When I was younger I was a big fan of the World Wrestling Federation. It was the era of big colourful characters, over the top action and storylines that were, for the most part, appropriate for a younger audience. One of the oldest VHS tapes I once owned was WWF Summerslam 1989. The card for the event was hardly the best the organisation had to offer, however the main event was a tag team match where Hulk Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake (yes, I know…) faced off against Macho Man Randy Savage (again, I know…) and Zeus. Now, Zeus was in fact actor Tiny Lister, and his character had been established in the film No Holds Barred. As that film didn’t perform all too well at the box office, WWF owner Vince McMahon decided to try and recoup some of the money he lost on the project by attaching No Holds Barred to the Pay Per View of Summerslam 89 and linking it to the scripted feud between Hogan and Zeus.
That main event was hardly stellar. In fact I consider it to be one of the weaker elements of the whole event, and that’s taking into account that the event itself wasn’t one of the best. Because Lister’s abilities in the squared circle were incredibly limited he spent much of his time stood on the ring apron while Randy Savage, an accomplished technical wrestler, did most of the work in the ring. When Lister was called into action his role was to “no-sell” every kick and punch thrown at him and pretend to be some invincible, unstoppable opponent. Then, at a key point, he would be struck in the head by a foreign object which would weaken him and allow Hogan and Beefcake to score a victory. For the non-wrestling fans out there, it’s as preposterous as it sounds. Lister continued in the Zeus role for a little while longer after this until the feud reached its much needed conclusion.
Now, the moral of the story here is that actors do not necessarily make good wrestlers, and vice versa. Tiny Lister has developed a decent acting career but he was awful in a professional wrestling capacity. Throwing him to the top of the card (wrestling jingo for “headliner”) solely on the basis of his film character being a little bit menacing was an unnecessary move at the expense of much more talented wrestlers. There may have been financial reasons for doing this, but it stands out as one of the worst headlining feuds in modern wrestling history. Furthermore this decision was made off the back of a film that is genuinely bad and poorly conceived, which makes the move into the world of professional wrestling all the more galling. Still, in one respect it did then open the door for film stars to show up on WWF/WWE programming in order to promote their films, so in the long run it has arguably expanded cinema’s reach to a wider audience, which is always a good thing.