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William Perry and the Battle Royal
Maybe you know, maybe you don’t, but Wrestlemania 36 is this weekend.
Originally scheduled for one night at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, coronavirus has eliminated the crowd and brought the event indoors for a two-night affair in front of no fans and hosted by Rob Gronkowski. It’s not ideal, but it’s something.
It also gives me a good excuse to revisit Chicago’s greatest intersection with pro wrestling this side of CM Punk, the Road Warriors and Moose Cholak.
I’m talking, of course, about William “The Refrigerator” Perry’s appearance in Wrestlemania 2’s Battle Royal held on April 7, 1986 at the Rosemont Horizon.
The Fridge’s guest spot was a brief turn at the height of his fame that eventually landed him in the WWE Hall of Fame alongside another guy who hit his peak in the mid-’80s. And while it’s been a fading pop culture footnote for at least a couple of decades, you could make the argument that Perry was the biggest star among the 20 men inside the ring. At least in the moment.
Two months earlier, Perry had plunged into the end zone for a Super Bowl touchdown, capping a rookie season that saw him become a star big enough to command McDonalds ads, Coke commercials and his own GI Joe figurine (which I still covet today as much as I did 30 years ago).
That stature made him a prime candidate to help anchor Vince McMahon’s second installment of Wrestlemania — a three-city venture held in Rosemont, Long Island and Los Angeles.
The Battle Royal was held at the Horizon, where Chet Coppock served as ring announcer and Dick Butkus was a guest referee. The wrestlers in the event included eventual winner Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, Hillbilly Jim, Iron Sheik and Bret Hart, an up-and-coming star who hadn’t participated in Wrestlemania I.
The football players were Perry, his teammate Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic, Russ Francis, Ernie Holmes and Harvey Martin. (Tom Thayer told the Chicago Tribune two weeks before the event that he was originally supposed to be involved, but that the WWF never called him back once they secured Perry’s presence.)
Getting Perry and Covert was a big deal for the Rosemont gate considering that Hulk Hogan was fighting King Kong Bundy in a steel cage title match in Los Angeles and Macho Man was facing George “The Animal” Steele for the intercontinental belt in New York. A pre-event press conference was held in late March where The Fridge and Big John Studd laid down some conflict for the Battle Royal ahead.
From the March 26, 1986 Chicago Tribune:
Of course, Big John Studd had a very different version of the upcoming extravaganza when he and the above-named football players met the press.
“I have been stewing for a few days,” Studd growled. “I’m kind of uptight. It took me six hard years to get a main event. These punks get one right away. I’m not going to baby any of you punks. Nobody ever babied me.”
“Gentleman, gentleman,” interjected ring announcer Mean Gene Okerlund.
“I assume we can hold off until April 7.''
He assumed wrong.
“I overheard Big John Studd,” said Perry, glaring out from under a black cap. “Studd’s a dud. Ain’t nobody got to baby me or any of the football players in the NFL.”
Turning to Studd, Perry continued: “This is the Fridge. I’m going lock you up and put you on ice.”
Now if you’re sitting here and wondering if anyone back in the mid-80s was worried about one of the Bears’ championship starters getting hurt while wrestling Andre the Giant and others, the short answer is yes.
But whether or not it was anyone other than Michael McCaskey remains unclear. Then the Bears president, McCaskey was initially upset the team had been told that Perry and Covert would be participating in a simpler tag team match, not a Battle Royal.
“Think about 20 big men in that space,” McCaskey said to the Tribune. “Who knows what’ll happen when competitive drive takes over?”
McCaskey said both players would need permission slips before they could participate. (They apparently got them somewhere along the way, though McCaskey sent both the Bears team doctor and trainer to Rosemont to look after all of the football players.)
Now, if Vince McMahon made any promises the NFL stars would be handled with kid gloves, he apparently didn’t do a good job of keeping them. Perry and the rest of the crew may not have been the first or last football players to dabble in pro wrestling during their careers, but I’m willing to bet most of the crossovers didn’t end with NFL stars being sent over the top rope and toward the floor below.
Nope, can’t see how this could have gone wrong at all.
Good — lol — lord.
Here’s most of the match including Perry eliminating both members of the Hart Foundation before getting into his showdown with Studd:
For whatever reason, that clip ends just before Perry’s biggest moment: Outstretching his hand to congratulate Studd and then pulling him out of the ring as he takes it.
So here’s that:
All in all, it was a dumb conclusion to an even dumber event.
But that, of course, is part of the reason I still love it so much in the first place.
If you had to describe 1986 to anyone who was born after it, this entire episode would probably be a good place to start.
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• The situation remains fluid, but it appears MLB execs are starting to zero in on some possibilities should the season be able to resume by mid-summer.
• Brett Taylor analyzes what a 100-game schedule would look like. (Bleacher Nation)
• The Cubs-Cardinals London series in June was canceled on the same day Wimbledon and the Open Championship was also nixed. (MLB.com)
• Remember Vance Law, infielder in the ‘80s for both the Sox and Cubs? His children are busy producing certified N95 masks through a dental supply company one son owns. They hope to start filling some of the shortages occurring throughout the country. (MiLB)
• With last decade’s success, sometimes it almost seems like there are two distinct eras of Chicago Blackhawks hockey. Let’s call them B.Q. and A.Q for simplicity sake. Anyway, there’s a new Twitter account that’s specializing in old B.Q. highlights and it is fantastic so far. (@VintageHawks)
• MLB Network showed Game 2 of the 2005 World Series on Wednesday night so Sox on 35th decided to do a recap post. I’m glad they did. (Sox on 35th)
• Finally, this isn’t Chicago, but it’s close enough (and man, is it funny):
That’s it for today. I’ll see you back here tomorrow morning for the mailbag. As always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.
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