A Complete History of the Monday Night War - First Thought (Re-post)
With a long break in the series and the last one being lost in the shuffle amidst all the technical issues, I thought I'd repost the last two columns in the series before carrying on. This will give anyone who wants to a chance to catch up, and make the series a little more complete here at the new board. Enjoy!
All of the columns I’ve written in this series so far have one thing in common, which is that they’ve gone on at quite a pace and there hasn’t been much time to stop and reflect. I thought I’d correct that by, at the end of each year, dedicating a single column just to taking apart some of the issues that didn’t make it into the first columns. Obviously, the main battleground was on RAW and Nitro, but that wasn’t the sole site of conflict during the war. It was also fought in the media, on PPV, and also in the respective locker rooms. This wouldn’t be A Complete History of the Monday Night War without taking a little extra time to explore some of those gaps left by the madcap pace of the series.
First things first, the one thing that immediately jumps out at me is how well the shows actually stand up today. I’ve always been a huge advocate of the era, and even though I’ve argued that it has good qualities that the Attitude era and subsequent eras were missing there was a part of me that suspected this might be more nostalgia than anything else. I’ll confess that I feared an initial nostalgic thrill would soon give way to boredom and the rose-tinted glasses would come off, but in general the one thing I have found is that the shows have stuck together pretty well and that from week to week things were actually rather good. Although there were plenty of things that both shows got wrong over the year and I won't shy away from pointing that out, in general the structure of the shows were very good and didn't need changing. I’m more convinced that people weren’t watching at this point more because of the negative funk that wrestling had found itself in over the past years and it needed a shock not to improve the product, exactly, but to get the audience to appreciate wrestling again. I can’t help but think that putting today’s guys into shows that were more like what we’re seeing here would emphasise their positives and hide their negatives, if nothing else, and even that much is sadly missing at times today. One thing that should be pointed out is that for all the jokes about Bischoff, Schiavone, and Vince McMahon, the commentary from all the various announce teams is better than anyone manages in the WWE or TNA today. I don’t want to dwell on this, but it’s worth mentioning briefly.
Let’s take a look at Nitro first; in many ways, the WWE product of today is more like WCW was than like its own 1996 product, which considering how little Vince thinks about anything that didn’t happen in the WWE (or any of its predecessors) just shows how influential Nitro ended up being. I think that makes it a good place to start. A lot is made by the WWE and their hardcore fans of Nitro’s dirty tricks, and about them bullying the WWF with the financial might of the Turner Empire. One look at the shows and the facts from a distance will shatter that illusion straight away. Yes, Turner’s money did alter the game a bit, but all it really did was allow WCW to compete with the industry heavyweight. In the early days they really only went after guys like Hogan or Savage, who had either left the wrestling business or were being phased out in the WWF, or people who’d truthfully be considered quite peripheral. The WWF still had the bigger national and international name recognition, still had the established TV show, and still had much better production values. The increased star-power, which was the most visible manifestation of Turner’s cash, really just went some way towards evening up advantages that the WWF had been in possession of since the Eighties.
One advantage that they did have was a much greater degree of control over their TV, because TNT’s Monday Night schedule was seemingly at the behest of Bischoff most weeks. If he wanted to start early to beat the WWF onto the air, head out to commercial early, or expand the show to blast RAW out of the water and raise commercial revenue, it could happen. To put it into some kind of perspective, the WWF wouldn’t expand their show to 2 hours until half way into the second year of the war, when Nitro had been killing them for months. It’s hard to overestimate how important the extra hour is, too. People point, almost exclusively, to the angles as the reason Nitro pulled ahead, but think about it this way; if you are sitting down for a night of wrestling and you are usually a WWF fan and then Nitro starts to come on an hour earlier, unless you’ve got no interest in what the other side are doing then you take a look at the first hour. Then you’ve got half a chance of being hooked in by the main events in the more heavily hyped second hour rather than watching the programme you’d originally set out to. Particularly with the winter that the WWF are about to have, don’t underestimate how important the 2 hour show is for WCW. Contrary to most people’s opinions WCW were, in most cases, the underdogs in this thing, but if there is one place where things were definitely skewed towards them it is in the respective relationships between the company and their networks.
