Back in 2002, Paul Heyman was given the book for Smackdown while managing Brock Lesnar. A relationship that continues to this day, but it was slightly, and only slightly, further down the card that what made Smackdown the must see brand for that year. The Smackdown Six as they became known; Los Guerreros (Eddie and Chavo), the full on face team of Edge and Rey Mysterio and the tweeners of Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle thrown together by Stephanie Mcmahon in the story line despite feuding as singles wrestlers. Heyman had a gift for hiding the negatives of each performer in his heyday as the ECW svengali, but in this situation he really did not have any negatives to hide. Six superlative workers and a seemingly endless series of combinations. It worked very well indeed, revitalised the tag team division making the belts seem something more and elevated five of the six to future world title runs.
Having a strong wrestling base in your main event had worked well before, elsewhere. There are some striking parallels with what was happening in the UK in the late seventies to early eighties as match quality rose thanks to a small pool of workers in the Heavy Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Mid Heavyweight divisions. Thanks to the long term nature of title booking in the UK it would have an effect world wide. The six involved would go on to redefine pro wrestling over the next forty years and build stellar reputations that would take them to Budakon Hall, Madison Square Garden and Wrestlemania. The six where Marty Jones, Mark "Rollerball" Rocco, The Dynamite Kid Tommy Billington, Dave "Fit/Belfast Bruiser" Finlay and Skull Murphy and Davey Boy Smith.
Like most wrestling around the world the heavyweights where the key draw in the UK and always had been. From Bert Assarati to Giant Haystacks they filled the halls, but to a young impressionable fan it was these six that determined my viewer-ship every week. They easily had the best matches, the stiffest moves certainly, and while I loved watching the lighter guys move at incredible speed, their hard hitting style gave it that extra sense of realism. There was also that mix of attitudes that the Smackdown Six enjoyed. Jones and Smith where the only two true faces, Finlay and Murphy where real heels throughout their UK careers and Dynamite though a good guy in the early part of his UK run sensibly wrestled as a heel to help the match whenever facing Jones. Rollerball was Rollerball, the fans hated him but always respected his skill so when he went off to All Star promotions in the late 80's taking the World Heavy Middle Weight title with him and turned face on Kendo Nagasaki the fans adored him with more fervour still.
In the UK scene from pretty much the second world war onwards there where really no blood feuds of long term significance. TV changed that because and issue could be publicised. In a certain hall there maybe a long running series of matches, but now with TV two wrestlers could have one inconclusive affair on TV and run the matches around the loop. As the elders of the group Rocco and Jones began their TV feud in the mid seventies. It would essentially go on for the next five years. The two middle weights where sharp well trained Lancashire amateurs. The Snake Pit still loomed heavy over Wigan and Billy Riley's shadow loomed even larger. The Lancashire great Billy Robinson was serving time as All-Japan PWF Heavyweight champ between runs as Verne Gagne's enforcer in the AWA. A heavy reputation to uphold for your county, but equally meant you had the best training.
A couple of matches on TV kicked things off;
As Kent states, the two had a previous match where Rocco had walked off in disgust at his inability to beat Jones. Here he shows the same traits sticking to the rules until his frustrations get the better of him. Rocco was a fourth generation wrestler his, father "Jumping" Jim Hussey. As Kent relates, Jim had the best drop kick in all of wrestling. Oh for the days when a drop kick was a finisher. Jones on the other hand came through the amateur ranks from the age of seven, but it was in the pros that he would have most effect. His run in this year culminated in winning the vacant British Light Heavyweight title that had been vacated by Snake Pit alumnus Billy Joyce.
This match was the start of the feud but the story told in it would be a recurring theme for both men. Rocco's frustration boiling over at a slow and steady pace with mat wrestling being the key device that linked everything together.
These matches where a precursor to other feuds that both had world wide. Their success in Europe was mirrored by success in Japan, and the two opponents all of the six had in common; Satoru Sayama the original Tiger Mask, and Keiichi Yamada the one and only Jushin "Thunder" Liger. We will look at those matches in future editions of Seconds away . . but for now back to the match.
Jones is starting his comeback, never a clear cut issue in the UK style, everything is slow build. A style of wrestling Shinya Hashimoto would employ as IWGP champ. The rounds system also tended to cut into flow a little bit. The striking begins to get into harder and heavier hitting the knee lifts and forearm smashes harder each time. Max Crabtree, referee here and future Joint Promotions owner who really deserves a book by himself, complained that Rocco was to stiff on many occasions. "Mark's trouble was that he always wanted there to be a fight, so he'd split somebody open and we'd have to send him to Japan for a few weeks to get him off TV". What may have not been great for TV in the executives seventies and eighties was great for me as a fan. Heavyweight title bouts where few and far between. All Star had that title and it was rarely defended on TV. The lightweights where great for action but drama came much more realistically in between. Much later on in a one-more-time-for-old-times-sake kind of rematch in All Star promotions in the late eighties Jones gave one of the most heated promos I have ever heard and it still rings in my ears today "If I don't split you here, I'll split you in the car park" and demanded two more rounds after Rocco had been DQ'd with blood pouring down his face. Something Brian Dixon was not scared of showing on TV. In the mid seventies these two where just getting started and starting to collect title belts. The next year Rocco went on to his first run with the British Heavy Middle Weight title which would culminate in another Jones feud which we shall look at next time. So on to the finish Marty is wrestling one handed after a series of arm weakeners (there is a term you won't here very often any more);
Kent Walton's selling of the arm injury over commentary was helped by the fact he had a couple of minutes off between round time to explain things. The breaks could be used as an advantage but where horrible for fans at times, as the faces rallied and where cut off by the bell. Marty's comeback is complete with a two fall victory after coming back from impossible odds. This was match wasn't as stiff as later matches on TV but you can see already the fans where so far into it the eruption at the end after an afternoons polite clapping along to moves shows where these two guys could take and audience. So how do you top that?
Next on Seconds Away, Round One . . . Title belts start to mount up, two youngsters make their name, the southerner and the Irishman start to take over breaking rules along the way and Jones receives impossible task after impossible task.
Have good time, till the next time.