No Holds Barred, aka The Madness of King Vince

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I’ve got a storied personal history with Hulk Hogan. In 2012, I posted this, which went semi-viral, retweeted by the likes of the Iron Sheik, which obviously brought it to the attention of the big man himself, as I soon found myself blocked by him on Twitter; a state of affairs that would have made the 12-year-old me weep. But eventually, my childhood hero, clearly practising some of that Christian forgiveness, decided to give me another chance, rescinding the block, and leaving me free to read his tweets about preventing middle-school shootings by arming librarians, and how leggy his daughter is. Then, in 2014, I published an updated version of the same piece in my book, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, upon the release of which…

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As of today, me and the Hulkster are still on the outs. I’m not welcome at his Florida BBQs, and he’ll probably drop the big leg on my dick if he gets wind of this, though he’s since fallen out with Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake too, so at least I’m not alone. But this piece isn’t about the modern-day Hogan, rather, the model of three decades ago.

The Hulk Hogan of 1989 is what I consider ‘Hogan Classic’; an orange-skinned, coke-bloated maniac, swollen with pulsing musculature that sprayed the camera with rivulets of sweat during nonsensical, 200-decibel pre-match interviews, his eyes wide and crazed like he was mere seconds from death via spontaneous explosion. In 1991, a steroid scandal hit the news, leading to an infamous appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, where a shifty-looking Hogan denied using them — though legend states he was due to confess all, but changed his mind right as he stepped onto the stage — which absolutely nobody believed, and made genuine front page news on both sides of the Atlantic. In the fallout, he suddenly lost a ton of muscle, leaning out his tall frame and taking on a more placid, sunken-cheeked look, which he wore for the rest of his career. The movie No Holds Barred captures peak Hogan Classic, both in physical appearance, and mental state, with Hulk as executive producer and alleged co-writer. But it’s also a snapshot of prime-era WWF. While over the decades, the matches got more athletic, and the production grander and more polished, the wrestling of my childhood was Hasbro figures, Silvervision VHS catalogues and sticker books filled with grimacing heels and colourful babyfaces so jacked they wouldn’t live to see 40. No Holds Barred is that world in its purest form.

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To even begin to understand this movie, you need to have a feel for Vince McMahon. For those unfamiliar with the man outside of his appearance in funny gifs, Vince has been owner, performer, and writer of now-WWE since 1982. More importantly, for those who aren’t aware, Vince McMahon is a fucking lunatic. A glorious, wonderful lunatic. Imagine Trump if he’d been raised in a circus, instead of in business. There aren’t enough paragraphs to fully put across the bombastic oddness of Vince McMahon; a man whose warped view of the world has played out onscreen via weekly wrestling shows for decades. From the Playboy interview where he talked of a childhood desire to fill his cousin’s vagina with crushed leaves, to the aborted storyline where he’d reveal his own daughter was pregnant with his child (having previously ogled her boobs on TV), to the time he said the n-word before comedically strutting past a black man on a live PPV, these are but three of literally a million insane things he’s said and done over the years. A 72-year-old billionaire who sleeps four hours a night, is ridiculously ripped, and thinks nothing of slashing open his head with a razorblade on live TV, he’s truly one of the maddest, most fascinating characters, both fictional and real, to have ever graced our planet. Hogan himself would probably make the top ten.

Despite enormous success in his chosen field, Vince is forever looking to escape the low-rent stain of wrasslin’ and succeed in ‘real’ entertainment, and his attempts to branch out into non-wrestling ventures are notable by the scale of their failure. The World Bodybuilding Federation; the (soon-to-be-revived) XFL; the $100m he tossed at a failed campaign to get his wife Linda elected to the senate. Before all of these — before even WWE’s straight-to-DVD albatross WWE Studios — came No Holds Barred; a three-pronged plan envisioned to get a foot in the door of movie production, turn Hogan into a bonafide Hollywood star, and add a new, ready-made monster heel to his roster of in-ring performers.

