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What I Learned from Watching Nitro, Pt. 1

If you get this reference, consider yourself special.

If you get this reference, consider yourself special.

After watching about a month of programming from WCW Monday Nitro (specifically episodes 141 – 144, from November – December 1996, and a few others prior to those), here’s what I learned so far and why it’s important for us to consider today:

The Wrestlers Didn’t All Look the Same

Somewhere we all got caught up in the niceties of seeing six-foot plus, two hundred fifty plus pound behemoths traipse the pro wrestling landscape hither and thither. While we relished in the Bacchanalian revelry of barking like seals at wrestlers that “looked like” wrestlers, the powers that be consistently gave us what we cheered for, all the while conditioning us to become lukewarm to the different styles and abilities of wrestlers that could … you know … wrestle.

Take a look across the WWE’s roster or TNA’s roster at that; everybody looks alike … period. John Cena can be exchanged for Sheamus, Ryback, Mojo Rawley, Titus O’Neil, and whoever else. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger … they’re all cut from the same cloth and manufactured from the same fabric that brought us “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect.” They all wrestle alike, they pretty much sound like one another, and are honestly easily replaceable. If Zack Ryder was released today, would you (a) even realize it and (b) even care?

WCW’s roster towards the end of 1996 was literally chock-filled with wrestlers who didn’t fit into one homogenous mold or style. Each “character” was unique from the next, and had a skill set that expressed that their uniqueness. There were wrestlers of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and while the action at times may have been choppy and suspect, these characters were irreplaceable. Lord Stephen Regal put on one hell of a losing effort to Chris Benoit one week while Juventud Guerrera was getting owned by Miguel Pérez, Jr. Dean Malenko was cleaning house left and right, and Marcus Bagwell, Scotty Riggs, Brad Armstrong, Tony “Villano IV” Peña, Jeff Jarrett, The Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan, the Faces of Fear, Big Bubba Rogers, Psicosis, Ultimo Dragon, Squire Dave Taylor, Sgt. Craig Pittman, the Nasty Boys, the French Canadians, Madusa, Masa Hiro Chono (as it was displayed on the screen), Chris Jericho, Hardbody Harrison, Jim Powers, Bobby Eaton, Rey Mysterio, Jr., Eddie Guerrero, Hector Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Jr., La Parka, Alex Wright, Juventud Guerrera, Mike Wallstreet, The Renegade and Joe Gomez, “Crow” Sting, the Steiner Brothers, and the many members of the nWo filled out the television program nightly. And those are just the people I can remember without watching those four particular episodes of Nitro again.

We can’t even look at the past month of RAW episodes and pretend with a straight face as if the roster is that deep or diverse.

Watching two hours of wrestling didn’t feel like watching two hours of wrestling.

Some time ago I wrote that TNA’s move to live broadcasts was far more tantalizing than three hours of plodding through WWE TV. Two whole damn years later, I can justifiably say this about that:

IWasRight

When watching WCW’s product from the end of 1996, multiple stories unfolded over the course of two hours with an intentionally subtle focus on one main story that wasn’t too overbearing or understated. The ebb and flow of the episodes, however, didn’t drag on or cram storylines down our throats. Everything felt organic, moved naturally from one segment to the next, and I eventually found myself wanting to see how things would culminate at the pay per view at the end of the month (Starrcade ’96).

It was interesting to witness WCW create must-see TV without forcing the issue, which led me to saying more than a few times, “Wait…that’s it? That couldn’t have been two hours.” In reality it wasn’t, as the absence of commercial breaks makes the episodes about an hour and a half long…but still…

At times it feels as if one main story on RAW takes precedence over all things, and that main story gets shoved into our faces constantly by the announcers, backstage segments, in-ring talking segments, and even recaps on completely different shows (SmackDown is pretty much RAW V2.5 at this point…and so is Main Event and Superstars…). There’s nothing subtle about the main storylines and most of the time we end up responding to these segments for what they were at the moment and not for what they are in the overarching storyline. Thus, three hours of isolated segments begin to wear on us mentally, especially if the entire three hours focuses hard on one storyline with everything else being comical afterthoughts.

