Tales of the Immaculate Bump

Tales of the Immaculate Bump

Assessing the awesome loss of Mike Awesome.

This column is sad to note the recent passing of Michael Lee Alfonso (1965-2007), a husband and father who was best-known for his work as the wrestler Mike Awesome in the US. He leaves behind a wife, two daughters and a legacy of “Holy shit!” moments that will never be equaled. It is best, really, that no one ever try.

To be frank, Mike Awesome wasn’t one of my favorite wrestlers. Indeed, he was one of the few that I could name as a least favorite, though not on the level of Ed Leslie or Jim Neidhart. He was certainly my least favorite good wrestler, but it’s worth noting that my distaste was rooted in precisely that which made him a star: his moves looked like they could hurt people, and quite often they did. Mike Awesome injured a lot of people, sure, but only because they were doing moves sensible people wouldn’t do.

Awesome spent time in all three major US promotions: WWE, WCW and ECW, acronyms that need no explication for even the most casual observer of that industry. I watched what was probably his last stand as a major-company star: the infamous WCW Greed pay-per-view, held here on March 18, 2001, where he and Lance Storm (“the most well-developed athlete this side of a negative drug test”) defended the WCW tag-team titles against Hugh Morrus and Konnan, two well-regarded veterans. It was midway up the card, but it was for gold, and neither the best match that night, nor the worst by far. Still, a substantive drop from just two years earlier. The match ended like so many Mike Awesome matches did: “Awesomebomb!” All evidence suggests that the “spots” or moves in a match are a cooperative effort. The viability of the form would collapse if people took such bumps unprotected. The former British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith (1962-2000) broke a man’s back in a bar fight with that move; Leon White, aka Vader, did the same to Joe Thurman in 1993. Plum Mariko (1967-1997) died after being powerbombed by Mayumi Ozaki, the only woman to ever die in a wrestling ring. “The Giant” Paul Wight was lucky he wasn’t hurt after “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash dropped him, at 500-plus pounds, on his head a decade ago.

All that is to say that the powerbomb is exceptionally dangerous, even within the realm of bizarre and borderline insane moves common to pro wrestling. Concussions may happen even if everything works perfectly, and one miscalculation could be tragic. Mike Awesome was arguably the most prolific powerbomb artiste of all time. Only perhaps Chris Benoit and Jushin “Thunder” Liger had more variations, but no one delivered the move more ways and from higher up.

MTV’s Wrestling Society X champ, Vampiro, got concussions on consecutive nights from top-rope Awesome bombs. With Awesome standing on the top turnbuckle, arms extended, that’s a ten-foot drop to the canvas, augmented by whatever leaping or centrifugal force came into play. Only Tanaka had taken anything like it before. The first bump reportedly knocked him out, on pay-per-view. Someone coerced them into doing the stunt again on WCW Nitro the next night, same result. Imagine that!

This was the time when Mike Awesome should have gotten pushed nearer to the top of WCW, but he had the bad luck to arrive as the company was falling apart, wrecked by bad booking and worse money-management. The heat he had coming out of ECW was no help, nor the glut of guys 6′-5″ and up in the company and in power. He would have been a great early nWo member, like a smaller, faster Scott Hall. Awesome had one of the best mullets in wrestling, almost as good as Eddy Guerrero’s, and an earnest kind of frat-boy charm. WCW cast him as “That ’70s Guy” (think Ashton Kutcher’s character, on steroids) and, later, as the “Fat Chick Thriller,” which actually caught on before it was shut down. The best use for him would have been as something like Will Ferrell’s character from Old School, but that might have been too close to Hall’s gimmick. What made him so interesting athletically was that, at six feet, six inches and just under 300 pounds, Alfonso was more agile than men 100 pounds lighter. This made him a potent foil for other big wrestlers, while retaining a “power game” that would prove decisive in five cases out of ten. He could do a running “suicide dive” over the ropes, four feet high, onto the floor below. He couldn’t do backflips like the 450-pound Vader (Undertaker, at 6′-10″, 330, could tope as well), but cat could fly. Long before his big run atop ECW, he contributed a notorious clip to the vaults when future Full Blooded Italians capo JT Smith, who weighed about 230 pounds, tried to catch him, and was nearly bent in half backwards across the guard rail.

