Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard – Episode 82, Part 1
Recap by: Jeff Rush, PWPodcasts.com Assistant Editor
Air Date: 1/12/18
– Advise Bill Watts gave Shawn Michaels early in his career that should probably have been heeded by Dolph Ziggler as well.
– The former “pretty boy” wrestler Bruce feels is right up there with Haku in terms of being a legit bad ass.
– The future Cliq member Shawn faced while teaming with Marty Jannetty for the very first time.
– The hilarious name Greg Gagne suggested for Shawn and Marty’s team in the AWA.
– Verne Gagne’s absurd concern regarding the Midnight Rockers moniker.
– Bill Watts’ mentality behind dubbing a duo “Tag team specialists.”
– A rib Pat Patterson and Bruce would routinely infuriate Vince with.
– The person who served as an advocate for the Rockers throughout their time as a team in the WWF.
– The typically unfriendly wrestler who helped the Rockers adjust to the politics of the WWF locker room.
– The one beverage you never deny Booker T.
– The “long game” rib Andre played on the Rockers.
– The lower card wrestler who felt selling for Randy Savage wouldn’t be believable.
– Tully Blanchard’s simple belief regarding ring psychology and Bruce’s response.
– How Shawn and Marty “prepared” the night before their first WrestleMania.
The Rockers, Part 1
The subject of the Rockers was chosen to pay homage to the 26th anniversary of their famous Barber Shop breakup, which took place in January of 1992.
Bruce first met Shawn when visiting his trainer, Jose Lothario, in Houston in 1984.
We discuss Lothario for a few minutes and the success he had in largely Hispanic markets during his heyday. (For much more depth on Jose Lothario, I recommend listening to the Royal Rumble ’97 episode of STWW.) No one else comes to mind when Bruce thinks back on other students Lothario trained who went on to become stars, though he notes that having Shawn Michaels on your resume is more than enough.
Shawn traveled with the Rock ‘N Roll Express when he first got started with Bill Watts in Mid-South in 1984. He also traveled with and learned a lot from Terry Taylor and says he learned a lot about babyface psychology from him.
Bruce feels the best way to learn about babyface psychology is to watch tapes of Ricky Morton, that the key was in his selling ability.
We then discuss “the wrestler handshake,” a working handshake that was a very soft-touch shake likened between wrestlers as an indication of how they worked in the ring. Vince hated the handshake. Over time, the mentality of “shake my hand like a man, damnit” caught on and the old-school wrestler handshake disappeared.
This prompts a discussion on the tradition of shaking hands and introducing yourself to a locker room when you’re new to a territory. This is something that will come up quite a bit more in this episode.
Bill Watts sent Shawn to Kansas City to work for Bob Geigel. On the way out, Watts tells him he can take a hell of an ass-kicking, but if he’s not careful, you’ll wind up taking one for his whole career. The key, according to Bruce, is not to do so regularly on national television.
Shawn’s first match in Kansas City was a tag match, teaming with Dave Peterson facing Scott Hall and Dan Spivey.
Bruce says Spivey is one of the nicest, unassuming guys you’ll ever meet, but also one of the scariest, toughest human beings walking the face of the earth if you cross the line with him – right up there with Haku. Part of what hurt Spivey early in his career was that he resembled Hulk Hogan too much, not so much in terms of a muscular physique, but with facial features and general size, then injuries took their toll.
Shawn met Marty Jannetty in Kansas City around this time. They weren’t teaming yet, but did begin traveling together.
While still underage, Shawn got a chance to hang out with Ric Flair in a bar one night. He’s stated that Flair was his idol growing up.
Shawn and Marty teamed for the first time, again facing Scott Hall and Dan Spivey. The two had been hanging out so much that they gelled perfectly together in the ring.
Shawn then returned to Texas to work for Jose Lothario in Texas All-Star Wrestling. He gets a bump up to $500 per week and is positioned as a hometown hero in a cowboy gimmick. He would eventually begin teaming with Paul Diamond and would win the territory’s tag titles for a short time.
