WWF’s Brawl for All tournament took place over the summer of 1998, beginning on June 29th, 1998 with the final taking place on August 24th, 1998. Many people in the industry have called the Brawl for All tournament the worst idea in wrestling, including many people actively involved in the booking of it, such as Bruce Prichard.
Vince Russo, a former writer for the WWE, then known as the WWF, came up with the idea for the Brawl for All tournament. Russo claims during this episode of Dark Side of The Ring focused on the whole fiasco, that he only came up with the idea because of a comment made by one of the superstars who would end up participating in the tournament: Bradshaw. Russo mentions that Bradshaw claimed that, if wrestling was real, he would beat everyone in a real fight. Russo didn’t like that so he took the idea for the Brawl for All to Vince McMahon, who ended up giving it the greenlight. Before it began, the challenge was to find sixteen superstars who had nothing to lose from competing in the tournament.
Bart Gunn, who ended up winning the tournament, states during the episode that when he was approached to do it, he thought it was a stupid idea. Gunn then said that when he was told by Kevin Kelly that whoever wins the tournament would get a story with the WWF Champion at the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin, it convinced Gunn to become one of the sixteen participants in the tournament.
Vince Russo claimed during the episode that when he was looking at who could compete in the tournament, Charles Wright, who wrestled as The Godfather, was probably the toughest guy on the roster. Wright mentions in the episode that he was up for competing in the Brawl for All right from the start. Bruce Prichard mentioned the idea to Wright and, since he wasn’t doing much at the time, with the other members of the Nation of Domination receiving pushes, Wright accepted the opportunity to take part in the tournament, with promises of top pay and top matches should he win.
Another participant in the tournament that was interviewed during this episode was Darren Drozdov. Jim Ross mentions that Drozdov was one of his favorite recruits of all time. Drozdov says that he was just happy to get his foot in the door, as he was brought into the company as ‘Puke’ due to JR and Vince seeing video footage of him puking during his football days.
Bruce Prichard claimed on a 2017 episode of his Something To Wrestle With podcast that the bracket for the Brawl for All was determined by writing all the participants’ names out, putting them into a brown paper bag, and pulling them out. Bruce held the bag, with Prichard stating that Savio Vega drew the names.
While running down the participants in the tournament, Russo mentions that you just knew that Steve Blackman was the real deal, adding that having Marc Mero in the tournament would be a great thing too, due to him being a legitimate Gold Gloves champion. JR then adds that Mark Canterbury, who was 6’5, three hundred plus pounds, and could punch like a bull, would be great in this type of tournament.
The Godfather then continued by adding that Bradshaw was a big, old, rough-and-tough Texan. Jim Cornette then mentioned Brakkus being a bodybuilder but claimed that he didn’t have the mobility, with Jim Ross adding that Brakkus had as much business being in the Brawl for All as he would. Russo then added that Savio Vega always had a bit of a belly but could take care of himself. Cornette then claimed that Road Warrior Hawk would have no issue pulling someone’s eyeball out or eating their nose straight off their face.
Jim Ross then added that Bart Gunn was hard-working, dependable, and loyal, stating that you could rely on him. Russo mentioned that Droz was a no-fear kind of guy, with Cornette mentioning that Bob Holly was badass on a street level. JR then added that Carl Oulette was a big-time talented kid, with Russo adding that The Godfather beat up people for a living. Cornette stated that Dan Severn was a UFC Hall of Famer, with Russo claiming that Ron Harris walked into bars for only one reason and that was to fight.
Cornette then added that 2 Cold Scorpio had decided he would try and break out of the Flash Funk ha-ha gimmick. The narrator, Chris Jericho, then added that the one man who stood out on the bracket was WWF’s recent acquisition Steve Williams, who was known to fans as Dr. Death. Williams was the sentimental favorite going into the tournament, with Bart Gunn claiming in the episode that he was JR’s boy. JR even stated during the episode that the only reason Williams was brought in was for him to have a program with the WWF Champion at the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The Brawl for All tournament premiered on the June 29th, 1998 episode of Raw. The rules for the tournament saw the competitors fight over three one-minute rounds. The points system saw each fighter get five points for getting the most punches per round and successfully taking down their opponent, with them receiving ten points for knockdowns. The last man standing would receive a $75,000 cash prize.
