#WWE57016 – The Rise + Fall Of ECW


Arnold Furious: When ECW came barging into the public conscience in the mid 90s they did so with the full backing of die-hard wrestling fans. The WWF and WCW had, for a long time, been incredibly complacent about their roles as the top dogs in American wrestling, and the idea that an upstart Philadelphia regional promotion could make inroads into either promotions’ fan base was frankly laughable. But ECW captured the spirit of the time in a way that neither of the big two could. They took grunge music and angry disenchanted youth and put that in the ring. It was anti-establishment, it was in-your-face, and it broke all the rules. When ECW was really popular I was an angry young man, and it spoke to me. As soon as I learned about a bigger world of professional wrestling, thanks to the growth of the internet wrestling community, the first promotion I really got into was ECW. Soon I was picking up tapes from overseas and lending them to my friends, and pretty soon everyone I knew was an ECW fan. I strongly recall a conversation from the pub, circa 1997, where a guy with next to no interest in wrestling had been converted by New Jack, Rob Van Dam and Sabu. “If only all wrestling was like this.” If you weren’t there it’s hard to describe how important ECW was. Not only as a promotion to watch and enjoy, but also because they took two relatively lazy big companies and kicked them square in the ass. Vince McMahon was forced to change his entire business structure because a little group from Philly was getting chants on his PPVs. This is their story.


Eastern Championship Wrestling
We start our story with Paul Heyman. Not because he was the beginning of ECW, but because before Paul Heyman ECW was just another local Indie NWA affiliate, ran by Todd Gordon and booked by Eddie Gilbert. Eddie was a talented wrestler with a good mind for the business, but he was constantly falling out with people. As a result he seemed to keep missing out on his big break. He was in the WWF just before Hulkamania, he was in WCW but left before breaking the upper card, and he was constantly at the centre of pay disputes and conflicts with management. Eddie had a connection with Heyman as he’d worked with Paul in WCW, and Heyman had been Gilbert’s assistant when Eddie booked for Continental. Gilbert’s story had a tragic ending when he died of a heart attack in 1995. He was only 33.

Heyman’s genius came in hiding weaknesses and amplifying strengths. His first attempt to get traction was with Public Enemy, two rough and ready singles guys who he paired up and made into the most popular tag team in the company.  Heyman quickly established Sabu as his top singles star due his scars and “total disrespect for his own wellbeing”. Sabu was innovative, violent and looked legitimately nuts. It was something different to put a man like that on top of the card. Heyman puts over Terry Funk for making ECW’s stars legitimate, because without Terry they were just a bunch of renegades. Funk had the history and the stature of a big star and none of the ego that went with that normally. The Night the Line Was Crossed is the first show to get mentioned, where ECW champion Terry Funk wrestled Sabu and former WCW talent Shane Douglas to a sixty-minute time-limit draw. They called it the return of wrestling. It was the first really good match in the company. “I pretty much told them to go fuck themselves,” offers Paul Heyman on WCW. “He hated WCW and everything they stood for” adds Tommy Dreamer.

Dreamer himself debuted as a rookie in ECW with suspenders and a jock gimmick. The crowd hated him… until a Singapore Cane match angle where The Sandman beat Dreamer and then caned him. It was brutal, and Tommy getting in Sandman’s face saying, “Is that all you got?” with blood pouring down his back was the point where Dreamer was accepted by the hardcore fans. Heyman talks about an angle where Dreamer blinded Sandman and the locker room joined forces to get hot about it, heels and faces together, breaking open the locker room on camera. It had never been done before. Sandman was going to retire, but it was all a swerve. The storytelling was so strong in early ECW. “Some people were offended… but everybody was talking” – Dreamer. ECW had a load of great storylines going with just about everyone including Mikey Whipwreck, who wasn’t even properly trained, but he had terrific sympathy. “We never gave him an offensive manoeuvre” – Heyman.


Extreme Championship Wrestling
ECW was chosen to host a tournament for the NWA Title, which had been vacant since WCW left the NWA in 1993. The chosen champion was the ECW Champion, Shane Douglas. Only Shane had a little surprise lined up for the NWA. He threw the belt down, renounced the NWA Title and declared himself to be the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. The NWA lineage legitimised the ECW promotion and the controversy put them in the spotlight. Poor Dennis Corraluzzo, NWA honcho at the time, found himself a patsy in ECW’s angle to get themselves over. He was convinced by Heyman to appear on ECW TV as part of the angle, only for the NWA to then get a hammering.

Heyman puts over Philadelphia as being the only place that ECW could have been born in due to the fan base in the city and the kind of wrestling they loved. During the mid 90s when Eddie Guerrero, Scorpio, Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko were wrestling there, the company started putting on some genuinely great wrestling matches. Heyman talks about extenuating the positives; the action and the excitement. Why be second best at pyro or production? ECW was the best at crowd interaction and going public on mistakes. They put over the fans, like Hat Guy, as they turned up to every show and even sat in the same seats. You could get away with so much more stuff with that crowd; like throwing Spike Dudley into the front row. The fans even brought their own weapons!

Paul Heyman stops off to put over Raven and what a phenomenal talent he was, as he could do anything that Heyman could imagine and it drove him creatively. The Raven-Dreamer feud was a classic, as they’d known each other since they were twelve and the back story was priceless. Tommy spent three years trying to beat Raven and couldn’t. Another killer feud was Taz vs. Sabu. They’d been tag team partners but they hated each other. Sabu walked out on ECW to take a Japanese booking so Paul fired him in the ring. The feud was in trouble as Sabu wasn’t there, then Taz broke his neck and missed nine months, but it remained simmering away on the backburner and years later was the main selling point for the first ECW PPV; Barely Legal.


Talent Raids
WCW cleared out Benoit, Guerrero, and Malenko one after another with the promise of guaranteed contracts and national exposure on Nitro. Eric Bischoff gets to talk on the subject and calls it a double standard that Vince McMahon did the same thing in the 80s and doesn’t get called on it. “Eric Bischoff is full of shit” – Heyman. He goes on to point out all the other talent Bischoff stole, especially those he took to pad out his cruiserweight division. Vince gets a little defensive about the situation and points out that Heyman ended up on WWE’s payroll because they didn’t want to take and take, and run ECW out of business (although it’s not mentioned here, Paul was only on WWE’s payroll because of an agreement over Scorpio joining the WWF in 1996 that resulted in ECW losing sponsorship revenue). The luchadores came into ECW after the initial WCW talent raids, with Psicosis, Rey Misterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera and others given their first big North American matches in ECW and blowing people away.

With WCW stealing ECW talent, ECW thought turnabout was fair play and hired former WCW wrestler Steve Austin. Steve was angry about being fired and Heyman just called and asked him to talk about it on TV. The “Steve-a-Mania” and “Monday Nyquil” promos he did were solid gold. Nobody in WCW knew Austin could talk. Heyman wanted to put the belt on Austin but Steve turned it down, knowing he could tell a better story without winning. Heyman goes on to put over Mick Foley’s anti-hardcore promos from 1995, which he considers the best wrestling promos ever recorded. Foley’s ideas, concepts, and approach to promos were genius. Foley had originally been part of a talent swap with WCW but ended up in ECW full time when he walked out on Atlanta over creative differences.


Hotter and Hotter
While Taz was off injured he completely changed his persona from “rabid” Tazmaniac to an MMA-style fighter, giving his matches a “big match” atmosphere. While that was happening Raven stole the Sandman’s family, turning Sandman’s son against him. It was brilliant booking. Naturally Raven went too far with it, although as a heel you can never go too far. With the company catching fire everything seemed to work, even the Blue World Order, a mockery of the nWo angle. The never-ending Raven-Dreamer angle continued during this era too where Beulah, Raven’s girlfriend, got pregnant by Tommy and they went from there to a lesbian angle with Kimona. “I’ll take ‘em both, I’m hardcore!” – Dreamer. Heyman’s run-on booking was marvellous from 1995-1997, on a par with any great run-on booking in wrestling history. It’s part of the reason why he has such a stellar reputation as a booker.

King of the Ring 1995 was Vince’s wake-up call when the entire WWF audience started to chant “E-C-Dub” during the event, hating what McMahon was presenting. By the time he ran Philly again in 1996 with In Your House Mind Games, the WWF embraced ECW’s individuality and let them get involved in the show. Taz tells a funny story about the ECW boys hanging out together outside because they didn’t know if the WWF wrestlers would jump them.


PPV and Controversy
Raven crossed the line by crucifying the Sandman in an angle, and Paul Heyman ordered him back out to apologise for the blasphemy. Kurt Angle was in attendance at that show as a guest and he was so offended that he walked out and refused to work for ECW. Raven didn’t feel like he should have apologised because he was just getting heat. Oddly enough the WWF didn’t catch anywhere near the same amount of heat for The Undertaker doing the same thing to Steve Austin, though that’s like because he did it on his ‘Taker symbol rather than on a cross, and there was no crown of barbed wire either.

Heyman needed new talent and he needed more revenue, so pay-per-view was the holy ground, because being successful in that market meant ECW would get the kind of income needed in order to compete with the multi-million dollar companies. It was the fans who got them on TV and got them on PPV, by writing and emailing the TV stations and PPV providers. The dream of PPV almost died when New Jack slashed open the forehead of untrained youngster Mass Transit (Eric Kulas) with a knife during a live event. The kid had lied about his age, claiming to be twenty-three-years-old, but he was actually underage. The footage isn’t on the DVD, with good reason, and the PPV was cancelled. The Mass Transit Incident could have wrecked any hope ECW had of securing a PPV, but Paul begged and pleaded until he got back on in April 1997. The whole situation wouldn’t have happened if Axl Rotten had showed up for his spot, as Kulas was a last minute fill-in.

Kulas is yet another of wrestling’s tragic tales. After being wounded by New Jack he went on a three year legal campaign to try and get cash from ECW and New Jack himself. When presented with the full evidence from the situation, the jury acquitted the wrestler of any wrongdoing, putting the blame squarely at Kulas’ feet for lying about his age and level of training. Kulas passed away in 2002 after gastric bypass surgery. He was only twenty-two, never even making it to the age he’d professed to be in order to become a professional wrestler.

In order to sell the PPV the ECW guys appeared on WWF RAW at Vince McMahon’s invitation. The ECW RAW was one of the most memorable and exhilarating TV shows the WWF had put on to that point, and the difference between the ECW talent and their effort and ambition compared to the WWF’s talent was staggering. That RAW was the defining point for me, where I went from being interested in the concept of ECW to a full-blown fan. It helped that the WWF sucked at the time. Jerry Lawler once again bad-mouths ECW and how poor he thought it was. He wasn’t just playing a heel during that run, he really didn’t like ECW.

Barely Legal was ECW’s first PPV and it was a home run. There’s a wonderful Paul Heyman promo from backstage on Wrestling With Shadows where he addressed the locker room, which presumably WWE don’t have the rights to as it doesn’t air. The PPV’s big surprise was Rob Van Dam, who decided to cut a promo after his win over Lance Storm. It’s one of the best promos of his entire career, which shows the benefit of a) being angry and b) improvising. Taz vs. Sabu was the match that the PPV was built around, with them finally meeting for the first time after having feuded for years beforehand. When you build a match for that long and you have a clean finish, you’re onto a winner. The show also had a triple threat number one contender’s match pitting Terry Funk against Stevie Richards and The Sandman in a three way dance, and Terry Funk taking down Raven for the ECW Title to end the show on a feel-good high. The pinfall went down a matter of seconds before the transformer in the arena blew up and took them off the air. It was a case of great timing and better luck.

Not mentioned here are the show stealing efforts of the Michinoku Pro wrestlers involved in a six-man tag (including Taka Michinoku and The Great Sasuke). The match is one of the reasons why Barely Legal is held in such high regard, and it was such a state-of-the-art piece of grappling that it got me interested in checking out other smaller Japanese promotions. I’d already been turned on to the Japanese death matches, All Japan, and the New Japan juniors, but this was yet another style of Japanese wrestling; lucharesu, which you couldn’t see anywhere else. It was smart of Heyman to include it on the card as it made the show stand out. The WWF evidently agreed, and booked Sasuke against Michinoku in a singles bout at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, then hired Michinoku’s Barely Legal tag partners Men’s Teioh and Dick Togo in 1998.

Despite ECW running strong, Raven departed for WCW and on his way out put over Tommy Dreamer, finally, thus ending their years long feud and giving fans another long-awaited pay-off. With WCW repeatedly knocking at ECW’s door and waving cash under the noses of their top stars (the likes of Perry Saturn, Louis Spicolli, Stevie Richards and others soon followed Raven to Atlanta, and all of the Mexican luchadores had already been snapped up by ATM Eric in 1996), the WWF stepped in and bailed the group out by sending over Jerry Lawler (and Jim Cornette) to feud with Dreamer. As far as feuds go it felt real, which is why the crowd responded so hard to it.


The Mole
The company became increasingly paranoid, and Paul Heyman suggested that Todd Gordon was helping people get moves to WCW. His plan was to do an ECW invasion of WCW, with WCW taking talent like they had done with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash from the WWF. Gordon was given the heave-ho and replaced as ECW head by Heyman. Bill Alfonso had been part of those talks to take people to WCW, and was almost fired too until he saved his job with a bloody and brutal match against Beulah, of all people. It was the story that made the match and they beat the crap out of each other.

Tangent: Interestingly, this was the first ECW match that Vince McMahon ever watched. With the WWF working closely with the company, Jim Cornette questioned whether his boss had even seen the product he was so happy to jump into bed with. Vince hadn’t, because he didn’t (and doesn’t) watch wrestling that wasn’t WWF, so Cornette showed him this match. He was somewhat taken aback to say the least. It is probably no coincidence that the WWF/ECW working relationship became less prominent after that.

We learn that the boys were all part of the running of ECW, with Bubba Ray Dudley doing a lot of the day to day dealing with arenas, Tommy Dreamer running TV shows, Taz in charge of designing, handling, and shipping merchandise, as well as designing logos, and the ECW “Hardcore Hotline” manned by Stevie Richards (under the phoney name of Lloyd Van Buren). Almost all of the boys had an (additional unpaid) office job as well as being a wrestler. It was a group effort.


Drinking the Kool Aid
“Paul E was to me, the David Koresh of pro-wrestling.” – Bubba. Heyman was such an inspirational figure that he brainwashed wrestlers to perform and made ECW a must-see promotion. Anything that started to catch on, like Al Snow talking to Head, was built into the promotion of the shows. So Heyman bought hundreds of Styrofoam heads and handed them out, creating this rave-like atmosphere at the live shows, making them more appealing for people to actually go to. Originally they’d gone after this market by smashing tables and bleeding everywhere and that “New Jack market” continued throughout ECW’s history, but they found other ways to attract fans.

Going into 1998 they started running four shows a week, but Eric Bischoff shoots down the possibility that ECW could have ever become the #2 promotion in America. Although, WCW in 2000 was so completely worthless that ECW, also at its lowest ebb, was a more important promotion. But then they both went out of business, so it’s a moot point. Mick Foley, among others, attributes ECW for the existence of the WWF Attitude Era. 1998 saw the beginning of ECW’s creative decline but the audience was still red hot and the matches weren’t bad either. The entire of 1998 was about Taz going after the ECW Title to the point where he got sick of Shane Douglas ducking him and created the Fuck The World (FTW) Title.

Another act that thrived in 1998 were The Dudleys, who were drawing insane levels of heat and getting into genuine fights with the ECW fans. That and they started doing flaming tables. “We probably went too far every single night” – Bubba. He cites the Dayton PPV show, Heatwave ’98, as when they crossed the line with a, “We got a mom in the front row who taught her daughter how to suck dick,” gag.


The Decline
During 1998 and 1999 both the WWF and WCW became so cash rich with the wrestling boom that every ECW talent found themselves as potential hires for the big two. Bam Bam Bigelow walked out and went to WCW, and all the regular guys found themselves questioning their positions. Cheques started bouncing as Paul’s cash flow problems got worse. Lance Storm made a point of telling Paul Heyman that he couldn’t take any more bounced cheques, and had his cheques Fed-Exed to his house after two failures on Heyman’s part. Tommy Dreamer went six months without a regular pay day. “Our greatest asset was also our greatest detriment and that was Paul,” – Dreamer.

Paul tried to take on too much and wasn’t sleeping. He got burned out and there was no one to replace him. He ended up focusing on TV deals and the product suffered, in terms of storylines. ECW got on to TNN but soon discovered their TV deal was a curse. Vince McMahon points out that being on TV means you can’t just cater to one demographic as it wouldn’t have crossover appeal. As soon as they got on TV the WWF came in for the Dudleys, and then Taz right afterward. Taz left, or so he says, because the challenge had gone and he felt there was nowhere else to go in ECW. The Dudleys weren’t owed any money, but Heyman felt he couldn’t compete with a WWF offer and just told them to take it. The Dudleys wanted a one dollar raise and Heyman told them the same thing; he couldn’t compete with the WWF. Heyman tried a few booking swerves with the departures and the Dudleys won the tag titles on their last night in the company, only for Raven to walk out on WCW and re-debut in ECW to tag with Tommy Dreamer and win the belts. The return of Raven still gives me chills.

