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Bring it Back!: Brawl for All

Fourteen years ago, WWE fans were introduced to a new form of ring combat when the Brawl for All tournament kicked off. Dubbed a hybrid of boxing and wrestling, the competition ran through the summer of 1998, but was never seen again. Now, WWE.com is making the call to bring it back!

Remember Brawl for All, WWE’s ill-fated 1998 sojourn into the then-unproven world of mixed martial arts? ( PHOTOS) If you’re one of the few who do, it’s probably for two reasons. The first being underdog Bart Gunn’s shocking knockout of “Dr. Death” Steve Williams — a competitor once reputed to be the toughest man in all of professional wrestling. ( WATCH) The second being Gunn’s subsequent clobbering at the mighty right hand of fighting champion Eric “Butterbean” Esch at WrestleMania XV. That lopsided contest ended with a KO so devastating, WWE fans in Philadelphia’s First Union Center expected to find Gunn’s incisors scattered about the cheap seats. ( WATCH)

Don’t feel left out if you can’t remember any of this. Half the Superstars we approached backstage for quotes about the heavily criticized competition could hardly recall what it was and didn’t understand why they were being asked about that time when Scorpio fought 8-Ball. No matter. Fourteen years after the first punch was thrown in Brawl for All, WWE Classics was determined to explain why this unique tournament was never spoken about again and attempt to figure out whether or not it was worth bringing back. So, are you ready to rumble?

“When they first told me about Brawl for All, I thought someone was ribbing me,” former WWE Superstar and Brawl for All contestant Steve Blackman told WWE.com in 2010. “I thought it was someone trying me to get me to train for a week or two and I would come back and there would be nothing. I didn’t believe them, so I didn’t train for the thing!”

An expert in Shotokan karate, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts, Blackman was one of the 16 WWE Superstars asked to take part in what announcer Jim Ross called “a hybrid of boxing and wrestling.” Although he hadn’t prepared, Blackman discovered he’d be facing former Golden Gloves boxer Marc Mero in a full contact fight when he showed up at Cleveland’s Gund Arena, now the Quicken Loans Arena, for Raw on June 29, 1998. Mere hours before the first bout, “The Lethal Weapon” was clued in on what the competition was all about.

What he learned was this — each Brawl for All bout consisted of three one-minute rounds with each round scored on a point scale. Punching and takedowns were legal, headbutting, elbowing and kicking were not. Kicking was legal, but that was before a ring filled with Superstars watched Blackman practicing his karate and complained to Mr. McMahon. Takedowns earned five points, knockdowns earned 10 and knockouts meant the fight was over. Boxing gloves were mandatory.

So that night, moments after William Regal made his Raw debut, the turnbuckles were replaced with the padded corners familiar in boxing rings and the house lights were dimmed. Squared circle legend Danny Hodge took his place as referee and Blackman and Mero became the first Superstars to face in a Brawl for All. What followed was, to borrow a phrase, bowling shoe ugly.

“Blackman absolutely destroyed Marc Mero,” Daniel Bryan recalled. “You could tell that Marc Mero was angry that he wasn’t able to use any of his boxing.” ( WATCH)

Blackman remembered the fight the same way.

“I think I took him down like 13 times in three minutes,” the former Hardcore Champion said without exaggeration. “I knew he would be hard to hit, but I hit him with one bomb. I hit him a couple inches too high — on the cheekbone and not the chin. I think I would have dropped him if it hit the chin.”

Over the next two months, a lineup of Superstars straight out of a Chester Gould comic strip slipped on the gloves and started swinging. There was former MMA champion Dan Severn who withdrew from the tournament after beating Godfather in the first round, lumbering German mesomorph Brakkus who was slaughtered by Savio Vega, ( WATCH) the nasty Texan Bradshaw and Quebecer Pierre who fought with an eye patch on. And then there was Bart Gunn.

Best known as the less exciting member of The Smoking Gunns, Bart had most recently paired up with Bob Holly in an unsuccessful relaunch of The Midnight Express. WWE fans didn’t expect much out of the otherwise staid grappler, so everyone was kind of shocked when he started dropping dudes. First with his left hand — which inspired the expected hyperbole about his deadly southpaw — and then with his right.

While the winners of most Brawl for All bouts were decided on points after a sloppy back-and-forth between two Superstars who looked as desperate as fish on a dock, Gunn’s fights routinely ended in highlight reel KOs. Outweighed by most of his opponents, the 250-pounder still managed to level heaving brutes like The Godfather, odds-on favorite “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and, in the $75,000 finals, the malicious Bradshaw. ( WATCH)

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Brawl for All had done what any good sports-entertainment concept is supposed to do — it created a new star. But that was before Butterbean came along.

Eric “Butterbean” Esch was a 6-foot tall, 420-pound Super Ball of a man whose ruddy red face and hairless pudge made him resemble the world’s most dangerous infant. The breakout star of the amateur Toughman boxing competitions, Butterbean had gained a bit of pop culture notoriety for his unique appearance, affable nature and his ability to hospitalize a man with one punch. The veteran of dozens of brutal slugfests, Butterbean was the man selected to face Bart Gunn in the Brawl for All grand finale at WrestleMania XV. And it took him all of 34 seconds to knock Gunn unconscious. ( WATCH)

That shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Gunn was a dangerous puncher, but by no means was he a professional boxer. Add even if he was, he had no business fighting Butterbean. The man was twice his size. Gunn was doomed before his pyro even hit. By the time his head thudded against the canvas, Gunn had lost all of the credibility he’d gained from his devastating knockout victories and the star of Brawl for All became a big lug from Alabama named Butterbean. And that wasn’t even the tournament’s biggest problem.

“I didn’t like the concept of it, because I just don’t think the crowd knew what the rules were or what we were doing,” Steve Blackman said. “And it also caused some animosity with some of the guys. Like when Godfather got cracked, he snapped his leg when he fell. It just caused problems, because some of the guys got hurt.”

Godfather wasn’t the only Superstar who was injured. Blackman himself had to withdraw from the tournament after injuring his leg during a training session. And “Dr. Death” was beaten so badly in his fight against Gunn, he ended up in the hospital with a dislocated jaw and a busted knee. That loss didn’t only seriously injure Doc, it embarrassed him. Before Brawl for All, the arrival of the powerhouse in WWE was hotly anticipated. By the time it was over, he was an afterthought.

So would Brawl for All work today? Probably not. There was too much risked and too little gained in the original tournament to warrant a relaunch. But, for the sake of argument, what if WWE brought Brawl for All back? Who would win?

“If Mark Henry hits you with a left hook, you’re out. He’d be nearly impossible to take down,” Daniel Bryan said of the dangerous Superstar he faced many times. “Guys like [Jack] Swagger and Dolph [Ziggler] would be tough, because of their wrestling. Alberto would do really well. Show would be difficult, because of his reach and his boxing experience.”

The always quotable Matt Striker agreed with the former World Heavyweight Champion's assessment and went as far as to illustrate the finals of the tournament for WWE Classics.

“I’m going to go with Big Show in the finals against Kane,” Striker predicted. “And I think Kane has the stamina and may even have a slight reach advantage, so I’m going to give you the upset pick for Brawl for All 2012 — Kane is your winner.”

Kane in boxing gloves? Now who wouldn’t want to see that? Ah, what the hell — bring it back!

Should WWE bring back Brawl for All? Vote now!

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