Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wrestlers of Yore: Herb Abrams


Sometimes, the manner in which a person dies is often poetic, as it truly exemplifies how they lived. Pete Maravich died playing pickup basketball. Korey Stringer died on a football field. Dale Earnhardt died trying to win the Daytona 500.

Herb Abrams died of a cocaine-induced heart attack, wearing a diaper and covered in baby oil, chasing hookers through the halls of a Las Vegas hotel with a baseball bat, which he had earlier used to smash all the furniture in his hotel room in an effort to find the devices he thought the government was tracking him with.

Before his debaucherous demise, Abrams gained fame, or rather infamy, as a wrestling promoter. Described as a “con man among con men,” even the name of Abrams’ promotion was stolen, as he pilfered the Universal Wrestling Federation name when former UWF promoter Bill Watts forgot to copyright it. With the promise of “bringing wrestling back to its roots,” Abrams announced his new promotion in August of 1990, and immediately began signing big-name free agent talent such as “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and Don Muraco.

Now, most of these men were free agents because they were well past their money-earning prime, but Abrams felt their name value would help the UWF immediately compete with Vince McMahon’s WWF. To help this cause, he landed a television deal with SportsChannel America, giving him national exposure for his new promotion. With loads of publicity, a roster of big names and a national television deal, Abrams organized his television taping in September of 1990.

450 people attended.

The second taping, held a week later, drew 125.

Even worse, the quality of wrestling on these television shows was below par at best. Nearly every match was a “squash,” or where a high-profile wrestler beats on a no-name wrestler (my father and I used to call these guys “wimpys”) for the entirety of the match. Squash matches tend to backfire when the high-profile wrestler isn’t very good, which is the category that most of the past-their-prime UWF wrestlers fell into. You truly haven’t seen anything as boring as a match designed to feature the wrestling skill of Boris Zukhov or the Power Twins. One entertaining match however was one between “Wild Thing” Steve Ray and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. Abrams had accused Ray of sleeping with his wife and stealing his cocaine, and paid Williams, a legit tough guy, an extra $100 to break Ray’s nose. That match is shown here:

Even more perplexing was Abrams himself. He had a helluva cocaine habit, which often resulted in destroyed furniture. An ex-girlfriend noted that “when he did (cocaine), he went into a completely paranoiac state, unlike anything you can imagine. He was convinced he was being watched by "the Feds" and he would literally destroy anything and everything around him in his attempt to find the "bugging devices". All the while, he would run water to "cover-up the sound" of anything he might say.”

Ol’ Herbie also used his television programs as a vehicle to make himself the biggest star of the promotion. He did this at first by naming himself as play-by-play announcer, but later, as told by Mick Foley, he resorted to even stranger methods:

During the show, there was an advertisement for wrestling cookies, which I guesHerb felt was the natural snack food choice of all wrestling fans. Herb's grating voice was doing the talking, as he hailed the benefits of Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff cookies, Wild Thing Steve Ray cookies, and coming soon, Herbie cookies.

He did the same thing with merchandise. Herb somehow lande
d a deal for his Blackjack Brawl, not only to be held at the prestigious MGM Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, but also to be carried live around the country on SportsChannel. What a sight it was to see 200 fans in a 22,000-seat building. But hey, Herb was ready and no one could ever say that Vince McMahon had anything over Herb in the ‘marketing genius’ category. After all, he did air ten commercials for UWF merchandise during the Blackjack Brawl, even if all of them did push only one product - the Mr. Electricity, Herb Abrams T-shirt. I asked his girlfriend after the show how he got the Mr. Electricity nickname, and she put her hands over her head, shook her hips, and gave a very animated, ‘Because when he plugs it in he really turns me on.’ ” Mick Foley, Have A Nice Day

Unable to make money on attendance or merchandise, Abrams decided to run a pay-per-view event, called “Beach Brawl” in June of 1991. The event drew a whopping 550 paying customers (to contrast: nine months later the WWF would sell out the 62,000-seat Hoosier Dome) and one of the lowest pay-per-view buy rates in history.
The UWF soldiered on, hemmhoraging (or, to be more appropriate, snorting) money throughout the early ‘90s, with Abrams keeping the company afloat by “forgetting” to pay his employees. Abrams took on a partner in 1993 by hiring Zoogs Rift, an out-there musician with such singles as “A Blind Man’s Penis” and the album “Island of Living Puke.” Shockingly, the UWF lasted only until 1994, dying a merciful death after the “Blackjack Brawl” show. The promotion won the following Wrestling Observer Awards during its tenure:

• 1990 - Worst Television Announcer (Herb Abrams)
• 1991 - Worst Promotion of the Year (UWF)
• 1991 - Worst Television Show (Fury Hour)
• 1994 - Worst Major Wrestling Show (Blackjack Brawl)

Abrams would meet his cocaine-induced demise in 1996, and would remain largely forgotten until last year, when ESPN Classic began airing old UWF “Fury Hour” episodes. They’re pretty awful to watch, but next time I'm going to try a different approach. Anyone know where I can find some hookers, coke, baby oil and a baseball bat?

3 comments:

A Pimp Named DaveR said...

That's pretty much how I plan on going, too.

Hazel Maes Landing Strip said...

Was the title of the program Herb Abrams: Living the American Dream?

Anonymous said...

I met Abrams in St. Johns hospital drug rehab in the early '90s. He was a short pudgy obnoxious asshole. He figured out that me and a girl in that were boning in the shower and was jealous. He tried doing a show at Beverly Hills high but had to cancel because no one cared. He drove around in a limo like he was a big shot. I'm glad he died the way he did. He was SUCH an ASSHOLE.