Monday, 5 March 2012

Six of the Best Part 2; Young Lions

As Mark Rocco and Marty Jones moved on through the ranks that would lead to world title glory, the next round of young contenders where making they're way up the ranks. Davey Boy Smith, cousin of The Dynamite Kid, Ted Betley trained and building a reputation was an incredibly ambitious young man making a splash much the same way his cousin had done a couple of years earlier. Dave Finlay another second generation wrestler was equally  making his mark as a heel. That is important to note because it wasn't the fashion of the time. In this early match Finlay isn't even really a heel. Faces far out numbered heels and as most of what occurred in British Wrestling was well within the rules, heels where far worse off. By the early eighties, maybe the fans where craving something different. This match highlights the early stages of careers that where become synonymous with success and quality bouts.

We join the action in round one, an eliminator for the British Heavy Middleweight title now relinquished by Rocco and resting round the tried and tested Alan Kilby a very safe pair of hands.   

The first thing you notice aside from how young both of them look (baring in mind Davey's last WWE run was when he was in his forties and Dave's when when he was over fifty) is the size. But Davey was even smaller when he first went to Stampede. This was a rare trip home and already he has filled out natural, but he is still a long way away from his early nineties size hay day of around 260lbs. Though both would change their styles later in their careers, Davey to the power game demanded by his size and Finlay to his brawling demanded by being a tough old so and so, they are super smooth here. They both knew the advanced mat game well, something which stood them in good stead in New Japan, where both of them would had great success.

At the end of round one Finlay was on the receiving end of some well deserved applause, over the next ten years that wouldn't happen often. The heel persona is starting to develop in this match, note the snap to the wrist lever. The execution was something Finlay took pride in as a trainer even in his later days while looking after the Divas division in WWE. In fact given Finlay's later in ring character which didn't really change that much face or heel from 1983 until, well now, its virtually impossible to perceive him as the the clean cut title contender he portrays in this bout.

I love Kent Walton's remark "the more we see of Finlay the better", given his heelish ways in the future I'm sure the faces of the next ten years wouldn't be so keen. Davey was on his way back and between Stampede, NJPW and the UK at the time. His NJPW excursions courtesy of cousin Dynamite meant he was building technique in totally different environments which doesn't really show here. He was back to the old British style in no time, even if his tights may as well have "Stampede Junior Heavyweight Early Eighties" written on them. Dynamite by this time was not a regular tag wrestler, the Bulldogs would be a ways off, in fact Marty Jones would often go to Stampede to tag with Dynamite, as would Giant Haystacks (I am not making this up). Sadly only matches of Dynamite and Jones with each other are available on Youtube. At this point may I pay tribute to the wonderful wrestling archivist Tellyumort for looking after the legacy of great British wrestling.

The head on posting, a stampede wrestlers stand by, most notably took by Bret Hart in nearly every title match he ever had, makes an early appearance here. Bret always claimed it was more realistic and safer to take because you could see what was coming. Here Finlay uses it to get back on top while Davey sells like a good 'un. Finlay was showing in this bout what a great "wrestling heel" he was, as Dynamite puts it in his book a wrestling heel is just really good at being a wrestler, they lack the viciousness to use straight violence. As later matches will prove young Finlay got over that fairly quickly.

How these two told their story was through gathering intensity. There was a lot of truth to what Max Crabtree said about Mark Rocco, who wants to get sliced and diced when you are only earning £10 a night? However in this match both are showing things that are a little bit stiffer and a little bit harder. They would both prove their worth with some of the hardest bumps and stiffest bouts ever seen in the long run. By the early eighties crowds where demanding it. As Dynamite said in his biography, once you have come off the top rope once you all you can do is keep going up there because the next bump has to be bigger. You could argue this was a down hill slide in the terms of safety and it is something that worries Nigel McGuinness greatly after his career appears to have been cut short by an overly stiff style. He worries about his legacy, I don't think he should, he did many great things to revitalise the business we love and continues to do so. However this match was all between the ropes and has been contested in a fair style. The high risk offence of the Bulldogs and the Bruiser was yet to emerge.

By round 4 things are getting a bit needly, Davey actually starts breaking the rules first and is of course forgiven the less photogenic Finlay gets the heat. How anyone could call this match boring is beyond me, but there you have it no pleasing some people. Then again the same heckler does off mild racial abuse, so maybe he is just an idiot. The striking, usually the sign of desperation in a British match starts coming into round 5, the build up to the Celtic Cross that would be the Finlay finisher for the next 30 years. The slow build to these style of matches also helped Finlay build a philosophy of wrestling that undoubtedly maintained his career. When working as a road agent for the WWE and being an on screen talent, The Sandman reports that he was once berating a young star for taking to many bumps in a TV match. To prove his point he went out on Raw and had a twenty minute match taking only one bump and keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats. The Sandman, who lets face it never met a beer or chair shot he didn't like stood on in awe. The impact of the finisher is surprising as well. No one was using finishers at all in UK rings, submission was the thing, a high impact finisher was a suplex. Things where changing.

The crowd are won over by round six, the xenophobic buffoon leading and eng-er-land chant which really seemed fitting for a guy who mainly spit his time between Canada and Japan, but anyway the comeback for David is quick and so on to the last two rounds. Next we see the early days of the running power slam, not yet perfected but clearly on its way to invention and apparently not as decisive as the Celtic Cross.  

The final rounds start going back to the mat as the striking doesn't seem to work for either man. Even a very safe looking Back Drop Driver, (neither of these guys for the money they where on where going to take Misawa like risks they had work next day)  could not get the job done for Davey. The reversed Regal plex though (and the fact that everyone now calls it a Regal-plex says a lot about the future of British wrestling) shows where this and its bordering divisions are going in terms of stiffness and high impact offence. The continuing forearms from the knees though offers such a great visual, these guys want this match bad, the referee showing no understanding of drama breaks them up. The stiffness continues with an unheard of at the time Texas style pile-driver a-la Terry Funk, they wouldn't have liked that in Memphis Davey, but here its building to a climax and they are giving the impression they are pulling out all the stops. Which makes it all the more odd that Finlay puts Davey away with a straight suplex, but there you go. A fine actual wrestling contest with no rule breaking just bending.

Next time we shall look at Skull Murphy and his rise to infamy and start charting the influence, resilience and wrestling style of one Tommy Billington.

I had a kind word for my writing today from Mr. Simon Heath so thanks for that I shall keep on going with this labour of love.

Bye for now grapple fans.       

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