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Some wrestlers are just meant to be the bad guy. Gino Hernandez is one of them.
Hernandez is in my personal pantheon of the most effective heels in wrestling. He oozed arrogance, wasn’t afraid to let his opponent get their comeuppance (working multiple head-shaving angles during his career), and had one of those intrinsic qualities in a wrestling villain: he made you want to see him take an ass-kicking.
Much like another standout of the territorial era of wrestling, Hernandez doesn’t get his just due. He’s best known for his work in three territories — World Class, Southwest Championship Wrestling and Mid-South — and while all three definitely are worth watching, they have less following than other major promotions of the era: the WWF, Jim Crockett Promotions and the AWA. Had Hernandez not died suddenly at the age of 28 (and more on that later), I feel his joining one of these companies would have been inevitable, and then, who knows?
Today we take a look at Hernandez’s final match before his death, a grudge match against former partner Chris Adams from World Class’ Wrestling Star Wars event on January 26, 1986.
You can watch this match on the February 1, 1986, episode of World Class TV, which is available on Peacock.
As the Dynamic Duo (a team name Hernandez also used for his pairing with Tully Blanchard in Southwest), Adams and Hernandez won the NWA American Tag Titles in World Class on two occasions. They replaced the Freebirds as World Class’ top villains in 1984, moving right into a feud with the Von Erichs and headlining at the Cotton Bowl in the fall of 1985, where they lost a hair vs. hair match. Soon thereafter, Gino turned on Adams, setting the stage for a feud between former partners. This was their first match –and, as it turns out, only match — since the split.
The psychology around this match is great, and something modern wrestling should look at. In a grudge match, it generally doesn’t make sense to come out and lock up collar and elbow with your hated rival. Or chain wrestle. This match has none of that. Adams comes at Hernandez with fists flying before the official starting bell. Gino begs off as the Fort Worth crowd howls for blood, as he keeps taking a beating. I especially love his woozy punch-drunk swing at nothing after getting thrown headfirst into the top turnbuckle.
Rage quickly trumps discretion. Each man goes for bigger moves off the second rope and, each time, that backfires. One of these misses sets up the finish, as Adams hits a back body drop (have I mentioned I’m a sucker for a good one of these), then clocks Gino with his superkick. The crowd erupts and Hernandez sells it like he got clocked on the jaw with a hammer, rolling semi-conscious out to the floor. Did I mention all this happens before the five-minute call in the match?
Adams has the match won but pulls up Gino from a decisive pin attempt twice. After this second reprieve, following a piledriver, Hernandez goes for the shortcut… a bottle of “Freebird hair cream” at ringside. This is a great example of long-term storytelling, a well-established piece of the World Class mythos with an unknown list of ingredients but powerful hair-removing quality. Gino takes the cream and puts it into the eyes of Adams, who drops to the mat like he’d been burned with wildfire. There’s a nice touch where the referee promptly removes his shirt, trying to rub the licentious lotion out of the eyes of the Englishman. This is a repeat of the same angle the Freebirds had run with Junkyard Dog in different territories
Final Rating: 6.8
This match is an excellent example that, sometimes, less is more. Not every major match has to be a lengthy epic containing multiple false finishes. Bell to bell, this match is well under the 10-minute mark but Adams and Hernandez make the most out of every second they have in the ring. The stage is set for a tantalizing feud between the former partners but Hernandez died just a few days later, with his body being discovered February 4 in his apartment after he missed several dates for World Class.
His cause of death was listed as a drug overdose but the circumstances have remained under scrutiny, especially after the recent “Dark Side of the Ring” episode on Hernandez:
We head to the Los Angeles territory to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar role.