WCW did engage in shock value early on, and this helped them win a number of weeks. They did give away a few RAW results here and there, and obviously had the big shocks of Lex Luger on the first show, and Madusa in December. Don’t underestimate the importance of these signings. The Luger thing on the first show, in particular, was huge. He had been touring with the WWF in Canada days before his shock appearance at the Mall of America for the first edition of Nitro, and while he hadn’t been seen at Summerslam or on RAW in the few weeks before hand it’s worth remembering that he would have been very visible as part of the Allied Powers tag team throughout the summer and that in the days before the internet it would have been a complete surprise to everyone – including, for the record, Vince McMahon who was expecting Luger to re-sign with his company.
Even these tricks are completely overestimated by the WWE machine, though, who have been intent on rewriting history in a way that portrays them in the best light. I seem to remember on their DVD on the wars, Eric Bischoff said that he gave away WWF results every week – in truth, he does it a handful of times and months occasionally pass without him doing it at all. He doesn’t once do it after Scott Hall arrives with the company, either. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Bischoff isn’t as bad as he claims in the DVD, though, because he gets a lot of things wrong in it. He says that when Nitro launched, Ted Turner allotted two hours to Nitro when of course we know it was a one hour show for the first 9 months of its existence. His claims about PPV accumulation are slightly off, too. While he did increase the PPV output of WCW throughout 1995, it was actually the WWF who started running one a month in the summer of that year. WCW would finally catch up to the WWF and run a 12 PPV schedule in 1997 when Souled Out would be introduced in January, and Spring Stampede (a one off in 1994) would make its return in April. The one thing Eric’s claims all have in common is that they overestimate his own importance. A very human failing, but there’s something infinitely more sinister about the WWE allowing him to tell his story as if it were true; a quick look at the facts against their claims means that we need to be careful about taking WWE claims about the war at face value. Their own claims are often just as far off base.
The WWF like to suggest that they were winning the war prior to Hall and Nash leaving the company, but to be honest like so many of the things that they claim this isn’t the case. If you look at the war before Scott Hall makes his momentous first appearance on Nitro, the WWF won 16 of the weeks in which the two shows were head to head, while WCW won 15. There were also two dead heats. It’s hardly what you would call a comprehensive victory. In fact, WCW’s highest opposed rating of the whole year would come in March, a week before the debacle of a main event at Uncensored, two months before Hall came through the crowd. Despite the fact that they literally had nothing worth seeing in the main event for most of the first six months in the year, and when there did seem to be some kind of narrative thrust it usually had some close parallels with the WWF product from the nineteen eighties, Nitro held its own. I think focusing on shock helps to explain some of WCW’s early successes, because it’s patently clear they didn’t have much in the storyline department in the first 8 months. This unpredictable side of Nitro was supplemented with an influx of good wrestlers that would have been unfamiliar to most of the audience. For example, I’ve been keeping a running record of ‘performer of the week’ as I go, and while I won’t bore you by listing them or going into too much detail, but midcarders like Eddie Guerrero and Steven Regal get the nod as often as main eventers who are much more heavily featured. In fact, Regal in particular could have been used much more extensively throughout and it would have done much better in certain markets than the heavily featured Hogan and Savage show. The Blue Blood stable were getting a tremendous reaction as heels all year long. You could argue that WCW were making a mistake by underutilising some of their talent, but they were still having great matches even if the company weren’t getting the most out of them.
Then out of nowhere, the NWO angle appears and blows everything you think you knew about WCW away. All of a sudden the story is the reason to watch, rather than thrown together exhibition matches that make up for some nonsensical and derivative booking. They are still presenting these great wrestlers; Mysterio debuts around this time, Malenko starts to feature more often, and Ultimate Dragon comes across to work with their burgeoning Cruiserweight division. Now, though, that unpredictability is tied in with some genuine tension rather than being some vague sense of uncertainty. Of course, the angle itself didn’t come out of nowhere, nor was it some kind of inspired moment of genius from Eric Bischoff. As is so often the case, business trumped art here, and I suspect the idea to move to a 2 hour show probably motivated the talent acquisition and then the angle came afterwards. Basically, I think the angle was something for Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to do, rather than the underlying reason for bringing The Outsiders in.
