EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Thursday columnist.
Thursday, August 27, 1998
Dissecting today's WWF scene
After last week's column describing the state of affairs in WCW wrestling, my mailbox was flooded with two kinds of messages: half from people who thought I was an idiot for even suggesting that WCW had the capacity to become number one in the near future, and half from people who thought it was already there.
Some people did raise a good point, though: I am not Eric Bischoff. I am not an executive at a wrestling organization - in fact, I'm not an executive anywhere or anything at a wrestling organization. I'm Joe Columnist, and my opinion, while valid as a fan, counts for nothing as an 'expert.' So let me make clear something. I have never claimed to be able to walk a day in Mr. Bischoff or Mr. McMahon's shoes. I have always been a defender of them both, and I applaud them for being able to do their jobs at all. For what they have done for wrestling as a whole, I applaud them. Under no circumstances would I deem myself able to replace them.
Well, why did I write that article, then? Put simply, there was reader demand for it. I had been getting a lot of mail asking for my point of view on this or that, mostly in WCW, and I was able to sum up my feelings on many separate issues with that one column. To be fair to the other side of the fence, I'll be doing the same thing this week - dissecting the product of the WWF.
As with the previous edition, I'm going to systematically evaluate the World Wrestling Federation, one division at a time, then sum up with my general opinions.
Again, the 'light heavyweights' lead off. My first comment here is that the name of the division, itself, is ridiculous. It's a walking contradiction and a symbol of trying to be something one isn't. Where the term 'cruiserweight,' to me, suggests high-flying, the term 'light heavyweight' is indicative of weaklings.
That aside, there isn't much to say about the WWF's midget division. First of all, they no longer have a single face. Not one. Then again, their heels consist of Taka Michinoku, the rest of Kaientai, and Too Much. That's six heels, with no faces to fight. Taka doesn't even usually wear his belt anymore, let alone defend it. Is the WWF trying to casually and inconspicuously sweep this division under the rug? There's talent out there - and Titan is notorious for being able to find it - but I have no idea what the plan is here. As far as I am concerned, this division is in a category with only the WCW tag team division. The non-existent one.
It's my gut instinct to move onto the intercontinental division next, because I equate the European title with the United States title, but in terms of importance, that just isn't true. So the Euro-title is up next. This title, I think, is about on par with the television title in WCW. Granted, it's been held by some great talent, from Davey Boy Smith, to Shawn Michaels, to Hunter Hearst Helmsley, to Owen Hart, but I think the WWF has given up on trying to convince everybody that this particular piece of gold is worth something and are admitting that it's a career stepping-stone. Not quite the equivalent of WCW's doormat title, but that's where it's headed. D-Lo Brown v. Val Venis? This is a title match? Don't get me wrong, I admire both athletes, but neither of them have suitable build-up and history to be fighting over a title. The fact that I don't think they've ever met on camera has something to do with that, too.
I like the intercontinental title where it is right now. I think that there are some men in the industry we call wrestling who do as much or more for a belt they hold as it does for them. Rocky Maivia is one such individual. He's attracted attention to the belt, made it the object of desire of many a wrestler, and made it clear that he intends to hold onto it, because frankly, he's the "best darn intercontinental champ there ever was." I, for one, would love to count the final days down (fixed to the nearest pay-per-view, of course) to his breaking of the HonkyTonk Man's record of fourteen months with that title. Nonetheless, the title itself is a hot commodity. The last three men to hold it speak for themselves - the Rock, Steve Austin, and Owen Hart. I don't even remember who held it between Owen and the previous run of memorable champions, but don't tell me. Save the surprise.
The tag team titles in the WWF are certainly in better shape than their compatriots in WCW, but that doesn't say much. I think that the New Age Outlaws are almost up there with Rocky and Chris Jericho and Bret Hart in terms of the value they add to a belt, but my problem with these two belts is that no tag team seems to care about them, except maybe the Outlaws. The Legion of Doom seems to have forgotten about them, the Disciples of Apocalypse are too busy not feuding with the Legion to bother with it, Owen and the Rock aren't really a tag team, and the two assumedly no-longer-existing duos of Undertaker/Austin and Kane/Mankind didn't seem to care for the belts at all. They were just a means of creating plot twists between the four. Hopefully, the Outlaws will win one for the side of actual tag teams this Sunday.
