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Brian Popkin




He was standing in the middle of the ring. It was August 24, 1998 and he had just won the tournament. He was the champion. It is now March 28, 1999 and he is laying in a hospital bed, wishing he had never won.

Didn't this man know his role? He didn't have the look, the charisma, or even the talent. He just didn't have "IT". He wasn't supposed to get a push. He was supposed to job to the stars. But, he wouldn't go along with the program. He had deviated from the plan. He had defied his fate. And Fate doesn't take kindly to being defied, just ask Bart Gunn.

As a member of the Smoking Gunns, he and his tag team partner Billy Gunn were brought into the WWF from IWA (Florida) in May, 1993. They were three time champions at a time when they were not only the best team. They were the ONLY real WWF Tag Team. The division was in piss-poor shape, much like it is today. But, they were the highlight of the division.

By the end of 1996, they had done all they could as a team, so they were splitting up. But, the push would go to Billy Gunn, not Bart. Billy Gunn was as Jim Ross called him, "the best pure athlete in the WWF." The smart marks were all sure of his potential as the next breakout star. He had the physique, the pretty boy looks, and the talent. He was everything Bart was not. Bart had to disappear for Billy to get over. Bart had a match against Billy where he "reinjured" Billy's neck to explain Billy's injury. But, instead of looking like a bad-ass for taking out Billy, he was made to look like a jerk-off for taking a feud against his brother too far.

Later he would team up with Bob Holly. But, they were never going to get over as "The New Midnight Express," even with Jim Cornette as their manager. They were using a recycled gimmick that had been done to death. But, at least it got him a PPV match at King of the Ring on June 28, 1998.

On 6/29/98 a new event began in the WWF. It was the Brawl for All. It was a 16 man tournament with 4 rounds. The Brawl for All was mostly a Boxing style event taking place in a WWF ring. Most WWF superstars treated it like they would jury duty. The only people participating were the ones who couldn't get out of it. Many were midcarders with little stroke, who had no choice. Others were tough guys with something to prove.

In the first round, Bart fought his former partner Bob Holly. It was a respectable fight with both guys throwing good punches and Bart getting the better of it. Bart won the judges decision and moved on. The next round he was up against "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. Dr. Death was the heavy favorite. Some would say the whole tournament was invented to introduce Dr. Death to the WWF. He had been hyped up for weeks as the toughest guy in the WWF. He had a football career and a very successful wrestling career in Japan and WCW. Besides, you don't get the name Dr. Death, unless you can back it up. Jim Ross made bringing him in his personal project. The boys in the back called Dr. Death "JR's boy." Regarding the 7/27/98 Raw, noted wrestling historian CRZ says, "they REALLY want Dr. Death to advance and aren't making any bones about it." Bart Gunn knew all of this. He was supposed to lose the match. It wouldn't be that hard, all he had to do was throw a few punches, cover-up, and use some rest-holds. It would all be over in a few minutes. Then he could feud with Bob Holly for a month. And the month after that he could join the J.O.B. Squad.

But, something happened to Bart Gunn. He didn't want to take the dive. He wanted to win. He had been in the WWF for over five years. He had paid his dues. This was his time. He saw this as his opportunity and took advantage of it. For the first two rounds he was winning the fight, but the judges weren't going to give it to him. Then in the third round he took it. He threw a left hook that knocked out the good doctor. Dr. Death suffered a concussion, a dislocated knee, and a torn hamstring as a result. Bart Gunn had won the fight and the Doctor was damaged goods.

The third round had Bart against the Godfather. Bart won after connecting with a big right hook to the Godfather's chin. He had another third round knockout. His opponent in the finals would be Bradshaw. Bradshaw had advanced to these finals in a less than spectacular fashion. On his Raw Recap of 8/10/98 CRZ states, "It's completely obvious they WANTED Bradshaw to move on and they made sure he won - it was a fix. Total bullshit. This whole tourney is bullshit." The WWF brass saw a way to salvage this cluster of a tournament. Bradsaw was a big tough guy from Texas. They had wanted to push him anyway. If he won, this whole thing could have a silver lining. But it wasn't meant to be. Bart knocked out Bradshaw in the first round. Now don't get me wrong, The Brawl for All Tournament sucked big time. For the fans in attendance, it was like they went to a wrestling event and a boxing match broke out. The crowd was loudly booing. They chanted, "Boring" and "We Want Wrestling." The gimmick was dead right from the start. Not only was it boring, but it produced a rash of injuries. Besides Dr. Death, four other wrestlers suffered real injuries. The judging was so bogus and arbitrary that they could've been judging Olympic figure skating. Of the 15 matches in the tournament, 12 had winners decided by the judges. And of those, 3 times they reversed their own decision so that the loser of the match could advance to the next round. But, none of this should be held against Bart. He was the only bright spot in the tournament. He had created the only three knockouts that they had.

