Ballpark Brawl II

 

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AN INDY CARD THAT PROVIDED BIG LEAGUE FUN

BALLPARK BRAWL II

Review by Mike Rickard II

The following is a report from the independent wrestling show held in Buffalo, New York on July 17, 2004 at Dunn Tire Field.

It is ironic that the Ballpark Brawl II was held at Dunn Tire Field in Buffalo, New York. Ironic because while the baseball team that plays there is minor league, the stadium was originally designed for a major league team and while an indy show is usually considered minor league, this show was big league with its stars and production values. When people say indy show, I think of Jake Roberts showing up drunk, maybe an appearance by one of the Killer Bees, and the rest of the show filled by kids from the local wrestling school. However the Ballpark Brawl was nothing of the sort. Sure, there were the usual no-shows but you get that at any show whether it's an indy show or the WWE.

The day started off with the show in jeopardy thanks to the Great Flood like weather we've been experiencing for the last two months. Thunderstorms were predicted for right around the time the show was supposed to start. Undaunted, I journeyed to the ballpark, umbrella in hand and joined by my protégé, Mighty Mel, a sixteen year old wrestling fan who joined me for no other purpose than to see Zach Gowen. Meeting us there would be two co-workers of mine, Bill and Aaron. Bill and Aaron are both longtime fans who are disgusted with the WWE product and they were looking forward to seeing legends like Roddy Piper, Greg Valentine, and Hacksaw Duggan as well as the up and coming stars of TNA.

After gorging myself at Pizza Hut, Mighty Mel and I arrived about three innings into the baseball game that preceded the show. We soon worked on lightening our wallets and checked out the various souvenir stands set up around the stadium hallways. I was surprised to see that there are several indy federations operating in or near Buffalo including Buffalo Championship Wrestling, Empire State Wrestling, and New Frontier Wrestling. After glossing over their stands which mostly featured information on their local shows, we headed to the souvenir stand for the Ballpark Brawl. There was a souvenir t-shirt for $15.00, a program for $3.00, a promotional poster for $3.00, and a DVD of last year's show for $15.00. Also available was an assortment of merchandise by Roddy Piper including his opus, In the Pit with Piper($20.00), autographed photos ($10.00), and a "Hot Rod" t-shirt ($20.00). The jabroni working the stand informed us that if we bought a book or t-shirt, we would get a free autographed picture. We also learned that there were still tickets on sale for a limited seating autograph session to be held after the show. Mighty Mel was determined to obtain Zach Gowen's autograph and possibly his hand in marriage so we each ponied up $20.00 for the ticket to the autograph session. I held off on buying the Piper book, wondering whether or not to take an extra $20 out of the bank. Surely, grandma didn't need her insulin every week.

The weather appeared encouraging on the trip over but clouds were beginning to roll in as I met up with my friends Aaron and Bill. They were in no shape to perform but they were in fine form for a baseball game. The home team was up by one run and we all prayed that they would get the game over with quickly so we could get to the real deal- the wrestling. Bill advised me that I had missed "Rowdy" Roddy Piper throwing out the first pitch. He recalled how Piper (wearing a leather jacket on an eighty degree sunny day) appeared to be a bit wobbly and he had trouble pitching the ball. We immediately began formulating odds on whether or not Piper would be in any shape to perform. Side bets were also waged on whether Greg "The Hammer" Valentine would need a golf cart to get to the ring and whether or not Sunny had hit the 300 pound mark. I told Mighty Mel that we all hoped Brock Lesnar would show up and throw Zach Gowen down the stadium stairs.

Six innings later, the Bisons had pulled out a victory after their opponents had threatened us with extra innings with a late inning score. As I explained the game of baseball to Mighty Mel, about ten thousand (or so) pigeons began to fly in and scavenge for food (that or the carcass of Greg "The Hammer" Valentine). It looked like a scene from "The Birds" and the threat of pigeons shitting all over us was quite real. To make matters worse, the sky had turned dark. Had we sat through a baseball game in vain?