The Gagne’s were looking for a tag partner for Marty Jannetty in the AWA around this time and gave Shawn a call. They wanted an AWA version of the Rock ‘N Roll Express. Greg Gagne pitched the name “The Country Rockers,” but Shawn and Marty countered with “The Midnight Rockers,” the inspiration being the song Living After Midnight by Judas Priest.
Upon hearing the idea, Verne was worried people would confuse the Midnight Rockers name with rocking chairs. This helped Shawn come to the realization that there was a huge generational gap between management in most territories and the talent.
The look they developed in the AWA was a blatant rip off of the Rock ‘N Roll Express. Bruce feels everyone was ripping off everyone at this time and since they were in two different territories, it didn’t matter.
The credit for the Rock N’ Roll Express should go to Bill Dundee and Jerry Lawler, who formed the team in Memphis when they were considered too small in Louisiana. Bruce believes the Rock ‘N Rolls were the original and the best.
Marty teamed for a time with “Bulldog” Bob Brown and claims to have learned a lot about psychology from him. This prompts a hilarious, brief trashing of Brown. Bruce has only met him once and doesn’t really know him, but says his reputation is that he was one of the most boring guys in the business and was terrible with payouts. He was a solid, stumpy guy who ran Kansas City at the time, but “He was the s**ts. F**k him.”
Stating “I know he’s not somebody we like to talk about a lot here on the show,” Conrad mentions Terry Garvin was an advocate for bringing Shawn and Marty into the WWF.
Marty headed to the AWA in large part due to the national exposure they had on ESPN. Bruce points out that the channel didn’t have SportsCenter or any other major shows at the time, but that Verne felt being on the channel provided his product with credibility.
After he’d been with the company for a few weeks, Greg Gagne told Marty they wanted to create a tag team for the “teeny boppers.” He asks if there’s anyone he’d recommend them bringing in to team with him and Marty mentions Shawn.
When Shawn first arrived in the AWA, they were in Las Vegas at the time. As the rumor goes, Marty had been playing slots in a casino for hours alongside Curt Hennig. When Hennig got up to leave, Marty scooted over to Curt’s machine and Shawn sat down at the machine Marty had been unsuccessfully feeding with coins for three hours. On Shawn’s very first pull, he hit triple 7’s and won $750. Marty astutely noted that this was the story of their careers.
Bill Watts for years would explain that smaller tag teams competing against larger wrestlers stood a chance against them because they were tag team specialists. He reasoned they wouldn’t stand a chance in a one-on-one encounter, but their skill at teaming provided them with an edge.
While the Rockers were viewed as a poor man’s Rock N’ Roll Express, but this was forgivable, Bruce says, because they were so good inside the ring.
Conrad brings up the famous Showboat Blood Bath match the Midnight Rockers had against Doug Somers and Buddy Rose in Las Vegas at this time. Bruce feels this match was excellent “for an old school match.” He feels Doug Somers was missing the it-factor but that Buddy Rose was a great promo guy and could really go. He recalls the initial feedback for this match as being a bit too much for national TV. He thinks management around the industry would use that as an excuse to justify their feelings of “Those guys shouldn’t be on the air.”
Shawn has claimed that when they started their feud against Somers and Rose, “the place was a quarter or maybe half full, but when they were done, the place was sold out.” They were young and a pretty good tag team and that’s what caught Vince’s attention, not so much the business spike they were providing to the AWA.
We discuss a few of the ribs the Rockers were known for around this time and it prompts a story from Bruce about a rib he and Pat Patterson would play on Vince.
Vince always had yellow no. 2 pencils that he would use once or twice, max. If they were sharpened, they would be stored in their box points up. If they were dull, they would be placed points down, erasers up. Pat and Bruce would painstakingly take each pencil and break the lead just enough so that the lead could still be placed back into the pencil and appear sharp. As soon as Vince would apply pressure to one of the pencils, the lead would break. He would try a second, then a third pencil before finally throwing the entire box off the desk. For their part, Bruce and Pat would maintain a straight face and act surprised. Vince wouldn’t buy it, growling “F**k you, Bruce. G**damnit, Patterson, I know it was you!” They would continue to deny it. Bruce wonders if Vince still keeps boxes of pencils around.
