Sunday, March 25, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF WrestleMania X-7 Preview

The past couple weeks have been somewhat surprising, with the WWF giving me both plenty of reason to get excited about their purchase of WCW and plenty of reason to be annoyed with their lack of build for the big Wrestlemania card. Still, despite the slim buildup, Vinnie Mac and company seem to have a winner on their hands here, for the first time in a couple years. There's no denying this "event to top all events" has been pretty consistently bland since Austin took the belt two years ago, and it pleases me to no length that this year's effort looks to be superb, not to mention worthy of the Wrestlemania banner. I'd be lying through my teeth if I said the Benoit / Angle and Rock / Austin matches don't have me pumped, and a good TLC2 match could further solidify the legendary status of all the teams involved. With the event going nearly four hours this year, there should be plenty of time to go around, and who knows... it's not entirely unlikely that we'll be seeing something to rival the legendary Bret / Austin match of four years ago as 'best of show'.

Tazz & Acolytes vs. Right to Censor

Without question, the lamest duck on the card. Even Ivory / Chyna's got this one topped in my book, and my 'love affair' with the silicone man-beast is very well documented. I dig Tazz alright, though I miss seeing him with a towel draped over his head, and Richards, Venis and the Faarooq are all decent enough workers to an extent. However, I don't think the heat the RTC's gathering is getting much stronger, and the match is likely to suffer as a result. If they use it as an opener it should do well, as the crowd will most certainly be jacked, but otherwise I don't think it'll be very successful. Not alongside the potential classics we've got elsewhere on the card. I smell a swerve here, with Tazz possibly joining up with the censorship bureau and costing his beer-drinkin' buddies the match.
Winners: The RTC

Gimmick Battle Royal
Participants include Kamala, Kim Chee, Repo Man, Hillbilly Jim, The Goon, Typhoon, Earthquake, Gobbledy Gooker, the Bushwhackers (Luke and Butch), Doink the Clown, Brother Love, Sgt. Slaughter, Freebird Michael Hayes, Nikolai Volkoff, The Iron Sheik, One Man Gang and Duke "The Dumpster" Droese. More names to be added.

What an absolutely hilarious, not to mention entertaining, idea. The WWF has put us through some real crap in the past, and it's good to see they aren't afraid to laugh at themselves in retrospect. The possibilities here are almost limitless, as just about anyone mentioned on Wrestlecrap has a chance of showing their face before the final bell tolls, including all those old, horrible WCW gimmicks. Oh yeah, that's right. You didn't consider that, did you? With the purchase of WCW the WWF has a whole new broom closet full of terrible gimmicks to pu tinto this match. Dream matches like the Ding Dongs vs. The Stalker are right here on our doorstep! It'll be a fun little trip down memory lane, and if our constant lobbying for the Berzerker doesn't see fruition this Sunday, I'll be one sad little puppy. But hey... that's nothing a little Ugandan Giant wackiness can't cure. I've got to go with Kamala here, even though he doesn't understand how to properly pin his opponents. The celebratory belly slappin' is gonna be nonstop after this one, let me tell you!!
Winner: Kamala, the Ugandan Giant

Test vs. Eddy Guerrero
European Championship

This one could be the sleeper match of the evening, as the two are surprisingly well matched and Test has been showing more and more willingness to get up and go since parting ways with the stench of "T&A". Both these guys are directionless at the moment, with Guerrero's big blowoff with Benoit somehow slipping through the cracks and Test stagnating with the European title for months, so the heat won't be all it could be. Still, Wrestlemania has been known to bring out the best in everyone, and that means we could see some big time fireworks before Guerrero and Martin are through. Eddy needs to establish himself as the inhuman dickhead, and soon... and what better a place to do it than here? I've got him going over strong, absolutely destroying Test's legs and continuing the beating long after the bell has tolled. All star action all the way, and if Test has clue one about how to sell, it could turn into a psychological classic.
Winner: Eddie Guerrero

Ivory vs. Chyna
Women's Championship

I'm not so thrilled about this one. Let's say Chyna destroys Ivory from start to finish, before the RTC plays their "run-in" card and makes things messy. We'll most likely see a DQ, allowing Ivory to keep hold of the Women's Title (as Chyna has said time and again she has no interest in it), but putting the slobbering synthetic accident over. Just please... please... don't let "Number Two" Billy Gunn get involved.
Winner: Chyna

Raven vs. Big Show vs. Kane
Hardcore Championship

Contrary to the popular opinion, I'm kinda getting into Raven's WWF look and feel. There's no question he isn't half as interesting as he was in WCW (not to mention ECW), but it's a definite step up from his early months in the Titan plaza. Of course, being a pseudo-face, he's acting like a complete moron; assaulting Kane for no obvious reason and taunting the Big Show masochistically. There isn't much depth to his character, like there was in WCW. Instead of an outcast from society, punishing himself because no one else would, you get "that guy with the red hair who drags a shipping cart to the ring." However, his inclusion in this match is probably a blessing in disguise, as another Big Show / Kane matchup is predicted by Nostradamus as one of the catalysts of the Armageddon. It's that bad. Hell, I'm still reeling from the "choke hold heard 'round the world" these two delivered at the '99 King of the Ring tournament. Talk about entertainment. I'm gonna go out on a relatively thick limb here, and say Raven's gonna emerge victorious. It's unexpected, and that way he can move on to other things while the WWF revisits the aforementioned choke hold with the feud they simply must have. The man with the cart takes advantage of one giant's misfortune and sneaks out with his gold.
Winner: Raven

Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

Damn, this just SCREAMS Heyman, and I love it. The man's been with the WWF not even a month, and Benoit's been developed and advanced more definitively than at any other point in his career. I was bothered they hadn't mentioned this match with Angle on TV yet prior to this Monday, but after that stellar opening interview I just can't see it going down any other way. Rather than going over the same "I attacked you from behind, hit my submission and made you tap. Now vice versa" formula that's almost halted the Rock / Austin feud, these two are just now hitting the white hot pinnacle of their build with the match only hours away. I fully expect this to completely tear the house down, and though I'm possibly setting myself up for something of a letdown by doing so, I just can't help myself. On one side we've got the greatest pure wrestler in North America, and on the other a legit amateur Olympic champion, probably the most dominating force in the WWF's last year. It's like the merging of the greco roman and catch-as-catch-can titles for 2001. This is gonna be sweet. And even though I'm such a Benoit mark, I've got to go with Angle in the end. This is the biggest blowoff show of the year, but these two are just warming up.
Winner: Kurt Angle

Chris Jericho vs. William Regal
Intercontinental Championship

I've got no complaints about this fun, short little feud, except that the situation is getting to be redundant with Jericho. It's been too long since he was involved in a series of matches that actually meant something, and he's really falling behind where he should be on the card. Take a look at Y2J's last year and tell me he's moved on the card one bit. This time last year, he was fighting Benoit and Angle for the Intercontinental and European titles. This year, he's fighting William Regal for one of those same belts. While the other two members of that incredible three way have since moved on to big fame and promotion (Benoit in his multiple main PPV main events with the Rock, Angle with his dominance at the top of the card), Jericho has done next to nothing. It's time they got serious with him. He's more than likely going over Sunday, and needs a solid program to step right into the following Monday night. Unfortunately, I'm lost as to who he might find as a suitable opponent.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Dudley Boyz ? vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian
Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match for the Tag Team Titles

There's two ways this one can go. First, the audience could be realistic about things and just sit back, enjoying the match for what it is with no prior expectations. Second, they can go into it expecting everyone to top the unbelievable performance they put on at Summerslam... and be disappointed. Improper as it may be, I'd be willing to bet the majority of the WWF audience is going to fall into that second bracket. The thing that really sets vicious spot wrestling apart from straightforward technical style is the immeasurable demand that spot workers top themselves each and every night out. While Shawn Michaels might have a five star match one night and a three star the next, fans for the most part will enjoy them both. They won't feel especially let down if he goes ten minutes instead of sixty, especially given certain time restraints. On the other hand, if Jeff Hardy doesn't match and / or top his Swanton Bomb from the twenty footer this Sunday, you've gotta know half the audience is going home unhappy. Ditto with the Cactus Jack / HHH Hell in a Cell match at last year's No Way Out. I just went back and watched it not long ago, and for what it was the match was tremendous. However, since Mick didn't drop the elbow from the very top, fans went home disappointed. It's horrible, but it's a fact. With that said, I'd imagine a lot of people are going to approach this one with unrealistic expectations, and it won't get the same reaction that it should. Then again, I could be wrong. They could go out their, bust their asses and get a standing ovation. I'd love that, but I just don't think it's realistic. We'll get a beautiful match out of this, of that I'm sure. In the end, isn't that all that matters? I'll take the Dudleys here, though it could logically go either way. D-Von and Buh Buh Ray deserve it.
Winners: The Dudley Boyz

Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon
Street Fight Featuring Special Referee Mick Foley

Gah, the interest in this one shot through the roof during one twenty minute segment, didn't it? The match could be ugly, but that's not the real attraction about this clash. In essence, this has become the precursor to the WWF / WCW cross promotion we all see looming on the horizon. Granted, it's not McMahon / Bischoff, but it's the next best thing. The boss of the WWF vs. the boss of WCW. And they just happen to be father and son. Everyone's been rumored to show up here, from HBK to Booker T to Pete Rose dressed up like the Gobbledy Gooker, and it's not without reason. They'd really be dropping the ball here if no other athletes make appearances. Vince and Shane will likely bounce each other around the arena a bit, with one or both taking an enormous fall to the cold, unforgiving cushioning down below. It won't be a technical masterpiece, but should be worthwhile all the same, if just to keep an eye on the entryway. And if Vince wins, he's effectively squashed WCW's chances before they've started. Shane takes it home, with a little help from his new friends.
Winner: Shane McMahon

The Undertaker vs. Triple H

Could be decent, could be a bore. There's no question in my mind that, along with Kurt Angle, HHH enjoyed a supreme coming out party throughout the whole of 2000, carrying the belt for most of it. HHH has been one of the most consistently good workers in the sport, and I really admire the way he's avoided the easy way out and become a "cool heel", rather than the full-fledged prick that the fans love to hate. The Undertaker, on the other hand, is watching his long, storied career wind up. His biker gimmick has met with moderate success, and one can't argue his placement high on the card, but I have to wonder if HHH feels a bit cheated, missing out on the main event one year after becoming the first heel to walk out of Wrestlemania a champion. I was hardly excited about this one when JR first mentioned it during his Ross Report, but since that time I've found myself becoming more and more open to the idea. The sledgehammer shot HHH delivered on Smackdown! was tremendous, as was the Undertaker's insane blade job (supposing it actually was a blade, and HHH didn't really knock the sense right out of him), and that segment alone may have saved the feud in my eyes. I suppose it's a bit of a test, to see if HHH is really as good as we all know he is. He gets the nod.
Winner: HHH

The Rock vs. Steve Austin
World Wrestling Federation Championship

The comparisons with Hogan / Warrior are there, and I'm not one to say they aren't completely valid. A face vs. face matchup is always a difficult angle to deal with, and you either wind up with a big winner, or flat on your face. Handled correctly, such a battle can become more heated than any face vs. heel feud could ever hope to be, with fans taking sides and scorning anyone who like 'the other guy'. To a degree, I think that's exactly what you'll see here. The match should be outstanding, as Austin has unquestionably returned to his pre-injury ring form, and the Rock is continuing to grow as a worker. The heat's died down a bit over the last couple weeks, as the storyline hasn't been advanced much since Rocky picked up Debra as a manager, but the audience should still be absolutely insane when the glass breaks and these two step between the ropes. Of course, everyone's expecting a turn here, and if I had to choose a candidate I'd probably go with Rocky. Austin's just that much more over, and The Rock's been acting more and more like a heel as the weeks wear on. I'd be willing to bet, though, that we'll make it through this one without a major change in the status quo. Austin's ready to hold the title again, and I'm betting that's exactly what he'll do. No amount of Rock Bottoms or People's Elbows can match the explosive quality of a Stunner at the end of a PPV, and that's going to be the case this Sunday night.
Winner: Steve Austin

In Closing...

I'll be ordering this one, the first PPV to be seen live in my apartment since No Way Out... last year. I may have to go without warm water for a couple weeks, because this thing's gonna break me, but in the end I think it'll be well worth the price of admission. Some things just can't be expressed with somewhat live transcripts on the web, and Wrestlemania is one of them. This one I'm gonna have to see myself.
until next time, i remain

Friday, March 23, 2001

Ringside Shadows #167: First Impressions

There's an old adage, floating about the annals of history that says something like "you can't judge a book by its cover." And while there's certainly an application for that line in the world of wrestling, I find myself more often than not obeying another, more contradictory quote; "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." Better yet, "one bad promo can last a lifetime."

The wrestling fan base, as a whole, is very easily excited. All it takes to renew interest in an otherwise fading talent is a quick jump between promotions. The Big Show, Paul Wight, serves as an ideal case and point. During his last days in WCW, The Giant had reached an all time low in terms of workrate, motivation and crowd interest. He'd gone from the promotion's top face to "that big guy who smokes on his way to the ring." Not even a membership in the still-warm nWo of the day could solve his problems. Then, talk of his hop to the WWF hit the internet and the seven foot athlete was suddenly the talk of the town. I've got to admit, even I felt a little tingle in my bottom when that first shot of the former WCW champ was posted on So when he did finally make that inevitable in-ring appearance, (in this case, during the main event of the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" PPV) fans went ballistic.

More so than a heel turn, a gimmick tweak or a promising feud, switching employers is, without fail, the best option one can take to get himself over. Perhaps it's got something to do with seeing that unfamiliar logo in the corner of the screen while your favorite worker is on the screen, maybe it's the possibilities that open up in terms of a long sought-after feud or match. Whatever the case, the interest is almost instantaneous. And you couldn't ask for a bigger audience, a larger stage or a louder microphone upon which to define yourself anew. It's in that first promo or physical confrontation that a worker will define everything he's going to be about for the extent of his run with the company. Like I said, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless, I suppose, you jump promotions again.

How you present yourself, what you say, even what you're wearing is going to affect how this new audience is going to perceive you. To be blunt, your career will be made or broken within those first ten minutes. It's a harsh, unforgiving fact, but a fact nonetheless. With so many other performers vying for the viewer's time, there's no room for error. You define the limits of the character, and you're forced to live within them for the remainder of your contract with the company.

Still, despite those intimidating odds, there have been more than a handful of unforgettably great debuts, re-introductions and first appearances throughout the history of both the WWF and WCW. Some came in groups, most as singles, but they all understood the importance of the situation. And instead of shying away from the risk and ultimately costing themselves the spotlight, they embraced it. What follows are eight of the most memorable first impressions of the last ten years, the situations that led to them, and how that first appearance directly influenced their advancement in the federation. Chances are, you'll remember more than one.

The Radicals
Arguably the biggest news item of 2000. With rumors of unhappiness in the WCW locker rooms at an all time high, yet another shakeup was taking place behind the scenes. Not even a full year after long time president Eric Bischoff was toppled from his seat of power, not ten months after his unnamed successors had the carpet yanked out from under them and less than two weeks after Vince Russo watched his chance fly out the window, the corporate execs were looking for yet another change. This time, though, something was different. In Kevin Sullivan, they chose as head booker, a man who had a strong personal bias against several men on the WCW roster. One of these men was the newly crowned World Champion, Chris Benoit. Standing by his side were the heart and soul of WCW's famed midcard roster; Eddy Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Shane Douglas, Billy Kidman, Konnan, Vampiro, and one or two others.

Benoit and company pushed for their release and, in one of the most ill-advised decisions in the federation's history, their request was granted. Though Konnan, Kidman, Vampiro and the others backed out, Saturn, Benoit, Malenko and Guerrero took the opportunity and dove headfirst into the fertile waters of the WWF powerhouse.

