- Sean Ross Sapp
- SEP 10, 2016
- 1:16PM EDT
If you've been a fan since the Attitude Era, you're likely familiar with the WWF Brawl For All, a legitimate tournament held on WWE programming. I tracked down several people associated with the tournament, ranging from Ken Shamrock to Jim Ross to Butterbean, to learn more about the infamous idea. I learned that even when workers are talking about a shoot, often times they'll still try to work you.
Note: This is an article I published during my time at Wrestling Inc., but retained the rights to. I thought considering the recent video by Wrestling With Wregret (seen above) and Bruce Prichard's latest podcast both referenced the story, it was worth re-publishing here. I hope you all enjoy it.
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Professional wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts have long been married concepts. Much to the dismay of the WWE in recent years, MMA and the UFC have applied a stranglehold on the once-lucrative pay-per-view market that WWE dominated a share of for decades.
Prior to the UFC's PPV explosion, there were conversations of potential buyouts of the UFC, PRIDE and Strikeforce by the WWE, but that never ended up happening. Instead, the lasting memory of mixed-martial-arts and WWE is the 1998 Brawl For All tournament.
A true sideshow, the Brawl For All was more like a toughman contest that you'd see at a local high school gym on a Saturday night than the UFC of today. One minute rounds, huge 16-ounce gloves, no submissions. WWE, then the WWF, also threw in a twist – takedowns. Points were awarded, with 5 going to the fighter with the most punches landed in each round, another 5 for each clean takedown, and 10 for a knockdown. In the event of a knockout, the fight was mercifully called off. The bouts were scored by ringside judges, supposedly free of bias.
The conversation was always there, both among fans and the talent themselves - who's really the toughest professional wrestler? The Brawl For All didn't answer that question, but it eliminated a few names from the running.
Pro wrestlers long had the reputation of being tough guys, but the tournament looked to determine who was truly the toughest of the tough. Current WWE color commentator John Bradshaw Layfield, then known as Blackjack Bradshaw, may have inadvertently caused the entire tournament to take place.
"I wasn't a big fan of JBL because I thought he was a bully," said former WWE creative writer Vince Russo. "I always knew he didn't like me, too. We're there one day at TV shootin' the crap and JBL makes the comment that if the WWE was like one big bar fight, he would whip everybody's ass in the back. Those words came directly out of his mouth. I'm not crazy about the guy to begin with, and I know there are some pretty tough guys in the locker room, so I let those words sink into my head for a few days. The next creative meeting I pitched the Brawl for All to Vince McMahon."
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, who and previously dabble in bodybuilding and later in professional football and movies, took to the idea very well. The same man would challenge UFC President Dana White to a shoot fight at WrestleMania years later. Russo said that the idea of a shoot tournament amped the WWE owner up.
"He loved it. Vince loves that stuff. Two guys fighting in a shoot. Real competitive nature, bragging rights that tapped into his masculinity something fierce. I didn't have to sell him on it; I didn't have to talk him into it. It was just like 'how to we do this?'" said Russo.
Not everyone shared Russo and McMahon's enthusiasm for the tournament. Most notably, Jim Ross, who called the action on WWE's flagship Monday Night Raw and worked in talent relations, saw the idea as a nightmare.
"I didn't like it. You're mixing metaphors," Ross told me when talking about running a shoot-fighting tournament during a predetermined wrestling show.
The WWE had an incredibly top-heavy roster at the time with several huge stars, but it was clear to management those stars were off limits for the tourney. The task of recruiting the field was assigned to longtime WWF employee and part-time on screen character Bruce Prichard.
"Obviously, Steve Austin's not going in it, Rock's not going in it, Undertaker's not going in it, Mankind's not going in it, Hunter's not going in it. I asked pretty much everyone if they wanted to be in it. Some declined and some jumped at the opportunity," said Prichard, after making it clear he vocally expressed his disdain of the tournament backstage.
Finding willing participants wasn't hard. Those aforementioned stars took up a lot of time on TV each week, and many who weren't given that time saw this as an opportunity to be thrust into the limelight. Many wanted to prove they were truly skilled, or just flat out tough.. Oh yeah, they were given substantial bonuses, too.
