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.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Part 7: The War Goes Extreme

In the late 90s, a small Philadelphia promotion took the wrestling world by storm with it ulta-violent hardcore style and rabid fan base. Extreme Championship Wrestling, although it did not air programming on Monday nights, served as a third party in the Monday Night Wars.

At first we get yet another recap of Turner investing in WCW, and how Raw’s Saturday morning style did not work with a prime time audience. We see Jeff Jarret’s cowboy gimmick along with the Bushwhackers.

Then we get to the good stuff. The early days of ECW are re-capped, how they broke away from the NWA, how the lower production values added to the content, and how the audience was as much a part of the show as the wrestlers and would even bring weapons to be used. The clip of the Foely/Funk tag match is shown where the audience literally showered the ring with chairs.

As well as this episode tells the story of ECW, unfortunately it still uses the narrative of WCW “stealing” ECW stars, saying “Eric Bischoff had a blank checkbook signed by Ted Turner.” What is not mentioned but is well documented elsewhere is that ECW often had trouble meeting it’s payroll, prompting talent to leave for more security and stability, not to mention a bigger platform. Eric Bischoff is at least given a chance to respond, saying “One man’s raid is another companies acquisition.” In fairness, ECW founder Paul Heymen is shown saying he didn’t like it personally but knew it was just business. He added “When you’re up against WWE and Vince McMahon in a Monday Night War what else are you supposed to do?”

Just before Monday Nitro began to air, WCW acquired Mexican Lucha Libre talents along with other cruiser weights such as Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, La Parka, and Chris Jericho. As time went on, both WCW and WWF would recruit ECW stars like the Dudley Boys, Sandman, and Tazz. Heymen says “Our move was always to find new talent and develop them faster than they were pulling people out.”

ECW pulled off a small miracle on April 13th 1997, by having their own PPV Barely Legal. To help promote it, ECW stars actually appeared on the 3/17 episode of Raw. Paul Heymen was actually in the ring and on commentary with Vince, and announcer Jerry Lawler challenged the ECW locker room to come out the next week, which they did. They appeared on several Raws, and the ratings increased. Cable companies were hesitant to put the violent federation on PPV, (MMA events were not even allowed at the time) but fans picketed outside the cable companies demanding the PPV be aired.

Over the next few years ECW had enough momentum to get on television. TNN, The National Network, debuted a Friday Night ECW show on 8/27/99. This gave ECW more legitimacy, allowing other projects to be possible like a video game, magazines, and T-shirts deals. This episode doesn’t mention it, but the ECW video game was the first, and I believe only wrestling game to get a mature rating.

Unfortunately for them, write as ECW was going on TV, the Sandman and Mike Whipwreck signed with WCW, and Tazz and the Dudley Boys signed with WWF. Sandman in WCW was known as Hack. Mikey Whipwreck is interviewed in this episode, and says that he signed while he was taking time off for injury. Even though he agreed to a WCW deal, he feels WCW simply signed him so ECW wouldn’t have him.

The ECW show had 1 million views per week, but they hit another obstacle as their champ Mike Awesome jumped to WCW while still on contract with ECW. He is shown on the 4/10/2000 episode of Nitro attacking Kevin Nash. The announcers say he’s the champ but the belt is not shown on TV. This led to one of the more curious incidents of the Monday Night War. At an ECW show, Mike Awesome fought Tazz, who was on loan from the WWF. It was the first and only time during the Monday Night Wars that a contracted WWF wrestler fought a contracted WCW wrestler, and the match was in an ECW ring for the ECW title. Tazz won, and days later dropped the belt to ECW star Tommy Dreamer.

It is well documented elsewhere so it was a little disappointing this episode did not cover the censorship issues and other restrictions that TNN placed on ECW. It does cover how TNN was in negotiations with the WWF to move Raw to their network, which they eventually did. Paul Heymen often suspected TNN only aired ECW to test if they could get a wrestling audience, and also to lead into TNN’s Rollerjam show, which was an attempted revival or Roller Derby.

ECW was only on TNN for one year, and without their TV deal, the company folded. Paul Heymen envisioned ECW being a global promotion. What no one knew at the time, was the Vince McMahon was secretly subsidizing ECW, and used it as a developmental territory. In January of 2001, WWF purchased ECW, and just a few months later purchased WCW. ECW’s revival is covered, with the One Night Stand PPV on 6/12/05. What is also covered is the influence ECW had on WWF and the attitude era.

From the beer drinking Stone Cold Steve Austin to the advent of the WWF Hardcore title, ECW’s influence on the Monday Night Wars is unquestionable.