#VarsityClubWeek: Essential Viewing

It’s Day Two of #VarsityClubWeek. In celebration of this month’s Survivor Series, we’re taking a look at famous stables from the wonderful world of wrestling. This is the tenth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always we started by making The Club a Stable You (Should) Probably Know Better. Today, we give you the finer points of their oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. On Wednesday, we’ll be asking Some Serious Questions. After Hump Day, we make our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Letterman-jacket-fueled civil war.) 

As we touched on yesterday, The Varsity Club was founded, in large part, to establish Rick Steiner as an ass-kicking heel that could eventually be spun out as a babyface fans were raring to get behind. They went about accomplishing the task in a manner worthy of 2013 WWE: they made him a lovable dumb guy.

While he was a killer in the ring, Steiner overenthusiastically sought the love and approval of his “coach” Kevin Sullivan. In stark contrast to the serious (or “wooden,” less charitably) Rotunda, Steiner began to look increasingly likable. He slowly shifted towards playing to the crowd by barking like a dog for cheers (a move cribbed from The Junkyard Dog), and he always seemed on the outside of Sullivan and Rotunda’s schemes. His distance from the group became more and more apparent, as seen in this clip where evil mindermast Sullivan plays favorites towards Rotunda by enthusiastically accepting his gift of Syracuse swag while passing over Steiner’s Michigan shirt.

When the time came for Steiner to break out and turn, The Varsity Club kicked him out in the most insulting and homoerotic way possible: by tearing off his singlet to indicate he was “off the team.” As, uh, “weird” as the visual was, it was symbolism that would make Joseph Campbell drool: the once-evil Steiner had been stripped down to his very core and could now be dressed back up as a babyface.

For the remainder of their existence, The Varsity Club would spend most of their time feuding with now-prodigal son Rick Steiner. His most frequent opponent was Rotunda, with whom he had more good matches than most fans know Mike Rotunda ever had. They feuded extensively over the NWA Television Title, which Rotunda held for nearly a year. While the TV Title would later be devalued during the Monday Night War, it was still a respected belt at this point in history, with ties to nearly every significant midcarder of the 70s and 80s.

Rotunda and Steiner’s most notable encounter came at Starrcade ’88: True Grit, a night in which The Varsity Club pulled double duty (more on that in a minute). This match was the culmination of a push years in the making, executed with patience and precision that just don’t exist anymore. The finish to the match is convoluted, but when the belt finally winds up in Steiner’s hands, the crowd goes absolutely nuts. After this match, Steiner, along with Sting and Lex Luger, was considered one of the top stars to watch as WCW headed into the 90s.

Meanwhile, earlier on that same Starrcade card, Kevin Sullivan and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams defeated The Fantastics – a “less remembered than they should be” team, much like The Club – to capture the United States Tag Team Titles, which were JCP/WCW’s in-house titles, as NWA Champions still had occasional commitments outside of the Mid-Atlantic region. As tag champions, The Club mostly feuded with – guess who – Rick Steiner. The babyface Steiner had aligned himself with more-over-than-people-know (do you detect an underlying theme this week?) “Hotstuff” Eddie Gilbert under the management of Missy Hyatt, then a certifiable bombshell.

At this time, there was a shuffling of the cards within The Varsity Club. Sullivan and Williams dropped the U.S. Belts to Gilbert and Steiner, and The Club morphed into two distinct teams: Williams and Rotunda became the top tier team opposing NWA Tag Team Champions The Road Warriors, while Sullivan and newcomer Dan Spivey continued to feud over the U.S. Titles with Steiner and Gilbert.

Spivey was a natural addition to The Varsity Club: a massively imposing physical presence, with impressive legitimate sports credentials and the strength to do whatever he wanted in the ring. Unlike Rotunda, Williams, or Steiner, however, Spivey (who later had a short but significant run as Waylon Mercy in the WWF) had the mind and speaking ability to form a formidable promo team with the experienced Kevin Sullivan. Sullivan came across as measured and calculating, while Spivey could punctuate things with a short flurry of killer intensity.

At Clash of the Champions VI, The Varsity Club’s A-Team of Williams and Rotunda got to the top of the mountain: they beat The Road Warriors to capture the NWA World Tag Team Titles. Rotunda and Williams were perfect opponents for Hawk and Animal, as they were big, strong, and legitimate enough that The Road Warriors actually acquiesced to selling for them, but athletic enough that they could also take the great bumps that Road Warrior opponents needed to take. The result was a classic feud, and one that was historically significant, as it signaled the shift in The Road Warriors from squash match specialists who wrestled smaller heels to competitive wrestlers who had evenly-paced matches with other top teams.

The Varsity Club’s time in the spotlight wound down with the 1980s, but before all was said and done, they still had one big job left to do. After his run with Eddie Gilbert ended, Rick Steiner had a new partner who needed to be introduced to the crowd: his brother Scott. Sullivan and Rotunda, the first and last men standing in The Club (Spivey had left to become a “Skyscraper” with Sid Vicious and Williams was spending most of his time in Japan) worked a match against Rick and a horrifyingly green Scott at The Great American Bash.

The Varsity Club’s run was largely about getting Rick Steiner over as a babyface star. While he never became World Heavywight Champion, The Steiner Brothers became the definitive tag team of the first half of the 90s and made massive money all over the world. Sullivan, Spivey, Williams, and Rotunda might not get their due, but if they look at the career the Steiners had, they can hold their heads high and say, “We did that.”

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  2. […] (Should) Probably Know Better. On Tuesday, we gave you the finer points of their oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. On Hump Day, we gave you the 10 Best … Athletes Who Translated, and yesterday we made our […]

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