Although he had originally won his first-round match, Dan Severn dropped out of the tournament, worried that his image as a legitimate fighter would be hurt had he continued, which resulted in his opponent, The Godfather, advancing to the next round. Prior to the Brawl for All tournament, Bart Gunn and Bob Holly were a tag team, known as The Midnight Express. When the brackets were revealed, it was announced that Bart and Bob would face off in the very first round. Gunn would advance but Bart claimed that the match seemed to have soured their friendship due to how real it was. He also claimed during the episode that he didn’t believe that the bracket was “random” due to Bart and Bob Holly being a team prior to the tournament taking place.
The Godfather admitted that, prior to his Brawl for All matches, he was in the back smoking cannabis with some of the girls. JR claimed during the episode that the Brawl for All began confusing him as the rules kept evolving. Jim Cornette stated how stupid it was due to the matches having referees that had never officiated competitive fights. Jim Ross even said during the episode that Carl Oullete had no business being in the Brawl for All tournament. He added that every injury that happened was one after the other.
Vince Russo claimed during the episode that Vince McMahon could have put a stop to it at any point but he chose not to, with JR adding that only one week of Brawl for All matches convinced him that the tournament had, to use his words, “shit the bed”. Bart Gunn mentions in the episode that Bruce Prichard called him up and let him know that he would be fighting Dr. Death Steve Williams in the next round. Bart adds that he told Prichard to change up the bracket so that it could be Bart vs. Dr. Death in the final, as he was excited to work with him, as, to use his words, everybody knew the higher-ups wanted Dr. Death to win the tournament. Bart claims that Prichard then told him that they had “all the faith in the world in Dr. Death”, which told Gunn that the tournament was designed for him, even adding that anytime they talked about the Brawl for All on TV, they talked about Steve. Bart asked Prichard if he would get backstage heat should Bart beat him but Bruce again said that they had all the confidence in the world in Steve.
On the day that Gunn was set to fight Williams in the Brawl for All, Bart claimed in the episode that many people backstage were nagging on him as if mocking him for claiming that he was going to knock out Dr. Death. When the match was about to start, everybody crowded around the monitors, Russo even claiming on the episode that it became “very, very, very real”.
Gunn claimed during the episode that, throughout the day backstage, everyone was making smartass comments about how Bart said he was going to knock out Dr. Death and mentioned that he kept it bottled up until it was time for the fight. It soon became apparent that at some point during the fight, Dr. Death had torn his hamstring. Soon after that, in the third round, Bart Gunn caught Dr. Death with a right hand, sending Dr. Death to the floor, ending the match with Gunn picking up a surprise victory, advancing to the semi-finals. Jim Cornette even said during the episode that as soon as he saw Williams fall to the mat, he knew that his WWF career was over.
Cornette then recounted what he told Russo as he saw him backstage following the fight between Gunn and Dr. Death. He mentions that he asked Russo if he was happy about costing the WWF $5 million, due to Dr. Death losing on national television. Cornette claims that Russo responded by asking what difference it made and that Bart Gunn was going to be a star now. Cornette then claims he told Russo that he wanted to kill him.
Russo then claimed during the episode that he did think they could’ve done a lot with Williams but it wasn’t like Dr. Death was coming in at his peak. He did admit that the injury cut Williams’ career short. Bart Gunn claimed that, when he went to the back following the fight, it was very quiet, with Bart realizing he had all the heat on him since he knocked out “JR’s boy”. Bart claims that he didn’t really see anyone from the office after that.
Bradshaw would advance to the final with a somewhat controversial victory over Darren Drozdov, with even Drozdov claiming in the episode that he should have won the match. However, it seemed the fix was in as Vince Russo had already mentioned that the Brawl for All tournament was only created because of Bradshaw’s comment that he could beat up anyone on the roster in a real fight. Russo even claimed in the episode that he wanted to see Bradshaw get his ass kicked, adding that he just wanted to see Bradshaw “get his clock cleaned”.
The Godfather mentions during the episode that, while working in his strip club, he was able to knock pimps out with just a slap, which made him feel as though he could go the distance. In turn, this made him feel a bit overconfident when approaching his semi-final battle with Bart Gunn, with Gunn claiming that he was ready for a decent fight due to seeing Godfather shadowbox prior to the fight.
Godfather recounts during the episode that, before the fight, he wanted to try and avoid allowing Bart to take him down, and to hit him. As they were punching each other, Godfather caught Bart, with Gunn claiming during the episode that it stung a little bit. Godfather stated during the episode that Gunn knocked him down during the fight and he remembered going back to his corner saying that he didn’t have his legs.
