Saturday, June 29, 2013

Strike Force: Rick Martel & Tito Santana (WWF, 1987-90)

When you combine two of the best babyface workers of the 80s, you get one of the best short-lived tag teams in the history of the WWF. Rick Martel was a hot commodity in Montreal, Portland and early WWF before ascending to the top of the mountain winning the AWA World Heavyweight Championship during the height of the Hogan-Flair era. At this point, WWF & NWA had lapped the AWA, but still Martel could claim to be the champion of the 3rd biggest promotion in the country. While Martel ruled the roost in the AWA, Tito Santana was positioned as the number two babyface behind Hulk Hogan as the Intercontinental Champion and in violent, heated feuds with Greg Valentine and Randy Savage.

In 1986, Vince McMahon brought in Rick Martel in order to try a new direction in his tag team division: the ace pretty boy tag team. AWA had the Rockers and the NWA has the Rock N Roll Express and the Fantastics. For the past couple years, Vince had relied on the rough 'n' tumble British Bulldogs to be his ace babyface tag team. Martel, well-renowned for his babyface work in the AWA, seemed like a great pick to anchor the tag team division. Vince brought in the incredibly boring, but equally as handsome Tom Zenk. Just as the Can-Am Connection was about to get their big push against the Islanders. Fate intervened and Zenk left for whatever reason. Since the Savage feud in '86, Santana has been regrettably left to flounder against the likes of Ron Bass and Butch Reed. The vacancy left by Zenk was filled by the Mexican Hammer and thus one of the best tag teams of the 80s was born. They often get tagged as transitional tag team champions, but as I laid out above they were pushed strong as a very different type of WWF tag team. Unfortunately, Rick Martel's wife became severely ill and he had to tend her thus forcing him to be written out of the storylines. I believe that is what ended the Strike Force push and they were not just a tool to get over Demolition.


Martel and Santana was not short on fire at all. In fact, having watched a lot of these Santana matches, I would assert he wrestles almost every match as if it was a blood feud even if there is program surrounding the match. When he does not that is when matches get disjointed or boring such as the Rude or Demolition matches. Santana is at his best as a blood feud wrestler. The Islanders program was one of the few WWF tag programs wrestled as a feud that would escalate week to week. This is why Tito was so much so in his element he could wrestle hot and the fans were with him every step of the way. Having watched a ton of Rick Martel in the AWA and now in WWF, he has been a total revelation on  just how good he is. There are few wrestlers who seem to be as magnetic as Martel is during his fire-up sequences and he can sell like a champ to really make that fire worth it. Flair went on record during the Steve Austin Sequence stating that you can have all the fire in the world, but you got to sell first to make mean something. There is a debater between fire and selling, but when you have a wrestler like Martel there is no need to debate you can just enjoy it.

I went through the Islanders series in detail on the Islanders blog. The Demolition series was disappointing as it seems that Strike Force did not really get a chance to highlight their offensive attributes and the heat segments were rather dull. So instead I will focus on two elements that do not really have anything to do with WWF 80s tag wrestling, but have everything to do with Martel and Santana. First, is that Strike Force was not the first time Martel & Santana teamed. They actually teamed in the AWA against the Tag Champs at the time the High Flyers: Greg Gagne and our old friend Jim Brunzell. This was a very unique match because it presented a different way to wrestle a face vs face match. There was no subtle heeling, but yet it was not boring and "too nice". It was really heated in a very competitive, sportsman-like way. Just like how in professional sports, teams will get chippy to get that victory, but for the most part they are not actively cheating. It cuts a tremendous pace and I really can't say enough about besides go watch it.

Lastly, Martel versus Santana was a great break-up feud, but since Martel as the heel was getting elevated there was no blowoff match. Instead, they went around the horn with Martel beating up Santana in the aisleway before their match and then coming out later usually doing a 5 minute match. However, they did have one stellar contest at SNME to hype their Survivor Series Team match. It is just so much more heated and fierce than anything the WWF was doing at the time and really sticks out as one of the best matches in SNME history. Then almost a year later after the feud was long over, they rekindled it in another great bout on Main Event, but this time Martel was so far above Tito on the card he was able to get a clean submission victory to propel him as he entered his feud with Jake the Snake going into Wrestlemania VII.

It is incredible how much on an impact they made in such a short-time, but they had three memorable feuds against the Islanders, Hart Foundation and Demolition. Before embarking on their own feud battling each other in a template of what would be to come for the Rockers. They both were great utility players in the mid-card getting the most out of every match. Santana was having great matches with Perfect all the way into 1990. Santana along with Valentine, Backlund and Savage are mortal locks in my Top 5 80s WWF workers. Martel's run here with Strike Force extends his claim as one of the all-time best 80s babyface workers. The WWF is a promotion in the 80s that focused on crowd-pleasing spots and having fun in the ring. Strike Force was a throw back to the old days of fists balled up after taking a lickin' from the heel and sending the crowd home happy after a Boston Crab or a Flying Burrito.

Choice Cuts from Strike Force:

AWA World Tag Team Champions High Flyers vs Rick Martel & Tito Santana - 8/29/82 St. Paul
Rick Martel vs Tama - 7/87 MSG
Strike Force vs The Islanders - 9/87 MSG
Strike Force vs The Islanders - 10/87 MSG 2 Out of 3 Falls
WWF World Tag Champs Strike Force vs The Hart Foundation - 11/87 MSG
Survivor Series '87
Greg "The Hammer" Valentine vs Tito Santana - 10/88 MSG
Rick Martel & Fabulous Rougeaus w/Jimmy Hart & Slick vs Tito Santana & Rockers - Summerslam 89
Rick Martel w/Slick vs Bret Hart - Primetime 10/89
Rick Martel w/Slick vs. Tito Santana - SNME 11/89
WWF Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect vs Tito Santana - SNME 7/90
Rick Martel vs Tito Santana - Main Event 11/90

Just Missed The Cut:
Rick Martel vs Haku - 8/87 MSG
WWF World Tag Champs Strike Force vs The Islanders - Philly 12/87
Tito Santana vs Ted DiBiase - 11/88 PTW Cow Palace
Strike Force vs Brainbusters - Wrestlemania V
Tito Santana vs Mr. Perfect - Vacant Intercontinental Title 04/90

Cant have a blog about Strike Force without GIRLS IN CARS!
AWA World Tag Team Champions High Flyers vs Rick Martel & Tito Santana - 8/29/82 St. Paul

These four guys go balls to wall for 15 minutes struggling to score a victory. It is two babyface vs babyface teams where neither team plays a subtle heel that you would often see in face vs face matches. It actually feels like puro in that way, it is a pure competition to see who is the best. The beginning of the match is very focused on Strike Force working over the High Flyers with headlock. I would say Martel is the better of the two in working the headlock. These are some really fast-paced headlock sequences. Martel/Gagne go through a wild headlock/headscissors exchange that would challenge anyone's cardio. You really get the feeling right out the gate that both teams are focused on picking up the victory. Santana, unlike Martel, is a little more content to sit in his headlock. Gagne tries working a crossface on Santana to break it up and feels really heated. Once Martel gets back in, he will run up the ropes and in order to do side headlock takeovers. Martel rules! They work some sequences in between these headlocks, but everything is very focused on the headlocks by Strike Force, which I like the concentration. At this point, we get a clip and now the High Flyers change the focus from headlocks to some really wicked leg work that is bitchin'. Gagne drops a knee on Tito Santana's knee and does his inverted deathlock (Gagnelock?), which looks pretty wicked given how he is applying it. Brunzell follows up with a figure-4 and then a spinning toe hold. Eventually, Santana kicks out and finally Martel gets in, but we find that Martel is selling his knee, which we must have missed in the clip. One last time for the Strike Force Fans, "IT'S RICKY MARTEL TIME, MUTHAFUCKAS!" but he is cut short because he hits a backbreaker, which hurts his own knee! Killer. Martel tags Tito and Gagne dodges this dropkick. This may sound weird. But I marked the fuck out for that. The force that Tito threw that dropkick and how quick Greg moved out of the way. Gagne hits a shinbreaker on the ailing knee of Santana and then applies Spinning Toe Hold. Martel gets the tag and runs through some more offense punctuating with a backbreaker. Tito back in with a wicked cross-body and he rattles off a ton of moves, but Gagne grabs the GAGNE CHOKE! Santana snapmares out and hoists Gagne up, but unbeknowst to Tito, Gagne tags Brunzell. Then Brunzell hits the most HOLY SHIT dropkick on Tito. He dropkicks him right in the head for the win. That was the best damn dropkick.

