Gimmick reviews the DVD about a man who changed wrestling
Fri, 17 February 2006
by: The Gimmick
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Wayne Coleman, better known most as "Superstar" Billy Graham, made his WWWF debut in late 1976 and left in early 1978. Within that short period of time he managed to carve an impression on professional wrestling that is still being felt today. His look, persona, style and mannerisms have been copied more times than probably any other wrestler in history. Hulk Hogan, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Scott Steiner and countless others; they all owe "The Superstar" a huge debt. With that in mind, WWE and Shock have tagged up to bring this homage to the man, with this new DVD release entitled 20 Years Too Soon: The Superstar Billy Graham Story.
His story is one of immense highs, shattering lows and a lot of faith. Wayne Coleman was a pre teen when he got hooked on body building and he never looked back. Looking at him in his prime, that's not surprising. But, what you may find surprising, is that he has been a follower of the Christian faith ever since he was a young man and retained those religious beliefs for his entire life.
His bodybuilding won him a lot of junior titles and even a friendship with a budding bodybuilder by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was Wayne's eye catching size which caught the attention of a promoter and subsequently led to him becoming a professional wrestler. He headed to Calgary and spent the first two weeks in Canada in Stu Hart's "Dungeon". After working for Stu he caught the attention of Dr. Jerry Graham, who proceeded to help transform Wayne Coleman into "Superstar" Billy Graham. He took that name partially so he could wrestle as Jerry's younger "brother" and tag team partner. He worked in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Then Billy moved onto the AWA, where he learned the finer points of the trade and mastered his gimmick.
|Can you tell that Hulk Hogan is a Billy Graham fan? |
Keep in mind, this was the mid 70's. At that time, for a wrestler to make it big, especially in the AWA, they had to be able to wrestle in a "technical" style. But Graham wasn't as polished as most in that regard, so he relied mainly on his charisma. Today that's a pretty regular thing, but back then, it was almost unheard of. That is the reason Billy Graham is considered a trend setter who helped shape the wrestling business as we see it today. He did things in a way that no one else had done before (with the possible exception of "Gorgeous" George).
From there Graham entered the big time- the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now WWE)- and proceeded to take the company by storm. In short time Billy became the man to finally take the Heavyweight title from the legendary Bruno Sammartino. He held onto it for 10 months. Again, this was unheard of, for a heel. Bad guys were more used as transitional champions, but Graham broke the rules again and not only flourished but also garnered support from the fans. These acheivments are another way "Superstar" helped to change wrestling into how we now know it. It didn't actually come into fruition for another 10 years, but the seeds were planted during Billy Graham's title reign.
From the colors of his outfits, to the flamboyant interviews, to the posing and all the things that Billy Graham was synonymous for, everything about him was so different, fresh and exciting. He stood out from the crowd in a huge way, in comparision to every other champion before him. And, as I said earlier, the fans ate it up. Unfortunately for Graham though, the promoters didn't. They just weren't ready for him, as he was so far ahead of his time (hence that "20 years too soon" part of this DVDs title). So, on the 20th of February 1978, "Superstar" was dethroned by Bob Backlund. Consequently he became so distraught that he left wrestling, seemingly forever. His time away from the ring was not a pleasant one, as he used and abused drugs, most specifically "downers" and on many occasions almost died.
He did return a few years later. However, he was no longer the colorful, brash, charismatic blonde superstar the world knew. In his own words; that Billy Graham no longer existed. This "new" Graham had shaved his head, lost a lot of weight and was a lot darker than before. His character now had almost satanic aspects to it and was stated as being a karate champion. This unsuitable and confusing gimmick seemed to be a reflection of the way Billy was feeling, mentally and emotionally, at the time.
It would be about 5 years until the world would see the old "Superstar" back. But, by that stage, his body was ravaged from years of steroid abuse. His condition really started giving him severe trouble when, during a match, he injured his hip and needed immediate surgery. He got the surgery, but his dream comeback fell short. His body was just too damaged, so he had to retire. But Vince McMahon still wanted him with the company and attempted to use him as both a commentator and as a manager.
When Billy was no longer able to travel with the Federation due to a fused ankle, he was let go. His resentment and frustration from being fired turned Billy Graham back onto his abuse of pills and also turned him bitter towards the World Wrestling Federation. He later sued Vince and the Federation, blaming them for the steroid abuse that lead to the terrible state his body was in. He dropped the lawsuit soon after, eventually admitting Vince had never pushed steroids on him.
|Working out can really increase your appetite. |
He almost lost his life 10 years later, when it was discovered his liver was riddled with cirrhosis and he needed a transplant. He received the transplant and in his very own words was "reborn". From there things went up for the Superstar, he made his peace with Vince McMahon and last year was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
As for the rest of the disc; there are a number of interviews and matches of Superstar Billy Graham's from over the years, including his WWWF title victory over Bruno Sammartino and title defenses against Ivan Putski and Dusty Rhodes.
For a man who paid such a heavy price for his love of the business and his abuse of drugs, it's nice to hear a wrestling story that has a happy ending. So many times we hear stories about guys who hit rock bottom and never recovered, so this is a welcome change. As someone who grew up watching him and then rediscovered his earlier work, it's great to hear the complete story of a man who deserves to be remembered. He can now be thought of not as a bitter old man, but as a guy who had so many great accomplishments in his career. A man who sold out Madison Square Garden 19 out of 20 times. A guy who made people - not just fans, but people- look at wrestling in a different way. He reshaped wrestling forever. And he did it all in only a couple of years. Now that is truly a Superstar!
by: The Gimmick
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