Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 10: Who’s Next

Goldberg is the one new superstar who rose to the top of WCW that was neither a former WWF star or an already established WCW star like Flair and Sting. This episode profiles his career.

Unfortunately it starts out with another recap of how Turner started WCW, and decided to put Nitro on head to head against WWF. At this point it’s officially annoying how the start of ever episode repeats all of this.

Once we get to Goldberg we see a few clips of him sacking people while playing college football for the University of Georgia. He played 3 seasons in the NFL and worked out at a gym owned by Sting and Lex Luger. He was given a try out at the WCW Power Plant and was soon moved onto TV.

WCW’s strategy in using Goldberg was to showcase his strengths and to hide his weaknesses. The design was to have quick matches with him demolishing people. They focused on his entrance with the security coming to the ring with him and the fireworks. Booker Kevin Sullivan didn’t have him talk at first.

The inevitable comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin are brought up, but like the Austin episode CM Punk dismisses that, saying Goldberg “evolved more organically” and that the two “couldn’t have been more different.” Stu Saks of Pro Wrestling Illustrated agrees.

The Miz calls his win streak into question, saying every week the number seemed significantly higher. Personally I’ve heard different accounts on the legitimacy of Goldberg’s streak. This is something I’ll have to look into more.

Goldberg’s match against Hogan on Nitro is discussed. Hogan had the championship belt, and made the call to lose to Goldberg on Nitro (Could this call into question claims that Hogan held down younger talent?). On Thursday Thunder the match was announced for the following Monday at the Georgia Dome where he played football. At this point Nitro’s 84 week streak of ratings wins over Raw was over, and WCW was feeling the pressure to stay on top. Giving this match for free on TV instead of a PPV is widely criticized in wrestling circles. The number changes throughout the episode, but WCW apparently filled the Georgia Dome with between 30,000 and 45,000 people with basically 3 days notice of the match.

Goldberg, the now WCW champion, became a mainstream star, making the TV guide cover and appearing at a NASCAR event. Through August of 98 Nitro’s ratings went back up, but Raw recovered by the end of the year. WWF’s Gillberg, a mockery of Goldberg, is also mentioned.

The Starrcade incident is covered, where Goldberg loses the title to Kevin Nash after Scott Hall zaps Goldberg with a taser. This led to the “Finger Poke of Doom” incident that is repeated throughout several episodes of this series, where on 1/4/99 Nash (in story) willingly drops the title to Hogan to reform the NWO. This has become known as one of the most unpopular moves WCW made, and is attributed to WCW’s downfall. Nash explains the plan with reforming the NWO was to put Goldberg in the title chase and have 8-9 guys to feed him and then eventually build to a rematch so Goldberg could get the title back. However, after this the crowd started turning on Goldberg, chanting Goldberg sucks and bringing signs like Fools Gold, Sold berg, and Goldberg=gutless. On 12/23/99 he punched through a limousine window and shredded the tendons in his right arm. He was out for five months. He came back on 5/29/2000, but by then it was too late. Raw more than doubled Nitro’s rating that night with a 6.4 to a 3.0. A year later, the Monday Night War would be over.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 9: Flight of the Cruiser Weights.

This episode focuses on the Cruiser Weights primarily in WCW. It starts out effectively explaining the Lucha Libra/Mexican style wrestling as well as the Japanese style wrestling. WCW programming used Japanese and Mexican wrestlers on their WCW Saturday Night and WCW Pro television shows before the Monday Night Wars began. They were brought in to make WCW stand out from the WWF. This episode makes the point that on the very first episode of Monday Nitro, the very first match of the Monday Night Wars was a cruiser weight match. It was Japanese star Jushin Thunder Liger vs. the Brian Pillman. Having a Japanese wrestler in the first match of the Monday Night Wars drove the point home that WCW was something very different from WWF. While there was obviously a language barrier that prevented most of them from working on the mic, their acrobatic in ring performance more than made up for it. Eventually the defunct WCW Lightweight championship was brought back as the Cruiser weight belt. This episode, however, takes the opinion that the term Cruiser weight hurt the wrestlers in the long run, making them seem appear to be less than the heavyweights. Later a match between Scott Hall and Billy Kidman where Kidman is getting beat up while the announcer says “Well he is a cruiser weight in a heavy weight match up.”

