By Scott Bowden
Scott Bowdens Kentucky Fried Rasslin
2007-01-25 - The Beauty of the Beast: Remembering Bam Bam Bigelow
The beauty of the Beast: Scott Bowden remembers Bam Bam Bigelow, the Beast from the East
Similar to how Vince McMahon Sr. for years would book oversized heels to challenge the underdog babyface WWWF champion, the Memphis territory often featured local-boy-done-good Jerry "the King" Lawler facing the challenge of a foe much more physically imposing--a monster.
For years, all the giants came through Memphis--the Mongolian Stomper, Joe LeDuc, Kamala, Man Mountain Link, King Kong Bundy...even Andre--and they all eventually bowed before the King. The last great Memphis monster heel of the modern era arrived on the scene in the summer of 1986, a rookie fresh out of Larry Sharpe's Monster Factory in New Jersey: the Beast of the East, Scott "Bam Bam" Bigelow. Hailing from Mt. Laurel, N.J. (though he billed himself as being from Asbury Park), Bam Bam was a hell of a natural athlete who stood nearly 6'3" and weighed over 350 pounds at the time of his debut.
It was two years into Vince McMahon Jr.'s expansion, and the longstanding Memphis territory was starting to feel the pinch. Many of the Memphis regular stars had bolted for McMahon or Jim Crockett Promotions. And just as fast as promoter Jerry Jarrett and Lawler could create new stars--like "Ravishing" Rick Rude and Randy Savage--McMahon and company would sign them away. The timing was right for Bigelow to make a splash in Memphis--figuratively and quite literally. Bigelow's Nuclear Splash from the top rope remains of the most devastating-looking finishers ever in the business.
Memphis had for years pushed unorthodox gimmicks regardless of ability, as Lawler was a good enough worker (and, more important, a master psychologist) who could make a greenhorn appear not only passable but also impressive in the ring. Although he was pretty green, Bigelow was so physically gifted that the biz came easy to him. Bam Bam Bigelow was perfect for Memphis, perfect for Lawler.
Although Bigelow would go on to receive huge pushes in both the WWF and the NWA/WCW, Memphis for years was the only promotion to properly use "the Bammer," as announcer Lance Russell referred to Bigelow. Jarrett and Lawler brought Bigelow along slowly, establishing the Beast as an unstoppable force before the eventual showdown with the King on his home court.
With the top of his head completely tattooed with flames--and attired simply in cut-off shorts and a cut-off T-shirt with the crudely ironed-on "I AM MONSTER" on the back--Bigelow was the most menacing heel in Memphis since Bundy. Bam Bam's baby face and pudgy frame didn't hurt him--despite looking a bit like a larger-than-life Garbage Pail Kid. The fact that Bigelow could also work was gravy. Standing dropkicks that would make Koko Ware envious. Cartwheels. Overhead press slams. Bigelow could do it all.
Bigelow's agility was amazing for a man of his size. Writes Dave Meltzer of THE WRESTLER OBSERVER: "Scott Bigelow was something of a phenomenon when he came into pro wrestling in 1986. He beat out Owen Hart for Rookie of the Year and from his first major program, in Memphis with Jerry Lawler, was a superstar. He had many ups and downs over the past 20 years. He did well in some places, and not so well in others. Some saw how he looked as a positive, and others didn't. He was one of those guys who fell out of organized sports young...but with his size and agility, he probably should have been a football star. One NFL coach who was a friend of mine was blown away seeing a guy of that size with that kind of lightness on his feet and couldn't understand how he didn't play college and pro ball."
For weeks in that summer of '86, Bigelow burned through his early mid-card Memphis competition, sometimes bear-hugging two wrestlers at once in making them submit during handicap matches. However, most of his matches ended in disqualification: Bigelow's top-rope slash was illegal in Memphis, and referee Jerry Calhoun disqualified the Beast each time he hurled his massive frame toward a hapless foe like David Haskins, Lou Winston or Tracy Smothers. No matter--it only made Bigelow more feared in the fans' eyes as he clearly didn't care if he won or lost. Bam Bam Bigelow was out to hurt people; namely, Lawler, Memphis' number-one son. And if he happened to pick up the AWA Southern heavyweight championship in the process, so be it.
A wonderful moment occurred during a "Bad Guys vs. Good Guys" softball games at Chicks Stadium. (Jarrett and Lawler hosted the game for free to combat a McMahon/WWF card held at the Mid-South Coliseum the same night.) Using a wooden bat, Bam Bam knocked one of Lawler's first pitches over the stadium wall. (OK, Lawler was giving him "meat"--slow pitches hanging right over the plate--but still...pretty impressive.) Later, Bam Bam was playing first base, and as Lawler rounded first, he and the Bammer collided like two bulls. A wild brawl followed, highlighted by Lawler breaking a doctored bat across Bigelow's back; the Beast responded by body-slamming the King directly on home plate.
For weeks, Bigelow's mouthpiece (and trainer) Sharpe challenged Lawler, who largely ignored the gauntlet being tossed at his royal feet. But after Bigelow won the Southern championship in a battle royal July 28, 1986, the Beast was not to be ignored. Bigelow simultaneously tossed Smothers and Winston over the top rope--scooping the two wrestlers under each of his massive arms and heaving them over--to win the match and the title. That same night, the Bigelow challenged Lawler for the International and was again disqualified for the Nuclear Splash.