"It came down to dollars and cents," Russo explained. "You pay the guys, you give them a bonus to be in the Brawl for All. The further they got along, the more money they made. That's how we enticed them to sign on the dotted line."
Not everyone was convinced by WWE's bonuses, and a few names of the time you'd expect to jump at that chance didn't actually do that. Former UFC star Ken Shamrock, who was then known as the "World's Most Dangerous Man" didn't flinch when the WWE offered him allegedly $50,000 to participate in the tournament. Shamrock pointed to trust issues, as well as a drastic pay cut from his days in the UFC as reasons for that. Speculated payoffs for other talents ranged from $5,000 just to fight, and $100,000 to win the tournament. Prichard said that everyone was given the same amount.
"When I was asked to do that I was like 'uh, okay, $50,000?' It didn't seem right to me that I would go into this tournament style fighting thing, I was a professional, and beat these amateur guys up. That's why I didn't do it. Why are you asking me to do this? I just came into pro wrestling and I'm learning this craft, and now you want me to go in there and do a complete 360 and beat these guys up for $50,000 when I'm used to making half a million to a million. None of it made any sense to me," Shamrock said. Bob Holly has been on the record saying he was personally offered $5,000 to fight.
As it turns out, Ken Shamrock may have not been allowed in the tournament at all originally. WWE execs thought that including him and fellow UFC star Dan Severn would make for a possibly unfair competition.
"(Management came and said) The only people who weren't going to be allowed to do it are Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, so originally I was banned," Severn said. "I didn't stick around. Whenever I found out I wasn't in it, I left and went back to the locker room. Several weeks into this Brawl For All sequence, I'm just in the back laying or something, probably using my duffle bag as a pillow. One of the road agents came up and said 'how would you like to be in the Brawl for All tonight?' I said 'against who, and how much?' They told me and I said done deal."
When Shamrock and Severn were banned from participating, the plan had been for the tournament to be done MMA style. According to Jim Ross, state athletic commissions began to step in, and the tournament rules had to be drastically changed. This opened the door to the former UFC stars to be invited back to participate. Severn accepted, Shamrock did not.
The original field looked rough. WWF newcomer and former NFL player Darren Drozdov, former WWE tag champions-turned lower card wrestlers Mark Canterbury, Bob Holly and Bart Gunn, one-eyed Pierre Ouellet. 8-Ball, Scorpio, Bradshaw – all who had indistinguishable runs with the company, and a suspiciously huge newcomer in Brakkus. According to Bob Holly in his book The Hardcore Truth, Tiger Ali Singh was originally set for the tournament after bragging about his background, but ended up backing out, leaving the spot open for Holly.
There were a few names of interest that signed up, though. Road Warrior Hawk was one half of the most intimidating tag teams of all time, and had an image to uphold. Marc Mero had a legit boxing background as a Golden Gloves champion. "Dr. Death" Steve Williams was a four time All-American wrestler. The Godfather and Steve Blackman had at least portrayed shoot fighters on TV at some point, although the general public had no idea if their accomplishments were real or not. Vince Russo thinks that the perception of these talents played a role in their choices.
"The guys who had reputations as bad asses, could you imagine if they didn't sign up for it? You have a locker room full of talent, this is a shoot. It's time to put up or shut up. If you're as bad as you want people to think you are, it's time. In a guy like Road Warrior Hawk's case, I think he really didn't have a choice," Russo said.
As mentioned, the original rules recommendations were for MMA-style bouts, before they were changed. Steve Blackman began training accordingly, planning on taking his opponents' knees out with kicks. When Blackman revealed his game plan to WWF management, they decided more strict rules should be put in place in order to protect their talents.
It didn't work.
Either way, the Brawl for All was off to the races.
The fights weren't pretty, the combatants were not skilled, and the crowd was not entertained. If anything, the live audience seemed confused. Just minutes in, the project looked like it was a complete failure.
The comparisons to toughman contests were well founded. Bradshaw vs. Mark Canterbury and Droz vs. Hawk were slop fests. Droz fought with his chin straight up in the air, throwing punches from his hips, and Hawk 's fundamental striking was laughable for someone who'd intimidated the world of wrestling for 15 years. The fighters were exhausted after only one-minute rounds. Danny Hodge, who served as a referee, looked embarrassed to be involved. By the end of the opening round of bouts, matches were being taped before Raw and shown in brief clips instead of live.