As Nitro moved to two hours more cruiser weights were hired, and WWF responded with their own Light Heavy Weight division. It was not as successful, perhaps because, as Jerry Lawler explained, the higher ups in WWF were skeptical of the move. During this segment Taka from Japan is shown, and Scott Putskie is mentioned. When talking about these wrestlers you can sense a doubt that some of them were even really lightweights to begin with.

As successful as the cruiser weights might have been in WCW, frustration mounted as the NWO was still leading the show. Arn Anderson says Eric Bischoff wouldn’t listen to suggestions to move them up the card. Tensions between Eddie Guerrero and Bischoff are highlighted, as on 8/17/98 Eddie quit on the air. A clip is shown of them arguing backstage over who really made Eddie a star.

This frustration led to defections to the WWF, a reversal from the early days of the Monday Night War. On 8/9/99 Jericho debuted on Raw with much fanfare. The 1/31/2000 edition of Raw showed Dean Malenko, Eddie, Perry Saturn, and Chris Benoit sitting at ringside and later getting involved in the show.

According to this episode WCW never found cruiser weights that could capture the audience’s attention the way the originals did. Kenny Kaos from the WCW Power Plant and the West Hollywood Blondes are shown to emphasize this point.

A more general point is made about an overall lack of direction in WCW. Booker T explains how it seemed they were flying by the seat of their pants. Announcer Tony Schivanne is shown on air saying “What are we going to do now?” after he thought they were going to a match.

The end of the episode showcases the cruiser weight’s success in WWF after the the Monday Night Wars were over in 2001. Hurricane Helms had a victory over the Rock, Eddie Guerrero pinned Brock Lesnar for the World title, and they paved the way for the next generation of superstars that were not heavyweights like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Tyson Kidd. The episode ends on a high note with Rey Mysterio winning the WWF title at Wrestlemania.

20 Years Ago Today: Hogan Turned Heel And Joined NWO.

Twenty Years ago today was World Championship Wrestling’s Pay Per View called Bash at the Beach. The main event was a six man tag between Macho Man Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger, against Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and a mystery third partner.

Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were in WCW in the early 90s, but did not achieve superstar status. Both of them went to WWF where they did become big stars. By the mid 90s, WCW, under the leadership of Eric Bischoff, launched Monday Nitro head to head against WWF’s Raw. Needing new talent, he was able to sign Kevin Nash and Scott Hall back to WCW. Both wrestlers were happy in WWF, but WCW offered more money and less days on the road.

Both Hall and Nash’s WWF contracts expired around the same time. Eric Bischoff had the idea from a New Japan Wrestling angle about wrestlers from another company invading theirs. Scott Hall walked into the ring on Nitro on 5/27 promising a war was coming. Kevin Nash soon followed, and subsequent weeks of Nitro showed the two, dubbed the outsiders, in the audience, going backstage, and generally disrupting the show. The idea was that two WWF wrestlers were coming to sabotage WCW. Soon a challenge was issued for a three on three match at Bash at the Beach. The Outsiders teased a mystery third partner, following a lot of speculating on who it would be.

Hogan himself had not been on WCW TV for some time, as he was off filming a movie. I believe it was the TV movie Assault on Devil’s Island, which aired on Turner TV the next year. A few segments about his career aired on Nitro from time to time, and at one point the Nitro announcers said they heard Hogan offering to be on the team to fight the Outsiders.

When the PPV came Hall and Nash came to the ring without their third partner. The match began, and Sting got (in story) injured and had to be taken to the back. Later on, Hulk Hogan came walking down the aisle. The fans cheered as people presumed he was coming to help his friend Macho Man, who was the legal man in the match. This was the first time WCW fans would have seen Hogan in months. The ring cleared as he entered, except Macho Man who was laying on the mat.