He will be best remembered for a decade-long feud with the indomitable Masato Tanaka, who traded the FMW and ECW belts. There is nothing quite like their matches in the canon- hyper-violence bordering on the farcical. Why Tanaka hasn’t been used by WWE on a regular basis is beyond me; he could be a Japanese Umaga. He’s the type who can roll through a release German suplex or no-sell a chairshot that destroyed the chair itself. These two wrestlers brought out the best in each other, insofar as bringing out the worst. Trading Germans and some of the most grisly powerbomb bumps in all of human history, including at least three variations from the top rope alone.

Crucial to this feud was what this writer has always liked to call “The Immaculate Bump”: a running crucifix powerbomb, from the inside of the ring through a table set up outside the ring. When they debuted it during a match in Queens, NY, Tanaka not only went through the table, slamming his head into the linoleum floor, but he slid under the railing to his shoulders. Naturally, the crowd ate it up.

Only a handful of men have ever taken that bump. New Jack. Tommy Dreamer. “Confederate Currency” Chris Hamrick. Spike Dudley (another Florida guy) took that bump through two tables. Even Awesome took that bump at least once- payback from Tanaka. But Masato Tanaka is the only man known to have taken the Immaculate Bump more than once, and he took it dozens of times over the years.

Their last match was held at the ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view in 2005. It was a small symphony of stylized brutality, with all the spots the “hardcore” fans would have been expecting. Members of the WWE roster were on hand, as part of an angle where they were trying to shut down the show, viewing ECW as an inferior product. As the match went on, several wrestlers- most notably JBL and Kurt Angle- actually broke character to praise them, as the fans chanted, “This match rules! This match rules!” The end saw Tanaka take the Immaculate Bump, after which Awesome hit a slingshot tope over Tanaka, who was lying prone in the wreckage of the table. Everyone marked out in unison that night, but Awesome had blown out his knee again, and there was no contract forthcoming. He would never work television again.

If One Night Stand was not the start of a comeback, it was at least a fitting end to a distinguished career. Awesome held the ECW and FMW World titles, the ECW US belt, WWE Hardcore belt and WCW tag belts. It was good to see him reconciled, at least in public, with the ECW faithful. He and Taz were the only truly dominant champions the promotion ever had, though he won’t be remembered in the front rank of favorites. The cheers in 2005 were a far cry from the scene some years back, when Awesome dropped the ECW belt acrimoniously. Taz was brought back from WWE, for one night only, to choke Awesome out in seconds, winning the belt before losing a week later to Tommy Dreamer, who enjoyed his only title run for just a few minutes before losing it to Justin Credible. ECW was at a vulnerable point then, and it may well be that Awesome was recruited to tank that promotion, which never recovered.

Mike Awesome was brought in as part of the ill-fated “Invasion” angle after Vince McMahon bought out WCW and ECW in 2001. His debut was another of those classic Mike Awesome Moments: former ECW champ Rhino had just defeated Crash Holly (1971-2003) for the infamous WWE Hardcore Championship (which has been passed around more often than Kelly Wells and the WCW US title combined). He’s being interviewed after scoring the pin backstage, when Awesome jumps Rhino from behind and powerbombs him onto a ladder that was laying on the concrete floor. It was an apt metaphor for the angle- shocking, dramatic and so painful to watch.

He made some bad moves along the way. His ECW bridges were mostly burnt after taking their belt onto WCW TV. He also nearly got killed by the Yakuza, who are rumored to have owned a stake in some Japanese wrestling companies. Awesome, who worked credibly from multiple knee blowouts, retired from pro wrestling just days before his event. He’d begun selling homes in the city he once labored in as an iron worker. He was born where he died, in Tampa, where he was found hanging from the ceiling of his home. To speculate would be unseemly, and ultimately irrelevant.

By any objective standard, Mike Awesome should have been huge in this decade of wrestling, and exactly why he wasn’t remains a small mystery to me. WrestleMania is April 1, and Florida’s contributions to this billion-dollar industry will, as always, be on display. Reviewing the card, I can see a number of guys who might be more interesting being dropped awkwardly on their heads. That was a role Mike Awesome pioneered, and on occasion of his death, let’s not dwell on his demerits or brood on his botches. Let us, instead, remember those all-too fleeting moments when Mike Awesome was exactly what he claimed to be, and the world was not yet what it has become. RIP.

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