WWE Vs UFC: When Vince McMahon Disastrously Let Wrestlers Fight For Real
Brawl For All was called "the dumbest f**king idea in WWE history" - and when you look at the humiliations and career-ending injuries it caused, who are we to argue?
The plan made sense, in the weirdest way possible. Fans always argue over who the REAL tough guys in the crazy pro-wrestling world are. Plus the dawn of the UFC in 1998 meant WWE had a legitimate combat sport challenging for its audience.
So, at the height of the 'Attitude era', Vince McMahon made a grab at UFC's home turf and agreed to a tournament of non-scripted, MMA-style fights between WWE superstars.
Say hello to Brawl For All. It was a total goddamn shambles.
Tonight we test the waters to see if there's any demand for brawl for all to come back. pic.twitter.com/2eSUBmtihp
- Austin Creed - Future King (@XavierWoodsPhD) January 14, 2020
Even Vince wasn't crazy enough to put his top headliners in it, for a start. Nobody backstage wanted to risk Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock or the Undertaker getting legit pummelled by some Doink The Clown-style goon.
Also, the WWE's real-life hard men - such as UFC pioneer Ken Shamrock - proved disinterested. "I respectfully declined," Shamrock explained. "They were gonna pay me $50,000 to fight for real when I make over $1 million to fight in something like that."
The end result: a bunch of mid-carders fighting in three-minute bouts with a baffling set of rules. It wasn't even full-blooded MMA, as kicks and submissions were banned.
Fans - who'd paid to see pro-wrestling, not mulleted bodybuilders gas out after 30 seconds - booed the hell out of it.
Chants of "We want wrestling!" and "Boring!" punctuated early fights.
Bouts were generally ugly - and the injury rate was spectacular. The Godfather, Road Warrior Hawk and Steve Blackman got put on the shelf with real-life injuries, while Savio Vega never wrestled again after damaging his neck.
Reputations were also ruined. As well as being an attempt to grab a piece of the UFC's new land, many wrestlers believed the tournament had been secretly built to create a new star.
'Dr Death' Steve Williams arrived in the WWE from a stint in Japan boasting a reputation as a legitimate tough guy, with a strong amateur wrestling background.
The WWE plan was allegedly that Williams would make a big splash by winning Brawl For All, which would lead into a top-of-the-card feud with Steve Austin. But Bart Gunn had other ideas.
The second-most charismatic man in a cowboy tag duo, Gunn - real name Mike Polchlopek - came in with no reputation. But he'd won several toughman contests, knew how to control his breathing in a fight and had genuine knockout power.
In this world of middle-aged sunbed addicts, he might as well have been Mike Tyson.
Gunn and Williams met in the quarter-finals, where Gunn introduced Dr Death to Mr Canvas with a thunderous left hand.
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Williams suffered a dislocated jaw, torn hamstring and dislocated knee. His big push as a WWE main eventer was over before it ever begun.
Still, good news for Gunn, whose spectacular KOs were the one thing crowds actually cheered.
The final, live on Monday Night Raw, saw him savagely hammer future WWE champion JBL with his signature wild hooks in just 40 seconds, winning $75,000 (every combatant also earned £5,000 per fight).
"Take a look at a guy who has just made a name for himself in this business!" cried Shawn Michaels on commentary. The WWE had other ideas.
Rather than use Gunn's sudden status to present him as a new, elite-level player, the WWE... did nothing. No big plans were set up for Gunn, except for a horrible piece of matchmaking at WrestleMania 15.
As a 'reward' for his Brawl For All victory, Gunn was put into a legitimate fight with Eric 'Butterbean' Esch. Undercard icon The Bean was no body beautiful, but his 41-1-1 boxing record put him way above Gunn's standard.
Looking like he'd rather be anywhere else - and sporting a unique, chin-in-the-air defence - Gunn was down within 30 seconds.
He got up bravely on rubbery legs and Butterbean - who outweighed Gunn by 50lb - ended matters with a bludgeoning overhand right.
Mercifully, Gunn survived his head-first trip to the canvas. However getting terrorised at 'The Showcase of the Immortals' by a man who looked like a big sweaty egg did not boost his wrestling rep.
He was quickly released by the WWE - and rumours persist that the fight was in fact Gunn's 'punishment'. That beating Steve Williams and ruining WWE's Brawl For All plan meant he was fed to Butterbean by people who knew the likely outcome.
Whatever: the one man who'd come out of the Brawl For All disaster with his profile enhanced had been bombed out of the company less than a year later.
However even if this strange tournament, which enjoys a cult status among wrestling fans, had been a success, how could it have helped WWE?
The problem was staring viewers in the face; if this fighting was real - "You'll not see anything like this anywhere else folks," was commentator Jim Ross's coded language - what was everything else on the show? Fake?
"It was the dumbest f**king idea in WWE history," wrestler Sean 'X-Pac' Waltman told Sean Ross Sapp in 2016. "These guys are fighting for real, and everything else you're watching is bulls**t. That's basically what they were telling everyone watching."
Which #WWE concept do you look back on and go "who the f* thought that was a good idea?".
I always wondered what the point of the Brawl for All was. As a kid matches were dull and tedious to watch. It amazes me the idea made it to TV. pic.twitter.com/OL98vG2yrx
- WWE Critic (@WWECritics) March 16, 2019
Unsurprisingly, Brawl For All was never held again.
Although strangely, with experienced MMA fighters like Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley and Matt Riddle now on their roster, WWE might actually be able to put together a pretty good shoot-fighting tournament in 2020.
But - judging by current UFC purses - it might cost them a little bit more than $5,000 for entry, plus $75,000 for the winner.
Featured image credit: WWE