There were a couple of bright spots in the first round, too. Dan Severn looked like he had something to prove, and despite having a takedown stuffed by The Godfather, he dominated the match. Steve Blackman spammed takedowns on the former Golden Gloves boxer Marc Mero on his way to a victory. Although he wasn't technically sound, Savio Vega completely dominated Brakkus, who looked jacked to the gills.
The company also used the opening round to try to work some interesting angles and storylines. Hawk and Droz fought to a draw (Droz advanced), and had been working a bit of a rivalry on-screen prior. Bart Gunn and Bob Holly had been tag partners for a while, and The Godfather, a wrestling pimp, was flocked by hos during his entrance. The matchups at least, were just the luck of the draw.
"We did the brackets in my office, with everybody's name on a piece of paper put in a bag," Prichard said. "Savio Vega actually drew the names, and had two other witness it. We did a legit, blind draw to do brackets. They didn't want me or an agent or anyone connected with it for fear of people calling it a work."
'Dr. Death' Steve Williams won his fight, but it wasn't a work of art by any stretch. Still, he was considered an odds-on favorite to win the thing, maybe even a ringer, so it wasn't surprising. What was surprising was that his opponent Pierre Ouelett, who had one eye, was even allowed to fight.
"I couldn't even begin to tell you the rationale behind it," said Prichard of Ouellet. "He wanted to be in it. It scared the s--t out of me. And against Doc! There's not an athletic commission in the world that would allow that."
Despite that oversight (no pun intended) the WWE had Dr. Death, Steve Blackman, Dan Severn and Bradshaw among the names advancing to the second round. Not so bad if you're booking a shoot tournament full of perceived tough guys, even looking back today. Unfortunately, that didn't last.
Go ahead and mark a few names off that list. Dan Severn and Steve Blackman, gone from the running. Blackman was the first injury casualty, as he hurt himself training with an oversized opponent in preparation for his second round fight with Bradshaw, although some thought he simply dropped out because of the rule changes. Even though Marc Mero had a poor showing against Blackman in the first round, the former golden gloves boxer replaced him.
Mero's Brawl for All run was ended again after a controversial second round loss to Bradshaw. Bradshaw had attempted to intimidate Mero in their pre-fight stare down and bulled his way to a few takedowns, but Mero's crisp boxing forced a draw and an extra round, which Bradshaw won. The former boxer had been taken out twice, but he said there was more than met the eye.
Mero was furious backstage, and felt as if the move was a political hit against him, as he'd been getting grief backstage about then-wife Rena "Sable" Mero, being more over than him with crowds. Prichard said that Bradshaw asked Mero if he wanted to give it another go backstage, before cooler heads prevailed.
"Mero wanted to knock Bradshaw out so bad, he was missing," Prichard said. "We had four judges who were told how to score. It was unanimous that Bradhsaw beat him on takedowns. He was livid backstage and Bradshaw called him out on it, then nothing happened. The only one who was a sore loser was Mero."
Droz would win a fun fight over Savio Vega that saw the crowd get behind him, and The Godfather showed some promise in a victory over former WCW tag team champion Scorpio. However, after only one TKO in the first round, and three fights going to the scorecards in round two, the aura of unpredictability that was heavily promoted didn't seem to be there.
Enter Bart Gunn.
"Anytime you see guys go in there and fight each other and you don't know anything about them, you're going to have one of those guys and go 'Wow, he can hit hard.' Someone's always going to have that sneaky power, and it ended up being Bart Gunn. Did it ever," Ken Shamrock told me of Bart Gunn.
Bart Gunn was, and still is, a mountain of a man. His 6-foot-4, 265 pound frame would dwarf any normal man, but in the "land of the giants" that was the WWF, his size was nothing special. He entered the company five years prior as a part of a successful tag team with Billy Gunn, becoming three-time WWF Tag Team Champions. The duo split and their careers took drastically different turns. Billy would be a prominent character, while Bart would struggle to get on television.
Gunn faced his then-tag team partner Bob Holly in the first round of the tournament, winning by points. There was nothing really to write home about his performance, or it least it seemed at the time. Heads were turned, literally and figuratively in round two.