I think any match that can make you mark out for a missed dropkick and a dropkick is a pretty damn incredible match. The story of this best match to prove you were best tag team in the AWA. It was wrestled clean, but that does not mean they wrestled like nancy boys and were polite. They were out for the victory. The tenacity shown on the headlocks and leg works was enthralling. The home stretch was one of the best with Martel's knee going out, Flyers going back to the legs, Tito rattling off moves, before the Mother of All Dropkicks. I don't want to say this blows all WWF tag team matches out of the water, but it does makes most of them look second-rate. This is an excellent showcase on how to work a heated face vs face match without any subtle heel tactics.
The Islanders vs Can-Am Connection -Superstars 6/87

The AWA had the Rockers, the NWA had the Rock N Rolls & Fantastics, WWF took their stab at the pretty boy babyface tag team with the Can-Ams. After two years of the Bulldogs on top, the female fans must have been certainly grateful.

Strike Force obviously turned out to be a better end game because you are substituting Tito Santana for  Tom Zenk, but I actually believe the Can-Ams would have been a great act too. I mean if Valentine could wrestle matches basically by himself while Beefcake stood on the outside I think Martel would have been just fine.

The Islanders are still faces at this point, but have been wretsling more aggressively against fellow face acts like the Rougeaus and Killer Bees. Bruno fucks up worse than Heenan at Bash at the Beach when he says isnt this match where Heenan said he would unveil his new tag team. Vince was all like well
Harley Race and Hercules are tagging later on tonight, damnit Bruno. Tama looks like one scary muthafucka. Haku actually looks pretty gentle, not intimdating at all and positively thin.

Haku vs Martel starts off awesome with some great Martel offense: reverse cross body block and hurricanarana. Zenk comes in and does his usual blase stuff. My favorite spot of the match is Zenk telegraphs a back body drop and Haku kicks him with so much momentum he actually walks through it. At this point, Heenan comes out and distracts the Can-Ams.

The Islanders bum rush The Can-Ams whipping Martel head first into the steel post and doing their dreaded double standing headbutt. Tama whips Zenk to the outside and delivers the headbutt from the apron. The Islanders win by countout.

This was a wicked effective angle for TV. It immediately gives the Islanders a ton of momentum to have Heenan as their manager and to really beat up the Can-Ams. This gives the Can-Ams the first angle where they will be seeking revenge. The best part is that Zenk ends up leaving so the angle gets even better once Tito gets involved.

It was so well-executed that I actually wanted to watch the whole angle play out at MSG.
Rick Martel vs Tama - 7/87 MSG

Zenk has departed the WWF and thus Martel has activated AWA World Champion mode. He says he would wrestle the two Islanders himself (in separate singles). Throughout this match, if you did not know any better it felt like it was of his really high end AWA World Championship defenses. Martel is such an offensive dynamo and Tama is trying his best to break it up anyway he can with underhanded tactics. Martel is looking for revenge for Superstars and that fire conveyed really well here. For those who have trouble keeping the Samoans straight (I think that is everyone), Tama is Rikshi's twin and Haku is unrelated and from Tonga much like The Barbarian.

Haku & Tama double team Martel to start, but he explodes with a double clothesline that gets the crowd going and sends the Islanders to the floor. Tama keeps trying to break Martel's momentum: putting himself in the ropes, pointing at his clenched fist, not giving him clean breaks, but Martel is too much to handle and eventually gets a hold of Tama's leg. They break up the leg work with some fun stuff as Martel outsmarts or outquicks (cartwheel) him at each turn to get him back into a toehold or leglace. The way Martel is working this with all this energy just makes it feel so pertinent that he win. Tama sells the knee work very well.

The one thing about wrestling barefoot you better not have sensitive feet. Eventually Martel lays a little too far back and Tama has the chance to lay some shots in. Tama still selling gets caught with a shinbreaker and Martel grabs Tama by the feet while he is holding the bottom ropes giving him the ol'
heeve ho. This has been some really excellent stuff so far with Martel wrestling more like a World Champion than an upper mid carder in the tag ranks. Martel drops all his weight on Tama's knee before going into the spinning toe hold as he gives Tama his back that is enough to push him off and send him crashing to the floor. That was such a good transition spot.

Tama, still selling the knee, takes Martel and runs him headfirst into the steel ring post. Haku adds some shots for good measure. Tama hits his flying reverse elbow, but he is still selling and is frustarted with only a two count. Tama knows he needs to contain Martel's explosiveness slaps on a Vulcan Nerve Pinch. Martel hope spot is ended by a Tama knee lift who immediately winces in pain and tries for another cover off the knee drop. Much like Martel using a toe hold as his base, Tama is working the Vulcan Nerve Pinch. At this point, both guys are in such a groove that they still have me enthralled with their energy in the hold and another hope spot. This time Tama punches Martel in the face on his sunset flip. A Tama clothesline gets two and it is back to the nerve pinch. This time it looks like our French Canadian hero is fading. The Garden just wont let him die and a third time is a charm...Martel crashes and burns on his reverse cross body and now Tama is just relentless with the stomps and tosses Martel to the outside. He rams Martel's head against the apron. Martel just keeps coming. Haku now rams him headfirst into the ramp. This match is so fuckin good. Tama brings Martel in with the vertical suplex and Martel kicks out again. YOU CANT HOLD DOWN RICKY MARTEL!!!!

Martel ducks a clothesline and hits a kneelift on Tama. Tama with some more, but Martel is coming back with strikes. Tama bodyslam and misses the diving headbutt. Lefts by the southpaw, Martel and a back body drop. ITS RICKY MARTEL TIME, MUTHAFUCKAS!!! Tama begs off and Martel connects with the reverse elbow that sends Tama to the floor. Martel gives Tama a taste of his own medicine ramming his head into the apron. Now he jerks the ropes so that Tama does a belly flop into the ring. That was a frigging awesome spot. Tama is now tied up in the ropes and Martel does a running headbut to Tama's midsection. Haku helps him get out, but Martel catapults Tama into Haku. This only gets 2, surprisingly, great false finish. Martel reverses a crossbody into a pinning combination.

Martel celebrates like he just won the World Title. The dastardly Islanders double team and where is Tom Zenk?!?!?!? That coward. Islanders hit their double headbutt. The refs try to break up this mugging, but Islanders are relentless. Ricky, dont be a hero! You need to find a friend in arms to combat these nefarious Islanders.

This is a strong WWF MOTYC for 1987 and I think I might vote it over Savage/Steamboat right now. This is truly an incredible match on par with Martel's AWA matches against Bockwinkel, Saito and Jumbo and a real testament to Martel's natural babyface charisma and his relentless work ethic. This did not feel as segmented as so many 1980s WWF matches, but a true struggle where they constantly mixed in hope spots with their sound psychology. I can not wait for the next chapter in this feud. ARRIBA!
Haku vs Rick Martel

Rick Martel vs Haku - 8/87 MSG

Both Islanders play King of the Mountain and won't let Rick Martel into the ring. Ricky is like two can play at that game and goes to back to bring out Tito Santana! STRIKE FORCE, BABY~! This angle has been excellent and the addition of Tito as Martel's partner due to Zenk's departure only makes it better. Gorilla explains that during of the Islander's 2 on 1 muggings of Martel, Tito made the save from the Spanish Announce Team. After a great 3 year run anchoring the upper midcard, it only made sense to use Tito in a new capacity as he stil something to give as a major babyface player. The British Bulldogs were withering in the face of injuries, so by pairing the recently AWA World Heavyweight Champion and
recent WWF Intercontinental Cheampion made Strike Force an instant babyface superteam. The Islanders started off as their establishment feud with the Hart Foundation & Bulldogs wrapped up their feud. Strike Force went over the Hart Foundation to establish themselves as the number one babyface tag team only to drop the titles at Wrestlemania IV to establish Demolition as the lead heel team. Man, I miss this Vince, just really simple, but highly effective booking.

In the summer of 1987, Rick Martel is my pick for the best wrestler in the WWF. As I mentioned in the last match, he is working as if he is still the AWA World Champion, who is hot at the heel's underhanded tactics. Martel & Haku begin the match off hot with a BIG Martel cross body block. Martel just starts throwing hands because he aint gonna take it, anymore! My favorite aspect of this match is the sense of struggle as both men are constantly attacking each other, but not in a way that is hapahazard or chaotic. One examples is early when Martel sets early for a back body drop and Haku pounces leading you to think Haku will capitalize, but Martel cartwheels out of a Haku back body drop and hits a hurricanrana, which he punctuates with some punches to Haku's skull.