ECW quickly soured on TNN as the network constantly requested changes to the point where Heyman virtually sabotaged his own deal. The solution was Cyrus, the network representative played by former WWF manager The Jackyl (Don Callis), who acted as an onscreen censor and a way to get around the problems TNN created. Heyman is particularly salty about the lack of support from TNN and the production values the network wanted. Heyman cut a promo at the start of one show where he begged TNN to throw him off the air. “We’re dead and we can’t get out of the line of fire.” – Heyman.

ECW’s one saving grace during this period was Rob Van Dam, who had remained loyal to ECW despite his character being a guy who wanted to go to the WWF or WCW. As TV Champion he was the company’s top babyface… until he broke his leg, one month short of a two-year run as champ. Another swerve in the booking came when ECW Champion Mike Awesome defected to WCW with the belt, making him the most hated man in Philadelphia. The WWF came to the rescue by sending Taz back to ECW to beat WCW contracted wrestler Awesome for the ECW Title. It was a landmark moment. Taz was so hot at the time, but what did the WWF do with him? Jobbed him to Triple H on free TV. “I can’t tell you what my frame of mind was at that time” – Vince McMahon, in a round-about way admitting that he made a mistake.


The Demise
Bischoff blames ECW’s demise on them refusing to change when faced with TV stations, advertisers and special interest groups. Vince McMahon offers a similar opinion. Paul Heyman was in big financial trouble as he needed TV to support his business model and knew he was getting kicked off TNN, but until TNN officially declared their agreement to be over he couldn’t negotiate with anyone else. In the last few months the boys were left with a choice; stay and probably not get paid or find work elsewhere. Almost everyone stayed, out of loyalty to Heyman and the promotion. To the wrestlers the problems made no sense as the promotion was drawing full houses every night and doing great business. Within a month of ECW closing WCW closed and there were a mass of unemployed wrestlers with nowhere to go. Heyman claims if they’d got another TV show before WCW closed they’d still be in business. With the company dead Paul Heyman signed for the WWF and debuted as colour commentator in March 2001, replacing the departing Jerry Lawler. Various wrestlers close out the documentary by talking about the fans still chanting “ECW”, and how the legend of the promotion has persevered.


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#WWE59069 – Cheating Death, Stealing Life – The Eddie Guerrero Story


Arnold Furious: During the course of these books I’ve made it abundantly clear what a massive Eddie Guerrero mark I was and still am. He’s one of those rare wrestlers with everything in his locker. Eddie could talk, he could get over dumb angles, he could wrestle just about every style imaginable, and he was an iconic figure for a generation of wrestling fans. I’m pleased that Eddie had the chance to become World Champion and get the respect he deserved while he was still alive to enjoy the adulation. This DVD charts Eddie’s career and life, both of which are intriguing.


The DVD starts out with some details of Eddie’s youth and the wrestling family he came from. The best part, for me, is Eddie dropping the accent he does on TV and talking normally about how quiet he is. Some people can switch their personalities on and off. It’s a gift. Eddie also has a great fondness for his hometown of El Paso and the family business. I love one story about Eddie and his nephew Chavo Guerrero wrestling during the intermissions of his Dad’s shows when they were just kids. It makes the Los Guerreros segments feel even more warming.


The actual documentary is a bit patchy, in terms of content as it skips from wrestling to low-riders to Hispanic culture to Eddie meeting his wife Vickie. He married Vickie in 1990, before he’d really broken into the business (he’d been a pro for about three years). We skip ahead to wrestling in Japan, working with Chris Benoit and his series in ECW with Dean Malenko in 1995. We skip ahead even further to the classic match pitting Eddie against Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc ’97 in WCW. When Eddie first got into WCW everything was going good, but soon the thrill had gone and he turned to alcohol and drugs.


We fast forward to 1999 where Eddie went driving after taking sleeping pills. He crashed his car while travelling at 130mph and everyone thought he was going to die. When he pulled through the doctors told him he’d never wrestle again, and that he might not even be able to walk after breaking his hip. Eddie was back in the ring only six months later and found himself addicted to pain pills. He overdosed and nearly died, again. A few months later, at his parents house for Christmas, he overdosed again. Eddie had nearly died three times in a year.


From there we skip ahead to Eddie jumping to WWE with The Radicalz. Eddie really got his personality over in the WWE doing the Latino Heat gimmick and everyone in the family loved it. The best part of the documentary is a revelation that Dean Malenko brings to the viewers; that he and Benoit had gone to Jim Ross’ WWE office and warned them that Eddie was a ticking time bomb. Guerrero had been sent to rehab, before being released after picking up a DUI. They tell Eddie about this on the DVD and tears start pouring down his face. It was the final straw that got Eddie back from the brink.


2002: Eddie had no job, no money, and lost his family, but he was clean and alive. WWE re-hired him and Vickie took him back. Vince McMahon’s whole, “I believe in second chances,” speech is beautiful. Having his presence as a talking head adds so much. After being re-hired Eddie got paired up with Chavo as Los Guerreros and the whole “lie, cheat and steal” gimmick. From there we get talk of the frog splash and how Eddie borrowed it from his former tag partner Art Barr. After that we skip go to Eddie’s World Title win over Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004. The victory was his official redemption; the opportunity to carry a World Title. It’s one of my happiest memories as a wrestling fan. That’s how we round out the documentary.


As far as documentaries go, it’s fairly well structured but they were way too many little bits and pieces that didn’t fit into the story. WWE tried desperately to cram everything in there. The core of the storyline; Eddie’s drink and drug problems, overcoming them, and his home life are well worth seeing though. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. A shame the DVD skips over so much of the wrestling. I’m glad they mentioned the Dean Malenko series in ECW, and NJPW is covered briefly too, but there’s not a lot of footage. Luckily there are extras detailing a lot of the matches.


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#WWE56553 – Hard Knocks – The Chris Benoit Story


Arnold Furious: Before Chris Benoit was better known as a murderer, he was considered one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. The Wrestling Observer end of year awards listed him as “Best Technical Wrestler” five times and “Most Outstanding Wrestler” twice before he entered the Observer Hall of Fame in 2003. Due to the nature of Benoit’s demise the Observer issued a special recall ballot where 53% of the voters chose to oust him from the Hall of Fame (albeit short of the 60% required to get rid of him). This is the problem with Benoit’s legacy. He was hoping to become a legend, he’d already laid all the groundwork (Japan, ECW, under-pushed/underrated in WCW, WWE superstar and both World Champion and WrestleMania headliner), but felt he needed a string of World Titles, rather than just one in WWE. Hard Knocks came about after that first World Title win in 2004, so it’s set at the perfect time for the story to end. There are no disappointing drops down the card, no underwhelming trades to the already half-way doomed ECW brand, and no murder-suicides to conclude the story. Hard Knocks is how everything should have ended, in an ideal world. It’s a story of battling to overcome adversity, working hard to achieve your goals and being the best.


Tangent: I always thought the title was a mistake. After all WWE had already named a tape Hard Knocks and Cheap Pops for Mick Foley in 2000. This is one of the issues with Benoit having no catchphrases. The only other option was “Toothless Aggression”. Or perhaps just “The Crippler”. Maybe that wasn’t upbeat enough for the marketing guys.


The documentary part of the DVD is eighty minutes long, which is enough time to cover Benoit’s entire career and life away from the ring. Benoit’s first line in this documentary is, “Wrestling has consumed my life.” Wrestling consumed Chris Benoit, as it has dozens of others, taking everything away and left nothing but a husk.


The Early Years
Benoit was a quiet kid whose life was transformed at twelve years old after seeing The Dynamite Kid wrestle. Ever since Benoit first saw Dynamite in Edmonton, he became obsessed with not just becoming a wrestler, but becoming a wrestler like Dynamite Kid. As soon as Benoit realised he needed to gain weight to be a wrestler he started pumping iron. He played football in high school as a defensive end and despite being smaller than most of his opponents he used his speed and strength to become a top player. Almost every success story in wrestling starts with fandom, then is followed by weightlifting and other athletic endeavours. When Benoit was still in high school he approached the Hart Family about training to be a wrestler. They go inside the Hart house to film because it’s so key to the story. It was the Harts who broke Benoit in.


Tangent: Benoit remembers his first match correctly. It was November 22, 1985 in Calgary where he teamed with Rick Patterson to defeat Karl Moffat & Mike Hammer. However, he claims that the following night, in his home town of Edmonton, was a rematch with the same finish. He actually teamed with Bruce Hart against Mike Hammer & The Cuban Assassin. One of his friends claimed Benoit came back to Edmonton a champion, which is also wrong, but it was also a long time ago. Memory is funny like that.


Skipped: The DVD covers just about everything of worth, but Benoit’s extensive run in Stampede is largely overlooked. He had a successful tag team with Lance Idol and another with Biff Wellington, winning tag gold both times, and a feuds with Johnny Smith and Gama Singh over the Mid-Heavyweight Title. It’s two years that are considered largely inconsequential by the feature makers.


New Japan
Benoit knew that Dynamite Kid wrestled in Japan so he wanted to as well. It was Bad News Allen who pitched Japan to him and Benoit was eager. He went for six months as a young boy (between June and December 1986) where he didn’t wrestle at all. He worked there for a year in 1987 (technically three extended tours) before being invited back in 1990 to become the masked Pegasus Kid. By August 1990 he’d won the Junior Heavyweight Title, defeating the legendary Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Pegasus Kid was a gimmick Benoit didn’t want to do, but when NJPW wanted him to drop the mask and called him Wild Pegasus, he’d become accustomed to working masked. He dropped the mask in July 1991 to Liger and became an even bigger star. Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko both chip in to talk about the wrestling in Japan. Eddie claims Benoit knocked him out in their first match. We then skip ahead to the 1994 Super J Cup, one of the most highly touted cruiserweight tournaments of all time. It features heavily in the extras. It’s one of those tapes that every tape collector used to have in the tape trading days. You couldn’t call yourself a wrestling fan without owning that.


Skipped: The major events of Japan are covered although it wasn’t quite that simple. Benoit continued to work for New Japan up until 2000, on and off, and that’s largely ignored. Also skipped is a run in Mexico with UWA in 1991-1992, which is interesting, to me at least, as he won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship there. Maybe WWE themselves had forgotten that belt went on tour while they had no division for it. Benoit also worked for CMLL, where he teamed with Haku in trios matches. Finally Benoit spent time working for NWA affiliates including classic matches with Al Snow and Sabu. He was also in the NWA World Heavyweight Title Tournament that Shane Douglas won, going out in the quarter finals at the hands of Scorpio, who he’d already wrestled in WCW by that point. The first WCW run is also overlooked, but it consists mostly of tagging with Bobby Eaton as WCW didn’t really know what to make of him at the time.


Paul Heyman used Japanese tapes for talent scouting and had Benoit pegged as a potential ace. Even though they skip over Benoit’s earlier WCW tryouts in 1992 and 1993, he actually worked less matches in ECW, in total, than he did in WCW in 1993. Heyman had the bright idea to call Benoit ‘the Crippler’ after he hit a flapjack on Sabu, and Sabu tried to flip and landed on his head. Sabu broke his neck, Benoit got a new nickname. Once Paul E got Benoit’s character together and forced him into cutting promos for the first time the package started coming together, which is when WCW swooped in again. It was almost a little different as Vince McMahon was interested too but wouldn’t let him stay in New Japan. Benoit carried on wrestling for NJPW, on and off, during his WCW tenure until his actual move to the WWF.


Skipped: The 1995 Super J Cup where Benoit reached the semi finals, losing to Gedo. That was hosted by WAR and featured Benoit vs. Chris Jericho, before it took place in WCW. The ECW run was pretty brief so it’s mostly covered. Some of the diverse opponents Benoit faced in ECW included Norman Smiley, Cactus Jack, Osamu Nishimura and The Steiner Brothers.


Benoit puts over Malenko and Guerrero for being there and making the WCW journey a lot easier because they were all in it together. WCW almost immediately put him in The Four Horsemen, with Ric Flair and Arn Anderson keen on ‘the Crippler’. This was the same incarnation that had Brian Pillman, so it helped to balance out the group. Benoit talks candidly of his dislike for Kevin Sullivan, claiming Sullivan sabotaged his push and made him suspicious. We get a few words about Nancy Sullivan without really delving into what happened (Benoit was paired with Sullivan’s wife Nancy, who worked as Woman, in an angle. Life imitated art and Nancy left Sullivan for Benoit, leading to bad blood between the two grapplers) before quickly skipping on to the Best of Seven series with Booker T in 1998. Booker puts Benoit over for making him look good, and notes how the crowd were totally into Benoit. We move on to Owen Hart’s untimely death at Over the Edge ’99 and how Benoit had been friends with Owen, going back to the Stampede days, and was honoured that Bret Hart wanted to wrestle him in a tribute match. That match is one of the best in Nitro history. They move on to Benoit’s WCW departure and Benoit becoming incredibly frustrated with the politics and the treatment of the boys. He told the office he was leaving so they tried to apologise by putting the WCW World Title on him by having him beat Sid Vicious. Even that moment was soured because Benoit saw through the politics of it and still wanted to leave. WCW had made him hate wrestling. “I’m sick of it. I’ll just go back to Japan”. Should have done, Chris, should have done.


Skipped: Benoit’s WCW feuds were largely against like-minded workaholic midcarders like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Jeff Jarrett, Raven and Booker T. The meaty stuff is in the documentary.


Benoit was really nervous about making the big move as all the big stars were in the WWF. What made it feel real for him was working at WrestleMania. “In WWE it’s more about the opportunities than the politics” – Benoit. Hmm. The Radicalz don’t get much of a mention and they skip ahead to Benoit putting The Rock over as being incredibly charismatic, and he always wondered how good he was and whether he could go. Benoit puts over his matches with Rock as being really good, before they move on to WrestleMania X-7 and the match with Kurt Angle. Benoit puts over the chain wrestling they did and how much he enjoyed that style. The whole WWF section of the DVD is very shill and clip heavy, especially compared to the rest of the DVD.


Skipped: Considering how much time Benoit spent working against Chris Jericho, there’s no mention of it. Also, and this is odd, despite it featuring in the extras the Steve Austin mini-feud is skipped over too.


The Injury
We get clips from the cage match against Kurt Angle where Benoit already had a bad neck yet still hit his flying headbutt off the cage. It had gotten to the point where he’d got no strength on his right side, intermittingly losing it. That was when he realised he needed to get it checked out. After King of the Ring 2001 Benoit needed surgery and missed a year getting his neck fused. Benoit mentions Paul Orndorff and how he’d suffered a similar injury and ended up having his right side atrophied. The Brand Draft allowed Benoit to come back.


The Comeback
Benoit returned May 22, 2002 in his home town of Edmonton, although he didn’t wrestle again until July 2002. We skip over the six months of the SmackDown! Six and onto Benoit’s big title shot at Kurt Angle.


Royal Rumble 2003
There’s more talk of the Benoit-Angle matches being great. The Royal Rumble meeting is particularly stellar, and Benoit gets a massive standing ovation for his performance. Best match of Benoit’s career? I think it probably is.


Royal Rumble 2004
A year later Benoit went from #1 to win and finished by dragging The Big Show out with a choke hold. He points out he was “spent” by the end of the contest, having never wrestled for anywhere near that long before. When Steve Austin came out to celebrate with him, Benoit was so damn thirsty that he drank the entire beer he was given.


WrestleMania XX
Benoit calls this a dream match for him. Everything that he’d ever wanted out of the business in one match. When Benoit won, “everything went into slow motion,” and he burst out crying. The best part, easily, for me is when he turns around and Eddie Guerrero has gotten into the ring without him seeing, and there he is with the WWE Title. That was a moment that shook me to the core because of how long I’d been watching those two guys wrestling. Wrestling is often disappointing, but when it delivers it delivers in ways that are practically unimaginable. The emotion of that moment was breathtaking.


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#WWE57019 – Hall Of Fame 2004 Induction Ceremony


Lee Maughan: March 19, 2004. Hilton Hotel, New York City, NY. Created in 1993 as a means for the WWF to pay tribute to the recently deceased Andre the Giant, and with additional small scale ceremonies held between 1994-1996, the WWE’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony would become an annual part of the WrestleMania weekend package in 2004, coinciding with the promotion’s presentation of the 20th incarnation of its showpiece event. Lauded by fans as a valuable chance to pay homage to the grappling greats of years gone by, yet maligned by critics who see the event as a credibility-shattering sham designed to push DVD sets and massage the political egos of the powers that be and their pals, the 2004 reboot was, to paraphrase the tagline of the WrestleMania it was attached to, where the Hall of Fame all began again.


Disc 1


Hosted by ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund, with Michael Cole giving a rundown on the twenty-four names already inducted.


‘Superstar’ Billy Graham
Vince McMahon puts over Graham’s unique look, and pays a huge compliment by saying he thinks the business would have changed a lot sooner than it did had his dad ran with ‘Superstar’ on top as champion instead of Bob Backlund. Triple H handles the induction and namelessly calls out those in attendance who previously said wouldn’t attend a Hall of Fame that Graham was ever inducted to, puts over Graham as being twenty-years ahead of his time as wrestling’s first “sports entertainer”, then reels off an amusing list of Graham’s rhyming couplets.

