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

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