He had won the $75,000 grand prize, but it came with a price. After winning the title, Bart Gunn was supposed to be Sable's partner in a high profile match at the Summer Slam PPV on 8/28/98. They would wrestle against Marc Mero and Jacqueline. Instead Bart got sent to Japan, and Edge took his place in the first ever PPV match for Edge. Knocking out Dr. Death had gotten Bart blacklisted by the WWF bookers. It was rumoured that Jim Ross had been the man who sent Bart Gunn to Japan, as a form of punishment for beating Williams.

Finally on 2/22/99, six months after winning the tournament, he had a match on Raw. His first match since winning. He was facing Bob Holly in a Hardcore match. This wasn't just any hardcore match. It wasn't the 24/7 comedy fest we have today. It happened at a time when the WWF hardcore division just starting out and the WWF was trying to out-hardcore ECW. It was a Garbage Can "Plunder Match." He was hit in the head with a chair, a garbage can, a glass bottle!!!, etc. It ended when he was thrown off the Titantron stage through a table far below. The guy who threw him off the stage was Dr. Death dressed in a Japanese outfit with a mask. Welcome back to the WWF, Bart.

His next match was at Wrestlemania 15, 3/28/99 and he was going against Butterbean in a Brawl for All Match. You could've asked any boxing expert to give you the odds for this fight. They'd tell you the following. In a wrestling match between Butterbean and Bart Gunn, you have even odds, because anything can happen. But, in a legit boxing fight between Eric "Butterbean" Esch (44-1-2, 32 KOs) and Mike "Bart Gunn" Plotcheck (0-0-0) the odds are 100-1 against Bart Gunn. Butterbean had previously worked a PPV match against Marc Mero on December 7, 1997. In a "Tough Man" match, Butterbean carried Mero for most of it until Mero got himself disqualified. It was a worked fight.

But, this time would be different. The WWF had no long term plans for Butterbean. This match wasn't meant to bring anyone up. It was just to take Bart Gunn down and teach him a lesson. They couln't get anyone in the WWF to beat him, so they brought in a ringer, a legit boxer for a one-time deal. I can't imagine treating any other wrestler in this manner. Imagine bringing in Mike Tyson to beat up Steve Austin who is giving them problems. Imagine bringing in Ken Shamrock from the NWA to shoot on the Rock when the Rock wants to take the title to Hollywood with him. They wouldn't do it. And don't let his looks fool you, Butterbean was a multiple time Tough Man Champion. Butterbean asked Vince how he was supposed to proceed. Was he supposed to carry Bart, like he did last time with Mero? Vince said, "No, this is for real. Don't hold anything back."

The referee in charge of the safety of the fighters was ex-boxer Vinny Pazienza. But as long time WWF employee Vasil DeVito recalls, "he hadn't come to Philadelphia expecting to handle the responsibilities of a true referee¦he expected to be nothing more than a showpiece." Butterbean knocked Bart down in just 30 seconds. "Pazienza later said he would have stopped the fight right then had the knockdown not come so quickly." In other words, he wanted to give the fans more of a show even though Bart was out of it and unable to defend himself. "Not ten seconds later, Butterbean landed a ferocious punch that snapped Bart's head back and sent him flopping to the canvas. He was out cold before he hit the mat." Pazienza said, "that's the hardest I've ever seen anyone get hit."

He was lying in the hospital when his notice was given to him. The WWF didn't need him anymore. I guess Vince couldn't have gone to the hospital to deliver the message in person. I guess "Bedpan McMahon" doesn't care much for hospitals. Nice guys you work for in the WWF, huh. After he recovered, he went to wrestle in Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling where a strange thing happened. The fans loved him. He was revered for knocking out the legendary Dr. Death. They didn't mind all his shortcomings. He had found a place where heroes where appreciated.

Brian Popkin

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