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CIRCA
Demolition: the Imitators Become Innovators
August 13, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

Here comes the Ax
And here comes the Smasher
The Demolition
Walkin' disaster
Pain and destruction is our middle name...
-- Rick Derringer, "Demolition" 

Never bashful about raiding other promotions of their most profitable wrestlers, Vince McMahon sought to acquire The Road Warriors from Jim Crockett in 1987. Ultimately, Hawk and Animal passed up the offer, but not until Crockett sweetened up the Legion of Doom's NWA deal. The choice was a no-brainer for the Warriors - more money without having to relocate to New York or re-establish their characters in a different company. McMahon was out of luck. 
 

Vince McMahon was the biggest promoter in the country, in the midst of WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, steamrolling the rest of the industry... but he couldn't sign The Road Warriors. "Thanks but no thanks," Hawk and Animal said. "We're flattered, and hey! Maybe in a few years we'll make the jump, and you can use your star-making genius

to pussify our characters and make us carry around a ventriloquist dummy named Rocco, since you're such a marketing genius! Hell, maybe in the twilight of our careers, you can give us one last indignity by booking Hawk as a suicidal junkie and burying our legends for good! That would be super! We say what we're gonna do, and then we do it! AAAARGH what a rush!"

I paraphrased a little. But I think that's essentially what Hawk and Animal told Vince McMahon in 1987.

With Vince being the win-at-all-costs competitor that he was (and still is), you could bet the issue wasn't going away with a simple refusal by The Road Warriors. Vince Jr. is the same guy who brazenly attempted to buy the AWA from Verne Gagne in the mid-1980s, and when Verne balked, McMahon famously walked away and barked over his shoulder "Verne - I don't negotiate." Years later, Verne's antiquated booking combined with McMahon's national TV sweep and talent raids to help crush the AWA. Verne Gagne was bullheaded to his own detriment, and Vince pounced like Monty Brown at an all-you-can-eat barbecue.

In true Vince McMahon fashion, he figured if he couldn't buy Jim Crockett's biggest tag team attraction, he'd create an imitation of them and see to it that they became big stars nationally in the WWF.

Here comes the Ax. And here comes the Smasher. The Road Warriors were unattainable. Demolition was born.

HOW AX AND SMASH WERE BORN

The early days of Demolition have been the source of frequent debate over the years, even spawning lawsuits between the WWF and the original team members. While Vince McMahon played a crucial role in the creation of the gimmick - most agree he special-ordered it as a way of kicking dirt at Crockett's Road Warriors - the gimmick is believed to have been created at least partially by the original team members, Bill Eadie and Randy Culley.

Eadie and Culley were a pair of barrel-chested journeymen already under the WWF's employ, but going nowhere. Eadie enjoyed fame in Georgia and other territories as The Masked Superstar. When he came to New York in the early 1980s, he was brought in as The Masked Superstar with the idea that fans might be familiar with the gimmick already, through the Apter mags or otherwise (before cable television, "Apter mags" such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestler were extremely influential to fans, and one of the only ways a fan could follow wrestling nationally without traveling the country).

Fans did recognize the Superstar gimmick, but he wasn't drawing well enough to warrant keeping it. In 1986, a major WWF story arc saw the debut of tongue-in-cheek masked Japanese tag team The Machines. The WWF introduced the team as a farce, as Andre the Giant's way of getting around a Jack Tunney "suspension" for no-showing a match. This masked Japanese trio featured a "Giant Machine," billed at 7'5" and well over 500 pounds, whose mastery of the spoken word was limited to saying "ichiban" (number one) in a thick French accent. His masked teammates were "Big Machine" (Blackjack Mulligan) and "Super Machine" (Bill "Masked Superstar" Eadie).

The Machines gimmick was intended to be sickeningly obvious to fans, who could cheer the idea that Andre was putting one over on Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy by wrestling despite his suspension. Some feel the WWF even wanted fans to recognize Mulligan because of his size, Texas drawl and ring technique (Mulligan was a prominent tag team champion in the WWF for years). Mulligan did return with the Blackjack gimmick as a babyface right after The Machines were scrapped. Bill Eadie was probably the only Machine who wasn't easily detected by fans, because the Masked Superstar still wasn't terribly familiar in the WWF. Also, he went from one mask to a different one, so nobody was going to spot Eadie's facial features... as far as they knew, they'd never seen his face anyway.

That's how Bill Eadie arrived at Demolition. With some menacing face paint and metal-studded ring gear, Eadie became Demolition member Ax. For Randy Culley's part, he's become a footnote in Demolition history, but an important one.