In a way though who came up with the idea and when is quite irrelevant, because this kind of invasion angle wasn’t new. They’d been done all over the world, and even in the forerunner to WCW when Crockett Promotions acquired the UWF, before this. What set this angle apart from all the others was the stage on which it was being performed, and that it was handled so majestically. Eric had seen what had been going on in the WWF and decided to distinguish his brand he would work out as many ways as he could to be different. One of those ways was having reality-based stories and characters to contrast with the cartoonish nature of the WWF, and combining that realism with the New World Order meant that it was hit right out of the park. The boundary between truth and fiction blurred so completely, and from the minute Hall appeared in May until August they didn’t make a single mistake with the angle. Everything fell into place for them at this point, every show was must-watch, and it seemed as if they could do no wrong.
Obviously it’s worth noting that while starpower isn’t exactly zero-sum in the wrestling world, if one company loses two of its most popular stars and they move across to another, then the other company will, all of a sudden, be doing much better than the other. However, I think a much more important factor than bringing in Hall and Nash was the way that The Outsiders revitalised other WCW stars.
Hogan is the obvious example, because he’d been coasting since Nitro began and had been downright unpopular in certain markets, particularly those we’d think of as ‘Flair Country’. Between September and March, his track record with the company is woeful and has thrown up some of the most mocked things in recent wrestling history. Amongst them are Pastamania, a monster truck match, and of course the horrendous main event at Uncensored on March 24th, 1996. Hogan and Savage defeated eight men in a steel cage, and despite a pretty decent winter for the company in the ratings, they would plummet after this main event. Hogan would have to take a hiatus from TV not long after, and we wouldn’t see him again until Bash at the Beach.
Turning heel was interesting, though, because although people didn’t seem to want to see Hogan’s babyface act that he’d been running for over ten years, it seems they genuinely took exception to the idea of that man as a sellout. The NWO would go on to become cool, and I think Nash and Hall already were to a degree, but there was genuine enmity for Hogan at this point. Whenever he turned up after becoming ‘Hollywood’, just look at the amount of crap that gets thrown at him. It regularly fills the ring. This angle turned Hulk from a guy that WCW fans were reluctant to cheer and made him one that they couldn’t help but hate.
Randy Savage needs to be thrown into this equation because although so much abuse is thrown at Hogan for his excesses during this period, Macho Man was a serial offender too. Savage was Hogan’s partner when they beat those eight men in the cage. He also turned up and won on TV week after week. More to the point, Randy was still cruising on his reputation and WWF gimmick just as much as Hogan was, and while it didn’t generate the same apathy in the Southern crowd he was hardly setting the world on fire. His promos had always been a bit crazy, but while he’d once talked about Ricky Steamboat’s cup of coffee in the big time he was, in the early months of 1996, starting to sound more like The Ultimate Warrior than like Randy Savage at his best. When Hogan came in and dropped the leg on him at BATB, this set a fire under the Macho Man.
More than anyone else though, I want to put to a man that some of you will have forgotten about in all of this, and that is Bobby Heenan. On the internet it’s almost sacrilege to say negative things about Heenan, but to be honest Bobby was doing exactly the same thing that Hogan was in his first couple of years in WCW, which was the complete reprisal of his WWF character and role. It was still entertaining, of course, but as anyone who has given it any thought knows the reality of modern announcing is about chemistry. Bobby had tremendous chemistry with Gorilla Monsoon, but he didn’t really have the same chemistry with Tony Schiavone or Eric Bischoff. That meant that while he was still an entertaining announcer he wasn’t bringing the same level of performance to the table, like Savage and Hogan, and to be honest for a long time there is no obvious effort to up his game. Hall’s arrival and, in particular, Nash’s powerbomb on Bischoff at The Great American Bash in June, completely revitalised Heenan. His cowardly side became tangible, and he did as much as anyone to make you believe what you were seeing was real. He still had his one-liners, but he was as likely to run-off at the sight of an Outsider or refuse to commentate after an emotional intervention, as he was to actually call the show. Then Hogan turned heel, and he developed a character with two very pronounced sides. One was smugness, and he bore the self-satisfaction of a man who had told us about the true nature of Hogan for decades and he’d finally been proven right. At the same time, he was genuinely scared of Hollywood Hogan and his cronies, and what they could do to him and the company that paid his living. Bobby Heenan at his best is one of the great performers in wrestling, and during the early days of this angle he was perfection itself. Week in and week out throughout that summer, his commentary was reason enough to watch wrestling.
