Ringside Shadows #97: Since I've Been Gone
So I've taken a couple weeks to enjoy the holidays, spend time with family and friends, and maybe get a rare opportunity to sit back and actually enjoy a wrestling program, instead of analyzing it to death. The break did me well, in more ways than one. I'm quite rested (and plan for this trend to continue, since classes don't start up for another week), despite a snowy drive from Virginia to Indianapolis on Christmas eve. I had a chance to catch up with family. Hell, I even had a nice christmas morning with a DVD player waiting underneath my tree. I also faced the facts; I need to quit kidding myself. Things can get a whole lot worse in mainstream wrestling.
American wrestling has been on a decline in the past 2 years and just when things start to look up, they take an even steeper nose dive into suck. The powers that be shocked the world by reforming the nWo, and then promptly began overloading it's roster. The WWF has teased the return of Cactus Jack fruitlessly for more than a week now. Both programs seem to take pleasure in throwing 2 competant workers in the ring at once, then overbooking what could have been a worthwhile bit of programming. If there was ever a time to be a fan of professional wrestling, it's long passed. Frankly, I'm sick of the circus this has become. Now there are rumors that Bruno Sammartino, wrestling's only true living legend and probably the most outspoken opponent of 'sports entertainment', is in talks with WCW. As always, I'll believe that when I see it.. I just can't think of a more powerful blow to everything I stand for than seeing Bruno decked out with pyrotechnics, hoes, glitzy wardrobe and all on his way to a WCW ring. The moment that goes down, I'm throwing my hands up in the air.
As is, I've missed so much and seen so little worthwhile that I'm not going to put together a Tuesday Review today.. I'm thinking of playing with the format of every Review from this point on, actually. It seems everybody has a post up late Tuesday or early Wednesday regarding the week's programming, and I don't want to get lost in the shuffle any more than can be helped. Since I've been gone, I've missed so much.. and here are my thoughts on the major events of the past month (in no particular order).
The Return of the nWo
In a truly well written program 2 weeks back, 'the band was back together', as Bret Hart swerved us all and put together a tight band of heels to carry on the name of the new world order. In what turned out to be the most solid show either promotion has put together in some time, Nitro managed to seal up the 'powers that be' angle and believably put the pieces together for the black and white. For one night, I was reminded just how magical the original angle really was. Kevin Nash's speech right at the 9:00 hour really sealed the deal, and though the airing of such language bothered me (especially since I was sitting next to my girlfriend's 8 year old brother), it was used in a believable situation and actually furthered the storyline. It's so easy to go out there and use coarse language, catchphrases and whatnot to get over with the crowd that little to no thought is put into their logical incorporation. For the first time in a while, I actually thought Kevin Nash's interview meant something that night. That's why the initial stages of the nWo worked.
When looking closer at the past weeks, though, the cracks begin to show. Bret Hart, Scott Steiner and Jeff Jarrett are all over as strong, solid heels. They belong in the nWo. Meanwhile, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall are both more over as faces than heels, and they could care less. Surely it wouldn't be an nWo without the Outsiders, but it's not much of one with them either. Hart and Nash clash strongly, as both try to play the role of the leader, in different fashions. Hart plays the old fashioned heel to perfection, altering his personality just that little bit to make us hate him. To him, nothing is a laughing matter. Nash, on the other hand, has gone back to his Wolfpac attitude. Everything's a joke.. he's the big, cool frat boy that you're meant to want as a buddy. In the midst of Jarrett, Steiner and Hart, he's out of place.. more so than ever now that Hall's out of action.
Finally, there's an issue of size. Ask any fan around the block which nWo was the most influential, and 3 or 4 names will enter the picture. Add too many names to the roster, and you're talking oversaturation. Who really wants to see a group that can't even fit in one ring together? Already, though, the writers are showing they haven't learned from the past and are pulling strings to get new members. Thus, the legend of the nWo becomes once again nothing more than a whimper.
