Tag Archives: WCW

Recalling a historic British wrestling programme 

Today on Independent Television (ITV) is the return (for one night only) of a popular British institution World of Sport. This programme lasted twenty years (from January 2 1965 to September 28 1985) and it popularised professional wrestling in the UK long before the WWE came anywhere near Britain. The wrestling on World of Sport was the starting point for UK wrestlers who would become WWE stars – the British Bulldog, Dave “Fit” Finlay as well as current NXT Commissioner William Regal. As World of Sport returns to ITV today with current UK wrestlers I thought I would look at the history of World of Sport.

Wrestling on ITV actually pre dated World of Sport by ten years. When commercial TV in the UK started in September 1955 British wrestling was an early part of its schedule (the first bout was broadcast in November 1955). There was a joke doing the rounds in the UK at the time that the BBC was going through the alphabet buying up each sport but had run out of money before they got to wrestling which is why ITV got it! Whether or not it was true the wrestling became a key part of the ITV schedule – usually on Wednesday nights – before it became part of World of Sport. 

It should be said that the old school UK wrestling on World of Sport has little or nothing in common with the current WWE product and differs in many ways. In fact World of Sport wrestling had more in common with boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) than it does with the current WWE product. To start with the matches were under a round system. Rounds lasted either three or five minutes and there were breaks between the rounds. The shortest bouts comprised of six three minute rounds while title matches could last as long as fifteen five minute rounds. The vast majority of matches were two out of three falls (a rarity in current WWE). The rules were different too. Punches, not breaking the hold when the wrestlers got to the ropes and attacking a man while he was down were all illegal and there was a warning system that resembles football. Wrestlers who broke the rules were given public warnings by the referee. Three public warnings meant instant disqualification – just like the three strikes and you’re out rule in baseball.

Another resemblance with boxing and the UFC – and difference with WWE – were the weight classes. There were seven different weight classes in old school UK wrestling – lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, heavy middleweight, light heavyweight, mid heavyweight and heavyweight (interesting that the heavyweight limit in old school UK wrestling was 209 pounds, not dissimilar to the current WWE 205 pounds upper limit for their Cruiserweight division.) Each weight had their own British title but there were also catch-weight contests between wrestlers in different weight classes. 

Another difference between the two types of wrestling was the role of women. While women have not (to put it mildly) always been treated well in WWE at least they have usually wrestled. There was NEVER women’s wrestling on World of Sport. Repeat never. In fact until the 1980s they weren’t on the shows at all. When they did appear they were as managers – the most famous woman was Fit Finlay’s then wife Princess Paula who would be at ringside but unlike Maryse and Lana today never interfered in his matches – even though Finlay was a heel. What Sasha Banks and Charlotte would make of this is anybody’s guess (Women’s wrestling did exist by the 1980s but only in non televised events). One thing World of Sport has in common with current WWE was no blood – in the case of the UK wrestling hardly surprising when it was on at four in the afternoon. 

The key difference between World of Sport wrestling and WWE is that the British wrestling was regarded more as a ligitimate sport than the WWE which is seen by owner Vince McMahon as “sports entertainment”. That is hardly a surprise because wrestling was part of a sports programme. World of Sport was on between 12 and 5 on Saturdays and also featured real sports like football, horse racing, cycling and golf among others. Wrestling was broadcast between 4 and 4.50 pm – during the second half of football matches. I suspect subconsciously the influence of World of Sport is responsible for me and most UK people thinking that WWE should at least pretend to be a legitimate sport (even today WWE in the UK is on the Sky Sports channels – not entertainment). And again the influence of World of Sport probably explains the UK hostility to intergender wrestling which I don’t think will ever be accepted by UK TV companies (Lucha Underground still does not have a UK TV contract). 

Still there is no denying the popularity of UK professional wrestling. At its peak the wrestling attracted ten million viewers – far more than RAW does in the US now despite America’s far higher population. It made superstars of Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Jim Breaks, Mark “Rollerball” Rocco, Pat Roach – who ended up acting in films and TV series long before the Rock did – and above all Big Daddy – the UK’s equivalent of Hulk Hogan just as popular and as bad a wrestler and his arch rival Giant Haystacks who that idiot Vince Russo said couldn’t be a star but was the biggest heel in the UK. 

Ironically having compared the UK scene to WWE its decline had more in common with WCW. Big Daddy’s continued dominance in the 1980s made UK wrestling stale and the industry like WCW failed to push new stars. It also had a nemisis in the TV industry – just like WCW. While WCW lost its TV contract (and its existence) when Jamie Kellner axed it from TNT and TBS the decline in UK wrestling began when then head of ITV Sport Greg Dyke axed World of Sport. Although wrestling survived as a stand alone show Dyke kept moving it in the schedule and as a result ratings fell – since people did not know when to find it! – giving Dyke the excuse to axe UK wrestling in November 1988. It has not been on ITV since – until today. 