Naturally some people didn’t react as well to this angle, and there are ‘quality casualties’. Ric Flair was a brilliant performer throughout the first few months the shows were head to head, but to be honest he starts to suffer as 1996 goes on. In this period he’s surpassed quickly by Anderson who starts to outperform his more illustrious friend regularly, and once the New World Order arrive Flairs stock falls still further as he struggles to find his way in a world in which he is a heel but there are still bigger heels. I don’t know if there was some issue backstage even at this early point, because Flair’s matches start to suffer badly and his promos become ineffective overnight. It’s far from terminal and he’ll have very good days again in WCW, but it’s a sad fact that Flair and Hogan effectively swapped places this summer – at this point Flair was living on name value, and performing almost as a self-parody.
Still, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and at this point WCW were cooking very nicely. Of course, all of this is very different from the WWF. I’m not sure when the decision was made to make Shawn Michaels the next top babyface in the company and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were as early as April; following the unintentional-double turn that seems to occur in the Wrestlemania XI title match. Personally, I think it probably comes after Summerslam, when Michaels and Ramon stole the show in their second ladder match and Diesel’s match with Mabel flopped heavily. Either way, what is clear is that by the time Nitro was ready to go, the idea that Shawn was going to be the next guy was already in existence, and the plans started to roll not long after Nitro got running. By November, Shawn’s storyline was in full flow, would be the most prominent on the show until he won the WWF title at Wrestlemania.
The problem is that despite his value in front of the camera, Shawn had already become a bit of a liability backstage. Some of the advice he’d given to Kevin Nash in his title reign had been bad for WWF business during his friend’s reign, and some people have alleged that as early as November 1994 Shawn was refusing to lose to people that weren’t his friends. I don’t know how true that is, but consider these statistics. Shawn lost four matches that were televised in the year 1995. He eliminated himself early in a Battle Royale on Superstars, two days following the Rumble which he won from #1. He was on a losing team in October 1995, when Davey Boy Smith pinned Diesel. He lost to Dean Douglas by forfeit later in the month. If you are wondering, the Owen Hart match in which Shawn was knocked out was ruled a no-contest, rather than a win for Owen. That means that in the whole year of 1995, Shawn was decisively beaten by one man, and that was Kevin Nash at Wrestlemania. Looking at the bigger picture, Shawn took some time off after the defeat to Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X; he’d return in August and wouldn’t lose by pinfall or submission again in 1994 on TV or PPV. Diesel and Michaels vacated the Tag Titles in 1994, and then he vacated the Intercontinental Championship in October 1995, and by this point there were definite rumours backstage that Michaels’s injuries weren’t legitimate, and that he was out for himself and not for business.
Those of us in the audience didn’t really see this, and the story of Shawn’s return from injury to win the Rumble, then the title, seemed to elevate Michaels to new found levels of popularity. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to hold the audience very long and there’s always a chance that his greatest successes in the ratings war came as much from a backlash against Hogan going through the entire heel roster at Uncensored as from his own merits. On screen he begins to have problems virtually the minute he wins the strap. The storyline with Jose Lothario was a bit of a letdown, apparently because Shawn’s insecurities were so great that he didn’t want him there. People backstage at the time have said that although Jose did actually get Shawn his break in the business, Shawn treated him badly backstage. There’s obviously not much proof of this on TV, but there’s two things I’d point to as reasons why I suspect it might be true. First, the idea was apparently that Jose would be like Burgess Meredith’s character in Rocky, but it’s hard to think of many occasions in which Shawn paid much attention to Jose at all, and you are hard pushed to find that nice scene of a mentor relationship anywhere between the key plot points at Wrestlemania and Survivor Series. The second is a promo at Summerslam, when Shawn says he needs to thank two people for getting where he is today – himself, and the fans. He says this with Jose sitting right next to him, and you’d have to think if he was committed to the angle he’d at least acknowledge the guy.