Conrad inquires about how Paul Diamond and Pat Tanaka were brought into the company as the Orient Express. Bruce was a big fan of Paul going back to his days in Texas All-Star Wrestling and watched he and Tanaka tear the house down in the AWA. He knew Tanaka from Florida and eventually got a chance to bring the two into the WWF.
When Curt Hennig decided to leave the AWA, he entered the locker room singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” as an indication he was heading to the WWF. Shawn would do the same thing when he finally got the call from New York.
Pat Patterson made the push to bring Shawn and Marty into the WWF. Vince was concerned about their reputation, but Pat convinced him they were just rebelling against Verne Gagne in the AWA. Bruce says Pat didn’t even know the two, but thought they were so talented, he went to bat for them.
The Rockers joined the WWF on June 2, 1987, in Buffalo, NY. Bruce was also new to the company at the time. He remembers there was a lot of apprehension and that the Rockers reputation for being merciless ribbers preceded them. He did feel they could do really well.
Vince held a meeting out of the blue, the first ever of its nature, with all the talent warning them to stay clean. Bruce says there was confusion about how long they could get certain drugs out of their system, if marijuana was included in the policy, etc.
Chief Jay Strongbow approached the Rockers. He was an agent at the time and told them he didn’t think they should be in the WWF. Bruce confirms that it sounds like the sort of thing Chief would’ve done. He continues that he didn’t really get along with Strongbow. Chief felt Bruce was a young guy who was screwing up Vince’s head with crazy booking ideas. He was more of a “yes man” and didn’t think people like Bruce should be challenging Vince.
We then spend a few minutes discussing Shawn and Marty’s conduct on the first night. Terry Garvin urged them both to go around and introduce themselves; shake everyone’s hand. Instead, they chose to remain low key. They knew they had a reputation for being troublemakers and the thought was if they can stay away from everyone, they can stay out of trouble. Instead, they came off as thinking they were better than everyone else. Bruce feels Garvin’s advice was good here, but also dislikes the politics that play out in such instances.
This brings to Bruce’s mind the time Jim Ross joined the WWF. Most people in the company felt he was a WCW outsider and didn’t want to have him around. Bruce and Vince convinced him to go around and shake hands.
Eventually, Shawn and Marty introduced themselves to Jim Powers and Davey Boy Smith. They were having a good time when a heavily inebriated Jimmy Jack Funk inserted himself. He started chewing glass (!) and egging Shawn and Marty on. It turned out that Marty had hooked up with a girl Jimmy Jack was interested in, and that’s where his issues came from. Shawn eventually broke a bottle over his own head in kind of a “There, happy?” fashion. Then they left the bar.
Rumors quickly swirled and Bruce says he heard a much crazier version of the story that had Marty and Shawn tearing up the bar and causing a huge ruckus. He feels the truth is somewhere in between.
Conrad points out that sensitivities to chaos were heightened at this time since Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik had just been arrested while driving together and smoking weed a month earlier.
The Rockers ended up having their first match the next day, facing Jose Estrada and Jimmy Jack Funk. The agent for the match was Chief Jay Strongbow. Shawn says he and Marty talked with Chief beforehand and expressed their desire to simply have a good match and leave the previous evenings issues behind them. They ended up having a good match and even shook hands with Jimmy Jack afterward.
Finally, they ran into Vince who treated them nicely, but added: “Let’s watch the old having fun.” They promised him no further problems would occur.
Regardless, Terry Garvin called the guys the next morning to tell them Vince was going to release them. Bruce feels over the course of the night, more people got into Vince’s ear who were politicking and working their own agenda in an attempt to get rid of the Rockers.
The guys flew up to see Vince. While waiting outside his office, Vince arrived and took notice of Shawn’s footwear. He said “Nice boots. They’re made for walking, you know.” He then chuckled and said he was kidding. He brought them into the office and at that point told them he was letting them go. So awkward.
Marty made some calls and got the guys set up in Continental Wrestling. In short order, Shawn started causing problems. He was miserable in Alabama and the guys were fired/quit in a matter of weeks.