Initially planned as a one off it will be fascinating to see how well it is received by critics and viewers. But the mere fact that UK wrestling is back on ITV after 28 years is a remarkable achievement in itself…

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Better than? Less than? Different than? The WWE’s brand split dilemma

The brand split is back! For those who don’t recall in 2002 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) split its roster between its two weekly shows RAW and Smackdown. For a time it was different and exciting – especially in the era of the “Smackdown Six*” and duelling General Managers Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon – but eventually it fizzled out became less exciting and eventually just dribbled away ending in 2011. Now in a spectacular u turn the brand split is coming back (the draft takes place on July 11th and from the 19th Smackdown will go live – at least in North America). But why?

One difference between 2002 and now is that there is no storyline logic for the split. In 2002 kayfabe owners Vince McMahon and Ric Flair could not stand the sight of each other so the WWE board of directors decided basically to split the roster up so that those two would never have to work together. I thought this storyline reason for a brand split would be repeated when Shane and Stephanie McMahon were arguing over who should run RAW but instead Mr McMahon had them both run RAW and like David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the UK ‘s 2010-15 Coalition government have been working together better than anyone thought they would. So why the split?

To my mind the reason is sinister. The USA Network which televises RAW and Smackdown is unhappy about the latter’s ratings. But Smackdown’s ratings are probably low because the show is taped (in this internet era spoilers are inevitable) so why not have it live with the same roster for a while to see if that would work. What annoys me is that only the USA Network gets a say. Other channels that cover WWE (like Sky in the UK) don’t seem to get a say nor do the WWE fans. That could be a dangerous precedent if the USA Network wants WWE to do something the UK would not accept (say a return to TV14 or intergender matches although I think we are safe from both of  those). The point is the rest of the world deserve a say in WWE’s future. But that said how would I do the draft? Two points first. I’m not doing a draft for every wrestler in the WWE. Secondly this is what I would do not what I think the WWE will do.

1. The World title(s?) If it was up to me there MUST be only one World title in the WWE – the current WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In the last brand split eventually there were two World titles. The problem there was one (the WWE Championship) was regarded as superior to the other (the World Heavyweight Championship**). Another problem was two Championships with split rosters produced long boring reigns (Triple H’s 2002-5 “Reign of Terror” and John Cena ‘s 2006-7 reign come to mind.) Keep one title let the champion float between the two shows and when the title changes hands the deposed champion goes to the show his successor was exclusive to.

2. The mid card titles. Fairly straightforward. There is the US title and the Intercontinental title. One should become exclusive to RAW the other exclusive to Smackdown. I would send the Intercontinental title to RAW and the US title to Smackdown but it could easily go the other way around.

3. Tag Teams. One of the big mistakes WWE made in 2002 was to split up established tag teams like the Dudley Boyz and the APA. This was so unsuccessful the teams were reunited in less than a year. To my mind tag teams should both not be split up or drafted. Instead the Tag Team Title should be allocated to one show and all tag teams should be drafted to that show. If a tag team splits up its members get put into a new draft and can be picked separately or together depending on what creative has planned for them.

4. Women. This is the part I fear the WWE will cock up. The women’s Championship should be like the men’s. It should be one title and the champion should float between the two shows. But I would not put women wrestlers into the draft. The women’s roster in my opinion does not have enough credible wrestlers to be split in two – a relic of WWE’s policy of hiring models rather than wrestlers. With the full women’s roster having only to compete with half the male roster on each show in theory the women might have more than one feud on each show. What I fear WWE will do is either have the women’s title and all the women on one show – which means one show would be all male which is unacceptable in 2016 – or bring back the awful Divas title which they retired only in April. The only women in the draft should be Maryse and Lana who should be drafted with their real life partners the Miz and Rusev respectively.

5. The Cruiserweight title. That would leave one show with four titles and the other three.To balance this another title has to be created. I would not bring back the European title (too similar to the US and Intercontinental titles) nor the Hardcore title (unacceptable in the PG era.) The obvious one to bring back is the Cruiserweight title. I don’t know why they retired it in 2007 or why they buried the title by putting the belt on Hornswoggle. Yes really.

So if I was in charge the title picture would be :

Both Shows : World Heavyweight Title, Women’s Title
RAW : Intercontinental Title, Tag Team Titles
Smackdown: US title, Cruiserweight Title (Or vice versa).