In another example of oversaturation, WCW has taken one of the more pleasant surprises of the new regime, David Flair and his 'psycho' character, and shoved it down our throats. No sooner does 'Daphne' show up, a carbon copy of Flair's character.. but female, then we meet 'Crowbar'. Hell, Flair has nearly as many members in his stable as the nWo. Is it really so hard to see why this angle worked in the first place? Flair was the kid nobody liked. Flair had problems with females. Flair snapped. David Flair reflected the dark side of a good chunk of the audience. Take a look at yourself and tell me a dark thought never entered your mind during that 'recovery period' after a bad breakup. The character still has plenty of spice, and his unpredictable nature (turning on Arn Anderson last night) is still worthwhile, but a lot of what made his new character special is gone. No friends? Seems everywhere he goes, there's another smiling fool. Woman troubles? He's got Daphne, with whom he sucks face after every match. Granted, he's perfected the character.. just in time for it to get stale. That, and he's seeing more and more ringwork.. and his workrate hasn't improved as drastically as necessary. I give him 2, maybe 3 months without a major change before we're right back where we started. Oh, and as of last night.. David has held 2 of the 3 major titles in WCW.
Nitro goes to 2 hours
As of this past week, Nitro waved the white flag. They've tried everything in their arsenal.. they focused on their superior talent roster (albeit not for very long), they pushed workers popular on the internet, they became a carbon copy of the WWF. Seems they tried everything except originality.. and that's out of the question. Ted Turner has officially thrown in the towel.. the Monday Night wars are over. With the head to head portion of our Monday Nights reduced to one hour, this means 2 things. First, neither program has any motivation to put on a show worth it's weight in stank, except during that middle hour. WCW expects it's ratings to soar during it's opening hour and hopes the viewers will be enticed to stick around for the second hour by the goings-on therein. Raw knows it has the solid fan base necessary to clean up during their first hour, and that no matter what it shows to close out the evening, the fans will have no alternative. I'm really not doing a good job of explaining just how big a deal this is, but rest assured. This was a major shift. If last night's events were any example, things are about to get a whole lot worse.
The new commish of WCW
OK, this one caught me off-guard. Up until they said Funk's name over the speakers, I thought it was dead-set to be Ric Flair. When they mentioned 'hardcore', I thought it may have been Dusty Rhodes. There could have been worse choices than Terry Funk... but there could have been much better, as well. Seeing the man even Mick Foley couldn't keep down forced to sell to Kevin Nash was silly, but not nearly as silly as how quickly this whole thing blew over. During his introduction speech, Funk spoke of power, of promises, of a will to dominate the nWo.. to get everything back in order. Hell, for a while I believed his makeshift speech (half of which I could read from the writing on the palm of his hand).. Arn Anderson pretty much sealed the deal. By the end of the show, every promise had been destroyed. Every speck of power had been drained from the new commissioner. So much for chivalry, eh? Not only that, but the audience didn't really give 2 shits.. they were just shocked not to see Ric Flair. I don't think anything could get this crowd behind a new regime that didn't feature the Nature Boy, and for damn good reason. If you're in the vicinity of the Carolinas and don't have Flair anywhere on your card, your head needs to be checked. That's up there with Raw, if they hadn't pulled the Rock out during their program in his hometown of Miami. It's just bad business, and sends fans home with a bad taste in their mouths. Chants like the 'we want Flair' that boomed across the arena aren't there for nothing. Get a clue, guys.
