EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, December 10, 1999
Got that up-beat attitude again
Say what you will about the shift in direction of either the WWF or WCW, but I'm enjoying a wrestling a heck of a lot right now. The Monday Night Wars are becoming a hoot again, and not because of talent theft or immature antics, but because each show is getting good in and of itself.
Let's start off with a few criticism deflections.
I dislike the Big Show/Big Bossman feud as much as the next guy. It's lame and it sucks and neither competitor should be competing for the world title right now, let alone holding it. I thought things were looking up for The Big Show prior to Survivor Series, but some real direction probably would have included a new sparring partner after winning the title. By going back to his tired, old feud with Bossman, he's actually lost a lot of the popularity he gained in winning the title.
Don't lunge for the WWF's throat just yet, though. They're in a period of re-grouping and this, I hope, is an interim battle. Remember two years ago at this time? Vince McMahon had just lost the services of Bret Hart, and in doing so ended the very-over Canada versus United States feud, leaving the Hart Foundation totally without direction and, eventually, talent. As if that weren't enough, it also ended the also very-over Shawn Michaels/Bret Hart feud. Fans had to live through an entire month of build-up to a December Degeneration-X: In Your House pay-per-view featuring Michaels' title defense against, of all people, Ken Shamrock.
But it wasn't a sign of things to come, it was simply what the WWF did for a month before rekindling their more successful feuds - Michaels/Undertaker, Hunter Hearst Helmsley/Owen Hart, and eventually starting their incredibly successful Degeneration-X/Steve Austin feud.
There's plenty to watch for around the corner, even if one were to assume that Austin and Mankind were no more. Of course, it's also always possible that someone important at WWFE Inc. thinks this title feud is actually working and that it really isn't fodder. Then be very afraid.
Over on the other channel, or here in Canada, two days later on the same channel, Nitro featured a lot of really interesting stuff and a lot of really lame stuff. My very quick take on the latter: just as in the early days of Vince Russo's writing WWF programming, he's trying stuff out. Some angles, like the Maestro, were stupid before he got here, and others he created himself. It's a growing process, and I still say give it time.
But enough about what isn't good. Here's what I think is good.
This first bit comes as more of a surprise than anything. The WWF, inexplicably and inconsistently, is actually allowing some of their talent to develop as wrestlers, either without or with very minor angles, and letting their wrestling speak for itself. In addition to this, the guys they're allowing to do this aren't six-foot-fourteen, either. I'm talking about the Hardys, Edge and Christian, Too Cool, and so on. I'm just shocked that they haven't yet been shelved, re-tooled, or anglified. Knock on wood, I guess.
Over in WCW and of equal surprise, I'm starting to care about their wrestlers. It's the exact opposite effect. Instead of just putting their talent out there and leaving them to die a horrible metaphorical death, they're pushing their characters. I mean, I knew Russo and company would try it, but I'm surprised how much it's working. I can almost say I know care a little bit more about every guy in the company, with the obvious exception of Diamond Dallas Page and some of the cruisers.
Too Cool, aside from impressing me in the ring, is cracking me up. So's Rikishi Fatu. Lash LeRoux is starting to impress me with his package of wrestling and personality. The Powers That Be angle is starting to take shape, and I think it's going to be good. Before you level any criticisms at WCW's lack of increased ratings since its inception, I say wait until it hits high gear. If that isn't enough to captivate at least a few more wrestling fans, I'd be surprised and Russo may be in trouble. That kind of pay-dirt, though, may be just what WCW needs.
Stay off the politics, Eric. Stay off the politics. It's so hard to stay focused on such a broad array of subjects without picking up on one and exploring it in-depth.
Other assorted good stuff.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash are passable wrestlers again. It's like the first time in years that I can say that. I'm trying very, very hard to accept Sid as he's being pushed, but it's tough. I just don't like the guy, and a part of that's because of the crap he's pulled behind the scenes for so long. Some of that, I find, still comes off on television. Goldberg has to start kicking some butt real soon, and I think that unfortunately for Bret, he may just start doing that at Starrcade.