But will the brand split work? I doubt it. And Eric Bischoff supplies the answer why. In his book “Controversy Creates Ca$h” (pages 152-56) he says when he was launching WCW Monday Nitro he had three choices. Be “better than” RAW, “less than” or “different than”. Bischoff did not think he could be “better than” RAW obviously he did not want to be “less than” so he decided to be “different than”. Which at least for the first couple of years he managed. But when he created (against his better judgement) a second WCW show “Thunder” he admitted ” “We didn’t do a good job of making it different, so it became less“. (“Controversy Creates Ca$h, page 271.The italics are Bischoff ‘s.)

And that is WWE ‘s problem. It is easier to make a show different from a competitor’s show than it is to make a spin off from your own show different. Smackdown is struggling just now because it is not different enough from RAW so it becomes less than RAW. WWE can’t afford to have one show be better than the other as the other show will be less than. They must make them different from each other. Different rosters on their own will not do that. Two possible ways of making them different would be to make one TV14 while keeping the other PG or how about relaunching WCW and renaming Smackdown “Tuesday Nitro?”.

I don’t think the WWE will do either of those things. But unless they make the shows different from each other one will inevitably be better than” the other… which means the other will be “less than”. And neither WWE or the USA Network want that…

*The “Smackdown Six” were Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. The six were some of the best wresters in the world and their matches in 2002-3 played a part in making Smackdown “different than” RAW. A lot of people said in fact Smackdown was in fact “better than” RAW in this period.

**In my opinion the World Heavyweight Championship was always inferior to the WWE Championship mainly because the World Heavyweight Championship belt was WCW’s “Big Gold Belt” which to me will always be tarnished by the fact that in 2000 both actor David Arquette and useless waste of space Vince Russo held it.

Why TV 14 should not come back in the WWE (and why it won’t)

Since 2008 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) television has been rated Parental Guidance (PG). Before 2008 – during the “Attitude Era” and the subsequent “Ruthless Aggression Era” the WWE was rated TV 14. Now a lot of wrestling fans don’t like the current PG rating and want to go back to the Attitude or Ruthless Aggression Era but (a) they are wrong and (b) there is no chance of it happening anyway.

First of all people who regard the Attitude Era as better are guilty of the same mistake as the people who think British football was better in the 1970s. Both suffer from selective memory and only remember the good points rather than the rubbish. Yes there were good points about the Attitude Era – Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and Mankind – but with probably the exception of Mankind they would have been stars in any era.  But there was a lot of rubbish in the Attitude Era too and here is some of it.

Val Venis. Vince Russo. The Godfather. Vince Russo. A woman giving birth to a hand. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Perry Saturn – becoming friendly with a mop. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Al Snow –  coming to the ring with a mannequin head. Vince Russo. Katie Vick. And did I mention Vince Russo?

But by far the worst aspect of the Attitude Era was its treatment of women. The reduction of female talent to being judged on “T & A” rather than wrestling ability started here. Evening gown, bra and panties matches, women wrestlers posing in Playboy and being forced to have breast enhancement surgery before they got into the WWE all first occurred in the Attitude Era. As did Jerry “the King” Lawler and his appalling “puppies” catchphrase.

And when women were not treated as sex symbols they were being beaten up by men. In one horrific incident Lita was beaten up by two men. Not just any two men but Austin and Triple H. That would be ridiculous for a male wrestler to go through never mind a woman. True Chyna did win the Intercontinental title during this period but it just showed that the attitude of WWE to women in this period was bewilderingly contradictory. By having women in inter gender matches, taking chair shots from Stone Cold and Triple H and being put through tables I presume they were trying to show they were as tough as men. And yet they also showed them parading around in their underwear at the same time. In effect they were being both feminist and sexist at the same time! Thankfully both T & A and inter gender matches have been consigned to the bin of history and the WWE is finally giving women’s wrestling a fair go as Sunday’s Wrestlemania showed.

People say the current PG era is rubbish and yet most fans (this one included) are impressed by the WWE’s developmental show NXT. And guess what? NXT is PG. While it is clear that WWE has problems if its development show is better than the main roster – imagine if Minor League Baseball was better than Major League Baseball! – being PG is not the problem. What they need to do is for owner Vince McMahon to retire – he is 70 after all – and hand over control of WWE to son in law Triple H (who runs NXT) and make the main roster like NXT. If NXT is PG and good the main roster could be like that too.