Their debut was handled just about ideally. Sitting at ringside during the first match of the evening, they were greeted by fellow ECW alumnus Al Snow on his way to the ring. Midway through the said match, Snow's opponents for the evening, the New Age Outlaws, decided to introduce themselves in the unique language of violence. No sooner had Billy Gunn thrown the first punch, then Saturn was over the railing and on those familiar black tarps that surround the WWF ring. A heartbeat later, and all four were in the ring. The Pittsburgh crowd went nuts as Saturn drilled one of his signature suplexes, Guerrero delivered a frog splash, Malenko laid down a snap suplex and Benoit hit his diving headbutt.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, it's almost too easy to look back at those first move selections and read them as a sign of things to come. Perry Saturn, the first to initiate contact in the ring, chose to use one of his vicious suplex variations. And, while it was executed to perfection and looked rude as hell, in the end it was just a suplex. Fans didn't see a finisher, they saw a well performed power maneuver. Saturn won't go higher than the midcard.

Following Perry, Eddy Guerrero almost instantaneously landed a his beautiful top rope finisher, as JR growled; "Oh, my god what a frog splash." Just after landing, Guerrero jumped right to his feet and further taunted the defeated Outlaw. This established his personality and charisma, but more importantly introduced audiences to his signature maneuver. More so than with Saturn, Guerrero landed with conviction. He was serious about this run, and audiences took note. Eddy will one day main event in the WWF.

All eyes then turned to Dean Malenko, who stalled for a moment before delivering a picture perfect snap suplex. Moments later, Chris Benoit hit his diving headbutt before a frenzied crowd. Almost a mirror image of Saturn and Guerrero. Malenko chose to deliver a standard maneuver, even stalling beforehand. Benoit, however, went with something character-specific in the headbutt. Comparatively, Malenko won't likely go much further than the Light Heavyweight Title, while Benoit's already been involved in several World Title matches. Like his participation in this opening sequence, Dean will likely fade into the background for the rest of his time in the WWF.

Mike Awesome
When WCW was "relaunched" under the watch of Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff, a new regime was promised. Under Bischoff and Russo, WCW's youth was promised an even playing field, and the viewers were promised a brand new promotion. Interest was surprisingly high, especially considering the number of bridges WCW had burnt in the past with their shoddy handling of past popularity. And hell, that first Nitro remains a pretty solid program... perhaps the last they ever produced. Meanwhile, in the back woods of TNN, ECW had been putting together solid programs of their own for several months. Perhaps the backbones of the company at the time were the Mike Awesome / Masato Tanaka and Rob Van Dam / Jerry Lynn feuds. They were playing catchup, and in a big way.

WCW saw this, and made a move to eliminate the competition and boost their own product all in one fell swoop. They signed the active ECW champion, Mike Awesome. In fact, Awesome appeared on that very first Russo / Bischoff Nitro with the ECW title in hand, laying out Kevin Nash mid-promo and storming out of the ring like a man possessed. The appearance was sudden, shocking and very, very interesting, though more so for the possible implications than the man himself.

See, I was convinced that this meant Paul Heyman and the rest of ECW's finest were on their way to WCW, ready to do the invasion angle they'd tried in the WWF several years ago. It was, in my opinion, the one thing that could save WCW at the time, and I was exhillerated to see it happening right before my very eyes. Unfortunately, as we all know by now, it was merely Awesome breaching his contract and not the start of an inter-promotional angle. Still, the arrival itself was tremendous, if just for the possibility that such a thing was about to go down.

Chris Jericho
Without question, the greatest introduction in the history of the sport. Jericho's availability was the subject of much debate in the early part of 1999, and as every new day passed without word of the Lionheart's new contract in WCW, speculation increased that he was biding his time before a jump to the WWF. Once it was officially confirmed by Jericho himself, I don't think anything could have stopped this ball from rolling. Shortly after the confirmation, the WWF began airing short snippets of a "Countdown to the Millennium" timer on their weekly programming. No explanation was given, and the clips were kept just short enough to keep detail-oriented fans from figuring out that it would expire long before the year 2000 actually hit. When JR finally commented that it was bound to run out "next week," it was almost too obvious where they were headed.

As the Rock stepped out to deliver a standard promo around the nine o'clock hour, the timer reached zero. The arena went black, only lit by a half dozen multi-colored lights, scouring the crowd at random. When even those went out, the audience roared amidst the darkness, only to be cut off by a loud explosion, nondescript video of city streets and a catchy hard rock tune. When the vocals came in and the words "Jericho" flashed on the Titan Tron, I don't think there was a quiet member in the audience. It's the kind of ovation that sends shivers down your spine.

Striking his crucifixion stance below the "" sign, Jericho soaked up the adoration for everything it was worth before turning on his heel and taking in the sight of it. Enjoying the spotlight for a moment, Y2J then immediately turned on the audience and dove in with the kind of promo that gained him his fame in the first place. It's the stuff legends are made of, and I'd be surprised if Jericho doesn't go down in history because of it.

Jeff Jarrett
Perhaps a questionable choice amongst such notable others, Jarrett's latest jump to WCW is important because it proved the internet hadn't killed every bit of surprise left in the industry. Not yet, anyway. Spending my time as a dedicated follower of the sport, as well as a respected columnist, I'd thought I had seen the last big shock in the sport years prior. Sure, things hadn't yet arrived at the point where I knew the results before they happened, but as an educated fan I could make a pretty good guess on my own. Thus, the industry was starting to become dull. There was no excitement, as every single possibility had been covered to death on the internet time and time again. Every possibility, that is, but this one.

Jarrett's contract expiration somehow came up missing on every dirt sheet, newsboard and column section on the internet, and rightfully so. The man was the acting Intercontinental Champion until the day after his contract ran out. The WWF was apparently testing the waters for a feud between Jarrett and Steve Austin. There was little doubt he'd be remaining with Vince for the foreseeable future. So when he popped up on Nitro, drilled a guitar shot and vanished just as quickly, it caught me completely and totally off guard. More than that, it reminded me of a time when everything was new, surprising and off the wall. It reignited my interest in wrestling's current state.

And, for the first several months, WCW rode the impact of this move for everything it was worth. Jarrett jumped right into a slot at the top of the midcard. He took on Chris Benoit in a highly successful series of matches that raised the stock of both men. He just about owned the US Title. While the booking followed the personality and intensity he'd created with that unexpected first guitar smash, Jarrett was a house on fire. When they tried to push him into the main event too early, it went against the grain and blew up in their faces. Now Jarrett is a watered down former four time champion with little direction. I'd be willing to bet the story would have read a little differently if they'd just held off for a couple more months.

Ric Flair
Not technically jumping promotions, Ric Flair had been off WCW television for an eternity while Eric Bischoff attempted to smear his legacy and break his fortune. And honestly, if it weren't for the fans and their love for The Nature Boy, I think Uncle Eric would've been successful. Instead, that adoration produced the most memorable moments I've ever seen on a wrestling program when he reappeared on the scene in good old North Carolina.

While Flair was gone, the idea of an ongoing Four Horsemen angle was continued... perhaps as an incentive to return to the federation he pretty much defined, perhaps as a slap to the face. On the very eve of his return, Flair wrapped the whole package up in a manner that only he could. In one of the few real moments the sport has ever seen, Flair found himself at a loss for words... and it was absolutely perfect. Where a bumbling promo or a prolonged silence from the speaker is usually a sign of big trouble, Flair's problems here only intensified a wonderful experience. Here was the most cocky, egotistical, outspoken man ever to step between the ropes, and he'd been left absolutely baffled by the appreciation of those in attendance. It was a personal affair, and at that moment I think every fan watching at home or live in attendance felt a certain affinity to Slick Ric. It was a big, big moment and we were all a part of it.

Much like the Flair speech I mentioned above, Sean Waltman's first public appearance since his termination from WCW wasn't the finest bit of verbal wizardry you'll ever see. In fact, just reading the manuscript, the speech itself fell rather flat. However, instead of reading from a predetermined script, Waltman was speaking from the heart. When he spoke of rebellion, of overturning the old regime and establishing a new one, one could tell it was something that meant the world to him. Add to that the emotion of his delivery and the reception from the crowd, and you'll see why I regard this as one of the defining moments of the late '90s.

Oh yeah, and I suppose there was that little matter of this interview finally turning the tide of the Monday night popularity contest back into the WWF's favor. Speaking from a historical perspective, this was the second most important debut of the 20th century. It popularized a new way of thinking, (the "Attitude" era) shifted the balance of power back to those who had enjoyed it for so long in the past and proved that WCW had, in the end, no real idea what the hell they were doing. After years of being teased by their competition on live television, the WWF finally shot back with Waltman... and were met with a resounding silence in response.

