Category Archives: World Championship Wrestling

Volume Five, Chapter Five: Starrcade ’16

Trump

Much like the Black Scorpion 25 years ago, Donald Trump is being promoted solely to lose.

Throughout WCW’s 12-year existence, Sting was what would later describe John Cena: the energetic, likable, attractive hero whose love of the business could compensate for any shortcomings in the ring, not that Sting had that many.

It’s a good thing fans were so devoted to him. Otherwise, Sting’s career would have been over after his very first World Title reign. He and the belt were at the heart of one of WCW’s worst story lines ever: 1990’s Black Scorpion Saga.

To summarize, the Black Scorpion was presented to WCW fans as a past Sting acquaintance intent on destroying him and taking the World Title from him.

Sting

Sting’s popularity saved his career, but not his first World title reign.

Sting won the WCW World Title from Nature Boy Ric Flair at July’s Great American Bash pay-per-view. The next month, a masked, fully clad man claiming to be a former tag team partner, possibly a star new to WCW, began taunting Sting.

Sting and the Scorpion finally faced off at the September Clash of Champions show. Sting easily beat the Scorpion, and went for his mask… only to have another Scorpion to appear on the entrance ramp. He had only beaten one of many Scorpion clones.

The next three months saw somebody calling themselves the Black Scorpion playing tricks, like literal, David Copperfield tricks, to rile him up. Sting played along, loyal guy that he was, but fans were getting annoyed, and just wanted it over with.

Starrcade would be the final Scorpion/Sting World Title match, in a cage with Dick the Bruiser as the referee. The mask HAD to come off the Scorpion; the storyline had run its course. When Sting won, he finally unmasked THE Black Scorpion. It was…

Nature Boy Ric Flair!?

To be fair, the match at Starrcade was fun to watch; Flair and Sting always had great bouts. But the idea that a legend like Flair would need to use parlor tricks and a mask to get a World Title match seemed ridiculous.

***

It was only after WCW’s demise in 2001 that the whole origin of The Black Scorpion Saga came to light. Originally, it was to promote an outside guy to the World Title scene and ultimately lose, which nobody who wore the mask wanted to do.

It was also WCW’s Executive Vice President Jim Herd’s attempt to get somebody, anybody, to replace his nemesis Flair as Sting’s top opponent. The potential Scorpions’ careers, the WCW World Title, and even the fans were not the top priority.

At the very least, fans expected to see a new face on the title scene, even if he did wind up losing. Jim Herd expected to keep Flair out of the main event. In the end, nobody got anything they wanted out of it.

herd

Jim Herd would wreck WCW just to get back at Ric Flair.

Herd put the belt back on Flair in January 1991. But the damage had been done; the Sting/Flair rematch drew poorly, and Herd wound up firing Flair from WCW, only to be fired for firing Flair, who took the WCW belt to the WWF with him.

Four months were spent desperately building up an alleged outside challenger. The Black Scorpion character was center stage in WCW, only to lose in the end. And the loss was taken by the only guy who could afford it.

For five months, Donald Trump’s every utterance and facial expression is treated like a prophetic word from Elijah. Some in the Political Church are afraid of him and some are on his bandwagon.

He’s apparently speaking some people’s minds. That in and of itself is not wrong, but these same people would rally around pretty much any soothsayer calling themselves an outsider.

Trump’s really just the modern-day Black Scorpion, a character being built up by talking heads solely to lose. He’ll be the easiest candidate to beat. Luckily, he’s a billionaire, so he can afford it.

I recently declined to participate in a book on minority conservatives declined, citing time restraints. That this man is capable of being center stage suggests I should stick to looking at life through the eyes of a wrestling fan. I know the story line too well.

Volume Four, Chapter Four: Vince’s Coronation Speech

Vince

 

The first and last word in the wrasslin’ business, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. (Image courtesy of Twitter@VinceMcMahon)

On Monday night, March 26, 2001. Vincent Kennedy McMahon the be-all and end-all of professional wrestling. 17 years after nearly monopolizing the industry, he had actually done it. In 1984, he had replaced the longtime National Wrestling Alliance wrestling show on Ted Turner’s WTBS with World Wrestling Federation broadcasts. But the deal was rife with contractual and fan contention.

