EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, September 17, 1999
Summing up a busy week
Alas, it's not my job to sit back and say "wow," I'm supposed to try to make head or tails of it.
For those who haven't really been following the action this week, tons and tons of stuff happened over the last seven days. To start it off, the British Bulldog returned to action last week on Smackdown!, not only startling fans worldwide but also winning the hardcore title in under a minute then giving it away.
Then, late last week, the man who's basically been responsible for what you've seen on WCW television for almost five years now, Eric Bischoff, was fired from the position that he essentially defined. It's not the same thing, clearly, but it feels like Vince McMahon got fired from the WWF or something.
On Sunday night, at Fall Brawl, WCW's long-time franchise player, Sting, turned heel. That shocked the world, but not in the way that Shawn Michaels' original heel turn shocked the world when he put Marty Jannetty's head through a windshield. It was more a surprising move than it was a shocking one that was hard to stomach.
Monday night fostered chaos itself, as Bret Hart, Ric Flair, and Vince McMahon all returned to action or to television, and then in the WWF, their title scene proved itself even more chaotic as an unprecedented seven people seem to be vying for the title at the same time.
Then, of course, there was the chaos behind the scenes at WCW as several men are trying to attain the power that was left behind by Bischoff.
Finally, in the spoilers for the Smackdown! that you will have just seen when you read this column Friday morning, it was revealed that Triple H lost his heavyweight title to ... Vince McMahon?
Like I said. "Wow."
That really is a long list of events for just on week of wrestling. Ultimately, as that mysterious writer mentioned above has said many times, wrestling is made up of such weeks and of such events. Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell whether an event will have the long-term magnitude of the death of Owen Hart or whether it will go down as something as insignificant as Shane McMahon's European title reign.
Some events are obvious, others are not. Let's take a look at this week's array and see what we come up with.
First on the week-long timeline, the British Bulldog returned to action and won the hardcore title. I think that as important or unimportant as either of these two events may seem to a given fan, both of them compliment each other and make this more significant.
The Bulldog's return to action is, of course, only as significant as the action he brings with him, or his long-term effect on the organization. When Shawn Michaels returned from his post-Wrestlemania XIV absence, he proved to be a major player even as a non-wrestler and that, I think, makes his return quite significant. The same thing can be said, I think, for X-Pac's return to the WWF.
Whether the Bulldog's return is looked back on as important depends mostly on how this last leg of his career fares. On that note, his hardcore title puts him in something of a unique position, making him the only man to win every title (minus the women's and the lightheavyweight, but I mean just look at the man) in the WWF -- save the heavyweight title. So not only does the hardcore victory make any future heavyweight title even more significant, as the Bulldog would be the first man to win all five of the WWF's major titles, but it also sets up a reason to have him go after the heavyweight title, which I think bodes well for his chances for success. And his success, of course, will ultimately decide the importance of this event.
Second and perhaps most ground-breaking on the timeline is Eric Bischoff's firing as vice president in charge of WCW. Ouch, this is a big one. It's been covered about fifty billion times by everyone with a keyboard, so I'll make this one quick.
Bischoff's departure will clearly impact the WCW product. In its wake, many of his preferences, such as bringing in mainstream 'stars', will be axed. As a result, there will be immediate changes in WCW, mostly concerned with a 'return to wrestling,' as Bill Busch, Bischoff's new replacement, calls it.
However, that's only half the story, as now camps of individuals are setting up shop and trying to coerce Busch, who is not interested in booking, into giving them that major power. One such camp, I hear, is Kevin Nash, Kevin Sullivan, and others. Hulk Hogan is apparently competing with them. We'll see who wins, but this situation - ungood as it is - is clearly nonetheless important in the long run, and that's just how Bischoff's firing is going to see.
I think that a year from now, we'll see Eric Bischoff's termination as either the saving grace or the last nail in the coffin for WCW, depending on how his replacements fare.
On Sunday, Sting joined the heel Luger, took a bat to Hogan to win the heavyweight title, and was just an all-around bad guy. The fans still cheered him then, but that'll probably wear off with time, and I think he'll be accepted as a heel. This event will prove extremely interesting in retrospect if his programs are well-worked and pretty much a useless waste if they aren't. Point and counter-point: Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker's heel turns after years as a face. Hogan's turned out to be a phenomenal event, and everyone got sick of the 'crazy' Undertaker really quickly, as good as he was. Ultimately, when we think of 1996, we remember Hogan's heel turn at Bash at the Beach as possibly the event of the year, but when was it that the Undertaker turned heel? Exactly, I don't remember either.
Monday night then saw events three and four in our little timeline, with several returns to action and a very weird WWF title situation. I'll dismiss the latter as pretty much irrelevant, interesting as it may seem at the time, but the former warrants further discussion.
I personally refuse to comment on Bret Hart's return because whatever I say, I could be wrong as early as next week if Bret goes back into hiding again. I hope he'll stick around, and if he does and he's allowed to work memorable programs this time around, then I think that not only will that be the best thing for him right now, but it might do wonders for WCW and make this return all the more important.