When Haku takes over, he does have to work very hard to keep Martel because Martel just wont stop moving forward. He uses a chinlock effectively and follows up with a back suplex. However when Haku gets a bit careless and gives Martel that separation by Irish WHipping him into the corner, Martel
responds with reverse cross-body off the second rope. That is the story of this match, Haku has to stay on top of Martel. One lapse in Haku's offnese and Martel will explode. In a desperation maneuver, Haku grabs Martel's trunks and throws him out of the ring. Martel seems more pissed that hurt on the outside. Haku brings Martel in the hard way with a vertical suplex. Haku misses his second rop headbutt
and here comes the signature Martel left and Martel is on fire. Martel gets cocky trying the rana again, cardinal wrestling sin, Haku dumps him headfirst onto the top turnbuckle for his infraction. Haku with a
diving headbutt only gets two and he drapes him over the second rope to choke him. Tama hits the prone Martel with a chair. In a rare WWF mistake, we actually miss the pinfall as we focus on the proud Tama. Tito rushes to the ring to make the Islanders pay for their transgressions and ensure Martel's safety as he actually does a stretcher job off the chair shot. They have put some serious heat on this feud and have really built their first tag encounter well. I am sitting here twenty five years in the future and I can not wait for the first Strike Force vs Islanders match.
Strike Force vs The Islanders - 9/87 MSG

Holy shit! How has no one ever told me of this match before. This match was an instant classic for me and currently one of my favorite matches. Before the match (shown on MSG Classics), Mean Gene shows a clip from Superstars where Tito gets assaulted by the Islanders due to him saving Martel from an earlier attack. So it is now personal between all four men. They do not wait for the formal ring introductions as Strike Force storms the ring and KATIE BAR THE DOOR BECAUSE THERE IS A PIER-SIX BRAWL A BREWIN!!! Islanders bail and Heenan leaves his hand on the apron and Strike Force stomps each hand. Then Martel brings in Tama the hard way who does a belly flop into the ring. A Martel dropkick send Tama over the top rope. I am loving every bit of this and so is the Garden.

Tama asks for time out, bitch please. Martel ducks a corner shot and he levels him. They set up the arm bar as the base of their attack with Tito coming off the ropes with an elbow to Tama's elbow and then swiftly knocking Haku off the apron. Tito leapfrogs over Tama and then turns around leveling Tama with a clothesline. Tama breaks up the armbar with headbutts and he tags Haku in. Haku promptly misses his big elbow. Time for him to play pinball for Strike Force. Once again, the armbar is the base with Martel using his speed. This is the best face shine sequence I have seen save for the MX/RNR Wrestlewar '90, which is also wicked fun.

All good things must come to an end and while the ref's back is turned, Tama comes off the top rope with an illegal forearm on Tito to set up the heat segment. Tama hits a wicked reverse elbow. The Islanders do all the good stuff: double teaming, choking with the tag rope, and false hot tag. Haku hits a monster superkick, but Tito kicks out at two. Haku goes for the kill with a SOMERSAULT SPLASH, but misses. TITO MAKES THE HOT TAG!!! THE GARDEN EXPLODES! ITS RICKY MARTEL TIME, MUTHAFUCKAS!!! He is one man wrecking crew, but as he has Tama in a pinning predicament Haku blasts Martel with the ref distracted. Haku vehemently chokes Martel with his foot.

Tama had Martel scouted on his reverse cross body. Martel has been watching his share of film too and avoids the second rope headbutt. The ref busy with keeping Tito out of the ring allowed Haku to hit Martel with a headbutt and throw Tama out to get the pin.

I loved this match. It was bell-to-bell action with great face/heel dynamics. When you have watched the whole angle progress you just couldnt wait to see Strike Force manhandle The Islanders that is what you get in the outset. The Islanders are no slouches in the offense department and really work a solid heel tag team. They could be a bit more vicious and there were times they were, but this is late 80s WWF so given the circumstances it was good enough. Santana and Martel are two of the best babyfaces of all time and holy shit is Rick Martel a MONSTER hot tag. I have this as my favorite 80s tag team match topping the Bulldogs/Dream 2 Out Of 3 Falls SNME match.

Strike Force vs The Islanders - 10/87 MSG 2 Out of 3 Falls

Strike Force try to start off early, but the Islanders are wary of this and bail. Bock is on commentary again and does not know what to make of it when Gorilla posits that The Brain maybe in drag somewhere in the building. Neither do I, Bock. Was there an angle at the time? There is obviously the Weasel Suit, but I know nothing of drag. Anyways, Strike Force starts off hot with Strike Force controlling the action. They use a headlock as a base in this match. Tito hits a pretty sweet Thesz Press that only gets two.
Haku catches Martel with a back suplex while in the headlock shades of Mr. Saito. Tama and Haku do some double teaming on Martel. Martel is a lot better than most WWF babyfaces in working underneath by mixing in hope spots. He tags in Tito who immediately goes in for the kill with the Figure-4. However, the Islanders break it up.

Haku sends Tito crashing to the floor and as pay back attacks Tito's right knee. THIS AINT MEXICO, HAKU!!! Tama follows this up by stomping the left knee.

This leads to a continuity problem the rest of the match as Tito & Haku are on the same page with the right knee psychology, but Tama works over the left knee. The knee psychology is sound and refreshing in this match up. Tito maybe a bit better at selling than Martel as he is really milking this injury. The Islanders are really relentless making this a very dramatic segment. Martel gets fed up with this, but inadvertently allows The Islanders to hit their double diving headbutt to pick up the first fall.

There should be a short respite in between the falls, but the Islanders want to keep the full court press on Tito's knee. So Martel stands over the fallen, hurt Tito challenging to take both the Islanders on at the same time. It is just a great visiual and I am a total sucker for things like this as it is such great drama.
The second fall is wicked short as they work on the knee briefly before Martel reverses a cradle attempt for Strike Force to even it up. THE CROWD ERUPTS!! The babyface cheating is justified by the Islanders being total assholes constantly blindsiding Tito and Martel throughout the build-up. They do same angle during the respite.

Haku just slaps Tito around a bit to start. At this point, Gorilla notices the leg discontinuity,  he claims that Haku is the one who fucked up by going after the right leg even though Tito had been selling the right leg. But like most Americans, he was accustomed to left side work so did not notice that Tito was selling the right leg. The Islanders go for the kill with the double headbutt, but Thou Shalt Not Hit The Same Spot In The Same Match In America.

ITS RICKY MARTEL TIME, MUTHAFUCKAS~! THE GARDEN IS ROCKING!!! Backdrop, strikes, reverse crossbody. Haku thinks he has Martel, but YOU CANT HOLD DOWN RICK MARTEL and he moves out of the way causing Tama to send Haku crashing to the apron and Martel to get the reverse sunset flip victory. STRIKE FORCE WINS!!! Martel does his usual I just won the World Title celebration!

I would say this is below the September tag match, which just had so much more action and really showed how much Strike Force wanted to pummel The Islanders. I liked the drama with Tito's knee, but it just felt a little too compressed. Plus I would have liked a little bit more definitive ending like a Boston Crab or cross body block to really put Strike Force over. That being said, they had the Garden with them every step of the way. This series has had incredible heat. This would be my WWF Feud of the Year and best Tag Feud I have seen from 80s WWF. This is just really classic stuff.
Team Hart Foundation (Hart Foundation, Islanders, Demolition, New Dream Team & Bolsheviks) vs Team Strike Force (Strike Force, British Bulldogs, Rougeaus, Killer Bees & Young Stallions) - Survivor Series 1987

I knew this match was well-regarded, but I had no idea what outcome was. I can not believe the two bottom feeding babyface tag teams were the winners. More so, I cant believe the match was booked around the Young Stallions being booked as the stars. There was no reason before or after to understand this book decision as Strike Force and British Bulldogs continued to be the preeminent babyface tag teams for the near future with the Rockers, Hart Foundation and Demolition ending the next year as the top three babyface tag teams. Odd booking aside, this was a really fun match. They did not really try to weave a story, but it was action-packed and they busted out some pretty cool moves. The only story, I really noticed was the resiliency of the Young Stallions. Just because the Young Stallions were booked as the stars, does not mean they wrestled well, mind you. They were the worst wrestlers out there. Notably, Jim Powers was being a huge pussy for not taking the hotshot on 2 occasions.

The match started off with Martel/Volkoff tearing it up shades of how good their SNME match would turn out. Volkoff looked like a monster Tito hit the Flying Burrito to get the pin on Boris. Ax came in and did his usual Demoition bit. They establish the nature of the gimmick with tons of quick tags that keep the action fresh. One notable exchange was the chop exchange between Haku/Dynamite, where the hell was that in their matches. Everyone is hitting all their stuff with a lot of intensity. The Stallions get worked over a little bit. Jacques gets the tag, but crashes and burns on a reverse cross body and Ax gets the pin. The Stallions get crushed by a Neidhart backbreaker/Haku flying chop. The Valentine adds a sweet shoulderbreaker and a vertical suplex (he throws him more than slams him back). Dino Bravo hits like the best gutwrench suplex ever and they still cant pin the Stallions. Demolition becomes fustrated and gets themselves DQ'd by pushing the ref. Bret crushes Dynamite with a piledriver and cant get the pin. The heels just cant buy a win. Tama/Martel have a great exchange as usual, but Martel applies his Boston Crab too close to the heel corner and Neidhart clobbers him. Santana makes a similar mistake on a pinfall attempt and gets whacked in the big of the head by a Bret elbow and gets pinned!?!?!??!?!? That was the first sign something fishy was up.

