Oh, for the days that there was a definite contender to WWE’s monopolistic hold on the world of wrestling. TNA has consistently failed to deliver, whilst arguably New Japan are the closest with their moves into the American TV and streaming markets. However, they are some way off of the juggernaut that Vince created.
This wasn’t always the case. For most of the late 90s, WCW had offered more than just token competition – indeed in 1997 and 1998 they habitually defeated WWE in the TV ratings. By the end of 1998 though, the competition was much more even – stars such as Steve Austin, The Rock and Mankind and feuds like Austin vs McMahon helping WWE to begin to push back against WCWs control of the TV ratings, mostly off of the back of the exciting NWO stable and subsequent storylines stemming from the heel turn of Hulk Hogan and the fight for WCWs survival.
At the end of 1998, WCW were visibly wobbling – the lingering taste of the missed opportunity at the previous year’s Starrcade (when Sting finally met Hogan) followed up by a continued mismanagement of the biggest commodities that WCW had to offer. The NWO was watered down with many B and even C-level players added, whilst Ric Flair ended up bogged down in a feud with the head honcho of the NWO, Eric Bischoff.
The one silver lining to a difficult year was the continued development of Bill Goldberg, a man who entered the twelfth month of the year undefeated and the WCW Champion. He moved merchandise, the fans loved him and he was the crown jewel of WCW’s developmental system. He was the one man who could conceivably keep WCW’s challenge for the top promotion in wrestling afloat.
So, naturally, he lost the title and his undefeated streak to Kevin Nash at the final PPV of the year.
This might not have been the end of the world, but to then have Nash drop the title to Hulk Hogan on the next Nitro, a Hulk Hogan who had recently voiced his desire to run for President, via a fingerpoke, has often been cited as the single event where WCW ‘jumped the shark’. The belt was devalued by the angle and an old and arguably stale Hogan was once more the number one man in the company.
At the beginning of 1999, WCW were still competitive – by 2001, they’d been sold off to WWE, two years of mismanagement at all levels putting paid to a company who had ruled the Monday Night Wars for prolonged periods.
The plan for this column going forward is to look at WCW in 1999 through the C shows of Worldwide and Saturday Night. Worldwide was a recap show with occasional exclusives, which should focus on the main event players, the big feuds, and keep me abreast of what is going on on Nitro and Thunder on a week by week basis. Saturday Night was a strange beast. A much bigger deal in the infant days of WCW, it had been reduced to a show that has become celebrated as much for the range of wrestlers and the oddity of some of the matches than anything else. The Worldwide summaries will be short looks at what was happening at the top of the card; Saturday Night, a little more involved.
Having a summary show looking at events from 13 days previous is a bizarre decision, but that is what we see with the second Worldwide of the year (I skipped the first shows for both due to them being End of the Year/Goldberg retrospectives, respectively). All the events of the show took place on the last Nitro of the year, which is a fair way back for a show that’s main job is to keep people up to date with what is going on in the promotion.
The big news is Ric Flair defeating Eric Bischoff the night after losing to him at the PPV. In victory, Ric Flair has control of WCW for the next 90 days. As a way of appeasing the fans after the Goldberg defeat, this seems like a good choice, but as always it will depend on where WCW choose to go with it. The next PPV match of Ric Flair and David Flair vs Barry Windham and Curt Hennig doesn’t exactly fill me with hope. The match from Nitro is shown in full on Worldwide and we see what I assume is the return of the Macho Man, ambling down to the ring with an NWO shirt on whilst a full scale brawl is occurring at ringside between WCW/Horsemen and the NWO. He nails Eric Bischoff, thus allowing Ric Flair to pick up the victory.
The other two events of note from Worldwide this week sees Scott Steiner winning the WCW TV Title from Konnan (again, the night after the PPV and just a day after Konnan defeated Jericho to win it) and Eddie Guerrero and Juventud Guerrero defeating Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman. This is at the tail end of the LWO angle, a car accident that by this point had already taken place putting Eddie Guerrero out of action for most of the year. What was shown of the match looked good, and Eddie won after a collision between Mysterio and Kidman left Kidman to be frog splashed. Whilst it was a touch of overkill to have a third World Order stable at this time, it would have been interesting to see where the angle was due to go, Mysterio’s reluctant membership the key issue that drove this storyline forward.
WCW Saturday Night
As I don’t want to spoil the matches for myself, I’ve limited the research aspect at times so that I get to watch the matches/feuds unfold with untainted eyes. However, that puts me in a position where I’m not always one hundred percent sure of what is going on with belts and feuds. On Nitro, a tournament for the WCW Tag Team Titles was announced, and we are promised two matches from the tournament tonight. Kenny Kaos and Rick Steiner had been the champions, but I am led to believe that Rick Steiner was injured and forced to vacate the title.
