And Another Thing: The Coconut That Changed Everything
Posted by Hyatte on 05.22.2001
Catalyst: Acceleration of a reaction produced by a substance...
Catalyst: Acceleration of a reaction produced by a substance...
(I brought you some bananas and some nice coconuts. More coconuts....)
... which may be recovered practically unchanged at the end of the reaction.
(Are you making fun of me?)
Such acceleration is usually positive, but it may be negative when a substance, called an anticatalyst or negative catalyst retards the reaction.
(Am I making fun of you? Oh no sir, I would never...)
On the surface, it looked like nothing more than an effective way to kickstart the career of Vince McMahon's best Heel. In reality, it shaped and defined two careers and sent two men down two very different paths. Paths that would change both men forever.
The Beginning of the End
Jimmy Snuka never won a WWF championship, but he came close. On two occasions, in 1982 and in 1983, Snuka lost a bid for both the WWF championship and the Inter-Continental Championship inside a steel cage at Madison Square Garden. In both matches, against WWF champion Bob Backlund and against the Inter-Continental Champion, The Magnificent Muraco, Snuka ended the match in dramatic fashion. He gracefully hopped up to the top rope, looked up, considered the option, nodded to himself, climbed up to the top of the steel cage, looked down on his fallen prey like a Hawk looks down on a hapless fieldmouse, spread his arms slowly out, held out his fists with the index and pinkie finger sticking out, held the position for a few dramatic instants, then dove off the cage and towards his victim.
Backlund moved out of the way just in time and retained his title. Muraco wasn't so lucky. Unfortunately, the match was already over by then, Muraco had managed to sneak out of the cage and keep his title. This was just an afterthought.
Not that any of that mattered. No one remembers who won those matches... or more importantly, no one cares. All fans know is that the Superfly opened his wings and flew. On those two occasions, he became the most dangerous man on the planet, and the biggest inspiration to young wrestlers everywhere.
In the curious two years it took Vince McMahon Jr. to create his vision for professional wrestling after buying the company from his father and various stockholders, Jimmy Snuka underwent a change that stuck with him for the rest of his career. He spent the first part of his career as a Heel, quite a brilliant one at that. With maniacal eyes glaring through a wild mane of black hair and a sinister thick beard, along with a sleek, tan, Fijian swimmer's body that was still an oddity in the time of beer bellies and pasty white skin; Snuka made looking like a crazy man easy. He never spoke, he simply stared you down with a look that said "I'm going to kill you and eat your children for dessert". He wrestled barefoot and moved around with the grace and ferocity of the tiger, whose skin he seemed to have taken for his tights. He was one of those Heels whom the fans feared. Not for themselves, but for their Babyface champion that would no doubt one day have to deal with this madman. How can anyone stop this monster?
Backlund tried his best, and did manage to escape with his WWF title... but they burned the Houses down with their matches. As with all House feuds at that time, the tours would inevitably end at Madison Square Garden, where old battles end and new ones begin. After three months of trying to beat your enemy, the last night at MSG is where you stood your ground once and for all. Backlund did just that, rolling out of the way mere instants before the Superfly pounced. All that weight, increased by gravity and velocity, crashed onto the mat and knocking the invincible Snuka silly. After Backlund won, people stopped fearing Snuka a little. He didn't just bounce right back up and attacked Backlund anew. He was hurt. He was shaken up. He was human after all.
Vince McMahon needed time. Hulk Hogan had AWA commitments, and movie role in Rocky III, and some Japan dates to work before he could become McMahon's champion. What he needed was a "lame duck" Babyface to carry the hearts of the fans until he could get "Hulk-A-Mania officially going. He had this animal, this Superfly, who had the audience in the palm of his hand even after losing a thriller against Bob Backlund in the cage at the very heart of the WWF. It was time to make Jimmy Snuka a Face. He just needed a Crippler to do it.
