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SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: Johnny is WCW's Ace in the hole
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

Besides being the wrestler of the 90s, besides setting the highest standard of excellence in the ring, besides changing the face of Japanese wrestling forever, Mitsuharu Misawa can also be credited for something else: saving WCW.

Had it not been for Misawa leaving All Japan Pro Wrestling to form his own Pro Wrestling NOAH promotion, WCW would never have been able to make their most important talent acquisition in years: Johnny Ace.

Who?

Ace, for those of you who don't follow Japanese wrestling, was a perennial mid-carder in All Japan Pro Wrestling for most of the 90s. While there, he worked with some of the top domestic and foreign talent in Japan: Misawa, Toshiaka Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Stan Hansen, Steve Williams.

Ace is also the guy who recently acquired a seat on the WCW booking team. He's made it possible for the average fan to watch Nitro and Thunder without snickering hysterically -- well not the entire show but at least a lot less.

He's been working with WCW booker Vince Russo, fine tuning and tweaking his ideas and coming up with finishes for matches; sort of like a newspaper editor checking over a reporter's news copy before it goes to press. Ace is the man to thank for WCW matches having more logical finishes lately. He's the one behind matches being put together a lot better. And he's the one that's been working with the talent to get their finishers over.

Although he's behind the scenes, Ace's contribution is immeasurable. He speaks softly but carries a big pencil.

Ace is a student of the game. Always has been. During his tenure in All Japan, he learned the wrestling business in a classroom that was the best in the world, soaking up knowledge from a true master of the art of booking.

The rings of All Japan were Ace's classrooms, booker Giant Baba his professor. He saw how matches in the most physically demanding promotion in the world were put together and executed before the most knowledgeable and critical wrestling fans anywhere.

Wrestling fans on these shores who moan and complain about the number of run-ins and screw job finishes that plague the WWF, WCW and ECW should consider this: during the entire decade of the 90s, there were a grand total of three non-clean finishes in All Japan.

That's right. You read that correctly, folks.

Three!

Save for a count out finish and two double DQs, every All Japan match ended in a clean finish. Every one.

No run-ins. No outside interference. No screw job endings. No evil owner and his dysfunctional family screwing wrestlers over. No NWO-like cliques and their political bulls--t. No mind-numbing chair shots done to the point of nausea.

Just a stringent policy of 100 per cent clean finishes.

Talk about efficiency. Talk about getting wrestler's finishing moves over. Talk about fans popping for those finishes. Talk about the credibility the promotion established. And talk about legitimacy in wrestling.

That's what Ace brings to WCW.

Since Ace's arrival, matches and storylines suddenly make a hell of a lot more sense in WCW. Finishing moves actually mean something. And there's a more logical progression of storylines in matches, culminating in finishes that are starting to get a fair bit of heat.

You need not look any further than this past Monday to see Ace's influence. Ace's fingerprints are all over the Lance Storm versus Booker T. match.

Over the previous three weeks, Lance chalked up clean, submission victories with his Canadian Maple Leaf finisher. The viewing audience following along at home became educated to the fact that Storm's finisher was legit and that he could end a match with it.

Flash forward to the match with Booker. As soon as Lance cinched it in, people in the building popped big thinking they were going to see a title change. A big reason for that is because Lance is over these days and has really sold the move very well.

As much credit goes to Storm and Booker, credit also goes to Ace who helped put it together. Submission victories are a staple booking practice in All Japan and the Japanese audience buys it because they ve seen so many matches end that way.

You'll also notice that when Lance put it on, not one head turned towards the runway, expecting to see who was coming down the aisle for a run in. That's because in previous regimes, when a top guy put his finisher on, people knew it was the cue for a run-in.

Not on Ace's watch. Since he's been in town, run-ins are virtually a thing of the past. Clean finishes appear to be the new norm.

That's Ace's contribution. A contribution, that while still a long way from fixing everything wrong with WCW - hell he ain't a miracle worker - has helped nonetheless. It's shown in the ring and it's shown in the reaction of fans to the shows.

His work is also being praised by the wrestlers themselves.

"(Johnny Ace) has helped out tremendously," Shane Douglas told SLAM! Wrestling over the phone yesterday. "The level of the matches have really improved (since he arrived)."

Ace has also gotten over the art of the false finish, those near falls where a guy almost scores the pin. Remember those?

Well, they're just about commonplace in All Japan. Since All Japan has educated its audience to the fact that finishers can end the match, they've simultaneously educated them that a finish can come at any time. That's why if you watch any All Japan match, you'll see fans gasp and that they're sitting on the edge of their seats for every pinfall attempt. As a result, matches have a bottomless reserve of heat.

The same thing is starting to happen in WCW matches. Fans are beginning to pop for pinfall attempts and all the false finishes. As a result, WCW matches have a new source of heat. Go figure?

That's Ace's influence.

"I think that's one of the places that Johnny's really contributed well is that a lot of the matches now have those false finishes and the fans are beginning to buy those false finishes. Matches have a lot more heat," Shane Douglas added when we spoke.

Is WCW still out of the woods? No. Is there a lot more to do? Yes.

But, they've made progress. They're on the right track. And given more time so that Ace can incorporate more All Japan booking ideas into the product, WCW could be on the right path to having an all-around respectable product again.

Who could have imagined that Misawa's bitter departure from All Japan would have been the best thing to happen to WCW in years?

And who would have thought that a Japanese concept would help out a failing American company?

Johnny Ace, that's who.


Reader Feedback

  • Aug. 3:WCW shoots are clear misses


  • Should have pointed out in the article that all of that is just your opinion. That does not make it a FACT. It just makes it your opinion. One person's opinion. No more than that.

    How did they miss the boat on Muta vs Vampiro? American fans don't care about Muta. He is a old hasbeen. He fits better in Vampiro's group. Plus if they did that they would have to drop the Sting/Vamp angle. Make up your mind, do you want angles dropped or not? Give me a break.

    There have been no recent dropped angles and the storylines are connecting. If you don't like it, just change the channel. The ratings are not dropping. They are staying on a consistent course. The buyrates are slowly going up. I guess Russo is doing something right. And that is not just my opinion. The majority of people on the internet agree that WCW is steadily improving.

    D.H.
    There is no doubt that you know more about wrestling than I do, so I won't argue with you over the Nash-Goldberg-Steiner match. In fact I could care less what Nash is doing, let alone the politics in wrestling that he's involved with. And I don't like hearing that wrestling is fake, especially on the shows, I get that enough from my parents.

    But I do think that WCW's shows are still very entertaining, even though I don't watch them all the time -- when I do seem them I think they are very good. I like the angles that are going on, especially the Lance Storm one, it's nice to see him kick ass all the time.

    Also, I find Mark Madden to be an excellent commentator, he's funny and he's the only WCW commentator that I know of that supports the heels.

    Daniel Kristolaitis

    Thank God you wrote about Mark Madden! I hate that guy in front of a microphone. I wrote WCW that I'm not watching WCW wrestling until they pulled him out, and put Bobby The Brain back!! And I have lots of people who feel the same up here in Canada, in Montreal, and Toronto. Thanks for writing about Mr.Madden and that it was a mistake to put him in front of a mic. Keep up the good work.

    John Kourlas

    Past editorials




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