EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, August 20, 1998
Nitro isn't fun to watch
And yet, none of this has anything to do with SummerSlam looking to be good, or even looking to be big. The plausible title changes and the cameo referee appearance are just the smoke and mirrors of the show. What attracts is the substance.
Substance, I think, is the difference - almost the only difference - between WWF SummerSlam and WCW Road Wild.
Think about it. Let's talk title changes. It seems as though Triple H is poised to take the strap from Steve Austin at SummerSlam. It seemed just as likely, two weeks ago, that Kevin Nash should take the belt from Hulk Hogan so that Hogan could go under the knife and get that knee fixed.
The Undertaker and The Big Show seem to be in a perfect position to take away Kane and X-Pac's second tag team title together. Well, Harlem Heat looked to be ready to take the Triad's tag team titles last weekend - and they did.
There almost doesn't seem to be any point to a Jeff Jarrett versus D'Lo Brown return match unless someone D'Lo loses one or both titles, since we know Jarrett is about to be pushed, big time, as a heel. Many people speculated that someone Rick Steiner would lose his television title, or that Chris Benoit would drop the United States championship at Road Wild.
As far as title changes or the possibilities thereof, the two pay-per-views are pretty much even.
Some might argue that Jesse Ventura's star power might turn the tides in such a match-up of pay-per-views, that he might attract the bigger audience. To that I would respond that not only did umpteen-time world-champion and former Bull/Spur/Piston/Laker Dennis Rodman appear at Road Wild, but he wrestled against one of the top guys and got his butt beat badly.
Arguably, those two appearances are equal, as well.
So what makes the difference? Why, if they're even on so many of the levels on which prospective pay-per-views can be judged, will SummerSlam eclipse Road Wild's buy-rate, probably even more than Raw trounces Nitro each week?
I say the answer is in the substance. Of course, this being professional wrestling, you'd think that by substance, I meant wrestling.
Well, that certainly can't be true. Let's take the three matches on each card with the best potential to really turn out to be a four-star match.
For SummerSlam, I'd say we're talking about the main event itself, simply because Triple H knows how to wrestle a nice, long main event, and because Mick Foley always adds a little something. Then, to pick two others, I'm forced to basically guess and go with the tag team title match and the dual-titles match. Look at the alternatives. A women's match, a match featuring Shane McMahon, a Lion's Den match pitting two zombies against each other, a Big Bossman match, and a match that has something to do with Billy Gunn. I'm almost forced to go with those picks.
Then look at Road Wild, or at least how you might have seen it, you know, before you saw it. Chris Benoit and DDP have proven that they work extremely well against each other, especially with the United States title on the line. What are now known as the Filthy Animals and Vampiro are always certain to put on something entertaining, whether Insane Clown Posse is a part of it or not. Harlem Heat were always a bit draw, back when WCW was about wrestling, and Kanyon and Bam Bam Bigelow are no slouches, either. The Revolution against the Redneck Cowboys at least had the makings of a good match, and even out of Sid can Sting draw a good match. See, with WCW, I'm at least forced to choose what matches will be the best, because likely many of them will be good.
My point here is that when I say SummerSlam destroys Road Wild in the category of substance, I don't mean actual wrestling. Whatever I do mean, though, has to go so far as to compensate for that deficit, as well.
Just because I say whatever, though, doesn't mean this isn't headed somewhere.
It's very refreshing, as always, to have a girlfriend - or any close friend who can appreciate wrestling - who likes to watch but doesn't really keep up with the online stuff. It's especially refreshing because she bases her opinions solely on what entertains her. Not that history doesn't have its place and that we shouldn't value it, but she'd never watch Ric Flair and see the man who built wrestling in the 1980's. She sees an old, relatively out of shape guy who would probably be better off managing than wrestling. When she looks at Hulk Hogan, she sees pretty much the same thing, with "an ugly beard" and without the prospect of being a good manager.
Then she takes one look at The Rock, and she laughs. She laughs. That means she's being entertained, and that's what matters to her, as a consumer of television. And that's reflective of what people want, to some extent.
Sometimes, I tape Raw and Nitro during the week, when I'm especially busy, and then we sit down on the weekend and watch them together. Last weekend, when Raw was over and I was fast-forwarding to Nitro, she got up and left.
"Hey, what are you doing? We still have Nitro to watch," I asked her.
"Nitro sucks," she said simply.
And no matter how I want to quantify her opinion -- the thought did strike me -- a lot of people I know watch Raw because they love it and Nitro because they feel they have to, as wrestling fans, out of some sense of duty.
I don't want to get into this too much, and I don't mean to offend WCW fans, because Nitro is an interesting product, for what it is, but Raw is more popular, by a two-to-one ratio now. And her comment briefly summarizes why: "it sucks."
