Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Ringside Shadows #141: Is the Gimmick Match Destroying Modern Wrestling?

In a word? No. Gimmicked matches are as much a part of professional wrestling's long and storied history as the ongoing struggle between the face and the heel. It's an extra bit of spice, added to a card that's lacking a little flavor, a shot in the arm to wake up a dead crowd. While WCW and the WWF have been more than a little generous in their use of this rare attention-getter in the years gone by, it's both uninformed and illogical to lay any sort of blame at the feet of the stipulations themselves. The sport has changed, for better or for worse, and as the fans have shifted interests, so has the gimmicked match shifted from its own roots, yet maintaining just enough similarity to keep things in perspective.

Never has such a statement been so true as this week, as WCW has introduced two gimmicks from their substantial past for reproduction in the modern age; the scaffold match and the infamous WarGames. You'd be a fool not to admit much of the fed's remaining intrigue lies in their storied history, dating all the way back to the days of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and the NWA; when the men were men, the women were valets and the blood flowed freely. When these guys entered a match with special stipulations, there was a reason for it, and they never lost sight of that. A steel cage match was something special, saved for the odd title defense or an extra-special occasion. There was an extra something in the air those nights, a kind of electricity that shocked its way through the audience, around the cage's steel bars and into the performances of the men butting heads inside. And while some of that has certainly been lost amidst the evening gown matches, the kennel in a cell and Vader's "white castle of fear," I just can't deny a certain sense of urgency, of danger, of excitement when anyone agrees to a good gimmicked matchup, new or old.

They say that if you overlook your history books, you're doomed to repeat their contents, and I guess that's true, to an extent. However, in this case that oversight means missing some incredible matches, memories that you'll carry with you to the grave. If you've seen Mick Foley's fall(s) from the Hell in a Cell, you know what I'm talking about. Ric Flair's second World Title victory over Harley Race in the cage? The same stuff. Jimmy Snuka's flight in Buffalo? Tell me that's forgettable. To be honest, most of the stuff we're seeing today has more than just roots in the past... that's where it was defined. To ignore the past is to ignore your heritage, and when it's something this remarkable, that's something you really shouldn't do.

So I'm here to remind you, in case you've forgotten.. maybe broaden your horizons a bit, maybe encourage you to check out a PPV you've been avoiding for some time. I'm here to cover every different gimmicked match this burnt out mind can remember, and I'm here to have a little fun.

Behold: the classification of a gimmicked match!

The Scaffold Match, quite simply, features a scaffold that's erected a good fifteen feet above the surface of the ring itself... twenty from the concrete below. Historically a match reserved for tag teams, all four men would climb to the walkway above and the bell would ring, signalling the start of the match. Anything was legal in these scaffold matches, including the ladders that support the entire contraption, removed wrestling boots or even Jim Cornette's tennis racket, lobbed from the floor below. The goal of such a match, brutal as it may seem, was to throw both your opponents off the scaffold completely, usually landing in a nasty pile on the mat.

Though such matches were generally pretty weak in their execution, the sheer sight of men fighting atop a thin walkway elevated to frightening heights was amazing enough on its own. On top of that it's often quite comical, watching three hundred pound men waving their arms in the middle of the scaffold, a desperate attempt at maintaining balance. The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal, aka the Legion of Doom) participated in one such match, overcoming the Midnight Express and manager Jim Cornette, but the more memorable victory belongs to Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, the Rock'n Roll Express. They, too, defeated the Midnighters in a scaffold match one year earlier, and Cornette took a dive from the construct, as well. I'd often wondered why WCW didn't pull this one out in the modern day, and now that they have, I'm applauding the decision as well as the competitors: Shane Douglas and Billy Kidman. They, above all others, should be able to treat the match with the respect it deserves. Give us a good one, guys.

Believed by many to have been introduced for the very first time at the Shawn Michaels / Scott Hall Wrestlemania X Intercontinental match, the Ladder Match is actually one of the older gimmicks in wrestling history. Though legdrops from the top rung and baseball-style swings with the ladder were hardly commonplace in the days of its origin, the ferocity and basic premise of a ladder match hasn't changed a bit along the way. An important object (often a belt or cold, hard cash) is hung high above the ring before the competitors have even entered the arena, while a giant painting ladder is erected in the entryway for use later in the match. Both men enter, the bell is sounded, and the match begins to progress as any no-DQ would until one man makes a move for the entryway. The ladder is eventually drug into the ring, used as a weapon and erected before the winner climbs to the top and takes the loot that hangs above.

Of all the gimmicked matches in existence, a ladder match is generally the most likely to produce a memorable, well-worked and all around worthwhile match. Though the physical abuse suffered in such a match is usually substantial, the workers involved are often elevated to a level that no amount of injury will ever take away. The fans respect a good match, they enjoy a good gimmick, and they love a good worker, but when you combine all three, the result is magical. To this point, good booking has almost always gone hand in hand with a ladder match, to which much of the intrigue can be attributed. Sure, we've gone through the occasional poor ladder matchup, (it's inevitable in this day and age) but each of those has been countered by a classic. The Hardys vs. Edge & Christian. Rhodes vs. Blanchard. Michaels vs. Hall. Need I say more?

Several different matches fall under the gimmicked banner of the "Brawl". A No DQ Match, a Boiler Room Brawl, a Buried Alive Match, a First Blood Match, or any number of others could fall under such a category, all with varying goals, purposes and means of arrival. As a rule of thumb, though, such matches are under the stipulation of no disqualification. Anything can and probably will happen, and we're almost assured that the action will leave the ring. A boiler room match, for instance, never enters the squared circle to begin with. It all goes down in a boiler room, with the objective being to get out of the room first. Though mindless brawling and a sloppy "street fight" atmosphere have reached new heights of popularity in the modern day, their way was paved on the backs of their preceding generation. The first blood match, which was reintroduced by the WWF at the 1998 King of the Ring, also serves as a throwback to the work of the previous generation. Steve Austin and Kane met at that event, working under the ruling that the first man to bleed was to be declared the loser. Though he dominated the match itself, Austin eventually lost his title in the match after the Undertaker opened him up with a chair. Twelve years earlier, Dusty Rhodes and Tully Blanchard met under the same stipulations at Starrcade '86, and fought to a similar screwjob finish.

While brawls are far from my cup of tea, I'll acknowledge their growing importance in the industry today. Given the right set of circumstances and an excellent worker, a brawl can deliver just as amazing a match as a fine-tuned technical masterpiece, just look at Austin vs. Hart at Wrestlemania 13. Though the punches and kicks may look sloppy, brawling delivers a feel that many other styles have trouble conveying: realism. Tell Mike Tyson that his style lacks flow, substance and technique, and he'll still knock you out with one strong shot. His approach is just as effective as any other.

In stark contrast to the loose nature of the brawl, an "I Quit" Match is the definition of technical mastery and understanding of the sport. The purpose here is to force your opponent into submission, screaming "I quit!" into the arena microphone. Pretty simple, and likely something that's lasted since the day of the caveman. Did your older brother ever lock hold of your arm, twisting until you screamed "uncle"? Same deal.

As I alluded to in the description of a brawl, my true interest lies in this sort of match. Though I'll watch a great fight that covers the entire arena and ends with a fall from a ridiculous height, it takes a submissions match to really capture my attention. Ingenuity is the name of the game here, along with psychology and dedication. To maintain the realism that's becoming so important today, workers have to assure fans that what they're doing hurts like a bitch, and they do that by systematically working over the same limb throughout the match and applying interesting new holds in hopes of a submission. Though such a match has had more than its share of stinkers in the past, (what were they thinking with Sid vs. Goldberg?) all it takes is one dedicated man to draw the crowd's full attention and build a superb match.

One gimmick that's been modified by today's world is the Strap Match, and that modification has been for the worse. See, with the original strap match, both men were joined at the waist, wrist or neck by means of a strap of some sort (chain, leather, rope, etc). Doesn't sound so different? Well, the purpose was then to touch all four corners of the ring before your opponent did, not to pin them. If one man climbed too close to a corner, it was up to his opponent to give the strap a firm yank, often taking him off his feet in the process. Sure, the strap was also used as a whip or to strangle wrestlers, but that wasn't the sole purpose of the match. Today the men are still tied together, but the object is quite different: gain a pinfall or submission. By dropping the "four corners" rule, the bookers have eliminated most of what made this match unique in the first place. It's a sad development, really.