After a close, back and forth fight with Steve Williams, who was now the tournament favorite, Gunn knew he needed a finish to win. Gunn, tag team partner Holly, and countless personalities backstage had suspected that the deck would be stacked against Williams' opponents, although they couldn't prove it. Gunn eliminated all doubt with his left hand by viciously knocking out Williams near the end of the fight. The wrestling world was stunned, even backstage.
Stunned, and possibly overjoyed, based on who you talk to. The story of Steve Williamsand the Brawl For All is one that lives on in wrestling lore.
"(We were) Happy for Bart, and everyone popped like a 1985 Road Warrior entrance. Everyone felt like it was designed for Doc to win it. That's been denied and I believe JR about that, but I don't believe for one second most were assuming Bart would win," said Sean Waltman, who was in the WWE as X-Pac at the time.
Former WWE creative writer Vince Russo corroborated Waltman's account, and expanded on why the talent were so happy to see Williams lose.
"JR (Jim Ross, friend of Steve Williams) carried on in the back for weeks and weeks and weeks about how Dr. Death was going to destroy everybody. The boys got so sick of hearing it, that they were rooting against Dr. Death. Everybody wanted to see Dr. Death taken out, and it had nothing to do with Dr. Death. Sweetheart of a guy, everybody loved Steve Williams, but the way JR put over Steve Williams, people wanted to see him get his lights knocked out. JR was so over the top in what Dr. Death was going to do to people," Russo said.
As Waltman mentioned, for nearly two decades since the narrative has been that either the WWE wanted Steve Williams to win, or at the very least Jim Ross did.
"I was learning as it went on that it was supposed to be an entry deal for 'Dr. Death' Steve Williams, a way to introduce him into the WWF again," said Dan Severn, confirming that the locker room buzz was similar to the information passed down over the years.
Jim Ross told me he wasn't as worried about Williams losing, as he was about the injury 'Dr. Death' sustained.
"The Dr. Death storyline was that JR was angry when Dr. Death got beat," Ross said. "I was angry that he tore his quadriceps from the knee. We have a 40-something year old wrestler that we want to bring in for one more run and now that whole run, that whole investment is gone. Had nothing with him losing, had everything to do with him getting injured and never being the same again."
Ross isn't wrong. The tournament did much more than just abandon traditional format and lose the interest of the audience, it put several of the participants on the WWE disabled list. Williams was out for seven months, and would only wrestle three more matches for the WWE.
Dr. Death wasn't the only one put on the shelf because of the Brawl For All tournament, either. Steve Blackman got hurt and was shelved for three months. Hawk was out of the ring for over four weeks, Droz for three.
One of the scariest injuries was suffered by The Godfather, who was Bart Gunn's latest left hook victim. He'd miss three months after a terrifying knockout.
"He hit that man so hard, his eyes rolled into the back of his head. I've never seen anybody get hit that hard in my life," Russo remembered. "I don't think we thought that through, if half the roster gets f'd up. It didn't really affect our (creative) plans, though."
Even those who weren't hurt, like Brakkus, Savio Vega, Mark Canterbury and Pierre Oullette, were barely seen in the WWE again. Most of the talents used weren't factored in to the WWF's creative landscape.
Still, the WWE's early ringer, the one who the Brawl For All was going to be used as a vehicle for, had been defeated. Steve Williams was down and out. Prior to the fight, Gunn was intimidated, but for the wrong reasons.
"Bart called me the week before and asked me if he'd be fired if he knocked out Dr. Death," Prichard said. "He said 'I know this was set up for Doc, and he's the chosen one, but I will knock him out.'"
One person that was said to be upset was former world champion Terry Funk (who actually picked Bart Gunn to win the Brawl For All), who felt that wrestlers and crew members backstage disrespected Dr.Death with the '1985 Road Warrior pop' in response to his knockout. Despite the lukewarm audience reaction, the Brawl For All was a 'curtain sellout' among active roster members.
"75 percent of the time backstage, nobody is watching. When a Brawl for All fight was going on, it was standing room only," Vince Russo said. "You had to fight to get a spot in front of the monitor because all the boys were so into it."