With the baseball game over the crowd of around 2,000 thinned out as people left the game. Fortunately for every person that left, another person seemed to stroll in to see the matches. On the field, stage hands were setting up the wrestling ring. Bill and Aaron astutely observed that the stage hands had set several tables underneath the ring. What could those be for??? We also looked for signs of the Undertaker or anyone else setting themselves up under the ring but everything looked to be on the up and up. It only took about forty five minutes to get the ring in place. It was a decent looking ring surrounded by the old barricades the WWF used to use during the 80's that looked like bicycle stands. Another forty five minutes passed and the show was finally ready to start.

The ring announcer came out and reminded the fans that even though the wrestlers may go outside of the ring, they are still working and that the fans should let the wrestlers do their job. He also told the fans that if the wrestlers ask them for something, it's okay to give it to them. Hopefully the announcer was talking about such standbys as frying pans and not the items certain indy wrestlers are known to request such as Vicodins or Darvocets. Fortunately I came prepared for either request.

Knowing that the card was finally going to start, the fans began to cheer and they went crazy when a promo aired on the Jumbotron. Everyone's favorite frat, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper was standing next to a chain link fence holding a promotion poster of the Ballpark Brawl II card. He praised Buffalo and its hard working fans and he said he knew everyone came to see a fight. He then began to tear up pieces of the poster and said "This guy can't fight", etc. He said he was going to "Piperize" the show. Oh, oh, somebody pulled a no-show. The promo was a nice touch that made the card seem big-time. Piper wasn't slurring his words which meant my wager on Piper making it through the show might just come true.

The show returned to the ring where the announcer introduced Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart and then directed fans to the Jumbotron again where a nice video package aired of the many wrestlers Hart has managed. Hart came out in a TNA Impact jacket to a mixed response of boos and cheers. Next out came Johnny Puma, an indy wrestler from "Empire State Wrestling" who was introduced as the star of the new film "I, Robot".

A wave of nostalgia passed over me as "Welcome to the Jungle" played over the P.A. system. Unfortunately the sound system was totally f-cked up and there was constant echoing. As the music played, a fat ass local disc jockey known as "Puff Man" entered the arena, followed by the rest of his morning show crew. Puff Man told the crowd that he was defending the honor of Buffalo (as if such a thing exists after four consecutive Super Bowl losses). Hart grabbed the mic and astutely pointed out that it's apropos that Puff Man's jacket says 550 (for WGR 550 AM his radio station) since he weighs more than 550 pounds. Hart then told "Puff Man" that he is going to show him what pro wrestling is all about. Hearing Hart run down his opponents, it reminded me of the total stupidity of not having managers in the WWF. A good talker like Hart can do so much to set the stage before a match. Hardly anyone had heard of the challenge between Hart and the disc jockey but with a two minute promo, Hart was able to let the fans know what the match was all about.

The nostalgia continued as a strangely familiar tune filled the air. Out came a wrestler so lean and short that he made Jimmy Hart look like Brock Lesnar. The wrestler's name is Grizma and he's another indy wrestler who does a Ninja Turtle gimmick and came out to the theme from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". This halfwit in a half shell then began the match by facing Puma. The match built to a controversial finish where "Puff Man" was laid out with Jimmy Hart's megaphone and the ref was bumped. Then a member of "Puff's" morning show snuck in the ring and waffled Jimmy Hart with a steel chair. He then took off his jacket and he had a referee's shirt underneath it. He put Puff on top of Hart (miraculously avoiding squashing Jimmy in doing so) and made the quick three count. Fortunately justice was served as Abyss came out and destroyed everyone in the ring (including Puma). I've never seen Abyss before and he reminds me of Kane's littler (Note: Not little) brother. He was doing well until he blatantly called a double choke slam on Puma and Grizma. Jimmy Hart then announced that he was now managing Abyss for the special tournament.

A quick side note. During the entire event, the jumbotron aired camera footage of the event. The camera work was surprisingly good and although there were only two cameras (a stationary one and a mobile one), the camera crew didn't miss a thing. It was a nice touch, especially when the action spilled out of the ring. It made the indy show have a big time feel and look to it.

Another backstage promo aired. This time Petey Williams came out and said that he was handpicked by Scott D'Amore to be a member of Team Canada. Out came Teddy Hart (Bret's nephew) who ran him down and told him that he's not representative of Canada. Hart ended the verbal exchange with a handshake. It was a decent promo that set up the next match.

