Wrestling Observer Flashback – 12.02.96
Back in the saddle with these again. The biggest story of the week is actually buried way down. See if you can guess when we get to it.
– In the top story, the WWF held a press conference, which got more attention in Mexico, to announce that Royal Rumble 97 would be held in the Alamo Dome in San Antonio TX. This would be the biggest stadium show they’ve tried since Wrestlemania VIII in 1992, based on Shawn Michaels’ quest to regain the WWF title from Sid.
– Although the stadium can set up for 24,000 in basketball games, they’re shooting for the full 72,000 by pricing tickets super cheap and giving out coupons at Taco Bell. They haven’t drawn more than 20,000 people in the US since 1992, so this is a risky move to say the least.
– Speaking of risky, putting the World title on a guy with some questionable track records was once again questioned when Sid no-showed the press conference because he “overslept”. Regardless, the idea appears to be building the rematch around a “Rocky” storyline, complete with Jose Lothario playing Mickey. (CM Punk: “What the hell is “Rocky?”)
– The storyline idea is actually based on the Flair-Vader match from Starrcade 93, but “taken to a much larger scale”. And with Sid in the Vader role. (The irony here, given that Flair was taking Sid’s place in that match, is just piled on in layers). Dave is pretty sure that Shawn wins the title back at the Rumble, which will naturally frustrate Bret Hart, leading to Bret winning the title from Shawn as planned at Wrestlemania. (OR…and follow along with me here…). Also, all of the advertising for the house show matches coming up still list Shawn as the champion, defending against Bret and Sid in trangle matches, so either this title change wasn’t planned well in advance or people aren’t communicating very well.
– They’re also doing a tie-in of some kind with AAA for the show, although Dave is skeptical that this will mean anything because AAA couldn’t draw in San Antonio on their own when they were at their hottest. However, it did have one notable side effect, as Eric Bischoff saw the press conference and immediately attempted to have all the AAA wrestlers in WCW to sign contracts. This stems from Antonio Pena claiming that names like Rey Mysterio Jr were actually signed to contracts tied to him personally, rather than the promotion, which could theoretically mean that he could move from WCW to the WWF. Also Konnan claimed elsewhere that although the wrestlers had contracts with “AAA”, AAA doesn’t exist anymore as a legal entity because Pena dissolved the company and started a new one called PAP, and none of the AAA wrestlers are signed to that new company and therefore could go to the WWF if they wanted. (I’m no lawyer, but I wouldn’t take legal contract advice from Konnan if I was you.).
– WCW presented World War III 96, which Dave sums up as follows: “Conceptually, for pro wrestling to flourish, risks from time-to-time have to be taken. The idea of taking risks is that sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. A good promotion learns from both those that do work and those that don’t.
Unless that promotion has a bottomless pit of money and doesn’t need to learn.”
– Basically they didn’t fix any of the problems from last year, and in fact went LONGER with the segment in all three rings where no human being could possibly follow what was going on.
– The show had 7018 paid for a gate of $118,000 in Norfolk, with several hundred turned away at the door. One thing that actually hurt was a promotion where anyone who bought Halloween Havoc 96 on PPV could get two free tickets to the show, and it turned out that about 1500 people in the city claimed that offer, which hurt the potential gate pretty significantly.
– La Parka pinned Villano IV in the dark match, which was IV’s WCW debut. Dave was told it was a good match.
- Ultimo Dragon pinned Rey Mysterio Jr in 13:48 to retain the J-Crown. (Dave continues to get Rey’s real name wrong in these for some reason.). They continue to ignore the actual names of the belts and just note that Dragon has “8 belts”. Dragon clearly was calling the match because it was all this crazy stuff done in exactly his style. Dragon reversed a rana into a powerbomb for the pin to retain. ****1/2.
- Chris Jericho pinned Nick Patrick in 8:02 with a superkick. Jericho had one hand tied behind his back for this one. Better than expected. *1/4
- The Giant pinned Jeff Jarrett in 6:05 with a choke slam. Not as good as their previous match. Sting showed up and DDT’d Jarrett, allowing Giant to finish him off, which led the announcers to speculate about Sting joining the nWo for the rest of the show. *1/4
Roddy Piper came out to sign the contract with Hulk Hogan, and Piper was actually awesome delivering his lines and challenging Hulk to a no DQ match at Starrcade. “Too bad they have to wrestle a match” notes Dave.