Now there is a long Stallions heat segment with Valentine that is pretty decent because Valentine stiffing shitty wrestlers is always fun. Powers refuses to get dropped across the ropes properly because he is a mega-pussy. The match gets clipped here and we miss the Bulldogs getting eliminated. According to one review, I missed a Bret backbreaker into a Tama knee and other general awesomeness. Disappointing. When we come back, the Stallions are still getting beat on, so it appears as if you missed nothing even though you missed the number 2 face tag team being eliminated. Valentien goes for the figure-4, but Roma gets a sunset flip (blind tag) for the win. For shame, as the New Dream Team were the best workers. Though Hart Foundation and Islanders have been working pretty friggin well also. The Killer Bees have been non-existent and Young Stallions have sucked but been the crux of this match.

The Bees begin and Brunzell hits a pretty sweet high knee. Roma is back in to be the face in peril. Islanders start busting out their offense and look great. Brunzell is working offense for the faces, Stallions on FIP duty and Blair on the apron, just where he should be. (IMG:style_emoticons/default/smile.gif) This is the best Brunzell has looked in the WWF. Roma gets the first bit of offense for the Stallions with a fist drop on Bret Hart, but that is short-lived with Bret hitting a suplex on him. Islanders again rocking it in the ring. Brunzell is in with the Hitman. He has the Hitman to be slammed. Tama dropkicks Hitman to get him on top of Brunzell, but Brunzell rolls through for the pin. At this point, I was in shock because I expected the top 2 heel teams to easily vanquish the two babyface jobber tag teams.

Islanders jump right on Brunzell to press while they still can. Islanders do a little too much vulcan nerve pinch, but Haku works in a shoulderbreaker and they are doing their best to keep Brunzell in their corner. Stallions get a quick powerslam, but Islanders are able to overwhelm them again. Blair gets tagged and swarmed (pun intended). Islanders always press their advantage. Wicked reverse elbow by Tama. Tama misses a big elbow, the key weakness of all 80s WWF heels. Brunzell, hot tag, double noggin knocker, DROPKICK~! Haku saves. Brunzell attempts sunset flip on Tama and Blair with mask jumps over and gets his own sunset flip to complete the upset. Brunzell puts on his mask too outside as they celebrate. MASKED CONFUSION~!

On one hand, the Stallions looked awesome by surviving and resilient because they got beat on mercilessly. But they only got in like two offensive moves and they sucked in the ring. Bees showed up half through the match and it was the best Brunzell looked in the WWF, but none babyfaces aside from Martel looked all that great. This was a great showcase for the heel teams as they had a ton of offense and really worked crisp and efficient. It is crazy to think in one years time there would be an utter dearth of heel tag teams and an overabundance of babyface tag teams. I went in with high expectations and it was a bit of a let down. It was action packed and 30+ minutes flew by which is a credit to the teams, but it lacked a great story to really make it classic. It was a great fun, action blockbuster.
WWF World Tag Champions Hart Foundation vs Strike Force - 11/87 Superstars

This is the quintessential Hart Foundation match as it is very neatly segmented over 10 minutes with emphasis on the heat segment. Strike Force looks like they are off to the lawns of Wimbledon with their all white outfits, but instead took a detour to trade hands. Looks can be deceiving as we all know Martel and Santana are two of the best. I have really enjoyed Martel's work in the AWA against the likes of Bock, Jumbo and Saito. I was looking forward to his performance, unfortunately, in such a short match he was limited to the hot tag. He did get in a nice dropkick at the beginning that popped the crowd. Tito came in and slugged it out with Anvil before eating the classic blind knee to the back while he was running the ropes.

We enter the heat segment, which takes up the majority of the match, which is well executed. The Hart Foundation cheat effectively with chokes and throws to the outside by the ref's back. They hit their secondary finisher (Demolition Decapitation), but that is not enough. Bret ends up taking the Bret Bump to quite the pop and the crowd is whipped into frenzy for Martel. This is what I have been waiting and Martel comes in hits his reverse cross body block off the second rope, which Bret breaks up. Strike Force retaliates with a double slam and Martel puts him in the Boston Crab for the win.

I just watched a ton of 1996 WCW with the likes of Benoit, Eddie, Malenko and Jericho. I was dizzy with the all the offense being thrown out and the lack of structure. Then I watched this and while it was comforting to me to see someone really heel it up. The structure was just too neat. There were no Tito hope spots. There was no sense of struggle. It was just we are going to execute shine->heat->comeback and that's it. It is four pros and the match was fine and entertaining. Yet it left me wanting more. The green is always greener on the other side. I cant get no satisfaction. smile.gif

I focus too much on the beauty of women. Here's a piece to remind you men can be beautiful too!


WWF World Tag Champs Strike Force vs The Hart Foundation - 11/87 MSG

From what I have seen, this is the best match from heel run of the Hart Foundation. It should come as no surprise as Tito Santana & Rick Martel are not two of the best babyfaces of the 80s, but of all time. Plus this had Bock on commentary!!! I did not know Bock was ever in the WWF. He had no singular gems that stood out just added a lot of intelligence to usually bereft of intelligence WWF commentary team. The early story of the match told very well by commentary was that Bret is a technical wizard, but can be a mental marshmallow in there. Once things start going against him he is too easily rattled. After some early successes against Martel, he takes two armdrags and bails to the outside tagging Anvil. It was a nice little story early.

Strike Force work the headlock against the Foundation. Martel executes a headlock on Bret that would make Backlund jealous. Before it gets too entrenched in "heel in peril", Tito executes a small package and that brings him too close to Hart corner. Bock thought that was awfully dumb. Tito takes some offense before Bret takes his signature bump into Tito's knee this time, which was a cool variation. Martel is a house of fire. He definitely one of the best at throwing strikes with both hands. Too often wrestlers try to use their off-hand and those are the strikes that look wicked awful. However, his zeal betrays him as Anvil holds down the top rope and he tumbles over onto the exposed concrete. Anvil whips him back first into the railing and Bret follows up with a backbreaker. Everything is against Martel's ribs & lower back with an Anvil bearhug. There are more hope spots than usual in a Hart Foundation match. Martel got a Oklahoma roll and he was really working to get out from underneath the Hart Foundation onslaught. Bret was going to what would become his stock moves: 2nd rope elbow and vertical suplex with of course liberal choking and switching.

They do a great false tag with Martel firing up out of the corner only for Bret to pick his ankle right before he can get to Tito. Martel is able to whip Anvil into the ropes which sends Bret on the apron flying to take the Pillman bump on the railing. Now Tito is in and he clocks the Anvil with the flying forearm and Bret comes in only to elbow his partner. Strike Force hits a double clothesline and Martel goes for the Boston Crab on the big man, but nothing doing as Bret breaks it up. Tito with the Flying Burrito on Bret. Then they whip the Hart Foundation into each other Boston crab this time locked in on the Anvil, but Bret blindsides him with the megaphone drawing the DQ. Harts lay a beating on them post-match.

This match was all-action for about 15 minutes with both teams playing their roles excellently. Strike Force looking to overcome the cheating of the Hart Foundation with their speed and heart. The Hart Foundation look to take back their titles by any means necessary. I was going to say this was the best WWF Tag of the 85-87 era, but then I remembered some of Bulldogs/Dream Team matches being better.
WWF World Tag Champs Strike Force vs The Islanders - Philly 12/87

These guys could not have a bad match if they tried. Now, this was not nearly as heated and part of that may be they ran most of the angles at the Garden thus the Philly crowd was not as revved and the wrestlers are wrestling this as a normal match rather than a grudge match. The opening sees the Islanders jump Strike Force for a change but Strike Force is able to ram them into each other to establish control. Martel busts out his hurricanarana early to wow the crowd. Tama takes two big bumps one off a Tito dropkick to the floor and the other is his patented belly flop back into the ring. I love that bump. They tease a Martel heat segment. Strike Force works over Haku's leg in ways that would make the Rockers jealous as it never enters heel in peril territory just good babyface shine fun.

Tama breaks up a figure four attempt, which these atrocious announcers call a new Strike Force move (they called Haku Sika once and one guy could not pronounce Tama's name). Haku hits Tito with repeated backbreakers while Tama lays the bad mouth down. Tito is such a great face in peril and this does not compare to their other heat segments, but it is still well-done to make you want to see the Martel. Heel miscommunication sees Tama clotheslining Haku and Tito gets the hot tag.