Despite the interest backstage, many talents still shared Ross and Prichard's sentiments that the Brawl For All was a bad idea. Shoot fights during a worked program confused the audience, and also seemed to undermine the point of the show. Waltman remembers his feelings on the tournament.
"It was the dumbest f--king idea in WWE history. These guys are fighting for real, and everything else you're watching is bulls--t. That's basically what they were telling everyone watching. That, the injuries, and having guys fighting each other that are supposed to be working with each other is just the dumbest f--king thing I can ever remember in my years in wrestling. Real f--king easy for guys that have never fought, let alone been real pro wrestlers to think that s--t up while they're sitting around playing Dungeons & Dragons in a writing meeting to come up with that dumbass f--king bulls--t. They don't have to suffer any of the consequences. Is it any wonder no one wants to take full credit for that abortion of a f--king idea?" Waltman said.
Waltman reminds us of yet another overlooked aspect of the Brawl For All tournament. Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn had been pro wrestlers in the past, but transitioned from the world of no holds barred fighting, a precursor to today's mixed marital arts, which has regulations and rule sets. Many WWE talents weren't sure if they could trust the former UFC stars in a scripted environment.
"When I got approached about it, I was disappointed," Shamrock said. "It took me a long time to be able to build trust with the different people I got in the ring with and would wrestle with. They're trying to do this fight that's real, but they're not professional fighters, and they're going out there and mixing it with their jobs. It put a lot of pressure on them to perform and do both. I felt bad for them."
If The Hardcore Truth is to be believed, the fact that Jim Ross was putting over Steve Williams backstage wasn't the only reason Dr. Death had started getting resentment backstage. Holly also has publicly stated that many talents felt as if the scorecards were being generously tilted in the favor of Williams. Williams himself brought the issues about, as he'd told Holly that he was already paid to win the tournament.
"I spoke to Bob Holly, who had written in his book that Dr. Death got paid ahead of the Brawl For All, and he didn't hear me say it, he didn't hear the office say it, ," Jim Ross explained. "Dr. Death told him that. The wrestlers are the wrestlers. One of the great arguments and controversies in any wrestling locker room is the wrestlers to talk about their paydays with their peers. They rarely tell the truth, and are embellishing their pay to look better than their peers. I love Doc like a brother, but he's no different than any of the other boys. He wanted to make himself look better than he was."
Despite the rumors that Williams started about being paid ahead of time and the hype surrounding him, he was still well regarded and heavily respected backstage. He wasn't necessarily the favorite to win among talents, though.
"I felt awful for Doc," Waltman said. "He was such a good man, and I don't think he wanted to do it anymore than half the other guys who were asked and afraid to say no. Blackman was all for it & probably would've won if they hadn't changed the rules halfway through. I'm pretty sure Blackman said "f--k this" when they changed the rules."
Prichard agreed with Waltman, saying, "I think Blackman would have won it if Steve would have stayed in. Steve is tough on all fronts. He was a good grappler, and lightning fast."
But Blackman was gone. Severn was gone. Shamrock couldn't be financially convinced. Dr. Death had been defeated. Bart Gunn didn't care. He kept knocking people out.
Bart Gunn had defeated his own tag team partner in Bob Holly, knocked out the early favorite in "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, ruined at least one higher-ups plans, and then brutally KO'd and shelved The Godfather. The finals were pretty much a formality. In the words of Holly, Bart Gunn "knocked Bradshaw out colder than a well digger's ass." Bart Gunn was the Brawl For All Champion, and his left hook would forever be associated with the tourney.
The prize (outside of the bonus cash) wasn't much of a prize at all. Gunn was scheduled to face well known pro boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch at WrestleMania 15, which was right in the middle of one of WWE's hottest periods of all time. The fight was going to have standard Brawl For All rules, meaning Gunn could take down Butterbean, who wasn't an experienced wrestler.
Butterbean was a 32-year-old boxer who got into the sport through Toughman competitions himself. He was more than just a toughman Champion by the time WrestleMania 15 rolled around, however-- he was the IBA World Super Heavyweight Champion with a record of 42-1-1. In a true sign of how seriously he took the matchup at WrestleMania, he fought and won a title bout six weeks before facing Gunn. He'd also fight just five days after.
