Remembering: USWA’s “WM V” 20 Years Later

By Jeff Esiason

The date was Easter Sunday on April 15th, 2001.

The place was in Pontiac, Michigan at the Pontiac Silverdome with 103,769 Fans in Attendance.

The USWA was at the height of its popularity and was virtually untouchable to the “competition” in the world of wrestling at the time.

This was the Second Era, and “USWA Presents Wrestlemania V: Fifth Times A Charm!” was about to become one of the biggest events of that era.

Long gone was the WWF of the First Era as Jeff Murrey faded further away from the limelight. Benny Mouse was getting his feelers out in the industry in establishing partnerships with the likes of Paul Heyman and Kevin Kelly as they tried to reinvent Heyman’s ECW and Kelly’s WCW to create a new powerhouse to take on the USWA Empire led by Mickey and the biggest stars in the industry at the time.

There were 10 matches on the supercard on this fifth installment of the Pay Per View Mickey took from Murrey starting in 1997.

“I remember that day like it was yesterday”, says Mickey Mouse Junior, the Chairman and Owner of Mmouse Enterprises, the parent company of the USWA before it shut down in September 2002, “, the anticipation for every Wrestlemania put on by the USWA was immense. Nobody could put on a show like we did. The industry belonged to us.” Mickey fondly remembers those days of USWA superiority, especially in Wrestlemania V’s build, which capped off an incredibly successful year 2000 for the USWA after they survived the company’s last great challenge from the wildly popular Bad Ass Wrestling Alliance which had been created by three joint-owners, including Murrey, to topple USWA. The BAWA came very close, but its cult following wasn’t enough to keep it all together when infighting in upper management brought it all crashing down.

“Do attribute luck to the fact that the USWA survived the BAWA?” I asked Mickey in this interview.

He stared at me for what felt like a century before finally ordering me out of his office: “You don’t become the greatest promoter in history because of luck, Mr. Esiason. Get out!” I didn’t hesitate to oblige as Executioner stepped up. I saw my way out pretty quickly.

“What was it like putting this show together?” I inquired to Jim Ross, the Secretary of Booking at the time.

“The USWA’s shows came together chaotically. It was all fan-driven. Those crowds did more to influence the USWA than they could ever realize. Wrestlemania V, which I consider to be in the running for the best of the original six installments, was no different…with few exceptions.”

“What exceptions?” I asked.

“1. Splinter and Blaster were destined to face off in that career match, 2. Kane and Kane Two – who later was revealed to be Agramon were going to settle their score -, and 3. Midget Hogan was going to be stopped from headlining.”

Everything else seemed to come together out of a flurry of chaos, and that’s part of what made the Second Era so amazing. You never knew what was happening next. Let’s get to the card and ask the people involved what they thought.

OPENING BOUT: LAST MAN STANDING MATCH: BOOKER T v. STEVIE RAY

“We came into the USWA when that was where EVERY star wanted to be.” Booker T remembers the feeling of excitement he had when he went to join Mickey’s company. “It was the big leagues, man. Stevie and I were on top of the world.”

“Booker and I kicked the crap out of each other that night. We were told to go out and get the people ready for a night of insanity, so we did.” Stevie Ray and his brother Booker were in the last throes of a brief feud. That night they were booked to have a draw. “I wasn’t happy about the draw, but I made it work, you hear me?”

The Last Man Standing was a great way to kick things off, and on the ride to see the doctor after the match, Booker remembered something fond. “When the cameras cut from us the crowd gave Stevie and I a standing ovation. We laughed about it on the way to the hospital. All that hard work was paying off, man.”

LIGHTHEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: TURBO © v. SAGUNA (WITH MOLLY)

The Lightheavyweight Division in the USWA was the one and only mainstream division for smaller wrestlers below 5 feet tall. The WPW had been built by people of all sizes, but many of the main attractions were the likes of the Gladiators (Turbo and Nitro), The Quests, The Hadjis, and the Aces. Cool Quest himself became one of the biggest stars in history thanks to this pioneering division as he captured the first ever Lightheavyweight Title. As Cool Quest faded away, though, Turbo and Saguna started to have some of the best matches at the time.

Saguna was especially beloved by the fans, as was his then-wife Molly (younger sister of WWF Legend Sally), with whom Saguna had made history in winning the first ever Lightheavyweight Tag Team Titles. Saguna and Molly were the two biggest Lightheavyweight Stars at the time and Turbo was absolutely jealous. Turbo saw Saguna stealing his spotlight despite Turbo being the champion of the division. A clash at Wrestlemania was inevitable.

