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:
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!