Here comes Martel, baby! Martel takes out both Islanders and tags Santana back in. Tito hits the Flying Burrito on Tama and gets him in the Figure-4, but Haku breaks it up. Only to have Martel sunset flip Haku for the win.

This was more of a fun match than the more substantial earlier encounters. I would still say these are better matches than the majority of the WWF tag matches I have seen so far. I am actually pretty disappointed how short-lived Strike Force is. I was going to watch the Demolition series and that's about it in terms of notable matches. Strike Force had the potential of being one of the best babyface tag teams of all time.
WWF Tag Champs Strike Force vs The Bolsheviks - SNME 1/88 2 Out of 3 Falls

Only in pro wrestling would 300 lbs communist sympathizers be managed by a street wise black man. I just love that pairing as Slick is going on and on about how Gorby paid him a visit to talk strategy.

This is way better than I expected and in fact one of the better SNME matches I have seen. I have never watched Bolsheviks in action. I have seen a couple Volkoff matches and I have seen one Zuhkov match against Martel in the AWA, but I was not expecting. They worked a really well-done sprint with everybody getting a chance to shine including Vince who is obsessed with the size of Boris' head. The beginning was perfectly done with Strike Force using frequent tags and quick pinfall attempts to discombobulate the Pinkos. Tito gets a two from a cross body. Once the Bolsheviks are able to get a hold of Tito they take over with their rough and tumble style. A back suplex gets two for Boris. Tito is able to juke n jive around the Bolsheviks to get the hot tag. Martel makes quick work of Zuhkov with the Boston Crab to take the first fall.

Strike Force connect with the double dropkick and Martel commits the Cardinal Sin of Wrestling by trying to apply the Boston Crab again. Volkoff breaks it up this time. Now Volkoff shows off his nifty offense with a nice gutwrench and a huge over the head backbreaker. Volkoff is a massive dude. I always seem to forget that. Martel is much better at doing hope spots than Tito. Volkoff drops Martel throat first across the rope and a big kneedrop gets two. They bash heads and it is a race. ARRIBA! It is a Dropkick Fiesta!!! Flying Burrito gets broken up and Volkoff accidentally hits Zuhkov with Slick's cane.

Strike Force just keeps rolling in the great matches as the pull the best Volkoff match out of him in this action-packed sprint.

Randy Savage & Tag Champs Strike Force vs IC Champ HonkyTonk Man & Hart Foundation - Steel Cage 3/88 Boston Garden

This match was too intriguing for me to pass up. Plus I am a sucker for Savage matches that I have never watched before. Besides the famous HonkyTonk/Savage SNME match, I do think I have ever seen the HTM in action. It is so weird seeing Santana & Savage on the same team. The match starts off hot and everybody is using Strike Force's t-shirts to choke each other out. Anvil looks to escape through the door, but Tito punches him in the face a couple times and leaps over him, which would be a decent finish to a cage match. Anvil takes this opportunity to also waltz out. Martel throws The Hitman hard into the cage in one of the best spots of the match. The babyfaces whip the heels into each other and they take this opportunity to try to escape together. However, Savage is too slow and is caught while Martel escapes. This leaves Savage alone with two people in the ring. I liked the psychology of that as it was the best time for both babyfaces to try to escape as opposed to Martel just randomly leaving Savage high and dry. Hart exclaims "Piece of Cake!" and Lord Alfred thinks he said "Watch the Gate!". Gorilla not missing a beat jumps on him for that one as I have a chuckle. Hart leaves and Honky Tonk looks to have a little bit more fun with his arch-nemesis only for Savage to get his second wind and start taking it to Honky. Honky tries to go over the cage, but Savage pulls his back in by his greased up Johnny Bravo quaff. They do the spot where the guy lays on the top rope and someone kicks him in the guy only Honky is laying across the cage. That is one of those spots that looks cooler in your mind than it did in execution. A spot that never fails is Honky crotching himself on the top rope and Savage climbing over the cage for a victory.

It was a fun match with good psychology one inventive spot: HTM lay across the cage while Savage kicks him. It was much better once it became more focused on Savage's struggle to overcome the odds. As such, this is more of a Savage showcase than a Bret match. It does display how amazing Savage is as a babyface in peril and how his comebacks really whip up the crowd. You could feel Savage is being positioned as the lead babyface for the year.
WWF Tag Champs Strike Force vs Demolition - WM IV

Strike Force looks like a bunch of chumps following that entrance by Demolition. Demolition is my next target, but I get started a little bit out of order by watching this match to keep up with my Strike Force groove.

The most disappointing Strike Force match so far as the Bolsheviks looked a lot better than Demolition. Instead of playing speed against power, Strike Force played up the idea of doubling up their moves as a way to keep Demolition off the balance. I just did not think shine was as good because even the Bolsheviks sold and bumped better than Demolition did for Strike Force. The transition was really well-done with Smash catching Tito in a bearhug and sort of falling back so Ax could catch him in the throat.

This match would have been a lot better if Martel was the face in peril because he would added more dynamics and really made Demolition earn while Tito was just content to sell Demolition's power based offense. Demolition was really just using some bland stuff when they could have added some more outside the ring steel railing or post attacks, maybe some Fuji interference, some more double teaming. Tito connects with the flying burrito and makes the hot tag to Martel. Martel gets the short straw as he quickly puts Smash in the Boston Crab. Then we hit end game where Tito knocks Ax out of the ring with the Flying Burrito and then attacks Fuji. Fuji tosses the cane into the ring for Ax to smash Martel in the head. While Tito is preoccupied with Fuji, Smash falls on top to win the Tag Titles. It is a perfectly good finish, but they should have set up Tito's anger towards Fuji better by actually having Fuji participate in the match earlier.

Overall, a very disappointing end to Strike Force's title reign. Now I have found title switch matches are generally lackluster as are big supercard matches. So maybe when I watch April MSG match I will see a more game Demolition than the one out there that dragged down Strike Force.
Buck up Strike Force, there always Girls In Cars!

WWF Tag Champs Demolition vs Strike Force - MSG 4/88

Demolition reminds me a lot of Hart Foundation very structurally solid, but very uninspiring. Hart Foundation is still better to watch because Bret is way better on offense, bumping and selling than these two dudes. My biggest problem with Bret was his super segmented match structure where it would be shine->>transition->heat->transition->finish and outside of the transitions there would be no real sense of struggle. Each team was just playing ragdoll for each other. That was very much the case in the Wrestlemania match between the two. I will say it did get a bit better in this match. My theory did not come to fruition a Martel heat segment did not lead to more hope spots and a more sense of struggle. He did manage to get one more in than Tito, but it was not exactly a fight.

The babyface shine segment sees Strike Force overwhelming Demolition with double teams and quickness. They isolate each member. The best spot of the match is early on with Martel slapping Ax into the Boston Crab within first minute while Tito held Smash at bay with forearms, but eventually Smash saw opening due to the ref holding Tito back to hit Martel. Demolition just cant bump. It looks like they have trouble falling down. Ax took a front flip bump off a arm wringer, so I will eat my words. The Strike Force is using the arm bar and wrist locks as their base.

Ax uses the Hart Foundation stock transition the blind strike while the face is running the ropes. We get a Martel heat segment, but it is nothing much. Hey, but the Demos listened to me as they take Martel to the outside and he is driven into the apron. There is some decent lower back psychology. Hot tag to Tito, who runs the two Demos into each other. FLYING BURRITO!!! Fuji on the apron, Martel & Ax going at it, Fuji hits Tito with the cane on a figure 4 attempt.