The Outsiders
So if Waltman's jump was only the second most important debut of the 20th century, which was the first? As if you even had to ask...

When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash walked out on Nitro, the world changed almost instantaneously. The pseudo-shoot nature of the angle they worked was unheard of beforehand. It was something you just didn't do, so when Bischoff up and did it, fans took notice. On top of all the changes this duo instigated, they also brought about the first competition the WWF had experienced in nearly two decades. In the 80s and 90s, the WWF was the beginning and the end of professional wrestling. Sure, WCW was technically a competitor then as well, but they were a distant second at best. When the top promotion of the industry found itself in trouble, Vince McMahon didn't have any idea what to do about it. After sitting in a holding pattern for so long, Vinnie Mac had lost touch with what brought him to the dance in the first place; his originality and natural ability to entertain.

Hall and Nash changed all that, though I'm sure it wasn't their direct intention. The way WCW handled their arrival was perfect, from the announcers who remained confused as to who these two were contracted to work for, to the reactions of the other members of the WCW roster. It remains probably the only thing WCW did correctly from start to finish.

Ric Flair
Finally, the one that really started it all. No, you aren't seeing a typo. I didn't screw up and type the same name and description twice. Flair was just good enough to have been a part of two such memorable introductions. One during the twilight of his career in WCW and one just barely past his prime in the WWF.

On July 1st, 1991, only a few days after defending his World Title at a Clash of the Champions event, Flair met with WCW's officials to discuss the standings of his recently-expired contract. As far as WCW was concerned, everything was in order. They'd labeled Flair as the loyal, aging superstar of the company, one who'd never even consider jumping ship. Hell, he'd been with the promotion religiously for more than twenty years. However, they'd made a bad move in telling Flair their future booking plans. The champ was scheduled to lay down for Lex Luger, a task which Flair had refused several times in the past. He didn't believe "The Total Package" was ready to be a World Champion. The two sides drifted even further apart within the span of a the next several days, and when Flair signed a deal with the WWF he was stripped of both his WCW and NWA World Titles.

It should've ended there, but it didn't... politics found a way to get even more involved. See, when the World Title is placed around the waist of a man, he's responsible for its care, its well-being, its arrival at every event, night after night. Thus, an insurance deposit of a large sum of money is standard, as a collateral in case something happens to the gold along the way. Flair had indeed put down his money when the belt was given to him earlier in the year, and when the money wasn't returned upon his being stripped of the title, he took the belt with him to the WWF. Summerslam 1991 featured an incredible backstage segment; Bobby Heenan took a cameraman along with him as he knocked on Hulk Hogan's dressing room door backstage. Hogan turned, and Heenan offered up a challenge on behalf of the man himself, Ric Flair... and in Bobby's hands was the WCW World Title. It was a surreal sight, especially considering how quiet the word of Flair's contractual difficulties had been kept.

As is often the case, everything eventually sorted itself out. Flair publicly protested the questionable actions of the WCW commitee by showing up on WWF TV every week with their World Title, calling himself the "true world's champion" and working it all into an angle. WCW finally cracked and repaid his money in full, and Flair returned the belt immediately. I've heard rumors that Vince had asked Flair to hold onto the belt for the sake of continuing the gimmick, (and McMahon would have even paid the resulting legal fees from the ensuing WCW lawsuit) but Flair had too much class and stayed true to his word in returning the belt. But that's just a rumor, and Flair was WWF champion within a year, NWA belt or not.

In many ways, this was the first time a jump between promotions had caused such a commotion... and for good reason, too. In the '80s, there were two important names in the industry; Flair and Hogan. When one finally left their home of over a decade, it was bound to make waves. That Flair and Vince turned it into such an outstanding success is a credit to their combined brilliance. It's too bad they haven't worked together since.

All in all, the eternal swap between promotions has been a healthy experience for all, be it the reestablishment of a fading star, the introduction of an underexposed athlete to a larger audience or the big boost one promotion needed to take over another in the ratings struggle. More than any other, though, the fans stand to gain the most from such an exchange every time one comes down the pipes. It's entertaining, it's exciting and it's memorable, and isn't that the reason we're watching wrestling in the first place?
until then, i remain

Friday, March 16, 2001

Ringside Shadows #166: The World's Greatest WCW Greed 2001 Preview

Believe it or not, the time has rolled around once again for another WCW PPV, and as usual I'm here to nail down the particulars for those that have remained loyal. Before I get in too deep with this one though, I want to mention this will be the last "World's Greatest" WCW Preview I'll be doing as a solo. That's right, starting next month I'll be proud to welcome fellow Oratory member Xavier Von Erck to the WCW Preview squad as my regular broadcast partner. I had a couple of different prospects in mind when John left the WCW crew, and Xavier was the one that rose to the top when all was said and done. Xavier brings a style all his own to the table every week, and I think you'll agree he's the right man for the job when we bust out our first preview together this time next month.

What WCW's lined up for us this month could turn out some pleasant surprises, but then again a couple mistimed spots and blown matches could send the whole card spiraling off down the path to a burning inferno of doom. Several clashes on this lineup have more than a little potential to produce, but chances are strong the audience won't be as interested as they could be. I count five matches which were most likely booked at the last minute with little or no build, and while any good match should be able to overcome such an obstacle I'm still left with some doubts. I'll be blunt with this one; I've seen much, much worse from WCW in the past. With that said, I've also seen much, much better. WCW remains in a holding pattern here, biding their time with a couple feuds and elevations that could possibly alter the company and sliding by with an emotionless card like this one instead. Hey, at the very least Robocop, Chucky, the Yeti and the Black Scorpion won't be making any appearances.

Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Shawn Stasiak

Just about a poster boy for the hurried, barely built matchup I described in the paragraphs above. While I'm glad to see Bam Bam back in the mix, the way they chose to reintroduce him was offbeat and more than a little bizarre. Was Bigelow ever really associated with the David Flair / Ms. Hancock affair? Or Stasiak? Why didn't the Nature Boy's eldest make an appearance during the promo that wrapped up his deepest, most involved storyline? Don't misread here, I'm actually rather relieved we won't be seeing David Flair vs. Shawn Stasiak this month on PPV, but I was somewhat interested to see what little Dave's first reaction was going to be. Instead, Bigelow makes his way to the ring, cuts a strange promo to which the audience didn't know how to react and makes the challenge for Sunday night. Okaaay...

Regardless, if Stasiak feels like getting off his ass and working for a change, this could be a nice, tidy little matchup. Bigelow should be able to ride the wave of his return for a little bit yet, so there should be some interest from the crowd, despite the angle development Monday. It looks like "Perfect Shawn" is in line for something of a generous push in the near future, though, so I'll be taking him here. The "Beast from the east" has nothing to gain from this feud... but then again, he doesn't have much to lose, either.
Winner: Shawn Stasiak

Hugh Morrus & Konnan vs. Lance Storm & Mike Awesome

It's really a shame to see Lance Storm slowly sliding back down the ranks of WCW after such an impressive and entertaining rise to the upper echelons. Not even his "Team Canada" angle makes sense anymore, and that's a real shame as I think their current lineup is far and away the best of the stable's short history. What happened to the Lance Storm that blew through 2000's list of paper champions, nearly capturing every belt in the promotion before he was through? There was interest in that! His match on Nitro with Booker T, only weeks after capturing his third consecutive title, was brilliantly booked, worked, and accepted. The crowd was thirsty for his blood, and when it seemed like he might actually have a shot at forcing then-champ Booker T to tap out you could just feel the tension blasting through the television. That's how good feuds should be built. That's the kind of thing you remember.

Now, Lance has become a paper doll himself, losing the killer instinct that set him apart and becoming less of a fighting leader and more of a frightened commander. With Awesome, Storm's got a partner that can keep up, (though he, too, is but a shade of his ECW self) however we haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg from them in-ring. Working a nowhere feud with Konnan and Morrus, I really don't see that changing. We'll get a fun exchange or two, perhaps a weak-hearted Mapleleaf and a false finish along the way. When it comes down to it, though, Konnan and Morrus seem to be on their way up while Storm and Awesome are becoming forgotten.
Winners: Hugh Morrus & Konnan

Ernest Miller vs. Chris Kanyon

So... why's Kanyon taking on Ernest Miller here again? I realize he assaulted The Cat's manager in the hospital a couple weeks ago, but they didn't bother to progress it much further than that. Now, if you checked out my post last week, you'll know I've got no problem whatsoever with booking a match just for the sake of having a match. That's where the industry came from. Before there were storylines, audiences were attracted by the sheer enjoyment of watching two men almost kill each other. When federations get to thinking they must have a storyline, as is the case in this instance, they start to get in over their heads.