"I was his punishment. That was all kind of under the table, but that was pretty much what happened. I don't think they were happy he beat Dr. Death," Esch told me. Saying he'd even heard rumblings that Gunn rejected an offer to throw the fight.
It definitely ended up being a punishment, either directly or indirectly. Gunn looked different in the opening seconds of the bout than he did in his successful Brawl For All fights. Early on, Butterbean dropped Gunn with a combination, after working the open body of Gunn. A likely already concussed Gunn got to his feet, only to be immediately KO'd by a brutal overhand right. Gunn's fall to the mat was disgusting, as he went limp and tumbled into the ropes.
Esch, who I was told was also very well liked backstage, said that he was concerned for Gunn after the fight, and that he holds no ill will for his opponent.
"After the fight I was concerned, he took a pretty bad punch. His head turned all the way around. I'd never seen that. It concerns you. We've run into each other a couple of times. No hard feelings, it was just a sport," Esch explained.
There has long been speculation that Gunn's shocking knockout win over Williams put him in the dog house with many in WWF management at the time, as Gunn feared it would. Despite Esch saying he was led to believe he was Gunn's 'punishment,' Jim Ross vehemently denied those claims to me. According to Vince Russo, the higher-ups had actually been banking on Gunn beating the boxing veteran, and could have had plans for Gunn afterwards had he won.
"I think the thing that really set it back was the performance against Butterbean. With the presentation he put on in the Brawl For All, we really thought he could have beat Butterbean, or else we wouldn't have put the guy in the ring. Bart Gunn started working with Marc Mero's boxing coach Ray Rinaldi and changed his whole style. He started training to beat a boxer, and that's not how he won the Brawl for All."
Butterbean, who had an extensive toughman career as well, agreed with Russo.
"His biggest mistake was going to a boxing trainer and trying to box. When you're fighting three one-minute rounds, you need to go out there and brawl. Go mad. You can't try to jab and set it up, you just go at it. Having 60-something toughman wins, I had all that experience that he didn't have," said Esch.
The knockout that Bart Gunn suffered on the 'grandest stage of them all' did irreparable damage to his American wrestling career, which wasn't too hot to begin with. The Brawl For All champion was effectively killed off of WWE television. Gunn wouldn't wrestle for the company again until a one-shot deal in 2007 in a battle royal. The Brawl For All had become a brawl for naught.
Esch said that he think's Gunn's long term plans weren't even in the WWE anyway.
"I heard from other people that he knew his wrestling career was over and he wanted to become a professional boxer. There was a lot of threat there. He had a lot of power. I was counting on him getting up twice. It wasn't really a boxing match. He just fought the fight wrong," said Esch.
In the years that followed, Butterbean gained a degree of fame, appearing on MTV's Jackass. He also made something of a hobby of savagely beating pro wrestlers in shoot fights. Former WWE Superstars Sean O'Haire and Aaron Aguilera (Carlito's WWE bodyguard), as well as ZERO-ONE mainstay Tom Howard (twice) all fell to Butterbean in MMA fights.
Even though the Brawl for All may have killed Bart Gunn's career, it helped open doors elsewhere.
"Unfortunately WrestleMania 15 would outshine Bart's other WWF accomplishments," said Prichard. "The bright spot that came out of it was that the knockout of Doc, it made him a big name in Japan. When Bart finished up with us, he was able to get a few runs out of that notoriety."
Gunn would find success in Japan, where his KO over Steve Williams helped gain notoriety. He had a good run in All Japan Pro Wrestling and later New Japan Pro Wrestling, with a short stint in TNA thrown in between. He also tried his hand at MMA, headlining a 2006 show by defeating Wesley "Cabbage" Correira, whom Butterbean had defeated earlier that year. Both Butterbean and Gunn would ironically lose their bouts against Ikushi Minowa. Gunn would give up wrestling and fighting soon after.
Today, Bart Gunn, real name Mike Polchlopek, is largely out of the pro wrestling spotlight. He doesn't make a lot of public wrestling related appearances. Not that he couldn't-- he's more impressive physically than in the 90s. He's married and appears to have moved on from the business, and the unfortunate memory that overshadows his previous accomplishments. In a 2013 WWE. com article, Gunn said that he's working as an electrician, while dabbling in construction.