“I hated him,” remembers Turbo, long since retired. “, but I knew that he and I would either steal the show or come damn close to it.” Saguna could not be reached for comment, sadly, due to contractual obligations with the EWA (and the same is obviously the case for his now-former wife Molly). However, Turbo was more than happy to talk about it. “Saguna and I gave it our all and we had the crowd eating out of our hands. In the end, he beat me fair and square. The division was his, on the biggest stage of all at the time.”

HELL IN A CELL MATCH, GALACTIC CHAMPIONSHIP: GIANT GONZALES © v. ARMAGEDDON

“Boy, that was a hell of a match!” Lenny Mouse recalls the most dangerous bout of the night. “Jim and I didn’t think we were going to survive.” Lenny was on commentary that night with Jim Ross, and the two of them were calling the bout from a covered booth which sat beside the ring.

“The monster that Armageddon is, I didn’t think he was going to feel comfortable going to the top of the cell, but he did.” Giant Gonzales was the only participant who was willing to chat with me here, for obvious reasons. “I almost retired after that match. Armageddon is no one to mess with.” Giant Gonzales nailed a vicious chokeslam on Armageddon from the top of the cell, crushing the commentary booth below.

“I still don’t know how I wasn’t at least in serious danger at that moment.” Jim Ross recalls feeling like his life was at an end. “The world felt like it was over, like a damn comet just smashed into the Silverdome!”

The remarkable thing is that Armageddon still wound up winning the match, and the Galactic Title was soon unified with the Deathmatch Title three months later, exactly.

UNIFICATION MATCH, DEATHMATCH v. EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: DEATHMATCH CHAMPION DEMONRIDER v. EUROPEAN CHAMPION KRUSADER

“Mickey wanted to reduce the number of championships in the USWA, because it had gotten too easy to become a champion.” Jim Ross remarks on the plethora of available gold, which became a serious issue in early 1998 when the company introduced three tag titles (World, Number Two, and Lightheavyweight), a Women’s Title, and Lightheavyweight Title, and SEVEN heavyweight titles (World, Intercontinental, Southern U.S.,, European, Deathmatch, Galactic, and Greenland). In total, there were twelve championships for the MOST MASSIVE roster in wrestling history, sporting over 200 superstars before the massive breakup of the roster in 2001 which brought about the birth of the BFCW (Bad Fucking Championship Wrestling), owned by Lenny and Jane Mouse.

“I enjoyed being Deathmatch Champion, because hurting people was fun.” Demonrider was the protégé of WWF and ECW Legend, Ghostrider, and his legacy rivaled that of his mentor. “I was rather upset when I was informed about the merger of our titles, because I knew what that meant. Krusader was THE icon between us. Enough said.”

“I regret that there were hard feelings over it.” The iconic Krusader responded in an email, “Demonrider was always one of the best in that ring and I knew that he wouldn’t take the decision to merge our championships lightly.” Krusader had been an icon in the industry since the early 1990s when he debuted in Murrey’s WWF. A multi-time world champion up to this point, including in the USWA, the writing was on the wall. “I do remember Demonrider storming out of the building after he walked through the curtains. It wasn’t pretty.”

“I wanted out of my contract,” expressed Demonrider, “I was furious. Who wouldn’t be? In my mind, I deserved to be the Deathmatch Champion for a long time, but no. That’s not what ol’ Mickey wanted. Ugh.”

“The European Title was retired and I became the Deathmatch Champion. It was a fun year. I have no regrets, except for how Demonrider feels about it apparently through to this day…two decades later.” Krusader closed the email by thanking his fans and unveiling that he was considering a return to the ring.

LADDER MATCH, INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: GOLDUST © v. MASKED PHENOM v. KEVIN HALL v. FRANK SHAMROCK

You wouldn’t believe it now, but there was once a time that Dustin “Goldust” Rhodes was a great worker for Mickey. Goldust was having a hell of a run in the USWA alongside his “brother” Silverdust. Going into Wrestlemania V as the Intercontinental Champion was no small task as the “IC” Title was almost as prestigious as the World Title at this time. Moreover, the future UWF Tag Champion had to defend his USWA IC gold against three other great competitors: Kevin “Razor” Hall, the incredibly popular Frank Shamrock, and the equally popular Masked Phenom who had come to the USWA in 2000 following his great run in Vinnie Mouse’s EWF.