The match won't be one to write home about. Kanyon's a damn fine worker when he's motivated and matched up with someone worthy of his time, but not even Chris Benoit could drag a decent match out of the Cat. You're likely to see the same three or four kicks several dozen times here, with Cat's lame little people's elbow ripoff thrown in for good measure. If Kanyon had any brains, he'd start the match by clipping a knee and go from there. While that's not a likely prospect, I do think Kanyon's chances here are better than average. It looks as though he's about to embark on a serious heel push, and I don't think that's something I'd complain about one bit.
Winner: Chris Kanyon

Jeff Jarrett & Ric Flair vs. Dustin & Dusty Rhodes

Proving they've still miles to go, WCW took a good, fun, real moment in Dusty Rhodes's surprise appearance on Nitro several weeks ago and exploited it, milking the emotion for all it's worth and building the whole thing into a $30 PPV mess. While it'll be nice to see Flair and Rhodes back in the ring, if just for old times' sakes, I can't really say it's something I'd be willing to spend thirty bucks on. The nostalgia factor is strong in me, but not that strong. Looking beyond the elder statesmen, Jeff Jarrett has been priceless with his building of this feud, as usual. His mockery of old-time stars is dead on, as evidenced by his masterful portrayal of Duth-tay a couple weeks ago on Nitro and the now classic Sting impression several months ago. Great stuff, watching him squeeze his crotch and squirm like a nimrod. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Dustin.

Hard as he tries, the son of the dream just isn't that interesting. Without the Goldust character to fall back on, Rhodes is constantly searching for a personality that clicks and he's always seemed to come up blank. His ringwork hasn't evolved nearly enough to stay fresh on that front, and set up next to Jarrett his flaws are more evident than ever. I really, really hope WCW isn't going to try turning him on his father this weekend. Regardless, the heels are holding all the cards here. Flair and Jarrett should clean up.
Winners: Jeff Jarrett & Ric Flair

Billy Kidman & Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. Elix Skipper & Kid Romeo
Cruiserweight Tag Team Title Match

Here's one instance where WCW did the unthinkable and surprised me. When they announced the Cruiserweight Tag Team Title, I dismissed it without even giving it a chance. I thought it was a silly idea, along the same lines as the ill-fated Six-Man Tag Team titles, the US Tag Team Titles and just about every other failed belt along the way. However, once I sat down and actually watched a Cruiserweight tag tourney match, I was hooked. These guys have been out there busting their asses for the last couple weeks, fighting to make this idea work. And, for my money, they've been successful. The Skipper / Romeo storyline is fun, and adds a good bit of tension to the mix. Making it this far sets the stage for some prime time fireworks (if you'll pardon the pun) on the big stage, not to mention a very promising match with Kidman and Mysterio.

Kidman and Skipper have worked really well in the past together, which leads me to believe "Prime Time" is more than a little compatible with Rey Rey as well. If Romeo keeps up his pace here and the booking doesn't get too complicated, the match should take the final step towards establishing these titles as something worth fighting for. I'm gonna take Skipper and Romeo here, but a breakup is just looming over those two already, so I don't figure they'll hold the belts for long.
Winners: Elix Skipper & Kid Romeo

"Sugar" Shane Helms vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr.
Cruiserweight Title Match

I don't remember any build behind this one, but that's ok because they've still got quite a backstory to work with from their earlier feud. Chavo continues to kick more ass than previously conceivable in the cruiserweight division, with Shane following not too far behind in the same department. These two are total packages, guys with fully developed ring skills and believable personalities to back them up. They're both going to make something of themselves, and this feud is a large reason why.

To say these two are compatible is like saying Paul Wight's a little slow in the ring. It's the understatement of the century. This won't be the last time they meet, and let's thank the wrestling gods for that. With that said however, it's been too much a Guerrero-fest in their matches up until now. If Helms jobs again, they'll have trouble convincing fans there's a chance the champ may ever drop his title. It's time to balance the scales again. It's time for Helms to snag the belt.
Winner: Shane Helms

Lex Luger & Buff Bagwell vs. Sean O'Haire & Chuck Palumbo
Tag Team Title Match

Perhaps it's the regular tag team titles that should be retired, instead of the new cruiserweight straps. If they can't come up with a better opponent for Palumbo and O'Haire than Luger and Bagwell, some serious work needs to be done if they hope to keep the division respectable. O'Haire's got potential, but he's not there yet... not by a long shot. He needs a strong heel to help him develop properly into what he could be, and Luger isn't that heel. Bagwell isn't either. Hey, why isn't Team Canada in this match?

This'll be below average. Luger and Bagwell bring a bit of crowd interest with them, as they're associated with Ric Flair's "Magnificent Seven", but the match itself will suck. And you can quote me on that. I've got O'Haire and Palumbo retaining.
Winners: Sean O'Haire & Chuck Palumbo

Booker T vs. Rick Steiner
US Title Match

Good lord. Who, in their wildest dreams, would have imagined Rick Steiner would hold this US Title for so long? Better yet, who could've predicted he'd be going over established main eventers with it? Steiner's reign of terror is probably the single worst thing going on in pro wrestling today. And I don't think I'm exaggerating by making a statement like that, either.

Probably the saddest thing isn't that WCW has pushed the elder Steiner (that'd be Rick) through the roof, it's that he used to actually deserve to be here. Take a peek back at his classics with Mike Rotunda in the late 80s, or his work in the now-classic tag team that bore his last name. Rick Steiner was superb, and though he was often saddled with silly gimmicks or angles, one could always count on him to deliver a strong match when needed. Seeing this shadow of a man holding the US title when he wasn't afforded such an honor in his youth is more than just disconcerting. It's disappointing.

So, when you see Rick Steiner this Sunday night, no-selling the match away and making Booker T look like piss, try to remember the man he used to be. If nothing else, it'll take your mind off the crap you're watching in the ring for a while. Booker has every right to take this match, as well as the US title that's eluded him to date.
Winner: Booker T

Diamond Dallas Page vs. Scott Steiner
World Title Match

Not really as bad a match-up as others would like you to believe. Scott Steiner, like his brother, has lost the ability to sell, but still remains a decent enough worker. With Page opposing him, a man who can carry just about anything to a solid *** performance, things shouldn't get too ugly. The angle progression has been sloppy and more than a little stupid, thanks in great part to Steiner's horrendous promos, but I don't think that's hurt interest in the match too badly. There's no question this will be more entertaining than last month's lame Steiner / Nash "collision."

I don't think Scotty's run as champ is quite over yet, especially considering his whole run is basically only to build him as credible challenger when Goldberg returns, so I'd be willing to bet he'll go over here. Having put out the majority of the faces in the business, Steiner would be left as an undisputed champ when WCW goes black in late March. That's about as strong an image as you're likely to recover from this fallen dynasty.
Winner: Scott Steiner

In Conclusion
A surprisingly strong undercard, followed by a sub par set of main events that's sure to leave the viewing audience with a bad taste in their collective mouth. The cruisers really are the main attraction here, with the title more than likely changing hands and the tag scene getting off to a grand start. Keep your eyes glued to the undercard, but when that last hour rolls around you're just as well off making a deposit on the porcelain throne.
until then, i remain

Friday, March 9, 2001

Ringside Shadows #165: The Fusient Era

I'd imagine it was almost six months ago when talks of WCW's eventual sale first hit the internet. Though the story seemed wildly out of the blue and completely untrue, as speculation grew and anticipation flourished, it wasn't long before the average newsboard viewer found themselves reeled in by the prospect of such an enormous transaction. In the early-goings, Fox was interested. Far-fetched rumors like ESPN or Microsoft were mentioned... and however silly they may look now, the potential seemed a bit more real at the time. As the months wore on, competitors bowed out one by one until it seemed to be an old duel revisited. Bischoff vs. McMahon, the owner of the WWF vs. Turner's old winning horse.