The World Heavyweight Champion didn’t appear on EVERY episode…and I was okay.

The major storyline at this point in time was a pending match between the WCW World Heavyweight Champion Hollywood Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper, and for at least two straight episodes neither wrestler appeared on television as they hyped the possibility of these two facing each other. When Hollywood Hogan finally appeared, he didn’t even wrestle on the show and, in the grand scheme of things, managed not to overshadow the rest of the episode with his presence. Nowadays we complain of part-time wrestlers holding titles and not being in our faces every week, giving us no real reason to salivate over seeing them when they do make a rare appearance on the weekly televised product. When they do appear weekly, they’re so all in our faces that they might as well be sitting next to us in our living rooms.

The clichéd statement is that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and I felt like I truly wanted to see Hogan face Piper because their interactions on TV were limited to a few spots here and there, even after their first initial face off.

The secondary stories were simple, exciting, and “real.”

While rehabbing a rotator cuff injury after surgery, Ric Flair christened Jeff Jarrett as his heir apparent in The Four Horsemen. Steve ‘Mongo” McMichael and “The Crippler” Chris Benoit vehemently disagreed with this appointment, and ultimately didn’t allow Jarrett to dabble in Horsemen business. Meanwhile Jarrett, along with other members of the roster, were embroiled in a single-elimination tournament to crown a new U.S. Heavyweight Champion after nWo member The Giant commandeered the title.

Chris Benoit was engaged in a bitter rivalry with The Taskmaster over his valet Woman, who at one point was aligned with The Taskmaster. Eric Bischoff, the most senior executive of WCW, was revealed to be a member of the nWo and gave all of WCW’s talent one month to convert their contracts to nWo contracts. While wrestlers began to slowly defect to the nWo, the remaining pro-WCW wrestlers attempted to gain support amongst each other. Caught in the middle of this fight were Sting and Diamond Dallas Page, both straddling the fence for their own very different reasons; Dean Malenko was crushing talent left and right in the Cruiserweight Division while preparing to face Ultimo Dragon, who at this point returned from Japan after successfully unifying eight different junior heavyweight championships.

What’s going on right now in WWE? Exactly.

I was okay with people losing.

I watched at least three episodes before I realized that Juventud Guerrera was being beat by almost everybody he faced, and Juventud was at that point a recognizable name in the Cruiserweight Division. And guess what…I didn’t pitch a fit.

Lord Stephen Regal lost one hell of a match to Chris Benoit after going on a winning streak, and guess what…I didn’t pitch a fit.

This is to say that tons of wrestlers lost matches and I didn’t feel inclined to write scathing commentary about how they were being buried because of a loss or multiple losses. When it comes to pro wrestling, somebody has to lose the match if we expect somebody to win. But in today’s era of trading victories, everybody becomes a fan favorite deserving of an indefinite win streak.

It’s impossible to push everyone as unbeatable Mongols, and if one desires to see a particular wrestler tear through the roster, one has to be able to (a) identify several stars for that wrestler to defeat and (b) craft a believable story to justify why said wrestler is able to tear through the roster like Kleenex at a snot party. Then again, when your main show roster looks like s**t and is ultimately stretched thinly across five hours (three for RAW and two for SmackDown), what can we expect?

Those are just my thoughts so far; perhaps you too should check out WCW Monday Nitro on the WWE Network. Think about all the fun you can have arguing with us here at L.E.W.D. all for the low low cost of $9.99!


Friday Night Fandom: “WRESTLING Matters!”

This one's pretty self-explanatory. | Photo: www.TheHistoricInterwebs.com

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. | Photo: http://www.TheHistoricInterwebs.com

With WWE SmackDown literally beginning as I type, I must admit that the majority of my day was spent gleefully staring at the LED backlit display of my laptop.  My initial internet query early this morning sent me on a somewhat rigorous search for matches featuring Jessicka Havok, TNA’s newest soon-to-debut Knockout.  After watching two or three of her matches in the Women’s Extreme Wrestling promotion, I stumbled upon the 2007 King of Europe Cup … and needless to say I was set for the rest of the day.