It’s not just the Jose thing, though, although this will have repercussions down the line. Shawn did very well in April but by the middle of May he was losing more weeks to Nitro than he was winning. I say ‘he’, because rightly or wrongly the man with the strap is usually considered responsible for how well a product draws. He’d have known this, and I think he started to feel the pressure. I suspect this is part of the reason why when the Vader angle comes around it is botched so badly. Vader had been managed very well over the first 8 months and this was a programme that people wanted to see. The Mastodon was super-over; Shawn still had his fans despite losing momentum, and this story kept them very close to WCW for long periods despite the New World Order running wild on TNT. The match came around at Summerslam, and when Vader beat Michaels twice but lost due to Cornette’s insistence that the match be restarted, it should have kicked off a whole angle to take the WWF through the winter.
Apparently Vader was to beat Shawn at Survivor Series, giving Jose the Gorilla Monsoon treatment in the process. Shawn was then meant to win the rubber match in his home town of San Antonio at the Royal Rumble – I’ve heard mention of Jim Cornette turning up in a cowboy hat to rile up the fans. Vince’s indulgence of his champion would undo this. See, Shawn didn’t like working with Vader. There are plenty of people willing to tell you that Leon White works very stiff, and just as many who’ll tell you that Shawn Michaels is not a tough guy. I suspect Shawn got a bit tired of Leon’s style, and then Vader made the unforgiveable sin of making a mistake. He’s out of position for a move at one point in the Summerslam match. You can see Shawn, who is in the middle of delivering an elbow drop, stop in mid-air and land on his feet. He kicks Vader, and shouts in his face: he’s nowhere near the camera, but you can just about make out him shouting ‘Move’! It would seem to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Shawn is rumoured to have thrown a tantrum at Vader after the show.
Despite the fact that nothing was settled by the Summerslam match the angle was quickly dropped following the PPV. Jim Cornette’s comments about Vader winning twice and not getting a rematch rang true and Shawn was weakened. Despite a great match with Mankind at Mind Games in September, his championship reign would never actually recover. I don’t think it is spoiling too much to say that Sid took the place of Vader, and that while the angle carried on virtually as planned it didn’t do half as well as it had the promise to. Vader’s popularity never really recovered, and Shawn’s was damaged in the short term, too.
I’ve talked about Shawn for a long time because he’s the central player for the WWF throughout the whole year. However, I don’t want to focus exclusively on him, because it’s far from his entire fault that the bigger company lost the advantage. The WWF had a lot of talent that they didn’t really utilise well, and I think that is why when they take advantage back in April 1996 they aren’t able to hold on to it. First though I’ll mention a couple of positives.
By this point, Austin was emerging as a star; that much is beyond doubt, but their track record on presenting Austin’s rise is just as flawed as how they presented the competition itself. I’ll have more to say on that over the next year as Austin turns into a babyface. Needless to say, Austin had some appeal with the fans at this point (the reaction at King of the Ring is proof of this), but he was in no danger of turning anyone heel with the majority of the audience. I think a bigger misconception, though, is that Austin wasn’t anything until he beat Jake Roberts and delivered that promo. His feud with Savio Vega was good, so good in fact that I’d still put Savio in his top ten opponents of all-time, as the two just clicked together and had a strong feud. Sure, Ted DiBiase’s move to WCW freed Austin’s hands because now he did all of his own talking, but he was entertaining as a midcard heel and getting a reaction in his own right from almost the first instant. If there is one thing that King of the Ring really did it was to give the company some belief in him, because he hardly had a week off TV after that, although he wouldn’t get anywhere near genuine main-event status (barring the odd RAW, which he’d until he wrestled Bret Hart at Survivor Series.
At this point the top midcard heel wasn’t Austin, but fellow Texan Goldust. I don’t think there was room for the Goldust character (or indeed Dustin) to ever reach the heights that Austin managed in the company, but for most of the first year he was the man that people loved to hate and top heel after those in Camp Cornette. Most of the comic elements that Goldust would acquire in later runs weren’t really there, and he was all about mind games and knocking off the most popular babyfaces. Look at the list of the people he worked with, and it’s practically a who’s who of the WWF – Marty Jannetty, Bam Bam Bigelow, Scott Hall, Roddy Piper, The Undertaker, and Ultimate Warrior, all before he finally dropped the IC title to Ahmed Johnson at King of the Ring. I don’t think Goldust was ever quite such a big deal in the WWF again after dropping the belt.
