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Where Are They Now? Bart Gunn
It was a strange place for a wrestler to find himself, standing in the ring with boxing gloves weighing down his hands as one of his colleagues tried to punch him in the mouth.
But that’s exactly what Bart Gunn went through during the infamous Brawl for All tournament in summer 1998. Gone were any chances at armbars and leglocks — this was a legalized street fight, designed to find out who was really the toughest Superstar in WWE. Any friendship was out the window when the bell rang and Gunn took on dangerous brawlers like Bob Holly, Steve “Dr. Death” Williams and JBL.
“They were going to try and knock your block off,” Gunn said of the brutal fights. “I just had to beat them to it.”
How did Bart Gunn go from squared circle cowboy to WWE’s resident toughman?
Growing up in Titusville, Fla., Gunn, whose real name is Mike Polchlopek, was a big fan of Florida Championship Wrestling. Every Saturday morning, he watched his heroes like Eddie & Mike Graham and Jack & Gerald Brisco do battle as Gordon Solie called the action. Enthralled by his idols, he knew he wanted to step in the ring someday.
“It was something I always wanted to try,” Polchlopek told WWEClassics.com. “I always talked about doing it.”
He got that opportunity when a friend started training at the wrestling school operated by Professor Boris Malenko, father of WWE, WCW and ECW standout Dean Malenko.
He was already an electrician, following his father into the trade after high school. Joining the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Gunn did a lot of travelling for work, while wrestling on local shows in his spare time.“I took a knack to it,” he said. “Work pulled me away, though. I had to make money.”
“I think that’s why wrestling didn’t bother me,” he explained. “I didn’t mind the travelling.”
Mike soon met WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan, who urged Gunn to get back into training. He followed Mulligan to Orlando, where the former World Tag Team Champion was involved with a promotion that taped television shows at Universal Studios.
While working with Mulligan, Polchlopek was paired up with another wrestler. Together, they would go on to achieve success far beyond the amusement park they started out in. The man’s wrestling name was Billy Gunn and the two joined forces in 1992 as The Long Riders, a pair of cowboys fresh from the rodeo.
The pairing was perfect, and it showed in the ring. After a few short months, they had sent a tape of their work to WWE headquarters and earned themselves a tryout with the company.
“It was pretty cool,” Polchlopek said. “Most of what we had done was little independent shows. Then we came to WWE and you have a sold out arena. Plus, it was a TV taping, so it was even crazier.”
Despite some nerves, he and Billy made a big impression on WWE officials during their tryout match.
“We were actually hired on the spot,” Polchlopek recalled. “We met with Mr. McMahon and he liked our look and what we did. He hired us and the rest is history.”
Rechristened Bart and Billy, The Smoking Gunns certainly wowed the WWE Universe with their pre-match antics. Like a couple of cowpokes straight out of the old west, The Gunns fired off blanks from their old-school six shooters and twirled lassos around with ease.
While their cattle-roping technique was impeccable, Bart and Billy Gunn were still fairly new to wrestling on a full-time basis. According to Bart, there was a lot of adapting to be done once they joined WWE’s roster.
“We were training a couple times a week and then wrestling on shows twice a month,” he told WWEClassics.com. “When you get to WWE, one month is like a year in the independents, because you’re working every night. From the time we got there, we were learning.”
Just as important as their chemistry inside the ring was the bond between The Smoking Gunns outside the ring. The guys were just as strong a team away from the squared circle.
“We got along very well,” he said. “We’d meet up in Orlando and fly to all the events. He’d be in charge of getting cars and I’d be in charge of getting the rooms. We both like the same foods, sleeping and training. Our personalities clicked and there wasn’t any conflict, which was cool.”
Their strong bond brought them success between the ropes. After injuries prevented them from entering a 1995 tournament for the vacant World Tag Team Titles, The Smoking Gunns defeated champions Bob Holly & The 1-2-3 Kid to capture their first WWE titles.
Bart and Billy held the titles on two more occasions over the next 18 months. During summer 1996, Sunny became the team’s manager. The blonde bombshell’s budding romance with Billy drove a wedge between the Gunns. After losing the titles to Owen Hart & The British Bulldog, the pair split for good.
“That’s the way the business works,” he said.
“I’d always had a tag partner,” he told WWEClassics.com. “It was something new to me. I don’t want to say I had to learn it all over again, but it was a whole different concept.”