Russo claimed that everyone was at the monitor watching. Gunn then knocked Godfather out with a right hand, with Gunn recounting that Godfather’s head came close to hitting the ropes. Godfather states that his wife wasn’t happy about him losing, with her blaming it on Godfather smoking. He denies that and states that he didn’t give Bart the respect that he should have. Godfather then showed a picture on camera of his leg a few days after the fight, stating that he couldn’t walk and needed to use a wheelchair, with that injury later becoming infected. He then adds that he thinks it was the stupidest idea in wrestling because of all the injuries that were suffered over the course of the tournament.
JR then added that the number of injuries that happened during the tournament was a bad thing, not just for the company but for the wrestlers involved due to them not being able to make themselves money as they had to sit on the sidelines. Cornette then posed a question that was only directed at one man: how morally and intellectually bankrupt do you have to be to create a situation where your stars get legitimately injured just to get even with a wrestler who was bragging about how tough he was in the locker room?
The final was set. The man who inspired the tournament, Bradshaw, faced off against the long-shot, Bart Gunn. After a few punches, Gunn knocked Bradshaw to the ground, with the Texan getting up not too long after. Soon after getting back to his feet though, Gunn knocked him down once again and that was it. Against all the odds, Bart Gunn won the Brawl for All tournament, knocking out the very same man who inspired Vince Russo to come up with the idea for the tournament.
With a smile on his face, Russo stumbled over his words because he was just so happy that Bradshaw got knocked out in the final. Cornette then stated that Russo, to this day, doesn’t understand what he did. Jim adds that he believes that Russo sabotaged the talent, the integrity of the business, got people hurt, and killed a future superstar, without realizing what he had done. Cornette then gave my favourite quote from this episode: “there, in a nutshell, you have the skidmark on the underwear of life that is Vince Russo.”
Cornette then mentions that Russo said some stuff that Cornette didn’t like on his podcast so Cornette decided to get in his head. Cornette then stated that he knew how to layer it up instead of putting it out on a plate. Russo then claims that Cornette’s friend, Kenny Bolin, called him up and told him that Cornette was going to send some of his fans or followers to Russo’s house.
Russo then mentions that, back then, he was living in a log cabin, in the middle of nowhere, and thought God forbid he wasn’t home and his wife was there on her own. Bolin told Russo to file a restraining order against Cornette, stating that he didn’t think Jim himself would do anything but he believed that Cornette would incite people to do something.
Cornette claimed that when the police brought him the restraining order Russo had filed against him, he busted out laughing. Cornette then revealed that he made copies of the restraining order and put it up for sale on his website. He mentions that he has raised over $6000 for a children’s charity by selling copies of the restraining order. Russo then stated that Cornette left a message on his answering machine, threatening to kill him and his entire family, with Cornette saying that he would kill him over wrestling because wrestling is the most important thing in his life.
After being presented with the “Golden Gloves” for winning the Brawl for All, Bart Gunn recounted that Jim Ross came up to him backstage and told him that they didn’t think anyone could take Steve Williams off his feet and stated that the higher-ups in WWE should have done their homework on Bart a little better, with Gunn mentioning that he did try to work with them. Bart recounted that, as soon as Jim Ross told him that they had no hard feelings about Gunn’s victory, Bart realized that he did, in fact, have heat.
Cornette mentions that the original plan for the winner of the Brawl for All tournament was a big promotional push but when Bart Gunn won, the plans changed. Jim Ross then stated that nobody that competed in the Brawl for All tournament got over. Bart Gunn then stated that WWF didn’t know what to do with him so they sent him home.
Cornette states that they let Bart stay at home for a little while until Vince McMahon came up with the idea of having Bart fight Butterbean at WrestleMania. Butterbean stated in the episode that his understanding was that when Bart knocked out Dr. Death, Vince McMahon got pissed so they called Butterbean in for his punishment.
Butterbean was a three hundred pound professional prizefighter who, at the time, had over fifty wins under his belt. Bart revealed during the episode that, when it was presented to him, he went along with it as he was tired of sitting at home. WWF even sent Bart to a boxing school, as stated by Gunn in the episode.