Culley was most famous as Moondog Rex, but he's carried a ton of gimmicks throughout his career. Culley was one of the masked Shadows tag team in the WWF shortly before Demolition was born, and in later years portrayed Deadeye Dick in WCW and The Nightmare in Mid South. As the Moondogs with partner Moondog Spot (the late Larry Booker, who also wrestled as Larry Latham in Tennessee), Culley enjoyed fame in Tennessee and the WWF during the mid-80s boom. But it was time for a new gimmick. With Eadie and McMahon, Culley helped develop Demolition, and joined Eadie as the original Smash.

THE SINCEREST FORM OF BATTERY

While Demolition were a blatant attempt to rip off the Road Warrior gimmick, they were equally designed to mock the Warriors. Both teams consisted of large, rugged men wearing black gear and facepaint, but the Demolition gimmick had small bits of satire woven into it. Whereas the Road Warriors came to the ring in shoulderpads decorated with large spikes, Demolition wore leather chaps and preferred small, decorative, ring-safe metal on their outfit. Demolition also wore black straps across their upper bodies, giving their whole look an S&M, homoerotic slant the Warriors did not have. Whereas Road Warrior Hawk was fond of sticking out his tongue to intimidate opponents, so did Demolition... with comically reddended tongues, as though they'd polished off a pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid before the match. Whereas Hawk and Animal were muscular and chiseled, Ax and Smash were more burly... closer to Dick the Bruiser than Lex Luger in terms of physique.

The Road Warriors had the sinister bleached-blond mastermind "Precious" Paul Ellering for a manager. Demolition got the wise-cracking, pastel-wearing "Luscious" Johnny V in their corner. Johnny Valiant may as well have been a cartoon caricature of Paul Ellering, because that's how he came across.

OLD SMASH, NEW SMASH

If nobody recognized the newly de-masked Bill Eadie as Ax, a lot of fans noticed that Smash was the former Moondog Rex. His face, build, and wrestling style gave him away. Soon after he started wrestling as Smash, Culley was replaced in the team by a younger, more fit wrestler named Barry Darsow. Darsow had recently worked in Jim Crockett's promotion in a high-profile feud against the Road Warriors, under the monicker of the Russian Krusher Kruschev, teaming with Ivan and Nikita Koloff in one of the classic mid-80s USA. vs. USSR feuds. Careful not to have this new Smash recognized so quickly, the WWF had Darsow grow back his hair and cover a large tattoo on his tricep with a black elbow pad.

THE SINCEREST FORM OF BATTERY

Being a veteran of sorts, Ax looked completely comfortable in the squared circle. He was not a technical wizard. He worked a run-of-the-mill power move set, but he looked completely at ease in the ring. With Smash getting more and more comfortable in the gimmick and in the ring, the pair became a pretty believable threat to top teams in the WWF by late 1987.

But Demolition was still a sideshow act of sorts. Among very skilled tag teams like The Hart Foundation and The British Bulldogs, the overly-gimmicked Demolition were turning heads, but it would be a while before they established themselves as a centerpiece of the WWF tag team division. As manager Johnny V left the promotion, he was replaced in the group by Mr. Fuji. In the ring and during interviews, Demolition were improving. They could put on a decent power squash match for TV, and inject the proper amount of character mugging into the performance through facial expressions, heel tactics and bellowing about "kicking your stinkin' teeth in!".

At WrestleMania IV in 1988, Demolition claimed their first of three WWF tag team titles with a win over Strike Force - Rick Martel and Tito Santana. Martel and Santana had unseated the Hart Foundation five months earlier. Soon thereafter, WWE used a Martel injury as a way to further establish how dangerous Demolition were, letting Ax, Smash and Fuji take credit for putting Martel "out of wrestling" and leaving Santana without his partner. With Strike Force in the role of the resident long-haired pretty boy babyfaces (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty would show up later to fill that role), Demolition got more and more attention for being badass simply due to the contrast between them and their opponents.

THE LOD INFLUENCE SPREADS

Meanwhile, over in Jim Crockett country, there was yet another band of Road Warrior look-alikes feuding with Hawk and Animal. The Powers of Pain, managed by Mid Atlantic old-timer Paul Jones and looking every bit the part of an evil Road Warriors enemy team, consisted of The Barbarian (Sionne Vailahi, who had previously competed as Konga the Barbarian) and The Warlord (Terry Szopinski, who competes as The Warlord to this day in MXPW in South Florida). They bore the likeness of the Warriors even more closely than Demolition did, right down to the mohawks and the tights. Warlord in particular was impressive, as he was visibly taller than Hawk and Animal and just as muscular. He was still green in the ring, but he had the look nailed down.