Graham talks about being at death’s door fifteen months earlier before receiving a liver transplant from twenty-six-year-old Arizona car crash victim Katie Gilroy. Onto wrestling, Graham first got stretched in Stu Hart’s infamous “Dungeon” before moving to San Francisco to be Pat Patterson’s tag team partner. Penniless, Pat loaned him $3,000 to get a car and put up with his inexperience. Moving ahead to 1975, Graham won the “Best Arm” award at the Mr. America contest and joined the WWWF, loaded with charisma and promo ability. He puts over the McMahon Family for their class and dignity, and talks about writing Vince a letter asking for forgiveness over his years of bitterness, transgressions and drug issues. A rich man with nothing to gain, McMahon accepted Graham’s apology.


Greg Valentine
Jimmy Hart calls himself the luckiest guy in the world for getting a call in 1984 from Vince McMahon inviting him to be part of WrestleMania and the WWF. He met Vince, Pat Patterson and booker George Scott at the airport, then drove to Poughkeepsie where Howard Finkel told him he’d be managing Greg Valentine. Valentine promised him, “We’re going to make a lot of money together,” but leaving the taping at 1:15am armed with a stack of plane tickets, thirty-five separate booking sheets, a drive back to New York and less than six hours before they needed to catch a flight to the next town, Hart asked him when they’d ever get to go home and see their families. “This is your home now, and this is your family,” came the response.

Valentine talks about having a thirty-four-year career, “sixteen years of that” being with WWE (which is true if you count his various short-term returns and legends’ contracts, but it was not an uninterrupted run), breaking in at Stu Hart’s Dungeon, and getting his first big break in 1974 when they put him in a tag team with a young kid called Ric Flair. Joining the WWWF in 1979, Vince McMahon Sr. told him a run in New York would make him world famous, and also credits McMahon, Sr. with giving him the figure four leglock. In typical wrestler fashion, he claims a 30,000 sell-out at the 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden for an hour draw with Bob Backlund, and thanks Backlund for carrying him through the last forty-five-minutes of the match. He calls breaking Wahoo McDaniel’s leg “a good memory”, then puts over Intercontinental Title rival Tito Santana, WWF Tag Team Title partner Brutus Beefcake (“Who I tried to teach how to wrestle… I think I did… “), and being a part of seven WrestleManias, including the very first one against The Junkyard Dog. On a personal note, he thanks his wife of eighteen-years, Julie, then touchingly dedicates the award to his late father, the legendary Johnny Valentine.


Pete Rose
A gimmick induction into the newly-established “celebrity wing” of WWE’s Hall of Fame based on the controversy surrounding his ineligibility for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame on account of allegedly gambling on the outcomes of games while coaching for the Cincinnati Reds in 1989, something to which he later confessed. Kane flat out admits during his introduction that Rose’s presence brings mainstream and sports media attention to the promotion, underlining exactly why he’s there. In a funny line, he says that people often ask him if Rose will ever get revenge for his Tombstoning him at WrestleManias past, to which he responds, “Don’t bet on it!”

From one “Big Red Machine” to another, Rose admits that he never realised the recently unmasked Kane was quite so ugly, thanks Vince McMahon for the opportunity, and puts over the talent for caring so deeply about the fans. Rose sincerely puts over WWE and NASCAR for being the only two groups who are so good to their fanbase, just as the director cuts to a shot of the former Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg in the audience, drawing uproarious laughter from the audience.


‘Big’ John Studd
The Big Show talks about Andre the Giant being “the giant of giants”, but also looking to Studd for inspiration as a man who was never afraid to be a heel. Studd’s son John Minton, Jr. accepts the award on behalf of his late father, thanking the fans for never forgetting him, recalling a couple of quick memories of the likes of Billy Graham and Jesse Ventura hanging out at the house, and giving a shout out to his family in the front row.


Sgt. Slaughter
Pat Patterson reveals that when Slaughter was born, he weighed twelve-pounds and the doctor had to pull him out by the chin, after which the doctor slapped his mother. At sixteen, Slaughter signed his first autograph as a member of a rock band, but the group broke up and Slaughter joined Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp where he got sent home after getting into a fight with the legendarily tough shooter Billy Robinson. Heading up to Vancouver, Slaughter took on the name ‘Beautiful’ Bobby, which didn’t last long, nor did a runs as ‘Bruiser’ Bob, ‘Big’ Bob or Super Destroyer Mark II. Finally as Sgt. Slaughter he got it right, and his 1981 Alley Fight with Patterson was easily the best match of his career, although Patterson makes sure to note that he had many other matches that were just as good. As a mark of the esteem in which he was held, Slaughter was invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan (who gave him an American flag that hung at the house), President George Bush and President Bill Clinton, met President Jimmy Carter, and took pictures with and signed autographs for President Richard Nixon, and also has the distinction of having wrestled all four members of the Orton family, patriarch Bob, Sr., brothers ‘Cowboy’ Bob, Jr. and Barry, and third generation star Randy.

Slaughter puts his hat on to declare, “Good evening you maggots!”, talks about seeing all the old faces and being prepared to do it all over again, then tells a funny story about when he quit being ‘Beautiful’ Bobby (another ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham rip off) and sold all of his boas and colourful clothes to Jesse Ventura (“… and you still owe me $200!”). He talks about the honor of having something named after you, such as the Gorilla Position, Brisco Rules or the “Patterson Quick One”, and talks about his famous bump in the corner becoming known as the “Slaughter bump”. He moves on to his WWF debut where he asked “Vinny… Vince, Jr.… we call him ‘God’ now…” to play a tape of the U.S. Marine Corps hymn before his interview, and Vince, Sr. called it the greatest thing he’d ever seen. He says the greatest compliments he ever received in life were that he looked like his father and that he was reminiscent of fellow Hall of Famer Arnold Skaaland, thanks The Grand Wizard for being a teacher, and puts over his sister for teaching him how to fight, ending with thank yous to various family members, predicting WrestleMania XXX will take place on Mars (close enough), then finally dismissing himself. And that’s an order!


Disc 2


Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan
Things get off to a wretched start with a speech from Blackjack Lanza so meandering that the majority of it is cut from the DVD, save for a story in which Heenan wrestled and managed one night in Tennessee for a measly $3 payoff, including the bonus. Taking the stage, Heenan asks if it’s last call (in relation to Lanza’s laboured performance and apparent references to Heenan’s drinking on the road during his career) before happily declaring himself both cancer and wedgie-free to a rousing standing ovation. On Pat Patterson’s induction for Sgt. Slaughter, he announces that at midnight tonight the whole thing will be replayed in English, and he scores points off Pete Rose by apologising for betting on wrestling.

Heenan got hooked on wrestling at the Marigold Arena in Chicago in 1954 at the age of ten, and was enamoured with the heels, namely Johnny Valentine and ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers along with Chief Big Heart and Arnold Skaaland (“Who was sixty-three then!”). By 1961, with his mother jobless, his grandmother growing old and his aunt suffering from cancer, Heenan took a job carrying jackets and selling cokes at the matches at his local armory, spending most of his time running away from The Sheik, who he was terrified of. Four years later at the age of twenty-one, he started as a manager for The Assassins, in this case Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell (the future Jerry Valiant), before moving on to Angelo Poffo and Chris Markoff, a man who would kick you in the groin then say, “Watch for the kick!” as you were sinking. “He was horrible. Nice man, he called me when I was sick, but he was horrible.”

From there, Heenan moves onto The Blackjacks, telling a story about Lanza stealing doughnuts from a hotel lobby every time the lady on the counter turned away to answer the phone, failing to realise that every time he did, more and more powder was turning his moustache from black to white. Talk moves onto the Hall of Fame names Heenan managed, including Billy Graham (“One night Ivan Putski slammed me on top of you, you had so many bumps on your body it hurt my back for a month!”), Harley Race (“When I found out I was going to be here tonight to be inducted with Harley, knowing Harley, I thought we were going to be indicted!”) and Sgt. Slaughter (“As we went down the back roads in Peoria, knowing our wives would never believe that we were riding with four fat girls taking us to the airport so we could save twenty bucks, he says to me ‘If this car flips and we’re dead, they’re never going to believe us!’”).

Next, a freudian slip as Heenan mentions the recently banned term “WWF” before going on a classic diatribe: “When I came here they had the three Freebirds, they had The Junkyard Dog, Mad Dog, two Bulldogs, Matilda, another dog, you had insects, you had two Killer Bees, you had serpents, you had a guy with a snake, you had a Hawaiian guy with a lizard, and to top it off, I’m ‘The Weasel’ doing commentary with the Gorilla! Dammit! So if you think you people over at the WWF now think it’s wildlife, you spend one weekend at the Hojos in Newark with Afa and Sika, The Samoans, that’s wildlife!” Needless to say, that earns Heenan his second standing ovation of the night, and he’s barely halfway done.

On leaving the AWA, Heenan recalls calling Verne Gagne with Gagne angrily asking him to come to the office the next day. Heenan decided to take his wife (“I didn’t think he’d hit a woman, and she’s Italian, God knows what would have happened to him!”) but called Vince McMahon first (“Vince said ‘Boy, I wish I could be with you.’ I said ‘What, to back me up?’ He said ‘No, I want to tape it!’”). Heenan admits he’d called Vince, Sr. every six months for ten years to try and get a job in New York, but at the time they had Ernie Roth (“Who was doing a great job”), Freddie Blassie (“Who was doing a great job”) and Lou Albano (“Who refused to be fired”), and reveals that the original plan had been for him to debut at Madison Square Garden as the manager of Jesse Ventura. Unfortunately, Ventura had discovered blood clots in his legs that effectively ended his career (“If I’d managed the Governor all those years ago, I may have been the First Lady!”), so he was asked if he would like to manage ‘Big’ John Studd instead. “I’d just been to the AWA, which in my terms was ‘All the World’s Assholes’, so I would have managed Skaaland just to get out of there.”

Skipping ahead to 1991, Heenan retired from managing due to a broken neck suffered in 1983, but McMahon asked him to go on the road with Ric Flair for six months (“So now I gotta go on the road here with Larry Flynt. I lasted ten days.”) On the first WrestleMania, Heenan didn’t think it would work and most of the boys agreed, but when he saw the celebrities and press in attendance that afternoon, he realised that McMahon was onto something. By WrestleMania III, things had gotten so big that Heenan didn’t even think about the size of the crowd that night, but how many millions were watching around the world. Talk moves on to Heenan’s broadcasting career and being given the chance to inject some comedy into a business he felt, “Needed a kick in the pants and a couple of smiles rather than a guy blowing his nose, belching and spitting. If you want to see that, come to my room! And that’s just my wife!”

Having spent the last two-and-a-half years doing nothing but chemotherapy and radiation, Heenan declares that he’s ready to start doing things again. “You sit for two-and-a-half years naked in a room watching Judge Judy, you’ll go nuts!” Recalling his $3 payoff, he declares that the reason he stuck around wasn’t because of the money or the family he had to feed, but because he loved it. And there’s standing ovation number three. Adding a personal thanks to his wife Cynthia, daughter Jessica and son-in-law John Solt, a clearly emotional Heenan wraps up with a wish that Gorilla Monsoon could still be here. Excuse me, did somebody start cutting up a bag of onions in here? An unprecedented fourth standing ovation is followed by Heenan returning to the stage to ask Gene Okerlund if he’s getting paid for tonight, and when Okerlund responds in the negative, Heenan retorts “Then I’m drinking!”


Tito Santana
Shawn Michaels references Sgt. Slaughter’s earlier speech about the ultimate honor in the industry being to have something named after you, and talks about old friend Scott Hall’s wish of having “the ‘Tito thing’”, or in other words keeping a level enough head to be able to one day go home to mom and the kids and enjoy the riches of a long and successful career. Sadly, the part about keeping a level head seemed to elude the former Razor Ramon for much of his run.

Santana immediately thanks Vince, Sr. for giving him his first chance in the business, but looks on the verge of tears as he talks about all the family birthdays he had to miss, and thanks his wife for raising their three children. For him, the Hall of Fame is the justification for all of his sacrifices. Going back to Vince, Sr., he thanks him for being a man of his word, and talks about his consistency as a performer, missing just two shots in twelve years, one for the birth of a son and another due to a hurricane keeping him grounded at an airport. He moves on to an oft-told story (Bret Hart has his own version of the tale) of angrily demanding meetings with Vince, Jr. and coming out of them feeling great about yourself, only to realise you haven’t accomplished a single thing you went in for. Ariba!


Harley Race
Ric Flair puts Race over as the toughest guy in the history of the business (a debatable accolade to be sure), and talks about Race’s distaste for “sports entertainment” and steadfast belief that he was the one true World Heavyweight Champion. Flair talks about the amount of respect that Race commanded from promoters nationwide, and how when the NWA board gathered to vote on a new World Champion and collectively questioned Flair’s suitability for the role, Race was the guy who went to bat for him. Race’s word was all it took, and Flair took his first World Title shortly after. With all due respect to Heenan, Flair calls Race his favourite person to travel with, then puts his foot in it by talking about going on the road with their wives and leaving them behind when they didn’t make the plane (“That was their problem… until they caught up with us“).

Going back to Race’s toughness, Flair talks about getting a call from NWA President Bob Geigel in 1983, telling him that he was going to Japan to defend the World Title against Jumbo Tsuruta in an hour match, and that Race was going with him. When Flair asked Race who he was working with, Race told him he wasn’t going there to work, he was going there to make sure the Japanese office didn’t pull a double cross and take the belt from Flair in a shoot. They drank all the way on the flight over, and when they got there Race sat at ringside and watched a hungover Flair take “3,000 suplexes” from Tsuruta, but still leave with the belt.

Race calls his talent a gift, and feels blessed to have been able to wrestle, but doesn’t feel any bigger or any better than any of the other inductees or performers sitting in the audience. Interestingly (or perhaps politically), he doesn’t look at his cartoonish WWF run as the ‘King’ as an insult to his legacy, but an opportunity he should rightly have been passed over for, given his age at the time, and pledges his allegiance to the McMahon family for it. He moves on to talk of wrestling “probably 1,000 hour draws” with Flair, who he says has more talent in his little finger than 90% of the guys who ever have or ever will be in the business, and was honoured to be able to pass the torch on to him. Similarly to “the Slaughter bump” and “the Tito thing”, Race says there’s no greater compliment that when Triple H drops a knee and Jim Ross calls it a “Harley Race knee”. He finishes by asking the young wrestlers to keep the business alive, “Because it’s the greatest damn sport on the earth.” I think most of us can agree with that.


Don Muraco
Mick Foley tells his now-famous story of the feud that turned him from a fan looking on into a dreamer looking to get in, beginning with the angle in which ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka dove over the ropes to fight Muraco after Muraco came to ringside and said something that raised Snuka’s ire. Listening in closely to hear what was said, commentator Pat Patterson simply communicated that, “Muraco said something to Snuka, and Snuka is going banana! He looks absolutely nut!” A freshman in college, Foley felt bad about missing the first Muraco-Snuka match after seeing a promo in which Snuka, his hair matted with blood, declared, “I’m not finished with you yet, Don Muraco!”, so made sure to hitchhike his way to Madison Square Garden for an October 1983 steel cage rematch. That was the night a bloody Snuka dove off the cage with his famous Superfly Splash onto a prone Muraco, which Foley calls the defining moment of his life. It was only years later that he realised it took two to tango, and that Snuka had only been such a great babyface because Muraco had been such a great heel.

Fast forward to 1990 and a still wet behind the ears (back when he had two of them) Cactus Jack found himself booked on a tour of Aruba, only to be mistakenly sent Muraco’s contract instead of his own, which he couldn’t help but notice was for significantly more money than he’d agreed to be paid. Armed with six months of WCW television exposure, Foley had his burgeoning ego punctured when he called the promoter to ask about the imbalance, only to be told the reason for the monetary disparity was, “Because Don’s a big star… and you’re not.” Although not a financially fruitful trip, the tour of Aruba did at least lead to the conception of Foley’s eldest child, Dewey, and gave him the chance to meet with Muraco personally, who he was thrilled to discover treated the dues-paying rookies with an equal amount of respect as he did the veterans.

Muraco began his career training with Dean Ho at a gym in Waikiki where the likes of Karl Gotch and Luther Lindsay would stop off when travelling between the United States and Japan. He credits ‘Lord’ James Blears as being the man who got him his start in Vancouver, and Muraco feels lucky that he was able to transition between the glory days of “‘rasslin’” and the dawn of sports entertainment, putting over the boys in the locker rooms who were willing to give the young guys advice and help them grow during an era when there weren’t wrestling schools to go learn your craft in. He admits that things weren’t always a bed of roses, but overall he feels like he had a wonderful career and no longer remembers the bad times.


The Junkyard Dog
Michael Cole’s pre-induction video narration ludicrously suggests that JYD didn’t become a major superstar until he joined the WWF in 1984, which patently isn’t true. Thankfully, ‘Big Cat’ Ernie Ladd is on hand to add some real history, talking about how highly pro sports salaries have risen since the days of legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas being the highest paid player in the NFL in 1960, at a rate of $15,000 a year. In wrestling, he calls the McMahons responsible for those skyrocketing salaries. Onto JYD, Ladd talks about booking in Louisiana where Bill Watts told the Dog to go away and come back when he’d gotten more experience. Angry about the situation, JYD returned not just with additional experience, but armed with dialogue, style, and Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ as his entrance theme, and immediately began selling out buildings against “Bigfoot” Ladd, and as a top draw, it was no surprise to him that JYD would eventually head for the bright lights of New York and the WWF.