Snuka and Ray Stevens had some history as a tag team in the Mid-Atlantic. The "Crippler" was as old school as they got back then. Bleached hair, bloated belly, liked big cigars and lots of alcohol. The Crippler was uglier than a $5 hooker an meaner than a bull in heat. Steven was brought into the WWF to give Backlund some House show hell. The WWF loved putting a variety of wrestlers up against Babyface Backlund, who hated to throw a punch and was only happy when he got to show off his scientific skills. Stevens was the typical brawler who loved to use the Piledriver as his finisher, and didn't mind bleeding like a stuck pig either. Of course, Stevens didn't have a chance in hell of actually beating Backlund, but he got his money, some TV time, and steady work. In those days, that's the best a worker can really hope for.
In short, Stevens was the perfect man for the job. So, one day late in 1982, Ray "The Crippler" Stevens shocked the audience by piledriving Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka- at the time, the most hated man in the WWF, and maybe professional wrestling- on the concrete floor. Then he got up, put Snuka's head between his legs, and did it again. Two Piledrivers on the cement floor. Snuka didn't just bleed. Snuka gushed. Blood poured from his head. His mouth, usually calmly closed with faint tinges of a sneer peeking through the corners, hung wide open in shocked agony. Steven's laughed as he walked away with sadistic pride. Snuka was whisked away in an unseen ambulance. Right there, the fans felt something new towards the Superfly. It wasn't fear or hatred anymore. They actually felt bad for him and wanted him to get better soon. The Crippler was a Heel who needed to pay.
Snuka became a Face and to the surprise of anyone other than the boys in the locker room, he was a natural at it. With the beard gone to show a thoughtful, clean cut jawline, Snuka allowed the gentle soul within to come out. A gravely voice, soft as an island wind, still had few words to say, but said them like a kind Uncle. His normally dour mouth lit up the arena with a caring smile. He explained that his hand symbol, with the index finger and pinkie sticking straight up, has always been his Fijian salute to the fans, saying, "I Love You". The fans ate it up. Hell, I ate it up. Within one year, the Superfly had went from being the most feared Monster on the planet to the biggest Face in all of wrestling. Everyone loved him. Of course, the "Crippler" got his come comeuppance. Snuka destroyed him night after night in every House in the Northeast.... two times... then three.
Snuka's career was at it's peak.... and he rode it right up until he splashed onto Muraco.... which Mick Foley called the most important moment of his career as strictly a wrestling fan. But that wasn't what ended Snuka's career as the "Lame Duck" Hero. Dropping onto Muraco was Snuka at his finest, the highest point he'll ever reach. He had a ways to go and a lot of "Superflys" to drop before it really ended for him. That came later. When Vince McMahon decided it was time for Snuka to help another career get underway.
The End of the Beginning
After buying the WWF away from his father and various stockholders, Vince McMahon didn't want to introduce the "New" WWF slowly. No, Vince wanted the his vision to explode out of our televisions overnight. He wanted a grand, sweeping event that shouted, "There's a new game in town!". Hulk Hogan was on his way, just as soon as he was contractually free from his other responsibilities, so Vince had time to build his company meticulously, and locate the perfect Supervillian for Hogan's Superhero.
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper was known for being a bit crazy. He was a direct descendant from the old school brawlers of yesterday but kept his body in reasonable shape and loved his mic time. He was known for his craziness, whether it be wrapping a chain around Greg Valentine's mouth and leaning back sharply, or by actually hanging himself in a taped promo and grunting through the hard fiber about what he's going to do to Buzz Sawyer. Piper, like Snuka, was feared.... but also very entertaining too. He had no real arsenal of moves in his unorthodox style, save for a lame Sleeperhold and his infamous double poke to the eyes that ilicited more laughs than anything else from the fans. No, it was his personality that made him fascinating. His marvelous way with words more than made up for his missing ring skills. Piper's matches were nothing but punch, kick, poke, punch, punch, kick, kick, kick, chair, sleeper, but it didn't matter. He never flubbed a word, knew exactly what he was going to say, spoke in a rapid fire no pause between words diatribe, and out schooled everyone on the mic. He was also quite insane. In short, he was everything you could ask for in a Heel. Vince McMahon saw him as something more.