"He had 60 or 70 fights. That was my first as a boxer," Gunn said in the interview. "I was very green. Looking back on it now, I should have done things a little bit differently. It was really different, because everything I did was wrong. When you look at the Brawl for All, I was a sloppy fighter. I look at it now and know what I did wrong"
Years later, Gunn would claim that he'd actually been offered a re-match against Butterbean, which he accepted. However, the brakes were pumped when he was told on a Monday that the fight would be just four days later.
In the grand scheme of things, the Brawl for All was largely inconsequential to the company's history. Bradshaw would go on to become a WWE Champion, The Godfather a Hall of Famer, and the level of success the rest of the field had varied greatly. It affected the WWE's ability to market some of their talents as bona-fide badasses, but it was a time before MMA had reached it's peak and people really knew any better. The tournament was as unsuccessful as it was inconsequential, averaging a net loss of .5 in the ratings, with the finale going even lower. No stars were made, a few fans were alienated, and time wasted on television. It strained relationships, bruised egos and damaged the camaraderie backstage.
"You put alpha males in an arena they're not proficient in, and they're made to look bad, and they're going to react a certain way," Ross explained. "Nobody is just going to walk away and say 'Oh well, it's another day at the office.' It's not another day at the office. You're on live, global television and you look like Ned in the First Reader. Nobody's going to react to that well. Nothing about it made sense to me."
Ross' probably also wasn't too thrilled that the medical bills associated with the tournament came out of his talent relations budget.
Yes, pro wrestling, MMA and boxing have long been married concepts, but the WWF Brawl For All may have very well divorced the three on the main stage for quite some time. The politics of a worked sport, combined with the unpredictability of a shoot, added in to the inability or unwillingness to capitalize on those who were successful was ultimately not a winning formula, but the tournament's creator has no regrets.
"It's difficult to do things different in wrestling, and we did that with the WWF Brawl For All," Vince Russo said. "We see the same angles regurgitated in wrestling. It's hard to think outside the box. I would 100 percent do it over again."
Those who worked with Russo don't agree. Bruce Prichard closed by telling me that the tournament wasted time and resources.
"It's one thing to get hurt in the ring doing what you do to draw money. This didn't draw money. It didn't draw eyeballs," Prichard said. "It just hurt people. It made people scratch their head and wonder why people aren't taking crisp bumps. It's like Superman taking his cape off mid-movie and saying 'Sorry folks, I can't really fly."
Jim Ross, who saw his friend Steve Williams suffer a career altering injuries summed up the Brawl For All when asked about it.
"We had a lot of guys raised their hands and wanted to do it, couldn't wait," Ross said, "The rules were loose and lax, we kind of figured things out as we went along. The medical bill for the injuries was ridiculous. The ongoing innuendo that we paid Dr. Death to be the winner before the match. Ridiculous wives' tale, which is crazy. I didn't like a lot of the things about the Brawl For All. I didn't like the injuries, I didn't like the lax rules, I didn't like the way it was laid out. I thought it was a knee-jerk creative decision. I wish we'd have never done it."
SRS revisits: As I go back and read this article, it's not even a debate -- the Brawl for All was a miserable idea. Vince Russo will tell you as much. A common misconception is that Russo is on record as being the person to pitch bringing in Butterbean, which I was never told. I'd tried to reach out to Bart Gunn to speak to him about the story, but he's not the easiest guy in the world to contact. I'd also attempted to contact Jim Cornette, but unfortunately our schedules couldn't match up if I remember correctly. An interesting note was Sean Waltman wanted to make sure I included his profanity so he could properly convey how bad he thought the idea of the Brawl For All was. This long-form didn't get nearly the attention Finding Muhammad Hassan did (which I'll also be re-publishing on Fightful, and I have a follow-up prepared), but speaking to several people regarding this almost unanimously despised idea was incredible amounts of fun. One of the funniest things I encountered, was after interviewing Vince Russo, I asked him who else he'd recommend. He sent me Bruce Prichard's information, knowing he'd get torn to shreds during the interview process.
I'd like to think of this story as a real precursor to Fightful -- it has aspects of boxing, wrestling and MMA. It was a poorly conceived and even more poorly executed idea, with terrible fights that really exposed a lot of talents and broke a facade.