Sadly, JYD was killed in an automobile accident on June 2, 1998, on the way home from his daughter LaToya Ritter’s high school graduation ceremony in Wadesboro, North Carolina after falling asleep at the wheel. Perhaps fittingly, LaToya accepts the award on her father’s behalf, although she herself would also meet an early end, collapsing whilst on the phone with a friend on October 19, 2011. Rushing to her home, Ritter was found unresponsive and paramedics were unable to revive her. She was just thirty-one-years-old.


Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura
Ventura is inducted by his son Tyrell, who talks about how proud he is that his dad could go out and prove that wrestlers weren’t just big dumb muscleheads, but amazing people for what they put themselves through as performers just to entertain the fans. Ventura thanks the families for putting up with their husbands and fathers being away from home so often, then begins by talking about his early AWA fandom, and the thrill he got from being able to wrestle his childhood idol The Crusher. By the time he was in high school, Ventura was a swimmer, but with no professional swimming, he joined the Navy instead. Home on leave one night with a pocket full of money and his friends all busy, he bought a front row ticket to the wrestling matches where, for the first time, he laid eyes on none other than ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, without whom he never would have had the desire to enter the business.

Heading down the 7th Street Gym, Ventura got himself trained by Eddie Sharkey, a man also credited with training Bob Backlund and The Road Warriors. Sending out pictures, Ventura got a call from ‘Texas’ Bob Geigel and began touring the territories, getting himself “married” to a young guy out in Portland called ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka who would blow Ventura up every night. Heading to his home promotion of the AWA, Ventura formed The East West Connection with Adrian Adonis before moving to the WWF. Skipping his entire run there, Ventura talks about maybe being the only wrestler to ever retire and stick to his guns (which his former broadcast colleague Gorilla Monsoon also did), before quickly moving on to his 1999-2003 term as Governor of Minnesota, joking that he followed Arnold Schwarzenegger into the movies, but Schwarzenegger (Governor of California from 2003-2011) followed him into politics (with their Predator co-star Sonny Landham losing out in a 2003 bid to become Governor of Kentucky).

Calling himself proud to be a wrestler and never shying away from that time in his life while in office, Ventura likens wrestlers drawing houses to politicians collecting votes, and credits the business with teaching him to be comfortable in front of a microphone and think on his feet, citing a point where he was polling just 10%, but six weeks and seven debates later, he was elected because he was the only one who knew how to communicate. Getting strongly political, he talks about how the majority of politicians are just playing a character in an attempt to appeal to the biggest audience, just like wrestlers do, before suggesting that, “Maybe it’s time we put a wrestler in the White House,” drawing a surprisingly riotous round of applause from future United States Senate seat-seeking Republican failure Linda McMahon.


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#WWE55901 – Divas – South Of The Border


Arnold Furious: Normally these Diva releases get allocated out by James Dixon regardless of whether we want them or not, and yet merely two weeks away from our writing deadline for this volume, there sat Divas – South of the Border mysteriously unclaimed. Seeing as no one else seemed game I thought I’d man up and tackle it. How bad can it be? It’s only an hour long. But wait, what’s this? There are two hours of bonus matches too!? WWE are just spoiling me here.


If you’ve seen one of these Diva DVDs, you’ve seen them all. Sure the girls change, but it’s basically just female wrestlers in bikinis somewhere hot. A shameless tie-in/cash-in for the bikini edition of WWE Magazine. Jonathan Coachman presents it from the studio, and he’s about as irritating as you’d imagine.


Lita has an actual tie to the locale because they’re in Mexico where she used to wrestle, although she quickly points out that she’s more used to a dirty city like Mexico City rather than a beach resort. She brings up her neck injury and how she missed the last two Diva shoots because of it. I wish she spoke more about lucha-libre, but instead it’s all about posing and wanting to be the Divas picked to be on the magazine cover (spoiler: it’s Torrie Wilson). So, nothing of note here.


– Any chance of getting anything useful out of Jackie Gayda goes straight out of the window when she immediately launches into talking about the photos. After a few seconds it’s just white noise. She has nothing interesting to say. There is one idiotic moment that stands out, which is her talking about having a “genuine laugh” when buying a sombrero. Just the one genuine chuckle while on holiday in Mexico under the guise of “work” then, love? You must be a barrel of laughs.


Ivory at least seems to enjoy herself, talking about Mayan heritage, Mexican culture, and the local wildlife. Ivory always seems like a fun person to be around but I bet she’d be exhausting too. She describes the constant comments about photo shoots making her sick, which segues right into a shot of her on their final day where she looks thrilled to be done with it. Wrestling!


Victoria amuses me by standing off camera shaking her head while Trish, who she was feuding with, gets photographed. Stacy Keibler tells her to stop being so serious. The various comments about posing and photography are now getting mind-numbingly dull.


Trish Stratus takes a slightly different tack, as she’s been at a million photo shoots by this point and prefers to talk about the camaraderie between the girls. When she does get around to talking about the posing being more relaxed because Mexico is more relaxed, even that makes sense because she’s such a pro. Certain people can just draw other people to them and Trish is so outstanding at this you can see why she became such a big star. If she wasn’t a wrestler she’d have been a star at something else.


– This isn’t really Nidia’s strength but she says she feels more comfortable this year than she did in the past. In every single shot of her she’s goofing around, including a shot of her dancing on the plane. Every time I see Nidia I wonder why WWE decided to let her go. She had an infectious personality. Maybe the boys in the office didn’t like her body or the whole trailer park deal. For me, she always came across as quite genuine, so it’s nice to see the real her being exactly the same.


Jacqueline has a really slow, laid back speech pattern when she’s not cutting promos. It gently washes over me like the waves of the ocean on the Mexican beach. It’s a pity she doesn’t have much to say.


– Conversely, Sable thinks she has a lot to say, as the group veteran, but she really doesn’t. When the Divas are in a group you can see her trying like hell to not act naturally, as that’ll make her look older. She’s hitting this serious pose and everyone else is having fun. She must have been a nightmare to work with. She’s also very aware of where the cameras are. The one thing she does say that I agree with is that you need to be confident to survive in WWE. Although her confidence far too often extends a little toward arrogance.


Gail Kim talks about her inexperience in terms of posing, because she’s a wrestler first and foremost, but she’s a natural at just looking good by doing nothing. “I’m not good at smiling, I feel fake.” I suddenly love Gail Kim and, at the same time, realise why her WWE career was cut short. Gail is also the only one who doesn’t seem to care about the cover, which has been mentioned repeatedly by everyone else. I came out of this short chat with her a much bigger fan.


– Like Ivory, Molly Holly is really into Mexico as a place, so she went off the beaten track to check out the local people. She puts over Ivory for keeping her amused during an otherwise grating photo shoot. She also puts over WWE for not making this photo shoot so structured, encouraging individuality and more down time. Which doesn’t sound like typical WWE at all.


– To the surprise of no one, Stacy Keibler prefers the beach. I don’t get the beach; it’s where dirt meets water (thank you, Bill Hicks). Like Lita and Ivory, she is excited about getting the chance to see wildlife at Parque Xcaret. Stacy seems nice enough, but the talk about swimsuits and posing is more of the same repetitive tedium.


Dawn Marie has a weird opinion about being “nearly naked” in public. Somehow she gets more nervous about it away from wrestling, because that’s a stage. At this point the whole DVD is grinding at me. It’s all the same thing, over and over again.


Jazz blames a knee injury for her poor showing in last year’s shoot, as she couldn’t work out to get in shape for it. The military bikini she is wearing really suits her. “What you see is what you get. That’s what I am”. She’s pleased to get a break from work, but still feels the urge to talk about the business. That is why I like her, because she’s a wrestler. “It’s good to be different”. How does that line go? You laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.


– Wait, we are not finished yet!? How many Divas did WWE employ for this shoot? Like all of the other Divas have, Torrie Wilson buries the shoot in the desert from last year. I get the feeling they really hated Desert Heat? Anyway, she talks about swimsuits and photographers, and it’s boring.


Before we go out we get Sable and Torrie Wilson singing ‘Copacabana’, a song they DON’T KNOW THE WORDS TO. You have no idea how annoying this is to me.


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#WWE57003 – John Cena – Word Life


James Dixon: Ghetto John Cena welcomes us to West Newbury, MA, where it all started for him. We skip the customary family talk in exchange for a handful of photos, and move straight onto his wrestling and rapping. The way he talks comes across like a parody of bad rapping, akin to something you might see in the Scary Movie films.


We start with Cena’s Halloween promo on SmackDown!, which essentially saved his career, then he talks smack about Brock Lesnar. “I showed Brock Lesnar a thing or two about a thing or two.” He plays PS2 with his cousin Marc ‘The Trademarc’ Predka, one of the co-conspirators on his aural menace of a rap album ‘My Time is Now’. We go to the Cena-Lesnar program, which is basically Cena dissing his muscled foe via the medium of rap. A crack about Lesnar’s back tattoo being a portrait of his mother amuses. Dr. Vanilla Cena T gets his knee smashed by Lesnar in an unseen angle, which prompts a response from the inside of a trailer. White trash! Cena implies that he wants to f*ck Brock up the ass, referring to them as inmates and warning him not to drop the soap. I knew it. That relationship with Nikki Bella is just a sham, isn’t it? No one of sound mind could put up with her for that long in real life. We get a lot of promos for this match. A lot. Cena is actually quite funny, and goes close to the edge with some of them. “I’m a Viagra triple shot, you’re just a Limp Bizkit.” Burn. No highlights of the match, because it sucked and Cena lost. It is available on the extras though.


Cena is off to record a new song (or rather, “song”) for WrestleMania XX, but first we visit his feud with The Undertaker, and Cena outs him as a homosexual. In 2003, that was still considered a crime in WWE’s world. Cena reckons Taker and Paul Bearer had a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ going on, and that Taker only attended funerals so he could hit on priests. Crikey. Next, Cena does a promo from inside a flaming pentagram, then another sat on a hog, telling Taker he will leave him in a wheelchair like Stephen Hawking, before labelling him a “fairy” for his open-assed leather chaps. He wouldn’t get away with any of this in the PG Era.


We meet DJ Chaos, whoever the f*ck he is. Apparently he had something to do with the WrestleMania XX hip-top track. We go back in time to WrestleMania XIX and Cena’s silly open challenge inviting any rapper to fight him… on the pre-show. He buries Jay Z for not showing up, and, as has been the theme of the disc, rags on him for enjoying man-love. We get the whole thing, including the line, “If they lived at the sperm bank, they couldn’t get their comeback”. He also gets in a dig at the XFL, which gets a big “ooohh” from the Seattle faithful. Good promo actually, even if it was ultimately a waste of time that furthered nothing.


Now, some “battle raps” from SmackDown!, first pitting Cena against Rikishi. Cena raps off the cuff in a black fluffy hat, and he doesn’t make any homophobic slurs. Personal growth! Rikishi goes for the obvious, calling Cena an Eminem wannabe who dresses worse than Vanilla Ice. He isn’t funny, but he does rhyme. Does that give him the win? How do battle raps work? I am obviously not street enough for this disc.


Post defeat to Brock Lesnar at Backlash, Cena raps his defence for losing, blaming the referee. That brings out the wonderful Brian Kendrick, who does a delightful impression of Cena. He refers to himself as “Spanky”, his RoH and Indy name, which draws lots of forced laughing from Michael Cole and Tazz. It seems Spanky has come up with a rap, and he needs a beat. John Cena forces referee Brian Hebner to give him one, mockingly, and it turns out he is great at it! Spanky’s rap is a riot too, and the crowd are totally into it. Cena gets hot, even more so when Spanky starts an, “I say Cena, you say… sucks” chant. Maybe this is where the “Cena sucks” stuff began. (Note: It isn’t). Eventually, Cena gets fed up and beats the piss out of Kendrick, ending a really entertaining segment. Honestly, it was. Funaki is next to battle Cena. EminJohn has some choice words for Michael Cole, who he accuses of loving boy bands. Funaki decides to respond, singing ‘U.G.L.Y’ at him and doing the robot dance. Cena floors him. Kurt Angle comes next, during a rare babyface run, and he looks absolutely furious to be out there. He is a wrestler, not a rapper. He opts against rapping, and instead tells a story. It’s a doozy:


“There once was a kid who talked a lot of smack / He’s actually whiter than me, but he thinks he is black / And the kid thinks he is the king of talking smack / Until one day he bumped heads with the king of kicking ass / He had a secret weapon, he liked to use a steel chain / I’ll shove it straight up your ass if you try to use it again / He can’t run, he can’t hide, it doesn’t even matter if he’s rapping / Because at No Mercy when I get my hands on him, his ass will be tapping”


And now Big Show – ever the fan of goofy comedy, dressing up like a dork, and desperately trying to be anything but a lumbering giant oaf – wants a turn with Cena. Bless him, he even dresses up in his best streets. As expected, his delivery is drawling and dumb, except for a line about Cena being a white girl and him being Kobe Bryant. You know, that was the exact comment this hypocritical company fired poor Abraham Washington for in 2012. Gotta love those double standards. If only Big Show had been fired back in 2003, what a nicer place wrestling would have been. Show is an easy target for Cena. He calls him fat, says he smells, and makes “yo momma” jokes. I guess that is all he needed to beat Show in a battle rap. Hell, I could beat Big Show in a battle rap.


Because Cena was getting over, the McMahons had to get their grubby hands on him, starting with Stephanie and her ugly straw hair. She looked horrific in 2003, like she had been dragged through a bush backwards. Cena talks about her match with Sable, and because Steph is obviously the object of every man’s affections, Cena has to claim to have had a dream about her, then gets all worked up in front of her. After telling Steph he wants to find out if the carpet matches the curtains, then offering her $20 to rip Sable’s top off in their PPV match because he has a nipple fetish, Cena asks via rap and crowd participation if he can smack her ass. Steph blushes, and smiles. Loving the attention, she asks him if he wants to put his money where his mouth is. “HELL YEAH!” he yelps, bouncing on the spot. Steph dares him to smack her ass, then turns around and bends over. What am I watching here!? Cena smacks her ass, and she loves it. This is one of the weirdest segments I have ever seen. A few months later, a few days after Survivor Series 2003, Cena is in the ring with a battered and bloodied Vince McMahon, and his sidekick Sable. Or “the slut”, as Cena calls her. Vince’s face during Cena’s ripping on him is a picture. I am not sure he understands half of what Cena is saying, but he sells it well anyway. Cena is great here, and few over the years have been allowed to shred Vince McMahon to his face in such a manner. You can see why he got over to the level he did. He was so fresh and interesting that it made him stand out a mile.


A few more random raps from Cena, with the timeline now all over the place. The first is aimed at Rhyno, and it is one of his weaker efforts. Another sees him call Billy Gunn out for being, you guessed it, gay. I mean, come on John, that is too easy. The guy was in a gay (for a while, until they got cold feet) tag team with Chuck Palumbo for ages before ditching he gimmick and going back to the well with his played out ‘Bad Ass’ Billy Gunn persona. Next, Zach Gowen, the one legged wrestler who weighed about 50lbs. “Whether you like it or not homie, you feeling hip-hop”. Very good. At Thanksgiving in 2003, Cena says grace. It is, erm, unconventional. Lots of jokes about tossing Torrie Wilson’s salad, and crude innuendos about breasts, legs, and bones. It’s funny though. His line about “white sprinkles on your chocolate mousse” to Shaniqua is not exactly dinner table talk though. Cena calls his Christmas 2003 rap in Iraq the best moment in his career. The army folk certainly enjoy it, especially when Cena mocks Saddam Hussein, the French army, and the Big Show. Yep, those three subjects seem to be fitting bedfellows.


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#WWE55895 – The Stone Cold Truth


Justin Henry: This is a release of a biography that previously aired in November 2003 on UPN, SmackDown!‘s home for its first seven years. It is highlighted by Steve Austin‘s candid thoughts toward his wrestling career, which had ended by this point. UPN attempted a similar production the following year with Eddie Guerrero‘s Cheating Death, Stealing Life, which was also bundled onto a DVD release, which you can read all about elsewhere in this book. Then UPN split in half in 2006, itself proving unable to cheat death.


First up on the release, Austin reflects on that final match at WrestleMania XIX with The Rock, admitting he knew going in that it would be his swansong. Also detailed is the panic attack Austin endured the day before WrestleMania, in which he wound up briefly hospitalized for the fear that he may have been suffering from an embolism. Austin admits he was worried about having an awful match, since he really hadn’t worked a match since the previous June, simplistic brawls with Eric Bischoff at the start of the year aside.


We get a Limp Bizkit video (who, as Tony Chimel once told us, are WWE’s favourite band), leading into a look at Austin’s childhood life in rural Edna, Texas, and stories from his mom and brothers. Among the quaint tales is Mama Austin describing how young Stone Cold’s kindergarten teacher believed little Steve had the most “Go to Hell” attitude of any child she had ever taught, and the revelation that he had a lisp. It’s hard to imagine Austin having a lisp as a child, but maybe that’s where his steely-eyed angst was borne from.


