SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, April 21, 2000

Good TV result of renewed WCW-WWF war

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Last week, I stepped up onto my soap-box here at SLAM! and I cheered on WCW as they appeared to be on the road to recovery. People in general -- readers who responded, other writers, people I've spoken to -- agreed. Until this past Monday, when the WWF just blew them out of the water with a hot-shot Raw. I'm here not to remind everyone that nothing has changed.

It's been what, ten days since the new WCW debuted? WCW has presented two Nitros, one Thunder, and Spring Stampede. Spring Stampede got remarkably high ratings relative to the usual for that company, Thunder and one of the Nitros were well-received, but the most recent Nitro scored some lower marks, partly because Raw hot-shotted its way to an easy win and partly because Nitro didn't score too well in the ratings this week.

Nothing has really changed.

WCW is still an entity unto itself. The fact that Chris Jericho briefly held WWF championship gold this week doesn't at all change their product -- but it does seem to change people's perception of it.

When it was announced that Kevin Sullivan was out, along with friends Gary Juster and J.J. Dillon, and that even Bill Busch was gone, people seemed to rejoice. I guess at the time, any change seemed a positive for WCW. When it was announced that Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo would unite to reform the organization, the news was met with skepticism, first that it would happen, then later that they'd be able to pull it off.

Once people got a look at what the plans were, how everything was to go down, they approved. Pit the young against the old and don't over-push the old. After all, if Old vs. Old didn't do it for WCW in 1998 and 1999, then surely Young vs. Old couldn't do any worse.

When people sampled the first of the products produced by the brothers Russo/Bischoff, people were still jubilant, perhaps even more so. Finally, it seemed, WCW had a chance. I was riding that train, and I'm still on it.

A lot of people have guesses as to when the WWF finally turned it around in their war against an nWo-driven WCW. Some say it was the emergence of the heel promoter following the Bret Hart debacle at Survivor Series. Others say it was the extravaganza Wrestlemania XIV. Still others believe it was Degeneration-X hitting its stride or simply the time that Stone Cold Steve Austin started to elicit big cheers.

But let me target you with a more difficult question. Instead of pin-pointing when the WWF started to win the war, can you tell me when they started to fight it? When they landed the first blow, finally made movements in the right direction?

Was it the heel turn of Bret Hart? The ridding of the WWF of ridiculous stables like the Disciples of Apocalypse and the Truth Commission? The coming of WWF Attitude? The hiring or persona alteration of Steve Austin?

That question's a little bit harder, and in truth, I think it would take a pretty in-depth analysis of all the shows in 1997 to really take a good stab at it. My guess would probably be Wrestlemania XIII, when Austin and Hart's match stole the show, but also solidified them in their new, more effective respective positions, heel and face. I'm certainly not sure about that answer, though. Wouldn't bet my $64,000 on it.

My point is this: WCW has just started to fight their war against the WWF. Up until recently, they weren't fighting at all. When Vince McMahon decided to make a serious run at taking back the wrestling industry he helped create in the United States, it was a long time before that job was done. And that was a job done nearly perfectly, in many senses.

So assuming that WCW does a perfect job of re-conquering fans' interest and rebuilding their organization, it should still take time. A lot of time.

They may not have done it this week. In fact, it's possible they took a step back from that brief high they were on last week with those finally-up ratings. But ratings come with time, not after one show. At best, it will take show after show after show of interesting plots and strong matches to draw the fans back in. And that's assuming they even do it properly. If they don't, it could take even longer, or never even materialize at all.

Personally, I wouldn't bet on the ratings even coming closer until autumn or even early winter. I don't see WCW making it a race, even on paper, until the end of 2000. And again, that's assuming everything goes to plan. Good matches, good stories, good personalities pushed. It may not. This isn't at all advocating that it will.

But what we've seen from WCW in recent days and weeks, at least, has been an effort. Something that may bridge the gap, eventually. So there's reason for hope.

It will take time and effort to get this done, and whether you or I think they'll do it really has no bearing on the whole situation. The people they have to impress are the ones who have been leaving their television shows and pay-per-views embarassingly empty over the past year. If they can bring them back, then we may have a race again. But one Nitro doesn't tell the whole story, especially if over on the other channel McMahon is pulling out all the stops.

Think about it like this. I don't reckon Y2J would be a former world champion if not for WCW's slight ratings resurgence last week and the WWF realizing their recent stale efforts. Perhaps even Steve Austin's appearance at Backlash has to do with it, too.

As long as WCW is trying, they'll start to crawl back. And as long as they're moving in the right direction, it's in the best interest of the WWF to keep them down -- they do that by blowing them away with good television. You tell me -- who wins now?

That's it, that's all. Mailbag! writes:
"If you did your homework on the second Shamrock-Severn match you would have known that they were barred from throwing any closed fist blows. This is a major part of Ken's offense, and it was grounded...the only way an old man like Severn could EVER beat a real athlete like Kenny is with a stacked deck."

Uh, okay. I've never been a big fan of Ken Shamrock's, but I think it's been about a year since I've had anything to say about him. Nonetheless, point taken. Closed fists barred, Shamrock screwed. Got it. Thanks.

Christopher Lantz, from, writes:
"I totally agree with you that Nitro was a great show this past week. It's about time that WCW put out something worth watching. And I also agree with you that Wrestlemania was a pretty decent card too. A lot of people were just mad that the heel went over and then went off on a tangent saying that it was the worst WM ever because of that simple fact. After reading all the stuff on the Internet that said Foley was gonna win, I went into WM just waiting and wondering. When was it gonna happen? How was it gonna happen? But then, when he was pinned, my mind was, well, broken. I couldn't believe he lost. Then I figured, they must be giving the belt to The Rock anyway. Everyone knows that the heel can't win at WM. Then The Rock got pinned. I was stunned. I couldn't believe what I just saw. A lot of people don't know the reason that HHH won the match. I personally think that the WWF has realized that he is bankable. They've realized that he is gonna be the guy they need to build around. Why else has he been champion for the better part of the year? Okay, maybe not the year, but for a damn long time now. People just couldn't face up to the fact that The Rock isn't the main guy in the WWF anymore. That and the fact that HHH does such a great job being a heel, the people hate him. So, of course, if he wins at the biggest show of the year, they're gonna say it was a terrible show. I say kudos to the WWF for changing pace a little. Thanks."

The WWF is where they are, in a position of relative freedom, dependent on no one, largely because they know a work-horse when they see one. The 1990's were ridden on the backs of Bret Hart and The Undertaker, two guys who could carry the promotion during even the worst of times, and I think that Triple H is that guy right now. In that sense, he is the number one guy in the WWF. I've been meaning to pen a column about the guy -- maybe I will next week.

My question -- did you think Nitro was such a great show this week or have your thoughts changed like (seemingly) everyone else's?

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading and writing. Have a great week!

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