- Harlem Heat beat the Amazing French Canadians in 9:14. An awful match. Jacques doesn’t want to do anything but collect a payday now. As a result of winning, Sherri got “5:00” with Col Parker, but he ran away after 1:30. 3/4*.
- Dean Malenko pinned Psicosis in 14:32 to retain the Cruiserweight title. Solid match but the crowd was totally dead. Dave actually thinks a lot of this has to go on Dean himself, who has been around long enough now that he should be communicating to the announcers what he’s doing and why the holds are supposed to hurt. And if not, don’t do them. **3/4.
- The Outsiders beat the Nasty Boys and the Faces of Fear in 16:08 to retain the WCW tag team titles. A long nothing match that went nowhere. Dave makes fun of the rule that whoever gets the pin gets the titles. (Yeah good thing we don’t have THAT silly rule any more!) Nash powerbombed Knobs for the pin after using the megaphone on him. 1/2*.
- The Giant won the 60 man Battle Royal in 28:21. Sting was advertised as a part of the match for weeks but wasn’t in it. Giant was never announced for it until last week and then won it. The Horsemen and Dungeon of Doom eliminated each other and brawled all over the building based on an angle from Baltimore the previous night, which is nice but they never showed that angle on TV or mentioned it. The match was “basically a 25:00 test pattern in the middle of a bad PPV show”. At least the finish was good, Dave notes. And he holds out hope that they learned something from this for next year’s show. (Narrator: They didn’t.) 1/2*.
– UWFI ran what are probably their two final shows ever in the past week, and it’s questionable that they will be able to continue into the new year.
– To Memphis, where Brian Christopher regained the USWA title from Macho Warrior Ric Hogan, and Hogan has “gone to greener pastures”, which likely means the unemployment line. Dave notes that unemployment pays better than Memphis these days anyway. (Given what we know about the guy now, unemployment was too good for him.). The show appears to have set yet another new record for worst-drawing show in Memphis history.
– Jerry Lawler actually had to testify in a Mississippi court that pro wrestling is a work in order to secure a license to run shows at certain casinos in the state. Even though everyone knows it anyway, this actually turned into something of a news story in Memphis, to the point where Lawler had to go on Memphis TV and tell the fans he lied about it in order to save on paying an $8000 fine to the commission. He said that his quote of “wrestling is as real as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny” was taken out of context, and then brought out a pair of Hooters girls dressed as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
– To ECW, where they had a weird deal at a house show in Revere, MA, on 11/23. So they put this 17 year old kid named Eric Kulas in the ring with the Gangstas, using the name… “Mass Transit.”
(Talk about burying the lede in this one. We’re 75% into the issue before we finally get to one of the biggest stories in modern wrestling history!).
– The Gangstas were facing the team of D-Von Dudley and Mass Transit, and the kid was never really formally trained and had never bled before. But New Jack used an Xacto knife to gig him and hit an artery, causing blood to shoot out like a faucet. He needed 50 stitches to close the wound. The story is that Kulas came to the arena with a group of midget wrestlers and he was under the impression that they were doing a match together, but then the midgets bailed on him. (Randy Newman was right about those short people!) The show was delayed for 25 minutes because they had to clean up the ring from all the blood. The father also was freaking out and threatened to sue the promotion when they got to the hospital, claiming child abuse. To “calm” the situation, New Jack went on the house mic after the match and said he hoped that Kulas bled to death in the hospital. (I feel like we won’t hear the last of this one for a while.).
– Apparently Terry Funk will be returning to the promotion in January.
– And now it’s time for today’s…
– Killer Kowalski promoted a show on 11/23, where male wrestler Snooky Fink wore a blond wig and mask and competed as “Rain Drop”, challenging Women’s champion Joanie Lee and doing a good enough job that he fooled some fans into thinking he was a woman. (And we would of course see more of Joanie very soon after this.).
– To WCW, where Marcus Bagwell took up Eric Bischoff’s offer of joining the New World Order, turning on partner Scotty Riggs in a move that everyone saw coming. Dave thinks it’s a good move because he was going nowhere as a tag team babyface.
– The TV title match with Steven Regal destroying an unmasked Villano IV as “Tony Pena” was a hot and spicy shot from Bischoff to AAA for the WWF deal. (OH MY GOD I finally got that “joke” after 20-some years). Dave does offer the advice, however, that when you’re booking someone to be humiliated on TV, don’t have them work a great match with Regal and look like a million bucks.