The Road Warriors-Powers of Pain feud in the NWA got off to a pretty hot start, in a controversial TV segment where Animal got his eyesocket "crushed" by a plate during a weightlifting competition with Warlord and Barbarian (it was controversial in that booker Dusty Rhodes televised the angle despite being warned by upper management against extra-violent scenes). But just as quickly as it started, it was over... and in the summer of 1988, Vince McMahon came calling.

The Powers of Pain accepted the offer, moved to New York, and now the NWA's big-money feud for the Road Warriors was suddenly the WWF's potential big-money feud with newfound superstars Demolition. Now managed by AWA legend Baron Von Raschke (dubbed "The Baron"), The Powers were introduced as babyfaces. The Demos-Powers feud began with a double-switch when Mr. Fuji dropped Demolition for Warlord and Barbarian in unceremonious fashion at that year's Survivor Series PPV.

Demolition dominated that feud through Wrestlemania V in 1989, never dropping the titles to the Powers. In fact, many of the matches were quite lop-sided toward Demolition. The feud was popular with fans at first, but lost steam when it became apparent that the Powers weren't coming anywhere near Demolition's belts. Just as the feud began with a simultaneous babyface/heel turn of the teams, the program ended with the simultaneous result of making Demolition incredibly popular due to their dominance, and totally killing whatever credibility the Powers of Pain might have had as a tag team. Soon thereafter, the WWF split Warlord and Barbarian into singles competitors, and neither man rose above the midcard.

...THE DEMOS WILL GET YOU

While Demolition was dispatching Warlord and Barbarian, Vince McMahon succeeded in bringing a much higher profile tag team up to New York from Atlanta, splitting up the NWA's very successful Four Horseman heel faction in the process. Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson were well known to fans, technically gifted in the ring, and strong on the microphone. Add the instant credibility of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as their manager - and in the mid to late-1980s, having Heenan in the corner of any WWF heel instantly magnified the entertainment value of those wrestlers' storylines - and "The Brain Busters" were a lock for a top-level program. On July 18, 1989, Demolition's nearly 16-month tag title reign came to an end thanks to Tully and Arn.

Ax and Smash won their second title in the process of regaining the straps from Anderson and Blanchard in October, but passed them off to Andre the Giant and Haku - dubbed The Colossal Connection under Heenan's tutelage - two months later. In perhaps the greatest single example of how "over" Demolition were at their peak, the crowd at the Sky Dome in Toronto absolutely exploded when Demolition regained the title at the WrestleMania IV in 1990. After starting off as a Road Warriors satire specially-ordered for Vince McMahon's amusement, Ax and Smash could now claim success as their own entity. In the context of that one match, they could also claim the honor of having wrestled the legendary Andre the Giant in his final WrestleMania match, after previously giving Andre his only legit WWF title reign in history (not counting the angle with Ted DiBiase and Hulk Hogan in 1988).

BEGINNING OF THE END

Ironically, it was right at this point that two factors sparked the beginning of the end for Demolition: Bill Eadie had some health problems due to age and years in the ring. Therefore, Ax was becoming somewhat of a liability to the Demolition team. The other factor was the WWF giving a huge babyface push to the recently reunited Hart Foundation team of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart.

The WWF brought in a tall youngster from Hawaii named Brian Adams to portray a third member of Demolition, Crush. Adams had some limited experience wrestling in Portland prior to getting the call to New York, but he was still very green. Drawing from the success of the rotating three-man roster of The Freebirds years earlier, the WWF thought it could revamp Demolition with a new member while keeping Ax active as long as he felt he could do the job (which apparently wasn't often - as soon as Crush debuted in the WWF, he and Smash invariably carried the workload for Demolition in standard tag team matches, and bore the brunt of the punishment in six-man tags).

NAIL IN THE COFFIN

Just as the three-man Demolition took on Crush and turned heel - en route to dropping the tag titles to Hart and Neidhart at Summerslam 1990 in a two-out-of-three falls match in Philadelphia - a third event sealed Demolition's fate: McMahon finally brought The Road Warriors to the WWF. Demolition was struggling to make up for Eadie's shortcomings, they'd recently forsaken their crowd heat to make room for a babyface Hart Foundation, and to top it all off, Hawk and Animal were on the roster.

