Saturday, April 5, 2014

Strange Bedfellows - D'Lo Brown & Test

Since Wrestlemania XXX is around the corner, what better way to celebrate "The Showcase of the Immortals" by featuring an immortal tag team that fell apart quicker than a game jam sponsored by Mountain Dew. I'm of course talking about the most famous strange bedfellows of all time, D'Lo Brown and Test.

Wrestlemania XV is now widely known as one of the worst entries ever to be produced under the banner name. Granted, it's not as tortuous as ones like II, IV, 25, or XXVII but it's still a massive collection of bad creative ideas. For a great overview of the entire event, I highly recommend checking The Attitude Era Podcast's rundown of the tragic affairs. For a shortened version, there were a ton of low lights throughout the WWF's 1998-99 season finale: Road Dogg Jesse James and Bad Ass Billy Gunn were given the opposite's title and feud for the sake of being random (™ Vince Russo); Bart Gunn finally broke through the American wrestling market by suffering an embarrassing knockout in a shoot boxing match with Butterbean; the new big acquisition The Big Show being humiliated twice by stupidly losing a match by DQ and getting carted off by police into a small red car; Chyna turning face only to turn heel two matches later with Triple H; an eye-searing women's match where one combatant was wearing the female version of Giant Gonzalez' gear before the female version of Giant Gonzalez mercifully ends it; and the worst Hell in the Cell match ever concluding with the worst post-match angle ever. The sole redeeming match was the main event between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, which delivered a satisfying conclusion to the first year of the Austin-McMahon blood feud.

There is one match I've forgotten to mention in my block of cynical jabs: a title match for the World Tag Team Titles, then currently held by Jeff Jarrett and Owen Hart. Head booker Russo and his company of writers wanted this fight to be a highly touted bout with real heat from the crowd and the paying audience. But he simply forgo all of that nonsense and just had the #1 contenders be determined through a tag team battle royal on a special edition of Sunday Night Heat; the special edition being the one taking place a hour before the event.

The idea of a tag team battle royal is not something new for Wrestlemania, as last year's immensely acclaimed XIV kicked off the show with one. That royal was booked to premiere and a give a big push to L.O.D. 2000, a Poochie-esque marketable revamp of the Road Warriors. The cumbersome space-hockey gear and new manager Sunny weren't able to save the eroding landmark tag team, as their talent and place on the card dropped faster than a Titantron-diving Hawk.

For those still unaware, a tag team battle royal is a bit different from its usual single wrestler design: both members partake in the brawling but if one is thrown over the ropes, they are both eliminated. Russo wouldn't have any of this logic, so it was decided that the last two individual men in the ring instead would be crowned the winners, team be damned. Because if there's one thing people love to see, it's the possibility of a tag title match where everyone is a heel.

Looking over the list of wrestlers seeking a Wrestlemania payday, I mean a worthy shot at a prestigious title, you get the usual mid card talent you would expect or be aware of at this time of the WWF: The Acolytes, D.O.A., pre-extreme Hardy Boys, Viscera & Mideon, former N.O.D. buddies D'Lo Brown & The Godfather, Too Much, and random throw-ins like Test, Steve Blackman and Droz. But then you have shocking entries even I forgot, including The Public Enemy (pre-burial by the Acolytes), comedy jobber Gillberg, and, ugh, Tiger Ali Singh.

At the time, I though the winners would obviously be the Legion of Doom. Yep, they were still around and again, they came out with a new look and manager. Hawk and Animal were back in their old garb and their original manager Paul Ellering returned to their side after going off the deep end about conquering the internet and helping out the charisma black-holes that forever are the Harris Brothers.

Unfortunately, they were both thrown out early and walk to the back in their penultimate WWF-era appearance. The winners instead were determined to be D'Lo and Test, as Droz and The Godfather eliminated each other. It's particularly eerie that it could have been Droz and D'Lo, given what was to come later in the year. Anyway, despite the final two being decided, the bell doesn't ring so Test and D'Lo just keep punching each other because they are a heel and face respectively. Hart and Jarrett, who were doing guest commentating, bum-rush them as the crowd gives the commotion the same enthusiasm as Tom Slick at a junior rodeo.

Casting my harsh critique aside for a moment, I must address a personal note: this outcome was like receiving proof of there being a God for myself and my brother back in 1999. D'Lo was one of my brother's favorites and the then newcomer Test was one of mine. Them teaming up together and possibly winning a major title at the biggest stage of all? That was some N64 booking right there for us.