My biggest problem with the WWF world heavyweight title is that it seems to change shape with every new Raw - almost as fast as Steve Austin's attire. That's a complement, by the way. McMahon and company are doing everything right with their heavyweight division. They've created about four consecutive unpredictable pay-per-view title defenses (either toss-ups or total surprises) since Wrestlemania and any way you look at it, they're doing a killer job with what they have. What they have, by the way, is the foursome mentioned above. That's pretty much it, as far as healthy heavyweights go. That's about a fifth of what WCW has to work with, and almost invariably, the WWF walks away with a better main event. I would love to attribute this to the sheer athletic ability of the wrestlers. I'd also love to grow a foot. Neither will ever come to pass. The WWF puts a lot of good men to work on the scripting of this division, obviously, and the results are very impressive. Looking on the horizon, I count at least five future heavyweights (by early 1999), so things are looking up. I pray that no one gets injured as severely as Michaels in the next couple of months. That would really make McMahon have to work a miracle. As for Summerslam, things are shaping up for a great one - partly because the WWF's most valuable two commodities will finally be stepping into the same ring together as clear adversaries, and partly because everyone wants to know if Kane will be on hand to help.
Overall, I don't think that you really need me to tell you that the WWF is putting out good product right now -- it's reflected in the ratings, in the merchandise, in the quality of the quality of their pay-per-views. But how long-lived will it be? Do they have the staying power that WCW had when they were on top?
I am inclined to say no. Firstly, because they have exactly four main eventers right now, and they've tried to push Shamrock and Owen before, to no avail. Who's to say it'll work this time? Secondly, I am starting to hear the ring of 'repetitiveness' being shouted around and about the internet and the hallways at university as well. How long will 'suck it!' and the smell of the Rock's cooking and birds and immortals from hell be able to entertain you? What's in store for the new millennium, both for the WWF and WCW? I'll address that next week. I'm Judge Eric, and that's the truth.
This week, not so much of the feedback was positive. Here are some of the more popular themes:
* Hbh12345@aol.com writes: I just have one thing to really say, and that is why in the hell would you want to see Kidman the Cruiserweight champ! He has a lot of untapped talent and potential, but nobody cares if he wins a belt or not. I would like to see the Eddy Guerrero become the champ, his career has fallen down the ladder so far he is almost touching the ground. He could kick Kidman's you know what.*
I, myself, hate it when people use examples I can't argue because I don't (necessarily) know them, so I won't even mention his past in other wrestling organizations. What I will say, though, is that this guy is the cream of the crop, as far as I am concerned. His mic skills are utterly surprising and I don't think you need me to tell you what he can do from fifteen feet in the air. His technical skills are superb and he can take it extreme if he needs to. When I wasn't particularly interested in a toned-down WCW Saturn, he took the mic once, and said, calmly (to a jobber): "would you like to lose to Saturn via the Rings of Saturn or the Death Valley Driver?" He was dressed like a slob, completely articulate, and the guy didn't know what to say. He huddled briefly with Saturn, then turned and said "we have opted for the Death Valley Driver. Have a good fight." That alone put over Saturn in my book.
*email@example.com writes: In response to someone's letter regarding the infamous Bill Goldberg, you said that in a street fight, you wouldn't pick anyone else to win. I would and his name is Bradshaw. Many reliable sources have reported that these two men got into a scuffle a few months ago at some unknown bar and Goldberg...well, let's just say Bradshaw had his can of "whoopass" with him that night. I think the fan at Raw with the sign the read "Two Words: Goldberg sucks" had it right. This guy is Eric Bischoff's cheap imitation of Steve Austin, who knows about as many wrestling holds as I do. Remember what happened to The Rock when he was given a title too soon? His career almost went down the toilet, and if he wasn't turned into a heel, he'd probably would've ended up with the rest of the lame-o jobbers. WCW made a major mistake with this guy and it is going to cost them in the future. Goldberg hasn't proven anything with his squash matches. Oh well, at least they're long enough to watch while Raw is on a commercial.*
For the most part, I agree with this totally. Goldberg is not the toughest guy out there outside of that squared circle. That's absolutely true. But don't try to convince yourself that he isn't tough, though - he's big, he's a martial artist, he has grid-iron experience. But he isn't the toughest. And it's knowing that, full-well, that I say that I like him as a champion and I enjoy his squashes. It isn't good technical wrestling, and if it doesn't get better his career will be over relatively soon, but for now, I think he's fun to watch, and so do the 5.5+ ratings points worth of people he garners in his segments.
As for the street-fight champ, Bradshaw is tough, but not the toughest. Bart knocked him out, and I still say the Giant would be a squash, in the squared circle or outside a bar.
That's all for this week. Thanks for tuning in. Please direct all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, and all flames to Ken Shamrock. Have a great week.