I would say this is right with Strike Force/Hart Foundation matches. It is a bit underwhelming, but it peaked early. All four guys were keeping things moving and establishing that Strike Force was the better pure team and would win a fair fight. Even initially, Strike Force was besting Demolition's power offense because they were the better technical wrestlers before the blindside on the rope run. It took underhanded tactics and brute strength for Demolition to win. It is a great story that has just been told better. I have hope for Demolition.
WWF World Tag Champs Demolition vs Strike Force - Primetime Wrestling 6/88

This match is just a backdrop for the killer angle that writes Martel off. The match was basically laid out the way the earlier matches have been. Strike Force has needed to double up on their moves to gain the advantage. Demolition can not gain the advantage by sheer size so they back Tito into the ropes so Fuji can jab him the ribs. Tito takes a lickin but keeps on tickin to hit the Flyin Burrito. Martel is clicking on all cylinders before a Boston Crab attempt left him prone to being buffeted to the outside. Smash smashed a chair across the back of Martel's head and hit him with Demolition Decapitation. I didn't think this elicited the level of heat it should as this quite the heinous attack, but maybe I am biased as a Martel fan and Strike Force fan. The stuff with Demolition never got out of first gear, but it does not make me any less disappointed that we are nearing the end of the road for Strike Force. The last match is against the Brainbusters at Wrestlemania V. Nothing is forever.
However, just because your partner is injured, does not mean your career is over. You got to buck up and keep on kicking ass. I feel like after the Savage feud and especially after Strike Force, Tito is forgotten and yet he is still bringing the goods. So lets see what Tito had doing for himself in the intervening months before Martel came back.
Greg "The Hammer" Valentine vs Tito Santana - 10/88 MSG

This is the Ultimate Greg Valentine match. You got to give it 10 or minutes before it really kicks your ass. smile.gif The first ten minutes are not that bad, just a bit pedestrian. Valentine is rocking the "Heartbreaker" Shinguard and Ronnie Garvin has not produced the technological innovation of the "Hammer Jammmer" so Tito is left defenseless to the extra pressure the Heartbreaker will apply. Thus Tito immediately goes after the shinguard this tunnel vision leaves him open for a cheapshot. Tito get a better of this strike exchange sending Valentine out to the floor. We are partying like it is 1985 because their strike exchanges still rule the school. Tito is really good at selling, strikes and comebacks, but he is pretty awful at opening babyface shines. He settles on the side headlock while Valentine settles on the chinlock to begin this match. The work is solid, but uninspiring. Valentine forces Tito into the ropes and kicks Tito's injured right leg. Valentine then wraps Tito's injured knee across the apron. Ok, now we are talking! Back from commercial Hammer is dropping some elbows before relentlessly attacking Santana's knee. Just when it seems like Valentine may be in a toehold too long (crowd is getting restless), Tito pulls down Valentine's trunks and just starts hammering him with punches. The crowd pops like mad for this. However, Valentine is able to catch Tito coming off the second rope. Valentine grapevines the leg and drops back a couple time. He then does the Arn knucklelock spot only he scissors the leg and forces Tito to bridge out three times before taking a shot to the balls. Valentine looks more shocked than hurt. Santana inside cradle only gets 2. Valentine winds up and misses a fist drop.

Vamos Tito! Nasty strike exchange, Tito overwhelms Valentine and TIMBAAAAAAAAAH! Now Tito works over Valentine's knee to set up his own figure-4. I am loving this. Tito gets eye-raked and Valentine fells him with a brutal chop. Valentine back on the legs turning the shinguard around but gets caught in an inside cradle. Valentine with two big shots, but fails to get the figure 4 on twice as he is shoved to the outside. They exchange strikes on the outside, which I wised lasted longer. Valentine rakes Tito's eyes, but as he rolls back in the bell rings signaling a draw. They tease a Valentine victory by Countount, but it is confirmed as a draw. Tito clears the ring of Valentine to keep his heat.

After Martel was "injured", they put Tito in a holding pattern until he got back though he mainly faced Rick Rude, which I am looking forward to watching. Valentine had returned to the singles ranks after his team with Bravo failed to set the world on fire even though I think with the right push they could have been a bigger deal. Valentine was working with Muraco at this point so neither guy was in a major angle, but they pulled busted out a pretty hard hitting match together. Outside, Randy Savage/Ted DiBiase, I cant think of anything else that would get on this level. In a pretty light year for the WWF, I would say this is a serious MOTYC.
Tito Santana vs Ted DiBiase - 11/88 PTW Cow Palace

Even though this match is not apart of a program (DiBiase was being programmed with Hercules and Tito was in a holding pattern until Martel came back), both wrestlers treat it like they are feuding. Santana is pissed over some cheapshots from the Million Dollar Man when he does not break cleanly. Tito is fired up and those strikes on the outside looks great. He brings DiBiase in the hard way and really wrenches on some side headlocks. I did not expect such a good Tito showing. DiBiase is really hamming it up and bumping excellent for Tito. We come back from commerical with DiBiase having hit a side suplex out of the side headlock and both men on the mat. DiBiase dumps him to the outside. I have remarked on this before, but WWF did not take advantage of the outside enough. Tonight, I watched Valentine and DiBiase successfully hit moves from the second rope, will wonders ever cease? DiBiase misses a Tenryu Elbow. VAMOS TITO!!! Tito unloads on DiBiase. He signals for the Flying Burrito, but Virgil trips him up. DiBiase slugs him and Virgil lays in the weakest slaps ever. The Mighty Hercules runs into make the save and swing his chain around. DiBiase goes from being programmed with Savage to being programmed with Hercules take about falling off a cliff.

Tito was being the fire and passion. DiBiase was bumping and stooging for Tito like a million bucks. The heat segment was effective and kept moving. I felt Tito went into oversell mode a little too early and there could have been more sense of a struggle. It was a pretty good TV match and a good showcase for both men. I wished it developed into something more of a feud than just a one-off match.
Tito Santana vs Rick Rude 10/88 PTW Ft. Wayne, IN

I have not watched much pre-1989 Rick Rude. He look awfully lanky here. Weird. He is wicked lean and there is zero percent body fat on him, but he does not look like he has really grown into his frame. Though he looks like a 40 year old in the face, but that mustache always made him look older than he was. According to wikipedia, he was 30 at this point. His face looks really pale; I cant tell if he is sick or he just didnt tan that part of his body. Rick Rude does his usual pre-match spiel and there are bunch of crowd shots of young Indiana women taking pictures of him, which I find amusing. Lord Alfred compensating for Tito mentions that he is also very good looking and hell even Mooney has women chasing him. Mooney actually does a good job turning it against himself stating was a 60 year old geezer who wanted to jump his bones.

Anyways, the match is nothing much and definitely the least of Tito's work in 1988. Rude does some stalling in the beginning realizing that Tito was getting the best of him he challenges him to a test of strength. Rude gets the better of this bringing Tito to his knees and then gyrating in his face. O that is just cold and makes me laugh. Tito mounts his comeback sending Rude to the outside where he stomps on both of their hands. Tito grabbed a side headlock while we go to commercial break. Rude has Tito in a reverse chinlock when we get back and has some time to do his hip swivel for the entertainment of all these "Indiana Idiots". Rude applies a bearhug and then a reverse chinlock again. Rude wrestles way bigger than he is. He wrestles like he is Nikolai Volkoff even though he is the size of a Hennig or Flair. Rude is better at the stooging and bumping than Volkoff, but he sure does like 300+ lb offense. Tito hits the electric chair drop out of the reverse chinlock and Rude sells it more like a ballshot, which amuses me. They trade splashing each other's knees. Tito has the worst strike exchange so far mostly because Rude is not every good at that part of the game. Well at this point, Rude is just generally sucky at offense. Cross body block gets two for Santana, Rude tries an atomic drop, but Tito blocks it and almost gets the figure 4 before the bell sound signaling a draw. I did not realize how many draws there were back then. They ought to bring back the time limit draw.

In post-match shenanigans, Bobby brings out one of Indiana's finest. Look at dat hair, hot damn. She is an eager beaver to take the Rude Awakening, but first she has to say she is not a harlot like Jake The Snake's old lady. After that, Rude and her dance to his music, but Tito the Cock Block comes in and dropkicks Rude. Then he plants a wicked liplock that drops this young lass to the mat. He climaxes with the world's worst hip swivel. How fucking hard is that to do? Arriba! There was more workrate in the post-match than in the actual match. As for the actual match, I would take a pass as it is late 1980s WWF wrestling at its worst. The post-match is pretty fun for what it is worth.
Strike Force vs Brainbusters - Wrestlemania V

This was a very bittersweet as it was a well-executed end to Strike Force, but I am sad to see them go. The story is rust of Strike Force versus the fluidity of the Busters. Some early flashes of synchronicity dispel this notion as Strike Force gain the upper hand on Arn & Tully including Martel tagging Tito out of a headlock and Tito coming into bulldog Tully. Some team should rip that as a stock spot as it really does demonstrate good synchronicity. This included all the good Arn & Tully standard spots: Martel punching his way out of the Heenan Family corner, the double dropkicks, double figure-4's, Arn taking the Flair press slam off the top rope. Give these two teams 20 minutes on World Championship Wrestling and we would have had one for the ages. However, a miscommunication seeing Tito hit Martel with a Flying Burrito and this led to dysfunction. At this point, you could see how fluid Arn & Tully were at containing Tito. When Tito did break free, Martel walked away coldly. An Arn spinebuster and spike piledriver out Tito out of his misery. Martel cuts your basic heel turn promo about how Tito was riding his coat tails and he was carrying him. If anything good comes from this, it is the Martel vs Santana feud that I have never really watched.