A style that's almost defined the 90s, in addition to taking a shot at shaping the future, found its home in the form of the Hardcore Match. Without argument, a hardcore match is the most varied of all gimmicks, including matches that mix and match barb wire, explosives, the use of wild animals, glass, fire, tables, chairs, chainsaws and anything and everything in between. A hardcore match is based on one simple rule; top the stunt the guy wrestling before you pulled. It's a dangerous, violent, unfathomable world that's been delivered closer to our doorsteps than anyone dreamed imaginable only ten years ago. Hardcore was almost an urban legend during the time of the Flairs, the Hogans and the Savages, a word that was whispered between the viewers, a note passed under the table. It was almost the forbidden style, and that is still its main attraction. Built over the battered bodies of Mick Foley, Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Funk and various others, hardcore is only now beginning to realize the potential it held all this time... and it's spreading. Look closely enough at a Ladder match, an "I Quit Match" or a scaffold match and you'll see a little bit of hardcore influence peeking back out at you.

Easily the poster boy of the gimmick match is the ever present Steel Cage Match, and the multiple variations that lie therein. Be it the WWF's Hell in a Cell, WCW's Three tiered monster, the standard-issue over the top cage, wire mesh or a thunderdome sealed deal, everybody's seen one of these. It's what a good gimmicked match should be: memorable, different, and necessary. When two men go to the cage, there's a reason they're doing it. Like I said earlier on, there's a certain something in the air for one of these, a sense that something special's about to go down. The fans feel it, the announcers feel it, and the workers feel it. So many important moments have gone down surrounded by the steel; Benoit's dual dive with Snuka, Rikishi's splash from the very top, Hennig's turn on the Horsemen, Flair's second World Title victory. The match has a history like no other, and that history is enough to lift even the lamest of matches up to something you're willing to watch again and again. The gimmick is so simple, it's genius. More than that, it's a memory in the making.

Finally, we have the grand daddy of them all. My personal favorite, the WarGames match. An NWA staple, the WarGames were held every year during the Great American Bash event and often centered on the cornerstone feud of the promotion; The Four Horsemen vs. the world. Though the event's come and gone since the '87 Bash where it debuted, the rules have remained virtually the same. A roofed steel cage covers two rings, side by side. The match begins with one competitor from each team sealed in the cage, a clock counting down the two minutes until the next man is allowed in. A coin toss then decides the order of combatants, with each team alternating turns (for instance, a heel correctly calling the toss would give us a heel - face - heel - face - heel - face rotation.) Once all ten men have entered in the ring, the match officially begins. All ten tear at each other until one individual gives in to the pain, submitting and losing the match for the rest of his team. In a way, this match defined the gimmick match for a new generation, setting the stage for the insanity of today. It featured the day's biggest stars in Flair, Anderson, Luger, Sting, the Road Warriors and Rhodes. It used a cage in a way that was completely unheard of in its day. Though they were a bit complex, the rules were something original, too. It was a unique way to present a match with everyone the fans wanted to see, a clever way to gain attention. A gimmick. Though several WarGames have come and gone since the original, none have delivered the same excitement as the first. It's been some time since we've seen one of these, and this coming Monday night will show us if WCW's truly learned something from their past, or if they plan to cash that in, as well.

When it comes down to it, I'm forced to recite one more old adage; the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's still all about entertaining the audience, giving them something to come back for... we've just found more ways to do it.
until then, i remain

Friday, August 25, 2000

The World's Greatest WWF Summerslam 2000 Preview

Moreso than its predecessors, the Survivor Series and Royal Rumble, the WWF's ongoing Summerslam PPV holds a rich history in my mind. I spent many a late August night throughout my youth attempting to decipher the scrambled lines on my non-PPV television, while Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura told me what I was missing. I'd shout when the Hart Foundation dropped the tag belts, cheer when the Ultimate Warrior held the Intercontinental gold high above his head and blink the lights on and off as the PPV went off the air, announcing to the neighborhood that Hulk Hogan had indeed successfully defended his World Title on this night. While we've all grown a little since those warm nights in the mid 80s, and I won't be flashing the lights in my apartment come this Sunday, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a little extra something in the air heading into another of the "big 5" PPV events this year.

While the lineup this go 'round seems sub par when compared to the masterpieces Vince has been plugging out since January 1st, I won't even pretend we won't see something special out of the Tag Team or number one contender's matches.. nor from the main event, Kurt Angle's first on PPV. The card's a bit crowded with ten matches, something I also complained about with WCW's New Blood Rising, but several of the said matches should take up less than three minutes of time.. leaving plenty of room for the epics at the top of the roster. So, while we aren't likely to see the Ultimate Warrior taking hold of another IC title or the Hart Foundation in the TLC match, I'd be willing to bet this year's Summerslam will inspire similar memories in the minds of today's viewers, young or old.

Rikishi and Too Cool vs. Right To Censor

If nothing else, I'll cheer this because it means the active return of Stevie Richards. Though he's playing the part of a man with no offense, I'm hoping upon hope that doesn't last and he just pops open a can over anyone that gets in his way.. while the crowd watches, jaws on the floor. Too Cool and Rikishi really need something to break them out of the rut they're riding, which is what makes me believe they'll shock the world and align themselves with the RTC, rather than continuing to oppose them. If, per chance, that doesn't go down, I'm going with the RTC here. Fans haven't accepted them as a threat (who can blame them?), and a victory over a big time stable would be the first step.
Winners: The RTC

Terri vs. The Kat
Stinkface Match

Let's see, what were my words over in the New Blood Rising Preview..? Ah, yes.. "Boobs, mud and boobs. Should I say anything more? Nah.. that's probably about all they've booked". Replace 'mud' with "gratuitous ass-rubbins in the face", and it's universally applicable. Woohaaa!
Winner: The Kat. Because I still think she's fine.

X-Pac vs. Road Dogg

..and lo, DX lay strewn about the floor. And the fans decided that it was good.. and about time. Seriously, here's a loose end that's been dangling behind the WWF's arsehole all year. DX hasn't worked as a cohesive unit since HHH went main event, and I'm utterly amazed its taken them this long to see that. This won't be anything worth remembering a couple years from now, with the Dogg's suck pretty much equaling X-Pac's potential and dragging the match into the gutter with him for another joint. I've honestly lost all interest in the lagging stable, and hope they take this opportunity to put it out of its misery for good.. with Jesse James holding the short end of the stick.
Winner: X-Pac

Shane McMahon vs. Steve Blackman
Hardcore Title Match

Guarantee you the crowd doesn't give a shit for this one. Blackman, the man with no personality, and McMahon, the one without a solid ring presence. I can't really see this one going in a positive direction. Perhaps we'll be treated to the further presence of the Big Boss Man, Kama Mustafa, the Big Show and Mae Young.. and the match can achieve some sort of merit as 'worst of breed'. Twenty bucks says this one sees a garbage can that's just a little too flimsy, nunchukus, and a "cinder block". The great American hero, Steve Blackman, walks away from this with his broken gold securely around his waist.
Winner: Steve Blackman

Jerry Lawler vs. Tazz

This one.. I'm not too excited about. Sure, it was surprising and cool when Lawler defended JR's honor earlier in the month. It was nice to see there was more than a comical attitude to the man in the crown. The week after, more of the same. It wasn't nearly as surprising and it was a bit too dramatized. By the time he was jumping Tazz in the loading docks, throwing boxes of viciously empty soda cans at him and ...very...slowly...climbing...down, I'd already lost any interest in their match at Summerslam. I despise the use of the word 'hypocrite', but it's the only one that really fits in this instance. For years, the WWF has been giving their competitors a hard time, calling them 'wheel chair wrestling', among other things. Hey, it was true. Hogan was pulling the same old matches out of his ass, Flair wasn't half the man he used to be, and Savage was injuring referees with his redundant elbow from the top. Taking a look at this month's cards, though, will reveal a much younger WCW.. and the WWF showcasing Jerry Lawler. Again. This one didn't really work when Bret Hart opposed him, and the Hitman was almost a god to the fans at that time. Tazz is coming off a failed launch in the fed and an early injury, killing his big momentum after an ECW World Title win. Somehow, I don't see Lawler giving him much to work with here.. and if the Human Suplex Machine does the job, they may as well just set him loose now.
Winner: Tazz

