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.
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