We couldn’t reach Goldust for comment due to those pesky contractual restrictions, but the Masked Phenom and Mr. Hall were more than willing to chat. “Up to that timeframe I was always seen and portrayed as a tag wrestler alongside Scott Nash. When Nash started taking on more and more of a singles run exclusively I had to reinvent myself, so I did. I went full throttle into pursuing the Intercontinental gold.”

“The guy who most concerned me was Frank Shamrock.” Masked Phenom was startled by the unhinged nature of Ken Shamrock’s insane younger brother. “Frank was nuts. The guy didn’t like losing. Of course, none of us did, but he REALLY didn’t like losing.”

“It was a fun match, no doubt, and we got to do some cool spots throughout it,” said Hall, looking gleefully off in the distance as he talked about that night, “what an electric crowd. You couldn’t ask for a better fanbase. Sadly, that era is a long gone.”

In the end, Goldust’s reign came to an end with the Masked Phenom capturing the gold. “I was elated to achieve such a thing. I was at the peak of my career,” said Phenom.

“Frank didn’t take it well, honestly.” Hall recalled Frank Shamrock losing his mind in the locker room. “That guy was demanding to see the boss and Mickey had security take him away. As for Goldust, I never seen a more humble guy. Class act all the way. Dude congratulated Phenom in the back and then bought him drinks to celebrate. Wow.”

THE ULTIMATE GAUNTLET MATCH: “Y2C” THE CROCK (WITH RIC VENOM) v. THE STARS OF WWWF (WITH WWWF OWNER, JOHN BROWN) – IF WWWF LOSES, THEY LEAVE!

In the year prior to Wrestlemania V, Ric Venom was on a tear. That previous summer was the infamous Summer of 2000 wherein Ric Venom and Shane Murphy teamed up to hijack the WCW at the time, forcing it to shut down and leading to the creating of both the XPW (ran by Benny and Kevin Kelly) and SMW (Shane Murphy Wrestling). Ric went on to torment John Brown in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (later renamed the HCW in 2001). This regular torment carried over into how Venom treated Brown and the WWWF on commentary when Brown was sitting in for commentary during USWA programming.

Venom eventually enlisted the help of the Crock, the perpetual troll of the industry, to help with tormenting the future-HCW and its owner. This included starting rumors about Brown’s wife, Lacy, on a regular basis. Brown soon grew tired of the antics and dispatched his stars to attack. Crock and Venom still mocked them and this feud culminated in this Gauntlet match wherein the Crock had to face the entire WWWF roster and if the WWWF lost they would have to leave the USWA for good!

We weren’t able to speak with Brown, as he is technically under contract with the EWA, and we couldn’t reach the Crock for comment. As a result, we won’t go too much into the comments about the night except for Ric Venom’s statement, which was summarized in these words: “I regret nothing.” The Crock wound up being too confident that he could beat the entire WWWF roster and he lost that night in embarrassing fashion. The leading talent in WWWF at the time, Scratchy, said simply that “our victory over Venom that night was one of the greatest accomplishments we ever had in those days.”

END OF A FEUD BURIED ALIVE MATCH: KANE v. KANE TWO (I.E. AGRAMON)

It was about 2 and a half years before we found out that Kane Two was actually Agramon all along (Agramon was briefly in the CWA, NWA, and the WWF Version 2 in the summer of 1998, but he faded away by the end of the year, around the same time that Kane Two appeared in the WWWF under John Brown). Kane had been dominating matches left and right around that same time in the USWA up until the Soultaker lit him on fire in the 1998 Summerslam Inferno Match.

When Kane Two came to the USWA he was immediately met with resistance from Kane. This war of “Red Machines” culminated in this match at Wrestlemania V. Neither Callaway brother was available for comment, but I did go to Lenny Mouse once more for his thoughts on the match and feud.

“We honestly didn’t know that it was Agramon in there all along,” says Lenny, “, because if we had known it would have been a MUCH BIGGER deal.” Lenny says this because the two youngest Callaways had never met in the ring before this rivalry. “Kane was irate that this imposter was strutting around trying to be him, as he saw it.” A superstar from USWA was finally getting a taste of the medicine that USWA had long forced upon the industry as the likes of Vader Two and Rock 2 had come and gone in an extended tradition of the USWA to duplicate what existed elsewhere and somehow make it better.

This match was especially brutal and high stakes. “Kane Two’s representatives made it clear that he wanted to take Kane out!” Lenny underscored, recounting some unknown-at-the-time pursuit of vengeance by Kane Two. “I suppose now that we know who Kane Two was all along, it all makes sense.”