The narrator, Chris Jericho, mentions how Bart’s fight with Butterbean was the promotional push he was promised and a way to cash in on Butterbean’s mainstream popularity. The Godfather then claims that, while hanging out with Butterbean and Gillberg backstage, Butterbean told them that he would knock “that kid out in seconds”.
Butterbean states during the episode that he saw Vince smiling at him as he got into the ring because McMahon knew that it was over for Bart. He knew that Butterbean was going to knock him out and Vince wanted Butterbean to knock him out. Vince Russo mentions that there was a different feeling to this fight, in comparison to all the other Brawl for All fights. Bart mentioned how he was trying his best to box but couldn’t, due to him not being a professional boxer.
Butterbean claims that, as soon as Bart began boxing, he knew he had him. Butterbean then decided to charge him into the corner and eventually dropped him to the mat. He then stated that when he went to the corner, he hoped that Bart wouldn’t get up because if he did, it would be bad for him because Bart was wobbling. The referee let the fight go on and Butterbean gave Bart one last good right hand, knocking Bart cleanout, with Butterbean stating that his head actually turned around backward. Butterbean even claimed that, had Bart gone into the fight like he did all the others in the Brawl for All, he would have had a chance but he went into it trying to box which was stupid.
Bart Gunn then stated that he was very disappointed in himself and even said that he knew that, after WrestleMania, that was the end for him in the States. After leaving the WWF, Gunn went over to Japan. Gunn mentions in the episode that while he was in Japan, he saw Butterbean was over there, doing MMA. Gunn mentions that he wanted to do MMA and that he secured a fight with Wesley Cabbage, who Butterbean had fought and defeated in an MMA fight. Bart defeated Cabbage in the very first round.
Gunn recounted that he got a call about an MMA fight with Butterbean four days from the time they called him. Gunn turned out down, stating that he wanted the full twelve weeks to prepare but it didn’t end up happening. Gunn then mentioned how he misses the adrenaline rush.
Following the Brawl for All tournament, Droz wrestled for another year until a tragic accident changed his life forever. Droz was facing D’Lo Brown in a match. Droz states during the episode that he was originally set to win the match. The plan was for D’Lo Brown to hit a powerbomb but Droz mentions that he doesn’t know what happened, whether he had slipped or something. Droz soon realized that he had broken his neck. Both Droz and D’Lo mention in the episode that they don’t hold any ill will on the other and have agreed it was just one of those unfortunate accidents that happen.
Russo claimed right at the end of the episode that he felt bad because he didn’t want to see anyone get hit in that way, especially with everything they’ve learned about head trauma. JR mentions that the Brawl for All should be remembered for what it was: a cluster, adding that it sucked. He added that the Brawl for All was originally meant to make new stars and new opportunities but, in the end, that just didn’t happen.
After hearing that Bruce Prichard said that the Brawl for All was the worst idea in the history of wrestling, Gunn agreed with that but then stated that they’re (WWE) the ones that put it on. Gunn added that they should learn from their mistakes and should never do it again.
The narrative, at least from many people interviewed, was that the Brawl for All tournament was a bad idea from the very beginning and it should not have happened. The idea was inspired by one man’s dislike for a superstar and then set it up so he would go all the way to the final just so that man could see the superstar he hates so much get knocked out.
Out of everyone interviewed, Darren Drozdov came across the best, even after his career-ending and life-altering injury not long after the tournament. Both Jim Cornette and Vince Russo came across as the worst, with both men seeming like they are just as bad as each other, especially when it was revealed that Cornette had threatened to kill Russo and his entire family. Those two are the worst of the worst in the industry in my opinion and should not be celebrated in any way, shape, or form.
With many people stating that the Brawl for All was the worst idea in wrestling, I do feel inclined to strongly agree with that, especially due to the number of injuries and bad feelings between the superstars it caused. The winners and losers of wrestling are scripted for a reason and, when you leave it up to chance, especially with a legitimate fight, anything can happen. Anything did happen and caused a lot of serious injuries, with the originally planned winner, Dr. Death Steve Williams’ career ending not too long after receiving the injury he suffered due to his participation in the tournament. The Brawl for All will always be remembered as the worst thing to happen in wrestling and it should definitely never happen again.
For more Dark Side of the Ring content, be sure to check out:
Dark Side of the Ring: The Life and Crimes of New Jack
The Dark Side of The Montreal Screwjob
Looking at Jimmy Snuka and Nancy Argentino’s Death