Thursday, March 23, 2000

Ringside Shadows #114: WCW Talent Evaluation (M-R)

It's true, it's true.. the unthinkable has come to pass. In what's likely the most long-winded series of columns on the net, I've decided to finally step up with part III of my WCW Talent Evaluation. I'm coming fresh off an afternoon packed full of **** and above masterpieces (I popped in an old tape that featured Otani / Liger, Benoit / Liger and Benoit / Black Tiger (Eddy Guerrero), so I'm actually chomping at the bit to get this one started. Be that as it may, we've got some real stinkers here.. everything from the aging stars of yesteryear like Mike Rotunda and Ric Flair to the high flying lucha youth of Rey Mysterio, Jr. and Psychosis. Variety galore, and don't be surprised if I get cranky by the closing.

Of note; when I typed 'I popped in an old tape..' in the last paragraph, I accidentally typed 'pooped in an old tape'... three times. Luckily, I caught the mistake each time and made the necessary correction. Puro coming out of my ass is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Come to think of it, anything coming out of my ass isn't.... Enough. Let's get this beast rolling.

(again, credit goes to for the profile listing)

Hasn't seen much of a role on Nitro lately, and you won't find any complaints here. As the WWF women's champion Alundra Blaze, Madusa lacked the extra something required of memorable champions. Once she made the jump to wCw though, things lept to the other side of the seesaw as she overadjusted. Now an overbearing, prosthetic shell, Madusa never really did much in or out of the ring to help out wCw's then-struggling product (who am I kidding? 'then struggling'? heh). Her feuds with Oklahoma and Evan Karagias were largely forgettable, and the only worthwhile possibility in her future (that being a series with the super-fine Mona) was shot down before it really had a chance to get off the ground. Presently, she seems to be sitting back, awaiting a long overdue repackaging.

In the ring, she wasn't quite magic.. but she could surpass a good number of wCw's more highly-paid men in terms of watchability and presence. Take note; that wasn't a compliment, but more of an observation of wCw's continuing woes. She isn't afraid to get a bit risque or pull out the occasional high-risk offensive maneuver, so I'll give her points for that. As is, she stands as likely the worst cruiserweight champion of all time (because I refuse to even acknowledge Oklahoma's "reign").
Overall Grade: C-

The Maestro
Never got a chance to even spread his wings. Packaged correctly, the Maestro could actually draw in a solid amount of heat as the arrogant snob. Thrown together with Ryan Shamrock, he could become the man audiences love to hate.. but officials have yet to realize it (much as they did with the fumbled Berlyn gimmick). Sending him out with a conducter's rod (I won't pretend to know what the technical name for it is), a cape and bubbles (?) only gives fans something to laugh at for a moment before all their attention goes. Between the ropes, Maestro's got promise.. if given the drive to perfect his craft. He's got a good enough head on his shoulders in the ring and his promos are well enough, when featured. He's got the look, so I'm still surprised they wouldn't give it a go with that 'Gorgeous George' gimmick of old.. I hear he's got a bit of practice with the part. Chalk this one up a letter grade higher if wCw had any clue how to handle him.
Overall Grade: C+

A bit above mediocre, the Marmalukes haven't really been in the best position as far as booking goes. Originally paired with Marinara as a part of this big 'mob' shindig, then turned into a modern-day Goodfellas slam, Big Vito and Johnny the Bull look the part of Italians. That's not to say they should play such a gimmick. I'm told the more things change, the more they stay the same and it certainly applies here. In a politically correct world that sees wCw sued for racial descrimination, we've these two.. cornered into a gimmick that sees them feasting on spaghetti and speaking in ridiculous accents while their blatant Godfather-themed entrance theme blares across the stadiums. It reminds me of a story from Bruno Sammartino's autobiography regarding his first encounter with Vince McMahon, Sr. McMahon contacted Sammartino to move up to the big times in the WWWF, and Bruno was flattered.. until he found out McMahon had never really seen him wrestle. Turns out Vince Sr had just lost another Italian worker, and planned to play up Sammartino's nationality. Once things got to the ring, hey.. Bruno was on his own. Like I said, the more things change..