– Dave thinks that Psicosis really needs to leave the promotion or else his career “will go the way of Terry Taylor as a best case scenario.” (What are they gonna do, turn him into a gardner and have him ride a mower to the ring?).
– Dave thinks that Chris Benoit and Nancy Sullivan have some really good chemistry together on screen. (You don’t say?).
– Bischoff is basing his gimmick on Gordon Gecko from “Wall Street”.
– After all the contract silliness with Mean Gene, hotline business dropped into the toilet, so they had no choice but to bring him back and put him back on the sleaze-line. Jeff Katz was dumped to make way for Gene again.
– Giant has a cameo in the Arnold movie “Jingle All the Way” which is “on the verge of being a flop by Arnold proportions”. (Oh, there would be MUCH bigger flops soon to come for Arnold. That being said, Jingle All the Way, while not a classic, was a frighteningly prescient glimpse at consumer culture to come that actually become something of a cult classic, so there’s that.).
– To the WWF, where Dave notes that they’re trying to get Steve Austin over as some kind of “lone wolf babyface” since his biggest programs are with babyfaces, but people keep cheering him. (Steve Austin as a babyface, you say?).
– They did a deal at the RAW tapings where Mero was posing for future shows with the IC title, but apparently it’s all a swerve.
– Davey Boy Smith has been missing house shows because his sister in England is very ill. (Yeah we would find out about that in a few months, sadly.).
– OK, so here’s the full story on the Curt Hennig insurance deal: Curt was going to get a huge lump sum payment from Lloyd’s of London, either $150,000 or $300,000 depending on who you ask. He’d have to sign an agreement saying he was retired and could never wrestle again. However, the WWF didn’t know about that, and thought that there was a solid chance he would work with HHH after the angle on RAW. But Hennig wouldn’t commit to saying “yes” or “no” either way, so someone in the WWF legal department wrote to Lloyd’s looking to reach a settlement to make sure that the insurance payments weren’t an issue. So at that point, the insurance company cancelled the payout, since they believed Hennig was in fact not permanently disabled if he was thinking about a return to the ring. This led Hennig to think that Vince had double-crossed him, and he went to WCW looking for a deal as revenge and no-showed a bunch of WWF appearances. Vince then calmed things down and offered Curt a five year deal with a $300,000 downside guarantee to cover the money he would have lost from the insurance settlement, and assumed that everything was cool because that’s way more money than he would have made with the settlement. But then WCW offered him more money, and Hennig signed that deal without telling Vince, and no-showed all of his WWF dates as a result. The WWF is claiming that this is breach of contract, and if he happens to show up in WCW before the original WWF deal expires in May, then it’s going to court and things will get really nasty. (Thankfully for WCW, he didn’t show up until July.).
– Shotgun Saturday Night is currently scheduled to start on 1/4, although they’re keeping it quiet because they don’t want WCW to buy out the timeslots if the TV deal is done. Paul Heyman is working as a consultant in some form as they scout potential nightclubs in New York to shoot in. Dave thinks it’s interesting that Vince was loudly grumbling about WCW wasting money on going live with Nitro every week because it’s so expensive for no reason, and now he’s planning on doing the same thing himself.
– The Headbangers debuted on the Superstars taping and looked pretty good.
– Dave on Rocky Maivia: “They are doing the gimmick where all the managers are after Maivia and he turns them all down. No doubt he’s got potential, but in recent years fans have shoved back at most green guys shoved down their throats and this is beginning to look like a shove rather than natural.” (I’m sure Dave is just overreacting here.).
– Leif Cassidy cut his hair and dropped the goofball gimmick recently, because his contract is coming due and he realizes that he’s going nowhere and needs something to get noticed. (I’ve heard that you need to give a little Head to get pushed. Maybe he should try that.).
– And finally, Jim Ross is still taking shots at Vince McMahon on commentary here and there, but it’s downplayed a lot. However, he was taking shots at the other guys this week, noting on commentary that the capacity crowd in Springfield was a lot better than “herding people like cattle into a theme park side show” or putting them in a bingo hall. Of course, the problem was that Springfield was nowhere near “capacity” and it just came off sounding ridiculous.
And that’s the news and I’m outta here!