Val Venis & Trish Stratus vs. Eddy Guerrero & Chyna
Intercontinental Title Match

I'd really like to see Eddy Guerrero as an Intercontinental champion. Unlike Benoit or Jericho, who were pushed to this level almost immediately (and put a dent in the worth of the titles along the way), Guerrero's done things the right way. Slowly, patiently, and firmly. He's established himself as a competitor in the tag ranks and the singles ranks, he's proven he can get the job done cleanly on his own as a solid European champion, and he's shown he's more than just 'the guy who says mamacita'. While it may still be a bit early for an Intercontinental reign, it wouldn't seem out of place, either. Guerrero's a good guy, and it's nice to see somebody climbing the stairs in the right order, rather than skipping all the way to the top. The same can be said of Venis. He's doing a decent enough job of defining himself as a personality apart from the porn star, and has been playing the part of a great heel for the better part of two months. While he's still a bit wishy-washy and hasn't found a definitive look that's dynamic, sticks, and interests crowds, he's definitely on the verge. Despite the needless inclusion of the women into the action (a move which will drag the quality of the match down considerably), Guerrero and Venis should be able to give us something of a show on their own. I only hope it's a show that doesn't end with another Chyna title reign.
Winner: Eddie Guerrero

Undertaker vs. Kane

The arrival of this one heralded the death of one of my favorite spots of all time; the 'through the ring apron slam'. When they pulled that out on Raw, the feeling of surprise and excitement just wasn't in my system any more. It meant something when the Big Show did it. Seeing Mick Foley thrown through the top of the Cell into it gave the ending more credibility than anything else. Kane's delivery just didn't have as much meaning (if any at all), and left me with a sour taste in my mouth.. a taste that's likely to last throughout this feud. I'm glad Kane finally made the turn John and I have been predicting for.. oh, say 6 months now, but another brother vs. brother feud isn't really ringing my bell here. Kane should take this one, only to job to big bro Mark either next month or the next night.
Winner: Kane

Edge & Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz w/Lita
Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match for the Tag Team Championship

Here's one that's been a "lock" for months now. The Hardys, in their big chance on the home field, making a run at their second Tag Team Title reigns. Contrasted with their long time opponents, Edge and Christian, and the immensely popular Dudley Boys, there won't be a lack of heat here.. nor a lack of effort. Much like the rest of the upper card, the competitors here have met before, to stupendous results, but have yet to reach that defining moment of excellence. The spots have been too spaced out, the action a little too slow and the timing a second too late.. not that I'm complaining. This should be sweet, and every arrow on the board points to the Hardys.
Winners: The Hardy Boyz

Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit
Two out of Three Falls Match

Hot damn. Hot damn. This is the textbook definition for the right way to seal off a strong, lengthy feud.. and a picture perfect set of competitors to make it work. Jericho and Benoit have had some great meetings in the last few months, but haven't quite reached the peak of excellence they should've. Their submissions match was beautiful, but not perfect. Their Wrestlemania triple threat was great, but limited due to the third competitor. A best two out of three match should be unbelievable. I want to see Benoit locking in the liontamer.. the right way. I want to see Jericho follow suit, with more of the insane reversals and combos that made the move a legitimate finisher in WCW. I want a 5* match, and this is the combo to provide it. Though the feud had apparently ended in Benoit's favor earlier in the year, this blowoff should end with the right man on top.. Chris Jericho. His year-long ongoing bitterness with HHH needs to hit the big time, and Benoit is the only thing standing in his way. This time, Jericho won't be denied.
Winner: Chris Jericho

The Rock vs. Kurt Angle vs. Triple H
World Wrestling Federation Championship

So we're back to try it one more time again. HHH and The Rock, with Kurt Angle thrown into the mix to provide a little spice to what would otherwise be a flat, overdone encounter. The long-anticipated storylines have finally come to pass, with Kurt Angle and Stephanie's big, friendly kiss this past Thursday on Smackdown.. and the resulting explosion about to hit the Summerslam card Sunday night, so the crowd has more than one reason to cheer. Rocky's been putting on better matches lately, and with the growing expertise of HHH and proven knowledge / experience of Angle, this could be a worthwhile follow-up to Chris Benoit's shot at WWF gold. Not a bad way to cap off the night.. and I'd expect some sort of swerve to bring us home. Predicting a Angle or Helmsley title reign might seem out of left field, especially since neither needs the added momentum of the title to make their feud work, but I've got a gut feeling we may just see one of Stephanie's love interests wearing the strap this weekend. Just how crazy would a HHH / Angle / Jericho World Title match be for next month's PPV? Quite, and that's got my money.
Winner: HHH

In Closing...

To say that this card is at the bottom of the WWF's cards this year says a lot. 2000 has been a spectacular year for the Federation on Pay Per View, and to have a card this strong at the bottom of the barrel is quite a statement. This Sunday's the proper blowoff for three distinct feuds, which is both a bit boring (since we've seen the matches before) and cause for excitement. These men know each other in and out, after working the roads for months in the past, and should have everything down to a science by now. Ideally, they'll each produce as perfect a match as possible here.. since they won't have a chance to do so in the future. Add to that the historical significance of Summerslam, and you've got another great program in a line of great programs. If you want my opinion, it's worth checking out.
until next time, i remain

Monday, August 14, 2000

Ringside Shadows #140: Exposure (Part II of II: WCW)

Let's face the facts: if there's any one thing that drives the wrestling world today, more than the merchandising, more than the big money contracts, more than the fringe benefits, it's the exposure. A wrestler could easily use his noteriety in the ring to net some easy cash as a promotional spokesman, an actor or a stuntman. Sometimes the ball swings the other way, and an athlete, actor or other celebrity will take the opportunity presented to them by a professional wrestling match to jump start a lagging career or social stance. Either way, it's all about the exposure, and every worker in the locker room knows it. With men crawling over each other in the crowd of the WWF, backstage politics nearly killing WCW and not enough coverage spiraling ECW to new depths, it's become a crucial element in the do or die structure of things today. With so little of it to go around, you'd figure either Vince (McMahon or Russo) would maximize every moment of available screen time, to spread that precious exposure over as much ground as possible every week on live TV. It doesn't make sense to waste such a valuable commodity, spending it like water, but that's exactly what they're doing.

Now, I won't sit here and tell you things aren't good in the industry today. They are. We're riding the peak of a tidal wave of popularity, one which has shown no signs of slowing down. We're at the all important crossroads, where one generation hands the ball to the next, always fertile ground for some stellar feuds and historic matches. Russo has apparantly delivered the crippling blow to the old guard, and the young guys are literally jumping through hoops for the chance to replace them in the halls of time. If not for a few cracks and flaws along the way, there wouldn't be anything really worthy of commenting upon, and I wouldn't be here this afternoon, whispering into your ear. To those cracks, I dedicate this column. To those flaws, I devote a short series of two posts.

There are many guilty parties when it comes to the crime of overexposure, and it's not like we can blame them, either. These people are given the forum to broadcast their likenesses across the known world, and are merely taking advantage of a very good situation. No matter if the blame lays in the hands of the respective athlete or the booker, over and under exposure is quite the issue in the modern wrestling scene. In many cases, it's an honest mistake on the part of the offender, but that mistake can often mean life or death for the career of another. Exposure holds that kind of sway.

While I've captured your interest, I'd ask you to take a look at a short list. Two short lists, actually; a 'good list' and a 'bad list,' naming the top five workers we've maybe seen a bit too much of recently, and those that we haven't seen nearly enough. Sometimes a little exposure's just enough to make a career, and sometimes a lot's more than enough to break one.

One thing that really caught my attention while compiling this WCW list earlier in the afternoon was the great strides the promotion has taken in the past month to correct the wrongs that had plagued it for years. Prior to Bash at the Beach, this roster would have written itself: Booker T, Kidman, Lance Storm, Shane Douglas, maybe even Jeff Jarrett, and while WCW is far from a perfect organization, they've at least found the right path and the balls with which to tread it. For the first time since the days of the nWo, I'll go on record as saying the WWF's doing the worse job of the two in managing their talent. Perhaps it goes hand in hand with the larger roster.

Overexposed ('the bad list')

#5: Kronic
Ok, Ok.. we get it. These guys like pot. Everything from the name of their team to their varying finishing maneuvers scream it. I'll admit their in-joke could have been amusing for a little while, but it's now been overplayed and referenced so often that even Madden's hideously out of place "Snootchie Bootchies" screech seems refreshingly different when given the alternative. They had our attention for some time after their big debut, and what have they done with it? Fallen back into the lazy little ruts they'd dug as singles, advancing little as individuals and refusing to develop anything more than a prima-donna attitude about things. As two aging men with no mic skills to speak of, you'd figure they'd spend more time honing their game, perhaps working on their movesets, teamwork and endurance, than worrying about who they'll be putting over in the next few weeks. No amount of jobbing can keep you buried for long if the fans know and respect the effort you put forward in the ring each and every week. Look at Chris Benoit. Buried for YEARS in WCW, the fans never let him go, and he eventually carried every belt in the promotion.