We wrestling fans often stand high and mighty on our knowledge of “real wrestling,” all the while managing to avoid teetering precariously on the precipice of having to explain what “real wrestling” is.  Most diehard fans will readily admit that “real wrestling” tends to reside in organizations that focus more on the in-ring action than it does the promos and backstage vignettes/interviews that explain why said matches are taking place.  In that same spirit, “real wrestling” has simple storylines that aren’t necessarily campy don’t cater specifically and strictly to a young audience or demographic.  “Real wrestling” highlights the athleticism of the wrestlers, where “styles” aren’t relegated to a specific region or a particular promotion’s standards, and the wrestlers are characters that are controlled by the athletes portraying them and not by a boardroom of writers and executives.

For those fans who revel in “real wrestling,” Japanese wrestling, women-only wrestling promotions, and Mexico’s Lucha Libre wrestling tends to be the most appealing and sought after product.  In terms of the world’s two largest promotions, TNA is favored for their “wrestling” far more than WWE.  Ironically enough, ROH and their decidedly pure wrestling focused product is rarely mentioned among the internet’s “real wrestling” aficionados.

What strikes me personally as odd is the fact that we tend to relegate pro wrestling and “real wrestling” as being expressed only in the world’s more prominent organizations.  We can talk about AAA in Mexico; we can talk about Wrestle-1 and NJPW in Japan.  We can even rattle off the names of some of the more notable women’s wrestlers (while haphazardly mentioning the organizations they belong to).  We mention how TNA is light years ahead of WWE in terms of the wrestling product, and after that our load is pretty much blown.  Our conversation about “real wrestling” is exhausted and we smirk while awaiting the best smarky response that gives us a good enough reason to go off.

We pro wrestling fans must expand our palate beyond what’s easily accessible and reliably pleasing to our “real wrestling” sensibilities if we’re going to be true to this “real wrestling” perspective.  With so many promotions operating around the world, it’s honestly asinine to keep “real wrestling” in a nifty and convenient little box that excludes the various styles and athletes globetrotting our planet with nothing more than word of mouth as their main source of promotion.

Having said that I now offer for your viewing pleasure the 2007 King of Europe Cup, four and a half solid hours of “real wrestling” goodness.

kingofeuropeI’ll admit to having been in the dark about this series, not coming across it until well into my Jessicka Havok search.  The words “Europe Cup” immediately stood out to me, as I assumed (correctly) that the show hailed from the UK and would feature in some form the catch-as-catch-can style that I’m very fond of.  I wasn’t let down at all, and was pleasantly surprised to see so many familiar faces wrestling on behalf of several promotions from around the world.  The really cool part was seeing these familiar faces presented in a “before-they-were-superstars” fashion wrestling as youngsters not encumbered by the politics and restrictions of wrestling in U.S. promotions for the U.S. market.  Wrestlers like Davey Richards and Rhino (current TNA Wrestlers), Chris Hero (former ROH Wrestler and WWE NXT Wrestler Kassius Ohno), Claudio Castagnoli (current WWE Superstar Cesaro), Matt Sydal (former WWE Superstar Evan Bourne), Doug Williams (former TNA Wrestler), Go Shiozaki, Nigel McGuinness (former TNA Wrestler Desmond Wolfe and current ROH authority figure), and PAC (current WWE Superstar and NXT Champion Adrian Neville) are all featured in the King of Europe Cup doing what they do best … wrestling.

The beautiful thing of it all is that each of the aforementioned wrestlers, along with the other athletes appearing in the tournament, were able to mix and blend their different styles of wrestling in lengthy matches that told stories different than that offered by what we know and choose to watch regularly.  Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli face each other early in a clinic of technical wrestling featuring two wrestlers who were tag team partners and are very familiar with each other’s styles.  PAC wrestles a high-flying style that leads to an injury that has him admitted to a local hospital, only to be brutalized by the begrudgingly vicious lariats of Nigel McGuinness.  Go Shiozaki gave Davey Richards one hell of a row with his strong style wrestling, and Doug Williams showcased the brilliance of the catch-as-catch-can style throughout his stay in the tournament.