Unfortunately, Ahmed was never as big a deal after winning it. He became a huge, bloated man that turned up on WCW, and now he has a reputation for being reckless in the ring and unintelligible promos. It’s so easy to forget that in 1996 Johnson was a popular guy getting big reactions from the crowd. When he won the strap he was on the verge of becoming a main event wrestler, was linked with Michaels, and could main event one of the smaller PPV’s despite only being with the company for less than a year. He called himself The People’s Champion, a long time before Rocky Maivia and Diamond Dallas Page would do the same thing. However, Ahmed had legitimate kidney problems which came to light at the height of his popularity. He’d be forced to take four months off, and in the meantime Austin, HHH, Sid, and Mankind, all overtook him in the pecking order, while Bret also returned to the fold. I’m sure with the benefit of hindsight we can point to those guys and think about the respective merits of the performers and call it a deal worth making, but looking at it from a 1996 perspective it meant that a year’s worth of build and effort was effectively squandered.
There were other positives, though. Mankind was coming into his own following Wrestlemania and, over the summer, gave The Undertaker the best feud of his WWF career to date. I’ve already mentioned Vader, too. They’d go on to have very different careers in the next couple of years, but at the time they were both big parts of the WWF’s effort to turn back the Nitro tide. Looking at the roster though, some of the failures are more telling and do a much better job showing us why they found themselves in this position in the first place. The first thing that jumps out at me is The Body Donna’s. I’m a fan of Chris Candido and Tom Pritchard. Frankly, they were better in the ring than Kevin Nash and both were better with the microphone than Davey Boy Smith, the two men who challenged for HBK’s WWF title on PPV in April, May, and June. Now, I’m not saying that they definitely should have been main eventing because there are any number of intangibles that go into that, and it’s not just a case of totting up attributes. However, they were good heels, who were pretty decent at all sides of wrestling, but they were weighed down heavily by a crappy gimmick. Initially devised on a whim because Candido reminded him of some fitness instructor, The Body Donna’s were a tremendous waste of a potentially great heel team who could have had a run with The Smoking Gunns that ran the whole year were they presented with more realism. I firmly believe that used properly those two had enough talent to stick around a lot longer and end up working with The Road Warriors when they returned in 1997. Basically they were punished for not being main event, because while the Bret’s, Shawn’s, Diesel’s etc. were all freed from the kind of nonsense that had been happening years before, those people lower down the card were still subjected to it. The Body Donna’s had talent but because of the way they were handled they floundered within months.
It’s not just tag teams, though. Marc Mero was over on his debut with the company, and people seemed to be intrigued by him. When he made his first RAW appearance the fans went crazy for him. However, the addition of Sable was a real own-goal. It may seem strange to say that now because she went on to be the only thing he is remembered for, but that is exactly my point. The beautiful blonde with the big tits overshadowed Mero, particularly as she had very little talent. Mero’s gimmick was limited to things that she could do, and so they ended up making cat faces at the camera for a couple of months. ‘Wildman’ Marc Mero went, literally in the space of a couple of months, from one of the most promising babyfaces on the roster to little better than enhancement talent.
Speaking of enhancement talent, that group of wrestlers make a great example of how far Vince was missing the boat when it came to giving the audience what they wanted to see. The best things about The New Generation, the things that people were reacting too, were the things that ditched some of the childish elements of the previous era. When guys like Tony Anthony, Tom Brandi, Bill Irwin and Tracy Smothers came into the company in the summer, none of them came up with anything like a real personality. Irwin became The Goon, a hockey player thrown out of the NHL for his bad temper. Anthony was TL Hopper, the wrestling plumber who’d use a plunger on his opponent after the match. Tracy Smothers was given the moniker Freddie Joe Floyd, which was apparently a rib on the Brisco Brothers – Jack’s real name is Freddie Joe, his brother Jerry was born Floyd. The idea was for these guys to come up and work on TV contracts, at a level higher than jobbers, but to be honest the gimmicks were so bad that fans shit all over them and they are now considered amongst the worst examples of Wrestlecrap.