In December of 1983, Hogan had just landed in the WWF and snagged the championship away from the Iron Sheik within a month of arriving. In the very first month of 1984, McMahon's Hero was being established as Hogan eschewed the virtues of prayers, vitamins, and "hanging and banging". Heels such as Big John Studd, "Dr. D" David Schultz, Nikolai Volkoff, Don Muraco, and Jesse Ventura were all falling to Hogan's boot and legdrop in rapid succession. McMahon had to wipe away Backlund's championship run quickly in order to get Hogan implanted onto the minds of the fans as the WWF champion. Even back then, in 1984, Vince knew where all this was heading. He knew Wrestlemania was coming. He didn't have the exact details in mind, but he knew who he wanted to headline the event. He had his Hero, now he just needed the perfect foil. he needed the "AntiHogan".
Piper came to the WWF and was handed his very own television segment. Piper's Pit, a five minute mid-show segment where Piper would match wits, words, and put downs with anyone and everyone (and win all of them, of course) that quickly became a cult phenomena. Fans had no idea who wrestled that week, but we could tell you who was on "The Pit" and what happened. He was initially given the role as "Heel/Manager" and had Paul Orndorff and "Dr. D" David Schultz as his stable workers. Orndorff and Schultz were given shots at Hogan from time to time while Piper engaged in small feuds with Rocky Johnson and the Junkyard Dog. Aside from the occasional house show that was never addressed on TV, Piper and Hogan never met in the ring. Certainly, Piper was being groomed as the WWF's top villain, but McMahon noted that the cheers for Piper were a bit too loud... the boos too quiet. Piper was over, certainly, but not in the way Vince had envisioned. Even a house show feud with Andre the Giant, which usually ended with Piper, Orndorff, and Schultz triple teaming Andre into a bloody mess couldn't stop the fans from popping for Piper's coolness. Vince needed something to get Piper across as not just a cool Heel, but as an evil, malicious, sick Heel. Piper was on his way to greatness, he just needed one little catalyst to put him on his path to Wrestlemania.
Snuka returned the favor. Much like how Ray Stevens helped him become a mega-face, it was now his turn to help Piper become the WWF's Supervillian. For no reason, other than because he could and he wanted to, Piper had Snuka on Piper's Pit and without provocation, smashed a coconut into his head. The fruit exploded into dozens of pieces. Then, to further strip Snuka of his dignity, Piper mashed a banana into Snuka's face and rubbed it in. Snuka crawled around the set in confusion. Piper took off his belt and proceeded to whip him silly. Gone were the cheers. Gone were the pops. Snuka did his duty and Vince now had his Supervillian. Piper instantly became the most despised man in the WWF, and fans everywhere weren't hoping for Snuka to bounce back and get his revenge. They were hoping for Hulk Hogan to take notice and set things straight. Vince's plan worked better than even he hoped. One coconut had pushed Roddy Piper down the carefully paved path to Wrestlemania. The same coconut sent Jimmy Snuka down another path, one that did not lead to Wrestlemania.
In fact, it really didn't lead to much of anything.
There was still a lot of time before Cyndie Lauper, MTV, and Wrestlemania. So Piper was allowed to beat the snot out of Snuka at every House show possible. The feud was red hot, of course. Piper and "Cowboy" Bob Orton (who had quietly replaced David Schultz as Piper's "henchman") routinely destroyed Snuka show after show, ending each match with a manic chairshot that earned him a disqualification. Not that a DQ mattered to Piper. He didn't care about winning or losing, he just wanted to inflict as much harm on the Superfly as possible. Back then, the wrestlers would cut several separate House show promos that would talk directly to the local market. Whenever Piper/Snuka was on the card, Piper would use his mic time to gleefully snort on about how primitive Snuka was, about how the whipping was actually a favor to him. He would end each promo by saying, "Some people say that I beat you within an INCH of your life!! *snort*.... Well, this Saturday in (whatever town), I'll just go one inch further!"