While Kronic seems on the verge of suck, I'll recognize the fact that they've still got a chance to turn things around. The crowd has yet to turn on them, and if they take the opportunity to quit their bitching, concentrating instead on the fans who got them this far, they could yet have a long and storied future in the tag and singles ranks. Let's check back in a couple months and see how they're looking then.

#4: The Perfect Event
While Kronic has the fans, the popular (if not socially acceptable) gimmick, and the combined experience in the ring, Stasiak and Palumbo have none of the above, yet they still creep onto my TV set just as often. I think John C. hit the nail on the head with these two during our New Blood Rising Preview, in which he said they had "no idea what they're doing" in or out of the ring. It's no secret that WCW's backstage approach to promos, handling of matches and continuity is loose at best. They offer no direction in promos, other than "build a feud with so and so." Their motivation, helping a worker to get into character before his match, consists of "you don't like that guy." While some may have developed such skills in the independents or the WWF, neither Palumbo nor Stasiak had the time or chance to do so, and they won't be bothered to now. Case in point: the tag team match on Thunder last week. While Stasiak was in the ring being pinned and a brawl was tying things up on the floor, Palumbo wasn't caught up in the melee. He was instead standing on the apron, watching his teammate take the very... slow... three... count. Such an attitude is prevalent throughout their matches, and while nothing Earth-shatteringly unforgivable immediately springs to mind where the two are concerned, it truly is the little things that matter. That Palumbo didn't take the time to join the fray on the floor and maintain the veil of believability shows he doesn't really care about the overall product. In the end, such an attitude can easily mold and decay all that Russo's working to construct, and most certainly shouldn't be rewarded.

#3: General Rection
Here's a big guy that can do a moonsault. For that, I'll give him credit. It's a truly awe-inspiring feat, and one that sets him in elite company alongside Vader and Bam Bam Bigelow as a uniquely agile large fellow. Aside from that, though, Rection (or Morrus, whichever you prefer) has done nothing to hone any sort of skill in the ring. His conditioning is atrocious, his gimmicks are consistantly among the worst since John Tenta, (Earthquake, the Shark, etc..) and he's just not something I'd willingly watch in my spare time. Where some would take these shortcomings, work with them, and try to create as strong an image as possible with the tools god gave them, Rection has been consistantly bad for over 4 years. He's dropped enough matches to legitimately fill in the words "midcard jobber" on his tax returns, yet always manages to find his way into ongoing feud after ongoing feud, stable after stable. At this stage, it would be pretty safe to write him off as a never-was and send him that little pink love slip, as I seriously, seriously doubt he'll ever advance into someone worth watching.

#2: The Demon
Regarded by many as the greatest folly of Eric Bischoff's entire regime at the head of WCW, and the one that inevitably sealed the fate of his first long run at the promotion's helm. Coming from a man that introduced "The Evil Midget" Cheetum, the nWo split, the 'blood runs cold' campaign, the signing of Tank Abbott, the Karl Malone / Jay Leno / Steve McMichael / Dennis Rodman / Shaq celebrity orgy and many others, that distinction really says a lot. The Demon was doomed for failure from the very start, and was cursed to drag whoever donned its makeup and fake metal spikes down to career hell as a result. I suppose we should all be thankful it found a final resting place on the shoulders of an already horrid worker, Dale "MVP, the wrestlin', talkin' baseball" Torborg. The getup wasn't without its casualties prior to Torborg's arrival, though. The KISS segment that introduced it was among the lowest rated ever on Nitro. Norman Smiley worked a small angle with the Demon, donning the gear on two separate nights, and has never been the same. The Wall found himself on the other side of a special "main event match" against the monster, and hasn't been heard from since. I think it's safe to say that when this Demon is finally slain, half the WCW roster will breath a little easier, and perhaps a little wiser.

#1: Buff and Judy Bagwell
Like this one really needs any explanation. The Bagwells have been plaguing us for years with their unnecessary presence, dating all the way back to Buff's early days with the promotion. In and out of the ring, Buff is the definition of an egomaniac. His constant suspensions not only reveal his less than perfect record backstage, but his control of the WCW higher-ups, as well. He's got them wound tightly around his pinky finger, and god only knows why. He showboats constantly in the ring, demeaning the industry, his opponent, the viewers and himself. When he does get around to "working," it's the sort of thing that would make Lou Thesz spin wildly in his grave. On the mic, Buff holds a strong similarity to one of those little dolls with the pull string; you can't listen to him for more than 3 minutes without hearing the same thing repeated. Despite his lack of anything resembling talent, slim fan reaction and terrible temper problems backstage, Bagwell has remained somewhere near the top of the midcard for years, and even managed a slot as one of the higher ups in the original nWo. Why he's been consistantly rewarded for such a history completely boggles my mind. Were I in charge, Bagwell would be walking the street within hours, which would teach him a lesson in humility. No matter what he'd have us believe, I'm of the firm stance that McMahon knows enough to steer far clear of him, with Paul E. echoing the sentiment. Let's give Buff a couple independent bookings, where he drives himself to the shows, jobs, and goes home with one third the paycheck as well as little or no tv time. If Buff's "the stuff," then I hope I never have it.

Underexposed ('the good list')

#5: Kanyon
Sure, Kanyon's been getting quite a bit of TV time lately, which is why he's so far down the list. He's been continuing an angle with the absent DDP for months, which will end up with one hell of a payoff upon Page's return to the ring. He's featured on TV every week, often delivering the "Kanyon Cutter" and looking relatively strong. Thing is, when he isn't hitting his finisher on non-athletes, he's jobbing to every member of the Bagwell family or his mic is being cut. Seems someone is determined to undermine Kanyon, and I'm sure it has more than a little to do with his continued desire to leave the WCW lineup for good. Like I'd metioned in the Kronic writeup earlier on, though, fans can tell the difference between a man who gives the fans everything he's got and a man who mails it in. In these terms, Kanyon is most certainly defined by the former. Though he may not like dropping a match to Bagwell, (understandably) he'll do it with little or no complaint, and he'll give the fans what they paid for all the way. A couple years ago, Kanyon was one of the most innovative workers in all of pro wrestling. Every week, it seemed, he'd break out something to make us go "oooo" and wait for the replay. Though he's quit doing so recently, his game has become much more well rounded in the stead of his ingenuity, which means one thing. If and when he gets into an environment that gives him optimism for the future and a strong will to succeed (*achemWWF*), his work in the ring will be majestic as he meshes his former style with his latter and comes up with something truly groundbreaking and revolutionary. It's a shame he couldn't do so in WCW, because in the end they're the ones that could really use it.

#4: The Jung Dragons
Here are a couple more guys that, while featured relatively often on tv, will never reach their full potential with the roles they're assuming now. I've been singing the praises of Kaz Hayashi for some time, and remain of the belief that his incredible style and personality between the ropes would more than overcome the barrier his broken English has built. Though his teammates are still a bit green, a run with Kaz as their leader could give them the time, experience and exposure to build a solid game all around, thus netting us three superb workers for the price of one. The stable has almost everything it needs: a great name, all the talent in the world and youth. What they could use now is a solid direction and a couple big wins on TV. Where they now spend their PPVs hiding from the Cat behind broom handles and are thus handled as a comedy routine, a couple strong run-ins and beatings could establish them as three angry youths who mean business, a stable to be reckoned with. Sadly, in a day that saw Kevin Nash single-handedly dismantling the entire Filthy Animals faction, such a direction may be too much to ask. Regardless, any direction would be better than the current one, and I hope last night's ladder match is a sign of things to come.

