EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, October 2, 1998
Bret is lost in WCW wilderness
Incidentally, Bret's career is over.
As did everyone else, I had my doubts when my favourite wrestler got screwed and headed down south. Many a face and many a champion have gotten lost in the hustle and the bustle of the town they call Hollywood. But I had the sort of naive faith that makes people walk around alone at night in a bad neighbourhood or leave their cars and doors unlocked.
Sure enough, he did get lost. For months, no one had any idea where he was going. First the nWo welcomed him with the procession of Canadian flags and the butchering of our anthem. Then Bret didn't show up and didn't seem to be joining them. Then he interfered in the Hogan/Sting debacle at Starrcade and destroyed any chance for a clean pin on Hogan. Then he joined the nWo. But wait, no he didn't. He was there, but he wasn't wearing the right T-shirt. Then he turned on Hogan. Then he turned on Sting. All the while, misleading his fans with his Calgary Sun column.
So who has Bret turned on? He turned on Shawn Michaels, he turned on his brother, his brother-in-law, his other brother-in-law, his brother, Vince McMahon and the WWF, the nWo, WCW, the Wolfpac, and...wait, I know there's someone else...oh yeah, the FANS.
I'm pretty sure (as sure as I can be without having ever spoken to the man) that Bret desperately wants to play the face until he retires, that he wants to hear the cheers of the fans, not the boos or "sucks" chants. He wants to be the good guy in the inevitable but somehow impossible return match between he and Hogan. But that isn't happening for him. WCW has decided that he'd be better off as a heel. Who can blame them? Look at his character from the final year of the WWF? He was completely anti-American. And WCW is still a company whose fans chant "U-S-A" for a guy who many consider to have been over the hill years ago.
No matter how you count it, though, Bret's in deep trouble. Too many heel turns has the lasting effect of giving the athlete an aura of complete and total indifference. Lex Luger's turns in the early nineties in the WWF seemed to be helping his heat at the time, as Bret's most recent turn seemed to, as well, but ultimately, it made the fans not care. I can't say I blame them, either. How can you cheer for a guy that you were booing the week before, and worse, that you may be booing a week later?
Bret, in my books, you'll always be the best there was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be, but I'm afraid that if I were you, I might think about calling it quits. Wait a minute, scratch that, if I were him, I'd be making truckloads of money. Okay, let me rephrase that. Eric Bischoff, if I were you, I'd force Bret into early retirement since you're wasting millions of your company's dollars on him. Hold up, forget that, if I were him, I'd be wasting millions and millions of my boss' money already, and would have proven that I don't care for sound business. Okay, I guess the only solution is for Bret to keep competing, unsuccessfully, for an ultimately unsuccessful company.
Sure, you can say the television ratings are close, but have you seen the pay-per-view buy rates lately? It ain't pretty, Ted.
In other news, I'd like to send out an overdue pat on the back to myself, for being right about Mr. Shamrock. It's about time those chants started up.
Long-time fans of my Ramblings column know that I've been behind a Rocky Maivia WWF champion for over a year now. I'd like to wish The Rock the best of luck in capturing the title. May you leave the Undertaker and Kane without a belt to feud over, destined to fight fifteen non-title boiler-room casket rematches.
I get a lot of mail from my mail administrators telling me to delete my mail. Just keeping it a week puts me well over the four megabytes of memory they allot me. Keep that mail coming! Here are some of this week's letters:
* As a wrestling enthusiast I find it sad that WCW claims that their current roster of the 4 Horsemen is the best ever when quite clearly it doesn't even hold a candle to the roster of 3 years ago.
Back then there was potential for greatness in Pillman, Anderson, Benoit, and Flair which WCW chose to ignore as they pursued the gang warfare mentality of the NWO. The Horsemen were left to watch as a talented crew in Hogan, Nash, Hal, and the Giant created havoc in WCW. A newer version of the Horseman had been created and they were more talented, younger, stronger, and promoted better than the Horseman had ever been. The Horsemen paved the way for the exciting new group but after 3 years the NWO fad is over. The Horsemen are back in style and the only thing preventing them from retaining their rightful place in the echelons of WCW is a lackluster squad.