From there, it’s a look at Austin’s early wrestling life, beginning with the Dallas region, where he and his drinking buddies would kick back and take in the exploits of The Freebirds and the Von Erichs. Naturally, the parents didn’t think the idea of their son becoming a wrestler held much promise, but I’m sure once Austin bought them each a gold car, they probably changed their minds. Mick Foley claims to have seen greatness in Austin during a training session with Chris Adams. Austin reveals his first payment as a working wrestler was for $40, and that he’d live off of potatoes between payoffs. From there, it’s a very brief look at his WCW run, mostly confined to the Hollywood Blondes period. Austin claims that once the team was split, Dusty Rhodes told him the big push was coming, which Austin calls BS on. Odds of any sort of disparaging word toward Dusty making it onto any WWE release post-2015: 1,547,893 to 1.


Interspersed with the wrestling content are bits of Austin at home, which are more for the non-wrestling audience tuning in. These brief asides include showing off his truck and dog, his family making fun of his lackluster singing abilities, and candid thoughts on his divorces. Most notable from this is Austin lamenting not getting to speak to his daughter, Stephanie, as often as he’d like to, due to her moving back to England with her mother, the former Lady Blossom.


Into the ECW stay, where Austin ran down Eric Bischoff in a handful of hilarious bits. Foley notes Austin’s bitterness over his firing from WCW, while Bischoff claims that Austin didn’t hit the zeitgeist in WCW. Maybe he needed a ticker-tape parade through Disney to get over? That segues into becoming The Ringmaster in the WWF, and talk about nearly killing the golden goose before it could lay its first egg. Austin notes that serial killer “Iceman” Richard Kuklinski provided the basis for the sort of villain he’d wanted to play, and we get the famous story of the awful names the WWF came up with (such as Ice Dagger) before Lady Blossom stumbled onto the ‘Stone Cold’ name for Steve. Well, Eu-friggin-reka.


After a music video with various highlights of Austin’s career, it’s onto the Owen Hart incident at SummerSlam ‘97, where Austin had his neck broken on a sitout piledriver gone wrong. Austin notes that things remained chilly with Owen after the incident, and they were professional, but hardly friends any more. To put a happy spin on it, we get Austin toasting Owen at Owen’s memorial show the night after his tragic death. I realize that in death, Owen had become Teflon, so Austin admitting an un-mended fence with him may come off as bad to some naive viewers, but it does reek of damage control that the toast was wedged in there.


From here, it kind of limps to the end, as Austin discusses his shaved head, and it’s tacked off with a bit on Survivor Series 2003, which only took place a week and a half before the special was broadcast on UPN. Austin was supposed to leave “forever” after his team was defeated by Eric Bischoff’s mercenaries, but well, what are exits in wrestling but temporary?


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#WWE55893 – The Monday Night War

Lee Maughan: Eric Bischoff wins the award for the first bit of bullshit, insinuating that Nitro stole RAW’s audience, which was never really the case. The theory at the time was more along the lines that there was a single “wrestling audience” and that was it, but what the birth of Nitro proved was that there was actually separate WCW and WWF audiences, at least at a core level, and all the war did was cultivate a larger casual audience of “floaters” who switched back and forth between both shows. Gerald Brisco is a touch more melodramatic, claiming the whole period “was life and death”, which would sound hilariously overblown if it wasn’t so depressingly true, particularly in the case of Owen Hart, whose accidental death was the indirect result of a rib on Sting’s famous zipwire entrances.


Gene Okerlund gives a potted history of “the early days” of cable television, which he pinpoints as being “around 1983” (embryonic cable first became available in the United States in 1948, with the first basic cable network, WTCG, being launched by Ted Turner in 1976), and credits Vince McMahon with building the first network of syndicated wrestling broadcasts that made use of the medium. In reality, Jim Barnett got there first with Georgia Championship Wrestling on Turner’s rebranded WTBS. Vince in turn makes the somewhat misleading statement, “I sold what was to become WCW to Jim Crockett Promotions out of North Carolina.” In actuality, Turner had rebuffed McMahon’s offer to buy GCW’s Saturday night timeslot on TBS, so McMahon opted to hit GCW at source and buy out key shareholders Barnett and the Brisco Brothers, Jack and Gerry. That left McMahon and Ole Anderson as GCW co-owners, but with Anderson seeing the writing on the wall, he broke away to begin his own Championship Wrestling from Georgia group, leaving majority stakeholder McMahon free to rebrand GCW’s World Championship Wrestling show with matches from his own World Wrestling Federation television tapings. Dubbed “Black Saturday” by long-time fans, McMahon’s pre-taped arena bouts featuring sluggers like Jesse Ventura, ‘Big’ John Studd and Bobo Brazil were not as warmly received as the studio-based antics of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and pals, resulting in a ratings disaster right from the off as fans tuned out in droves. McMahon eventually sold the rights to the timeslot to Jim Crockett, Jr. after Turner added both Anderson’s new group and Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling to his network rotation, with Jim Crockett Promotions taking over the World Championship Wrestling slot on Saturday evenings. That McMahon never promoted a card under the GCW banner, and that Crockett’s show was essentially just a continuation of the JCP group founded by his father Jim Crockett, Sr. in 1931, is proof enough to most knowledgeable wrestling historians that McMahon simply owned the timeslot rather than the promotion that eventually morphed into WCW. This becomes even more apparent when one considers that WCW’s title history (in particular that of the United States Championship) belonged to the same lineage of champions promoted by JCP. (Ironically, WWE would later claim that its own United States Title, first won by Eddie Guerrero in July 2003, was a continuation of the legacy that began with Harley Race’s reign as JCP’s Mid-Atlantic version of the U.S. Champion, which is another debatable issue given that WWE does now own the rights to WCW and its associated histories).


Thankfully, Jim Cornette makes an unexpected appearance as a talking head to offer up some actually accurate history, detailing JCP’s incredible fall from grace as they sold out the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Virginia to the tune of 10,000 fans, sold up to Turner Broadcasting one month later, and were averaging 400 fans for live events anywhere in the country just a couple of years after that. Not mentioned is that the Crockett organisation was haemorrhaging money and on the verge of bankruptcy before Turner, a fan of having wrestling on his networks due to its success in helping launch his aforementioned WTBS station, swooped in and saved it from going out of business, although Cornette’s point about how badly it was handled after the sale still stands.


The Jim Herd, Kip Allen Frey and Bill Watts eras of WCW are all brushed over, as go-getting young coffee boy and third-string announcer Bischoff impresses all the right people and is unexpectedly promoted to Executive Vice President, resulting in Jim Ross leaving behind three years of guaranteed money with the promotion in favour of a job with the WWF. Not mentioned is that Bischoff was desperate to remove the “Southern stink” of the promotion and rebrand it as a national organisation, subsequently opting to remove Oklahoma native Ross from the broadcast booth, effectively leaving him in limbo. Had Ross not seen the writing on the wall and made the jump, he may have been left out to pasture, forgotten, never to call another wrestling match in his life. Significantly, Ross would end up heading the WWF’s Talent Relations department, from where he would advocate the signings of Mick Foley, The Rock, Edge, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista, amongst others, names who variously played significant roles in the turnaround of the promotion at the tail end of the 90s and its continued success throughout the first decade of the 2000s.


Bruce Prichard details the theory behind moving out of the big, bright arenas where the WWF taped matches for Superstars and Wrestling Challenge, and into the smaller, wilder, more intimate Manhattan Center to give their new show, Monday Night RAW, a completely different vibe. Okerlund dismissively calls the venue a “toilet”, but it certainly had a different look and feel to it than the big budget productions of the WWF’s other televised presentations. Over in WCW, Bischoff opted to go the opposite direction and move their TV tapings out of their dank, sparsely-attended arenas and into Disney MGM Studios as a means to cut costs whilst simultaneously boosting production values. Not mentioned is that he achieved this by taping his TV in bulks of three month-long cycles, causing most of WCW’s future storylines and title changes to leak out well in advance. Bischoff would later use the WWF switching their RAW tapings to month-long cycles to his own advantage, as we’ll come to later.


Also beneficial to taping at Disney was the fact that former WWF star Hulk Hogan was also on site, shooting his ropey “A-Team on water” wannabe Thunder in Paradise. Sensing a mutually agreeable opportunity for cross-promotion, Hogan agreed to come in and work a few big money pay-per-view main events that would give WCW an undeniable attention boost. Not mentioned is that Ric Flair was the one who first contacted Hogan about coming in, nor is it mentioned that Hogan’s presence led to a slew of former WWF names that were all considered well past their sell-by-date flooding into WCW with him, such as The Honky Tonk Man, The Butcher (Brutus Beefcake), Avalanche (Earthquake) and ‘Ugandan Giant’ Kamala. More significantly, Randy Savage also arrived in late 1994, although again they neglect part of the story, namely that Savage was feeling increasingly ostracised in the WWF, particularly from McMahon, who apparently felt Savage’s in-ring days were behind him.


With more nationally known talent on board, Bischoff’s next trick was to expand the amount of pay-per-view events WCW ran each year, those being one of the few areas in which the company actually made money. Everyone thought he was going to kill the golden goose, believing nobody would buy twelve of them a year, but they did, and the WWF subsequently followed suit as to avoid looking like they were being left behind. Two decades later, WWE would still be running twelve (and in some cases up to sixteen) pay-per-view specials every single year.


To the infamous meeting next in which Turner asked Bischoff what they needed to do to compete with the WWF, with an unprepared Bischoff suggesting they needed to be on the air in prime time, something he never expected Turner to agree to. Cornette (along with everyone else) thought they were nuts to go head-to-head with RAW on TNT, a station which had never broadcast wrestling before. McMahon, meanwhile, cries about the predatory practices of Turner picking the same night and the same time as RAW to broadcast Nitro, when he owned multiple networks and could have picked any timeslot for the show. “Why would you do that? He was trying to hurt us,” bitches McMahon, who might want to look in a mirror and ask himself why he chose to run WWF events in Minneapolis head-to-head with AWA cards, or against the established promotions in St. Louis, Oklahoma, Atlanta, and elsewhere. All whilst utilising headline names already built up by the promoters in those areas, when he could so easily have booked cards on any night he wanted in his already established New York/Boston/Philadelphia network of buildings. What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just the appalling stench of hypocrisy in the air. Adds Gerry “Melodrama” Brisco: “My reaction was, “We’ll knock your socks off of ya’. We’ll beat the crap out of ya’, and kick you in the dirt, and watch you roll over and die.” Okerlund just uses the whole thing to get in a plug for his hotline, which doesn’t even exist at this point. What a shill!


In an impeccable piece of timing, Lex Luger’s WWF contract expired right before the first episode of Nitro was due to air, and although Bischoff wasn’t a fan of his, having found him to be extremely arrogant during his previous WCW run, Sting was able to convince Bischoff that he’d changed his ways and was worth giving another chance to. Bischoff reluctantly agreed, but only with a lowball offer that was just 20% of what Luger had been making when he left WCW in the first place, figuring that Luger would decline the offer and he could at least tell Sting, “I tried”. To Bischoff’s surprise, Luger accepted the deal, and casually sauntered to the ring on the first Nitro less than twenty-four hours after teaming with Shawn Michaels to defeat Owen Hart and Yokozuna on a WWF house show in St. Johns, New Brunswick (erroneously identified as Halifax, Nova Scotia by the fact-filled Okerlund. Stephen Fry on QI he ain’t). Cornette recalls that Luger was actually working for the WWF without at contract at that point, McMahon having made the mistake of taking Luger at his word after being fed promises that he’d put pen to paper on a new deal after his lawyers had gone over the fine print with him.


Bischoff knew the surprise defection of Luger would set the tone for Nitro and get people talking, which leads to a discussion of how Nitro being live every week meant he could give away the results of the already-taped episodes of RAW, and how he also came up with the concept of going on the air three minutes early in order to do it before their show had even begun. He follows that by getting the green light to have regular overruns at the end of his shows so that ardent WWF fans could still switch over after RAW had finished and catch the final, climactic, show-closing angles on Nitro in an attempt to get them hooked on his product instead. McMahon calls these innovations “tricks”, and dubs said “dirty tactics” as being both “rotten” and “painful”. Of course, RAW would later follow Nitro’s lead in going live (almost) every week despite the monumental cost of doing so, and would soon be granted its own end-of-show overrun from the USA Network, a “dirty tactic” it curiously maintained a good fifteen years after WCW went out of business. Old-school Okerlund didn’t much care for giving away a competitor’s results live on the air, but ethically Bischoff didn’t care because it got people talking. Foley took it personally though, since it could have hurt the promotion that was paying his wages and thus putting food on his family’s table, while blusterous Brisco “would have slapped the hell out [Bischoff]” had he ever bumped into him at the time.


The second big defection comes in December 1995 when the WWF decides to scrap their women’s division and leave Alundra Blayze in the unemployment line, so Bischoff brings her back to WCW under her former Madusa name and has her drop the WWF Women’s Title belt in a garbage can on Nitro. That led to the WWF finally responding with their Wrasslin’ Warroom series of skits, centred around the geriatric antics of Billionaire Ted, Scheme Gene, The Huckster and The Nacho Man. Initially comedic, they quickly grew to be incredibly mean-spirited, and were mercifully put out of their misery on the WrestleMania XII pre-show, the insider-laden humour having flown over the heads of the majority of the WWF’s young audience.


Heading into 1996, the departures from the WWF of Razor Ramon and Diesel are portrayed as shocking betrayals, even though everybody knew months in advance that their contracts were due to expire and they’d been offered significantly more money to jump ship. Continuing this documentary’s infuriating habit of not expounding on the situation, it isn’t mentioned that both gave their notice well in advance and did high profile jobs on the way out (Ramon for Vader and Diesel for The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels), just that they left the WWF high and dry. That leads to the as-yet unnamed Scott Hall and Kevin Nash debuting on Nitro over a two week period in May and June, complete with Nash’s grammatically incorrect line “This is where the big boys play? Look at the adjective – ‘play’” (Quick English lesson: “play” is actually the verb. The adjective in the sentence is “big”). Prichard whines about the WWF making those guys into stars first, crediting that with being the reason anybody even watched Nitro at all, although the truth is that both sides were neck-and-neck in the Monday night ratings battle at that point, with sixteen wins each plus two draws. While there’s certainly a great deal of truth to the WWF making them both much bigger stars than they had been previously, the notion that none of WCW’s fan base remembered Vinnie Vegas or The Diamond Studd from just three and four years earlier is ridiculous, as is the hypocrisy behind the statement when you consider that, not long before Hall and Nash switched employers, the WWF brought in and gave a big push to essentially the same Vader character that had already run roughshod in WCW for the best part of four years. Oh, but how dare WCW help themselves to Razor and Diesel? Furthermore, a line from the narrator that upon seeing Hall and Nash presented as an invading force in WCW, fans were left “confused, yet interested” is just a really backhanded way of contemptuously dismissing your followers as cretinous morons who can’t comprehend a wrestling angle when they see one. Also unmentioned is the WWF’s woeful attempt to win a lawsuit against WCW by hiring Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs to play new versions of the Ramon and Diesel characters in an attempt to “prove” that WCW was infringing on the WWF’s intellectual property.


Onto Hogan’s genuinely shocking heel turn at Bash at the Beach ‘96 next, although excised is Hogan blowing his lines and dubbing the group the “New World Organisation”, as is Bobby Heenan tipping off viewers to the impending betrayal with the question, “But whose side is he on?!” Prichard calls the turn the high point of the entire Nitro run, which is funny considering it happened on a pay-per-view, while The Big Show talks about the nWo being so badass that they eventually became “cool heels”, which was one of the overriding problems with the way the act presented itself. Nash in particular couldn’t help playing the part of the wisecracking hipster, turning the boos he was supposed to be getting into guffaws, and it all combined to make WCW look deeply unfashionable by comparison, a stigma it was never able to shake off.


“My philosophy of business is help yourself, not hurt the other guy,” cries the delusional McMahon, who spent a good chunk of the 80s “hurting the other guys” in order to help himself. Shawn Michaels then pops up to claim that nobody ever cared about ratings until Nitro came along, which isn’t just completely inaccurate, but also shows a distinct lack of understanding about what a vital role such metrics played within the television industry at the time (and still do), particularly in terms of those all-important advertising rights fees. Bischoff had his finger on the pulse regarding those numbers, however, and found out from focus groups that wrestling fans liked unpredictability and spontaneity, and would closely monitor what was being broadcast at any given time on RAW to determine the most advantageous moments to counter-program his “spontaneous” surprises.


In the wake of the forming of the nWo, The 1-2-3 Kid (Syxx) and Ted DiBiase both jump ship from the WWF to WCW, with DiBiase’s departure opening the door for floundering midcarder Steve Austin to grab the bull by the horns and become the biggest star in the industry. Cornette points out that Austin had previously struggled to make much headway in WCW and, with no track record, had been left to rot in the WWF as the colourless Ringmaster until DiBiase bailed out. Lacking the ability to find anything better for him to do, the WWF’s “uncreative” team decided to just let Austin be himself, which Cornette says was, “the way it needed to be all along,” and thus ‘Stone Cold’ was born. “That’s the way that most major talent gets over; by being themselves with the volume turned way up,” adds Cornette, whose words become all the more frustrating when you think about the agonising minutiae with which WWE programming has been scripted since the Austin-led boom period at the turn of the century.


