Monday Night Wars Episode 13: Divas Gone Wild.

This episode focused on women wrestlers in my opinion is easily the best episode of the series, even though it primarily focuses on WWF talent. It starts out with how in the 80s women wrestlers were a minor attraction that really didn’t catch on with the audience. Because of this the women’s title was vacated in 1990. This was curious to me because from my childhood I don’t even recall them having a women’s title that late.

However once Raw started in 1993, the women’s title was brought back to add to the variety show feel that was Vince McMahon’s philosophy. Alyundra Blaze was the centerpiece of the women’s division, and held the title for years. While she was a great wrestler, the problem was there weren’t enough good opponents for her to fill up the division.

Once WCW Monday Nitro aired, the WCW signed her while she still had the WWF women’s belt. She has previously wrestled in WCW under the name Madusa, and went back to that identity with them. The opening segment of 12/18/95 is one of the most famous incidents of the Monday Night Wars. Alyundra Blaze/Madusa walked onto the Nitro broadcast booth, said who she was, and threw the WWF women’s belt in the trash. My biggest gripe with this episode is that Madusa is not interviewed in this episode or anywhere in this whole documentary. Eric Bischoff is on camera talking about how it was his idea and how Madusa was reluctant to do it.

The impact of this event is huge, although strangely they never say this, it almost had to be a factor in the Montreal Screwjob. A more certain and concrete effect was the WWF retired the women’s title and did not have a women’s division for the next 3 years.

Women in the WWF went back to being managers, but still their role was not as passive, as say Miss Elizabeth (who signed in WCW in early 96) was in the 80s. Sunny was the original WWF Diva, and was the most downloaded AOL celebrity in 1996. Chyna, who not surprisingly was not interviewed, fortunately was profiled. Nicole Bass, another large muscular woman who I remember from WWF at the time, is not mentioned or shown at all. I can’t help but wonder what the bigger reason was for Chyna not being interviewed, her personal history with HHH, or her becoming a porn star.

The Nitro Girls are mentioned, as they were like cheerleaders for WCW Nitro, doing a dance routine at the beginning and end of commercial breaks. I recall WCW having an answer to Chyna in a large muscular woman they called Asya, but she is not mentioned at all.

Sable is mentioned, how she was a valet for Marc Mero, but got the spotlight when Mero was out with an injury. There is no mention of her later lawsuit against WWF or her appearance in the audience of Nitro. They repeat the clip of Nash saying how at one point Sable beat anything Nitro had in the ratings.

At this point the WWF was going to more racy and sexual content, with characters like Sexual Chocolate Mark Henry, Val Venis, who was basically a porn star, and the pimp character the Godfather, who brought a line of women called Hoes with him to the ring. Female talent had bra and panties matches and bikini contests, and Sable appeared in Playboy, which turned out to be one of their best selling issues ever.

While this change in content was happening in the WWF,the WCW was going through the merger between AOL and Time Warner, Time Warner having just acquired Turner broadcasting. This change in corporate culture led to more creative restrictions for WCW. Kevin Nash explained how Standards and Practices representatives now sat in on WCW creative meetings telling them what they were and were not allowed to do.

The WWF women’s title did return on the 9/21/98 edition of Raw. In a match between Sable and Jackie, Jackie won the new title. From here more female wrestlers were brought in, women like Lita and Trish that were attractive but were also very capable of having a good wrestling match. Women’s accomplishment from here are highlighted, like Chyna becoming the first woman in the Royal Rumble and the first woman Intercontinental Champion. The episode is capped off with the first time Raw had a female main event on 9/6/04 (after the Monday Night Wars were over) with Lita defeating Trish Stratus for the Women’s title.

This episode did an excellent job outlying the history of women in the WWF. I wish they would have done a counter episode to show how they did not do as well in the WCW. They did mention how Stacey Keibler and Torrie Wilson had success in the WWF after the demise of WCW. Still there were plenty of other women in WCW who’s stories were not told, and somebody needs to tell those stories.

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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 Episode 4: A New D-Generation

This episode starts with examining the pre-DX gimmicks of Billy Gunn and HHH along with other cartoonish gimmicks like the Honky Tonk Man. HHH became friends with Shawn Michaels, who was battling a lot of personal demons at the time (but this episode doesn’t say what they were).

Chyna is not interviewed for this series at all but her, HHH, Shawn Michaels, and the late Rick Rude were the original members of DX. On a WWF TV segment Bret Hart referred to the group as degenerates, and from there Shawn Michaels christened his group D-generation X. This episode compares DX to the NWO and how Bischoff thought DX was a NWO ripoff.

WCW eventually signed Rick Rude, leading to one of the more peculiar incidents of the Monday Night Wars. Raw still taped some of its episodes, and Nitro was always live. On 11/17/97, Rick Rude became the only person to ever appear on Monday Night Raw and on Monday Nitro in the same night. Both segments were at the opening of the show, with Nitro pulling a 4.1 rating and Raw doing a 3.1.

The following year, on 2/2/98, DX responded on air to a letter the USA network sent to WWF about the content of their show. USA threatened to suspend the show over it’s racy content. DX read the letter on air, saying all the specific vulgar words they were not supposed to say (bleeped out of course). Apparently the USA network loved this bit, and from there Vince gave the group more creative freedom.

Shawn Michael’s departure from wrestling is covered as he left due to a back injury. From here HHH took charge of DX and took in a returning Sean Waltman/Xpac/Syxx Pac from the WCW. The night after Wrestlemania XIV X-Pac goes off on Hogan and Bischoff. Hogan is shown on WCW programming saying Sean “couldn’t cut the mustard.”

The incident where DX tried to invade a WCW show is profiled. They were in a tank that came right up to a WCW arena but couldn’t get through the door. Nash says he was on the other side of that door but some old man wouldn’t open it. HHH said he had no plan if they actually got in, and said to Vince what if WCW sends guys to a Raw show. Vince, always forward thinking, figured let them in. What show would you watch?

As a response Eric Bischoff issued an open challenge to Vince McMahon at a PPV, but of course McMahon never accepted. The DX imitation of the Nation is shown before wrapping up. It doesn’t really cover how DX eventually split up, but it shows a lot of great highlights and effectively shows how they fit into the story of the Monday Night Wars.