Ric Flair hasn't really been gone that long so I don't see his return as that significant, at least not as a return to action. Perhaps as a signal that he can be Ric Flair again and even more so as a signal of what the post-Bischoff era might look like, though, that's definitely a possibility. As with any possibility, time will tell.
Finally, two stories in one. Vince McMahon returns to WWF television then one-ups himself by winning the heavyweight title his next outing on Smackdown!. It seems to me as though this is mostly business as usual in the WWF, somewhat like Chyna winning the title shot shortly before SummerSlam, but I think it may eventually prove helpful to the WWF. Vince McMahon has been proven, at this point, I think, to be one of the most popular (good or bad) people in the federation, and as annoyed as people were that his angle went on for so long, the consensus seemed to be that he was missed when he left.
The ratings shared that view, too, as they've taken a slight dip since the end of Austin's year-long feud with the evil promoter. This will, at least, appease those who worried that the WWF was about to start spiralling downward, as his return, in my opinion, signals an end to any such doubt.
If I had to end this column with some sort of conclusion, I'd say that you just can't tell how important something is until much later when you can look back on it both objectively and with the additional information that only the future provides. This certainly rings true with the big events of this decade, such as Scott Hall's first WCW appearance or Steve Austin's King of the Ring victory.
I'm going to try my best, now, to keep my own personal musings until after the content of the column, between that and the mailbag. On that note, I got a lot of mail about the last three weeks' columns, lots of good, lots of bad. Fair enough. However, I would like to comment, before addressing specific complaints, that I'm doing my best to cover a little bit of what everyone wants, and balancing that with having fun myself. I hope people can see that.
Here's the mail.
Jim Martin, from JimmyBklyn@aol.com, writes:
"Great series of columns. One of the reasons I enjoy your column so much is because I don't always agree with you. Actually I usually don't. I do enjoy WCW's product better, it's likely because I'm older than WWF's target audience and I remember the glory days of most of WCW's stars of today. However, I do watch Raw because there are some wrestlers I simply have to see, particularly now that Jericho is there to "save the show." But it bothers me to no end to see Nitro trashed by those who love Raw. Why can't I watch both shows and enjoy one of them more, even it most of the world doesn't agree with me? Thankfully I can read an objective column by someone who admittedly prefers Raw when I visit "Nothing But the Truth" at SLAM!"
Heh, at least someone believes me when I say I at least try to be impartial.
Ryan Love, from email@example.com, writes:
"Eric, I must correct you as it relates to your September 10th column. Six days before Bash at the Beach, Sting was slated in to be the third member of NWO. Eric Bischoff stated that fact on TSN's Off the Record and he also stated that Hogan asked to be the third guy because he wanted to change his image since the fans were getting sick of his character. That is why Hogan became the leader, because, as usual, Hogan runs the show in WCW, for better or for worse."
I received quite a few emails stating basically the same thing, which would normally lead me to believe I was mistaken. However, I also received several emails suggesting that the third man was slated to be Lex Luger. And Shawn Michaels. And Randy Savage. I admit, at this point, I really don't know what's going on, and perhaps no one really does. Or maybe it's just me. Hey, I never said I knew everything.
Blair Burch, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I can't believe you'd write a column like this and still try to say you're not a WWF mark. The WWF has a very much better utilized roster, there is no question. But they do not have a more athletic roster. The WCW roster is full of way more talented athletes then the WWF, they just don't get used properly anymore. The athleticism of all the young guns in the WCW is amazing. The WWF is full of marginal talent brawlers who are just good with a mike. I'm not saying there aren't any good athletes in the WWF because there are. Just in general the WCW roster is way better. I'm sorry but every time you give an opinion on the big 2 it always goes the way of WWF even when it obviously shouldn't be."
It's unfortunate that in this medium of writing, just like with oral rhetoric, whenever I use any figure of speech beyond the mind-numbingly simple ones, someone's bound to misunderstand me. Blair, the entire point of that exercise was to show that it's not fair to make generalizations about one fed or another like that, because it's impossible to make the judgments I pretended to make in that column. Wait, pretended? Yes, pretended. the whole bit about the WWF being "far and away better" was laced, no, drenched in sarcasm. My entire point was that it's so absurd to say that one roster is "better" than another, but I guess some people didn't pick up on that. Maybe I should've been more clear when I said:
"Oh, what's that? I'm starting to sound a little too sure of myself? [...] Well, then, if you read this far, you should understand my point, that [...] there's no way anyone could ever prove to everyone the objective superiority of a given organization. And, in theory, that leads to today's conclusion:
Wrestling is subjective."
Obviously I should have made that simpler, because a lot of people seemed to misunderstand me there. Well, three. But still.
If a WWF mark is someone who enjoys the WWF more than WCW, then on Friday, September 17, that's exactly what I am. If it's someone who's biased in favour of it as a result, well, since I'm human, I'm that, too. But if it's someone who makes unfair judgements and doesn't give WCW a fair shake when it at least tries to be good, then I refer you to letter number one, in which someone appears to think that I'm not.
That's all for this week. I know it was a big one, but I hope you enjoyed it just the same. Have a terrific week, everyone, and send me some mail if you get the chance. Thanks for reading, thanks as always for writing, and I'll see you later.
Send email to email@example.com.