WWF Brawl for All
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Bart Gunn, winner of Brawl for All
|Dates||June 29, 1998–August 24, 1998|
WWF Brawl for All was a shootfighting tournament held in the then World Wrestling Federation that lasted from June 29, 1998 to August 24, 1998 and was the creation of then-WWF writer Vince Russo. Brawl for All resulted in a number of legit injuries for WWF performers and has garnered criticism.
Throughout 1998, the WWF experienced a growth in roster size but due to limited amount of TV time a number of their more genuine "tough guys" were left without much to do. As a result, the idea for a legit tough guy tournament was bandied about as a way to both utilize some of these men and capitalize on the recent interest in Toughman Contests around the country.
According to John "Bradshaw" Layfield, Vince Russo came up with the idea when Layfield wanted to create a hardcore wrestling division in the WWF. Russo said he devised the tournament as a consequence of Bradshaw claiming he could beat anyone on the roster in a bar fight. Jim Cornette also reported that it was Russo's idea. Participation in the tournament was strictly voluntary.
Tournament events and injuries
Each match consisted of three one-minute rounds. Whichever wrestler connected with the most punches per round scored 5 points. In addition, a clean takedown scored 5 points and a knockdown was worth 10. If a wrestler was knocked out (decided by an eight-count rather than a ten-count), the match ended. The matches were scored by ringside judges including Gorilla Monsoon.
According to Jim Cornette, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams was the WWF's favorite to win the tournament, with the company looking towards a lucrative pay-per-view match between Williams and Stone Cold Steve Austin; Bob Holly claimed that Williams had already been paid the $100,000 prize money before his second round fight against Bart Gunn. During the fight, Williams sustained a hamstring injury and was knocked out by Gunn. Bart Gunn went on to defeat Bradshaw by KO on the August 24, 1998 episode of Raw is War to win the tournament and $75,000. Bradshaw received $25,000.
The WWF roster at the time had two well-known former UFC fighters, Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock. Shamrock declined the opportunity to take part, while Severn defeated The Godfather in the first round but then withdrew from the tournament, stating he had nothing to prove. In a radio interview, Severn asserted that the WWF at first had not allowed him or Shamrock to compete at all and that they removed Severn from the tournament after his first-round victory over The Godfather. However, Steve Williams recalls Shamrock "backing out" and Severn withdrawing because of his "frustration at the rules and the idea of having to wear boxing gloves".
Fans in attendance instantly voiced their disapproval of the tournament, with chants of "Boring!" and "We want wrestling!" being audible during the fights.
Josh Nason of the Wrestling Observer wrote that Brawl for All was "regarded as a terrible idea". Then-WWF official Jim Cornette has described the tournament as "the stupidest thing that the WWF has ever done". He argued that the WWF misjudged the appeal that legitimate fighting would have to their audience, considering that the WWF had promoted the idea that their matches were merely entertainment. Furthermore, because the fighters were trained to work professional wrestling matches and not to fight, they risked both injury and the possibility that a defeat would hurt their marketability. Cornette also criticized the WWF for failing to use the tournament to promote Bart Gunn as a new star wrestler.
In the WWE documentary The Attitude Era, Jim Ross stated that it was "one of those ideas that looked really cool on paper", but John "Bradshaw" Layfield added that the execution was "a bad idea". Layfield also stated that "nobody knew Bart Gunn was that good." Ross later remarked that "No one got over". Sean Waltman called it "the dumbest fucking idea in WWE history", and felt the company educated its audience that "These guys are fighting for real, and everything else you're watching is bull shit."
Documentary series Dark Side of the Ring covered the tournament in the fourth episode of its second season.
Immediately prior to the Brawl for All, Holly (as "Bombastic Bob") and Gunn (as "Bodacious Bart") had been a tag-team called The New Midnight Express with Jim Cornette as their manager and as The New Midnight Express they had won the NWA World Tag Team Championship after defeating The Headbangers on an episode of Raw. After winning the tournament, Bart Gunn feuded with both Bob Holly, now known as Hardcore Holly, and Steve Williams, both angry at having been beaten in the tournament, the latter masking himself and pushing Gunn off a stage.
Gunn was later matched against professional boxer Butterbean at WrestleMania XV in a Brawl for All match; Gunn was knocked out 35 seconds into the bout and was fired by the WWF afterward. Jim Cornette was critical of Gunn being placed in a match with a pro boxer. Bob Holly claimed that Gunn's inevitable loss to Butterbean was a punishment for defeating the company's desired winner, Steve Williams.
Most of the other participants departed the company within a year after the tournament; Droz suffered a career ending injury unrelated to the tournament during a SmackDown! taping in 1999, while Steve Blackman and The Godfather (the latter which was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016) left in 2002 and Bob Holly stayed with the company (now renamed WWE) until 2009, while runner-up Bradshaw, who remained with the company, retired from in-ring competition the same year (at the time of retirement, he had been known as JBL) and is scheduled to be inducted to the 2020 WWE Hall of Fame.
Brawl for All tournament bracket
KO - knockout; TKO - technical knockout; Pts - points; Dec - referee's/judge's decision
|First round||Second round||Semi-finals||Finals|
|Raw||Steve Blackman 1||Dec|
|8/17||Darren "Droz" Drozdov|
|8/10||Darren "Droz" Drozdov||Pts|
|Raw||Darren "Droz" Drozdov 2||Draw|
|7/6||Road Warrior Hawk||Draw|
|7/13||Dan Severn 3||Pts|
1 Steve Blackman won the bout, but was forced to withdraw due to an injury sustained in training. Mero was advanced to the next round.
2 Drozdov advanced as Road Warrior Hawk was injured during the bout.
3 Dan Severn won the bout, but he withdrew, saying he had nothing to prove. The Godfather was advanced to the next round.
- Oliver, Sean (director) (2016). Timeline: History of WCW – 1998 – As told by Vince Russo (DVD). Kayfabe Commentaries.
[John 'Bradshaw' Layfield] started carrying on that he could take anybody in the company, or in the locker room, in a real bar fight... I pitched the whole idea of the Brawl for All.
- "Jim Cornette". Who's Slamming Who. March 16, 2009.
- Holly, Bob. The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story. p. 121.
- "Dan Severn reveals Crazy Mexican underground fight he was offered". Submission Radio. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
- Steve Williams, How Dr. Death Became Dr. Life
- Arvedon, Jon (April 1, 2020). "Dark Side of the Ring Tackles WrestleMania's Biggest Botch". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
- Martin, Fin (July 1998). "What's Going Down". Power Slam. SW Publishing: 5.
- Nason, Joesh (April 19, 2020). "Vice's 'Brawl For All': A stretch of substance with strange diversions". Wrestling Observer. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
- WWE: The Attitude Era (DVD). WWE Home Video. May 22, 2013.
- Coleman, Joe (May 30, 2020). "Vince McMahon let wrestlers fight for real at 'Brawl for All' – but it was known as 'the dumbest f****** idea in WWE history'". Talksport. Retrieved October 29, 2020.