So, how was the match?

It starts off with Kevin Dunn freaking the hell out because of the slow transition between matches. As Al Snow walks beside some referees and D'Lo's music hits, he thinks the best shot is a wide view of the crowd sitting completely still.

D'Lo comes out with his female ally Ivory, a journeywoman wrestler who was brought in to clean up the mess Sable did to the women's division and to, I'm not making this up, keep D'Lo away from white women. Trust me, there's far more racial and sexist horror later to be tapped during this era. She's wearing a facial bandage because the other match on Heat ended with Terri Runnells marking her with a cigar. It is so great when there's short-term booking on the pre-show, only to not have the importance or context showcased later on home video.

Test comes out with a bro-approved tank-top he picked up from Spencer's Gifts. He immediately gets in D'Lo's face and point blankly tells him, "You ain't worth SHIT!"

Jarrett and Owen come out with their non-matching ring gear (seriously, why didn't Jarrett wear his yellow shorts?) and their manager Debra. Debra is wearing a chandelier bikini and a suit jacket, thus popping the crowd. By popping, I of course mean their dicks. Ivory's reaction pretty much sums up my opinion of this wardrobe.

Despite being jerks to each other, the put-together tag team take early control. D'Lo and Jarrett pull off some adequate wrestling chemistry. The crowd responds to this showmanship with chants of "Nugget", the derogatory term/in-joke bestowed to Owen Hart by DX in 1998.

Test and Owen are both tagged in and they both quickly burn through all of their signatures and finishers. The opening seconds of the match had Test deliver a running big boot, and this exchange has him pulling off his gut wrench power bomb and an attempted pump handle slam. Owen responds with his beautiful leg-fed enzuigiri and sharpshooter. D'Lo breaks up the submission; Test responds to the save with the kind words of, "GET YOUR ASS in there and DO SOMETHING!"

D'Lo plays face in peril and again, the crowd has none of it. No one likes this random tag team and its confusing moral position. Even if they did, the match is moving too quickly to tell any story, which is incredibly sad considering every participant is great in the ring.

D'Lo gets a near-fall with a counter version of the Sky High. Test and Owen go to the floor while Debra just stands on the apron for some reason. I'm guessing she's supposed to sexily distract D'Lo, who's out of position and misses the cue, because Ivory is suddenly pissed and they argue outside. D'Lo sets up for his running powerbomb, only for Owen to hit him with a missile dropkick and Jarrett jack-knife pins him in the sole redeeming element of this match.

Despite the cool finishing maneuver, the match booking and the PPV production both continue to falter into insanity. Test lets Owen run off just so he can stand in his tracks and squawk with the women, and then Terri and Jaqueline, a.k.a. Pretty Mean Sisters (get it?), come out for no reason at all. They cut to the hard camera for the concluding pin and they inadvertently create the perfect tableau of this match, as everyone in the crowd turn their heads aside from the ring and pray for a catfight to take place.

Post-match, Ivory rightfully reads the riot act to Test for being booked like a geek, right before D'Lo and Test then engage in a lame brawl. And thus, the last Wrestlemania appearance of Jeff Jarrett and the late great Owen Hart ends with both being shunted off-screen, unable to celebrate their win, just so a brand new feud can go absolutely nowhere.

3 minutes, 57 seconds. If it wasn't for the 0:35 knockout to Bart Gunn, this would have been the shortest match of the night. As much as I love everyone in the ring, this match-up had no reason to exist and should have been removed off the first draft of this card. And as stated, nothing came from it later: D'Lo and Test were both practically given a two week reprieve from television while Jarrett and Owen would soon drop the belts to a new strange tag team, X-Pac and Kane. D'Lo would sadly remain in the mid-card for the rest of his WWF tenure, despite his talents and unique sense of charisma. Test instead experienced mood swing booking, as the creative team kept giving him a large push to the main event, drop him back to the mid-card and placed in tag teams, and do it all over again and again before being released for the final time in 2007. He would sadly die two years later.

There's no question that this team had no future and shouldn't have been assembled in the first place. The crowd shat on it and the bookers tried to write off their mistake, only to forget that video has a lasting legacy. Even if Test was a face, the two just didn't click with each other, possessing no team chemistry or matching prowess.

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