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Wrestling / WWE Brawl for All

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The end result of a truly dumb idea in wrestling.
"The stupidest idea that ever made air in the WWF led to injuries on the talent roster, led to bad feelings amongst the boys who were actually going in there beating each other up. The fans didn't care, nobody believed it was a shoot anyway, they killed Dr. Death's WWF career, and they cost themselves millions of dollars on that one fight because they were fuckin' stupid!"
Jim Cornette, "Who's Slamming Who" podcast March 16, 2009

The WWE Brawl for All was a "shootfighting" tournament held by the WWE (then the WWF) from June 29 to August 24, 1998. The idea behind it was that 16 "tough guys" in the WWF would face off in a tournament that was a series of shoots where, unlike regular professional wrestling, nothing was scripted in advance and the fights were 100% real. The concept was conceived by Vince Russo.

The rules were as follows:

  1. Sixteen participants were paired off in a single elimination tournament.
  2. Each match would consist of 3 one minute rounds.
  3. Whoever landed the most punches in a round would earn 5 points. 5 points would also be awarded for takedowns, and 10 for knockdowns.
  4. Victories could be via knockout (8 count), points, or referee/judge's decision.

For years, the whole thing was thought to be a vehicle to push "Dr. Death" Steve Williams (who was famous for having a legitimate "tough guy" reputation outside the ring) to main event status, until Vince Russo admitted in an interview that the entire event was created when he heard Bradshaw brag about being the toughest guy in the locker room and decided it would be awesome to see someone beat him for real. Bart Gunn went on to win the tournament, but was set up in a match at WrestleMania XV against professional boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch, who proceeded to knock him out in 35 seconds.

In the end, no one benefited from the Brawl for All, except maybe Butterbean, whose knockout of Gunn is considered among the most brutal of all time. Bart Gunn was fired immediately after the fight with Butterbean. Steve Williams suffered a hamstring injury (which led to his defeat). Savio Vega reaggravated an arm injury that led to him never working for the WWF/WWE again. Most of the other participants were gone within a year. And the fans absolutely hated the whole idea of Brawl for All with chants like "Boring!" and "We want wrestling!"

In the end, the Brawl for All was left as "one of those ideas that looked really good on paper, but was terrible in execution." It was inducted into WrestleCrap and would have an episode of Dark Side of the Ring devoted to it.

Tropes associated with the Brawl for All include:

  • All for Nothing: Aside from Vince Russo getting the satisfaction of seeing Bradshaw being knocked out, the Brawl for All not only ultimately failed in its goal to create new stars, but some were injured to the point where they in some cases couldn't even leave the ring without help. The one star they wanted to make was injured during his bout (and lost), and the guy who actually did win the tournament ended up punished simply because the "wrong guy" won.
  • The Boxing Episode: The tournament was this for the WWF as a whole, formed as a way to get over Steve Williams as one of the toughest athletes to ever set foot in the ring, built around non-scripted boxing fights to better exemplify his badass credentials. This backfired immensely since not only did the participants not know how to box, and not only did the audiences not want to watch a style of fighting that highlighted the facetious, scripted nature of wrestling, as Jim Cornette attempted to point out, the free-for-all "shoot" nature meant that anything could happen, including Williams losing, as well as people genuinely getting hurt and damaging backstage relations. Sure enough, both happened.
  • Creator's Pet: An In Universe example in Steve Williams, as Bob Holly mentioned, due to Jim Ross constantly hyping him up as the one who will win the Brawl for All much to the annoyance of the others (Not helping that the judging seemed to be in his favor in spite of what was actually happening in the fights). When Bart Gunn knocked out Dr. Death, everyone in the back watching cheered. Much to the annoyance of Terry Funk, who felt they were disrespecting Williams.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Butterbean knocking out Bart Gunn in 35 seconds was Gunn's "reward" for winning the tournament.
  • Darkhorse Victory: Bart Gunn, who was at best a midcard guy in a forgettable tag team in "The New Midnight Express," would be the one to win the Brawl for All. Sadly, nothing would come from it: He would be buried, shelved for the better part of a year, brought back to fight Butterbean, brutally KO'd, and then fired. The story has a Bittersweet Ending, though - Gunn would go on to a massively successful run in Japan on the strength of being the man who legitimately defeated Dr. Death.
  • Depending on the Writer: In regards to Bart Gunn facing Butterbean at Wrestlemania XV. Vince Russo truly believed that Bart could defeat Butterbean, while others (Including Butterbean himself) believed that it was punishment for him ruining their plans for a feud between Steve Williams and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Even though it was worked, the idea of banking a tournament around "legit", non-scripted fights to push for a guy you intended to be a winner entirely hinges around said guy to actually win real brawls. Once the man in question — Steve Williams — was knocked out by Bart Gunn, pretty much everything collapsed. It also reportedly stung for WWF's wallet, as they were so convinced in Williams' victory that he was actually given the supposed $100,000 cash prize in advance — once Gunn won, they had to fork out an additional $100k for the wrong winner.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Butterbean, a dangerous professional boxer, was brought in to bury via brutal beating Bart Gunn as punishment for the latter beating "Dr. Death" Steve Williams and thus ruining the WWF's plan for a potential feud between "Dr. Death" and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. All the worse because it was hardly Bart's fault that he'd won a legit fight they'd themselves booked!
    • Jim Cornette views Vince Russo creating the Brawl for All simply to see Bradshaw get knocked out for him being a braggart and a bully as this, considering the injuries the competitors suffered.
  • Documentary: The fourth episode of Season 2 of Dark Side of the Ring focuses on the Brawl for All.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The entire tournament was so ill-conceived and improperly handled that virtually everything the WWF sought to accomplish with it went wrong, with nobody coming out looking good. The primary function was to help get over Steve Williams, but not only did audiences quickly realize it was the case, Williams was injured and knocked-out in the semi-finals, immediately halting his momentum and causing him to leave the company soon after. To a lesser extent, it was meant to showcase the validity of the "tough guys" of the WWF's roster, but it only revealed how unprepared and clumsy all of them were outside of the controlled, scripted nature of wrestling. The fact the fights were advertised as featuring "fighting for REAL" also severely undermined the dignity of wrestling itself, making everyone look even more out of their element. With tournament winner Bart Gunn being clobbered in 30 seconds by Butterbean (an actual boxing champion) during a WrestleMania match, in the end, everyone lost.
  • Ignored Expert: Those close to Bart Gunn such as Billy Gunn warned Jim Ross that Bart had a good chance of winning the whole tournament, let alone knocking out Steve Williams.
  • Irony: Vince Russo mainly created the "Brawl for All" for the satisfaction of seeing Bradshaw knocked out. Had he waited ten more years, Joey Styles would have eventually given him what he wanted.
  • Not Helping Your Case: In regards to the Brawl for All being used as a vehicle for "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, which has been denied for years:
    • Bart Gunn would note that they didn't really promote it unless it specifically focused on Williams.
    • Many noted how suspicious the brackets were set up. Such as Dr. Death taking on Pierre Carl Ouellet, who was blind in one eye. And the fact that Bart Gunn was taking on Bob Holly, both who were supposed to be a tag team together at the time.
    • Bob Holly has mentioned that he overheard Williams saying that he was already given the prize money for winning the tournament right after he lost to Bart Gunn.
    • Perhaps the most damning of all is the fact that, despite being told that the prize for winning would be a World Title program with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the winner was sent home being told that creative had nothing for him. Suggesting that everything that would've happened afterwards relied on Steve Williams winning.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Was originally going to be a free-for-all, but was changed after they learned that Steve Blackman was taking the competition so seriously that he was considering crippling his opponents.
  • Pro Wrestling Is Real: As noted, the fights in the Brawl for All were not staged and the wrestlers were really hitting each other full-force. And with how disastrous it was, it is often cited as an example of why professional wrestling shouldn't try be real.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • After winning his match in the first round, Dan Severn, sensing that his reputation as a decorated fighter was on the line, decides to bow out of the tournament stating that he had nothing left to prove.
    • Upon learning that he would be facing Steve Williams, Bart Gunn, who knew that there were large plans in store for him, was concerned if he would get heat for beating him.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The outcome of the Butterbean/Gunn fight was always going to be Butterbean winning.
    • Someone who spends all their time in a staged sport, even if they win a real fight, has no chance against a certified professional. Butterbean outright said as much backstage to Godfather and Gillberg.
    • While Bart Gunn was a talented boxer and Butterbean being Unskilled, but Strong, an amateur boxer will always lose to a trained professional. Butterbean even stated that Gunn trying to box was his undoing and he would've had a better chance of winning if he fought like he did in the tournament.