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At the time, Hogan was at the top of his game as an American icon. A regular on talk shows, he was the flag-waving, gun-flexing, prayer-saying American dream; if that dream was to look as though you were literally made of cocaine. But as iconic and ubiquitous as he was in the late 80s, Hulk Hogan was not a movie star. His role in Rocky 3 was seven years prior; a thousand years ago in Hollywood terms; and despite his undeniable charisma, there was another big issue holding back the Hulkster’s cinematic ascent. He couldn’t act. Before the Rock, casting a wrestler in your movie was to invite jokes about bad acting. But even within the world of wrestling, Hogan’s acting ability has always been remarkably terrible. A huge part of his success was the ability to connect with everyone in the building, while almost exclusively playing to huge arenas. The way a rockstar can look into a crowd and make everyone feel as though he’s meeting their eye, he did with his ear-cupping routine; the finger pointing; the goofy double-takes. People talk about actors chewing scenery, but if there was a wrestling equivalent, Hogan walked back to the dressing room every night slurping up the last of the ring ropes like spaghetti. A ham even by the standards of a business where cartoon characters pretend to fight, his playing to the cheap seats — playing to everyone — turned him into the franchise of the medium. But under the close-up scrutiny of the film camera, as an untested lead, there were no casting agents booting in his door, and he would likely never see his name on the marquee. Until Vince, who’d been wanting to make a movie for a while, decided to simply fund and produce one himself.

No Holds Barred was pitched as a classic battle between good and evil, and intended from the very beginning to escape from cinema screens after release, when the movie’s villain, Zeus, would jump to the WWF to feud with Hogan in-ring. Consequently, casting of the role — scripted to fulfil Vince’s desire for a frightening black villain, while Middle America was running scared from the burgeoning rise of gangsta rap — required an actor who could stand up as physically imposing next to the billed-as-6’8” Hogan. Tom ‘Tiny’ Lister Jr, who you may know as Deebo from Friday, or from the boat scene in The Dark Knight, or the myriad other films that call for a huge scary guy with a wonky eye, already had an in, sharing an agent with Hogan and Mr. T. He won over Vince instantly, auditioning in character, shirtless and flexing, and with a Z stuck to the side of his head in electrical tape. He was given three months to ‘prepare’, during which he went from 285-305lbs.

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As the story goes, Vince and Hulk weren’t happy with the first draft of the screenplay, and locked themselves in a hotel room with a mountain of coke to rewrite it over a single 72-hour session. While the Writers Guild accredit does not agree, anyone watching the movie can see their sweaty fingerprints all over it. Essentially a feature-length version of the dreadful between-match skits WWE fans have suffered through for decades, No Holds Barred is every favourite McMahon trope stretched over ninety minutes of piss, poo, farts, and gigantic, grunting men clouting each other. While wrestling’s onscreen episodes often showcase Vince’s love for the puerile, the business’s scatological obsession extends behind the scenes, and it’s rare when a character-breaking interview fails to drop a casual anecdote about locker-room hazing via wrestlers shitting in each other’s hats, suitcases, sandwiches, or anywhere else one can fit a turd. 80’s WWF was a big boys club; a closed circle that couldn’t fathom the rules of the world outside, robbed of wrestling’s inherent deceptions and unwritten locker-room code. Consequently, No Holds Barred is a view of our world through the eyes of theirs, like how The Room gave the human condition as seen by Tommy Wiseau.

It’s weird from the opening scene, where announcers ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund and Jessie ‘The Body’ Ventura are playing themselves, in the World Wrestling Federation. Hulk Hogan, however, is not Hulk Hogan. He’s Rip; the WWF champion. The decision to use as the actual WWF makes it play like a weird mirror universe, made all the more jarring by Rip’s blue and white attire, in a straight colour-swap from his trademark red and yellow, like an action figure with a new paint job. Not a creative choice, this was purely in the hopes of shifting Rip merchandise. But if this is the WWF, it’s the WWF of a dark timeline. Even as a kid, it felt sinister; brooding; like the WWF that might develop in a future dystopia. We’re only three years out from the Saturday morning Rock n Wrestling cartoon, with the company aimed solely at children, but the WWF of No Holds Barred is layered with sleaze and soundtracked by gloomy synth-sax. A 15 certificate on release, watching as a child gave the distinct feel of being slightly forbidden, too grown up for me, while simultaneously jam-packed with stuff about willies and piss.