I personally don't think Nitro "sucks." I'll still watch it, with or without her. But her testimony does mean something. Nitro, to her, just isn't fun to watch. I'm more of a wrestling purist than she, so I can find things to like about Nitro, but I do have to find them. In Raw, it's all packaged, nice and neat, with a little bow on top.
But why, exactly, does Nitro "suck," I asked her. Her response was simple, if uncertain. "I really don't understand it," she said.
She didn't know it at the time, but she made a very good point. The lack of continuity, which I probably harp about too much as it is, makes Nitro difficult to swallow. She doesn't understand why Sid is said to be 55-0. She's seen him lose twice. Well, once, but I told her about the other loss. To her, he's just a big guy who's won a few and lost a few. She doesn't get why WCW would call him undefeated, that just seems kind of dumb.
At this point, folks, 'she' has been elevated to metaphor status, and it means the non-online wrestling fans.
She doesn't get why the wrestlers who are feuding are feuding. What's up with Buff Bagwell and the Cat? Why do they hate each other? Why is a given wrestler in WCW allied with another given wrestler and at odds with a third? It just doesn't make sense, half the time, and the casual fan will pick up on that.
In the WWF, most feuds have a reason. Some basic catalyst that started it off. It might be convoluted, it might be dumb, but it's there. The Rock doesn't like Billy Gunn because he interfered in The Rock's strap match at Fully Loaded. Triple H's quest for Austin's title is just that, a quest for the title. Kane doesn't like the Undertaker because "he hurt Sean." Jeff Jarrett is just pissed off that D'Lo took his Intercontinental title. And so on, and so on. But that's what the WWF does well, tell stories.
So when it comes time to order a given month's pay-per-view, it's just a lot easier for many people to order the WWF stuff. The fact of the matter is that they care more about the out-come of WWF feuds because the feuds actually have a cause and a history. In WCW, while the wrestling is often better, it's just less entertaining to watch guys go at it for no reason.
The fault doesn't necessarily lie in WCW's talent, or even the way their talent is used, though that is a problem. Even if they only want to promote the big (read: old) boys as major players, if they did so with compelling, consistent story-lines, I just might care. But I don't know whether that's true or not, because they barely package their feuds at all.
If you wanted to watch two guys go at it for no reason, you may as well order a UFC pay-per-view and at least get some real action.
Here's the mail.
Dan Shea, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Eric, in the spirit of constructive criticism, might I offer you this piece of advice: Write the damn column and shut up. All the meta-column meanderings, the "here's my process" introductions, the "I swear I'm not biased" defenses, are just so much dead weight. Edit yourself, or get an editor if you need one. You often make good points, but they're wrapped up in such an impenetrable gauze of mealy-mouthed rationalizations that their impact is deadened. You can't please everybody, so you might as well at least piss people off much more efficiently."
[Editor's note: Eric's columns DO get edited, but chopping them is next to impossible. :-)]
I appreciate the advice, Dan, I really do. Long-time readers of my column would tell you that I probably take the advice of my readership concerning my column more than anyone. It's not a matter of trying to please everyone so much as my personal version of common sense. The way I see it, if I write this column so that people can read it and enjoy it, then I may as well write it to their tastes. That doesn't mean I'm willing to alter my own opinions, but I will, to a certain extent, alter their presentation.
Long-time readers will also probably tell you that I've been about process writing from the beginning. I like to think of this column as a conversation with the reader, and I often get email to the effect of "your column reads like a conversation, I find myself nodding at my computer screen, sometimes shaking my head." That was the strength I originally brought to the table when I started to write here, and it's the way I enjoy writing my columns. So it probably won't stop.
Keeping a reader mailbag at all, though a SLAM! tradition, is also a form of process writing, and enhances the conversation aspect of this column. So just as any other, Dan, I'll take your advice and note it, and as you yourself say, "you can't please everybody." The difference is, though, I don't want to do it, as you put it, "efficiently," but for fun. If I were in it for efficiency, I probably wouldn't hit the two thousand word mark as often as I do (believe it or not, I hit it while writing this sentence), and I wouldn't bother with a mailbag.
Raquelisha, from Raquelisha@email.msn.com, writes:
"Eric. I just wanted to express my admiration towards your columns. They are my favourite of all web sites, but they are not as frequent enough. I'd like to here your comments on a more regular basis. Oh and please: Don't waste anymore columns on Ken Shamrock. I bet there are more interesting topics."
Fair enough. That's the kind of constructive criticism I'm more inclined to follow, for your information. If people don't want to read about something anymore, then far be it for me to keep writing about it. Besides, if you don't understand my position on Ken Shamrock by now, one more column won't do it. I stand by my opinion on this one, though. The dude's a jerk.
Thanks for reading and thanks especially for writing. Have a great week, everyone.
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