This is the type of match WWF really excels it. It is a match that is entertaining but really well laid out in advancing a storyline in such a way that the Brainbusters are propelled to the No. 1 Heel Tag Team spot and Martel's heel turn and the upcoming Santana feud is treated as a big deal.
I do not want to just end with Strike Force's run as a tag team because until the Rockers' break up was the hottest tag team break-up of the 80s. I really wanted to capture that plus how Tito and Martel responded to their return to the singles ranks.
Rick Martel & Fabulous Rougeaus w/Jimmy Hart & Slick vs Tito Santana & Rockers - Summerslam 89

It is Quebec's All-Star has been assembled to crush Tito Santana and his allies, The Rockers. If you add Dino Bravo, you would have a pretty badass Survivor Series Team. Also, they should have stuck Martel with Hart. He had all the other Quebecois at this point and he has the bitchin as all hell Quebec jacket. The story is cntered Ricky and Tito after the fallout from Wrestlemania V. From my understanding, they were running an angle around the horn where Martel would attack Tito from behind during his entrance. The referee would rule that the bout would have to take place later. Then Martel would usually win a short match (under minutes) by some sort of nefarious tactic. I was pretty disappointed to discover this because I was excited for a bevy of 10+ minute Tito vs Martel matches. At Summerslam '89, STRIKE FORCE EXPLODES~!

The babyfaces start off hot with some double teaming. The Rockers slingshot Tito who does a cross body on Raymond and Martel. The Meadowlands is rocking for this match. The first bit of Martel we see if him high stepping while punching Marty. The announcers inform me he does a cartwheel, but the camera work is a bit shoddy. Gone are all the cool spots, in their place is a cocky heel with a great right. Tito gets the tag and Martel fucking dives out of the ring to tag Raymond. Tito gets distracted by Jacques allowing for Raymond to hit a high knee from behind.This is one of better Tito face in perils I have seen as everyone worked really well here. Ricky Martel helps do a double hotshot onto Tito and now he comes in. Tony is indignant about the abject cowardice of Martel while Jesse defends him. This is actually some pretty good stuff between the two. Tony blows every WWF announcer out of the water at this point as he sound genuinely excited about the product and makes you believe in all of Tito's hope spots. Jacques lets out a big "Woo-hoo" after a sweet dropkick. When Tito starts to mount a comeback on Martel, Jacques runs over and pulls his hair so that Martel can reestablish his advantage. "SUNSET FLIP!" by Tito and the crowd loves Tito. Raymond applies a Boston Crab and Jacques with a big knee drop on Tito as the crowd gasps, but it only gets two. . The crowd chants for Tito during the abdominal stretch. Desperation cross body by Tito for 2 on Jacques. Jacques accidentally hits a high-knee on Raymond while Tito got out of the way. Shawn is in and cleans house on all three men. Katie bar the door because a pier-six brawl has erupted. TITO BLASTS MARTEL WITH A FLYING BURRITO!!! In the confusion, Martel clobbers Marty on a rollup-attempt to win the match.

It is clear that Vince had big plans for Martel as he is letting him pick up wins in the Tito feud albeit protecting Tito with the surrounding angle and Martel picked up the win here. This is a really fun popcorn match where the Nordiques play excellent dastardly heels who use every trick in the book to keep Tito down. Martel is reveling in besting his former partner Tito. However, one of these nefarious tricks backfires on the Nordiques allowing for the Rockers to come to aid of their friend. Tito getting to hit Martel with his finish was supposed to be the feel-good climax, but future booking plans necessitated that Martel be kept strong while Tito was beginning his descent down the card. Martel is a fun heel with all his antics, but do miss his big spots. This is one helluva performance from Tito and the Rougeaus really hit their stride in 1989 after some awful years. It is too bad tag wrestling was pretty much dead in the water in a scant few months. This is a fun match that people should check out if they never had.
Rick Martel w/Slick vs Bret Hart - Primetime 10/89

Martel getting funk with Slick is pretty much why wrestling is better than any form of entertainment. We start early with Martel showboating and dancing. Bret is just shaking his head. Martel cartwheels out of a back body drop attempt and does his little dance. TREMENDOUS~! They do some counter wrestling and Martel proves hes still got it with a cool drop toehold. I am a drop toehold mark. Once again Martel parade s himself. Martel again floats over on Bret in the corner and goes to showboat and Bret has enough and levels him with a clothesline. Fucking brilliant opening that paid itself off excellently with a clothesline. Bret works over the arm and everything loosk crisp as always. Martel is game and keeps him moving and is selling well. Martel thumbs him in the throat, a heel Martel staple, to set up his heat segment, but we dont get all of it because of commerical. Fuck. Martel is just relentlessly working over the back with strikes and a Camel Clutch and lots of well-timed showboating. Incredible struggle over the Boston Crab. Martel tries put it on three times gets spun out twice and each time adds an elbow or backbreaker before he can get it on. I love that sense of struggle really puts over Martels' finish, Bret's will to win and Martel as a wrestler. On each failed attempt, Martel gets frustrated. Just really great work again. Bret makes the ropes, but Martel thinks he has won, before getting more frustarted. Bret powders as Martel does jumping jacks. Ruh roh, pride before the fall. Martel clotheslines the ringpost when he tries to follow Bret out. Bret starts hitting his stock offense and is going for covers after each move trying to get the victory at any moment. Martel takes an excellent over the top turnbuckle and Bret is just pouring on the pinfall attempts. Bret blocks the atomic drop and gets his own. He hits a dropkick as time runs out and it is a draw. The draw was the standard 1989 singles finish for Bret Hart, who really being put in a ton of singles matches with the mid-card heels to build his credibility. Bret's push to the top is the greatest slow-burn push ever by McMahon. I loved the beginning and the middle of this match and the finish was fun, but not at the level of how good the rest of the work was. One of the best Bret singles matches of 89 and a great Martel match.
Tito Santana vs "The Widowmaker" Barry Windham - Primetime Wrestling 10/89

This felt like a 80s WWF version of a mid-00s WWE match as they were just throwing out offense against each other in order to make themselves look good. It is a bit above that because Windham sells and bumps well for Tito early on and Tito does settle into a heat segment. The first portion is a bit too spotty as they are really not letting their spots breathe. I don't mind it being nip and tuck per se, but there was less of a sense of struggle and more just using parity to display both wrestler's moves. Barry would at times let Tito stuff take effect, but he would go for the shinbreaker so quickly or an eye-rake. They were just packing way too much in there. On the flip side, Tito was not letting him build momentum, but as the babyface he should be coming. Tito does have a great punch. Windham needed to pick something to cut him off that was the jawbreaker into the ab stretch. Barry's heat segment was pretty tedious and instead of a constant build in heat it lets off a lot of heat. He takes the Flair throw off the top rope, but it is just a hope spot as he is able to hotshot Tito and grab a powerslam. Barry taunts and showboats more than I remember, just a WWF thing I suppose? Tito punches the left leg to cut off Windham and applies the figure-4 and the heat to the match is restored instantaneously. Barry gets a rope break and goes back to underhanded tactics like the eye-rake and fish hook. He can not sustain as Tito blocks Barry's suplex attempt and hits one of his own. They collide heads, I have no idea why, but it was a "cool" 80s spot. Tito whips Barry over the top turnbuckles and slams him into the post. He delivers the Flying Burrito, but the bells rings signaling a draw. Tito has wicked tunnel vision and is still putting the boots to Barry and another FLying Burrito sends him packing.

They definitely packed way too much in this match and still managed to have a dead segment in terms of Barry's heat. Windham was strange in the WWF ring, he felt like he needed to show boat more and play a character I guess. Tito was the most exciting part of the match, but still there was no real story. They were both just tossing moves and spots like candy to show off. It is worth to see the one notable match of Windham's 89 run, but nothing that gets above decent.

Pro Wrestling at its finest!

Rick Martel w/Slick vs. Tito Santana - SNME 11/89

Lots of "gettin' funky" here with Martel and Slick and then Dusty with cop hat and polka dots all very funny. Martel came out with his Survivor Series team (Twin Towers & HTM) and so Santana said two can play at that game and whistled for his gang (Dusty, Rooster, Beefcake). Can't say I am waiting with bated breath to watch those 8 clash. I will say as most people know this is one helluva SNME sprint. This right up there with Rockers/ Busters as a great SNME sprint as they really come off as two guys that really hate each other. There is sometimes I disconnect in the intensity in the ring in WWF with the hatred surrounding the match. Martel actually initiates instead of being a chickenshit, but Tito catches his foot and swings him around for an atomic drop and a clothesline sends him outside the ring. Now, back in the ring, Martel bitches out for Santana who is cocked and loaded. Tito gets a series of near falls before Martel pulls Santana's tights sending him into the corner. This is when Martel's little dance in between punches is just so great. Tito hits the Flyin' Burrito, but Slick distracts and they tease a Melee.