All of this glowing praise is to say that “real wrestling” isn’t just about being able to watch one ridiculously crazy move after another one or indulging in a product that is subtly different than a product we dislike; “real wrestling” is about being entertained by the story that’s told in the ring through the actions, mannerisms, and facial expression of the athletes that’s supplemented with the commentary from announcers and the stories precluding the matches themselves.  There are tons of promotions and archived videos that present the product in this fashion, and we’d be selling ourselves and the business short if we didn’t saturate ourselves with the product that exists outside of our comfort zones.

As such, for your viewing pleasure and what will ultimately be a shameless plug of British wrestling, catch this epic match between British wrestling legend Johnny Saint and David “Fit” Finlay:

After you’re done with that, check out this match featuring Uhaa Nation from the UK’s Pro Wrestling Kingdom promotion:

And after that, before biting your thumb at Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling promotion as some others have taken a cotton to doing, check out some footage from a few of their international partners: World Wrestling Professionals in South Africa (which, as it turns out, is touted as being the “biggest federation in the Southern Hemisphere), Westside Xtreme Wrestling out of Germany (mentioned also in the King of Europe Cup video from above), and Riot City Wrestling from Australia.

Have fun, and remember: wrestling matters.


One Day Later: IMPACT Wrestling On the Move!

Brace yourself...IMPACT Wrestling is moving to a new night near you! | Photo: www.HighTouchMoving.com

Brace yourself…IMPACT Wrestling is moving to a new night near you! | Photo: http://www.HighTouchMoving.com

 NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 13, 2014) – The Aug. 7 episode of IMPACT WRESTLING, TNA’s flagship program airing Thursday nights at 9/8c on Spike TV, drew 1.6 million viewers (P2+, +3 Rating), the largest audience since mid-February of this year. The episode was also up against six nationally or regionally televised NFL pre-season games, the first of the NFL season.

Historically, IMPACT WRESTLING ratings are highest during Q1, however in Q3 2014, IMPACT WRESTLING has experienced a steady increase in total viewership and key demos that are exceeding ratings from Q1 2014, and rivaling Q1 ratings from previous years. To date, Q3 2014 ratings have attracted more viewers in the highly sought after Men 18-34 demo since Q1 2012, and the highest ratings for P2+, P 18-49 and Men 18-49 since Q1 2013.

This was the headline touted by associates and fans alike who boasted proudly of IMPACT Wrestling’s recent ratings success during the past month.  For at least one whole week, a wrestling fan would have to have been living under a rock to have not been privvy in some way, form, or fashion to this blockbuster news.  With so much negative press surrouding the company and the rumored demise of its television deal with Spike, it was quite spectacular to hear that TNA’s New York tapings were garnering more viewers than they have in the past five months, but also that they were absolutely smoking the stiff competition (FOOTBALL!!!) they faced on Thursday nights a 9PM Eastern, 8PM Central Standard Time.

And then this happened:

Photo: ImpactWrestling.com

Photo: ImpactWrestling.com

Speculation on both sides of the argument (pro-TNA or anti-TNA) ran rampant on why such a decision was made.  Some suggested that the mere thought of WWE moving its B-show Smackdown back to Thursday nights caused TNA to preemptively relocate their flagship program in order to avoid another sound thrashing from the world’s most prominent wrestling promotion, while others countered that the move is reflective of the recent ratings success and the possibility that Spike has indeed renewed the promotion’s contract.  Unfortunately at this time, neither one of those things can be proven as a fact or reality.

Through the very words of their president, TNA has given us some insight as to why this move is happening.  Per TNA President Dixie Carter via ImpactWrestling.com,

 “Moving IMPACT WRESTLING to Wednesday nights gives existing fans and new viewers an opportunity to enjoy both wrestling and live sports even more throughout the week.”