A lot of the action on Saturday Night can be of the squash match variety, so won’t need much expanding upon unless entirely necessary. The first match of the night saw Bam Bam Bigelow defeating Al Green, a man who is ‘famous’ for being an early tag partner of Kevin Nash. This is already indicative of the type of people who pop up on Saturday Night, as Al Green had had a moderately successful run in WCW in 1992, yet was picked up once again by the promotion for no real reason. Unsurprisingly, the match is short, and a Greetings From Asbury Park is enough to pick up the win. Bam Bam Bigelow looked in pretty good shape here.
Backstage, we see why Kenny Kaos is generally kept away from a microphone as he asks Bobby Eaton to be his tag partner in the tournament. Kaos effectively suggests that Bobby is over the hill which is always the way you want to endear yourself to someone. I love Bobby Eaton, but he is also a guy who just looks dated. He accepts the invite, and we have one of our teams for later tonight.
The Armstrongs were up next, an easy victory over Nick Dinsmore and Mike Sullivan. The only thing of note here is that The Armstrongs get mic time, verbalising their disgust about how they were looked over for the WCW Tag Team Title tournament. I can’t imagine the tournament misses them much – bland, bland and more bland.
Bobby Blaze and Bobby Duncum Jr. win the next two matches on the card, defeating Dave Burkhead and Bull Payne respectively. Blaze excites me in no way, shape or form outside of his offensively purple leotard, and Duncum Jr. is just a stereotypical Texan gimmick, though incredibly rough around the edges. I can imagine him being fun to watch in the right setting; unfortunately, a short match against Bull Payne wasn’t it.
I’ll be honest that when I was young, I thought that Glacier was a cool gimmick and generally enjoyed what I remembered of him in the ring. In hindsight, he wasn’t very good and the gimmick and subsequent feuds were rubbish, but I still have a bit of a soft spot for him. Lash LeRoux is in his pre-MIA days and is pretty much just a jobber at this time. He brings the fight more than any of the opposition so far, but it is only a short matter of time before Glacier nails the Cryonic Kick, before using the Ice Pick submission to win – clearly an attempt to make his finisher more heelish in nature. Considering the cost of his entrance, I’m surprised they do the whole lights/snow show on the C show.
Ric Flair and David Flair are interviewed by Mean Gene in a break between fights, and all we really learn is why Ric Flair is a legend and David Flair is barely remembered. Even the ten second window in which David speaks is tedious, especially after impassioned (if pointless) mic work from Ric.
The Gambler fights Chase Tatum in the next match of the night. Chase Tatum is a name I vaguely recognise, but since I did watch WCW during this time, the fact that I don’t remember him gracing Thunder or Nitro speaks volumes. He is ripped to shreds though, so I can only assume that they expected a lot out of him as he looks impressive. What is even more impressive (at least from a kayfabe standpoint) is that he finishes the Gambler in thirty seconds, a modified Fire Thunder Bomb getting him the victory.
Things seem like they are about to pick up in the next match, as Fit Finlay and David Taylor bring an element of style to proceedings, facing off against Tough Tom and Mean Mike of Disorderly Conduct (…hideous names. Just hideous.). Luckily, the majority of the match sees Finlay and Taylor control the match, with just the odd hope spot for Tom and Mike. Finlay especially is great to watch in action, as there is no wasted motion and violence in every move. A butterfly suplex into a pin from Taylor is enough to see the better team go through in the tournament.
Things have picked up ever since the British (and Irish) contingent have hit the show and this trend continues as Norman Smiley accepts Barry Darsow’s putting challenge (a sentence I never thought I’d write). As he gets ready to take his shot, Chavo Guerrero Jr. attacks him, knocking him out of the ring and chasing him to the back. Seemingly, Smiley attacked Pepe, thus angering Chavo. Darsow’s gimmick is stupid, but does get some easy heat, especially when he uses the ‘Quiet’ placards before setting up the shot.
In the last match before the main event, Steve McMichael defeated Sgt Buddy Lee Parker with the tombstone piledriver. It’d be too easy to focus on the joke of McMichael being a member of the Four Horsemen, so I might as well also highlight how bad his punches are and how his spinebuster is a travesty.
It is almost upsetting watching Bobby Eaton tag with Kenny Kaos in the main event against Silver King and La Parka. The match is pretty ho-hum, but there are moments where you can see how thrown together the team is – a tag which was supposed to lead to a double team ending up in an odd reversal with the new man never getting involved being one of them. Even the luchadores are at it, as Silver King gets Kaos in the ring to distract the referee, only to not really do anything with this advantage. Eventually, the match turns on La Parka’s fetish for chairs, as he nails Silver King by mistake which allows Kaos to tag in Eaton. Eaton, with the one classy touch of the match, nails the Alabama Jam and wins the match.
I look forward to my time spent with Saturday Night – it seems to be the place where I can see random gimmicks, tag teams and feuds played out. Whether the wrestling itself will be any good is another story.