Kane Two, who still worked largely for the WWWF at the time, got the stunning victory over Kane, burying him alive in front of thousands!

10 MAN STREETFIGHT – BATTLE AGAINST THE RACISTS – SUBMISSION RULES: SOUTHERN JUSTICE (JOHN, PHINNEAS, HENRY, DAN, AND JERRY GODWINN) v. SUNFIRE, ROCK 2, SAVIO VEGA, D’LO BROWN, AND MARK HENRY

The year 2000 through early 2001 was a dark period in the history of USWA and wrestling in general as the rise of Southern Justice with the union of the Godwinn family early in 2000 following a massive trade wherein Phinneas, Henry, and John Godwinn joined Dan and Jerry in the USWA. John revealed himself to be the Grand Wizard of a chapter of the Klan and his angry assault on any star who wasn’t like him fell within his crosshairs.

We won’t get into all the horrid details of John Godwinn’s reign of terror with the help of his willing cousins, but we will note that it got seriously out of hand. USWA was predictably and rightfully bombarded with hate mail from across the country. Critics and fans alike demanded for this to come to an end, and Mickey saw an out with this Street Fight. The goal was to have a number of Southern Justice’s victims band together and humiliate them on the grandest stage of all.

Tempers were flaring and the locker room as well as the arena were a hot mess when this match came up next. “It was the most intense thing I have ever experienced” wrote Rock Two, who was from the WWWF and had been attacked by Southern Justice out of nowhere, “I wanted to get it overwith and the worst part is I don’t think John or even Mickey for that matter saw anything wrong with this. It was all wrong, so terribly wrong.”

“Death threats were abound in those months of terror, aimed at any of us who weren’t white, Christian, American, or human. John Godwinn tapped into something evil and Mickey saw dollar signs from the controversy that it produced, so he just let John do his thing,” said Sunfire, still shaken from the trauma of those heated times.

“I can’t believe we made it out alive. I am surprised that the Godwinn family did as well. They weren’t just in the match, there were Godwinns and even Klansmen throughout the building. They may not have been wearing their hoods, but I saw quite a few of them with their Rebel Flag shirts, lapels, and whatnot. I even saw one dumbass wielding a sign that read ‘The Book of John GODwinn is my Bible’. People are sick.” These words were from the retired Savio Vega, speaking through his broken English.

“Even for weeks after we won the match, I kept receiving little toy-made…[takes a deep breath and holds back tears], it was an awful time. Mickey claimed that he thought this would help us make racism look stupid, but it only provided a microphone for evil.” – D’lo Brown.

“I represented this country in the Olympics in 1996,” Mark Henry noted, visibly showing emotion, “, so I am used to seeing racist stupidity aimed at me. Even so, I never thought I would see that ignorance amplified like it was at the turn of the century by the biggest wrestling promotion on Earth at the time. Just disgusting.”

I didn’t reach out to John Godwinn or his cousins for comment, because word has it John is still preaching his nonsense. The sad thing to note here is that while Southern Justice faded away after this PPV – ending the darkest period in industry history -, John Godwinn came back in full force a year and a half later in the most dominant tag team in the UWA alongside Skinhead to for the tag team called “The Supremacy”. Then again, he came back with less success in 2008, during the Fourth Era, forcefully formed the “New Supremacy” with his reluctant team mate 8 Ball. By 2010, John Godwinn became nothing more than a disgusting memory of our checkered past. It’s a real shame that we had to cover this here, but it happened and I feel it is only right to talk about the darkest hours alongside the best.

CAREER ENDING MATCH: “LEGENDARY MASTER” SPLINTER v. “STONE COLD” BLASTER

In 2000, two titans of the industry collided in the USWA. Never before had Master Splinter – THE Icon of this industry – feuded with “Stone Cold” Blaster. Then, in 2000, the two of them clashed in a series of brutal bouts that nearly took them both out. It was the premier rivalry in the industry at the time as both icons made it a point to terrorize the other.

In the run-up to Wrestlemania V, Splinter and Blaster hit an impasse and it was concluded that the USWA was not big enough for both of them. That’s what led to the mutual agreement for a Career Match. The time had come.

Sadly, we couldn’t get Splinter for comment, but this brief interview with Blaster will have to suffice.

Me: “What was it like heading into Wrestlemania knowing you were going to try and end the career of the greatest star in the industry’s history?”