#3: Bam Bam Bigelow
Though he can't appear on television currently for reasons that are obvious, (Bigelow was badly burned, rescuing victims trapped in a house fire several weeks ago) Bam Bam never received the push that was due to him upon his initial arrival in WCW. Making the move from ECW, where he'd finally re-established himself as a geniune hard ass, Bigelow dove right into a head-on feud with then champion Bill Goldberg. Unfortunately, the feud never took off and Bischoff ended up blowing the load WAY early, giving Goldberg a clean win on PPV a month or two after Starrcade '98. After that, Bigelow was moved to the hardcore division, which was really just ECW's former workers biding time in WCW. Raven, the Sandman and Saturn joined him, and things seemed ready to take off for the Extreme quartet, but again something happened. It never came together, and weeks later Raven was off TV and The Sandman was out of the federation. Most recently, fans were teased with an original Triple Threat reunion as Bigelow, Shane Douglas and Chris Candido aligned themselves on Nitro, only to go absolutely nowhere. In Bigelow, you've got one of the most historically agile big men of all time. A man that, despite his rotund appearance, manages to make everything he does look credible. He knows what he's doing. Yet, he's never been used correctly throughout his career and WCW's had more than one chance to do something throughout the years. I only hope it isn't too late for one last, long deserved push.

#2: Rey Mysterio, Jr. / Juventud Guerrera
Injury doesn't have as much to do with the burial of these two as WCW would like you to think. These guys are it. They're what made the Cruiserweight division the stuff of legends back in the mid to late '90s. To see them manhandled on such a regular basis is just silly. There isn't really much more I can say. You know it, I know it, WCW knows it; they've got what it takes. Why they haven't been elevated above their current roles as lightweight jobbers to the stars is a question that will never be answered.

#1: Crowbar
Easily the most overlooked man in WCW today. His mic skills are fantastic, he tells a story in the ring like very few in the past, and he (again) gives the crowd 110% every time he's between the ropes. Though his gimmick's silly, he's adapted himself to the point that it's become almost believable, and he's played with it enough to entertain us consistantly. His overuse of the notorious phrase "crimson mask" on Play by Play some time ago had me in tears. I nearly wet myself when he took off his pants, mimicking the already-pantsed ref and David Flair at last month's Bas at the Beach card. His humor is right up there with Mick Foley and Al Snow, and his skills in the ring put both of them to shame. Quite simply, he's got the look, and if Russo passes him by, it's the decision that he'll be remembered for years from now when Crowbar / Devon Storm is one of the biggest names in the sport. Given any direction, character or storyline at all, I'm confident this guy could make it work... so why isn't he getting a chance?

On the Verge...

Jindrak and O'Haire
File these two under the same folder as Lita over in the WWF. I like 'em, but I'm kinda getting sick of 'em. Let these guys grow on us, WCW. If we're continually impressed, we'll give them the reaction they deserve.. but shove them down our throats, and we're likely to let that affect our opinion of the duo. The heel turn, the multiple title shots, they've all been a little overwhelming. How about a little less of the storyline development and a little more of the straightforward matches?

...and that's it. I'll be without cable again next week, as the cable man can't get to my new apartment until Tuesday, but I'll try to return for another post, regardless. As for this week, keep your eyes set to The Oratory, as administrators John C. and myself are set to make some major announcements about the future of that joint that will rock you.... like a hurricane. Poor 80s hair metal aside, it's been a pleasure. As always, thanks for taking the time to check this out. Feedback is appreciated, and I'll always respond (even if it takes me a little while.)
until then, i remain

Friday, August 11, 2000

The World's Greatest WCW New Blood Rising 2000 Preview

WCW's come a long way from the utterly horrendous Bash at the Beach lineup last month, though you couldn't really tell by looking at this one. Sure, 50% of the card is quite strong... but the other half and more than a couple unnecessary gimmicks have made things more complicated than they should be. Ten matches seems a bit much, and many of these feuds could've held off until next month or resolved themselves on television. It's a good rule of thumb that if Judy Bagwell's mentioned on the card, things aren't quite as good as they could be. Such is the case here. While the Canadian crowd will certainly be as hot as ever (again, I'll agree with John), they won't have nearly as many hometown boys to cheer this time. Back at Mayhem, the last time Turner ventured North, both Bret Hart and Chris Benoit were featured at the top of the card. giving the fans that extra bit of enthusiasm throughout the night. Regardless, audience participation is one thing Russo shouldn't be concerned with; the Canucks are generally a great crowd with little exception. With Lance Storm running wild through the midcard, we've been given a nice little side story leading into this big event.. and it's nice to see ol' Vince has been planning ahead.

3 Count w/Tank Abbott vs. Jung Dragons
Double Ladder Match

Has the potential to be surprisingly good. Both these teams haven't even thought about their full potential yet (which is probably why they're risking life and limb, Hardy-style, in multiple ladder matches like this), and haven't really figured out that WCW pays the same whether they're giving it their all or phoning it in. Good! Good for them! More importantly, good for us. I'll put my money on these six heading out there, absolutely killing themselves for our enjoyment, and then heading back to their lower-midcard spot on the card. The fans want to like these guys, they just haven't been given a reason to. It's really difficult to pick a winner here, though I'm required to give it a shot. Let's see, the Dragons have a beef with the Cat. The Cat's still the commissioner. 3 Count's walking away with their gold record and Tank Abbott, secure in their ability to dance another day. Fun matchup, and one I'll applaud every step of the way.
Winners: 3 Count

The Cat vs. The Great Muta

Man, you'd think WCW would take advantage of their ability to utilize one of their most historic names on a big PPV event like this. Instead, they've nonsensically teamed him with The Demon and ICP, along with a slightly more acceptable Vampiro. Regardless, he's up against commissioner Cat here.. a man who was so completely awful in the ring, they stuck him in a permanently out-of-ring role. I'll give credit where credit's due, however, he's really thrived as a commish.. that's why his return to the ring is all the more tragic. I'll have to reopen the 'to hell with Cat' club Muta better grab a 'V' here.
Winner: Muta

Major Gunns vs. Ms. Hancock
"Rip off the Camouflage" Match

Boobs, mud and boobs. Should I say anything more? Nah.. that's probably about all they've booked.
Winner: Ms. Hancock

Kronic vs. The Perfect Event vs. General Rection & Corporal Cajun vs. Mark Jindrak & Sean O'Haire
Tag Team Championship Match

I suppose this is a way of trying to tell us the tag division is alive and well.. but I just don't buy it. Of the 8 men actively participating in this match, I'd willingly watch 2 of them on any given day. Jindrak and O'Haire are still green as grass, though you can't blame WCW for trying something new. The whole MIA thing has really fallen flat on its face, with the release of Van Hammer driving the point home. The Perfect Event haven't done much since dropping the belts last month, aside from the occasional run-in, and Kronic's done well enough being just.. Kronic. This one has strong potential to become a bumblefuck.. just don't say I didn't warn you. As for victors.. well, I'll go with Jindrak and O'Haire, because they're fresh off a heel turn.
Winners: Jindrak and O'Haire

Kanyon vs. Buff Bagwell w/Judy
"Judy Bagwell On A Pole" Match

Good god, whose idea was it to bring back former WCW Tag Team Champion Judy Bagwell?! Can we get this guy executed? Judy Bagwell is the antichrist. Not only did she doom the world with her presence of her damned son, "Buff", and his tremendously awful ring presence, but she doomed half the known world when she stepped into the ring in his defense. Thanks to Judy Bagwell, 'workers' like Mark Madden, Gene Okerlund and Pamela Paulshock have found the necessary inspiration to walk that aisle and grace us with their talents. Not even strong workers like Kanyon are safe from her rage.. as evidenced by the existence of this brilliant "Judy Bagwell on a pole" match. Argh. It's pretty obvious Buff will be walking out the victor, but I don't care. I want to see a Kanyon victory, followed by a celebratory diamond cutter through 14 barbed wire tables.. delivered on the lovely Ms. Bagwell herself. Let's see if WCW really listens to their fans.
Winner: Kanyon

Shane Douglas w/Torrie vs. Billy Kidman
Strap Match

I'm not quite sure why John's always so down on the Franchise..maybe he'll impart some words of wisdom upon us a little later on? Personally, I think he's a much better fit than a Hogan or a Savage ever was. His body hasn't completely turned on him yet, he's got more than enough mic skills to fill the void, and he'll do what's right for the company.. even if it isn't right for him. That's what impressed me the most, as I read through the interview he did over on Wrestleline a couple months back. He seemed sincerely motivated to do whatever it took to catch up with and / or surpass the WWF, no matter the cost. That's a guy I'd like on my team, no matter what anybody else has to say about him. Looking at the match, WCW's done a good job building it up over the weeks. Douglas has done more to elevate Kidman than Hogan ever did (ie; he sold more in one match than Hogan did throughout their feud), and the subplot with Torrie is entertaining. What I don't get is why this has become a strap match. Maybe I missed something on Nitro or Thunder, but I don't recall that having even a remote tie to the match/feud at hand.. which is usually what makes a gimmick work. Would the casket or buried alive matches have worked without the Undertaker? Sure. Would the crowd have been as into it? Not likely. Aside from that little gripe, though, I'm anticipating a strong enough match between these two. Nothing classic (unless Kidman does something nasty, like a shooting star press from the top to the floor), but solid all around. For a finish I'm taking Billy, after Torrie's interference ends up helping the wrong man.
Winner: Billy Kidman