The Marmalukes, like a great majority of struggling workers, show promise but lack the necessary drive to really unlock their potential. They've some interesting double team spots, and both men have the endurance to make it through a decent-lengthed match without fully blowing up. Despite the horrid gimmick, these two seem to be giving it a go anyway, which should be commended. They pulled out a decent enough title reign, but with the beating they took at the hands of the omnipotent Harris boys I'd be surprised to see them near the gold again soon.
Overall Grade: B-

So what, I'm constantly asked, has become of Meng? What's happened to the afro that wouldn't die? Sadly enough, it would appear the man is on his way back.. but the 'fro has since been drastically reduced. Meng's been around a bit, with appearances at multiple Wrestlemanias throughout history, but he's never really been much more than the psychotic big guy that hurts people. In the vein of Jim Duggan, Meng's offense leaves quite a bit to be desired and his promos simply don't exist.. yet he never seems to have trouble finding work. Meng's wCw run has been a clinic in no selling, bad storylines and even worse 'hardcore' wrestling. If it was bad and he was in the area, chances are Meng had a hand in it.. his membership in Jimmy Hart's First Family, arguably the worst stable in the history of mankind, is just about all the proof I need.
Overall Grade: D

Mike Rotunda
Now long since washed up, Rotunda wasn't all bad in the middle to late 80's. Actually, things looked pretty bright for his future in the ring.. his amateur status spoke volumes and he really knew his way around the ring. He met decent success in the NWA and took on Rick Steiner in a horrifically overbooked matchup at the famous Chi-Town Rumble back in 1989. The two actually managed to salvage something of an amateur showcase anyway (Steiner was accompanied by his brother Scott, his faithful sock puppet and a memory of some 'accident', which caused whatever condition the NWA claimed he was suffering from.) The finish was clean, but not before Kevin Sullivan ran out and told Rick what a wonderful dog he had backstage, which was apparantly a threat.. as it's common knowledge each wrestler is accompanied to their performances by a loyal hound.

Since then, Rotunda's run the gauntlet of terrible gimmicks as IRS, Captain Mike, Michael Wall Street and V.K. Wall Street. His recent return to action also saw the resurfacing of the Varsity Club.. why he can't just wrestle is beyond me. He's been pretty much ignored recently, used as fodder for the random match here and there, but never anything noteworthy. Mark this one up as one more example of a grade dropping thanks to the promotion's misuse of talent..
Overall Grade: D+

Another star never given her chance to shine. Paired with Randy Savage and his 'team madness' originally, Mona was the curiosity of the three women... the unknown variable. When she hit a hurricanrana a couple weeks in, the curiosity became a strong interest. Columnists and audiences demanded more, astonded by what they'd just seen.. and wCw seemed ready to let this rocket shoot to the top in the near future. Along the way, something happened. Mona hasn't seen a camera in some time, and I'd wager the common fan has forgotten about her. It's a shame too, since Mona represented a last chance at reality. She had morals and her body was her own, not one given to her by a plastic surgeon. She could've been a real return to form, but instead she's become just another could've been. Mona gets a B+, wCw a D-... I guess that evens out to a C.
Overall Grade: C

Norman Smiley
Hey, what's this..? A worker with talent, a catchy gimmick, audience support and something of a push? Well.. it was something of a push. Struggling for nearly a year to get over with the bitter wCw audiences, Smiley introduced his dance, "the big wiggle" (later so named by Wrestling's living imposter, Larry Zbysko) at Starrcade '98. Fans dug it... a lot. I've memories of a couple fans that may've had a drink or two at the said Starrcade, standing each time Smiley would tease the dance and doing it along with him.. ear to ear grins all the way. It's probably the saving grace of that card (well.. besides Kidman vs. Rey vs. Juvi and Kidman vs. Eddy). Somebody noticed Smiley's growing noteriety and stuck him with this hardcore gimmick, which he's adapted to magnificently. His ringwork's lost a bit or two along the way, but I'll accept it as he's still far from horrible between the ropes. Honestly, Smiley's one of the few universally good things going in wCw. He can work well enough to satisfy bitch-asses like myself, he's growing a personality, and the mainstream fans enjoy it all the way. Too bad the bookings seem to be moving away from him yet again.. damned, and that angle with the Demon's gear was hilarious, too.
Overall Grade: A-

I challenge anyone out there to justify this guy's existence before the cameras.
Overall Grade: F-

Probably the most talented of the currently active and unhindered roster, and he's just floating about wCw nirvana somewhere. Psychosis should've won the cruiserweight tournament, but he missed a match along the way due to a problem with connecting flights.. it's nobody's fault, and I don't offer any blame for the situation. wCw found a way around the problem and advanced with a new champion. Thing is, after all this talk about the 'rebirth' of the once proud cruiserweight division, I'm not really seeing anything that deserves to carry the name. In its heyday, we had Juvi, Rey, Kidman, Eddy, Malenko, Psychosis, Super Calo, Blitzkrieg, the occasional Liger visit, and more luchadores than you can shake a stick at. Title matches were nearly guaranteed to be worthwhile television. With Psychosis' gravitation to the nether-regions, it looks like the division pretty much consists of Iaukea, Chavo, Candido and the eternally-jobbed Lash Leroux. ..but I'm getting off track.

