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

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