So while the WWF were actually getting better at the top of the card, if you weren’t at or near the main event, then you were in a struggle to contribute much to the product. That was really the big thing that stopped them crushing WCW into the dirt; you were hard pushed to name many guys on the WWF roster that you actually wanted to see. WCW had established names, they were taking some of the more popular WWF talent, and on top of that they were introducing the audience to new wrestlers that they’d never heard of and getting them excited about them.
A number of established names did stand up and deliver for the WWF, though. It might be easy to look at the ratings and blame The British Bulldog for the decline in the WWF’s ratings through the summer. You might look and see what Shawn was doing with Diesel, then see the quick decline when he starts working with Bulldog, and come to the conclusion that Davey was to blame. In fairness though, at a creative level the feud was a success and they had two good matches on PPV. Bulldog was one of the guys who carried RAW in the ring and in front of certain crowds could actually find himself something of a tweener rather than an out-and-out heel, because he retained a level of popularity. The Hart brothers, too, were consistent performers on RAW, and between the three of them the family pretty much dominated the wrestling portions of the show, even when the better angles were dedicated to the Kliq and guys like Ahmed Johnson. Davey worked very well at or near the main event for the whole first year of the war, Bret did the same thing up until Wrestlemania, and Owen worked near that level but it is probably fair to say that it was more generally a support role, competing for the tag titles and getting near but never quite reaching singles titles. Regardless of their position on the card, Camp Cornette were very over and an essential part of WWF TV and if there was something good going on they were usually not too far away.
While they had the other two for the whole year, they only had the 3-time WWF Champion for the first seven months. Bret’s decision to take some time off following Wrestlemania meant his spectre hung over the company throughout the summer. It looks like a good decision at first; both to allow the new champion (who was as yet untested at this level) time to bed in without an existing star hanging over him, and to allow them to build towards the expected rematch at Wrestlemania XIII, not to mention allowing a forty year old body time to heal. When Michaels failed to catch on with the male demographic, however, the strategy backfired. Throughout his time away from the ring there are signs and chants for Bret, rumours about the Hitman’s return or, worse still, his defection to WCW. In fact, he was offered a contract for millions of dollars a year in that summer by the competition which he eventually turned down, instead signing a twenty-year contract that would see him become a company ambassador after his active retirement. This reaction for Bret can’t have helped Michaels, particularly when the chants came during his matches, and must have put more pressure on a champion who saw the competition growing stronger by the week. A situation like this would have to affect someone who already had drug issues and other personal problems. Personally I think that everything Shawn experienced and felt about his position during the summer of 1996 went on to shape a lot of what happened in the next year and a half, and that’s where we’ll carry on from next time.
Thoroughly enthralling read, Prime. I had been loving this series before my hiatus and it clearly remains an absolutely must-read. Talking of which, get those old ones up somewhere so I can catch up. I think this added analysis really helps too giving a slightly wider perspective on things as oppossed to a monthly (well, really weekly) one.
Time To Toss The Dice
Delighted to see this reposted: it's the best thing I've ever read on this board.
Still awesome. The Bobby Heenan bit is still my favorite.
Mazza - The old ones will probably go up somewhere when the series is finished, so you'll have a bit of a wait! When we've got a retro columns thread, I may drop one or two in there as a teaser for people... mainly because these are a lot of work and I figure I can get a lot of mileage out of them without people complaining! I'll repost September 1996 because it got lost in the shuffle really quickly, and I think there are plenty of people who normally read them who didn't get chance to see it, so you'll have the chance to start from the beginning of the second year, and you'll just have to make sure you do all the homework reading I set for you in future... glad you enjoyed mate, and thanks for reading.
Maverick - Ridiculously high praise which I'm sure can't be deserved, but is fully appreciated. Thank you, mate.
Mizfan - Sorry, can't call you Wrestle Freak. Just can't do it! To me, you are the Mizfan, and I am a Mizfan fan, even if I'm not a Miz fan... does that make sense? Yeah, the Heenan bit is still my favourite too. A shame I had to take the videos out, I fucking love the clip that I had in there. Oh well. Thanks for coming back to check this out again, I'm flattered.
Thanks to everyone for reading, feeding... and humouring the vanity of my reposting.
Last edited by Prime Time; 06-20-2012 at 04:48 AM.