Bischoff, as well as WCW booker Kevin Sullivan had talked to Hogan during the course of that year about Hogan turning heel (heel is a wrestling term for villain). Hogan was reluctant, as he’d been a face for around ten years, (and as such was the biggest star in the history of the business. He actually was heel in his very early career). By 1996 the Hogan gimmick was getting old. In the 1990s the anti-hero was in, the traditional good heroes were not in vogue. People liked things at that time that had more of an edge. In fact, in early episodes of Nitro, especially when he was in the south fighting Ric Flair, Hogan was getting booed by the live audience.

Once Hogan saw how hot the outsiders were, he decided that he would be the third man, and the wrestling business was never the same. Bischoff later said that if Hogan hadn’t agreed to turn heel, the third man would have been Sting. Sting was the traditional WCW hero. While a Sting heel turn would have been shocking, it of course would not have had near the impact that Hogan had.

So the crowd was shocked when Hogan dropped the leg on Macho Man and sided with Hall and Nash. People were so mad they actually threw trash in the ring. Mean Gene got in the ring and Hogan immediately cut a vicious heel promo where he said he was bigger than the business and told the fans to stick it.

No one ever could have guessed that Hogan would have turned heel. It was the one thing in wrestling people never thought would happen. This is honestly one of the great regrets of my life. I wish so much I could have been watching this live on pay per view, or even have been in the audience. To see Hogan come down the aisle, assuming he would make the save, and then watch him drop the leg. Just to feel the shock of that moment. “Oh my god! HOGAN TURNED HEEL!!!! HOGAN TURNED HEEL!!!!” Simply the greatest heel turn ever.

Watch Hogan in all his evil glory here.

Beyond the Mat Documentary Retro Review

In March of 2000 comedy writer Barry W. Blaustein made his directorial debut in Beyond the Mat, a documentary about professional wrestling. He wrote, directed, and produced this documentary about something which he loved all his life, but admits always feeling embarrassed about it.

Beyond the Mat starts with the filmmaker’s own childhood, explaining how he was always a wrestling fan.He recalls seeing a wrestling show as a kid, and feeling befuddled when after the show he saw one of the wrestlers meeting their own family backstage. Seemingly in that moment that wrestler appeared to be a normal family man. Hence, the essential question of this documentary is, who are these people that become pro-wrestlers?

Blaustein starts at the top with the WWF. At the time of this filming the WWF was worth close to a billion dollars, which the filmmaker says is more than the New York Knicks, Rangers,and Mets put together. During a business meeting we hear that WWF was, at that time, the #2 license (I presume this means in retail products) and that they were fighting it out with South Park. WWF is compared to the Muppets, in the sense it’s a family business involving fictional characters. Vince McMahon is interviewed, and gives a very interesting insight into his business. He explains that a lot of people don’t understand what they’re really about, saying “We make movies.” He goes onto say he makes monsters, and compares WWF to the old Hollywood Studio system.

Writer Vince Russo is seen backstage with Sable (Russo would go on to write for WCW). We also see the wrestler and former Denver Bronco Droz, who apparently early on was going to base his wrestling persona around his ability to vomit on cue. It is noted at the film’s end that shortly after the film wrapped, Droz was paralyzed in the ring. There are also a few wrestlers that briefly get screen time sharing their gripes against Vince, including Justin Credible, Koko B. Ware, and Al Snow. While it’s not clear in the initial viewing, Blaustein’s audio commentary reveals Al Snow is in fact talking about his previous run in WWF where he had a different gimmick called Avatar.

World Championship Wrestling is not covered in this film at all. It is only mentioned twice in passing, once by an indy promoter and once by an ECW fan. From the time I saw this in the theater I wondered why that was the case. On the same commentary Blaustein reveals he approached WCW but they would not sign the necessary paper work to let him film. He says WCW wanted creative control of the project. Interestingly enough, he adds that even though they are not covered, WCW programming still ran adds for the show and apparently discussed it on air.

