An often misunderstood political satire, Paul Verhoven’s darkly comical scif-fi action classic RoboCop is one of those strange ultraviolent 80s properties that, despite its exceedingly dark content, was cartoonish enough (perhaps by design) to appeal to small children. Bare breasts, bullet wounds, drug abuse, threatened sexual violence, and f-bombs aside, RoboCop boasted a titular cyborg protagonist seemingly designed specifically to make for a kickass action figure for little kids to drool over. Indeed, children did latch onto the futuristic law enforcer’s look (assuming they weren’t intellectually engaged by the film’s attack on the privatization of law enforcement), so much so that the movie inspired a surprisingly wide range of kid-friendly mutations. Almost immediately after its release, RoboCop launched an ostensibly still-alive comic book series, a corny live-action TV series, two separate animated shows, and such unlikely oddities as this Korean fried chicken ad, all with content designed to appeal to a younger crowd than its R-Rated source material.
The absurdity of that fried chicken ad aside, the most fascinating RoboCop mutation of all (to me anyway), was the crime-fighting cyborg’s brief career in professional wrestling, an art form that by design has to appeal both to children and to child-like adults alike. This magical three minutes of pop culture content was staged in Washington, D.C., 25 years ago, at a WCW pay-per-view event titled Capital Combat ’90: The Return of RoboCop. Now, that title may have you wondering how RoboCop could be “returning” to a pro wrestling career he never began, which is fair. The truth is that he wasn’t returning to the ring, but rather returning to existence. The PPV was a cross-promotional effort between WCW & Orion Pictures as a means of hyping the theatrical release of RoboCop 2. The really, really sad truth is that even if RoboCop were to step into the squared circle in 2015, he still technically wouldn’t be “returning” to the ring, since in an event named after him, his appearance was so brief that he never made it into the wrestling ring in the first place.
Not only was Capital Combat ’90: The Return of RoboCop an egregious corporate synergy cash-grab, it was also just a blatant false promise. It might have been too much to ask for pro wrestling fans to expect RoboCop to perform any power-bombs or pile-drivers, but surely they must’ve been livid by the measly three minutes of RoboCop content actually delivered. Considering the character’s appearance in the context of the (standard) three hour runtime of the PPV event, less than 2% of the product was actually RoboCop-related. If his appearance had been a surprise, this might have been less of a blatant rip-off & more of a strange novelty, but keep in mind that RoboCop was featured prominently on the poster of the event, which was named after him. That kind of bait & switch might not be punishable by RoboLaw, but it’s still incredibly cruel.
This cruelty was not helped at all by the booking, which made the odd choice to place the RoboCop segment halfway into the show. Every match that leads up to RoboCop’s pro-wrestling debut features announcers just salivating over what’s to come. The show continuously promises the arrival of crowd-favorite Sting & “his buddy RoboCop”, who was present to protect Sting’s younger fans “the Little Stingers” (Oh, won’t somebody please think of the Little Stingers?). While other wrestlers were performing (in some occasionally great matches), announcers would turn up the volume little by little, reminding the audience to stay tuned-in with phrases like “As we anxiously await RoboCop and, of course, Sting” & “Still to come, Sting & RoboCop,” trying to visit the unlikely “buddies’” locker room, struggling with a feed that “cuts out”, etc. Then, when the big moment finally comes, it’s essentially a two-minute sketch that briefly interrupts the show before the next match. It’s no wonder that RoboCop’s appearance disappointed so many fans, given that it was tossed away so casually after such a ludicrous build-up instead of being saved for a show-ending gimmick or at the very least a surprise swerve.
Thanks to the following 25 years of emotional healing and the advent of YouTube, however, these three minutes of RoboCop pro wrestling content can now be enjoyed in a void as a novelty, which is often the best way to consume some of WCW’s trashier antics. Here’s a rundown of the entirety of what RoboCop does as a professional wrestler. He walks down the entrance ramp to the intro, “The nation’s number one law enforcer. He serves the public trust, protects the innocent, upholds the law. The ultimate police officer, RoboCop!”. Noticing his longtime “buddy” Sting has been locked in a cage prop (leftover from a ridiculous match in which a crooked manager had to be restrained earlier in the evening), RoboCop springs into action by calmly walking over to the cage, bending its “steel” bars, and lifting the door of its hinges. And that’s pretty much it. The Four Horsemen heels that had locked Sting in the cage are freaked out by his newfound buddy and run off without a physical altercation (probably afraid that they will be shot to death) and without missing a beat the ring announcer begins to shill for the next upcoming WCW PPV event, Bash at the Beach. And thus RoboCop’s pro wrestling career began and ended.
This, of course, is far from the worst stunt in the history of pro wrestling, or even the history of the WCW. Hell, this isn’t even the worst movie-promotion stunt in the history of WCW, considering that they gave David Arquette (as himself) the Heavy-Weight Championship belt as a way of promoting the film Ready to Rumble in a stunt that disgusted even Arquette. It is an odd footnote in both pro wrestling & RoboCop history, though, one that probably confused both adult & child fans alike. I’m still trying to make sense of it myself. In a three-hour event that boasts actually-decent matches featuring the likes of Cactus Jack, Rick Flair, and Lex Luger it’s the three minutes of RoboCop content that stands out as something truly special, for better or for worse. Sometimes even when pro wrestling is at its trashiest depths, it can be memorable in a way that a lot of mediums can’t touch. Bad movies have a way of achieving that special kind of trash as well, and for a brief three minutes in 1990, Capital Combat: The Return of RoboCop found both art forms failing spectacularly in unison: a rare, but wonderful sight that’s to be cherished . . . as soon as the pain of being let down & ripped off fades away.