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Barring the colour scheme, Rip is Hulk Hogan in all but name, right down to the noted 24 inch pythons. He’s accompanied to the ring by an Old Black Trainer, and his younger brother, Randy, sadly not played by Randy Savage, but by a young Jacob from Lost, to whom we’re told Rip has been more of a father, since their parents were killed. Rip also has a special hand gesture, the “Rip ’em,” that looks like the hang-ten of a surfer with arthritis, and is used throughout, to power him up, when exiting a room, or just as general punctuation. I can’t help but think back to the publicised court battle with Gawker, where it was stated on legal record by the man himself that, while Hulk Hogan has a ten-inch penis, Terry Bollea does not, and wonder what Rip’s packing down there.

Before I get to the terrible plot, there’s a very important point to establish. No Holds Barred takes place in a universe where wrestling is real. This has serious implications for the greater world outside the main story, where we must presume the rewritten laws of physics allow a man to be punched in the face 50 times a night with no serious injury, and where everyone from Asia can spit poison mist, and black people have hard heads. There are many fictional worlds made crazier through confirming their version of pro wrestling as canon-legit, such as Little House on the Prairie, Baywatch, The A-Team, 2002’s Spider-Man, and even specificity wrestling-set films like Dirt Benedict’s Body Slam, and Stallone’s Paradise Alley. Quantum Leap chose a confusing middle-ground, making the least sense of all, where everything was fake except for the title matches. For this movie, it’s 100% real, which makes sense given the utter lack of logic, and cheerily casual participation by almost everybody in offhanded acts of violence, murder, and attempted rape.

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To briefly sum up, Rip’s such a rating sensation that he’s killing the other networks (presumably his matches run 24/7?), including the World Television Network. Played by the great Kurt Fuller, WTN’s new network head Brell — just the one name, like Madonna — is that most eighties of villains, the evil television executive, forever threatening underlings with paperweights and backhanding secretaries. Unfortunately, as a man of noted integrity, Rip refuses all offers to jump ship, so Brell discovers a scuzzy underground fighting league, rebranding it as Battle of the Tough Guys, to huge success, where a murderous ex-con called Zeus rises the ranks. Brell’s plan is to have Rip accept Zeus’s challenge to a fight, live on WTN, by any nefarious means necessary.

One of these schemes, early in the movie, leads to the only scene from No Holds Barred that anyone ever remembers. Brell’s evil limo driver takes Rip for a scary ride — as Hogan rolls around in the back and makes “whoa!” noises — to a warehouse filled with pipe-welding goons. Leaping out of the sunroof like the other Hulk, he dispatches the henchmen with ease. It’s here we see the film’s most iconic moment, as Rip, gripping the lapels of the driver, and snarling and spluttering into his face, stops to sniff the air like a wolf, leading to the following exchange.

Hogan: “What’s that smell?

Limo Driver (stuttering): “Doo-doo-dookie!

Hogan: “Dookie?” [eyes pop out of head; pulls faces for ages]

Boy, that one must’ve shook the walls of Vince’s hotel room. Dookie. Definitely how adult men refer to shit. And about that snarling. It’s no exaggeration to say that 50% of the screenplay was the instruction “make weird dinosaur noise here,” as almost all communication is done via cheek-shaking grunts or pained shrieking. Hogan’s dialogue heavily consists of all those weird, bestial noises he made in the ring, but now in the cleanly-recorded closeness of an ADR booth, complete with lingering close-ups on pulsing forehead veins and saliva-dripping lips. There’s something primeval about it; something inhuman, with both leads more bear than man, snarling and roaring with such stroke-inducing intensity, they’re never not violently quivering. Zeus’s monosyllabic yells, every time he’s onscreen, are utterly exhausting, like something the CIA would use to drive a cult leader out of their compound and into the sweet freedom of lethal gunfire.