Vince McMahon/the WWF were not as cooperative at first either. The commentary reveals that Ron Howard, who produced the film, lived near Vince McMahon, but amusingly only had a slight understanding that he was somehow involved in the wrestling business. After several meetings Vince finally agreed, but later wanted to control the project, offering to cover the film’s budget. Vince’s request was declined. Apparently after the movie came out WWF stars were told not to do press for the film, nevertheless, Blaustein and WWF star Mick Foley appeared on Larry King Live around the time of the film’s release.

Back to the documentary, Balustein’s favorite wrestler, Terry Funk, is profiled next. Extreme Championship Wrestling is also profiled along with Funk, as Funk wins a match at the first ECW Pay Per View. ECW was a renegade ultra-violent promotion based out of Philadelphia that had a rabid international fan base. Blaustein says in the film “No fans scared me more.” Just after this documentary was made ECW had a TV deal on TNN.

Later, due to health problems, Funk decides to retire and have one last match (It should be no surprise to hear his retirement doesn’t last long). His “last match” is in Amarillo Texas, where he lives and is a local celebrity. His opponent is then WWF champion Bret Hart. WWF and ECW wrestlers are show in the audience. Personally I didn’t see any WCW wrestlers in attendance, but ECW’s Shane Douglas says that only Terry Funk could have brought together people from WWF, ECW, and other promotions. Two fans are also interviewed who came all the way from England for this match.

From Funk the film segues into Mick Foely, perhaps the most unlikely WWF champion. His friendship with Terry is highlighted, and the climax of the film is his brutal I Quit Match against the Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble, which his wife and two young children had front row seats for.

Also of note are the segments with Jake the Snake Roberts, who was at a low point in his life at the time, and was heavy into drug use. At the time Jake objected to how he was portrayed in this film. He has subsequently got himself through treatment and has been clean for a while. I imagine his feelings on this film might have changed over time.

WWF female superstar Chyna is briefly portrayed, as is former WWF star Koko B. Ware, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, ECW’s Spike Dudley and New Jack, and a small California based promotion. From this promotion two indy wrestlers get a WWF try out.

Beyond the Mat is perhaps an unintentional time capsule of a time when wrestling was the in thing. Blaustein on his commentary observes, correctly in retrospect, how wrestling was hot at that time, but adds “I know that will go away pretty soon.” While it is disappointing that WCW is not covered, it seems that was beyond the filmmaker’s control. The goal of the film was to cover the types of people that become professional wrestlers, and I would say it had mostly succeeded at that.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Part 8: The Austin Era Has Begun

Stone Cold Steve Austin is undoubtedly the most popular star to come out of the Monday Night Wars. Some wrestling fans even argue he was more popular than Hulk Hogan. Episode 8 of this documentary focuses on his story, and opens with Austin himself saying he had to fight and claw for everything he ever had.

His time as Stunning Steve is covered in WCW, where he went from singles competition, to tag team, then back to singles where he had a great match with Ricky Steamboat. Early frustrations are shown as we see a WCW clip of Mean Gene hyping Hulk Hogan, then going to interview Steve Austin. Austin on camera calls out Gene for hyping Hogan when he’s supposed to be interviewing him.

Bischoff is shown saying how Austin was starting to be irritable to be around, was always hurt etc. Eventually Bischoff let him go. From there he went to ECW, while he was injured he cut promos ripping Bischoff and Hogan and the rest of WCW. It’s here his eventual Stone Cold persona started to come out.

From ECW he went to the WWF where he was the Million Dollar Champion, managed by Ted Dibiase. However, when Dibiase went to WCW Austin was on his own, and had more of an opportunity to develop his character. He’d seen a documentary about a bald hitman for hire, and thinking about that cemented the Stone Cold Steve Austin character. His King of the Ring victory is covered with the famous Austin 3:16 quote, as is his “I Quit” match at Wrestlemania with Bret Hart. His injury at Summerslam in 1997 led to him further developing his mic skills and anti-authority stance.

The Goldberg/Stone Cold comparison issue was inevitable, as it is suggested that Goldberg was WCW’s response to Stone Cold. Leave it to CM Punk to question that analysis, and rightfully so. Their similarities were only superficial, their actual characters were completely different.

The episode ends with Vince selling the idea that Austin was the biggest star wrestling ever had.