Meanwhile, on the proverbial flip side, it's nice to see some fresh faces at the top. I admit I miss Steve Austin more than a bit, but Al Snow is blossoming quite nicely, as is Chris Jericho. I look forward to more from them. Val Venis may be the one guy the WWF's pushed and pushed and pushed whom I still, as a persona more than a wrestler, can't stand. And it isn't that 'can't stand in the heel way', either. More like the 'get off my television set' way. That's a shame, because he's a really nice guy and I think he could do so much more.
Other than that, my reactions are pretty standard, and it seems as though everyone's got a more up-beat attitude about wrestling lately. That's nice to see.
Here's hoping WCW makes it a battle, ideally with something new, fresh, and as yet unseen, as opposed to the same old, same old from WWFE.
If I sound disjointed this week, it's because I am. Literally. Okay, figuratively. Disjointed nonetheless.
Here's the mailbag.
Paul Holmes, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Why do you every week defend you preference to WWF? You obviously have a preference to the WWF. It can be understood. The WWF product has been consistent over many years and has provided much entertainment for you. With past in place, of course you would be biased. WCW has burned the wrestling viewer in past. But there is fact that you, Mr. Benner, ignore do your preference. For instances Macho Man hitting Gorgeous George. You wrote an article about it, but the abuse on some women in WWF was ignored. The presecution of Bret Hart has to end. I am sorry he no longer the hero you want him to be. He has acted different from his past ideals, but I ask you in your personal life, have you in personal life suffered the way he has in in the last couple years. Think of it, all the pain suffering you went through in the public eye. Please Mr. Benner, read your previous columns and letters, you will see a trend in which you state that the Hitman is no longer your hero and you defend that you prefer WWF, but that is based on fact. Please stop defending yourself and repeat the same information in your columns. I know you prefer WWF and Bret Hart is no longer your hero. Myself I like the humour of new WCW and action of ECW and super characters of WWF."
Very briefly, two comments. One, I feel that I don't constantly harass Bret Hart. That was clearly a one-time thing and I haven't mentioned it since. Ken Shamrock, he ain't. Second, I was simply more offended by the idea that Macho Man could have been acting out of character, which seemed like a possibility. If you think that violence against Chyna is immoral, then you're obviously off-base there. If you're talking about Jeff Jarrett's abuse of the other women, there's a difference between in-ring cartoon figure-four violence and behind the scenes, spouse-abuse type stuff. There just is. You're right. With a much stronger product this year, I am in favour of the WWF. But that doesn't debunk every single observation I make about them. Sometimes, believe it or not, I actually mean them. I like to think I mean everything I write. Clearly you disagree.
As to why I address the very kind of email you wrote me, I just respond to what I get. I get a lot of email along these lines. So I write back. I can't publish endless 'I like your columns, keep up the good work' letters - much as I do appreciate them - because that would be incredibly boring. So this has to do instead.
If everyone asked me questions and engaged in useful conversation, then guess what: That would be represented in the mailbag.
Ben Sisson, from email@example.com, writes:
"Have you noticed the long time trend of WWF Raw ratings getting better for the second half of the show while WCW Nitro ratings are invariably way lower in its second half?
I think the conclusion you have to draw from that is Raw manages to bring people in to watch it as its show goes on while WCW bores people away.
Personally I find it hard to even think of watching Nitro when there's a Rock monologue or a Mankind event of some sort coming sometime in Raw's second half!" *grin*"
That absolutely has been a trend, and not only one which affects show-ending ratings, but also ratings over time, as people remember which show offers a better pay-load.
Of note, though, the trend has been reversing lately, and I believe Nitro actually increased over time this week. As it happens, I'm not entirely surprised that Goldberg/Jarrett beat the novice-yet-tired combination of Rock 'n' Sock and Jericho/Al Snow.
That's it for this week. In the coming week, look for my year-end awards, and I've been gathering a lot of good letters lately - way more than I can print - so I may do a special Q&A Interactive. If you want to take part, write in soon! Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, have a great week everyone!
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.