ROUND ONE OF THE EIGHT MAN TOURNAMENT TO CROWN THE "NATURAL" CHAMPION

An eight man tournament was held to crown a new "Natural" Champion (The film "The Natural" was a movie filmed in Buffalo and the belt was originally slated to be called the "Iron Man" Championship until promoters learned another federation has a title by that name. If you go on the Ballpark Brawl website (ballparkbrawl.com), there is a page devoted to the development and construction of the title belt. I like the idea of having a tournament but the championship belt was not really mentioned except on the Ballpark Brawl website. There was little talk at the actual event to establish what the belt was all about. I think a little explanation might have peaked the fans' interest some.

1. Julio Dinero vs. Petey Williams- this was a long match that seemed to go on forever. There were a lot of near-falls and the crowd seemed anxious for the match to end. Petey Williams got some good heel heat by taunting Dinero and there were some good work by both wrestlers. Dinero had a cute bit where he taunted Williams by briefly singing the Canadian National Anthem. After what was beginning to seem like an eternity, Dinero pinned Williams. After the match, an enraged Williams proceeded to give Dinero a post-match beating. Fortunately Teddy Hart came out to save the day and get valuable camera time. The match was entertaining but it seemed like most of the fans there were in agreement that the match had run just a bit too long.

2. Cody Steele vs. Abyss- Jimmy Hart accompanied Abyss to the ring and he was still fuming from the screwjob finish of the tag match he'd been in. He told the crowd that he had spoken with his lawyer Johnny Cochrane and that Puff Man was going to do more jail time than Kobe Bryant and Martha Stewart combined. Hart had shown his angry side. Now he was going to show his benevolent side. Prior to the start of the match, Hart promised Cody that he would make him a superstar and let him train at his camp in Florida if he simply laid down for Abyss. Cody considered it briefly but foolishly chose to wrestle Abyss. Again, Hart's mic work really added to the match and made it a little extra special. Abyss made short work of Steele and pinned him.

3. Buffalo's own Johnny Swinger entered the ring and cut a brief promo. He explained that he was shocked to learn that he was overlooked as a contestant in the "Natural" tournament. Fortunately he flew into Buffalo and entered himself in the tournament. He then pointed out that he was one of just two people from Buffalo who wasn't a loser (The other being Lex Lugar). Years of living in shame as Buffalonians has made the good people of Buffalo into a thick-skinned lot, but Swinger's remarks were too much for them and they booed him mercilessly. Swinger didn't much time to bask in the boos though as Ron Killings came out and gave Swinger one hell of a match. The crowd cheered Killings on and he didn't let them down, getting the win.

4. Teddy Hart vs. Derek Wylde- Both wrestlers put on perhaps the best match of the evening as they fought inside and outside the ring, performing fantastic aerial moves all over the place. At one point Wylde piledrived Hart onto a steel chair but the match was far from over. The two fought their way to the backstop behind home plate and Hart climbed a twenty foot pole and gave what looked like a 450 splash on top of Wylde. After more mayhem, Hart pinned Wylde. After the bell rang, Hart collapsed in the ring and began grabbing his ankle. He grabbed the mic and told the fans that they were the best crowd he's ever wrestled in front of.

A special ceremony was then held honoring a local wrestler for his contributions to amateur and pro wrestling. Could it be Buffalo's own Lex Lugar? Of course not. The announcer said they were honoring someone, not indicting them. Out came Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer who accepted the award. In addition to wrestling around the globe as the "Intelligent, Sensational" Destroyer, Beyer also coached wrestling at a local high school.

An announcement was made that "Ballpark Brawl III" will be held on August 14 and it will feature the second half of the "Natural" tournament and appearances by Amazing Red, Sabu, A.J. Styles, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, and Bret "The Hitman" Hart.