Of course the game was different this time around, as were the stakes, but the competitors were all too familiar. In the WWF you had a bidder with interesting possibilities. Would McMahon use WCW as a minor league to the WWF? Would he allow the competition to continue, this time between his two children? Would he allow the WWF to cater to a sports entertainment crowd, while WCW went back to the pro wrestling mentality that brought it to the dance all those years before? What had once seemed like a monopolistic move, sure to cripple the industry, was quickly becoming more and more attractive.

With Bischoff, you had more of the same. A guy who brought Turner's little experiment back from the brink of destruction. A man who helped WCW taste victory for so long, only to lead them back to the valleys from whence they came. Beneath Bischoff, WCW became a power player with big pockets. No longer a second fiddle. The cruiserweight regime was launched, to great fanfare. The nWo blindsided the public and changed how we'd watch wrestling forever. However, also beneath Bischoff lay the broken, unpushed bodies of Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero. Behind Bischoff stood the massive political swing of Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash, the egos that almost crippled the company. Under Bischoff's watch the nWo slowly outgrew itself, withered, decayed and died with a whimper. Eric had taken many steps forward, but he'd taken just as many back.

Now, with Bischoff and Fusient apparently triumphant, we're greeted with a whole new set of circumstances. A new crop of questions. Could the third time be the charm? Will he hold true to his word this time? Is he more than just a one trick pony? Only the test of time will net us those answers. Probably the most important query of all, though, remains unspoken; has Eric Bischoff learned from his mistakes? As textbooks across the nation endlessly remind us, those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. A lot of good has come under the watch of Mr. Bischoff, as has a lot of bad. He's got one last chance to make this right, and this time around there's no limitless checkbook to fall back on.

It would seem the prospect of one more Bischoff blowout has interested more than just this lowly internet columnist. Several times, through both mail and IM, I've been asked what I would do to get WCW back on track. What I would do in Uncle Eric's shoes. To be honest, I've got a laundry list. A short laundry list, but a laundry list nonetheless.

Right off the bat, before rumors could begin circulating or opinions could be formed, I'd sit down all the talent and clear the air about what I like, what I don't, what's going to be acceptable and what isn't. There's nothing worse than a bunch of unfounded rumors crippling morale, and if I make things certain from day one there's no question about my stance(s). As a follow-up, I'd meet with each athlete in a one-on-one atmosphere, assuring them that regardless of their current position on the card, they'll be getting the same chance to make or break their future as everyone else. I'd encourage input from the talent in regards to their own upcoming storylines, emphasizing that interaction as much as possible. If they have an idea about where their character should go after their current feud, I'd love to hear it. In most cases, nobody knows these characters better than the workers themselves. One of the most underspoken and misused elements of good storytelling in the wrestling industry is continuity. No matter how flamboyant the wardrobe, how flashy the entrance pyro, a wrestler is boring and two-dimensional without personality. Continuity is how we build that.

From there, I'd want to develop WCW as a whole into a more believable, realistic environment. Gimmicks and crazy outfits had their moment, and it's passed. Society as a whole is moving on, and it's time for WCW to do so as well. One of the things I liked the most about this federation in Bischoff's first run was that almost everyone used their real names. In the WWF, he was known as "Diesel." WCW acknowledged him as Kevin Nash. "Razor Ramon?" Just call him Scott Hall. These two alone proved that you don't need a gimmick to have depth. They took the first steps toward an overly realistic wrestling environment. As Diesel, he was a giant bodyguard, likely hired from a truck stop somewhere to protect Shawn Michaels. And hey! Wouldn't you know it, this guy just happens to know how to wrestle. As Kevin Nash, he was a big professional wrestler. He had a sense of humor, he knew when to kick a little ass, and he was a real person. That's something I'd like to expand upon.

In that same vein, I'd want the building of feuds to become a lot more realistic. The industry as a whole has become far too oversaturated with storylines and bookings over the last few years. Though these angles, run-ins and elaborate plans have made things more interesting than a standard boxing match, in overusing them we've lost sight of what got us here in the first place. Audiences are interested first and foremost in the thrill of the fight. It's true of boxing, it's true of MMA and it should be true of WCW. The posters say "Lance Storm vs. Scott Steiner," they don't say "Lance Storm fights Scott Steiner, because Steiner ran in during Storm's match with Booker T and swung a chair at Booker, but missed and hit Lance, and then Lance said some mean things about Scotty on the microphone and Steiner ran out again and they hit each other a lot and now they want to fight on PPV with a giant chair hanging above the ring that they can use on each other." If two guys have a problem with each other, then by all means promote it on television. Use it to your advantage. But don't feel completely obligated to throw a storyline into each and every match on the card. It's asking the audience to keep up with too much, and distorting what the sport used to be about in the first place. No feud should consist of a single run-in or interview, days before the PPV.

One of the most notable things I remember from Bischoff's recent interview on WCW Live! was his statement about excessive language and its use in WCW. Quoted directly, he said that bad language "turns him off," and that it has no place in the fed. While I'll agree with that in some ways, I'll disagree vehemently in others. If it's realistic and fits the character, I'd have no problem with a moderate amount of language sneaking into the programming. Whether it "turns me off" or not, it's a part of the modern language. The "F" bomb is becoming as common a word in casual English as a conjunction or contraction. "Damn," "ass" and "crap" are almost afterthoughts. If you don't recognize this and integrate it into your product, you're letting culture pass you by. Then again, there remain people I've yet to hear utter a swear word... guys who probably never will. It goes back to believable characters, personalities and continuity. If Rey Mysterio, Jr. is portraying a squeaky clean innocent worker, you can't have him spewing vulgarities every chance he gets. It's something that would depend on the situation more than anything else, and I wouldn't want to put my foot down as soundly as Bischoff did on that radio program last month.

One thing that really bothered me upon my rediscovery of the wrestling scene, in the fall of 1997, was the amount of PPVs that had suddenly appeared on the scene. Being a fan from the mid '80s, I'm of the mentality that a Pay Per View is something that should be extra special. The WWF had a great formula when their rotation consisted solely of Wrestlemania, Summerslam, the Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. With each, you had several months' time to tell stories, build huge matches, establish new faces and just plain interest the audiences. Nowadays, it seems every time you turn around another $30 "event" is just around the corner. I didn't even know this year's WCW Superbrawl was going to happen until about three hours after it was over (Thus, no "World's Greatest" preview for that event.) The PPV has lost everything that set it apart from Monday Evening television in the last five years. You've got your lower tier PPVs, your medium importance PPVs, and your MUST BUY OH MY GOD NOW PPVs. To me, that just doesn't make sense. If you're expecting fans to shell out $30 a pop, you've got an obligation to make that evening a special one. So I'd cut WCW's pay per view roster down to a big four; Starrcade, Superbrawl, Spring Stampede and the Great American Bash. I'm relatively sure the fans wouldn't mind.

On top of that, I'd bring back a little blast from the past. One policy that made a whole lot of sense in the old (circa '92) WCW, but slipped through the cracks was a regular pay bonus to the participants of the night's best match. I'd reinstate this practice, effective immediately on the "big shows," (Nitro and PPVs) with the amount of the bonus depending on the importance of the show. For instance, you'd get more for pulling out all the stops at Starrcade than you would on a Nitro. Not only would this encourage workers to give it their all and more on the PPV, it would also introduce a little friendly competition amongst the athletes themselves.

One subject I covered back in Ringside Shadows #147 (was it really that long ago?) was the importance of a good set of announcers. Almost a transparent element, you'll never notice when you've got a good PBP team, but it's readily apparent when you've got a bad one. Nitro's current lineup is a bad one. Tony Schiavone isn't half the man he was ten years ago, and his flat announcing is one of the many problems plaguing WCW television today. I'm not sure where I heard it first, but I agree wholeheartedly... the announcer WCW needs to get their heads back in the game is a guy named Joey Styles. While Joel Gertner killed his announcing on TNN, Styles is simply without equal as a play by play man. With Joey's talent behind the mic, WCW would have taken the first step in making their product entertaining again.