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The scene that most plays into the scuzzy, base nature of wrestling happens when Brell and his goons visit a gross dive bar, with many of Vince’s most beloved cliches on display. It’s all leather vests and brown teeth, tattoos and arse-cracks, nose-picking and tobacco spitting, with a cage suspended from the ceiling containing a cackling dwarf. A waitress, who snorts up phlegm between every line, tells the execs “The gay bar’s across the street!” Then, one of them needs the bathroom.

Exec: “Where do I go to bleed the old lizard?

Enormous Biker in Dungarees: “In your pants, wimp.

That’s right, round here we all pee our pants, like real men! There is some comic mileage to be had in the nervy suits (who genuinely elevate the material) going to the world’s most disgusting bathroom, where urinal troughs overflow with frothy yellow piss and honest-to-God pond algae, as a wild dog pulls its chain to full-stretch. This is the toilet of my nightmares when I’m asleep with a full bladder. When a diarrhoea sound causes them to turn and piss all over each other, Stan Hansen kicks the door off its hinges, and goes in for such a close look at their exposed dicks, he could give them a peck right on the bell if he wanted.

What have we got here? A teeny wanger. And heeeere’s another.

The nob-inspector is called Neanderthal, and where No Holds Barred truly excels is in the names of its fighters. Brock Chiseller. Bulldog McPherson. Klondyke Kramer. Lugwrench Perkins. They’re all deliciously oafish, slapping at their heads or spraying deodorant into their own face, with the kind of enormous barrel-like physiques you don’t see anymore; steroid beef but high on bodyfat, and nobody south of 300lbs. If they remade this today, they’d all have abs. When Battle of the Tough Guys is announced, there’s a great montage of toughies listening in; a blacksmith at a forge pulling a big chain; a man with an eyepatch eating raw walnuts at a pool table; a trucker clutching a rag; and all the fights take place in greasy foundries or other 80’s rock video settings, with belching fires and molten sparks, like somewhere you’d shoot a nude calendar of hunky welders.

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However, the most disturbing aspect of No Holds Barred isn’t any of the deliberate gross-out stuff. Brell’s other plan involves the seduction of Rip by a beautiful woman posing as his new agent, which leads us into — at the time — uncharted waters that might drown us all; the sexualizing of Hulk Hogan. Here in the stupid future, as the star of an actual sex tape, Hulk’s dogged thrusts and post-coital wheezing have been witnessed by millions, which may undermine collective memories of his holy public image back in ’89. Forever harping on and on about the little Hulksters, and pointing his clasped hands at the sky in thanks to God, he was a sexless giant, with a big cross around his neck, and nothing under the trunks but a polished nub worthy of his 4-inch Hasbro. Unfortunately for its viewers, No Holds Barred marks Hulk Hogan’s announcement to the world that he is a sexual being, and guys; he’s practically hopping from foot to foot, begging you to pull over, because he is busting for a wank.

The second he’s introduced to Joan Severance’s Samantha, his facial expression suggests he’ll be shaking the cum out of his trouser-legs as soon as she’s turned her back. As she leads the power-meeting, with him sat at a table of old businessmen, he’s a bundle of hormonal rage, fidgeting and sucking on his own thumb, with Sid James-like exhalations of lust as he unashamedly cranes his head sideways to get a good look at her arse. While she’s talking about branding, he’s chewing on his lips and growling like a lion, clearly acting under directorial instruction to “pretend like you’re real horny,” and playing the whole scene like his dick’s about to start spraying like a loose firehose and bring down the ceiling.

We soon switch genres into a dire middle-act romcom, with the old “the hotel’s double-booked, so we’re sharing a room with a single bed!” trope. Wildly misreading the amount of sexual chemistry between its leads — none — we’re punished with a 1950’s screwball section, in a bad cover-version of the Pankot Palace scene from Temple of Doom. He’s in the main room and she’s in the bathroom, each shit-talking the other, each putting a curious ear to the wall, and ooh, they hate each other, but they’re definitely going to kiss! Of note during this, they’re both brushing their teeth, but there’s no sink in the main room, so I guess he just gobs it all on the floor?