Next up was the scheduled "Legends" match of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan versus Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. My friend Bill was confident that the Hammer would be unable to make the long trek to the ring without some type of motorized assistance. I had faith in the Hammer but we soon learned we were both wrong. Valentine wasn't there and in his place was none other than a true mainstay of the indy circuit- Buff "The Stuff" Bagwell. Buff made his way to ringside and as I watched him wearing his "Cat in the Hat" style chapeau, I tried to remember if a WWE superstar had taken a crap in it at one point. The crowd was pumped up by Duggan who was doing every one of his tricks including the "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" chant and the "USA" chant (My sources tell me that somehow Duggan found out about Bagwell's once hidden Iranian heritage and that his real name is Sheik Ali Baba Baghdad). Buff took the mic and said what a lot of people were thinking, "You're still alive?". Duggan was none too pleased and he proceeded to give Bagwell a serious ass beating. Duggan did all of his typical spots and defeated Bagwell with the three point stance football tackle. Duggan looked to be in good shape, especially for someone who had a kidney transplant not too long ago. Both men put on a decent show and the fans really got into the match.

By this time, the crowd was really pumped up, having enjoyed the first round of the eight man tournament and the surprisingly good "Legends" match. The show wasn't over yet though for Piper still had an appearance to make, followed by the main event.

Our betting action stymied by Valentine's no-show, me and Bill were anxious to see who would win the wager on whether or not Piper would be conscious for his Piper's Pit appearance. Backstage, I'd seen some local deputies dressed up in bagpipe player outfits. An ominous looking ambulance had also appeared though and Bill was certain that Piper was being attended to by EMT's. Then I smiled with greedy satisfaction as I heard Piper's music play and old Hot Rod himself came out to the ring. He began shmoozing the crowd with comments on what tough people Buffalonians are and how they like to see a fight. He then started talking about his next guest-Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart. He said the last time he was in Buffalo, he had taken Hart's underwear and stuffed it in his mouth, noting that that was the freshest Hart's breath had been in quite some time.

A none too happy Jimmy Hart came out, accompanied by Abyss. He said that Piper was right about what had happened and that tonight, Piper would pay for humiliating Hart. Piper said there was no need to get attorneys involved and suggested a match between Hart's guy and Piper's guy. If Piper's guy won, Piper would get five minutes in the ring with Hart. The Mouth of the South seemed certain that Abyss would win over anyone and agreed. Piper then called out his wrestler, none other than Sean O'Haire! The crowd went nuts as O'Haire stormed the ring and attacked Abyss. Abyss soon gained control and began pounding on O'Haire. O'Haire fought back though as Piper and the crowd cheered him on. O'Haire went for the pin but it was broken up by Jimmy Hart. The match then exploded into chaos as Piper put Hart in the sleeperhold and the locker room emptied after several referees got laid out by Abyss. The match ended in a no-finish as a baseball bat wielding Piper and O'Haire cleared the ring.

The crowd was now pumped up for the main event, a special "Field of Screams" (i.e. Hardcore Rules) match between Al Snow (filling in for Bam Bam Bigelow) and Chris Candido. "The Franchise" Shane Douglas became "The No Show" Shane Douglas and the match went from a Triple Threat Match to one on one action. While the match was certain to be action-packed, my partners in crime were also interested in seeing if the reports of Sunny's body's death had been greatly exaggerated or not. Sadly, they were not for when Sunny came to ringside, we had to do a double take. Sunny looked like she had received an ass transplant from Rikishi. The rest of her looked okay but her once perfect ass had grown into an ass that would make an elephant proud. Oh, the pain of youthful good looks gone down the drain.

It was a struggle to get over our disappointment at Sunny's total breakdown but we had a main event to watch. The weather had held to this point and it would do so for the rest of the night. We turned our attention to the ring where Candido and Snow locked up. The two brawled like wild men and several times the match spilled out into the crowd. At one point, Snow and Candido were on the runway above the dugout and Snow grabbed Candido's grapefruits and walked him down the runway. At another point, Snow and Candido brawled up into the stands, swarms of fans circling them but giving them their breathing space. Just about every foreign object known to man was used including the time tested cookie sheets, aluminum foil pans, as well as a broomstick. Eventually the match ended up in the ring where Candido and Snow engaged in a spotfest where they took turns using the finishers for every superstar of the last twenty years such as the Stone Cold Stunner, the Mandible Claw, the People's Elbow, and Hulk Hogan's legdrop (including the set up moves such as the no-sell finger, the whip into the ropes, and the big boot). The fans were howling with laughter as Candido and Snow brutalized each other. Finally, after a wild thirty plus minutes of action, Snow pinned Candido.

