Monday, 20 September 2010

Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon - DVD Review

Over the past few years WWE have released a ton of great compilations, but there’s always been one that I’ve wanted to see, that I’ve never gotten around to watching until now. That collection was Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon.

As is the custom with these releases this set begins with a great documentary about the man, and this is by far one of the best and most emotional pieces they’ve produced.

The piece documents every aspect of his life, from his early health problems and his career as a somewhat under-sized grid iron star to his career in the professional wrestling business.

It was here where I was reminded of just how great and innovative Pillman was. At a time when wrestlers of a certain size were more or less jobber fodder Pillman became a star, and then some.

But it wasn’t just his wrestling style that made him a star. There was also the Loose Cannon persona he developed as he moved from WCW through ECW to the WWF.

The emotional content came with the story of the car crash that almost ended his life, and the years of pain that resulted from it, forcing him to change his wrestling style, constantly fighting through the pain so he could continued to do what he loved most.

The most difficult moment to watch came when, in October 1997, Vince McMahon announced live on pay-per-view that Pillman had died at the age of 35. The following night McMahon interviewed his wife Melanie life on Raw, a segment that was very difficult to watch, a segment that left me wondering if that was a wise move.

That being said though, this was a great way to chronicle Pillman’s life and career, but let’s not forget that these collections feature a ton of matches as well, beginning with:

Disc 1
Stampede Wrestling, April 1988: Pillman teams with Bruce Hart as Bad Company, competing against the Midnight Cowboys for the International Tag-Team titles. I have to admit I know very little about Rip Rogers and Kerry Brown’s tenure as a team.

There’s only highlights of this match, with Pillman carrying most of the load for his team and looking good while do so, before Hart got the hot tag, taking out Rogers with a clothesline for the win.

NWA, Halloween Havoc, October 1989: Pillman challenges Lex Luger for the U.S. title.

Although the Luger/Pillman feud was one of the first things I saw when I stumbled upon a German television channel back then I never actually saw any of their matches.

Luger gets a lot of heat these days for his perceived lack of ability and psychology, but this was a very good match between two guys who only had a combined total of five years experience at the time, an entertaining back and forth affair.

Luger came out on top in this one, getting the pin after taking Pillman out with a stun gun like move.

NWA, February 1990: Pillman teams with Tom Zenk against the Fabulous Freebirds, Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin, in the finals of the U.S. Tag-Team title tournament.

It’s a short and sweet encounter, with Pillman and the Z-Man giving a good account of themselves, although Hayes botches a couple of moves, including when Zenk was meant to dropkick him through the ropes.

Pillman stopped Hayes from taking out Zenk with a DDT with a flying clothesline, allowing him to get the title winning pin.

Disc 2
WCW, Wrestle War, February 1991: Pillman teams with Sting and the Steiner Brothers against Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Larry Zybyszko and Sid Vicious in a War Games match.

This is one gimmick match that WWE should have revived long ago. Pillman started for his team, taking it to Windham and busting him open despite an injured shoulder, before Flair’s team won the coin toss to take the one man advantage, until all eight men entered the cage.

From there we had a ton of big moves, with Flair bleeding for his art again before Vicious power bombed Pillman twice, the first one looking particularly nasty.

It was then that El Gigante came to the ring and ripped the door off the cage, with the referee giving Flair and his men the win when he declared Pillman unconscious.

WCW, Halloween Havoc, October 1991: Pillman faces Richard Morton for the vacant Light Heavyweight title.

This was when Morton was part of Alexandra York’s York Foundation, a gimmick which saw the future Marlena giving her wrestlers tips from a somewhat primitive looking laptop.

The laptop wasn’t the only crazy thing here, as referee Nick Patrick wore a helmet with a camera on it, looking a total goof in the process, which didn’t do anything for the match, as most of the time we only got shots of his arm as me made a count.

It’s an entertaining back and forth encounter, although it doesn’t quite seem right seeing Morton on his own in a singles match, having made his name as one half of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express with Robert Gibson.

Pillman came out on top, winning the title after taking Morton down with a body block off the top rope.

WCW, Clash of the Champions XV, June 1991: Pillman teams with El Gigante against Arn Anderson and Barry Windham, with the loser of the fall having to leave WCW.

It’s a very quick encounter, and thankfully El Giant Goofball didn’t do much as Pillman carried the load, falling to Windham’s big boot before the pin that saw Pillman disappear and then reappear a short time later as the masked Yellow Dog.

WCW, Saturday Night, December 1992: Pillman teams with Barry Windham against Tom Zenk and Johnny Gunn.

Pillman is now a hated heel as he teams with his former foe against his former tag-team partner and his new protégé.

It’s another quick television encounter, with Zenk and Gunn looking like mirror images of each other and putting in some good work, although it’s not enough to take the heels down as they took Gunn out with a chop block/flying clothesline combination so Windham could get the pin.

WCW, Slamboree, May 1993: Pillman teams with Steve Austin as the Hollywood Blondes, defending the World Tag-Team titles against the masked Dos Hombres, aka Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas in masks and red bodysuits in a cage match.

This was a nice example of the Blondes’ work as a team. All four men used the cage to good effect, with the best spot coming when Steamboat (or Douglas) hung Austin upside down and took him out with a couple of body blocks.