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Anyway, Rip hangs up a bedsheet, splitting the room down the middle into his ‘n hers, like that episode of Steptoe and Son, while clad in his nightwear of a giant tie-dye muscle vest and a pair of shorts that would be too small for a premature baby, cut right up the thigh, exposing his entire leg. The hideous unsexiness of this raises an important issue. At no point in the movie do you buy the notion that Joan Severance, an incredibly gorgeous woman, would be into him. Despite being a super-jacked, world famous pseudo-athlete, at no point in his career has Hulk Hogan ever been portrayed as a sex symbol. He’s safe; dad-like, and in the many unforgiving close-ups, looks to be in his fifties, rather than the 36 he was at the time. A guy like that nowadays would shave their head, but the middle-aged baldness, with its rear draping of weird doll-hair, is Trumpian in its self-denial, to the point Vince’s wrestlers were banned from bringing it up in promos. Consequently, no matter how intense his fuck-me-eyes as he swaggers about with a boner, and despite the best efforts of Severance, the utter lack of chemistry makes it feel like one of those news stories about a woman who’s gotten married to a metal stairwell.

Following a bit of pillow-talk where they bond over their lonely lives, while still separated by the sheet, the pair say goodnight, leading to the weirdest scene in an already very weird movie. Next to this, The Room‘s tuxedo football toss looks like something from the back catalogue of Ken Loach. From the “goodnight,” we hard cut to Samantha, asleep in her bra, with the bed violently shaking up and down; and I mean violently, like that bit in The Exorcist. The room is filled with the sound of creaking bedsprings and Rip’s ragged breathing, the entire intention of which is to suggest to the audience he’s furiously jerking off, as is Sam’s assumption when she’s woken by it. Judging by the sound and fury, it must be a particularly ferocious wank, quite likely to have a bit of blood in it. As Samantha slowly pulls back the dividing sheet, this is what she sees.

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Is that… a tiny little bottom? The first time I saw this as a child, my brain couldn’t parse it. It’s actually the bottom of his heels, as he does push-ups with his feet up on the bed, wearing a pair of women’s bikini briefs. Come morning, he’s been up all night exercising, and backed by an erotic sax soundtrack, we’re given a lingering pan up Severence’s sleeping body, when, just to ruin it for anyone who started masturbating at that point, there’s a savage a cut to Hulk Hogan in his little knickers. He jumps up on the bed, which breaks, rolling her on top of him, and as this fails to initiate immediate sex, Rip angrily yells “You build bigger walls than I ever could!” and storms off in a huff. Remember, she’s his agent, not his girlfriend, but still looks thoroughly ashamed of herself.

So anyway, a bunch of nonsense happens, including Rip being treated as a hero by vanquishing a pair of armed robbers at his favourite diner by throwing pies at them, completely trashing the place in the process, and a scene where Samantha — now Rip’s girlfriend — is attacked in an underground parking lot by a rapist who I’m 90% sure is dubbed by Vince McMahon. Incidentally, Hogan’s punishment for the rapist is to perch him on the handlebars of his Harley and drive him into a tree, while laughing uproariously. With Samantha now unable to betray Rip as she’s fallen for him for real, Brell finally eggs Rip into fighting Zeus by having him batter his little brother, and the fight is on.

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This act of barbarism finally takes us back to the 80’s action movie we were hoping for. We get Rip trashing Zeus’s empty gym, where a wall of Enter the Dragon style mirrors echo Rip’s paranoia, and a TV in the corner plays Brell’s looped gymspiration video — “Rip said the worms are too good for you. He said the maggots will gag on your rotten flesh...” as he watches via a CCTV camera with his goons, before Rip spears a barbell through the lens like a javelin. Then we get some acting! Or at least, Hulk Hogan’s approximation of grief, clad in funereal black bandana, fingerless gloves, and lycra bodysuit, at the bedside of a comatose Randy, who’s been kicked to near-death by Zeus. When Rip’s words of encouragement rouse Randy to open his eyes, the tears of an emotional Rip lead us into what we’ve all been waiting for — training montage!