Back from commerical, Martel is working over the back and Martel is really good at showboating. There is something about rather than taking away from the action really adds to how much you want Tito smack this arrogant ass around. There is a epic backslide struggle that Martel loses and his facial expression while going down is priceless. Martel applies the Boston Crab, but Tito makes the ropes. Martel gets a backbreaker (one of his favorite moves as a heel and really smart set-up for the Crab). Martel goes up top, but Tito shakes the ropes and he crotches himself and once again his facial expression is awesome. Tito pounds away before signalling for the Figure-4. This time Tito clocks Slick. Melee ensues. Great energy in this match, I like the work a little better in their Main Event '90 match, but energy and spirit make it a pick 'em between the two.
Tito Santana vs Mr. Perfect - Vacant Intercontinental Title 04/90

I liked this a good bit because Tito is at his best when he makes it into a Catalina Bar The Casa Tijuana Brawl! From what I have seen Tito really just has two modes: pissed off babyface and boring. It seems when Tito is motivated he just makes all his matches into blood feud matches because he knows no other way to make a match exciting. I ain't one to complain because this match comes off a lot better with Tito breaking up some go-behinds with hard elbows. Then following Perfect out to the outside with the chop and back in with a sweet springboard shoulderblock that looked stiff. Perfect is pretty damn good in this match and bumps in a tasteful manner. I dug the transition with Tito tripping over Perfect on a drop-down someone needs to crib that for a PPV main event transition. Perfect save for his working punch looks pretty awful on offense and just taunts. Tito is like fuck this shit and just starts working over the leg wrapping around the ringpost and then going for the Figure-4. Heenan is out and they go with a lame inside cradle after Tito had just been kicking Perfect. Jeez, a little more chicanery would have been nice, just felt anti-climatic. I know you have to save the Perfectplex for the return match so I understand that. Heenan/Perfect just make sense together even if it was at tail end of both careers. Tito ruled this match and carried to the promised land. Mr. Perfect was decent, but nothing stand out. I do love the bump he takes when he gets kicked in the back of the leg, but other than that a blase performance.

WWF Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect vs Tito Santana - SNME 7/90

This is the sprint version of today WWE main event style, but since it is not dragged out and the false finishers are not all finishers it is more exciting than dramatic. Hey, Tito, does not work as pissed off as usual and it is still a great match. This match is really built to showcase Mr. Perfect and his heat segments are way better in this match. If you tack the Tito babyface shine from April on this bad boy you would really have a match for the ages. Tito looks hot to begin with and Perfect takes a big bump off the chop, but this is a lot shorter and Perfect take command early off a telegraphed back body drop. I was not a fan of the transitions in this match they seemed generic and forced there was no logical progression. Perfect busts out his stock WWF offense: his big knee lift and standing dropkick. The chinlock/chokehold with Bobby was excellent. It was a pretty inventive ref bump, I will give that. Tito pours on the false finishes with figure-4, Flying Burrito, second rope clothesline and cross-body. Perfect takes over and the rest of his arsenal is unveiled the rolling necksnap and twisting thing between his thighs. Tito just says it is my turns with some piston punches and then a punch sends Perfect way over the ropes. Here comes the HUGE Mr. Perfect bumps including his famous posting of himself off hair biel and the atomic drop into turnbuckle. They sneak in one more false finish off a clothesline for Tito, before Tito counters the Perfectplex with an inside cradle countered by a Perfect Inside Cradle. That is a way better finish than April match. Perfect looked as good here as he pretty much ever did in WWF outside his work with Bret with really good heat segments and eating Tito's offense like a champ. I liked how he waited until the end to unleash his barrage of bumps. Tito played a fired-up, big move babyface much better than I thought he would and he did not feel that pissed off. I'd probably still have Rockers/POP and Valentine/Garvin ahead of this, but a solid WWF MOTYC for 1990.

The Barbarian w/Bobby The Brain Heenan vs Tito Santana - 09/90 MSG

What a massive disappointment! Here I was thinking getting Barbarian in a longish (15+ mins) against Tito was going to make my Sunday Night instead it left me with a case of wrestling blue balls. The beginning was fine with Tito establishing some quickness that cause Barbie to seek refuge on the outside with Heenan. You could tell he could move quickly, but he was moving purposefully slow as if he was instructed that was how a man his size should work. Well fuck that person! Tito did some basic headlock work and then Barbir just sort of took over with methodical stomps and two bearhugs. Barbarian ascended to the top and the announcers said this was not his domain even though I had seen multiple times hit moves off the top. Here he does miss the shoulder block. Ugh, now the announcers can be all smug about it. Tito ascends, which I have never seen before, but the announcers make it sound like it is second home. Barbarian rolls through his cross body block to pick up the victory.

1990 was a really uneven year for Tito. He had some great stuff with Martel and Perfect, but was booked the majority of the year against The Warlord and Akeem. Pretty much those two and Brutus Beefcake are the Unholy Trinity of WWF Suck, poor, poor Tito! This match also sucked, for shame.
Rick Martel vs Marty Jannetty - Survivor Series Showdown 1990

Before the match they show the Martel/Jake angle, which is really excellently done and I actually like Jake coming back with a "glass" eye. The problem is he would have had to sell for the rest of his career, but could have been a cool calling card of his. Martel and Jannetty will be on opposite Survivor Series Teams as Martel's aptly named Visionaries (Vince how you slay me!) take Jake's Vipers. Martel wusses out at first to make Marty look good. They trade moves each doing Jumping Jacks after the move to show each other up. Not on the level of the Rockers/Rougeaus, but some fun opening stuff. Martel gets a knee lift. I am a mark for the knee lift just a great move that works in so many contexts. Martel works over Marty's wind by attacking his throat before charging in with a knee into the the turnbuckle. I will say the one thing holding the Rockers back was that they were not very good at working holds. Martel is better about keeping things moving, but Marty and Shawn were not at their best doing toeholds. So while Martel kept this decent, it did kind of drag here. Martel goes back to the thumb to the throat, one of his favorites. Jannetty counters into a shinbreaker, well-played, another favorite of mine. Jannetty goes for the spinning tohold, but gets kicks to the outside, which starts Martel's heat segment. Martel like always is targeting the back for his Boston Crab. He is such a smart worker. Jannetty catches him coming off second-rope hits his usal babyface comeback offense: reverse elbow and a wicked knee lift. But Martel uses Marty's momentum against him by sidestepping him sending him crashing to the floor. Jannetty, disoriented, misses a slingshot splash and Martel wins. Interestingly, not as definitive as his victory over Santana would be and in fact there was a lot of heel in peril here. Jannetty did a fine job working over the leg and it was a solid match, which they worked in a reason for nicely. Nothing to go out of your way to see, but a decent match nonetheless.
Rick Martel vs Tito Santana - Main Event 11/90

Martel has dropped Slick and now has what I consider the more classic "Model" look with atomizer and the button that says "I Am A Model" as opposed to just the sweater tied around his neck. I prefer wrestlers with long hair as makes selling and bumping better so I do prefer Martel with longer hair than what he adopted in 1992. Tito is Tito. Besides, RVD cant think of a guy who never changed his look for as long as Tito. We do a little King of the Mountain to start with Martel sending Tito crashing as Martel is definitely position higher on the card than Santana at this point. Martel in his overagression wraps his arm around the ringpost giving Tito an easy bullseye. Tito is all over his arm with some good energetic arm work. Martel is always good for keeping holds moving and never just letting them rest. Tito constantly going for falls. I love the mentality that shows Tito is always trying to win it is great way to remind people it is a competition. Not to get on a tangent, but it is something Bret is really good at it in his matches. Martel does the smae leverage move as the year before to start his heat segment. Martel loved the thumb to the throat which si a great nasty heel move. Martel with one backbreaker feigns going up top, but says nah lets give him one more for good measure. Now he goes to the top, but gets crotched again. Pride before the fall, brutha. Tito is hot and looks to be on comeback trail. Before the absolutely tremendous finish: Tito blocks an atomic drop, picks the leg and goes for a Figure-4 reversed into an inside cradle, and then Martel grabs the Boston Crab for the submission victory. I enjoyed the work a lot in this and the finsh was superb. A heel going over in the WWF clean as a sheet by submission thats a pretty Holy Shit! moment. I believe it is indicative of how high McMahon was on Martel at the time pushing him in the 3rd biggest program of Wrestlemania VII against Jake The Snake.
Often you will hear Strike Force get bandied around as a transitional tag team champion, but they were an important babyface tag team that was given hot programs with three main heel tag teams and then spawned one of the hottest mid-card feuds of 1989. They are tag team that if you only watch the PPV matches will come across as a blip on the radar, but if you dig deep into their catalog you will find one of the best babyface WWF tag teams. Next week, we look at another short-lived WWF tag team that managed to win gold, but this time on the side of the heels: the always dastardly BRAINBUSTERS!
Reunited and it feels so good!

No comments:

Post a Comment