Blaster: “Well, it was nerve-racking. I obviously received massive heat from traditional fans who were devoted to Splinter and his deep history in the business. By that same token, I was fighting for my wrestling life as well, and I am proud of my body of work.”

Me: “You are undeniably one of the greatest of all time.”

Blaster: “Not to sound conceited, but yeah!”

Blaster, of course, did not end up winning the match, being forced to “retire”, which he did until he came back two months later to attack Splinter and cost him the King of the Ring against Slammu, leading to the most infamous public firing of all time.

Me: “What were your thoughts on what your loss at Wrestlemania led to at the King of the Ring two months later?”

Blaster: “My quasi-heel turn backfired. My joining the Apocalyptic Corporation led Mickey to disband it altogether shortly thereafter. Slammu became the ‘Almighty King’, betraying his best friend and permanently scarring a relationship that had gone back years since Splinter trained him. And Mickey, well, he was overjoyed to humiliate Splinter with a public firing as a send off back to ECW. Mickey knew that’s where Splinter was heading as his contract was coming up and he wanted to send Splinter a message. I didn’t like that part at all.”

The Wrestlemania V match between the two of them was widely considered to be the best match of the night and it marked the beginning of the end of Splinter’s career, of the reign of Blaster, and of the USWA itself. The last part became clear when Blaster’s heel turn and eventual soul-searching led him to turn a blind eye as the Allegiance War began, pitting the USWA against the allied HCW and BFCW. By the time Blaster figured out what role he wanted to play in this war it was too late, the USWA was gone in September of 2002.

MAIN EVENT, USWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: JESSE “THE BODY” VENTURA © v. “THE GAME” HUNTER HEARST HILLSLEY

Just 6 days before Wrestlemania the USWA dodged a bullet. The Year 2000 produced many major twists and turns, as we’ve touched on extensively here. That final twist in 2000 came in the form of “Millionaire” Midget Hogan – who became a millionaire after eliminating Blaster at the Royal Rumble of 2000, capturing Mickey’s bounty on Blaster’s head – capturing the world championship from Blaster in December 2000 with the help of the Crock.

What followed was a tyrannical and infamous 109 day reign that served as the longest USWA title reign of the era. With the help of his annoying and muscular assistant, Baldy, Hogan would always manage to escape losing the gold at the last minute. There was no telling when this insanity would come to an end, and many in upper management started to worry about Midget Hogan headlining Wrestlemania.

“Mickey did not want Hogan anywhere near the main event, or even the show itself,” Jim Ross remembered, “he considered Midget Hogan to be a comedy act, pure and simple. Mickey was beside himself when Midget Hogan was getting closer to defending at the event.”

“I thought Mickey was going to hire someone to take Midget Hogan out, honestly.” Lenny went on to tell me about how Mickey used to pace around in his office trying to think of new opponents to throw at him. “Mickey considered dethroning Midget Hogan as priority number one. That’s what led Mickey to suggest a dual threat: pushing Hunter Hearst Hillsley and bringing in Ventura to try and win the gold.”

Then, on April 9th, 2001, in the main event of USWA Raw is War, Jesse Ventura defeated Midget Hogan for the world title, fending off the threat of Baldy and ending Midget Hogan’s hated reign just in time for the big PPV! Ventura went on to take on the 2001 USWA Royal Rumble winner, Hunter Hearst Hillsley.

“Mickey didn’t care who was in that main event, as long as it wasn’t Hogan.” Lenny remarked once more. “Honestly, I think the fans may have agreed a little.”

Hillsley was enjoying a brief popularity boost around this time and we surged to the top and won the gold. Unfortunately for him, though, Hillsley reverted back to the midcard by the end of the summer, despite winning the USWA Title in a good main event of the biggest show of 2001.

The Fifth Installment of USWA’s Wrestlemania series of Pay Per Views was indeed a great event at the time, and many elements of the show stand the test of time. However, there are a number of outdated parts of the show, in addition to some things that were obviously better suited to an era perhaps a century earlier.

I was proud to be a part of the USWA and it is still something I fondly remember to this day. Was it perfect? Hell no. But was it awesome? HELL YEAH!

This is Jeff Esiason, I will be publishing my closing summary of the Fourth Season of PWI soon. See you next time!

Published by Daniel Crawford

I'm a single father of two, one of four children of a single mother (who passed at the age of 49), an activist, an aspiring public servant, an author, a podcast host, and an average member of the working class.

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