I estimated that there were around 1,500 people at the event. The tickets were $12.00 and included a baseball game by the local Triple A club The Buffalo Bisons. Frankly, I don't know how the promoter made any money on the show. According to reports from Pro Wrestling Torch, the WWE has had low house show attendance with some house shows selling no more than 2,000 tickets. If an indy show can gather around the same number of fans, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the WWE needs to rethink their game plan.

Looking at the matches that were scheduled, I counted five no-shows. The no shows included Greg Valentine, Zach Gowen, Bam Bam Bigelow, Shane Douglas, and Konnan but honestly, the crowd didn't seem to care because everyone put on a good show and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the line up.

After the show, Bill and Aaron decided to call it a night. The night was still young though and I made my way over to a local eatery known as the Pearl Street Grill. There, Mighty Mel and I got in line with a couple hundred other wrestling fans who were lined up to get autographs from the stars of the show. While the autograph session was supposed to start a half hour after the show, it didn't start for an hour and a half. Fortunately there were lots of wrestling fans standing around to talk to. There were a lot of teenagers, thirty-something's, and dads who had brought their kids. Everyone was very patient despite the fact that the restaurant's air conditioning wasn't on. Several of the fans had souvenirs from the show such as a broken broom, a crushed aluminum pan, and a cookie sheet. People were mostly discussing the show and Teddy Hart's big highspot off the backdrop. Then to everyone's surprise, Teddy Hart limped into the bar, supported with a cane. He thanked the fans, signed some autographs, and pointed out that he was operating on a broken angle. The fans were thrilled to see him and started a "Teddy" chant. Hart knew how to work the crowd and he told them that they were the real stars of the show. He also mentioned that he was the last Hart who was wrestling and it was up to him to keep the Hart legend alive. He disappeared into the back but told the fans that he would be signing autographs all night.

People talk about marks and smarks but the people around me were just fans who had enjoyed a good wrestling show. No one was trying to astound anyone with insider knowledge (although everyone seemed well up on storylines and the industry in general) or the typical bullshit posing and posturing you read on the Internet. It was great to hang out with some really cool fans and it made the time in line (which was considerable) go by.

After about a two hour wait, Mighty Mel and I had our chance to get our autographs. I got a good close-up view at Sunny and while her ass is huge, the rest of her has held up fairly well. She and Candido politely signed autographs and asked us if we enjoyed the show. We then made our way down the line as the rest of the stars chit-chatted and autographed whatever items we had for them. Each wrestler was also doing Polaroids for five bucks and Teddy Hart was doing two Polaroids for five bucks. Mighty Mel got her picture taken with her new hero I got Hart to agree to an interview (although whether or not it materializes is another story). The only people who weren't at the autograph session were Jim Duggan, Abyss, and Jimmy Hart. Everyone was very accommodating to the fans and it was worth the two hour wait.

The highlight of the autograph session was getting to meet "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I felt like a kid when I saw Piper standing there, wearing his "Hot Rod" t-shirt and leather jacket. I wasn't sure what to expect, given the way Piper has been referred to in the dirtsheets. I walked up to him and chatted about what a great show it had been and that it was good to see him again. Piper looked in good shape and nothing like the homeless person he resembled last year at Wrestlemania 19. He was very mellow and thanked me for coming. I shook his hand and had him autograph a poster for me. I wanted to get a Polaroid but Piper had to leave soon and there were still a good number of fans waiting behind me. Mighty Mel and I exited the Pearl Street Grill as light rain began to fall.

We left the show with a feeling of satisfaction. Not only had we been entertained by good wrestling for three hours but we found out that the people performing for us really seemed to appreciate their fans. You could tell that most of them were very tired but they didn't act like it and they were all amazingly gracious. Unlike some WWE events I've been to such as FanFest (at Wrestlemania 18), we didn't feel like we had been ripped off or that the event was unorganized. With the exception of the sometimes screwy sound system, the show was well done. It wasn't a case of the show being good "for an indy show", it was a case of a well planned event with wrestlers who were there to entertain. Hopefully the people who attended will spread the word and more people will show up for the next show.

 


Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.