73 Sports Movies In 73 Days: ‘No Holds Barred’

Today’s installment of 73 Sports Movies in 73 Days needs no introduction, as it is simply one of the most spectacularly terrible movies ever made. It’s the 1989 wrestling action farce No Holds Barred, and it is and always will be one of my favorite movies ever made. I remember the day that I saw it when I was 10-years old, and that made it all the more special to watch today, as I laughed harder watching this insanely awful movie than I have at any legitimately funny comedies that I’ve seen in at least a decade.

If you haven’t seen No Holds Barred, rent it now and watch it, because my words cannot do it justice.

When I was a kid, I was so fascinated by movies that I would watch Siskel & Ebert every week to see what they had to say about the newest releases, because I honestly thought that they had the ultimate say in what was good or bad, as if their thumbs controlled not only the box office receipts but also the Oscar statues. Of course, they were just a couple observant bros who were good at picking apart terrible movies.

In fact, I still remember how angry their terrible review made me when I was just 10-years old and so excited about this awesome wrestling movie that starred one of my ultimate childhood heroes – the Hulkster. They ripped the man who played Rip, and I had to dig this up just to remind myself of the foolish agony that I allowed these film critics (rest their souls) to put me through.

(No Holds Barred begins around the 5:50 mark, before Dead Poets Society, because Siskel and Ebert had priorities, people.)

Admittedly, I’d like to travel back in time and have the following conversation with myself about the anger caused by this review, as well as my devotion to Hulkamania, brothers…

34-Year Old Burnsy: “Hey 10-year old Burnsy, we need to talk.”
10-Year Old Burnsy: “Radical, dude! Wanna listen to Milli Vanilli?”
34-Year Old Burnsy: “No. Burn that tape and go get ‘As Nasty as They Wanna Be’ from your friend’s older brother. But first, we need to talk about Hulk Hogan.”
10-Year Old Burnsy: “I love Hulk Hogan!”
34-Year Old Burnsy: “Yeah, I know. You should stop. He’s really not a good dude, and when you grow up you’ll see that he’s basically an old pervert.”
10-Year Old Burnsy: “No way, he’s the coolest. He beats all the bad guys and loves America.”
34-Year Old Burnsy: “Yeah? Well he also loves rubbing down his daughter’s ass and greasing his claw into her lady knuckle.”
10-Year Old Burnsy: “I don’t know what that means.”
34-Year Old Burnsy: “Write it down, you’ll understand it in two years if my memory serves correctly.”
10-Year Old Burnsy: “Cool. Anything else I should know?”
34-Year Old Burnsy: “Don’t skip those school newspaper meetings to go to the beach and don’t leave the weed in your shorts on the floor like an idiot this time.”

*stares at self in mirror for a moment*

Nope, didn’t work. I was hoping I’d transform into a super wealthy online mogul with a velvet top hat, but I’m still eating Cheez-Its in a tank top.

What No Holds Barred Could Have Actually Been If They Had Tried

No Holds Barred was one of the first (if not the first) movies that the then-WWF produced, and the intention, like any of its contemporaries like The Marine or The Chaperone, was to finally break down that final wall between sports entertainment and Hollywood to legitimize Hogan as a complete action star. What it actually was, as Roger Ebert pointed out, was a movie that did more damage to Hogan’s image than it did to make us think, “Hey, you know who should be in the next Die Hard? The Hulkster.”

In fact, if the Internet as we know it today had existed in 1989, we would have all lost our sh*t together over this movie, and even Hogan’s pro wrestling star might have taken a huge hit because of this disaster of a film. Back in ’89, though, Hogan and Vince McMahon probably thought this was an exceptional idea and at least worthy of the standard PR tour.

WHAT IS ARSENIO HALL WEARING??? Also, can we blame this specific Hogan appearance for Hall’s eventual demise? I say yes.

No Holds Barred was the story of the world’s most popular wrestler, Rip, who is trying to maintain pro wrestling’s positive image for all of the kids out there. It’s a parallel, you see, as Hogan is the good guy, All-American face of the WWF, and this Zeus fella comes along in both the film and on Saturday Night Main Event, representing a new attitude of violence and pain. It’s also sort of a parallel of what the WWF and WWE would eventually become, as people wanted more than the wholesome baloney that we’d been treated to throughout the 80s and early 90s.

Maybe this was the first attempt at creating a new attitude in the WWF and McMahon and crew were thinking, “Hey, let’s try out a little vulgarity and potty humor and see how that goes over. Maybe we can take the in-ring TV stuff to another level if this goes over well.” And then what resulted was this, perhaps the most important movie scene ever filmed…

Let that haunt your dreams in GIF form

So What About That Zeus Fella?

I don’t know who thought that eyebrow and giant Z shaved into the side of his head was supposed to be scary or whatever, but it doesn’t even come close to the idea of Zeus picking up a woman by her face and dropping her into a barrel. The writers of this film had one job and that was to push every envelope they could find.

But the real bad guy here was Brell, who was played by the phenomenally smarmy Kurt Fuller. Brell offers Rip a blank check to leave his current network and join his to rescue it from its abysmal ratings, but Rip declines because he’s under contract. What doesn’t make sense here – other than everything – is why would Rip even agree to the meeting with the rival network if he’s under contract and “his word is his bond”?

The WWF was really testing some new boundaries with this film, and I think the rationale was, “Sure, the villain is so hellbent on fixing his network’s ratings that he’s willing to hire a homicidal ex-con, order his goons to kill Rip when he refuses to sign, command his other goons to rape Rip’s girlfriend to force him into a fight with Zeus, and when all of that doesn’t work, he has Zeus paralyze Rip’s brother. Oh, and Hulk makes a guy shit his pants. But if the kids don’t like that, Rip defeats Zeus and murders Brell, and then does the hand gesture and everyone will love him again.”

And that’s pretty much how it all went down. As we know and have discussed in the past, the 80s were a stranger time when movies could get away with a lot of really ridiculous ideas, so much more than they could now, at least without having to face a great deal of public scorn. Because if you try to introduce a movie today that not only has this absurd acting and overall conflict, but also manages to incorporate the idea that a woman who looks like Joan Severance would be desperate enough to gawk at Hogan’s ass…

… and ultimately climaxes in an illegal underground wrestling death match (that’s still televised and would results in several lawsuits), you’d probably be locked away.

About the Ending

The final fight scene was choreographed quite brilliantly, from the amazing dialogue of grunts, growls and screams to the terrifyingly powerful double ax handle that Rip delivers as his crushing blow to knock Zeus through the ring from the second level at the secret corporate venue. You know, where dozens of wealthy white people are committing crimes by being in attendance of an illegal fight that is being aired on the network that does not have the rights to broadcast Rip’s fights… damn, maybe I should have asked Danger Guerrero about the legal ramifications.

All of that aside, the best part of the ending is that as Rip is defeating Zeus, Brell is inexplicably destroying the production booth and ripping wires out of the machines. This is ironic because he ends up electrocuting himself to death without Rip even having to touch him. I love when the writing is so lazy that it just sort of works itself out in the end.

This Was Also About Cross Promotion And Synergy

The movie actually debuted on December 12, 1989 (I saw it that Saturday with my dorky ass friends) and Hogan and Zeus later wrestled each other for real on December 29 in the main event tag team cage match at the aptly-named No Holds Barred in Nashville. I don’t remember if I watched that or not, but I remember this promo. It’s amazing.

Sensational Sherri was just the best. Nobody will ever come close to her level of obnoxious screaming again. I don’t even care who won the match, because that promo won life.

Oh, and check out Jesse Ventura’s outfit. It’s pretty spectacular.


(GIF via)