That makes sense; IMPACT Wrestling was moved to Wednesday nights so existing fans and new viewers (not fans; those are two different demographics, trust me) will have the opportunity or option to enjoy wrestling AND live sports … i.e. THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL!!!  This is very considerate of the minds in charge at TNA headquarters; to actually think about fans and viewers in order to provide them with a product that allows them to watch both wrestling and football is something that TNA’s competition would probably never ever do.

But one can’t help but to point out the massive pink elephant in the room … if TNA enjoyed so much ratings success on Thursday nights, consideration be damned why in the hell are they moving the program to Wednesday nights?!?!

That’s just it: at this crucial moment in time where “negotiations are ongoing”*, TNA cannot stand to lose any viewers if they are lobbying, through United Talent Agency, to renew their deal with Spike or land a new deal with another network, especially if their leverage lies within the fact that they can get and maintain 1.6 million viewers (and not fans) per week between now and late September.  It would clearly be suicidal in regards to landing a new television deal to keep the show up against football and its much more rabid fan base.

The risk in this move, however, lies in whether or not the 1.6 million viewers from last Thursday’s episode of Impact Wrestling, and the 1.4 million viewers they get consistently, will make that move with IMPACT Wrestling from Thursday to Wednesday nights.  We always assume that people will make those types of moves easily, but we cannot assume or speak on the viewing habits of 1.4 – 1.6 million people; just because we may make that move doesn’t mean that all of us will be easily inclined to do so as well.

Also, given that one climactic moment from last week served as the hook for the episode, how sure are we that those same 1.6 million people tuned in last night and will also tune in next week without some sort of major or landmark hook?  TNA has to ride the momentum of last week’s show into next week on a completely different night, and I’m hopeful that the suits on their executive board know way more than us fans about the competition they face on Wednesday nights; let’s hope that those same 200,000 new viewers from last Thursday are not preoccupied with other shows or events on their Wednesday nights.

Quick comparison as an example: when WWE launched the WWE Network, they promised stock holders and tons of other folks that they expected to get 1 million subscribers by the end of the year in order to recoup the money dumped into the project.  It was only a month or so ago that they reached 700,000+ subscribers, also accounting for those that initially subscribed and eventually dropped the network.  With hundreds of thousands of hours of content on the Network, as well as the ability to view each monthly pay per view as a part of the $9.99 package, it shouldn’t have been a problem for WWE to land 1 million subscriptions seeing as their viewership for RAW alone always teeters between 3.5 and 4+ million viewers, good or bad episode.  Extra incentives and shameless plugging can’t get them to 1 million subscriptions; are we that positive that the viewers will just simply flock to Wednesday nights?  Fans will watch the show no matter what night it comes on, but viewers are fickle and one is justified in believing that TNA can expect at least 100,000 viewers to drop from the move alone.  The WWE Network subscription numbers show us that “fans” pale in comparison to “viewers,” and I for one am not too sure that all of IMPACT Wrestling’s “viewers” will readily shift to a new night and time in a week.

All in all TNA is once again stuck in a seemingly unenviable position: the move to Wednesdays frees them from facing the competition of live sporting events, but at the same time there’s no solid proof (that we’re privvy to) that says they will keep their numbers by moving to a new day.  It is confusing as a fan to celebrate the success of their first set of New York City tapings by moving the show to a whole ‘nother night.  But, it is what it is.  As was stated before, we can only hope the fans will follow along … because it just seems as if TNA can only go up from where they are now.

 

*Has anyone else noticed that when commenting on the situation between TNA and Spike, the only thing being said by anyone – including the wrestlers – is that “negotiations are continuing”?  I get that it’s standard given there situation, and even the most legal thing they can comment about it, but it just seems weird that they have to add that phrase “negotiations are continuing” verbatim to their responses about the future of the promotion instead of simply saying, “I have know idea of what you’re talking about.”  But I guess if they said that, THAT could be used against them by detractors as well.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t … 

 

 


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