Shawn called Jerry Jarrett and the Rockers were then off to Memphis, where they roomed with the Nasty Boys. It was here where they were first given the opportunity to play heels. Bruce notes that the Rock ‘N Roll Express began in Memphis, so the Rockers were looked at as imitators and were, thusly, natural heels.
By the end of 1987, Marty and Shawn had been shuffling between Memphis and the AWA where they eventually won the AWA tag team titles. They asked Verne for a guarantee, but were denied.
All the while, Pat Patterson was pushing Vince to bring them back into the WWF. Eventually, Vince acquiesced, but said this was their last chance.
Bruce says their return was a breath of fresh air. They had good matches, stayed on good behavior and followed all the proper protocol. Surprisingly, even legendary curmudgeon, Dynamite Kid, gave Marty and Shawn advice on how to be accepted in the locker room.
This leads Bruce to tell a story about Booker T and his routine of always having three cans of Red Bull prior to working for the evening. The company didn’t supply Red Bull; Booker would always send someone out to pick them up. One night, he’d secured his beverage of choice and left them chilling in a cooler by his locker. When he went to get them later, they were gone. He began screaming and threw the cooler; ice flew everywhere. As he walked out, he saw a couple local wrestlers drinking his Red Bull. He flipped out on them. Bruce uses this story to illustrate the fine line between being intimidated by wrestlers in their element, not wanting to disturb them, but then being seen as being too good for the room by “ignoring” everyone else. I get the issue, but don’t quite see how it applies to Booker T losing his Red Bull to a couple local guys. They deserved to be yelled at.
Back in Rocker-land, Bruce says Andre the Giant didn’t like Marty and Shawn. Andre thought of the WWF as a family and didn’t appreciate the Rocker’s stand-offish nature and past reputation.
Conrad lays out a mob-like scenario where the entire locker room would line up each day to shake Andre’s hand and pay respects. Shawn tried every single day to do so, but Andre never acknowledges him. For his part, Marty decides to stop trying and “eat the heat.”
Eventually, on a European tour, the Rockers were teamed with Andre in a six-man tag against the Orient Express and Mr. Fuji. The tradition at this time was to say “Thank you, Boss” to Andre following the match. The guys did so, and this time, Andre stuck his hand out. Later that night, Andre waived Shawn over at the bar and has a beer with him. Shawn is respectful here and says “Yes sir, I know you don’t like us.” Andre says he didn’t when they very first came in, but thought they were ok after that. He says a year’s worth of not shaking their hands was just him ribbing them.
Bruce recalls that Andre hated the Freebirds during their brief stint as well.
On August 28, the Rockers got their first WWF title shot, squaring off against the Brian Busters. Conrad feels since Arn and Tully’s stay in the WWF was so short that an episode about them will likely never happen and pushes Bruce to discuss them now.
Bruce felt they were great, but that they didn’t have the size or look for the WWF at that time. He then adds the thing that got the Rockers over was how much they would bust their ass every single night in the ring. It’s funny, because the Rockers were the same size as Arn and Tully, and both teams work rate was clearly off the charts. So without quite saying it, Bruce is saying it was strictly Arn and Tully’s look that didn’t get them over in the WWF.
From there, they moved on to work with Demolition. This was a harsh change of pace for the Rockers since Demolition didn’t like to bump, often requiring three dropkicks to go down when one was enough to take down other wrestlers.
Bruce was pitching the two teams in a program at the time, as he liked the idea of smaller “tag team specialists” squaring off against larger opponents. He would’ve preferred to get the titles on the Rockers and have them take it around the horn.
Conrad points out the issue a lot of the bigger wrestlers had at this time with selling for smaller wrestlers. Bruce says Curtis Hughes once exclaimed he didn’t want to sell for Randy Savage as he felt no one would believe it. Vince retorted by telling Hughes the audience would believe it when they saw it.
Bruce says “until you do it, how do you know?”
Conrad notes that Vince had the same issue years later when Bruce was pushing Rey Mysterio for a World Title run. He adds nothing pisses Vince off more than using his own logic against him.
