I know it’s a pretty common sentiment, but my goodness the 1980s were a great time in so many areas. It might be music, movies, TV and a host of other things, but one of the biggest is of course professional wrestling. The decade was one of the glory days of wrestling as you still had the territories for the most part, but the national promotions were starting to pick up a lot of steam. That meant a lot more wrestling to watch, but it also means a lot more wrestlers who might not get the recognition they deserve. That is where I come in.
It’s a pretty simple idea this week: I’m going to take a look at some wrestlers that I liked for one reason or another back in the day and talk about why they were so good. Note that I’m not saying these guys are all time greats (though some of them are) or that they were the best in their time (as most of them weren’t) but rather that they’re talented workers who might not have been remembered as much as they should have been over the intervening years.
These are in no particular order.
If you don’t remember him from his various runs over the years, Kamala was a Ugandan headhunter with moons and stars painted on his stomach and a lot of face paint. He had a bunch of managers over the years, meaning he was a perfect challenger to Hulk Hogan and the WWF World Title. While he wasn’t the most proficient wrestler in the world, he was 6’7 and weighed nearly 400lbs while looking like a monster.
That’s the right word to describe Kamala: monster. He wasn’t likely to win anything significant, but you could have him destroy some of the lower level guys on the card, build him up for a few months, and then feed him to Hogan around the house show circuit. It’s an idea that worked so well over the years and Kamala did it very well. There’s a reason he was in the WWF three times, WCW, the AWA and just about every important territory. When you can play a character well, you’re going to stick around, and that was the case with Kamala.
The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers
There’s something special about actual real life brothers and that’s what you had here. The Rougeaus (Jacques, later known as the Mountie, and Raymond, a frequent French commentator for the WWF) were a completely acceptable high flying tag team with a pretty sweet finisher (Le Bombe de Rougeau, where Raymond would hold someone up and Jacques would hit a top rope seated senton) who were always around as a midcard team. Later on they would become comedy villains under Jimmy Hart, but that meant the amazing ALL AMERICAN BOYS theme song.
The Rougeaus never won any major titles (save for a phantom house show change, which was later overturned and never mentioned on TV) but they were a pair of talented guys who could pull off an upset or two on the face side. Once they were heels though, they were the guys you wanted to see get beaten up but you knew they could still be just a little dangerous. In other words, they were a perfect mid-to lower card tag team, which is something you can use when you have so much time to fill.
There are people on any roster who are never going to move up to the main event and aren’t likely to win many big titles. They’re around for a reason though, and sometimes that reason is they can hit you in the face and make it look awesome. That’s where Fernandez came in. He was the rough, rugged Texas brawler who could fight with anyone and make them break a sweat in beating them.
Much like some of the others, Fernandez was there because he played a role well. You knew what you were going to get from him and that was something often worth seeing. He was a good choice for a tag partner as he could do the harder work while the star could come in for the win and the more important stuff. Fernandez would have been great in a more violence based promotion as he often had some bloody brawls, but he was more than fine in the big time promotions as well.
Koko B. Ware
Now this one is going to be a little more specific as I’m only talking about his time in the WWF, though he had some outstanding stuff in Memphis and various other territories. In the WWF, Ware is best known as the Bird Man because, well, he had a bird (Frankie) that he brought to the ring with him. It was a common theme around the time, as you had a bulldog, a snake, and Frankie. Why did this work?
Simply put, because it was memorable. Ware became a crowd favorite because he wore bright and colorful gear and had something that was always going to stick in your head. “Hey it’s the guy with the bird.” That’s an easy way to get your attention and Ware was someone who could back it up in the ring with some good high flying. Anyone who can hit a missile dropkick and land on his feet is worth seeing and while Ware was just a jobber to the stars (including losing in the first match ever on Monday Night Raw), he’s remembered for a reason.
There’s a good chance that you remember the Rock N Roll Express and the Midnight Express. Those teams were the big stars of their era and had one of the all time great wrestling feud. However, there was another team that I always liked better: Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers.
They were about as much of a guaranteed awesome match as you were going to get and had some awesome matches with the Midnight Express. While they were never as prominent as the Rock N Roll Express, for my money they were every bit as good (if not better). Their match against the Midnight Express at the first Clash Of The Champions has always been a favorite of mine and is worth seeing if you’ve never seen it before.
Ok so you’re probably familiar with this one. Anderson was part of the famous Anderson wrestling family, teaming with his brother Ole before moving on to being part of an even better tag team with Tully Blanchard. He was the best talker (and that’s saying a lot) of the Four Horsemen and was always good for a beating with a crowbar whenever Ric Flair needed someone taken out, earning himself the Enforcer nickname.
Anderson really is one of the best talkers ever but he was so low key with the way he spoke. He was able to make things seem simplistic and menacing at the same time (including naming the Four Horsemen), which wasn’t the best way to get noticed when you have Flair going on his insane rants. Anderson was going to be the consistent one though, and there’s a lot of value in having someone you can depend on every night rather. As Jim Cornette put it, Sid Vicious can draw you a million dollars in one night but he’ll do it once. Anderson was going to draw you fifty thousand dollars a year for twenty years. That’s a pretty good return.
We’ll wrap it up with one of my all time favorites. Some wrestlers have no ceiling to how great they can be. Someone might break through the glass ceiling and become one of the biggest stars ever. At the same time though, there are some people who are going to be in one place for most of their career because they’re invaluable in the role. Much like Anderson, that’s where Santana comes in.
Santana was never going to be a main event star, but he was going to be an awesome match every single night. If you’re familiar with him, come up with a bad Santana match. While you’re accomplishing that near impossible task, I’ll compare Santana to his modern day equivalent: Kofi Kingston. Think about this one for a second. Guaranteed good matches, fits perfectly well as a singles or a tag wrestler, could be used as a one off main event challenger, and made you believe in him every time he talked. Santana was awesome all around, and that never came close to changing.There’s a lot of history to wrestling and that means there’s a lot to be remembered, but there’s just as much that can be forgotten. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of most of these names, but there’s also the possibility that you haven’t. If not, treat yourself to some great wrestling and go find some of their matches. You’ll see what a lot of the older fans get to remember and why they’re so fond for the older days.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2003 Smackdown Reviews.
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