Speaking cosmetically, WCW needs a complete overhaul and redesign. Their current logo is illegible and out of place. They're trying to gear their content towards the younger generation, but that shiny, sleek logo reeks of a corporation. Their TV production crew is outrageously bad, far below the standards of almost anything else on television. To reclaim their spot at the top of the industry, they need to have a respectable image. Ugly transitions, audible instructions from the men behind the scenes, poor picture quality and nasty graphics don't exactly lend that kind of a feel. In short, they need to clear out pretty much everyone involved with this process. They need a fresh start.

Getting back to the product itself, I'd immediately open the doors to any out-of-contract workers looking for a pay per appearance deal. Be it a star from Japan, Mexico, former ECW or the indies, I'd give them a tryout dark match, have a quick sit-down with the worker to make sure their head's in the right place, and make a decision. One of the things that really boosted the cruiserweight division's reputation in the late '90s was the rotating cast of stars from all over the world. That's something I'd like to revisit, this time integrating it into the entire card.

Finally, three little rules that would be enforced, without exception, to the fullest extent possible;

1) There will be no boundaries between divisions.
Heavyweights will sell for cruiserweights, and vice versa. While the argument could be made that forcing a 400 pound man to sell a punch thrown by a 150 pounder is absurd, I think this all comes back to the realism I mentioned earlier. I wouldn't be expecting a Juventud Guerrera slap to completely floor Paul Wight. Instead, I'd tell the workers to use their heads. If you get punched in the nose, no matter how big you are, how small the other guy is, it's gonna smart. You won't see right for a couple seconds. If someone hits you with a dropkick from the top rope, you're going to fall down. Plain and simple. One of my major goals in the new WCW would be a closer relationship between the divisions, and this rule is a big part of establishing that.

2) No more celebrities!
I don't think much more needs to be said. Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone and Jay Leno tore down years of work in their four combined matches, proving to the world that just about anyone can do what a pro wrestler does. This is unacceptable, and the only way I'd see it happening is if the celebrity is in a 100% selling role. See the WWF's use of Pete Rose.

3) There is no room for ego.
Once again, a rule that's almost self-explanatory. Egos nearly crippled WCW at the end of Bischoff's first run. Between Hogan's multiple World Title reigns, Nash's run as a booker or Bagwell's multiple unpunished run-ins with the men and women who make him look good on television, there's little need to explain why. Plain and simple, if you want to work for me, you need to think of yourself as part of a collective. It's no longer "what's good for me," it's "what's good for WCW." If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The Hogans of the industry need to learn that their primary function should be building up the youth. The youth need to learn that no matter how big they get, they will never be above the rules that govern their peers.

Whether Bischoff succeeds or fails in his upcoming relaunch of WCW (or would it be a re-re-relaunch?), it all comes down to the lessons he's learned and the flaws he refuses to identify. The list I've presented above is by no means a manual, nor does it guarantee success. It's merely my interpretation of the travels WCW has undertaken in the years it's existed. Perhaps it would succeed, perhaps not... and honestly, I doubt we'll ever know.

That is, until the brass at Fusient Media Ventures come to their senses and put me at the helm of WCW.
until then, i remain

Thursday, March 1, 2001

Ringside Shadows #164: Trimming the Fat

"Roster cuts will begin later this month. Let the rampant speculation begin."
-Jim Ross, in his February 19th Ross Report

As if the second sentence didn't already clue you in, good ol' JR knew what he was doing with this little tidbit. Though this confirmation of future releases didn't exactly set the internet ablaze with potent debate, (those fires had been burning for some time) it did manage to fan the flames just a little bit higher. While you'll run across a newsboard "reporter" every day who claims to have first access to breaking news regarding the next worker to switch feds, ("Scott Hall CONFIRMED for Raw tonight!") their posts are generally easy to spot and without merit... to be taken with a grain of salt. JR's little quip served as motivation, a little taste of reality in an otherwise fictional world.

For such a statement to even begin to be taken seriously, there would have to be good reason. The WWF had it, in the form of a problem that up until one and a half years ago, was owned almost exclusively by their chief competitor. Titan's roster is overflowing; there's too much talent and too little time with which to showcase it. Even with seven weekly programs, (Raw, Smackdown, Heat, Jakked, Metal, Superstars and Livewire) three of which are higher-end, the fed can't put everyone that deserves a high profile angle on television consistently, let alone into the slot they probably deserve. The time has come to trim the fat, to cut the losses and make the tough calls.

The Road Dogg was first on the list and, to be honest, I can't argue with the decision. Since leaving DX almost two years ago, Jesse James has done a great amount of nothing in the WWF. He was eating time that would be better devoted to somebody else, and I believe his firing was the best decision the brass had made in some time.

Following on the Road Dogg's heels, just this week, came the Kat and husband Jerry Lawler. While Lawler wasn't technically fired per se, the release of his wife acted as just as strong a message as any pink slip could have. Without Lawler, the announce crew is left with one big hole, but it's a hole they'll need to work around. Half of their famous Raw commentary crew is now no longer with the company, and the announcers as a whole will need to evolve to make up for his absence. Who knows, in the end it could be a good thing. The announce team was in need of some sort of shake up at this point, anyway.

With these big firings out of the way, the WWF has proven something; popularity makes no difference. Nobody is, quote unquote, "safe." The Road Dogg had amassed quite a following during his run. The Kat had more than her share of fans, as well. Lawler was almost a god. By eliminating all three, the men in charge have shown they're serious about this. They can't afford to devote precious hours every week to a worker if: a) (S)he has no motivation for the team's future, or b) (S)he just can't get over with the fans. It's a cold, hard fact, but it's what's necessary to keep the business healthy.

So, keeping those two basic criteria in mind, I've put together a list of ten WWF Superstars that, for one reason or another, need to be let go. Some of these names may shock the hell out of you... others will come as no surprise. The fact of the matter is they aren't pulling their own weight in the WWF. Some would be better off building the name they deserve in WCW, while others shouldn't even be in the business. Below each, I'll give my reasoning, and maybe (if you're good) a quick word or two about where I think they could go from here.

(The following names appear in alphabetical order)

The Big Show
It's no secret that the Big Show, Paul Wight, hasn't turned out the way the WWF bookers and Vince McMahon imagined he would when they tempted him away from the world of WCW just over two years ago. Looking back, the writing most certainly seemed to be on the wall. Just about everyone on the internet blasted him because of his poor workrate, dull on-air personality and limited moveset. Nevertheless, the WWF plowed on and threw him right into the World Title scene. Brief feuds with the fed's two top faces at the time, Steve Austin and Mick Foley, were met with a decent response from the fans... and then came a series against the Big Bossman.

At what had to have been the least appropriate time, the WWF put their World Title on the Big Show. It all went downhill from there. With the boost of his initial introduction now gone, Wight was left without motivation. He slid back into the lazy habits we'd seen during the end of his WCW tenure, carrying the World Title along for the ride. He's since taken time off and come back a house of fire, only to slump right back into a lazy streak a couple weeks later. It's blatantly obvious that the fed has no idea what to do with him now, as evidenced by his nonsensical run-in during the main event of No Way Out, and it would make the most sense in my eyes for the WWF to just cut their losses now.

As for where he could go, I really haven't the foggiest. He's already done everything there is to do in WCW. And, though a return to his roots would lend a brief spark to both parties initially, the rut he's dug in Connecticut wouldn't wait long before rearing its head yet again.

Billy Gunn
If Billy Gunn had a resumé, his referrals would be absolutely mind-blowing. Everyone from Jim Ross to Steve Austin has praised this guy to no end, and the WWF has understandably responded with several lengthy pushes and a number of key opportunities to make himself a big name in the industry. Unfortunately, the man that JR and Stone Cold think they see has yet to grace the viewing public with his presence. Placed alongside the Road Dogg Jesse James, Billy Gunn was without question the weak link of the New Age Outlaws. Saying that really puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

Gunn has been given more opportunities in the last two years than most men see in their entire career, and he's blown every one of them. His personality stinks like a six month old Chinese meal, and his mic work has been known to frighten small children. In the ring, he's proven that not even HHH or Chris Benoit can carry everyone to a good match. He's absolutely terrible, and there's no doubt in my mind that those "referrals" are the only thing that's kept him in the WWF for this long.