His quasi-monopoly lasted about eight months, from July 14, 1984 until the night before the first WrestleMania aired (March 30, 1985). But now, thanks in no small part to the implosion of World Championship Wrestling, the company Turner started from the remnants of the bankrupt Jim Crockett Promotions, he now owned the entire wrestling industry.

WCW was in business for nearly six years before they ever actually turned a profit. When they finally struck paydirt, it was because they had Hulk Hogan, the longtime WWF Champion as its front man. Hogan joining WCW gave the company the mainstream focus it had long lacked, and Time-Warner would give him whatever he wanted… as long as Turner was running things.

With the presence of top former WWF stars, WCW actually broke Vince’s chokehold on the business. In 1995, Turner requested WCW EVP Eric Bischoff present a show to go against WWF’s flagship Monday Night Raw. By 1996, WCW Monday Nitro was actually beating the WWF in every major statistic, from TV ratings to ad sales to live event attendance.

Initially, the Nitro introduction was seen as an attempt to splinter a dwindling wrestling audience. Ironically, it had the exact opposite effect; the audience actually grew. Both WCW and the WWF had something different to offer fans. In other words, the wrestling audience had variety to choose from, which made both companies work harder to compete for ratings and revenue.

While conflict between companies is good for fans, such a thing within a company is not. With the increasing margin of victory for WCW, egos began to rise. Many wrestlers also picked and chose when they’d win and lose, leaving the creative process in the air often just until airtime. And even then, matches began to end without a decisive or satisfactory ending. Bischoff completely lost control.

In addition, the establishes stars also refused to help promote the younger talent, despite fans’ interest. With the exception of former NFL player Bill Goldberg, nobody emerged from WCW as a fresh face, even as the old faces kept getting older. The WWF, on the other hand, was constantly giving new stars a chance to shine. After all, their new top stars were one new faces, too.

By the end of 1999, WCW was on its last legs. America Online was about to merge with Time-Warner, and neither company wanted anything to do with WCW, which had went from profiting $35M in 1998 to losing $12M in 1999. By hiring longtime WWF creative head Vince Russo, and putting the WCW belt on comedian David Arquette, the boat just continued to sink.

In 2000, Ted Turner, WCW’s greatest advocate, was forced from his Chairman position due to the Time-Warner/AOL merger. WCW was immediately put up for sale. Vince made an offer in October, but having just signing a TV deal with the National Network (later Spike TV), he couldn’t have two shows on two companies. Then in 2001, Turner TV Chief Jamie Keller refused to air WCW shows.

And so, on Monday, March 26, 2001, Vincent Kennedy McMahon made his coronation speech. It aired on both live broadcasts of Monday Night Raw and the final Monday Nitro. Three days prior, he bought 24 WCW wrestler contracts, and WCW’s 30-year video library, for a mere $3M, a price many wrestlers could actually afford.

WCW is not necessarily remembered for its classic matches. In truth, even during the supersexual “Attitude Era, the WWF had better , if only because of comparison between the two companies. But at its peak, WCW gave the wrestling audience variety, and kept both companies on point through competition. At worst, fans wanted WCW to return to greatness, not implode.

But implosion is often how one-party rule sets in. And more times than not, the winner loses a part of itself as well. And people start to move on or even rebel. Just look at the WWE ratings and buyrates in 2014 compared to 1999, and the growing UFC audience.

The very people who seem to want a monopoly in something are seldom happy if/when they actually get it. The challenges don’t end. They only begin at that point. And the challenges come internally, and externally.