Psychosis is a great talent, probably among the top ten in North America. He finally lost his mask in a nice little matchup with Kidman (well, if you'd like to get technical, he lost it to Rey Mysterio, Sr. in Mexico in the weeks prior), and was in line to receive a strong push as a result when the big shift in power took place. Lost in the shuffle, I don't really blame Psycho for losing a lot of his steam.. and that's what it seems he's done. His gimmick's going nowhere, and his workrate is slowly starting to show the signs. Psychosis needs a strong kick of a push, and he needs it soon.
Overall Grade: B+

Rey Mysterio Jr.
When he had his original knees beneath him, Rey was simply unbelievable.. poetry in motion. His hurricanrana pinning combo was a thing of beauty, and his moveset was the most innovative in the game. As the dying legacy wrestling's forgot, he made the mask work, and the audience appreciated him for it. Now injury-prone with a constantly hurt knee, Rey occasionally shows the youthful exhuberance that got him where he is today.. but it's tainted. Much in the fashion that turned Sting from a high flier and a risk taker into the much more conservative man we know today, Rey's body has turned against him and he doesn't know what to do with it. Confronted with the same problem, many have turned to technical skills to pick up the slack left by the absence of patented airborne spots, but it doesn't work with Rey. His minute stature was accounted for tenfold by his stunning and believable offense.. it was the only way he could compete with the big boys. I hope the bookers can find a way to prove me wrong, but if the track record holds up, I fear for Rey's future. With his foothold stable in shambles following the talent jump of several months ago and his physical skills slowly deteriorating, I can't give Rey the grade he deserves to be earning any more. It's like watching a puppy grow older.. sad, but a fact of life.
Overall Grade: B-

Ric Flair
If you need me to tell you why Ric Flair's so respected by his peers, chances are you've a long way to go before understanding this business. Ric's paid his dues and he's been repaid two dozen times over. The fans couldn't get sick of him if they tried.. his speeches get better with age.. he's willing to put over the right guys at the right times. The only thing that's missing anymore is his physical presence. Ric looks like shit in action, which is why that commissioner role was so perfect for him. From what I've heard, the rejection wasn't on wCw's part but Ric's. He didn't want to take such an inactive role in the product. Now I hold the utmost respect for the man, but enough's enough.. the ride couldn't last forever, and I think it's past time he realized it. The last series I really wanted to see from the man has gone out the window (Benoit vs. Flair for the future of the Horsemen), and all that's left for him is to slowly ride off into the sunset. Sadly, Flair's becoming another Hulk Hogan and overstaying his welcome.. milking to the bone the industry that made him. That's something I can't condone, whether we're talking abot Kamala the Ugandan Giant or the thirteen time heavyweight champion of the world.
Overall Grade: C

Rick Steiner
One of the promising young talents of his time, Rick's since taken a turn for the worse. Hell, there's no turn.. he plowed head-on into it. His promos tempt viewers to remove their genitalia with the aid of rusty nails, a toboggan and several dirty washcloths. It gets worse when he finds his way between the ropes. God, was the 'sock puppet and dog' deal of 1989 really so bad after all? The only things saving Rick are his good years in the 80's.. and those are becoming a distant memory.
Overall Grade: D-

Rowdy Roddy Piper
In four words, Piper shouldn't be active. With one false hip and another ready to give at any moment, Roddy's such a far cry from the man he was in the 1980s, I scarcely recognize him.. but then we get to the promos. Sure, he's been blasted in the past for grabbing up all the cheap heat humanly possible.. he'll insult a city, a sports team, a fan sitting in the front row.. all for the evasive attention a heel craves. However, for every evening he takes the easy way out, Piper gives us another couple worthwhile and truly entertaining promos. I'll never forget the night he asked Randy Savage if his parents built him a swing facing the wall when he was a kid. God, I think I pissed myself that evening.

While the years haven't been kind to his body, they've more than balanced the scales as far as his interviews and the like. So long as wCw realizes he's best used as a mouthpiece and not as a physical attraction, his return in late April could be a turning point. Put him behind a young star that hasn't quite mastered the stick yet.. a Vampiro, Psychosis or Crowbar. Use the past to build the future, and the product can't help but improve. As a whole, Piper's grade depends on his treatment in the months ahead.. and I can't offer a grade beforehand.
Overall Grade: n/a that's it. Part IV may come your way as early as next week, but I'll be back for certain Tuesday evening to have a word or two about the programming of one night prior. I've been killing time lately checking out my favoritest of all the favorite sites out there, Xavier Doom's Slayground (note... site has dropped from the radar since the writing of this column), home of some of the strongest wrestling-related humor on the net. Check it out if you get a chance... it's well worth your while, and you might even see a thing or two you remember from the good years. Norman the Lunatic all the way, man! I'm out
until then, i remain

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