The Austin story continues with his famous “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” speech at the 1996 King of the Ring, the importance of which has since be retrofit by WWE to fit their own narrative of his success. What gets largely forgotten is that they did precisely nothing with him for months afterwards, feeding him to the returning Bret Hart at the Survivor Series before continuing to do nothing with him until finding themselves without an opponent for Hart at WrestleMania 13 after the tragic and untimely loss of Shawn Michaels’ smile. Foley at least credits the thrilling Hart-Austin “I Quit” match as the real turning point for Austin’s career, although just as with Hogan’s heel turn, that was another pay-per-view moment rather than a Monday night one.


Despite the ongoing rhetoric that WCW never made any new stars, Chris Jericho stops by to point out the star-making exposure that WCW gave to himself, Eddy Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera and others, and although his lofty claims that the influx of those “real wrestlers” was just as important to the success of the company as the marquee value of the nWo is perhaps a tad overstated, it’s certainly true that they became the backbone of the promotion, lighting up many an undercard in support of the generally crummy main events of Hogan and his ilk. Benoit rightly points out that the blending of styles from Mexico and Japan offered something new and different, while Okerlund puts the luchadores over in particular for bringing fast-paced excitement to the mile-a-minute television world.


Meanwhile, McMahon fines Michaels $10,000 for going on RAW with a giant sausage stuffed down his crotch, but Michaels pleads his case that, “the boys found it funny!” Whether they did or not, it was undeniably crass. Little did either of them realise that it was precisely that kind of crassness that would begin to turn things around for the WWF, as the increasingly rebellious Michaels went on live TV to declare that he was prepared to continue his wicked ways and, “go down in a blaze of glory,” in doing so. Then followed another wholly unexpected development, as Owen Hart broke Austin’s neck with a botched sitout piledriver at SummerSlam ‘97. “It couldn’t have come at a worse time for WWE,” notes the narrator, although in hindsight it was actually incredibly fortuitous. Unable to wrestle, the WWF had no choice but to further develop Austin’s anti-authoritarian character in a series of memorable angles in which he dropped various on-screen authority figures with Stone Cold Stunners, all of which served to make him more popular than ever. Tapping into the real life situation, Austin’s inability to wrestle was portrayed on-screen as company owner McMahon refusing to allow it, which served to further incense fans until Austin finally dropped McMahon with a Stunner on the September 22nd RAW from Madison Square Garden, cementing Austin’s status as the biggest babyface in wrestling. Not touched upon is that Austin’s neck injury forced him to completely alter wrestling style, ushering in a long-standing era of WWF main events being characterised mostly by brawling, storyline twists, and finisher reversals.


Amidst all these developments, WWF fans quickly came to reject happy-go-lucky babyface Rocky Maivia, with Maivia in turn rejecting the fans to become Austin’s blood rival, kick-starting a run that would see his Rock character become arguably as popular as Austin himself. An unprecedented period of success, it was the first (and to date last) time the promotion had two main event babyfaces achieve that level of mega stardom concurrently. Part of their success was down to the fact that they had room to grow in the wake of previous main eventers Michaels and Hart both departing the promotion, each under wildly different circumstances. With Michaels, it was a devastating back injury that forced him into early retirement in the spring of 1998 (from which he would miraculously return just over four years later). With Hart, it was the news in September 1997 that a financially struggling McMahon felt he could no longer afford his to pay Hart’s twenty-year contract, and that he was free to re-enter negotiations with WCW. Hart had initially signed his deal in October 1996 after a bidding war between the WWF and WCW that saw him turn down an incredible $2.8 million a year offer from Bischoff. McMahon’s counter-offer was an unprecedented double decade deal that would pay ‘The Hitman’ $1.5 million per annum for the first three years followed by a low six-figure amount for the remaining seventeen, during which time Hart would likely transition into a behind the scenes agent role. Faultlessly loyal, Hart felt a sense of betrayal upon receiving the announcement that McMahon had chosen to sever their relationship, although not as betrayed as he would following the events of November 9, 1997 at the Survivor Series in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Having reluctantly struck a deal with Bischoff to spearhead WCW’s impending Thunder telecasts to the tune of $2.5 million per year, Hart found himself in the perilous position of still carrying the WWF Championship despite being WCW bound. Also armed with a WWF contract that offered him “reasonable creative control” in how his character was booked, Hart found the notion of dropping the strap to Michaels, his Survivor Series opponent, totally abhorrent on the grounds that Michaels had previously told him in conference that he would never again put Hart over. Allegedly fearing a repeat of the Madusa belt-trashing incident should Hart leave the promotion with his top title, a desperate McMahon felt he had little recourse but to double cross him at the conclusion of the Hart-Michaels match, ordering referee Earl Hebner to call for the bell and award Michaels the victory as he held Hart in his own Sharpshooter finishing hold, several minutes before the previously agreed upon disqualification finish could be executed.


None of the events of Montreal are covered in any great detail here of course, instead presented as simply just a thing that happened, but the incident did help turn amiable announcer Vince into all-powerful super-villain boss Mr. McMahon, giving blue collar everyman Austin his perfect foil. While there are those who believe the brilliant Mr. McMahon character was Vince’s flukish silver lining from the cloud of Hart’s departure, Foley theorises that McMahon knew what he was doing all along, and that his infamous post-Survivor Series interview in which he defended himself to the hilt and proclaimed that, “Bret screwed Bret,” was less a genuine attempt to absolve himself from blame and more the final evolution into his new heel character.


Also not covered is the mammoth Hogan vs. Sting showdown more than a year in the making over in WCW, and instead we arrive at the spine-chilling angle in which Austin flips the bird to Mike Tyson and generates ludicrous amounts of publicity for the WWF in the process. Barred from boxing after biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a June 1997 fight, convicted rapist Tyson had transcended his sport through media coverage of his controversial activities to become one of the most famous personalities on the planet, even if it was for mostly the wrong reasons. Realising the magnetic pull Tyson had and the sort of column inches he generated, McMahon offered him $3.5 million to make a handful of appearances for the WWF, including a spot as the special guest enforcer for the Michaels-Austin championship bout at WrestleMania XIV. Bischoff admits he was both so ignorant and arrogant at the time that he completely dismissed the WWF’s plans to rebrand themselves as trash TV in the mould of Jerry Springer and Howard Stern, but had his head turned when he found out they were dealing with Tyson. Not noted, presumably because it doesn’t fit WWE’s triumphant narrative, is that following Tyson’s appearance at the 1998 Royal Rumble, his advisers immediately went to Bischoff and attempted to negotiate a better deal, which even “ATM Eric” rebuffed, figuring the asking price was too high. The key difference was that to WCW, all Tyson would have amounted to would have been some kind of match with Hogan, a big buyrate, some newspaper publicity, and little else. But over in the struggling WWF, the association with Tyson was far more valuable, helping turn Austin into a household name beyond just the hardcore wrestling audience. Hindsight would show that Tyson was worth every penny to the WWF, and had Bischoff scooped McMahon on the deal, history may have ended up very differently.


Onto April 13, 1998, and the WWF finally wins a round in the ratings war thanks to the announcement of an Austin vs. McMahon match to take place that night on RAW. Jericho returns to discuss how complacent Bischoff had becoming after a win streak totalling “eighty-five straight weeks” (it was actually eighty-three – did nobody fact check this thing?), and then comes Triple H kicking Michaels out of DX and replacing him with X-Pac (the former Syxx) and The New Age Outlaws, leading to their “WCW invasion” skits. That prompts Bischoff to retaliate with a grandstand challenge for McMahon to show up at Slamboree ‘98 for a fight. Sensibly, McMahon chose not to bother, dismissing the challenge as, “a cheap and desperate tactic to increase WCW pay-per-view buys,” and instead publicly challenged Bischoff to a rumble, “at any time, in any parking lot across the country, void of television cameras, photographers, and public announcement.” Bischoff declared himself the winner by forfeit, whilst the documentary chooses to ignore such a result and has the narrator attempt to save face for McMahon by simply declaring that, “he was busy.”


Onto more sensible matters next, as JR brags about how the WWF was able to ride the wave of momentum they’d built and used it to reinvent The Undertaker, Triple H and The Rock, whilst also creating a plethora of new stars such as Kane and Kurt Angle. His subsequent burial of WCW for failing to do the same outside of capturing lightning in a bottle with Goldberg rings a tad hollow however, particularly when you consider the ascension from midcard to World Heavyweight Championship of the likes of The Giant, Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Steiner, Booker T and Jeff Jarrett during this period. It’s a complete misnomer at best, and a total fabrication at worst. On Goldberg, Bischoff talks about his “175-0” winning streak (the number WCW actually gave out before he lost to Nash at Starrcade ‘98 over six months later was 173-0, another sloppy bit of fact checking), and the piece is edited to make it sound like 175-0 was his tally heading into his World Title match with Hollywood Hogan on the July 6, 1998 Nitro. The number WCW was actually touting at the time was 108-0, though that itself was a status-enhancing fabrication. Jericho calls Goldberg’s title win, “the peak of WCW,” but in truth the train was already coming off the tracks by then, with WCW choosing to throw away untold millions in potential pay-per-view revenue by running the Hogan-Goldberg bout on free television with just four days notice. It would have been one thing had ticket sales to the Georgia Dome been anaemic, but the advance already guaranteed them a monster house regardless of what they chose the headline the event with. As it transpired, wily veteran Hogan had played his creative control card in getting the match booked, allowing him to crow about headlining a record-breaking event (WCW ended up selling 36,506 tickets for the show when all was said and done) at a marquee venue in the promotion’s home base of Atlanta, thus boosting his perceived worth to the Turner organisation, officials from which would be in attendance that night. It was a carny trick that cost the company money in the long term, but ensured the spotlight remained firmly on Hogan. It also mattered not that all those tickets had already been sold before the announcement of the Hogan-Goldberg main event had even been made. All Turner’s bean-counters would see was that Hogan was on top when the fans came out in droves. Yet again, none of this is mentioned in the documentary beyond the match being a “great moment”.


To September 1998 and the emotional Nitro return of company legend Ric Flair. Once again the ignore machine is in full swing, as the documentary fails to bring up any of the reasons why he was even gone in the first place. Earlier in the year, Bischoff had held a meeting with most of the WCW talent in which he brazenly stated that the only guys in the room who’d ever drawn any money were Hogan, Savage and Roddy Piper, which most took as backhanded insult towards Flair. Justly upset, Flair then requested (and was granted) time off to watch his son Reid compete in an amateur wrestling tournament in North Carolina instead of attending a live Thunder broadcast in Tallahassee, Florida on April 9th. To Flair’s great surprise, he then found out from an announcement on Nitro three days before the Thunder show that he was being advertised to be there, with vague promises that he would discuss his career and “make a challenge”. Upon reminding WCW officials of the relatively brief time off that they’d already granted him, Flair was instead offered a chartered jet to fly him into and out of the Thunder taping, which he refused having felt disrespected by the organisation. Upon no-showing the Thunder event (on which he hadn’t even been booked to wrestle), Bischoff suspended Flair before WCW filed a lawsuit against him on April 17th, citing breach of contract. Flair’s response was to attend the WWF’s Unforgiven pay-per-view on April 26th at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the plan had been to feature “a great wrestling champion” as one of the dignitaries at ringside, whereupon the camera would cut to amateur champion Reid, whose entourage would just happen to include his old man. Sadly, Flair’s lawyers quickly brought him round to the realisation that appearing on a WWF telecast whilst still under a valid WCW contract would only bring him more legal trouble that it was worth, so having circled the building in a limousine several times, Flair eventually thought better of it and left.


“It got boring, man, just the same shit day in and day out,” moans Eddie Guerrero on the continued expansion of the nWo from a lean, mean, three-man killing machine into a bloated self-parody replete with goofball hangers on, and he’s not wrong. Talk moves back to Flair’s return, as Bischoff discusses wanting to create a counter culture between what Flair represented and what he was attempting to do with Hall and Nash. Of course, shortly after Flair’s triumphant return, the Horsemen were back to putting over the nWo again, same as always. Cornette remains apoplectic about the way Bischoff treated Flair, the guy who carried Jim Crockett Promotions on his back for all those years, and that leads back to another tiresome discussion about the half-truth that WCW never made any of their own stars. Rey Mysterio’s conclusion is that he should have been pushed to the main event, citing Edge & Christian, The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz as examples of what the WWF were doing with younger talent at the time. While there’s certainly a ring of truth to his words, the likes of himself, Jericho, Benoit and Guerrero were arguably just as big in WCW as the aforementioned guys were in the WWF, and it wasn’t until many years after WCW went out of business that Edge and Jeff Hardy finally broke through the glass ceiling to become genuine needle-moving main event players for WWE, while Matt Hardy, Christian and the Dudleys either continued to flounder around as midcarders or bolted to TNA.


More factually inaccurate statements follow as the narrator talks of “an extremely competitive Monday” in “late December” as Mankind won his first WWF Title from The Rock. Although the title change was taped in late December, it was actually taped on a Tuesday rather than a Monday, only went head-to-head that night with a WCW house show (ironically held in Foley’s home town of Long Island, New York – the WWF taping was in Worcester, Massachusetts, hardly making for a “competitive” environment), and didn’t air until January 4, 1999. Bischoff went back to the well that night and decided to give away news of Foley’s title victory to his own audience, instructing lead Nitro announcer Tony Schiavone to proclaim, “We understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here one time as Cactus Jack, is going to win their World Title. Ugh! That’s gonna put some butts in the seats! Ha!” Foley couldn’t understand how the company he had previously given so much effort for could be so flippantly dismissive of him and his achievements, although his displeasure with the statement was quickly assuaged when the ratings patterns that night showed a significant shift in viewership from Nitro to RAW almost immediately after Schiavone made his announcement. What Bischoff failed to understand was that lifelong fan turned hard-working superstar Foley was particularly beloved amongst the wrestling audience who saw him as one of their own. Coupled with the greatly renewed interest in the WWF’s product, Bischoff’s giving away of their results no longer seemed like an aggressively edgy tactic, but actually acted as free promotion for a magical moment that many supporters were thrilled not to have missed.


More significantly on the night of January 4 was WCW’s own World Title change, in which Nash laid down for Hogan after Hogan gently prodded him in the chest. It was a takeoff of an angle which the WWF had run with Michaels and Triple H in December 1997 over the lowly European Title, but here it was designed to kick-start the new year by bringing together an “elite” version of the nWo as a villainous roadblock for Goldberg (the splitting of the original group into the “nWo Hollywood” and “nWo Wolfpac” factions is also predictably neglected here). In the already predetermined world of wrestling, the idea that fans would feel insulted by two grapplers openly admitting to switching a championship in a fake match perhaps seems like some kind of painfully self-referential parody of itself, but in storyline terms where suspension of disbelief allows the viewer to buy into what they’re seeing as if the outcomes are genuine, a World Championship changing hands in a “thrown” contest was simply deemed as insulting. Worse still, this latest incarnation of the nWo began to dissolve just a few weeks later, and no revenge was ever forthcoming for Goldberg. What had initially been planned as an angle to carry WCW throughout the entire year and into the new millennium turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the company. Where Nitro’s ratings had previously remained competitive with RAW’s throughout 1998, they began to slip shortly after the Nash-Hogan “Fingerpoke of Doom” scenario. By mid-February, those ratings had dropped below the 5.0 mark; by March they were under 4.5; by late April they fell below 4.0, and come May they were routinely pulling less than a 3.5. With a few aberrations here and there, Nitro never hit those heights again, at least on a regular basis, and by 2000, numbers were even dipping below the 3.0 mark, with the low point being the April 3rd show, admittedly just a “best of” (wrestling’s equivalent of a clip show) which pulled a paltry 1.8. “This is what World Championship Wrestling is all about,” noted commentator Schiavone just moments before the Nash-Hogan match, a line that proved indignantly prophetic thanks to the benefit of hindsight.


Once again, not a single mention is made of any of those ratings woes on the documentary, with talk instead turning to how nobody knew who was actually in charge at WCW. Okerlund more specifically bemoans Bischoff allowing his top stars to have “complete creative control” written into their contracts as being one of the major problems, but in truth the only guy to have any sort of creative control clause worded into his deal was Hogan, and for all the trouble that may have caused, he was still undoubtedly WCW’s top draw during this period, arguably making him worth any correlating headaches. With the tide clearly turning, the rats quickly began deserting the sinking ship, with Big Show talking about how smart he was to see the warning signs when he did and make the leap over to the WWF. I’m sure the ten year contract with a $950,000 a-year downside guarantee that the WWF offered him in February 1999 had a little something to do with it too. McMahon then returns to dub Show “the largest athlete in the world” in another debatable claim, although he’s got nothing to say for himself when it comes to discussing WCW talents being “acquired” by the WWF, where previously WCW had “stolen” the WWF’s top stars. The theory seems to be that it’s really mean-spirited for a huge corporate conglomerate like the Turner organisation to offer big money deals to the main event players of their self-made rival, but it’s okay for the McMahon league to scoop up promising youngsters in the other direction because clearly their talent is otherwise just being wasted. At no point is this hypocritical rhetoric made any more evident than when former two-time WCW World Champion and pay-per-view main eventer Show claims, “I really hadn’t established a run yet,” regarding his time working for WCW.