Flair is and will always be the man. No question about his ability with the microphone but his best years in the ring were a decade ago and the time has come to hand over the reins of the most prestigious franchise in wrestling. Obvious candidates include the Hitman but age to is an inhibiting factor. Chris Jericho would be a better long-term solution.
Stevyn Arnt, from email@example.com, writes:
*Benoit is a terrific wrestler. Never have I seen a wrestler with such ability who has never won a title while other poor excuses for champions - Disco Inferno, Konnan, DDP, etc. have all worn gold at one time. On skill alone, Benoit deserves his place in the Horsemen. However, Flair needs to help him with his interview skills. A ring presence is the only thing holding the Crippler back from greatness.
Malenko has all the tools but alas it is his toolbox that is lacking. He is a good addition, but not a great one. Saturn, even Kanyon would have been better choices. He is no enforcer and certainly not the Horseman Brian Pillman was.
Mongo, if he hadn't played pro football would be a career jobber. He lacks skill, ability, potential, and presence. He doesn't deserve his place in greatness. He is the anchor holding the Horsemen down. He may be the least talented Horseman of all time. If WCW is serious on promoting this group, Mongo must be thrown to the wasteside and room must be made for someone else. My choice would be Goldberg based on my belief that he may actually learn a new move.
Goldberg has already been rushed into prominance with his ridiculous streak. He's only succeeded in demonstrating his lack of wrestling ability in his patented 10 second matches. Seasoning is required if Goldberg wishes to duplicate Hogan's longevity as well as his ability. The Horsemen is the perfect training ground.
Jericho, Benoit, Saturn, and Goldberg. Certainly better than the current roster. Certainly more interesting than any of the storylines currenlty going on in WCW. Too bad they are content on letting opportunity pass them by.*
Steve, I like a lot of what you have to say. The Horsemen you describe would certainly be more interesting than what we have now. I think that when the buzz over Flair's return dies down, people may realize that no one cares if Benoit comes in to save Dean Malenko. Or if anyone saves Malenko. Malenko is boring. Let him feud over the cruiserweight title, work him as the slow-guy foil to those high-flying luchas. My ideal Horsemen line-up would be the same as yours, except I'd keep Mongo and leave Jericho out of it. Mongo has the kind of intensity which basically sucks on its own but when added to other dynamic personalities, I somehow end up caring. I'd go with Benoit, Saturn, Goldberg, and Mongo. Leave Flair as a manager, and either keep Anderson as a second manager or leave him out of it. These guys get injured so often, I'm starting to worry about their health.
Lefty, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
*You made some good points in that article but how could you miss out Rowdy Roddy Piper in the dislikes section?! This guy was over the hill 8 years ago and WCW are still dumbass enough to pay him as a wrestler. He can't even wrestle, he can punch (gee he trained long for that), eye gouge and do a sleeper hold with the occasional low blow thrown in. And when he comes out on the mike he tries to be funny and is just full of toilet jokes and corny "suck up to the fans by using references to the local hockey/football/ basketball teams" crap. He should be collecting his pension. And how about the speed of WCW's matches. Its like 30 seconds between moves. They have done that thing with brass knuckles to death. It always ends up in a DQ. I don't think the stiff wrestlers are all that bad. Most of them just need a personality check. I also think that the tag-team situation in the WWF is getting rather tedious. Teams such as the D.O.A., Kaientai, the Oddities, etc need title shots as watching the Outlaws win every week expired ages ago. Anyway, enough whining.*
Kudos. I agree with everything you say there. Old men such as Piper don't deserve to touch the WCW heavyweight title, not with the line-up of future main eventers they have right now. As for the WWF title scene, I think that the bookers have stopped paying attention all of the belts save for the Big Three singles titles.
So what's the state of wrestling to come? What kind of things do you expect to come from the remainder of the 1998 and 1999? Send me your thoughts - next week, I'll be doing a column about wrestling days to come. Thanks for tuning in, have a great week, see you in seven. Send email to email@example.com.