Lance Storm vs. Mike Awesome
Canadian/US Title Match

Here's the one to watch. Storm and Awesome's initial WCW meeting, the finals of the US title tournament last month, was something special. They worked an excellent, back and forth match that woke the crowd up for the rest of the night. It really wasn't over until it was over, and when it was the right man had won. Storm's run with 3 titles is truly the shining highlight of the 'new' WCW, reminding me of a younger Chris Benoit or Chris Jericho in the same federation. The drive is there, the talent's there, and the crowd interest isn't missing. Given a solid amount of time, this could be one for the ages.. just don't get Awesome's former valet involved. They ran a great series of combos, reversals and false finishes in the US finals; if they retain even a shred of the same formula, the fans will get their money's worth. Oh yeah, they're running some sort of "mystery ref" deal here, too. If they had any sort of intelligence at all, they'd bust out somebody Canadian.. somebody like Bret Hart. I know, I know.. Russo's already denied it's Hart on WCW Live. Screw that. I'm going with my gut and calling Hart as the ref, giving his blessing to Storm on the way to a Canadian title defense.
Winner: Lance Storm

Sting vs. The Demon

I suppose this was to shake up the mix of things, avoiding another Sting / Vampiro PPV clash.. but I'd rather see a replay of a previous match than this. The Demon is proving himself to be an all out waste, what with his complete lack of speaking ability, unlikable personality, slow ringwork and sorry gimmick. Why they're lowering Sting's astronomical popularity with a match against him is beyond me.. he should be fighting for the number one contender's slot, not elevating undeserving youths. Given that he's had some time off recently, I'm willing to bet the Stinger isn't up to the carry job this is gonna require.. and the match will definitely suffer for it. Vampiro is likely to make an appearance, pretty well killing that "let's keep the matches fresh" vibe.. and ending the match in favor of the company man. Sting takes it by DQ.
Winner: Sting

Scott Steiner vs. Kevin Nash vs. Bill Goldberg
#1 Contender to the World Title Match

I've been pleasantly surprised by the buildup for this one. All the near-clashes between Nash and Steiner have actually given me some sort of interest in where this is headed. Obviously, none of these three would be completely out of place holding the World Belt, though I'm much happier with Booker as champion. Some would call this the 'real main event'.. and while I won't go that far, I will admit that its end result is just as important as the World Title match. With all the collisions between Steiner and Nash over the last few weeks, Goldberg's presence has almost been overlooked.. which makes me wonder about the end result of all this The easy pick would have Nash and Steiner kicking each other around the ring, possibly counting each other out and giving Goldberg the win by default.. but I don't see Goldberg / Booker II in the cards just yet. If they're looking to establish the World Champ as a solid main eventer for good, they'll give Nash the nod here, only to suffer a rare clean loss to the current belt holder next month. Not quite as likely, but it's got my vote.
Winner: Kevin Nash

Booker T vs. Jeff Jarrett
WCW Heavyweight Championship Match

Likely to top their match last month. Jarrett and Booker were apparently given very little time to put anything together last month, what with the confusion going on backstage, and relied heavily on a formula they'd used a couple weeks back on Thunder. This time, they've had almost a month to piece things together, and I think the result might surprise you. I'd expect Jarrett to carry a solid advantage throughout, with Booker holding onto his belt in the end. Despite the fact he's already a multiple-time champion, Jarrett still isn't perceived as main event material. Perhaps now's the time to get him there, while Goldberg, Nash and Steiner are all taking their shots at the gold. Booker retains, while Jarrett heads to the bottom of the upper card to hone his skills and public perception.
Winner: Booker T

In Closing...

Well, there. That wasn't so hard. Like I said, there's a hunk of the good and a hunk of the bad. We've got an antichrist (Judy Bagwell) and something delivered from above (Awesome / Storm). I don't think there's as much room for variation as was available on the Bash at the Beach card, and fans aren't likely to get as surprising a result, either. While the PPV leaves a bit to be desired, it's a sign that WCW is in the road to recovery. Someday we may yet have another ratings war.
until next time, i remain

Thursday, August 10, 2000

Ringside Shadows #139: Exposure (Part I of II: The WWF)

Let's face the facts: if there's any one thing that drives the wrestling world today, more than the merchandising, more than the big money contracts, more than the fringe benefits, it's the exposure. A wrestler could easily use his noteriety in the ring to net some easy cash as a promotional spokesman, an actor or a stuntman. Sometimes the ball swings the other way, and an athlete, actor or other celebrity will take the opportunity presented to them by a professional wrestling match to jump start a lagging career or social stance. Either way, it's all about the exposure, and every worker in the locker room knows it. With men crawling over each other in the crowd of the WWF, backstage politics nearly killing WCW and not enough coverage spiraling ECW to new depths, it's become a crucial element in the do or die structure of things today. With so little of it to go around, you'd figure either Vince (McMahon or Russo) would maximize every moment of available screen time, to spread that precious exposure over as much ground as possible every week on live TV. It doesn't make sense to waste such a valuable commodity, but that's exactly what they're doing.

Now, I won't sit here and tell you things aren't good in the industry today. They are. We're riding the peak of a tidal wave of popularity, one which has shown no signs of slowing down. We're at the all important crossroads, where one generation hands the ball to the next, always fertile ground for some stellar feuds and historic matches. McMahon seems to have elevated the performance to an art, and we're just now reaping the full benefits. If not for a few cracks and flaws along the way, there wouldn't be anything really worthy of commenting upon.. and I wouldn't be here this afternoon, whispering into your ear. To those cracks, I dedicate this column. To those flaws, I devote a short series of two posts.

There are many guilty parties when it comes to the crime of overexposure, and it's not like we can blame them, either. These people are given the forum to broadcast their likenesses across the known world, and are merely taking advantage of a good situation. No matter if the blame lays in the hands of the respective athlete or the booker, over and under exposure is quite the issue in regards to the modern wrestling scene. For every moment misused on a Raw segment, a deserving (or, in some cases, not so deserving) man or woman loses time promised to them when the night began. For every HHH interview that runs long, there's a Perry Saturn match cut from the card. Sometimes the bookers should question themselves, their staff, and the decisions both have made. Running with the example, did Helmsley really need that extra two minutes to get any more over? Not likely. Would a match on Raw have further developed Saturn's character, further familiarizing audiences with him and serving to get him a bit more over? Probably. In such a case, it's often an honest mistake, but it sometimes means life or death for the career of another. Exposure holds that kind of sway.

With that said, I've compiled a short list. Two short lists, actually; a 'good list' and a 'bad list', naming the top five workers we've maybe seen a bit too much of recently, and those that we haven't seen enough. Sometimes a little exposure's just enough to make a career, and sometimes a lot's more than enough to break one.

Overexposed (the bad list)

#5: The Undertaker
That's right, Mark Calloway. The Phenom. The Undertaker. An argument could be made that he's paid his dues for years and earned his spot atop the federation, and you wouldn't hear a word to the contrary here. In his career with the WWF, the Taker has proven his intelligence, willingness to do the job for the betterment of the company, loyalty and credibility. He's a true heavyweight, a champion to the core and I won't pretend otherwise, which is why he's at the bottom of this list. Though his return after months on the shelf generated a tremendous response, his new gimmick has been somewhat lacking. Storylines have spun their wheels, leaving tracks but going nowhere. There's been no substantial development or explanation of why the Taker shifted from a dark mortician to an American bad ass, yet he's been given enough time to explain it threefold. To his credit, the Undertaker has taken a week off and assumed a much more limited role at the bottom of the main event card, but without a significant angle or a strong series of matches in the ring, he'll just be taking up space that another could be using to achieve much more. The phenom's in need of a spark, that's all.

