WCW Acquires Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

From the time WCW started Monday Nitro, airing head to head against WWF Raw, they offered some innovation to the wrestling business by airing live, showcasing Japanese and Mexican stars, and giving away the results of their competitor. However, some of the stories and characters were still cartoon-ish and reflected 1980’s sensibilities. Starting in the spring of 1996, WCW acquired two new stars, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall,

In the early 90’s Kevin Nash had a short stint in WCW as part of the Master Blasters tag team, under the name Steel. From their he had a silver haired wizard gimmick called OZ, and finally Vinnie Vegas. Scott Hall also had a stint in WCW around the same time under the name Diamond Studd. Neither were very successful in WCW, but both would go on to find success in the WWF. There Nash would wrestle under the name Diesel and become WWF champion, and Hall wrestled under the name Razor Ramon, a pseudo Scarface type character, and become Intercontinental champion. This was in a time when WWF was focusing on younger talent, and older established stars like Hogan and Macho Man had moved to WCW. However, Nitro eventually needed fresh young faces as well.

Eric Bischoff says “Nitro at the time was starting to get some traction. The numbers were growing, revenue was growing, the company was growing you know. We needed some fresh faces, so I contacted Scott hall and Kevin Nash.” (Monday Night Wars documentary episode 2)

Scott Hall was contacted first. WCW offered him a contract for around 1.2 million, for around 120 days of work. Hall says that you could make the same money in WWF, but there you’d work 300 days. Soon Nash was offered a contract as well, but was not eager to go back to WCW. “I had probably the worst three years of my life in WCW.” Nash recalls. “I was happy there and had no desire to leave. (MNW2)” In an attempt to negotiate he told Vince, “This is the offer they gave me….I want to stay, if you can match the offer I’ll stay.(NWO DVD)” Vince explained that if he matched that offer he’d have to do the same for his other big stars. Nash was still hesitant to leave. He explained to his wife that he felt like WWF was his family. His wife, who was six months pregnant at the time, patted herself on the stomach and said “This is your family.”

Scott Hall also left reluctantly. “I felt like I sold out. I wanted that guaranteed money to secure my kid’s future….not to excited about the prospects. (MNW2).” He also recalled some advice he got from a wrestling legend. “Chief Jay Strongbow told us years ago in this business you can make friends or you can make money, and I remember looking at Kev and like kid/xpac and going I’ve already got some friends, I’d like the money.” (NWO DVD)

In retrospect, WCW and Eric Bischoff get criticized for offering guaranteed contracts, but as Bischoff explains “WCW still did not have a great licensing and marketing business. In WWE (then WWF) someone like Nash or Hall could make considerable money from their cut of the licensing and merchandise.We didn’t have that, which was one reason we had to continue guaranteeing contracts.” (Biscoff, 209)

Hall and Nash both saw their WWF contracts end within six days of each other. Once Hall and Nash were on board, Bischoff planted the seed of what would become one of the hottest stories in the history of the business.

Sources

Monday Night Wars documentary Episode 2: Rise of the NWO

NWO DVD set from WWE

Eric Bischoff Autobiography, Controversy Creates Cash

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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.

The Origin of the Monday Night Wars

The roots of the Monday Night Wars stem from a rivalry between Vince McMahon and Ted Turner that went as far back as the 1980s, when Vince McMahon was first taking his promotion national.

Before the advent of cable television, the professional wrestling scene in the North America was made up of several small regional territories that never crossed over into one another. What would eventually become WWE was a territory based out of New York run by Vince McMahon senior. Other territories included Mid Atlantic, run by Jim Crockett, Georgia Championship wrestling by Jim Barnett, AWA in the Midwest run by Verne Gagne, and in northwestern Canada was Stampede wrestling run by Stu Hart. When Vince McMahon Jr. took over his father’s business, he took his company national, hiring talent from other regions in a move that was unprecedented, eventually turning his territory into the global giant it is today.

One of the ways McMahon reached a national audience was through cable, but he was not the only wrestling promoter on cable. Ted Turner launched TBS, the Turner Broadcasting System, which was the first super station, or the first station to be carried on all cable providers. One of the main programs on the super station was Georgia Championship Wrestling. Starting in 1971 Georgia Championship Wrestling aired from 6:05pm to 8:00pm on Saturday nights. TBS’s highest ratings were from Georgia Championship wrestling. Hence it was around this show that Turner built his cable empire. New shows would debut before and after Georgia Championship Wrestling until they built an audience and moved to another time slot. (1)

While it was a different territory, Jim Crockett and his Mid Atlantic territory out of the Carolina’s grew highly successful, and ended up supplying a lot of the talent that appeared on Georgia Championship Wrestling, and thus appearing on TBS. (2)

Georgia Championship Wrestling’s stockholders included Jim Barnett and Paul Jones, but in the early 1980s a young Vince McMahon got control of the company. This put Vince in position to air WWF programming on the TBS network. McMahon offered TBS $500,000 a year to air WWF programming. Turner agreed, and took Crockett’s wrestlers off the air.
While WWF talent appeared on TBS, Vince also had a deal to air programming on the USA network, saying “I thought that would be a great 1-2 punch straight away into the cable market.” Turner and Vince had a handshake agreement, but eventually Turner wanted out. (3)

Turner was not happy when WWF programming was airing on another network besides his own. Turner also wanted to buy a piece of the WWF but was refused. Turner went to court over this dispute, but the court ruled in favor of McMahon, who ripped up his contract in front of Ted Turner. (4) Crocket also wanted back on the air, and paid Vince 1 million dollars to get his old contract back to be on TBS. At the time Vince was planning his first Wrestemania, so basically Crocket helped pay for Wrestlemania. (5)

By 1988, Jim Crockett’s business grew very popular, but unfortunately for them acquired a lot of debt. That year Ted Turner purchased what was then called Jim Crocket promotions and re-christening it World Championship Wrestling, or WCW. At this point Turner called McMahon saying “Hey Vince I wanted to let you know I’m in the rassling business.”
To which McMahon replied “Well you’re in the rassling business…. I’m in the entertainment business. That’s two completely different philosophies.” (6)

WCW star Ric Flair ads “The association with Ted Turner and the cable network was huge. What was bad was he just gave different parts of the company to his friends whether they had experience or not.” (7) The early days of WCW saw a series of rotating bookers (people who plan out the matches) and executives; including Jim Herd, Ole Anderson, Kip Fry, wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, the controversial Bill Watts, and Bill Shah. Under Shah’s regime, a new position for Executive Producer opened, which would eventually be filled by a young ambitious man who would change the course of wrestling history. That man, was Eric Bischoff. (8)

Sources

1 The Rise and Fall of WCW. DVD, WWE Home Video. 2009

2 Rise and Fall

3 Rise and Fall

4 McMahon. DVD, WWE Home Video 2006

5 Rise and Fall

6 The Monday Night Wars Episode One: The War Begins. WWE Network, 7/7/2014

7 The Monday Night Wars Episode One.

8 Rise and Fall