“Revisionist thinking is that Eric Bischoff had completely pissed away everybody’s money. Bullshit. I was making money hand over fist. I took a $24 million a year company that was losing $10 million a year, and four years later it was a $350 million company that was making $50 million a year,” claims Bischoff, who would challenge executives and call them out on their decisions because he thought he would always have Turner to fall back on. At least, that’s the story he’s telling; The truth is closer to the fact that business was in a freefall and the company was losing around $5 million a month, so he got sent home by high ranking executive Harvey Schiller, at the time the president of TBS Sports. One month later, WWF writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara made the switch to WCW, which could make for a whole entire documentary in its own right. Here, the bulk of their run is highlighted by Ferrara’s distasteful Oklahoma character, an unfunny pot-shot at Ross, complete with emphasis on his Bell’s palsy affliction. Quickly dismissed, Flair calls Russo a “clown” and talk reverts back to what great stars Edge, Christian and The Hardy Boyz were becoming, all talent who had been championed largely by… erm, Vince Russo actually. That’s coupled with the narrator talking about how “new talent at WWE was making an impact”, highlighted by Ken Shamrock (who had left the company a month before Russo and Ferrara even made their jump), Val Venis (who had already been a strongly-featured midcard name for the previous eighteen months but was already on the downswing of his career having never ascended to a main event slot, something the WWF routinely bashed WCW for doing with their undercard talent), and Mark Henry (who had already been with the company for three years by this point, and who didn’t actually start getting any good until the latter part of the 2000s).


McMahon dismissively refers to WCW signing away the likes of Savage, Hall, Nash, and others as “buying off” his big name stars, whilst also making sure to put a more self-aggrandisingly positive spin on the WCW-to-WWF switch of The Radicalz as an “influx of talent”, suggesting that it was their choice to leave WCW where the previous WWF names had been stolen from them. Do you ever get the feeling that McMahon genuinely believes his own bullshit? Not mentioned (obviously) is that WCW had just put their World Title on Benoit prior to his leaving (an attempt by then-booker Kevin Sullivan to prevent him from doing just that), that the Radicalz were immediately jobbed out to D-Generation-X on their first night in action for the promotion, that it took Benoit and Guerrero a further four years before they achieved real main event of success in WWE, that the WWF actually fired Guerrero at one point over his substance abuse problems, or that neither Dean Malenko nor Perry Saturn were particularly any better off as on-screen characters in the WWF than they had been in WCW. Still, let’s not let such trivial facts get in the way of WWE’s chosen narrative of, “WCW had no idea what to do with any of them, so they came to us and we made them all stars”.


To Bash at the Beach 2000 now, although no mention is made of Russo double-crossing Hogan by cutting a venomous shoot promo on him after Hogan had already left the building, following a ridiculous angle in which Jeff Jarrett was instructed to lay down and lose the World Title to him. Instead, Russo is simply shown the door with barely any reference made to his torrid tenure as WCW’s head writer, and he’s quickly followed in the knacker’s yard by the previously unmentioned Bill Busch. Who was Busch and what did he do to warrant this on-air note of his departure, you may well be wondering? Well, he was actually WCW’s former accountant before being promoted to Senior Vice President, whereupon realising he knew nothing about wrestling, had chosen to just monitor the business aspects of the company while hiring Russo and Ferrara to run the creative side of things. Once Russo was turfed and Bischoff’s name was brought up as a replacement by Brad Siegel (the head of Turner’s wrestling division, which probably gives you some idea about how many different people were supposedly in charge of the brand), Busch decided to quit, having duly noted the $15 million the company lost under Bischoff’s guidance in 1999. Not that you’d know any of that from actually watching this documentary, mind you; Here, Busch is just the name of a guy who got fired, for some reason.


With most of the disasters of 2000 brushed over, Bischoff’s attempt at buying WCW is quickly covered as, “one day we were going to buy it, and even had a letter of intent stating as much, and then the next day I was told we weren’t buying it anymore.” Nothing is made of WCW losing a mind-boggling $62 million under a combined Bischoff/Russo regime that year (Russo having been brought back not long after having being sent packing in the first place), nor of Bischoff’s conglomerate of potential investors, Fusient Media Ventures, offering to buy the league for around $70 million, only to amend the offer to just $5.7 million down plus $2.15 a year for the next twenty years (a total of $48.7 million) after investigating WCW’s books and discovering what a financial hole the company was in. No mention is made either of WCW’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. merging with Time Warner, Inc. in October 1996, a deal which resulted in Ted Turner eventually being dropped from his position as head of all Turner cable networks by company CEO Gerald Levin. Just as significant but also ignored is another merger on January 11, 2001, in which America Online purchased Time Warner to become AOL Time Warner, just in time for the burst of the dotcom bubble to drag down the profitability and stock price of the entire company to the point that Turner, Time Warner’s biggest individual shareholder, personally lost in the region of $7 billion.


Also deemed irrelevant to the discussion is the appointment of Jamie Kellner as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Turner Broadcasting Systems. A major figure in the creation of the FOX Network, The WB Television Network and FOX Kids, Kellner had a strong preference for targeting young females with shows such as 7th Heaven, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Charmed and Gilmore Girls. Seemingly already predisposed against wrestling, he also felt that even if WCW could once again attract viewers, the demographics would not be favourable enough to convince the all-important advertisers to buy airtime during the shows, so in March 2001, he announced that neither TBS or TNT would continue to air professional wrestling on their channels. In just his first week on the job, Kellner had effectively brought to an end the seventy-year legacy of the organisation that had originally been founded by Jim Crockett, Sr. back in the 1930s. Without the television to support it, nor Turner to protect it, WCW became essentially worthless to Fusient, and they withdrew their offer, clearing the way for McMahon to purchase what remained of the organisation for just $2.2 million plus fees and legal costs. Ten months earlier, the SFX Entertainment conglomerate of live event promoters had made an offer to purchase the group for around $500 million, and now the rights had been sold to the World Wrestling Federation for an amalgamated fee of just under $3 million.


Instead, things simply zip ahead to the final Nitro from Panama City, Florida on March 26th, 2001, which is often erroneously credited as the final WCW broadcast ever. While it’s true that it was both the final live broadcast and final live event WCW ever promoted, there was actually an episode of syndicated highlights package Worldwide which hit the air in selected markets later that week (March 31st, to be precise), and featured a final sign-off for the promotion from hosts Scott Hudson and Mike Tenay. How apropos that the official final WCW offering should air on the eve of April Fools’ Day, and on the eve of what just happened to be the biggest WrestleMania the WWF had ever promoted. There was also a short-lived series of thirty-minute compilation shows hosted by Dusty Rhodes on the localised Turner South cable and satellite station dubbed WCW Classics, focusing primarily on older footage from the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions archives, which ran until the autumn of 2001. The last original episode of the show to air was a one hour special on July 22nd featuring Ric Flair as co-host, somewhat ironically on the same day as the WWF’s InVasion pay-per-view. Two weeks earlier, on a taped episode of Sunday Night Heat, the WWF aired a WCW World Tag Team title match in which Sean O’Haire & Chuck Palumbo defeated the makeshift team of Kanyon & Shawn Stasiak, which ended up being the last match they officially billed as being held under the WCW umbrella, complete with WCW-ingrained ring skirts and on-screen ident bugs.


As has now become the infuriatingly predictable norm, not a word of this is referenced on the documentary, and instead things are wrapped up with a series of talking heads discussing the final Nitro. “It was pure exhilaration for me” notes Big Show, who hadn’t even been with WCW for over two years by the time it closed down, and apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the war between them and the WWF had driven everyone’s bargaining power through the roof. There’s not a cat in hell’s chance he ever would have been offered the WWF contract he was had McMahon already had his monopoly on the business. “I was so happy at that show to see that company close down. I couldn’t stand it,” adds Flair, who at least takes a poignant moment to mention all the people who lost their jobs and had nowhere to go, before suggesting the company was far too concerned with comparing themselves to RAW instead of concentrating on making Nitro as good as it could be.


Foley compares the original RAW broadcasts to the ones from 1997 (not the boring contemporary ones from 2004 mind you, which are now airing unopposed after the death of WCW, but those from when Nitro was still kicking ass in the ratings) and says that the competition brought out the best in them, which is quite the backhanded indictment of the state of business since both WCW and ECW went kaput. Okerlund calls it, “a big piece of wrestling history,” before adding, “Not to say that it couldn’t happen again.” Gee, I wonder if TNA will ever give WWE a run for their money with that newfangled Impact! show they’ve got going on? Bischoff suggests that, “Without a doubt, the highest high was worth all of the lows combined,” which is an interesting way of looking at things after everything he’s been through, then claims that, “the Monday Night Wars were, and still are, responsible for all the success that all of us are enjoying in the business today.” Michaels concurs that discounting what Bischoff did would be grossly unfair to him.


The bothersome narrator finally wraps things up with some truly saccharine generic bullshit about how, “the fans were the winners,” but we can’t leave without a few final thoughts from Brisco, who says the end of the war was, “probably the defining moment. When we finally conquered Ted Turner and all of his billions and billions of dollars and told Ted, ‘We kicked your butt!’,” ignoring both the fact that the closure of the company had nothing to do with the then-powerless Turner, and that it was ultimately WCW’s own internal failures which lead them down that path in the first place, not any significant action on the WWF’s part. “The most important lesson that came out of the RAWNitro wars,” he adds, “was don’t mess with Vince McMahon.” Fun fact – Brisco’s head is now so far up McMahon’s ass that when Vince wakes up on a morning, he has to brush two sets of teeth.


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#WWE56552 – Mick Foley – Greatest Hits And Misses

Lee Maughan: Hosted by the man himself, who starts with a crack about how if you’re watching his DVD then you must be a huge wrestling fan, which also means you probably aren’t dating very much either. Hey, don’t you patronise me after I’ve just patronised your wallet!


Mick Foley thinks that if you’ve only seen Vader from his WWF run then you’re missing out, and that’s certainly quite the understatement. He recalls a time when enhancement workers would see their name against Vader’s on the board at TV tapings and legitimately walk out and quit the business instead of facing him, never to be seen again. Not that such a thing was surprising after the time Vader accidentally temporarily paralysed a young worker by the name of Joe Thurman with a supremely stiff powerbomb.


Cactus Jack vs. Vader
[WCW Saturday Night – 04.06.93 (aired 04.17.93)]
With WCW struggling to find a number two babyface behind Sting, Cactus was given the unlikely nod of filling the void in early 1993. He’d actually been getting cheered quite a bit anyway from fans who appreciated his hard work, but once he’d made the switch he was struggling to garner much sympathy from audiences who never really felt like he was in much peril. It’d hadn’t helped that throughout his heel run he’d been portrayed as a guy who actually enjoyed pain, so he pitched an idea to WCW booker Dusty Rhodes about challenging World Champion Vader to a match on TV, in which Vader would rough him up for real and they could instead start to portray Cactus Jack as real flesh-and-blood human being who actually did feel pain and could (and would) be injured.

Foley’s plan was to have Vader legitimately bust his eyebrow open by creating a gash from punching downward with the point of the knuckles. Unfortunately for him, Vader couldn’t quite get the trick right and instead walloped him right across the bridge of the nose with four heavy forearms in a row, one of which actually broke said nose. Worse still, barely a trickle of claret came out, but before Cactus could inform Vader that he’d reconsidered the whole thing, Vader smashed him with a right hand across the cheekbone and another on the originally intended eyebrow target. That finally bust him open, much to the dismay of Vader’s manager Harley Race, who’d hoped to do the busting himself.

The match is absolutely brutal (and a little tough to watch at points), and really does a lot to garner the sympathy Foley had been looking for, but with WCW being WCW, he found out the very next day from Eric Bischoff that the Turner organisation (WCW’s parent company and broadcaster) were refusing to air it unless substantial edits could be made to sanitise it and remove the blood. Foley had willingly allowed Vader to break his nose, blacken his eyes, dislocate his jaw, and cause him to get stitches, yet it was all for nothing. That was followed with further salt being rubbed into the wound as after the edited version of the match aired on TV (complete with lengthy cutaways to unrelated crowd shots and selective angles that avoided showing Cactus’ battered face), WCW ran a commercial promoting the upcoming Slamboree: A Legends Reunion pay-per-view, replete with ancient clips of The Crusher, Verne Gagne, Blackjack Mulligan and others, all sporting the “crimson mask”.

As if things weren’t already bad enough after all that, Foley then received a phone call from WCW’s production staff about a week later requesting that he come in to cut promos for a rematch, in which he’d be required to look exactly as he’d done after the first match. Much to his annoyance, his physical bumps and bruises had already begun to heal by that point, but he was more angry about the fact that he’d offered to tape some interviews immediately after the match and had been shot down on account of the condition of his face being far too gruesome to put on TV.

Although it may all have been for nought, the incident did at least provide Foley with a story to tell on this DVD over a decade later, and in fact he actually had forethought enough to request a copy of the unedited tape of the match, the footage from which is included here, albeit without the original commentary from Jesse Ventura, removed by the WWE production staff to avoid paying him any royalties. Tight gits. The next week’s edition of WCW Saturday Night would feature a Cactus-Vader rematch, in which Cactus would suffer numbness in his right arm and foot after being powerbombed on the concrete floor, leading to him taking the first paid vacation of his career but having to come back several weeks later with a truly abysmal amnesia gimmick, as dreamt up by Rhodes.
Final Rating: ***½


Chicago Street Fight
The Nasty Boys vs. Maxx Payne & Cactus Jack
[WCW Spring Stampede ‘94 – 04.17.94]
This is Cactus’ first match back after having most of his right ear torn off in another match with Vader at a house show in Munich, Germany. He admits that for the first time in his career he didn’t really feel prepared to wrestle, especially after WCW had failed to exploit the missing ear for all it was worth. He was also depressed, feeling like he was being given the shaft after getting shunted into a tag team with Maxx Payne following the conclusion of his run with Vader, and really had no desire to get in the ring with either of the Nasty Boys, who he felt, “had a reputation for being a little bit sloppy, a little bit dangerous,” which is the polite way of saying he thought they sucked.

His general malaise towards the bout changed somewhat after Jerry Sags broke a pool cue over his head and Brian Knobbs almost dented his skull, setting the stage for a wild, weapons-based brawl through the crowd, complete with Payne slamming Knobbs through a (suspiciously cordoned off) merchandise stand. All of a sudden, Foley perked up, realising that he needed to get his arse in gear and fight back or it’d be curtains for him. It almost was when Sags attempted to piledrive him through a table for the finish, only for the table to break and send them both crashing recklessly onto the entrance ramp. Improvising, Sags instead shoved Cactus back-first off the ramp onto the concrete below, where Cactus failed to land flat and injured his shoulder in the process, a bump he referred to as the “Nestea Plunge”, the name derived from an old advertising campaign in which people would suddenly fall backwards, fully clothed, into a swimming pool after drinking Nestea instant iced tea.

With Payne losing the fall after taking a shovel to the head, an aching Cactus at least consoled himself with the thought of getting some time off and having surgery done to repair his ear, something he had already scheduled for shortly after this match. Feeling like he’d truly earned his break, he received a phone call just a couple of days later informing him that Dave Sullivan had gone down with a knee injury and that he was needed as a replacement partner for Dave’s on-screen brother Kevin Sullivan. Worrying that Kevin’s whole WCW stint would be in jeopardy if he didn’t lend a helping hand, Cactus opted to put others before himself (also in the hopes of scoring a pay rise, admittedly) and agreed to come back for another crazy street fight with the Nasties the next month at Slamboree.

That bout would prove to be the chaotic blowoff to the whole feud, an incredible brawl that was even better than this match, and it’s a shame it wasn’t included on the DVD. Those matches together were actually pretty revolutionary for the business at the time, as even though the Steiner Brothers had been doing the same kind of brawls with the Nasty Boys and The Varsity Club in years prior, these ones really helped set the stage for the out-of-control style that Kevin had been doing and would take back with him to ECW around that time, including in a match where he and Cactus fought The Public Enemy to a no-contest in November.
Final Rating: ****



Sabu vs. Cactus Jack
[ECW Hostile City Showdown ’94 – 06.24.94]
This was actually the start of a talent trading agreement that ECW owner Todd Gordon was attempting to cultivate with WCW, using Kevin Sullivan as the go-between for both groups. Gordon was a big fan of Cactus and felt like a bout between him and ECW star Sabu would be something of a dream match for hardcore wrestling fans. Foley agreed with the sentiment, but was actually reluctant to do the match at first because he felt like there was enough name and monetary value in having “Cactus Jack vs. Sabu” on the marquee that independent promoters across the country would scramble to book it, which would keep his wallet full after he left WCW. Unfortunately for him, his WCW contract wasn’t due to expire for another several months and he was subsequently outvoted on the issue.

