Monday, 23 May 2011 08:52
Timeline: The History of WWE: 1985
As told by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Sometimes topical conversations come about in ironic fashion.
1985 – the year Greg Valentine details in the latest installment of the Timeline series by Kayfabe Commentaries – happens to be the year when Randy Savage debuted in the WWF.
Valentine provides a good deal of insight into Randy, and his also odd brother, with an interesting take on the decade plus of ‘paying his dues’ and toiling in Tennessee and Kentucky before reaching a national stage. The admiration for Savage’s talents are there, and commentary upon Savage as a person, about his ‘overprotection’ of Elizabeth, and the splash he made both in terms of the angle (with all the managers scouting him) and his impact in the ring.
As an aside, the death of Randy Savage is tragic and any reflection on his career shows him to be one of the best of the best – in ring, as a character and as someone who got the crowd behind him. The only thing that troubles me is that we’re seeing one more wrestler die (relatively) young, and the automobile accident seems to be overshadowing the heart attack that started the whole thing. Guys nearing sixty do die of heart attacks…. But it will only make the news more tragic if the mainstream continues to adhere to the template that when wrestlers die, the cause can be ignored.
Ironically, as we return to 1985, we return to the year in which “Quick Draw” Rick McGraw and Gino Hernandez died, which by most wrestling scribes marks the beginning of this long era of deaths in the industry.
In 1985, we hear about Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC – pro wrestling’s return to a national broadcast in something like three decades. We hear about WrestleMania becoming an established event. We hear commentary on Mr. T and how he wanted to work an angle with Valentine, not exactly knowing how things operated in the wrestling world.
Valentine was the Intercontinental Champion at the time, in a pretty solid feud with Tito Santana most of the year and in most of the tours. Valentine talks about how that match didn’t wind up on WrestleMania – in order to not have it blown off. (By the way, Kayfabe Commentaries has a much more detailed DVD of that feud, so they don’t go too far here.)
Lots of talk about Gino Bravo and the new Dream Team, talk about stories and snakes and the ‘three ring circus’ aspect of the time. Lots of talk about managers and wow, were there a ton of managers or what at this time, with two of big three still around (Blassie, Albano) and Jimmy Hart, Johnny V and a lot of others coming out of the woodwork.
There is funny commentary about that less-than-classic battle between Albano and Blassie….
Those who follow the Timeline series are in for much of the same formatting: a wealth of trivia on almost a day-by-day basis for the year, chapters separated out by the months, insight and commentary by a star of some regard – not so big that the honesty would be suspect, not so small that they wouldn’t be able to provide in-depth or knowledgeable words on multiple angles and much of the workings of the locker room, as well as the storylines and other happenings in the business.
Greg Valentine at first is an odd character for the Timeline series, as he’s much like his wrestling style: methodical.
Methodical, as in a sense of a slow-pace, a sense of making everything count, a sense of grinding it out.
We’re not looking at a DVD of long stories, in depth analysis of the happenings of 1985, or entertainment because of an outgoing personality. And yet, there’s no knock on Valentine from this reviewer – he’s compelling in his own way, has a perspective of the Old School moving into the 1980’s era, and the stories provided may lack in length, but not in humor, perception nor worth.
One weird thing was a lot of splicing and editing. I’ve not noticed that much in the past with Timeline, but at one point, we see and hear Greg saying “off the record” and having had such conversations and being in that position, I know what it means. There are just some things an Old School guy just isn’t going to talk about to the world.
Annoying, yes, but there’s still a part of me that wishes that kayfabe was more in effect. I’d sooner deal with an industry doing the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, rather than an industry that treats both the performance and the fans as a joke, because we’re all in on it and why bother.
But I digress.
It is a fascinating look at a riotous time frame. Much of the wrestling world that Greg Valentine – son of one of the all-time greats Johnny Valentine – was changing and changing to huge degrees. In the early 1980’s, Valentine was moving between Mid-Atlantic (where he feuded violently with Roddy Piper and Ric Flair), and the WWF, where he held the IC belt and drifted into the tag team scene.
We catch glimpses of how the industry worked, how much an individual could change things – Valentine talks of guys who made making a good match like ‘pulling teeth’ and talks of how he wanted out of the Gino Bravo pairing because of the drama involved with dealing with his partner. We also get a lot of politics – how Montreal was opened up, how the WWF brought in Edouard Carpentier for a match (and some interesting commentary on how Carpentier worked).
Politics, wrestling, working and even a rather funny story involving Bruno Sammartino with whom I’ll be sure to share a chuckle with later this week.
Greg Valentine is a solid subject for the year 1985. While at times I wondered about his approach – he’s just not the big talker and sometimes it felt like getting any depth was like ‘pulling teeth’ – he does fulfill the requisites of being a player at the time, knowing the stories and explaining what was going on with a perspective and a sense of knowledge that reveals much if you’re looking for it, and fleshes out the workings of the industry if that’s the sort of thing you love to hear about.
In part, because of Valentine’s personality, this is a very focused 120 minutes.
Sometimes a personality takes charge, rambles across the stories, retells tales not pertinent to the year in question, and otherwise exudes a sense of avoidance, of working and of just getting through it all. Yes, Valentine seems a bit standoffish here and there, but overall, it’s a very worthy addition to the history of the world’s most prominent professional wrestling outfit, ably emceed by Sean Oliver, well produced and thoroughly researched and highly entertaining because of it all.
Rest in Peace, Macho Man. Rest in Peace.