In a sequence borrowed from the great Rocky/Drago one in Rocky IV, we’re shown the two disparate styles of our fighters. Zeus smashes cinder-blocks with his fists, while Rip helps doctors lower the paralysed Randy into a bath, gently stroking his hair; Zeus goes mad on a rowing machine, spurred on by Brell’s “worms” video, as Rip helps Randy take his first steps on a set of parallel rehab bars; every comically-broad beat highlighting this battle between gentle giant and deranged beast. It’s also very meta that a Hulk Hogan film would so focus on a brother, brother. Finally, it’s time for the main event, live on WTN. Though Battle of the Tough Guys has thus far featured sweaty barbarians in smelting factories swinging pipes at each other’s heads, the watching audience resembles the Mar-a-Lago ballroom on New Year’s Eve, exclusively posh folks in expensive dresses and tuxedos, hyped up from watching Lugwrench Perkins drown a trucker in a vat of piss in the quarter final.

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With crippled Randy watching from ringside, and Samantha kidnapped by Brell’s goons in the suite upstairs, Rip’s told to make it look good for ten minutes, before taking a dive, or he’ll be “pushing matching wheelchairs.” If only he’d listened, as the following ten minutes, by any standards, are not good. There’s a lot of close-ups of angry-acting; of puffing cheeks and bulging eyes; but it’s over-long and poorly choreographed, consisting mainly of Zeus’s choke-holds, while the wobbly ropes shake up and down distractingly, though shooting was briefly stopped after Hogan accidentally broke Lister’s nose. At one point, there’s a stomach-churning slow-mo of the top of Rip’s head, with sweat flying from his strands of thinning hair, which looks like a scarecrow’s bollock in a thunderstorm. The whole time he’s getting battered, Rip’s weakly reaching out for his brother, who gives tearful encouragement like “C’mon, Rip, try!” Eventually, Samantha escapes, freeing Rip to beat the superhuman monster, if he can. But this is such a shoddy movie, none of the emotional cues for him to mount his comeback — Randy’s little finger twitching; realising Samantha has escaped; Zeus attacking Rip’s trainer — are the signal for his resurgence, which just kinda happens eventually, following the same tired structure as every Hulk Hogan vs. Big Bad match in the WWF. The fight, and the movie ends with his punching Zeus off a balcony into the ring below, to his death, while Brell fatally electrocutes himself on a smashed-up bank of monitors.

The last line of the above paragraph, and indeed all of the content in this movie, is doubly-baffling when you consider Hogan’s reasoning for having waited so long to star in his own movie. “With all the training, the prayers and the vitamins, I had to worry about all the little Hulksters,” he said, during a promotional stop on Arsenio. Yeah, I’m sure the kids all loved this festival of death and piss; perfect family entertainment. He wasn’t shooting machine guns, Hogan said, so “it’s real squeaky-clean for all the little Hulksters.”

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No Holds Barred opened on June 2nd, 1989, at number 2 behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, domestically grossing $16m in its four-week run. But box office was only part of its intended purpose, with promotion for the film, and the feud between its villain and Hulk Hogan beginning in earnest on WWF television some months earlier. Zeus had always been intended as a future opponent for Hogan, with the official story that the pair hadn’t gotten on during filming, and Zeus had gotten a big head with all the publicity, and begun to think he could beat him for real. Though an interesting idea in theory, Tiny Lister’s crossover from acting to wrestling was fraught with problems.

Initially, Lister, said to be vocally homophobic backstage, wasn’t sold on the idea of wrestling, because “I don’t wanna touch no dudes. I’m not into touching dudes,” until they told him how much money he was set to make (Years later, in 2011’s prison film K-11, in role where he raped a trans female character, played by a cis-female actress, Lister had the director bring in a female stunt double, so the rape scene wouldn’t ‘damage his street cred’). Used sparingly at first, he wasn’t trained before his April 25th debut in front of a live crowd, where he chased a ring announcer. During Zeus’s television debut, attacking Hogan with punches in the aisle during NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event, the segment that aired was a spliced-in retape from the next day, after Lister, an actor used to pulling punches in fake movie fights, and born blind in one eye, missed Hogan by a mile.