To the match, and the first thing that becomes abundantly clear is that at the time of this DVD’s release, WWE still had much work to do in cleaning up the vast video library it had begun to acquire, as the footage here looks like it was dubbed from a second or third generation quality VHS copy, complete with on-screen tracking. Still, that does at least add to the nostalgic feel of the underground tape trading era to which ECW steadfastly belonged. As he notes in his pre-match recollections, Foley was trying to do the Of Mice and Men build where he’d take all the punishment until the fans would be begging for him to fight back, which seems to have been a miscalculation on his part because most fans at the time would have been expecting to see an outright brawl between these two, and his inability to fight back early on just makes him look like a bit of pussy. Things at least pick up a little later on with the Cactus Clothesline over the top to the floor and a brawl into the crowd, but the bout never really ascends to the heights you might hope. Sabu puts Cactus through a table with an Asai moonsault, but Cactus recovers first and rams a piece of the broken wood into Sabu’s gut. He follows with a clothesline into the corner, but Sabu’s manager Paul E. Dangerously smashes him across the head with his yuppie telephone and Sabu falls on top for the pin, giving Cactus his out for losing, having been gracious enough to do the honours.

Cactus beats up Dangerously and absolutely drills 911 with a chair over the head to get his heat back afterwards, with Mr. Hughes coming out to try put an end to that, only for Hughes’ partner, ECW super-heel Shane Douglas, to come out and make the surprising save for Cactus, playing off their real-life friendship that had begun several years earlier when they trained together at Dominic DeNucci’s wrestling school. Weirdly, Sabu decides to mount a comeback after that, breaking a glass bottle over Jack’s skull, flinging him first-face through a table, and hitting him with a moonsault off the top, before Cactus retaliates by suplexing the broken table on Sabu. I think the idea was to try and create a buzz by having such a wild post-match brawl, and most of the best action actually did come after the final bell, but I think most people would have been happier with the glass bottle shot as the finish, given the unreasonably lofty expectations everyone had set for the bout.
Final Rating: **½


And now for something completely different, as we take a little trip down to Poetry Corner:


I’ll beat his butt, that’s my credo,
I really think I’ll make him bleed, oh,
Worse than Rocky did Apollo Creed-o,
And upon these two fists he will feed-o,
As if they were two giant Cheetos,
And when my mission is complete, oh,
I’ll see a skid inside his speedo,
Because I’m going to beat Candido,
Bang, bang!”


Cactus Jack vs. Chris Candido
[SMW Smoky Mountain Wrestling – 11.07.94 (aired 11.26.94)]
This is from Jim Cornette’s Rick Rubin-financed old-timey Smoky Mountain Wrestling, with 400 fans in a high school gym. It’s also one of the few examples of Cactus really wrestling as opposed to brawling, using a headlock to take Candido down to the mat. Weirdly enough, it’s Candido who brings the more hardcore aspect, hitting Cactus on the floor with a plancha then breaking some fan’s crutches over his back for good measure. Cactus retaliates with a suplex on the floor, but Candido’s valet Tammy Lynn Sytch brings out loveable simpleton Boo Bradley (the future Balls Mahoney, or Xanta Klaus if you’d prefer) to interfere on their behalf, but it backfires when Cactus runs Candido into him and gets the pin with a DDT.

“Candido to me was proof that you didn’t need to be a monster heel to be effective,” notes Foley back in the studio. “He was a real good technical wrestler who was willing to put his body on the line, and he was willing to play the coward. One of the cool thing that he did in his matches is that he would actually run away from me. Not just back off and cower, [but] he’d actually spring away from me, and it got such a great reaction from the fans that I stole it when I came to the WWF and utilised it in my first matches with The Undertaker. I’d have the arms and knees pumping [and I’d] turn around like ‘Is he there?!’, and it got a wonderful reaction to see a big ugly guy like me running for his life very awkwardly.”
Final Rating: **¾



Texas Death Match
Cactus Jack vs. The Sandman
[ECW Double Tables – 02.04.95]
“Our next opponent, The Sandman, is a guy I had some really, really great matches with” recalls Foley, before adding, “However, the match you’re about to see is not one of them.” That’s because Cactus absolutely brains Sandman with cast-iron skillet and accidentally gives him a concussion just a few minutes in, resulting in Sandman completely forgetting where he is, what he’s supposed to be doing, and what the rules of a Texas Death Match are supposed to be. That results in him sleepwalking through the rest of the bout like a strung-out zombie, completely on autopilot with no comprehension for anything that’s going on. Not that many fans could tell the difference; Sandman was notorious for getting drunk before his bouts, and people just assumed he’d downed a few too many before hitting the ring.

Cactus knows however, and if he didn’t before, he certainly does after a horrible piledriver on a steel chair from Sandman leaves him with a neck injury that wouldn’t subside for several months. In the meantime, he’s far more frustrated by Sandman’s refusal to stay down, continually kicking out of Cactus’ pinfall attempts and getting up before the count of ten on the few occasions that he does get pinned, resulting in a funny line from Joey Styles about how he’s heard of another guy in wrestling who’s known for sitting up after absorbing punishment, and if he ever wants to come to Philadelphia, Sandman will send him back to the “dark side” permanently. Sadly that’s the only amusing thing about a match that should have been stopped before it ever got going, as a visibly frustrated Cactus just keeps dropping Sandman with elbows, chair shots and DDTs on the concrete until he finally takes the hint and stays down. This was deeply unpleasant to watch, but like a car wreck, it was hard to look away.
Final Rating: *


Terry Funk & Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven & Cactus Jack
[ECW November to Remember ‘95 – 11.18.95]
Cactus had turned on Dreamer to join Raven’s Nest, kicking off a run of pro-WCW, anti-hardcore promos that were some of the best in Foley’s entire career, and the previous ECW Arena card prior to this had seen Cactus accidentally set Funk on fire in a stunt gone horribly wrong. In fact, the incident was never played or even mentioned on ECW television for fear of the backlash it would cause, although fears were assuaged when November to Remember became the fastest sell-out in company history to that point.

This is a match that gets a fair bit of praise from fans and critics alike, but I suspect a lot of that is in blind deference to that status of Foley and Funk, and particularly towards the antics of Cactus and his lovingly prepared, airbrushed Dungeon of Doom t-shirt, complete with a big pink love heart on the back. It’s a great heat-generating device in the Arena environment, but it’s nothing compared to the undershirt he’s got on with a picture of Eric Bischoff on one side and the words, “Forgive me, Uncle Eric!” on the other. There’s a cool spot where Dreamer pulls the shirt up over Cactus’ head and punches away, creating the illusion that he’s reigning down the blows on Bischoff himself, and a really creative spot where Cactus and Raven try to clothesline Dreamer with a chain, only for Dreamer to dive onto the chain and cause Cactus and Raven to run into each other, but the rest of the match is nothing but a complete mess.

The babyfaces beat up the referee for absolutely no reason at all (presumably because it’s the cool thing to do when you’re a blue-eye in ECW, but it’s still a spot that would have meant so much more if they’d bothered to figure out an actual justification for it), heel referee Bill Alfonso comes out with Taz to try and count a pin on Funk, only for Dreamer to punk out Taz in a wholly unnecessary spot that adds nothing but makes Taz look like a total idiot right after he’d just turned heel earlier in the night. The rest of the match is mostly just plunder-based garbage wrestling with everyone hitting each other over the head with various weaponry as Raven and Dreamer both bleed buckets. Some will argue that an understanding of the context of the bout is needed to appreciate it, in that this kind of style hadn’t really been refined as an art form yet, but those aforementioned Nasty Boys tag matches from the year prior in WCW pissed all over this, and that was on a national scale in the major leagues too, not some dingy little bingo hall in front a bunch of South Philadelphia newsletter-reading bloodthirsty vampires. There’s one nice storyline twist at the end where Dreamer has Raven beat after a piledriver on a chair only for Cactus to prevent it and let Funk take the win as a means of robbing Dreamer of finally scoring his big pinfall win over Raven, but this does not hold up at all.
Final Rating: *½


Cactus Jack vs. Mikey Whipwreck
[ECW Big Ass Extreme Bash – 03.09.96]
This is Cactus’ ECW farewell, and in Foley’s mind, it was to be the Cactus Jack character’s last match ever, even going so far as to print a run of “Bang, bang! He’s dead!” t-shirts to commemorate it. He’d actually signed with the WWF in late December, and vignettes had already begun airing to promote the arrival there of Mankind, so his departure isn’t exactly a secret. Fans in Queens, New York the previous evening had taken to throwing stale beer at him and chanting “You sold out!” during his match with Chris Jericho, a reception that caused Foley to question whether wrestling was even worth it. Here at the Arena, the response is entirely the opposite, as despite his status as a fan-hating heel, they give him a standing ovation on his entrance, appreciative of all the hard work he’s put in for them over the last eighteen months.

Curiously enough, Cactus is already wearing his Mankind boots here, and even does the Mandible Claw at one point as a precursor of things to come, although it gets precisely zero reaction as nobody knows what it is yet, Joey Styles included. If only he’d worn his Dungeon of Doom t-shirt with the love heart on the back, he could have passed it off as a Dude Love reference for the complete set. Cactus actually wins the bout after a piledriver on Whipwreck’s already injured neck, which might seem like an odd result given that Cactus is the one leaving and Whipwreck is the one staying, but this was more about trying to make Whipwreck look gutsy in defeat, not to mention an exercise in circumventing the predictable. Whipwreck gives one of his best performances too, with some nutty spots including a backdrop suplex on the floor, a twisting Asai moonsault into the front row, and a running leap off the Eagle’s Nest, not to mention taking a nasty spill on a ringside table, and eating some brutal chair shots. The action does start to drag at points, and at over seventeen minutes, could have stood to lose around five minutes, but this was still a nice parting gift from Cactus.
Final Rating: ***

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#WWE56547 – Bloodbath – Most Incredible Steel Cage Matches


Lee Maughan: Hosted by Jonathan Coachman. Oh, brilliant. He patronisingly explains what a cage is, before declaring that the only ways to win a cage match are to climb out over the top or go through the door, rules which will be contradicted with staggering regularity over the course of this DVD. “No one knows exactly when steel cage matches first appeared,” he adds, because apparently nobody on WWE’s production staff could be bothered to do any actual research. Houston promoter Paul Boesch is generally credited with inventing the concept, while Freddie Blassie came up with the idea of “escape the cage” rules for use in his blowoff matches against the likes John Tolos and The Sheik at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Mike LeBell’s Los Angeles-based promotion in the late 1960s. There is, however, evidence of a match in Atlanta on June 25, 1937 between Jack Bloomfield and Count Pietro Rossi which saw the ring encased with chicken wire.


Gerald “Overstatement” Brisco kicks things off by saying, “I still think it’s the most violent form of sports entertainment today”, suggesting that he’s yet to dig into his pile of CZW Tournament of Death DVDs. “You know somebody’s gonna get busted open out there,” he adds, which wasn’t always the case in WWF/WWE cage matches, and certainly not after the promotion went PG in 2008. Howard Finkel recounts that, “Cage matches in the early days were designed to settle a feud, and to settle the score once and for all,” which became a notion tragically lost on WWE once they started running themed pay-per-view events headlined by Hell in a Cell and Elimination Chamber matches, gimmicks that far too often needed matches finding for them rather than WWE building matches that necessitated those gimmicks. Jerry Lawler thinks cage matches are special because they’re, “the ultimate confrontation. There’s two opponents with no way out,” which would be fine if not for the fact many of the WWF/WWE’s cage matches over the years were built around the idea of escapology. “It’s supposed to be as violent as you can possibly get,” chips in Spike Dudley, whose tone makes it sounds like he’s already lamenting that PG course change, even though it’s still a good five years away as he records this, while Tommy Dreamer talks about the danger of actually being inside a cage, noting how easily you can get cut on the steel and how little give there is to it. Brisco rounds things out by suggesting that cage matches have become more technical, which is another way of saying WWE have really pussied out over the years.


The action kicks off in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, more than forty years after that aforementioned Bloomfield-Rossi bout, with Bob Backlund defending his WWF Championship against Pat Patterson. Brisco puts his Stooges colleague over as an innovator who was one of the first guys who actually incorporated the use of the cage into his ring style, even dropping a knee off it at one point. The following year would see the legendary Showdown at Shea battle between Bruno Sammartino and Larry Zbyszko that Zbyszko built an entire career on, but just a scant few clips are shown. That’s followed by Backlund’s WWF title defence against ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, which Coachman claims took place “two weeks” after the August 9th Sammartino-Zbyszko clash, but the on-screen graphic lists it as May 19th, 1980, some three months prior to the Shea Stadium card. That’s some truly awful quality control, especially considering the match actually took place almost two years later, on June 28, 1982. Backlund wins it, but the bout is notable for being the first time Snuka did the Superfly Splash off the top of the cage, which he missed when Backlund rolled out of harm’s way.


Keeping with Snuka, it’s onto his more famous cage match with Don Muraco next, an event for which Mick Foley, Bubba Ray Dudley and Tommy Dreamer were all in attendance. The way this has been presented on WWE television over the years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Snuka actually won the bout (he didn’t) and that it was some kind of all-time classic (it wasn’t). This time, he actually hits his foe with the Superfly Splash off the top of the cage, a spot which would be played to death over the next thirty years as a legendary moment (it was). Snuka would later jump off the top of the cage again, onto Jeff Jarrett on the January 10, 2000 edition of WCW Nitro, although that isn’t mentioned here. And speaking of WCW, we move over to Jim Crockett Promotions and the famous “I Quit” cage match at Starrcade ‘85 between Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A., complete with rare footage of Blanchard winning the United States title from Magnum to set it all up. Magnum sticks a splint in Blanchard’s eye to get him to quit, and then it’s onto something completely different as “perhaps the largest audience to date” tunes in to Saturday Night’s Main Event for the climbing contest between Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff. Famously they hit the floor at the same time, resulting in the match continuing and Hogan winning, a finish that was designed to keep Orndorff strong enough to challenge Hogan for the title again at WrestleMania III had Andre the Giant been unable to perform. As vague as Coachman’s line about the viewership of the show was, in terms of ratings, the 10.6 the match drew was the highest in Saturday Night’s Main Event history to that point, although it was actually bettered with the 20-man battle royal on the very next episode in March 1987, which pulled an incredible 11.6 rating, the highest number for any show in the 11:30pm Saturday night timeslot on NBC, beating out any episode of Saturday Night Live you could care to mention.


Back to the NWA next for a potted history of Ric Flair’s World Title cage matches, as he beats Harley Race to win his second title at the first Starrcade in November 1983, loses it to Dusty Rhodes on The Great American Bash tour in July 1986 (intermittent title switches between those dates are not mentioned), unexpectedly loses it to unfancied contender Ronnie Garvin at a house show in Detroit in September 1987, then takes it back from Garvin at Starrcade two months later. Things then zip ahead about seven years, and it’s all WWF/WWE footage from here on in, at least as far as the documentary goes, beginning with the brother vs. brother battle between Bret Hart and Owen Hart at SummerSlam ‘94. Sticking with Bret, it’s onto the dark days of 1995 where, according to Coachman, “Sports entertainment was going through a revolution.” Not quite. Anyway, Lawler returns to recount the story of Hart’s RAW cage match with evil dentist Isaac Yankem, DDS., namely his getting placed in a shark cage and hung above the ring, leading to him getting a nose bleed. The secret to it was that Lawler suffered a broken nose years earlier, leaving him with a deviated septum that occasionally scabbed up and which he could make bleed on command. Lovely.


Having covered enough silliness with the last segment, it’s on to the full circle of the Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley SummerSlam ‘97 match next, and Foley coming off the top of the cage with a picture perfect Superfly Splash in tribute to his idol Snuka. Actually, he couldn’t stomach going all the way to the top and came down like a sack of crap being unwillingly shoved off a piece of scaffolding, but it’s the thought that counts. Coachman claims the bout “made” Triple H, and that leads into his lesser-seen WWF title defence against The Rock at the UK-only Rebellion pay-per-view in October 1999. They actually do a Dusty finish of sorts here, with Rock getting out of the cage first but only after the referee has gone down, leading to The British Bulldog coming out and beating both guys up. Rock gets the door slammed in his head by Chyna, and the resulting confusion allows Triple H to escape with the title. There’s some really weird audio issues on the footage here for some reason, but there’s no time for that as we end the 90s with the Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon collision from St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, complete with the hilarious show-opening promo package, McMahon’s insane bump through the Spanish announce table off the side of the cage, and the debut of the former Giant and future Big Show, Paul Wight.


The documentary wraps up in the new millennium, beginning with The Hardy Boyz finally winning the WWF Tag Team titles from Edge and Christian at Unforgiven in September 2000 after spending most of the year chasing them. Next it’s the June 11, 2001 cage match from RAW between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, featuring Angle’s truly insane missed moonsault from the top of the cage, as well as Benoit blasting Angle with nine rolling German suplexes and a ridiculous diving headbutt off the top of the cage. Why yes, Benoit did need emergency surgery on his neck that kept on the shelf for an entire year not long after this bout took place, why do you ask? The match is also the third time on this DVD (after the Mankind-Helmsley and Triple H-Rock matches) where the cage door gets slammed in somebody’s head, in this case Benoit’s. Finally to the May 28, 2002 television taping, where Edge defeated Angle in what was actually their fourth caged collision that year (including house shows). “Edge and Kurt Angle in a steel cage match to remember!” declares Coachman of a bout mostly forgotten thanks to its placement on a throwaway episode of SmackDown!.


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