Bigelow quickly became one of my favorite wrestlers, helping to reinvigorate my interest in the Memphis territory, which had slightly waned with the emergence of Jim Crockett Promotions and the Four Horsemen on WTBS and NWA World Wide Wrestling, which appeared on a local independent channel. On my high-school soccer team that year, a few of us had wrestler gimmicks for our nicknames--I was named Bam Bam because of my reckless, physical play as goalkeeper. I loved it, and truth be known, I might have been the one to encourage the nickname. I was a huge mark for the Bammer, whom I believed was destined for eventual stardom in the WWF as foe for champion Hulk Hogan.
After weeks of failing to convincingly defeat Bigelow, Lawler did a memorable, emotional promo at the WMC-TV studio with announcer Lance Russell. Lawler put Bigelow over as the wrestler who might make the King abdicate the throne once and for all. The gist of the story was something like this: When Lawler was a rookie he asked an old wrestler who was retiring how he knew it was the right time to hang up the tights. The old-timer looked up at the man who would be King and said, "Kid, someday another wrestler will come along and let you know when it's time. Lawler then told Lance: "Well...Bam Bam Bigelow just might be that wrestler for me." Lance, who often came off like a father figure to Lawler, quietly replied, "Well, Jerry, I...I don't know." Great stuff.
This promo set up the showdown for Sept. 8, 1986. Lawler finally defeated Bigelow, who had already given his two weeks' notice.
After the bout, they turned Bigelow babyface and teamed him with Lawler on his last night in the territory to thrash manager Sharpe and Man Mountain Link. The following year, Lawler brought Bigelow as his tag partner to get revenge on Tommy Rich and Austin Idol--the foursome had some incredible brawls at the Coliseum.
Not long after, the WWF. came calling, signing the rookie and pushing him toward the top of the cards almost immediately. In a McMahon misfire, Bigelow debuted as a babyface with manager Sir Oliver Humperdink, a swerve after teasing for weeks that the Beast would sign with a high-profile WWF heel manager like Slick or Jimmy Hart.
Gone was the rough-around-the-edges, "I AM MONSTER" attire. In its place was the full-bodied, flame-covered suit that somehow made Bigelow look smaller. To ease the strain on his knees a bit, Bigelow no longer came off the top rope but rather slingshot himself over it onto his foe, a finisher known as "Greetings from Asbury Park."
To help get him over, Bigelow was booked not as Hogan's foe but as the Hulkster's partner, a move that proved unpopular backstage, according to Meltzer. Writes Dave: "[Bigelow] also had the drawbacks mentally that come with being a star from day one, and then going to WWF where some didn't respect that he hadn't proven anything but started out at the top there, often teaming with Hulk Hogan. Some tough veterans like Andre and Sika roughed him up on that first run. He became a bigger star in Japan, where he became the foreign monster with credibility, who could carry newcomers and get them over. It was a role he later played with [headlining against] Lawrence Taylor at WRESTLEMANIA 11."
In 1988, Bigelow had a stint in WCW, and the Atlanta-based promotion apparently didn't learn from WWF's mistakes. WCW also used Bam Bam as a babyface with manager Humperdink, engaging in a short-lived feud with U.S. champion Barry Windham and the Four Horsemen. Windham and Bigelow had good bouts--not great--but something was missing for the Beast from the East. Bigelow returned to the Former Fed in the early '90s, and as a heel, had some great matches with Bret "the Hitman" Hart, including the finals of the King of the Ring tournament in 1993. By that time, the WWF had begun working with Jarrett and Lawler, who appeared that night to attack Hart, the eventual King of the Ring winner and "pretender to the throne."
A year later, WWF loaned Bigelow to Memphis for a tag-team bout: Bam Bam and the Dream Machine (the late Troy Graham) vs. Lawler and "Too Sleazy" (as I called him) Brian Christopher. I had turned heel the week before in a tag bout involving Lawler, Jeff Jarrett vs. the Dream and the late Eddie Gilbert.
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So, in my first official night as a heel manager in May 1994, I interfered in Bigelow's return match to Memphis, hitting Lawler with a "steel-plated" leg brace. As Lawler lay prone on the canvas, Bigelow ascended from the top rope with a headbutt to give the heels the win. It was a huge thrill for me. Scott Bigelow the person didn't disappoint me, either, joking with me backstage and helping me shake my nervousness.
Scott Bigelow was found dead last week in Florida. He was 45. According to Meltzer, Bigelow had severe back problems prior to his death stemming from his years in pro wrestling, and was involved in a bad motorcycle accident that nearly killed his girlfriend a few years ago. Divorced, broke and hurting, Bigelow had dropped out of sight for years before re-emerging in 2005.
Hard to believe that most of my favorite wrestlers growing up--Gilbert, Dream, Rude, Hawk, Curt Hennig and now Bigelow--are all dead. Is the fame, love for the business and the money they earned worth the price they all paid in the end? I'll leave you with a quote from Bigelow from a 2005 newspaper article in the St. Petersburg Times:
"I don't know if it's hiding or disappointment or what," he said. "But being Bam Bam Bigelow is a pain in the ass. You did this the first half of your life and now this is the second half and now you're bruised and battered. So what the hell can you do? What can you do?"