In Madison Square Garden, he almost did just that. Instead of ending his match with Snuka with a chairshot across the head, he did something different. Standing above the downed Superfly, Piper lifted the chair end first and jammed it into the back his neck. Once, twice, a third time. This was no longer just a feud for Piper. He was looking to end Snuka's career once and for all. WWF television showed us the sick footage, complete with Piper and Orton walking away, arms up in triumph. We got to see the helpless Snuka slowly getting a neck brace put on him before being taken away on a stretcher. It took a good ten minutes. One could not watch this and not feel sorry for Snuka, and not feel hatred for Piper. If the Coconut made the statement, this put the period at the end of it. Piper was a Villain whom played for keeps.
Of course, the feud continued as McMahon prepared for Wrestlemania. Snuka's "nephew" the Tonga Kid was brought in. House shows across the Northeast burned with their rage. Piper never lost, Snuka never got his revenge.... and to this day, that fact has never changed. Piper became embroiled in the Cyndie Lauper/MTV/Mr. T program that kept his time for the better part of two years. The paths that Piper and Snuka went down grew further and further apart. They crossed paths briefly at Wrestlemania, where he was used as Hogan and Mr. T's corner man. Piper barely acknowledged him, other than to ask Hogan, "Do you speak his language?" During the match, for just an instant, Snuka climbed to the top rope and spread his arms out one last time. His hands curled into fists with the index and pinkie fingers sticking out. For a brief moment, fans wondered if Piper was finally going to get what he had earned. How fitting that this would occur at Madison Square Garden?
Of course, Snuka just hopped off the rope and let Hogan and Mr. T do the work. Snuka's spotlight was turned off. Welcome to the new WWF.
The Catalyst changed both men forever. Snuka never recovered from the incident. He lost some of the agility that made him so dangerous. He spent most of his matches selling his opponent's punches. He was on the ground more than he flew through the air, usually writhing in kayfabe pain. As time went on, he left the WWF for a brief run in the AWA, where he favored a second rope cross body block or a second rope flying headbutt to the actually Superfly Splash. Clearly, his bones grew old over time and his muscles ached a bit harder each morning. He came back to the WWF briefly in the late 80's, now ordered to make "woofing" noises during his promos. He engaged in a miserable and pointless curtain jerker feud with the Honky Tonk Man. He vanished quietly again, won the very first "ECW" title (Eastern Championship Wrestling) in 1992. He lost it and regained it a couple of times before losing it finally to Don Muraco, in a sad bit of irony.
As the coconut shot ended Snuka's career as a top player, the same shot began Piper's climb into mega-stardom. He played the Supervillian as best he could, but after a while, neither he nor Vince McMahon could stop the sheers from the fans. So, as Piper left to make They Live, Adrian Adonis was given a new transvestite gimmick and took control of the Piper's Pit segment, turning it into The Flower Shop. Piper eventually returned and was instantly cheered. In fact, he became one of the most beloved stars on the planet. At first, he became the "Heel who got cheered", barely noticing the fans at all. He told Hogan, "If you don't slap my hand, I will slap your face!". Piper didn't seem to care about the fans, he just wanted payback. He still whipped out the chairs at a moment's notice. He still swung like a wildman. He still looked like the "Legend Killer" that his t-shirts declared him to be. Only now we were told it was okay to cheer him. We were supposed to cheer him. Piper was the epitome of coolness. The prototype for Steve Austin's early "Stone Cold" character. He was the face that didn't give a crap. And he ruled.
Then, Piper became a Face who did care, and it all went downhill from there. He started slapping palms, shaking hands, and smiling for the cameras. He tried to become a positive role model, carrying on about how us fans can do whatever we want to do out of life if we set our minds to it. He started thinking more of getting kids to cheer him in his movies and buy his merchandise than about being an "AntiHero". In short, Piper began taking his popularity way too seriously. He left the WWF, returned, then left again.... he came back each time a more watered down version of his old self.