Volume Four, Chapter One: Montreal

 bret-hart-shawn-michaels-montreal-screw-job-exclusive-1496-p

The key to wrestling’s longevity is that it combines numerous facets of all popular entertainment. The promos resemble TBN sermons. It has the glitz and glamor of a pop concert. It has some sex appeal for everybody. And pantomime as it is, it has the contact of sports. The most important part of wrestling, and all serial programs, is the predetermined story line. It’s the most socially adapted aspect of professional wrestling.

The civil unrest in America is due to everybody not keeping to the story line. People really do believe that others should act solely in accordance to what will please them. When people don’t comply, social media explodes. But story lines can only work if every single person involved “does their part”. With 300M people in the U.S., and an equal amount of possible conclusions, that “part” will never be officially defined.

Story lines only work in fiction, and sometimes not even then. I remember the most infamous meltdown in professional wrestling history. Ironically, it came from my all-time favorite wrestler. From Bret The Hit Man Hart, I learned to imitate his ring entrance and walk again. I learned how to celebrate a win, and survive a loss. Yet it was the one time he didn’t rebound from a loss that always stands out in my mind.

On November 9, 1997, the World Wrestling Federation held its annual Survivor Series pay-per-view. The show aired from Montreal’s Molson Centre. Unbeknownst to fans, the main event had no official finish until the show even started. The end of the match began a decade of turmoil.

WWF Chairman Vince McMahon wanted Bret to lose the WWF Championship belt to The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. The title change would segue into the new, adult-oriented direction Vince wanted the WWF to go. In protest, Bret refused to lose to Shawn. Both agreed that Bret should leave the WWF, and he signed onto Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling.

Bret’s publicized imminent departure made losing to Shawn a foregone conclusion to fans. Citing a creative control clause in his contract, and his iconic status in his native Canada, Bret still refused to lose. Two hours before the actual match, Vince told Bret he could go to a draw with Shawn, and forfeit the belt in a farewell speech later. Bret Hart just knew he had forced his employer, and by extrapolation, Shawn Michaels, to give him the sendoff he wanted.

Vince soon admitted he had already planned the night before the match to ensure that Bret lost the belt. He and Shawn told the match’s referee, Earl Hebner, the plan right as the match began. Bret wound up losing when Shawn got him in his own Sharpshooter leg lock, and Hebner (and Vince at ringside and off-camera) called for the bell. At first, people sympathized with Bret. Most people can relate to being humiliated on the job.

As the details of what led up to the now-infamous Montreal Screw Job emerged, public opinion changed. Hulk Hogan lost the WWF Title to Yokozuna before he went to WCW. In addition, it was the fans that showed, through the Nielsen ratings, that they enjoyed the new direction. He had been a moralistic hero at a time when fans wanted to cheer unrepentant guys like the cussing Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Shawn Michaels went on to lose the WWF Title to Austin at WrestleMania XIV on March 29, 1998. He retired from wrestling right after the match. Vince McMahon took the real-life hatred fans and even WWF wrestlers felt for him and created a new antagonist for Austin: Vince himself. Their outrageous on-screen feud would lead the WWF to Wall Street and eventually to Vince buying WCW for a mere $3M in 2001.

Bret Hart was already retired when Vince bought the company. Between horrible creative decisions on the part of WCW, the accidental death of his brother Owen at a WWF pay-per-view, and the success of the Vince/Austin story line based on Montreal, he, perhaps rightfully, became very bitter. In 2002, the same year Shawn returned to the now WWE, Bret suffered a stroke. Only when Vince called him in the hospital did the healing process begin.

In 2010, Shawn and Bret finally made peace. At WrestleMania XXVI, Bret beat Vince in one match, and Shawn retired in another. Shawn wanted to go out with a loss to the Undertaker, and did. At last, it seemed to be all over.

Bret Hart’s Hit Man persona was built around rising up from the pain of defeat over and again. To build such a legend, Bret had to lose. Yet the one time he confused fact with fiction, all hell broke loose. The entire wrestling industry changed when a departing wrestler thought others should follow his script. Reality, as usual, threw a wrench in things. And it took years to make peace with it.

Story lines only work in fiction, and sometimes not even then.