Now why WWE won’t get rid of PG. To my mind Vince McMahon never wanted to have the Attitude Era in the first place. At the time the Attitude Era started (which most people would say was sometime in 1997) WWE was getting stuffed in the ratings by WCW and was in danger of bankruptcy. I suspect McMahon’s view was “If I’m going down I’ll go down fighting”. Had there not been head to head competition with WCW McMahon would have just kept doing the same thing he’d been doing since the mid 1980s. Although ratings are low now there is not the head to head competition there was in the 1990s. Further more sex, nudity and men beating up women would be totally unacceptable now and would make the WWE toxic and be hated in the press (especially the UK press and if the UK press turn against you you are in trouble).

Some people think that the USA Network – which shows RAW in the States – might force WWE to make changes if ratings keep falling. Unlikely. McMahon could just move RAW to another network. After all RAW started on USA, moved to TNN (later Spike TV) and then moved to USA again. And there is another option. The WWE has its own network – called the WWE Network. It would not surprise me if in the future RAW became Network exclusive in the States (like the Pay Per Views already are). Then McMahon would not need to listen to what the TV networks think.

So basically stop pining for the Attitude Era. Like 1970s UK football a lot of it was rubbish, too violent and totally sexist. And also like the 1970s it ain’t coming back…

Fifteen years ago today a war ended

Today is a big day in the history of American wrestling. Fifteen years ago the last ever episode of the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) show Monday Nitro took place. Since September 1995 that show had competed head to head with World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) Monday Night Raw in what became known as the “Monday Night Wars”. The war ended when the WWF purchased their rival.

The story of the Monday Night Wars is actually the story of one of the most spectacular rises and falls in a short period of time ever. They have been other spectacular rises and falls in a short space of time. For example in 1960 Northampton Town were in Division Four, in 1965 they made it to Division One and by 1969 they were in Division Four again! In politics in the 1970 UK General Election the Scottish National Party (SNP) elected 1 MP and won 11.4% of the Scottish vote. By the October 1974 election they were up to 11 MPs and 30.4% of the Scottish vote…and in 1979 they were down to 2 MPs and 17.3%  of the Scottish vote. But at least Northampton Town and the SNP still exist. WCW do not which makes this rise and fall quite the most  spectacular.

In 1993 WCW lost $10 million. They were very much the number two promotion to the WWF and had never turned a profit since billionaire Ted Turner bought it (when it was called Jim Crockett Promotions. It was renamed WCW in 1991). In fact in early 1995 WCW President Eric Bischoff had a dollar bet with Harvey Anderson that he could get WCW into profit. He did. Then in 1995 Turner and Bischoff created Nitro to go head to head with Raw. A year later Nitro began a run of 84 consecutive victories over Raw in the ratings, and for the first time since Vince McMahon took over WWF in 1982 and took it global his promotion was the number two in America. In 1998 WCW made a profit of $50 million (remember in 1995 people thought WCW could not make any profit). And as quickly as WCW rose..it fell. By 1999 Raw was beating Nitro in the ratings again and WCW lost $15 million. By 2000 they were losing $62 million. By 2001 they were such a toxic brand that the CEO of the TV Network they were on wanted them off the channel meaning no one but WWF would buy a wrestling company with no TV contracts. How on earth did WCW rise and fall so quickly?

The rise was due to Turner having the courage to go head to head with McMahon on Monday nights and also giving Bischoff the money to get Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash from the WWF. Bischoff deserves credit for portraying Hall and Nash as invaders from WWF and with Hogan forming the New World Order (NWO). He also deserves credit for promoting the Cruiserweight Division with exciting high flying wrestlers. But WCW were lucky too. The WWF was stale and stuck in a rut (some would say WWE* is in the same position today) and like the Australian cricket authorities when facing Kerry Packer in 1977 were totally unprepared for head to head competition which they didn’t expect anyway. In 1996 and 1997 it looked like WWF might even go under.

So how did it turn round? In any competition there is what the winners did right and what the losers did wrong.  There was an example here of a “butterfly effect” where small events lead to big consequences. The small event here was Bischoff asking Madusa to throw her WWF Women’s Championship into the trash can on live TV. Seemed a harmless little publicity stunt at the time. But two years later when another WWF Champion Bret Hart left for WCW (with McMahon’s blessing) McMahon could hardly risk Bischoff trashing another of his belts. So when Hart refused to lose to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1997 McMahon screwed him out of the title (the infamous Montreal Screwjob). This in turn made McMahon hated and he was clever enough to turn it to his advantage making himself the main heel in the WWF and to him having an infamous rivalry with his most popular star Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Austin- McMahon rivalry helped along by Mike Tyson appearing at WrestleMania XIV, was the main (but not the only) thing the WWF did right.