Back to the Brain Busters, prior to their departure, the Rockers got to work with them often. Shawn has said Tully Blanchard was another one of his boyhood idols and they learned a great deal from the Busters. Shawn then relayed a quote from Tully regarding ring psychology: “Psychology is about who can make them yell the loudest for the longest.”
Bruce adds that it’s more about telling a story and getting the crowd invested. He says it’s all about the roller coaster ride and getting the reaction you want, having the crowd react to you instead of you reacting to the crowd. He feels Shawn perfected this over the years.
Following one match against the Brain Busters, Hulk Hogan approached the guys after the match and said: “How in the hell am I supposed to follow that?”
Bruce says ultimately, Hulk is a huge wrestling fan and that he used to sit backstage and watch every single match.
The Rockers would face the Twin Towers, Big Bossman and Akeem, at WrestleMania V in Atlantic City, NJ. Here, we discuss the “They’ll believe it when they see it” mentality in regards to the size differential between the two teams.
Both Marty and Shawn each had arguments with their significant others the night before WrestleMania. They ran into each other coming off the elevator at the hotel, proceeded to the bar and ended up closing things down at 4am. They were up just a few hours later and super hungover for their very first WrestleMania appearance. They relied on caffeine pills and coffee to get through.
Bruce says they were probably at the bar with the Rockers on that particular night, as he and Vince would be up until the wee hours of the morning working on production. He says the mentality back then was “As long as you can go the next day, all good.”
Following WrestleMania, the Rockers were paired up with the Fabulous Rougeaus for most of the rest of the year, including a seemingly odd 60-minute Iron Man match in August in Chicago. Bruce says this was done because Chicago is a traditional wrestling town and Pat Patterson liked to experiment with things like this in hot markets when he had good workers at his disposal.
Bruce feels that Pat saw shades of himself and Ray Stevens in the Rockers, which is why he was a constant proponent of the team throughout their early days.
The first half of this four-plus hour ride went by surprisingly quickly. It was really cool to hear all about how Shawn and Marty came to be a team and about their early adventures together. The highlight of the first half, however, was the insight provided both by Conrad’s research and Bruce’s first-hand account of the extremely brief first run the Rockers had with the WWF in 1987.
Conrad doesn’t mention which Shawn Michaels autobiography he’s using as the backbone for this episode, but it’s an extremely significant resource. I would liken it’s presence in this episode to that of Vince Russo’s autobiography during his show. It would be impossible to do this show properly without it.
I’m a big fan of the late 80’s-early 90’s WWF, and thus far, it’s been a treat to relive it all from a different perspective. Review: 8/10
14:00: Show begins
16:36: Jose Lothario Jr.
19:28: Babyface psychology
21:53: The wrestler handshake
30:00: Dan Spivey
31:07: Meeting Marty Jannetty
35:19: Management hot potato in Texas
43:55: Bob Armstrong
48:50: “Bulldog” Bob Brown
52:35: Terry Garvin
54:44: An analogy for the careers of Marty and Shawn
56:27: Tag team specialists
59:16: The Showboat Blood Bath
1:03:48: Vince’s pencil rib
1:07:22: The Orient Express
1:12:03: Shawn and Marty’s reputation
1:13:50: Zero tolerance meeting
1:15:08: Chief Jay Strongbow
1:17:04: In for a cup of coffee
1:32:25: Life after WWF
1:38:08: Returning to the WWF
1:42:06: Booker T’s Red Bull
1:43:51: Andre the Giant
1:47:29: The Brain Busters
1:51:21: They’ll believe it when they see it
1:56:56: WrestleMania V
Jeff Rush is a life-long fan of professional wrestling. He’s attended the last match of both Andre the Giant and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s careers and two of the three matches of the Rock-Austin WrestleMania trilogy. As a child, he was once yelled at by John Tenta for sitting too close to him on a bench at Hershey Park. Jeff listens to way too many wrestling podcasts and watches way too much WWE Network. He also catches as much indie wrestling as he can when it comes through his home of New York City. Follow along @jefflikesstuff