EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Thursday columnist.
Thursday, August 20, 1998
Continuity key to success
Last week, I promised a detailed break-down of WCW - why it could easily crush the WWF right now, why it isn't crushing the WWF, and how it could change that.
For the most part, that means I'm critiquing Eric Bischoff. While I normally try to avoid criticizing the work of a pressured high-level executive from the safety of my keyboard and after the fact, I think this is probably the quickest way for Slam! readers to get to know my feelings and my style and it will help put some of my future work into perspective. So grab a pencil, take out a sheet of paper, and take some notes, because court is in session and Judge Eric is about to deliver the sentence. Welcome, truth-seekers, to another edition of And Nothing But the Truth.
There are so many wrestlers to keep track of that organization is quintessential to any analysis of Turner's wrestling roster. Consequently, I will evaluate each division of WCW one at a time, even if they aren't even divided into their respective divisions very well. Then I'll move on to more global commentary.
Let's start with the cruiserweights. Every week, these feather-light contenders go out and put on a great show; in fact, I cannot recall a recent Nitro without a great cruiserweight bout. But why can't this actual tangible wrestling talent be manifested into some real heat? Well, it can, it just isn't being done right now. For some reason, only two or three cruiserweights are allowed to have their eye on the belt at any given time - everyone else disappears from the title situation. That retracts a lot from the tension and unpredictability of a normal versatile asset for WCW.
What's the solution? Start establishing that all candidates are interested in the gold. It's not difficult. Switch the belt around a few times in strong matches and then make it clear that everyone wants a piece. Then, and only then, will a lengthy title reign have meaning. Let's examine WCW's cruiserweight roster: they have Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, Juventud Guerrera, Rey Mysterio Jr., Billy Kidman, and a few luchadores. My pick for the division is definitely Kidman - give him the belt soon and let him run with it. I guarantee a red-hot run. The only reason that Jericho isn't my pick is that there are already hints he's going on to bigger and better things. The cruiserweight really has the power to take care of itself, and would probably be able to take advantage of WCW's on-the-fly booking because of the depth of talent. The only reason it isn't succeeding now is that for some reason, whenever a cruiserweight loses the belt, he forgets it exists or gets abducted for a few months. That has to stop. Continuity is the key here.
Moving on to the television title, there's a lot of work that needs to be done here. There's no 'division' to speak of, per say, and I don't think that creating one is a great idea. But the idea that there are always three or so people who seem desperate to get their hands on this thing while the rest of the league turns a blind eye makes no sense to me. Saturn doesn't care about the belt anymore? Or Disco? They were pretty upset when they lost it. Again, continuity causes nothing but suffering here.
The fact that the TV belt has long been known as a 'thank you' belt doesn't help. People win it when they sign contracts and extensions, and it becomes evident when you see the winner almost always drop the title in favour of a huge push or a ditching. This title is worthless, and the only way to keep it alive is to assemble a few guys who try to hang on to it even after they've lost it. At least create the illusion of demand. There really isn't more to say about it. I think it's a lost cause, except that I like the basic concept.
The next belt up is the United States title. There are so many flaws in the running of this division (the non-nWo heavyweight division, I usually call it, since nWo-related heavyweights job to Hogan). Its value is so inconsistent. Goldberg went after it, Hart went after it, Page went after it - but Nash, Hall, and Sting don't want a piece. I mean, if WCW isn't going to give them title shots anyway, they may as well raise the notch of the US title. Lord knows they can. I think giving it to Bret is a step in the right direction, but I think giving Bret a good title is always a step in the right direction.
The tag team titles are a complete mystery to me. As far as I can tell, Bischoff split up the permanent tag teams for three reasons: first, to create initial shocks. Oh my God, the Steiners are breaking up! Gosh, Booker T. is fighting solo! And so on. Second, to save money. He's paying the Steiner brothers the same they were earning six months ago, only now he has twice the workers for his money, since he only brings tag teams together every so often. The third reason I think he did it was so that he could create umpteen new shocks for Nitro. Who will Sting's partner be for the tag team title defense? Who will the Giant's partner be for the challenge. Again, and so on. I think the all-powerful shock has taken control of Eric's mind, and it's made WCW suffer in a big way. Continuity, continuity, continuity! Say it with me!