As for WCW incredibly they made the same mistake WWF had made in the early 1990s. They went stale. They relied on the same stars. They never produced a home grown star in that era except for Bill Goldberg. They had other fresh talent – Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio – who became stars but with WWF since WCW wouldn’t push them. The first three left in frustration while Mysterio went to WWE in 2002 after WCW collapsed. Another mistake WCW made was to give wrestlers like Hulk Hogan creative control which meant Hogan could refuse to do anything he did not want to do. The equivalent of a footballer insisting they are picked for every game and just as ridiculous.

And once WWF went ahead in the war, WCW panicked spending prodigious amounts of money on people that were not needed. For example $1 million on a non wrestling rapper Master P,  $1 million on a basketball player Dennis Rodman and $150,000 a year paid to Randy Savage’s brother Lanny Poffo – who never wrestled a match for WCW.

And as often happens when a company is losing they think  “if you can’t beat them recruit them”. So WCW signed WWF’s head writer Vince Russo** thinking he would turn them around. The problem was Russo’s ideas were mainly ridiculous. In WWF that made no difference because Vince McMahon had final say so he could veto Russo’s bad ideas (like making Chyna a woman the WWF Champion). In WCW his warped mind ran amuck. He made actor David Arquette WCW Champion in 2000 probably finishing the company off for good. And he loved pole matches – Viagra on a pole, pinata on a pole, Judy Bagwell on a pole (yes a human being!) and most ridiculous of the lot a “San Francisco 49ers” match (don’t ask!)

But it wasn’t just Russo. Whoever run WCW from 1999-2000 especially seemed to be effected. A book could be written on WCW’s incompetence and has been (“The Death of WCW” by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez).  It is as much a comedy book as a wrestling book but I should just mention three examples of non Russo WCW incompetence in 1999 and 2000 (there are many more).

1. Having a storyline where one of your most popular stars Ric Flair is sent to a mental hospital where he dances in his underwear meets fellow wrestler Scott Hall who is there for reasons unknown and is eventually bailed out by Arn Anderson (never knew you could get bailed out of a mental hospital).

2. Booker T and Big T have a feud over the right to use the letter T (I am NOT making this up!)

3. WCW’s resident boy band 3 Count claiming that their first (non existent!) album had gone platinum and their second would be even bigger and go gold (in the music industry a platinum album is more successful than a gold one!)

No wonder WCW ratings went down the toilet and Nitro did not best Raw in the ratings after October 26 1998. But even then they could have survived. One reason they could waste money on rappers and basketball players was they had a blank cheque due to being owned by Ted Turner. And he would never have got rid of wrestling as it was the first ratings winner for his cable TV stations TBS and TNT. But when Time Warner merged with America Online (AOL) in 2000 the party was over. Turner lost control AOL were not going to fund a company losing $62 million and WCW was put up for sale in October 2000. Even then they might have survived. Eric Bischoff wanted to buy them but new Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner announced there would be no more wrestling on TBS or TNT (similar to what Greg Dyke of ITV had done with UK wrestling in 1988). Without TV, Bischoff’s bid collapsed and McMahon bought WCW for less than $3 million. (to think the owners had turned down $ 500 million a year earlier!). The Monday Night Wars were over. McMahon had won.

But I would say it was not a good result for wrestling. WWE’s ratings have gone down the toilet in some weeks below those of the awful 1999-2000 Nitros. The WWE has gone complacent and stale. Like most monopolies it needs competition. Raw would not have reached the highs of 1998-2001 without the competition of Nitro. Do I think competition in wrestling will happen again? No. There is Total Non Stop Action (TNA) but it is as incompetently run as WCW was and when it tried to recreate the Monday Night Wars in 2010 it got annihilated. Remember WCW was subsidised by a billionaire and apart from 1995-98 lost money. I suspect the WWE will never face competition again. A cheery thought….

*WWF changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2002. When writing about the Monday Night Wars I’ve called it WWF. When writing about the period after 2002 I’ve called it WWE.

**I’ll declare an interest here. I hate Vince Russo. He is xenophobic (he said Americans don’t want to watch Mexican and Japanese wrestlers and thought even Vince McMahon could not make WCW wrestler Loch Ness a star. If he knew anything about wrestling outside the US he would know that Loch Ness – as Giant Haystacks – was a superstar in the UK) and sexist ( his idea of women wrestling was to either have them get beaten up by men or fight in evening gown matches, bra and panties matches or other sexist crap. He has to in my opinion take a large part of the blame for the contempt women’s wrestling has been held in until last year’s Divas Revolution). This guy is wrestling’s equivalent of Donald Trump and how he got a job as head booker in any wrestling organisation is a complete mystery.