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Struggling to walk on the lifts in his boots, to make him appear taller, and with no depth perception, Zeus was kept limited to simple moves like chokes and bear hugs, to lessen the possibility of fucking up. He wore a painted-on unibrow, and the costume props from the movie, which began to fall apart under the rigours of regular use. Backstage, he was unpopular, viewed as an actor unfairly coming into the big money top-spot against Hogan, and granted special privileges, sequestered away in his own dressing room. The rest of the roster ribbed him mercilessly, from anonymous phone-calls of racial abuse in his hotel room, to Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts tossing his giant python onto him while he was showering. As a working actor unused to roles extending past the set, he was confused by the hatred of the fans, some of whom sent death threats, and who didn’t see him as Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister playing a role, but Zeus, hateful enemy of their beloved champion. Wrestling’s strict kayfabe forbade him from breaking character, and he was banned from public excursions, so’s not to have the snarling maniac from TV being seen buying groceries or doing laundry. Lister later claimed that Vince leaked a bunch of lies to the National Enquirer to sell Zeus’s heelish credentials, saying that he was a Blood and a Crip, had killed 3 people, and was a heroin addict who beat his wife. Though he did refuse to get into a red rental car, forcing his WWF handler to switch to a blue one, so’s not to disrespect his gang status as a blue-wearing Crip.

Though it should have been a disaster, in contemporary interviews, Lister remembers the period fondly, no doubt due to how wildly financially successful the Zeus/Hogan program turned out to be. Put in a tough spot, he made it work, and the day before the SummerSlam match, a main event of Zeus and Randy Savage vs. Hogan and Brutus Beefcake, the WWF took the unusual step of a practise run, so that he’d be more comfortable. While it was dreadful, the show did over a million PPV buys, leading to Lister’s return for November’s Survivor Series, just in time to promote the home video release of No Holds Barred. There, his physical participation was even more limited, disqualified in the first three minutes for shoving a referee. Finally, on December 27th, Zeus made his final appearance in a special PPV, No Holds Barred, The Match/The Movie, where a showing of the film was followed by a rematch from SummerSlam, this time in a steel cage. The close of his WWF run saw the previously-invincible Zeus soundly and cleanly defeated by Hogan after three legdrops.

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Incredibly, Lister’s wrestling career contains a pair of brief footnotes. Shortly after leaving the WWF, Zeus participated in the most unbearably awful match of all time against the wobbly-titted Abdullah the Butcher. Held in the notoriously wild wrestling scene of Puerto Rico, a territory fresh off the locker-room murder of Bruiser Brody, Lister was so afraid for his life that he travelled with a pair of armed cops, who accompanied him everywhere, even the bathroom. Then, in 1996, a noticeably flabbier Zeus, under the name Z Gangsta, reappeared in Hogan’s new home, WCW, for a run accurately described by Lister as “Hulk Hogan offered me 20k to get hit in the head with a frying pan. Hell yeah.

Though Hogan did feature in more films in the near-30 years following No Holds Barred (films I will hopefully cover here at some point), and even his own TV show, Thunder in Paradise — a Baywatch/Airwolf hybrid, featuring a hi-tech superboat — the subsequent screen careers of Duane Johnson, Dave Bautista, and John Cena merely emphasis the fact that he never became a bonafide movie star. But for all its horrors, No Holds Barred is a wonderful capture of a moment in time; of America, of 80’s cinema, and of the period when we could watch Hulk Hogan punching a black guy without knowing he was probably thinking the n-word as he did it. There’s currently a Vince McMahon biopic in the works, but nothing, especially not a WWE-approved film, could ever capture the bonkers contents of his mind. Besides, the closest thing to that has already been made. And it has an amazing closing theme.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help me provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff, with more in-depth looks at Hulk Hogan’s ‘acting’.

There’s a bunch of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, like my new novella, Jangle. Feel free to give my existing books a look too.

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~ by Stuart on April 9, 2018.

One Response to “No Holds Barred, aka The Madness of King Vince”

  1. […] No Holds Barred, aka The Madness of King Vince […]

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