Conventional logic would say that the acquisition of The Road Warriors set the WWF up for a moneymaking program pitting the popular ripoffs vs. the original Legion of Doom. And they did run with the feud briefly in 1990. But with Ax almost never competing, Demolition just wasn't THE Demolition the fans wanted to see vs. Hawk and Animal. It was Smash with some other guy they didn't care about. The WWF also made the same mistake with the LOD vs. Demolition booking as they made in booking Demolition vs. The Powers of Pain - in booking the LOD to win the war, they also booked them to win pretty much EVERY battle of the war, to the point where any hope for Demolition to remain a credible tag team - especially with Crush - became impossible. Hawk and Animal plowed over their imposters, and that was pretty much it for Ax, Smash and Crush.

THE FALLOUT

Before long, Ax was in semi-retirement. Eadie emerged in various indies using the Demolition Ax character with creatively-rearranged names like "Ax Demolition" and "Axis the Demolisher," at one point even bringing in a large but physically unfit indie guy to play "Demolition Blast" in a new version of the team. Around this time, Eadie also reunited with Randy Culley to claim ownership of the Demolition gimmick, to the point where both men sued the WWF for the rights to the gimmick. Eadie's claim wasn't so much that he still owned the Demolition name, but that the WWF went back on a promise made to him. Eadie allegedly claimed that the WWF promised him lifetime employment in exchange for giving them the rights to the gimmick, and simply went back on their word. Therefore, to this day, Eadie continues to use the Demolition Ax gimmick at will in various independent promotions (he's revived The Masked Superstar gimmick for some appearances, too). Randy Culley had appeared in indies as "Detroit Demolition" in his post-WWF days in the 1990s, but did not use the Demolition gimmick nearly to the extent that Eadie did, and still does.

The Smash we all knew and loved, Barry Darsow, continued working for the WWF into the mid-1990s. Darsow is believed to have been the last member of Demolition to compete in the WWF using his Demolition moniker. They held on to Brian Adams and retooled his Crush character to place emphasis on his Hawaiian heritage, and while the creative team worked on a new character for Darsow, he continued to compete at house shows as Demolition Smash, usually in a singles match against Hawk or Animal. In 1991, they finally decided on a gimmick for Darsow - a sneaky, hyperactive kleptomaniac heel named Repo Man. With a Zorro mask and a tow rope, he snuck down the aisle as if the 8,000 people in the arena wouldn't be tipped off to his arrival by his theme song blaring over the PA. Repo Man was hit-or-miss in terms of comedic value, but even when he did hit, the fans just didn't take him seriously anymore. The highlight of Repo Man's existence was when he repossessed Randy Savage's multicolored neon cowboy hat on an early edition of Monday Night Raw at the Manhattan Center in 1993, leading to a Macho-sized ass-whoopin' the next week. Darsow was not long for the WWF after that. For that matter, neither was Savage.

Crush, of course, remained in the WWF off and on through 1997, even returning after an arrest for numerous charges of illegal drug and weapons possession. He went through many character tweaks, from Kona Crush, to foreign sympathizer Crush (like a morphing of Demolition Crush and Kona Crush, with Fuji as manager and the late Yokozuna as a cohort), to ex-con Crush with dreadlocks and an ugly tattoo on his forehead, to biker Crush, leader of the Disciples of Apocalypse faction. In 1997, during one of WCW's "we must sign absolutely everyone that's ever worked for Vince McMahon even if they suck balls" fits, Brian Adams jumped to WCW as yet another member of the New world Order.

He was also part of Kronik. But now we're getting way off topic.

THE LEGACY

Looking back, the final word on Demolition has got to be the way they're remembered. For many, Demolition is one of the most frequently-mentioned gimmicks in any nostalgic discussion of the 1980s WWF. Ax and Smash definitely built themselves a fan base that remembers them fondly to this day. Even those who don't care much for Demolition's in-ring work can agree on one thing: Their theme song was easily one of the best of the 1980s.

It's a shame that Eadie, Culley and the WWF have had so much ill will over the rights to the Demolition name. The bottom line is that neither side is willing to concede that the other is right to use it, neither side has ever STOPPED using it, and because of that, neither side appears willing to work with the other. When WWE bolstered the tag team division in the late-1990s (with failed teams like The New Midnight Express, The New Blackjacks, and the same old Legion of Doom with new haircuts), fans clamored for a Demolition return, but were denied. When WWE invited several old timers back for a gimmick battle royal at WrestleMania in 2001, fans were sure that they wouldn't forget to include at least one member of Demolition. Denied again.

Will we ever see a member of Demolition at a WWE function again? We legally could. But as both sides have shown, it's the principle of the thing.

Hopefully they can at least set aside their differences long enough to induct the original Demolition into the WWE Hall of Fame some day. As tag teams go, they've certainly earned it.

 
E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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