#4: Chyna
With Chyna, there's something less of an excuse. She's done little to build a reputation like the Undertaker's, yet still manages to pop onto the screen on a regular basis... often alongside or opposite the strongest workers in the federation. Her past feuds include clean victories over Jeff Jarrett, Chris Jericho and Eddy Guerrero, three names who will arguably own the main event scene in the years to come. In her early days, she could be written off as the DX bodyguard. Her cold exterior was a perfect foil to the wild antics of Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Nowadays, she's just dead weight, too big to make anything but a mockery of the women's division, but to small and inexperienced to have an impact with the men. Chyna's been in freefall for years, and perhaps it's time to give her a little time off.

#3: The Road Dogg
Another DX convert, the Road Dogg's owned a popular collection of catch phrases, gimmick moves and postured stances for years. Unfortunately, he's relied on the same match, from introduction to pinfall, since about 1998. Any sort of grasp for the sport he may have inherited from his fabled family has long since been lost amidst his goofy knee drops, dancing punch combos and X-Chops. His matches are all flash and no substance, and the same holds true when it comes time to do an interview. Aside from Sid, I don't think I've ever seen a man talk for five minutes without a point quite like the Road Dogg. He doesn't just use air time, he kills it. You can watch a Jesse James match and accompanying promo for over fifteen minutes, all the while gaining absolutely no story development, character advancement or useful knowledge. While he had a couple good runs in the late 90s with Billy Gunn, he's just chewing cud in the modern WWF. The New Age Outlaws ran their course, and James never really figured out where he could go from there. Unfortunately, we've been along for the ride. Every agonizing minute of it.

#2: The Big Show
If I were to liken these wrestlers to an accompanying animal, the Big Show would without a doubt be a sloth. Only this sloth would be the mother of all sloths, when it comes to size. Seriously, though, aside from a funny moment or two on SNL and the occasional big spot / chokeslam, the man's not even a shadow of his former self. Back in his youth he was greener than grass, but at least he'd try something new and original for a 500 pounder. He'd deliver a missle dropkick, because he didn't know he wasn't supposed to. He'd take flight, earning comparisons to a 747 all around. His chokeslam looked like it actually could put the match away. Nowadays about the best we'll get is the gimmicked-but-cool chokeslam he delivered to Kane through the stage last week. He's slower than slow in the ring (which means he can't keep up with the faster-paced youth movement), he's lost his ingenuity, he blows up rather easily, and his promos are the things that scar children for life. I often figure he's there for name value alone, and then I remember how much he's being paid for his troubles. Without question, Paul Wight is the definition of a man pushed on overall value, rather than overall worth.

#1: The Godfather
Need I say more? The Godfather is Jesse James to the nth degree. If you've seen one of his "matches", you've seen them all, and they all blow. Every one of his interviews is the same, word for word, and he cries if time constraints force him to cut one of his pre-match love fests short. Though the gimmicks may change, the man remains the same. Through Kama, through Papa Shango, through the Nation of Domination and through the RTC, he'll always be the same worthless man underneath, and he'll always get TV time.

Underexposed (the good list)

#5: Ivory
While Tori and Stephanie have both been met with relative success in the Federation alongside DX, Terri's busied herself beside Perry Saturn and Trish has created her own stable, Ivory has since drifted off into the woodwork somewhere. Without question, she shouldn't find work as a full time announcer, (from what I've heard, her "WrestleMania all day" performance was atrocious) but she can more than hold her own for a couple minutes in the ring. She knows how to tell a story, both with the mic and on the mat, and she isn't afraid to do it. Though many might argue she can't even rate with Trish or the Kat in terms of looks, I'd give her credit over many of the other women who have gone far in the WWF. That, and her work between the ropes would give both aforementioned women more than a run for their money each and every time. If she's got all the skills, why aren't we seeing more of her? It couldn't hurt to try.

#4: Dean Malenko
I know, his demeanor just doesn't fit in the WWF. That's a case I argued from the very first day he stepped foot in a McMahon-owned ring. Thing is, they actually had a chance with this one. After his series with Scotty Too Hotty over the Light-Heavy strap, fans were starting to come around to Malenko's no-nonsense, highly technical style. Don't believe me? Take a look at his match at Backlash 2000, paying particular attention to the finisher DDT from the top and the crowd's reaction to it. Vince had a chance to run with it, but instead went with the old Jeff Jarrett "I hate women" angle, effectively killing his character and his heat with one fell swoop. Since then, it's been quite a while since Malenko surfaced on a Raw. My solution? Give Jericho the ball again. He ran with it, scored a touchdown and spiked it over in WCW, effectively giving Malenko one of the biggest pops of his career (after Y2J submitted to the Texas cloverleaf, dropping his Cruiserweight title.) Why couldn't he do it in the WWF?

#3: Faarooq
Actually, Faarooq does get quite a bit of exposure, more than anyone else on the 'good list.' It's just that his exposure is pretty mediocre. He's been in limbo for some time now. As a former WCW World Champ, I figured Faarooq would get a bit more clout in the WWF. Scratch that, he's got plenty of clout. So much, in fact, that then-champion HHH actually ran from him on a Raw several months ago. He's ferocious in the ring, and his promos aren't half bad. His gimmick with Bradshaw works flawlessly, and they've been accepted as the monsters of the tag division. Maybe a little singles experimentation is in order? I'd love to see Faarooq given one last chance to shine as a single before heading off into the sunset, but if they're going to do it, the time needs to be now. In a main event scene that's oversaturated with faces, he could make one helluva dent as a heel. Fans are sick of HHH vs. Rocky. They aren't ready to accept Benoit just yet. Angle is otherwise occupied. Faarooq and the Rock have the history to make it work. Chew on it for a bit.

#2: Al Snow
Poor, maligned Al Snow. He's been close enough to touch it more than once, but success just keeps running away from him. Things were all set up for a feud between he and the Rock nearly a year ago, in a realistically set series of confrontations that gave both men a reasonable point of view. Often, turns happen without rhyme or reason and little explanation (ie the gimmick changes of the Godfather and Undertaker.) In this case, not only was there a believable, true to life subject, (Snow's friend, Foley, was hanging out with Rocky more than Al) but you could actually see Al's point of view and sympathize with him. Unfortunately, the angle was soon dropped. Al sunk to the depths of the lower card, while the Rock continued along, unhindered by his little sidetrack. The angle wouldn't have slowed down the Rock, it would've elevated Al Snow. In a time when they were scrambling for main eventers, this was just what the WWF needed. When properly motivated, Snow's among the best talkers in the game and has the skills to keep up with anything thrown at him in the ring. He won't be around forever, though, and it's time to make the move with him.

#1: X-Pac
The man that drove me to compile this column. Watching him job to Rikishi on Raw one night, I finally realized something. The WWF's had this guy for nearly a decade, collectively. He's been busting his ass for them since day one, making everybody he's opposed look like a million bucks in the process. He was the only part of the infamous Clique to never receive a significant push. His big return to Raw the night after Wrestlemania XIV signaled two great turning points in wrestling history; the WWF's return to the #1 slot in the Monday Night Wars, and the resucitation of DX. Still, Waltman's never gone higher than an Intercontinental contender. Vince has had this guy almost ten years, and he still doesn't get it. He doesn't see it. Guys like X-Pac aren't a dime a dozen. They don't come around every day, looking for a job. He knows the game, inside and out. He knows how to make something look good, how to make a crowd pop huge and how to properly build a strong match. The only thing he doesn't have is mass, and that's the killer. In another ten years, Waltman could've been a World Champ. Instead, he'll be remembered as a midcarder for life, the guy who carried the video camera for the nWo. It's a sorry thing to see such an athlete given such a shaft, but that's just what's happened with X-Pac. If his tag team with the Road Dogg isn't put to a finish really soon, I figure he'll never amount to anything more. Once again, now's the time to make the move with him. I wish I could say I was confident in the WWF's ability to make it happen.

On the Verge..

#1: Steph
"Daddy's little girl" is becoming quite a waste of space lately. While some are quick to dub her the heir apparant to her father's throne, I just don't see it. Her performances are shaky at best, with her facial expressions and vocal intonations only a pale imitations of her father's. If the center stage angle that focuses on her marital struggles with HHH eats up any more time, I think I'll scream. It's that... damn... bad.

#2: Too Cool
The "fun dancin' guys" gimmick has fallen into the same kind of monotony I described with the Road Dogg and the Godfather. Both are superb workers when they want to be, but their recent matches have seemed to be just set-ups for the worm / hip hop drop and dancing. If they must stagnate to please the masses, I'd rather not see it on Monday night.

