Sunday, December 20, 1998
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Stranger than fiction....Or is it?
During the past decade, I've enjoyed watching the various videotapes that the World Wrestling Federation puts together. Their "Best of" series was a great education piece in a lot of ways, as are their past Wrestlemania tapes. You have the opportunity to compare the adjective-laden definition of the sport's announcing style of Gorilla Monsoon and his absolute magic when paired with partner and longtime nemesis Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. It also shows how horribly misused Heenan is as a WCW commentator in the hands of lead announcer Tony Schiavone. In later years, you can hear how Jim Ross has firmly established himself as the pole sitter during these days of WWF Attitude. And attitude as well, it seems has crept into the frames of celluloid we can now buy for under $ 15.00
The most recent releases have some very strange twists to them. Wrestling, as Vincent K. McMahon Jr. and Eric Biscoff both know well, is a multi-tiered entertainment business where athletes change federations on a constant basis. Be it contract disputes, working conditions, indifferences in attitude and what have you, wrestlers move from federation to federation because of it. On the Best of Wrestlemania tape you would expect the best match ever:the infamous Macho Man Randy Savage / Ricky Steamboat encounter to appear. Many agree this was one of the best matches of all time.
There's no need to go into the number of near falls before the match was won. What does merit mention is that it doesn't appear. Savage, to me one of the absolute best of all time with his lightning speed, acerbic wit and legendary calls of "ooooh yeah", deserves so much more than this, even though he works today for Turner's owned WCW. Hulk Hogan appears prominently on that tape. Savage, forever considered a second banana by raving Hulkamaniacs of the past isn't there. To me, the flying elbow drop in its day, the double axe handles onto the mat outside the ring and the spinning of the finger to indicate judgement day was forthcoming should be on an classic retrospective produced by Titan. They've all fought, they've all been to court, they all have issues. They should never been taken out on the fans.
Even worse is the Survivor Series best of tape, which has some pretty interesting moments such as the debut of the Undertaker. But what you quickly find out you are watching is another tape of set-ups for current programming. The alter ego of Dustin Runnels and Goldust doing a pop-in pop-up super imposed commentary on the screen while a match between the man of Shattered Dreams challenges Bam Bam Bigelow. And then, naturally, there are Stone Cold Steve Austin matches and so there should be. But we see all of this done to death interview footage from after the infamous Owen Hart match where Austin was severly injured. The same could have been achieved so easily in a few minutes with better editing. Instead, we must see the entire thing that all of us have seen dozens of times before as the story lines are developed. It makes little or no sense because anyone with brains doesn't need to see the entire story on this tape if they have any of the Stone Cold solo video editions. Not even having seen those, I am guessing that they appear.
Perhaps the strangest injustice is how, when showing the infamous Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels match that spawned a departure, a movie and endless hours of who screwed who, Titan Sports decides to frame it as the dawning of the age of Mr. McMahon. Anyone who is a reader of SLAM! Wrestling knows this to be laughable, and furthermore, convenient posture for take in light of Bret's own movie. I've yet to see the Hart film, but the fact is, almost 15 minutes of tape is used on this match alone, including McMahon's infamous 'non-charachter' Bret screwed Bret interview with Jim Ross. I am not one of Bret's biggest fans, and while I do admire his incredible talent and resilience, the issue is not Bret. The man speaks for himself. The issue is the way consumers get used by buying this tape expecting to see pieces of classic matches and end up getting the shaft.
A recent Monday night's Raw Is War was one of the best I've seen in years. I think Al Snow is positively inventive with his creation of 'head' as a mascot and The Rock dropping the Corporate Elbow on it was hysterical. Mark Henry and D-Lo should be nominated for an Emmy Award for their brilliant segment on Henry's first date with Chyna, the apparent rose that blooms in his garden of love. But there is nothing funny about the WWF's use of home video to deliver a political message that is simple bull. Bret Hart's loss at Survivor Series was a business decision that Titan made. We know that and it's been done to death. What I am wondering is why Vince McMahon and company decided to use a retrospective video to assert this change in Vinnie Mac's on-air persona when it's never truly been put across to fans of the WWF on their telecasts. To me it's stranger than fiction. That is, unless I've missed something.
If it was actually true, it looks positively ridiculous as a face saving attempt as it is so long after the fact that it's downright embarrasing. If you've seen the match, pass on the video.
Vincent Degiorgio is a Canadian who lives in New York and misses Wendy Mesley terribly on the CBC on Sunday nights. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org