Billy Gunn should be flipping burgers in a McDonald's right now.

D-Lo Brown
A sort of polar opposite to the former Mr. Ass, D-Lo Brown is a man that has all the right tools, but just hasn't had the chance to properly showcase them. More so than anyone else in the industry, D-Lo drips charisma. He's got what it takes in the ring and, with a little polishing, could make a big impact. Unfortunately, it's becoming all too obvious that impact won't be in the WWF.

Stuck with one lame gimmick after another, D-Lo was finally put into a program with Jeff Jarrett near the end of "The Chosen One's" last WWF run. Together the two put on a series of entertaining singles matches, restoring much of the glamour to the once-proud Intercontinental Title in the process. And then, just as things seemed to be nearing a big blowoff, the feud was quietly ended and Brown was sent back to midcard purgatory. Since then he's bounced from tag team to tag team, waiting for lightning to strike once again.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be room in the WWF's schedule for nurturing new talent from within. That doesn't bode well for D-Lo, at least not in Titan. While McMahon has his plate full with new prospects like Benoit, Angle and Jericho, Eric Bischoff has no such leisure. In this instance, the parting of ways would be a mutually helpful thing. The WWF has one less name to juggle with their TV bookings, and Brown has a new chance at life.

Dean Malenko
One of the tougher decisions I made, but one that had to be made, nonetheless. When the Radicals first made their jump from WCW about this time, circa 2000, it was Malenko that I figured would have the most trouble fitting in and getting over with the WWF audiences. Sure enough, about four hundred days later, Malenko holds the Light Heavyweight title but gets little to no fanfare each time he's introduced. It's a shame, but Dean is too much the straight professional wrestling genius and not enough sports entertainer. His potentially white hot angle with Lita now over and done with, the future doesn't look very bright for the man of 1,000 holds.

Where someone like teammate Perry Saturn will always have the possibility of getting over with the right circumstances, I can't see Dean going much further in the WWF no matter how big the break or how intriguing the angle. If crowds didn't call for his blood after the expertly booked angle with Lita, there's little chance they'll do much more in the future, either. I wholeheartedly enjoy watching Dean work, but the WWF is most certainly not the right place for him to be.

Malenko would be better off in Japan, or perhaps even back in WCW. Were ECW still functional, I have no question Paul Heyman could make a marketing behemoth of him in no time flat. Fact is, he'd probably be better off anywhere but the WWF. He just doesn't feel right in that atmosphere.

Like Billy Gunn, Gangrel is a man I've heard quite a bit about but haven't been all that impressed with when he got right down to it. He's mediocre in the ring, and the WWF pretty much shot their load with him right off the bat, introducing, integrating and concluding the Brood storyline in a relatively short period of time. He's mediocre at best in the ring, and he's never been given the opportunity to say more than a few words on the mic. The fed spent a lot of money for the merchandising rights to his name and appearance, and they're getting very little in return. That's the mark of a bad investment.

Do I really need to say much more? The Goodfather and the Road Dogg are effectively one in the same for the purposes of this column. Both are shoddy workers at best, both don't keep their bodies up to the level their peers have set as the standard, both become boring and repetitive on the mic after the second or third listen, and both will soon be floating around the job market, seeking further employment. Had the father of good (Ha! I made a funny!) not been heavily involved with the RTC angle at the time of Jesse James' firing, it would have surprised me if the powers that be didn't let them both go at once.

Honestly, though, the Godfather / Goodfather / Papa Shango / Kama Mustafa has been one of the most consistantly poor workers in the history of the WWF, stinking up McMahon rings for almost a decade now and not learning a thing about the ring in all that time. He's boring, his offense is far from believable, his crowd support depends wholly on cheap heat, and the majority of his maneuvers in the ring expose the industry as a collective. Take the Goodfather away and don't let him come back.

Mark Henry
Probably the Federation's greatest blunder. Greater than the Montreal Incident. Greater than the Hulk Hogan barbell set (with accompanying cassette.) Hell, this was even worse than the Gobbledy Gooker. Why in god's name they thought "The World's Strongest Man" would instantly transform into a good ten year investment is beyond me. He was never expected to be agile in the ring, but he was supposed to look powerful and believable... two things he has, to this day, never managed to display. He's an incredibly strong man, without question, but placed next to a chiseled body like HHH or Chris Benoit, Henry looks like he was molded out of clay. Poorly. By a five year old.

To say Mark Henry never panned out would be an understatement. To say he could still become a worthwhile member of the roster wouldn't be a lie, but it would be a very risky bet. If Henry does return from OVW and kicks a little ass, I'll be the first to eat my words and congratulate him on a job well done. But as of right now, I can't imagine Mark could have made the kind of progress necessary to make the cut.

Taka Michinoku
If you read my last column, regarding my ideal booking for the Wrestlemania X-Seven card, you'll know I'm a strong supporter of Taka. However, truth be told, he serves next to no purpose in the WWF today, aside from setting up Funaki's crowd pleasing line, "Indeed!" He remains an excellent worker and an untapped talent, but his size is a giant obstacle the writers haven't even attempted to overcome. As far as serious contenders go, Vince isn't likely to go much smaller than a Chris Jericho or Chris Benoit, leaving Taka well out of the picture. With the Light Heavyweight division continuing to fail, despite several relaunches, Michinoku's been in a holding pattern for the better part of three years.

In the same situation as D-Lo Brown above, Taka's release would work as a sort of mutual deal, with the WWF opening up a little more time on their programming and Michinoku either heading back to his native Japan or delivering the champ vs. champ match we never got in the late 90s, matching the WWF's longtime light heavy champ against any one of WCW's cruiserweight contenders. No matter where he chose to go, Taka wouldn't have it too rough.

There's little about Tazz that has worked out in the World Wrestling Federation. After his gigantic introduction at the 2000 Royal Rumble and subsequent push into the high midcard, Tazz found himself lost in the shuffle as the Radicals made the jump from WCW and effectively stole his limelight. Though he continued putting forward an admirable effort, there was just too much going on and when an untimely injury put him on reserve, he never managed to recapture the interest he commanded in New York that early 2000 evening.

While emphasizing Tazz as an on-air personality, the WWF has all but disregarded his character as a worker, which is a definite no-no when you realize he's not all that good as a color commentator. More than with anyone else, the federation really dropped the ball with Tazz. They had too many good things going at once, and instead of slowly letting the prospects develop one by one, they shoved them all out at the same time. Tazz (and, to a lesser extent, Chris Jericho) was just a casualty.

The Undertaker
Finally, the roughest decision of the lot. The Undertaker has defined the WWF for the last ten years, supporting his company every step of the way and remaining loyal through thick and thin. He's been a company man in every sense of the word, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. However, sooner or later he's going to have to face the facts. He isn't getting any younger, his wounds aren't healing up as effectively as they used to, and the roster is pulling further and further away with every passing day. Like Malenko, he doesn't fit in... but for different reasons. When you see Kurt Angle sprint to the ring, skid under the ropes, nail the Rock with a chair and slide out, it delivers a certain sense of energy. When it comes time for the Undertaker to make the run-in, he hobbles down the entryway, slowly slips under the bottom rope, hits the chair shot and collapses on his way out to the concrete. There's something missing, and I don't think it's something the 'Taker can control.

With that said, I'd have no problem at all putting the Undertaker in an important role behind the curtains, be it scouting talent, booking finishes, managing an aspect of the business or just keeping the locker rooms in order. After all his dedicated service, he deserves to be commended. He deserves anything he wants, but his aging image is slowly starting to affect the feel of the programming. He needs to be taken off the active roster, and soon.

So is my list 100% accurate? Not bloody likely. Will we see one or more of the names I listed above released from their contract(s) before the year is through? I'd be willing to bet on it. What you've just read is, in my opinion, the fat of the WWF's roster. The unmotivated and the underutilized. These are names that the WWF would function without, workers that are clogging up the entertainment machine. These are guys that aren't necessary for the WWF's future success, and are therefore needless.

There's a lot about this situation (and the individual situations of the men listed above) I don't know, things that would have likely affected my opinion. This list is by no means perfect. But then again, what is?

Questions? Agree? Disagree? Let me know. I love feedback.
until then, i remain