The last title, probably the worst run in the organization, is the heavyweight title. There are so many flaws in this division that I can only list them in point form: Hogan holds the belt too often and too long and took away the chances for runs from too many individuals, when someone does a clean job, it invariably gets returned to owner within a week (see: Luger, Savage). Neither of Sting's victories over Hogan were clean - the second one had to be to retain Sting's credibility and that of the title. And come on, they didn't even engrave Savage's name in the title when he won it. Who thought he would keep it?
Goldberg is a whole other issue. I think that Goldberg is wholly good for WCW, attracting individuals to Nitro to see their awesome athletes perform, and I think that his title reign won't last much longer (four or five PPVs, tops). What I am certain of, though, is that the one person who will suffer for his early title reign is Goldberg, himself. The title won't suffer, WCW won't suffer, but Goldberg will feel his own wrath. He's based his character one hundred percent on never losing. His gimmick is gone as soon as he jobs. Of course, if they leave it around his waist past Starrcade, then WCW will start to feel the pain of a serious mistake. On a slight side-tangent, ScoopTHIS, which has recently re-opened (it's the funniest wrestling site on the internet, or off) parodies everything from news to merchandise, including Goldberg's T-shirt, of which they offer a variation: "WHO'S LEFT?" The best humour has its roots in truth, it is said.
There isn't a whole lot left to cover. Despite the presence of five divisions, I can summarize all of my points into a single statement: maintain your freaking continuity! If they would just do that, their show would be more believable, more interesting, and more watched than anything the great folks at Titan could ever produce.
Hey, they did it for almost a hundred weeks in a row. They can do it again. This is Judge Eric, and that's The Truth.
Back by popular demand is the SLAM! mailbag. Every week, I get tons of mail, and while I find I have less and less time to answer all of it, I still read all of it and respond to most. Well now, you can get your mail posted right here at SLAM! Be warned, though - if you send me any commentary about my column, and I find it particularly noteworthy, I may post it up here along with your first name and email address, so don't write me anything you won't back up!
This week, almost all of the feedback has been positive, and I don't see much point to putting positive mail up since I have nothing to say about it, so I strongly encourage anyone who disagrees with my points to write me at the address listed below. For this week, I'll post a lone letter.
Mark, from MLaurie@oao.com, writes:
Great article....I know I am kind of a "Billy". I just got involved in watching pro wrestling. I am almost sorry. But my question to you is this. Goldberg...I am sure you're tired of hearing the name. In reference to this article: Right now, WCW is running him at about 10:55 EST p.m. at night. His matches rarely last more than a minute or two. If I had it my way, I would turn on my TV right about this time to catch his sorry a$$ match whoops, I am really a fan of his, but his skills are broken and his Spear (flying football tackle and jackhammer move are played out). I have heard that by this time, everyone at the network (TNT) is already been paid. Don't they (T.Turner) realize that fans are gonna stop watching until 10:55 p.m.? Doesn't this hurt Goldberg's career? I for one would like to see him really wrestle. I also, would like to see his win streak end. Otherwise, as fast as I became a fan, is as fast as I'm going to become a Fred or Jim. Your thoughts, please.
I definitely have to say you have a point there, Mark/Billy/Fred/Jim. WCW is using Goldberg to improve their ratings at the expense of his career. Ask yourself one question, though: do you think they really care? In terms of talent for the future, they still have the likes of the Giant, who I think will make a better champion going into the twenty-first century. And yes, he can do a moonsault. No matter how many times you wish that he can't, he'll still be able to. In a street fight, I don't know if there's *anyone* I'd pick over him - he's just that big, that strong. If you disagree with me here, that's something to write about.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, to argue, for commentary, or for anything you'd like to see in future columns. Thanks for tuning in.