He wasn’t on his own for long though. Jim Cornette recruited Gunn to team with Bob Holly as The New Midnight Express. While the pair held the NWA Tag Team Titles, the WWE Universe wasn’t too keen on watching the duo rekindle their predecessor’s rivalry with The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express in 1998.
Gunn was soon approached about taking part in a new concept: the Brawl for All, a brutal competition where Superstars would battle each other in a hybrid of boxing and wrestling. He initially balked at the idea.
“I wanted nothing to do with it,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a good idea to wrestle and do the fighting.”
However, Gunn was looking for a way to find the success he had with The Smoking Gunns. The Brawl for All looked like his best opportunity.
“My career was kind of stagnant at the time,” he explained. “I thought it was a good way to jump start my career again.”
Bart shocked the WWE Universe with his brawling prowess in the tournament. After beating Bob Holly on points in his first fight, Gunn went on a tear, knocking out some of WWE’s toughest competitors, such as “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, The Godfather and JBL en route to winning the tournament. The feeling was unique for Gunn.
“It was kind of weird, because it was a fight and they were my friends,” he said. “Normally, you’re in a fight with someone you don’t like or there’s conflict.”
Even though it looked like Bart Gunn was destined for success in WWE after his Brawl for All victory, the knockout artist’s reality was the opposite.
“They sent me home and I sat there,” he said. “It was frustrating. Then they came up with the fight with Butterbean.”
Officials had pitched Gunn on fighting superheavyweight boxer Butterbean on The Grandest Stage of Them All, WrestleMania XV. With the wheels spinning on his WWE career again, Gunn accepted the bout against the lethal 400-pound behemoth. He went to professional boxing trainers to get ready and quickly realized that this battle was going to be a serious challenge.
“It was really different, because everything I did was wrong,” he told WWEClassics.com. “When you look at the Brawl for All, I was a sloppy fighter. I look at it now and know what I did wrong.”
Gunn prepared as best he could, but Butterbean’s experience cut through his defense at The Show of Shows. Bart was viciously knocked out in the first round. He knew his inexperience as a fighter cost him.
“He had 60 or 70 fights. That was my first as a boxer,” he recalled. “I was very green. Looking back on it now, I should have done things a little bit differently.”
After his loss to Butterbean, Bart Gunn saw that his time in WWE was coming to an end. He began looking for opportunities elsewhere. Oddly enough, his shocking knockout of Dr. Death in the Brawl for All had made him a respected name in Japan.
Gunn began competing in Japan after leaving WWE in 1998. He returned to the tag team ranks, joining forces with John Laurinaitis (known in the ring as Johnny Ace) for a massive tag team tournament in All Japan Pro Wrestling. Though they didn’t win, they stayed together and went on to capture the promotion’s tag team titles in 1999.
He continued in Japan for the next six years, before stepping away from the ring in 2004.
“I was getting a little older,” he said. “Plus, with personal stuff, it was time to move on.”
Gunn soon entered the world of mixed martial arts, fighting twice in 2006, with one knockout win and one loss by decision. He was hoping to get another opportunity against Butterbean, who had made the jump from boxing to MMA.
“I always wanted another shot at him, because of the way I was thrown into it with WWE,” he said. “I saw that he was doing MMA and thought that it was a little more my style.”
Unfortunately, a potential rematch fell apart during the negotiation process.
Instead of continuing to fight, Gunn returned home to Florida, where he works as an electrician. Picking up where he left off in 1993, he found it surprisingly easy to get back into the trade.
“I didn’t lose anything,” he said. “I retained everything I learned, even though I hadn’t done it in 15 years.”
He did admit that going back to a regular lifestyle was jarring at first.
“[As a wrestler], you’re living out of a suitcase and sleeping in a different place every night,” Gunn explained. “To have the ability to sleep in your own bed every night is pretty cool.”
In addition to his electrician work, he’s also dabbled in home construction as he recently put a major addition onto his house. His mother now lives in the three bedroom, two- and-a-half bathroom structure.
When he’s not working, Gunn enjoys riding motorcycles, barbecuing and playing with his grandkids.
Even though he’s no longer competing, Gunn still enjoyed one last moment on the big stage of WWE, taking part in a battle royal on the 15th anniversary episode of Raw.
“It was nice meeting all [the new Superstars] and seeing all the guys I wrestled with,” he said. “The whole experience was really cool.”