The ending was a bit botched though. After Steamboat unmasked himself and took both Blondes out with a cross body off the top of the cage the timekeeper rang the bell after the Dragon went for the pin and the referee counted two. The match continued, and normal service resumed when Austin got the pin on the future Franchise after taking him out with the stun gun.

WCW, Superbrawl IV, February 1994: Pillman is a beloved baby face again as he teams with Sting and Dustin Rhodes against Steve Austin, Rick Rude and Paul Orndorff in a Thundercage match.

The Thundercage itself looks like an early attempt at a Hell in a Cell. It surrounded the ringside area and was extremely tall, although it had no roof and looked a lot flimsier.

Once again Pillman is the proverbial punching bag for his team as the heels bounced him around the ring. The two teams then make some, but not much, use of the cage before the inevitable brawl, with Sting press slamming Pillman onto Austin for the winning pin.

WCW, Nitro, September 1995: Pillman takes on his old rival, Japanese star Jushin “Thunder” Liger, on Nitro’s first ever show.

I have to admit it’s very strange seeing two of wrestling’s biggest stars going at in in a shopping mall, but then again I’ve seen living wrestling in some very strange places over the years.

But getting back to the match, it’s a fast-paced back and forth encounter, with plenty of near falls, before Pillman got the pin with the simplest of moves, a roll-up, quite apt considering the nature of the match.

WCW, Nitro, January 1996: Pillman is now in full Loose Cannon mode as he goes up against Dean Malenko.

I wish these two had been given more time. Five minutes or so for wrestlers of their pedigree just didn’t seem enough.

But they did manage to make good use of their time, with Pillman heeling it up perfectly and frustrating Malenko at every turn, before getting the pin with Malenko’s foot still tied up in the ropes.

WCW, Clash of the Champions XXXII, January 1996: Pillman faces another sadly departed star, Eddie Guerrero.

Pullman is in full loose screw mode in this rather brief encounter as he goes after commentator Bobby Heenan at one point. The Brain lets out an expletive and leaves the announcer’s table at one point, returning to his seat to see Pillman take the pin with a cross body block and handful of Guerrero’s tights.

WWF, Raw, June 1997: Pillman faces his old partner, the new “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, with his Hart Foundation cohorts handcuffed to the ring posts.

This was a great example of just why the Hart Foundation were so hot back then. It’s a tremendously heated match, with the Rattlesnake and the Loose Cannon tearing each other apart, with the referee taking a stunner for his troubles, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith eventually getting free and starting a mass brawl that soon involved Mankind, Goldust, Ken Shamrock and the Legion of Doom, which set up the next match perfectly.

WWF, In Your House: Canadian Stampede, July 1997: Pillman teams with Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith against Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and the Legion of Doom.

If there’s one thing I learned from this match is that Canadian fans are crazy. Those in attendance in Calgary for this even were rabid, one of the hottest crowds I’ve seen in my thirty-plus years of watching wrestling. Of course, having the whole Hart family at ringside helped, especially when they joined in the proceedings.

Pillman was only a bit-part player in this affair, and he actually spent very little time in the ring in a match that saw both Austin and Owen taken out for a while, before both returned to the ring where Owen would pin Austin after the Rattlesnake tried to grab hold of old Stu at ringside.

Afterwards Austin got carted away by the rossers when he returned to the ring and attacked the Harts with a chair as they celebrated, before the whole Hart family celebrated before their loyal fans.

WWF, Ground Zero, September 1997: Pillman faces Goldust, with his own career and the services of his Goldust’s wife and manager Marlena on the line. This followed on from their Summerslam match when Goldust won and Pillman was forced to wear a dress until he won again.

Pillman’s last pay-per-view match is a highly charged encounter with a great deal on the line, and despite being hampered by his ongoing ankle problems Pillman lived up to his old nickname at times.

The referee took a snooze as Goldust took Pillman out with the curtain call, but as the face painted one went to revive the official Pillman foiled Marlena’s attack and knocked her old man out with her loaded purse, getting the pin as the referee came to, earning the lovely lady’s services for thirty days.

WCW, Superbrawl, February 1992: The final match goes all the way back to one of Pillman’s early encounters with Jushin Liger for the Light Heavyweight title.

This was far superior to their Nitro match, mainly because they were given twice as much time here.

There’s the usual high flying stuff from these two, mixed in with some solid ground work, with Pillman getting the win after scooping Liger’s shoulders with his feet and bridging for the pin.

In conclusion - it seems to be the case these days that we say a wrestler was truly great when they pass away at a very young age. In many instances this could be considered hyperbole.

But this isn’t the case with Brian Pillman. It’s a sad reflection of life that we only realised just how good he was after he was taken from us.

Whether it was as a high flyer or as a man who blurred the line between fact and fiction, Brian Pillman was an innovator. He had the attitude before Attitude became a buzz word. He wrestled in the X Division style a decade before that term was coined.

He was someone who got the fans talking, no matter what he did, and although this collection is a few years old now it’s the perfect example of his work.

So if you haven’t seen this yet, then Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon is definitely something you should add to your collection. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll come to realise just how important he was to the development of professional wrestling.

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