watch for many reasons.
From a pro wrestling standpoint, a match Owen Hart Vs Vader is more enjoyable.
From a legit fight standpoint, it strikes a good balance of looking believable, hurting for real without ending the other guy career. Now imagine if it had been Shawn Michaels on the other end of those kicks… Shamrock would have been fired the next day.
It was novelty back then since MMA was still in it’s infancy. It’s safe to say that the whole MMA invasion thing from that era was a mostly failed experiment.
But did WWE learned their lesson ?
Now we have a monster MMA character who is beating senseless everyone in the roster.
The are couple difference though:
Lesnar was a pro wrestler before becoming a MMA fighter. So the tables are reversed compared to Shamrock
His look has nothing generic
Lesnar was allowed at summerslam to give real elbow shots to Orton.
Shamrock and Severn were never allowed to strike or submission their opponents for real
It’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t acceptable back then, one foot in the attitude era, but it now is, in a main event of a PG-13 era. Maybe just the fact that MMA is now bigger than wrestling has something to do with it. They were not fighting for legitimacy back then. Now you have dozens of lightweight UFC fighters scuffing at WWE’s wrestler “Pff, I can beat that guy easy”. And WWE reply is “Saw Lesnar Vs Orton ? Orton bled for real! Wrestling is real !”
-Well of course… those were real unprotected elbow shots from a trained MMA fighter. I thought the whole point of wrestling was to not be MMA. a.k.a. having a fun to watch wrestling match with more than 5 moves.
So in conclusion, I actually enjoyed more Shamrock Vs Vader at IYH Cold Day in Hell than Lesnar Vs Orton at SS 2016 for all the above mentioned reasons.