HHH and Stephanie take over
Actually, the whole ball started rolling just before I took off.. and I thought that had been the end of it all. No real explanation has been forthcoming about Vince's rhyme or reason for being gone for this long. Why does HHH suddenly have the power to fire anyone on the roster? If he does have such abilities, why give them a chance to get out of their predicament? I guess some questions just don't need answering. The banners on either side of the Titan Tron are classic, but they're also nearing monotonous by this point. The whole thing reeks of lack of imagination to me. Vince needed a device to put the WWF into the new millennium and this is all he could think of. Personally, I think it's getting really lame. Granted, HHH is as over as any other heel in the business (listen to the pop the Big Show got when he took out Helmsley, and remind yourself.. this is a champion who was as over as a wet twig), there are little more redeeming factors throughout the angle. The skits featuring 'Mankind' this past Monday were stupid, with a couple exceptions (I got a kick out of 'hung lo', especially when he said "me gonna have to come over there"), and really made me feel for Mankind. In that sense, I suppose, they did their job, but they went on so long and reeked so heavily of the sophomoric pranks that defined the original nWo that I wonder if Vince's well may have finally dried up? Where do you go after this?
It hasn't been mentioned much, so I figured I'd say something right now.. the bump Foley took at the end of his "pink slip on a pole" match was nasty as all get-out. It may've been missing the flash of his fall from Hell in a Cell, but the free-fall itself was so out of control and all-around dangerous looking that it deserves a special mentioning. You'll never see Rocky take a bump like that.. the fact that it's considered tame by Mankind's standards is just sickening. As for the angle itself.. it was a bit stupid, since the man who picked up the pink slip in this instance kept his job, but I won't nitpick. I, like everybody else, am eagerly awaiting the re-arrival of Cactus Jack in time for the Royal Rumble, though I don't see him fighting for the title there. As of right now, it's Rocky/HHH for the belt.. I'll take Jack to win the Rumble itself and take the title at Wrestlemania.
The Intercontinental Holdup
What the hell.. just when you thought things couldn't get any dumber, the pull this out of their collective asses. Chyna should be kept several dozen feet away from any federation gold at this point, especially with such a limited array of believable moves. Yet still, she's right in the Intercontinental picture again.. dragging out everyone's nightmare of a Chris Jericho feud. In the end, I see this one hurting much more than it helps. Remember when Jericho was having trouble sustaining heat? Don't count those days out just yet, as an association with the beast that is Chyna pretty much assures a slow, painful death. To put it blunty, END THIS QUICKLY AND DECISIVELY. PLEASE.
ECW... the last stronghold?
Finally, I've been catching as much ECW as I can lately.. it makes me happy and gives me just a touch of hope for what's left of this once-proud pastime. Yoshihiro Tajiri is quickly becoming one of my all time favorite heels, especially when he busts out his Muta-ish persona. His mini-feud and series of matches with Super Crazy are nearly as amazing as the crowd response they receive. ECW fans are both cool as all get out and a bunch of fucking pricks. They know good workers when they see them and reward them accordingly, but they're fiercely loyal, to the point of turning on workers that move on to the big 2. Case in point; Taz was the man whom the company was basically built around for the last year. He's been with ECW for god knows how long, and despite his problematic no-selling, always gave the fans 110%. When word got out of his jump to the WWF, he was booed out of the arena in what would be his goodbye appearance. Years of blood, sweat and tears amount to jack shit with these fans, apparently. But you take the good with the bad, and I'd much rather see audiences like this at WWF or WCW tapings than the watered down, quiet, soap-opera fanatics that spit catchphrases right back on cue. Gee, can you tell I'm getting a bit unhappy with the state of the Big 2 these days?
At any rate, ECW has lined up another PPV this coming weekend, which John and I will be around to preview later this week. As the last stronghold of what I love, they've got something for everybody. Amazing lucha/puro/submission craziness in Tajiri/Crazy, a David and Goliath story in Awesome/Little Spike, your quota of blood and guts in New Jack (ugh)/Angel, hardcore done right with the Impact Players/Raven and Dreamer, and plenty of surprises to be sure. I only hope Heyman realizes what a potential goldmine he's got and doesn't fuck it up for all of us.
As for me, I'm through. Let's see if I can't get caught up with some of the news I missed during my vacation, and I'll be back later with 'the world's greatest ecw preview'.
until next time, i remain