No Holds Barred is a 1989 film that confirmed what we Hulkamaniacs already knew, Hulk Hogan is not a man, he's a legend. One moment he's bench pressing a metric ton and slam dunking a basketball while eating raw, red meat, and the next moment he's rescuing puppies from a crazy, puppy-killing psycho who doesn't say his prayers or eat his vitamins. It's all in a days work for the bleached-blonde, daughter-oogling, machismo-infused icon.
The Wrestler is an Academy Award-winning film showing the gritty reality of what it's like for a wrestler, who is well past his prime, as he struggles to cope with the reality that he can't do what he loves forever. In the ring, he's a legend. Out of the ring, he's a drug-using, alcohol-abusing, deadbeat father struggling to keep his home at the trailer park.
But in his downtime he likes to pretend shoot the neighborhood children.
Two wrestling movies that are on opposite ends of the spectrum. No Holds Barred, despite its poor reception, works for me for the same reason the videogame WWE All-Stars worked for me. As a wrestling fan in the 80s, I didn't see my heroes as mortal men wrestling in predetermined matches. No, these were men who stood for all that is right in the world, and will stop at nothing until justice is served. Men who say "No" to drugs and alcohol, men who uphold moral values above all else, men who would never give up on their fans. It's a really messed up day in a man's life when he realizes that his heroes are, in fact, very fallible men. Pro wrestlers are supposed to be superstars. They're supposed to be larger-than-life, with muscles so big that our minds can't even conceive how it's possible for an arm to be 24 inches around. I don't want a weekend warrior working at the deli counter of a supermarket. I want over-the-top villains, all-American heroes, and a plot so ridiculous that it sounds like something that could be a wrestling story line. Speaking of the plot, it's something that I can only imagine was lovingly and meticulously handcrafted by God Himself:
An evil television executive (played by Rob Lowe's lackey in Wayne's World), thinks that having professional wrestling superstar, Rip (played by the Hulkster), signed on to his company will save the fledgling network. When Rip refuses to sell out, Brell (the executive) comes up with a fighting tournament that's a cross between early UFC bouts and the confrontations between your father and uncle at Thanksgiving after they've had a few too many. The champion of this primitive Toughman contest is played by none other than Tom "Tiny" Lister. If you don't recognize the name, you may remember him in the role of "giant, cross-eyed, black man" in 37 different films.
You must admit that he fits the role perfectly.
After Zeus (Lister) challenges Rip to a fight, which he refuses, Rip's brother, Randy (who is approximately 42 years younger than his big bro), goes to see Zeus in action. Randy winds up getting kidnapped by Zeus and Brell because he's stupid, and Rip is forced to accept the match with Zeus. Brell then threatens to kill Randy if Rip doesn't throw the match. Since Rip isn't above jeopardizing his brother's life for the sake of winning a wrestling match, he defeats Zeus, turns his attention to Brell, who then falls into an electric panel...and dies. Time to celebrate our victory!
Let me just reiterate something in case you missed it: Brell...friggin'...DIES! In a movie about professional wrestling, a man gets killed, because this is the 80s and professional wrestling is REAL!
No Holds Barred was made during a time when "kayfabe" was still something wrestlers respected and honored, a time when someone in the business would rather die than give out company secrets. That's exactly what makes this film so incredible. If you look at it as less of a movie and more of a documentary about professional wrestlers refusing to break character, it's undoubtedly the best film ever made. WWE even went as far as to have an event called No Holds Barred: The Movie/The Match where, on pay-per-view, you could throw down hard earned money to watch the movie in its entirety, and then end the night by watching a legitimate steel cage tag team match which pitted Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake against Randy Savage and Zeus in front of a live WWE crowd. What good reason was there for this to happen, you ask? Well, Lister (still in character as Zeus) thought he should have gotten top billing for the film, and the only way to settle it is inside a steel cage, obviously.
How awesome is that? You would never see that today. In the age of pro wrestling where all you need is a pair of kickpads and an Under Armour shirt and you're a "wrestler," I'm glad to know that No Holds Barred exists, as it epitomizes everything that was great about professional wrestling in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, because the movie was incorrectly regarded as garbage by the communists that we refer to as "critics", Hulk Hogan's once impeccable acting career was tarnished, and he was reduced to giving deep, emotional, thought-provoking performances in blockbusters like Santa with Muscles and 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain. Watch this selected scene and tell me that Hulk Hogan wasn't destined to be the Clark Gable of our time before critics ruined it all. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to watch this clip.
If critics saw No Holds Barred for the masterpiece that it is, Hulk Hogan probably would have gone on to master time travel and cure all diseases, and then inventing a few new diseases and curing those, too. Hulkster, you'll always be a legend among mere mortals, let me be the first to thank you for accepting the lead role in this genre-defining epic.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. I should also mention that wrestling legends Stan Hansen and "Mad Dog" Vachon make appearances as redneck contestants in the Toughman contest.