#3: Lita
Uh oh... here it comes. I can feel the mail piling in before I've even posted this. To answer the questions before they've been asked; no, I don't hate Lita. I don't think she's a waste of time at all, and her placement here is through no fault of her own, it's through the bookers'. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and I worry that too much of Lita too fast will only harm her growing popularity. She's a good match with the Hardys, and the main event with the Rock was fun, for a one time thing. If it becomes a regular portion of our Raw broadcast, it'll get stale, fast, as will she. Just this once, let's let good things come to those who wait, ok guys?

And that should wrap it up for me today. Unfortunately, I was without cable this past Monday, so I missed Raw and Nitro. Shouldn't be an issue next week, though I'll likely be back to wrap up this series, instead of covering the events of the night before. John and I will be around this weekend with your New Blood Rising preview, so keep your eyes peeled for that. As always, thanks for taking the time to read, and I'll see you this weekend.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Ringside Shadows #138: The Dawning of a New Era

I know, I know.. it's been far too long. If I weren't so sure nobody cares to read about my personal life, I'd give a reason or three. Still, you may rest easy knowing I've returned, and though my presence may be somewhat less than constant over the next few months, I'll still be around for the big previews with John; Summerslam 2000 and New Blood Rising. It bugged me to miss Fully Loaded, and from what I've heard with good reason, but I'd much rather have been soaking in the warm California sun than spending a little more time frying in front of the telly. Oops... I guess one of my excuses did manage to squeak out. No matter, I'm back and it's time once again to talk about what we all came to discuss: Pro Wrestling.

No, that heading's not a typo. I firmly believe that after the years and years of stagnation, repetition and all out crap, the folks behind WCW seem to be going down as the ones responsible for kick starting the next era in professional wrestling. Though it's almost certainly a work, the Hogan exile and following suit has been just what the doctor ordered for WCW. Starting with the now-infamous Bash at the Beach card, the Atlanta boys have really been on a tear of late, knocking out several highly watchable Nitros one right after the other. Booker T is certainly building a name for himself as a "take all comers," honest champ after victories over Jeff Jarrett, Sting and the formerly untouchable Goldberg. Kidman, while still waiting for the big push that's certainly in store for him, is in a much better position, feuding with Shane Douglas rather than the immortal Hulk Hogan (perhaps it has something to do with the Franchise's willingness to sell). While I don't like his new persona, nor the man he's feuding with, Kanyon is at least being given a shot. With just a little tweaking and some time to gain experience, he could be on his way to bigger and better things. Finally, I'd be lying if I said Lance Storm's direction hasn't lit my world on fire. Remember what made Goldberg so interesting within his first months with the company...? That's right, the winning streak. Though you aren't likely to find anyone willing to admit it today, there was a certain fascination in Goldberg and his run buried within each of us. He was running against strong odds, extending a record that everyone knew he had little hope of achieving, but damned if it wasn't interesting to watch him try. The same can be said for Lance Storm and his parade of Canadian gold. I'd be kidding myself to say he'll be holding the World Title within the year. Hey, even a tag team title may be too much to ask. But I'll be damned if I'm not watching every one of his matches, based completely on that one small chance. That, and he's quickly proving himself to be the top technician active in WCW today. His ability to reversal any situation into a single leg crab submission are reminiscent of Chris Jericho's abilities with his Liontamer, and watching him work is just as smooth as silk. Storm has a much stronger future than any of us imagined, just don't expect it to happen overnight.

The one thing I've got against WCW right now? Surprisingly, their fumbling of an older talent; the Great Muta. His arrival in the fed became a sort of underground legend, with whispers here and there regarding the length of his visit and small gossip revolving around what storylines Russo could possibly cook up for him. The internet was surprisingly quiet about this one, and it was their chance to catch the community asleep and really deliver a solid introduction and short run atop the card for the old star. One of my all time favorite memories came at the 1989 Great American Bash, after Ric Flair had defeated Terry Funk in the main event. Though he'd already wrestled Sting to a draw earlier in the night, Muta appeared from out of nowhere and drilled Ric with his trademark green mist. The great one had arrived in the main event, and what a show he was ready to put on for us. Back in the present, the stage seemed set for such an arrival again, as a four way main event was announced a couple weeks back, with the winner accepting a World Title shot. Goldberg, Kanyon and Nash were announced, I believe, with the fourth man remaining a mystery as the fireworks burst to open the show. Instead of taking the fed by storm and hitting the ring several minutes into the four way, nailing the mist spot and landing a moonsault for the win, Muta came out to interfere in the Jung Dragons match. And that was it. Since, he's drifted through WCW in a sort of haze, finally aligning himself with Vampiro and company. While I won't deny the alliance works now that ICP is apparently out of the stable, the enormous pop Muta received upon his initial return (and subsequent spraying of Tank Abbott) tells me somebody screwed up. The crowd wanted to see it, and Muta was all but ready to deliver but once again, WCW blew it.

On the other side of the fence, the WWF has been taking giant steps of their own to define the next generation and get them where they need to be on the card. HHH and the Rock have finally parted ways (though their recent encounters on Raw and Smackdown have shown us their paths are never too far apart), while both continue to grow as individual athletes and personalities. Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle have headed the next wave of talent, with Eddy Guerrero, Tazz and the Hardyz close behind. Though all three headlining youths did the j.o.b. at Fully Loaded, the rush of enthusiasm associated with such a gigantic push has given us some of the best action we've seen from either fed in years. Though a couple men have been left out (most blatantly, D'Lo Brown), and one or two have snuck in that I'd rather not see again (most blatantly, Paul Wight), I honestly cannot complain about what we've been seeing over the last month. If Kevin Nash and Paul Wight are hovering around a main event scene that includes Benoit, Jericho, Booker T, Angle, Jarrett, Goldberg and Storm, I'll accept it as a necessary evil.

I've only one more issue to touch upon before I head out of here, and that's the new role and/or gimmick of one Stevie Richards. I'll speak the truth here; I think it's great... but only for a limited time. What 'Steven' is doing right now works wonders, establishing him as one of the most hated men in the Federation. He runs from conflict, takes what the average viewer holds sacred and always shows up at the least opportune moment. The role of a censor, while a bit silly, certainly has a place in the WWF and I'm surprised it's taken them this long to stick it out before the cameras. He's doing a masterful job with the mic, inciting near riots in the crowd every time he speaks and he's gained more recognition than any of us ever dreamed was possible in just a few short months. By all means, I'm happy for Stevie Richards and his sudden success, but I can't shake this bad feeling I've got about the whole schebang and where it's headed. The WWF has notoriously held on to gimmicks long after they've run their course, and I can't see this censorship deal ending any place but there. It's a doomed gimmick. A strong vehicle for short term elevation, but once it's climaxed, everyone involved needs to get off the ship before it drags them to a deeper depth than before. I'd compare it to two people... Steve Corino and IRS / Mike Rotunda. The IRS similarity is obvious; they both wear suits, crowds hate them and their careers will likely die a terrible death within a couple years if the gimmick isn't let go. The Steve Corino comparison delves a little deeper. Here are two extremely talented young men with little or no direction sided with a brilliant promoter that simply cannot imagine a way to get them over. Both are pushed as cowardly heels, which effectively gets them over, but causes audiences to question their abilities as workers, as they run from every physical threat. It's taken Corino years to begin a reputable run as a straight up heel... how long will it cost Richards?

Twenty years from now, when I'm middle aged and balding, I might look back and try to pinpoint the moment that started the generation that ruled the '90s. While I'll likely remember Foley's dive from the cage, HHH's ascention to the top or the big jump of the Radicals, I'm convinced the moment I'll select as the true turning point for this generation will be WCW's Bash at the Beach. While it's true that Vince has been grooming Benoit and Jericho for huge runs for months now, the one-two punch of Hogan's departure and Booker's arrival will forever prove too much and appears too important to be denied. What we're looking at right now is the dawning of a new era, boys and girls. What we're looking at now is a revolution. What we're looking at now is a score of young men, ready, willing and able to put on a show, vying for about a dozen lasting seats in the main event. Some may make the transition with ease, while others simply fade into the background. An unseen variable will no doubt pry its way into the picture, making things even more unpredictable than they already are. Who knows? Honestly, who cares? In the end we'll be left with an awful lot of memories and hundreds of outstanding matches. It's all coming in the next few years and it's up to you to keep your eyes open. This'll be fun.
until then, i remain