He showed up in WCW because that's where "everyone" showed up. It was the "cool" place to be for a wrestler. In WCW, on his very first on-air appearance, he engaged in his last great promo ever. A conversation with Hulk Hogan that was at once captivating and pure. Putting history into the equation, Piper talked about how Hogan was not the only "icon" left in the business, how he was just as big an icon as Hogan ever was. He goofed on Hogan's hairline, got right in the face of the Big Show, and showed glimpses of the Hot Rod that was the best damn Heel Vince McMahon ever put on WWF television. For that one PPV night, Old School was back and Old School ruled.
Much like the coconut started the end of Snuka's career, that last promo with Hogan began the end of Piper's. From then on, Piper went back to his current self, interested more in being a role model than an intriguing character. Piper spent his time in WCW telling bad jokes, grabbing any piece of cheap heat he could get, and constantly reminding people that he was a fighter. Bored wrestlers fell quickly to the Sleeperhold, with a grimace on their face that was more embarrassment than anything else. Using his Hollywood experience, Piper brought out his Son as a dramatic plot device, having the camera go tight to their faces as Son told Father, "Go get them Dad!" before Piper unloaded on the NWO. Piper stayed at WCW part time, showing up twice a year to fight whatever dream match Bischoff thought the fans would want. Maybe Bischoff knew that the fans really wanted the Piper who once beat the snot out of journeyman Frank Williams for no reason? The Piper who DDT'ed "Quick Draw" Rick McGraw into near death? The Piper who once started into the camera and bellowed, "Just when you thought, they had all the answers.... I change the questions!"? Did Bischoff ever realize that was the Piper we wanted to see? Even if he did, it's doubtful that Piper would have even allowed that. He had a business to run.... the business of being him.
The last we saw of Roddy Piper was when he destroyed the "Power That Be" office with a bat. It was supposed to be a "Reality Check" from an Old School worker making a statement against the new style of 90's Wrestling. Piper thought that the fans didn't want any scripts. The fans didn't want any thoughtful planning. Piper thought that the fans still wanted to see him step in the ring against whoever and poke them in the eyes a couple of times. Punch, punch, punch, kick, kick, kick, chairshot, and the Sleeperhold. Piper got himself very wealthy and very popular with that simple formula, and inside, he thought this was all the fans want out of him. Either he forgot, or never knew just what was it that really brought him to the table. And if he did know.... well, he gave that all up in order to protect his movie career.
Really, it's quite sad.
I wish I had some sort of ironic ending here. Something that makes the sacrifice of Jimmy Snuka's career for the career of Piper that ended so pathetically seem worthwhile. I don't. Not all stories have a positive ending, or a negative ending. They just end. The path that Snuka went down ended almost as it began. Snuka worked night after night, losing more than he won, and flying though the air less and less frequently as time went on. He never lost his love for the business. He never lost his smile and he never forgot how to make the Fijian hand signal for "I Love You" and mean it each and every time.
Piper's path took him to greatness, but it also left him bitter. He's writing a book now, one that promises to be filled with spite and bile and will tell tales of just how slimy and vindictive the business really is. Actually, it should be a great read.
Both men have inspired pretty much every wrestler in every locker room in the world. Chris Benoit, Mick Foley, and the Rock have all publicly cited Snuka as one of their heroes. Many wrestlers will look to old tapes of Piper's Pit for inspiration on the art of a good promo. You can't look at Piper as the "bad guy" here. He simply made the most out of what was offered to him. You can look at Snuka as the "good guy", for even with his reputation as a legitimate wild man outside of the ring, he has managed to keep the dignity that Piper and the WWF tried to strip him off when Piper mashed that banana in his face.
However, Piper made the most of what he was given, and then tried to keep it going under his own rules. It didn't work, and now Piper is bitter,
Snuka took what he was given, is thankful for it, and when you ask him about how he went from the top face in wrestling to a third "banana" in the 80's WWF cartoon, he'll just smile and say, "It's just part of the job, Brother!"
This is Hyatte too.