EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, January 12, 2001
WCW not out of trouble yet
There's a lot to speculate about with regards to the recent sale of WCW Fusient Media Ventures. Certainly there are big changes afoot, though at this point most of these are speculation and very few are official. As stated, Bischoff will head WCW as its president, but he will still have a boss in Brian Bedol, Chief Executive Officer.
I have no idea how much was paid for WCW, but I hope it wasn't much. Time-Warner's former wrestling company was comprised more of potential and lost potential than of actual value. With plenty of losses on the books and mostly disinterested fans and former fans, WCW hasn't exactly set the world on fire in 2000. Or 1999. Or 1998. Or 1997. They have an uphill battle to fight, and fewer qualified soldiers than ever. This transaction smells more like Time-Warner selling WCW - getting rid of it - than like Fusient acquiring a hot, new commodity. Bischoff and company have blown a lot of smoke with their press releases and conference calls and announcements and so on. Whether any of these will eventually ring true remains to be seen. Bischoff has been known to toot his own horn, as shown by his failed return to WCW earlier this year. Sure, he had to work with Vince Russo in a partnership then, but guess what - Russo has been brought on board this time, too.
There have been other rumours about the sale, but until they pan out these aren't worth getting into, despite the fact that some new media outlets seem to have dove into them head-first.
Most fans and experts agree that Eric Bischoff was struck by incredible luck the first time around, with the nWo. Two of the WWF's top stars - Kevin Nash and Scott Hall - left for greener pastures. Bischoff was able to steal them. Hulk Hogan had never played the heel. Bischoff was able to use that, too. Together, they struck gold and captured the imaginations of wrestling fans everywhere.
Their act eventually became stale, though. Not because it was inevitably tired, but because it was poorly managed. Sure, the nWo were a heel faction, but that doesn't mean all of their matches had to end in ten-man cluster disqualifications, not that no-showing their own main events furthered their appeal as heels. Soon, they lost all of their credibility, what with the finger-poke title wins, the lazy wrestling, and the repeated attempts to reform the group.
Bischoff has proven time and time again that he will run back to the nWo, back to Hogan and Nash and Hall.
But not this time.
Eric Bischoff is no fool. He may not be the world's most consistently original wrestling television booker, but best as I can tell, he's a smart and capable man. He likely realizes at this point what a futile effort resurrecting the new World order would be.
More than that, though, for the first time, Eric Bischoff has some new stars to play with. Since Bischoff's last run in WCW, several top stars have been acquired and elevated. Scott Steiner, Booker T, and Lance Storm, to name a few. Without an absence of obvious star potential and without Turner executives watching over his shoulder for immediate successes, the man formerly known as Easy E has at least a chance and a framework to make this go-around work.
I think WCW has a real chance this time. After all, if they were able to survive their disastrous financial situation (even under the umbrella of Time-Warner) this past year, then surely any venture group with a will to buy them would have the money to keep them afloat. So they don't have to light the world on fire by April or anything. More so, gone are the aforementioned executives, and gone is the pressure from the parent company to perform before the impending merger with America Online. If there are enough creative minds on board, then there's at least the chance this could work.
That's one more chance than WCW had under its former ownership, where the situation essentially prevented any possible success from WCW.
More practically, here are the changes I think we can expect from WCW in the short run:
1 - Less house shows. These were big money losers for WCW, and I don't think Eric Bischoff has ever been a fan of them. He wants big media events with television and sellout crowds and pay-per-view revenue. He'll skip the house shows where possible, at least until he builds an audience again.
2 - Hulk Hogan. I don't necessarily think he'll run in and win the world's heavyweight title again, but given the circumstances in which he last left the promotion (and last wrestled), I can only imagine he'd like to retire in a somewhat different fashion, if nothing else. With Bischoff in charge, I think we'll see Hogan again.
3 - Eric Bischoff on camera. He thinks he's a dynamite personality, and maybe he used to be right. I actually liked him as a second-string announcer. The last time I saw him, he did not have a youthful appearance, and wasn't exactly energetic enough for a wrestling show. I hope that has changed, if this is to happen.
4 - Huge pushes for various recent stars. I don't mean Kidman or Rey Mysterio, here. In fact, I think they might be buried for good now. I think that Bischoff and his backers and Vince Russo will have the good sense to push new guys, and push them hard. I expect Scott Steiner to continue to be thrust into the spotlight in a big way, and Booker T as well. I'm not sure what's up for Goldberg, but I hope someone railroads and then redesigns his character. Of course, I'd like nothing more than to see Lance Storm get his turn.
5 - Forget the tag teams. It's arguable that Vince Russo likes tag teams, but it's definitely arguable that he doesn't. Perhaps he and definitely Eric Bischoff prefer to mix together four singles competitors to make their tag team matches. That means some teams will be broken up, others will stick together to job to the singles tag teams, and still others will just disappear from the face of the earth.
6 - Exodus. Eric Bischoff, from all accounts, doesn't know how to bury a hatchet. He holds grudges, or at least he's known to. That means some wrestlers must already be looking for work or waiting to. If I were the Radicals, I'd be glad I left when I did.
7 - Better production values. Vince Russo complained to no end about the production of WCW, and now there are no upper executives who run entire divisions of companies to just ignore him. Bischoff and his backers will at least provide that.
8 - Wild card. Bischoff and Russo know they have to make a big impact at the onset of this newly owned, revitalized promotion if they want to make a dent in the WWF's momentum and dominance. I don't know if that means a really large heel group or cross-promotion with Battle Dome, or whether it will succeed or flop, I just think it'll happen in one form or another, and soon.
That aside, we'll all just have to wait and see. Don't expect huge changes right at the beginning, but by the summer we should see what the WWF is up against. By the end of the year, it should be pretty clear whether WCW has a fighting chance, or whether they'll just tread water until they finally drown.
Here's the mailbag.
Stive Hache, Stive.Hache@nbtel.nb.ca, writes:
"I read your article Putting stock in a theory. Don't you think the ratings drop is due to Kurt Angle being champion and the lame storylines that goes with it?"
Maybe. I think of Kurt Angle as one of wrestling's modern greats, but I realize that perhaps not everyone shares that opinion. He is the first champion they've had in awhile who wasn't a huge fan favourite or heel. Then again, fans do respond to him, that's certainly true. Still, that could just be a surface reaction, and maybe they don't care about him. Either way, I think I don't know enough about what casual fans think of Kurt Angle.
As for his storylines, I think they've been half-decent. A match with Triple H at the Royal Rumble certainly couldn't hurt. Plus, you know as well as I do that Angle is a highly unlikely prospect to defend his title at Wrestlemania, so he'll probably lose it before then, and probably sooner than later.
David Bracken, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Hi I have been a wrestling fan for at leat 30 years. My problem is with the language, especially in ECW, and the way the WWF has gone in the past two years. I guess I am old school in the way Terry Funk did it. Mick Foley, and Roddy Piper as well. They added humor, while still keep the people on the edge of their seats. I was watching the ECW pay per view the other night, and I had to have my eight year old daughter leave the room because of the language. I understand the notion of not all things are good for small kids, but I would like to see my children be able to view wrestling as I did a kid, and not have to worry about one of them saying the "f" word at the dinner table since it seems to be becoming common in the "real" world. I understand they hear it as school as they grow up, but I wish the wrestlers at times would also "grow" up, and try to make the view for all audiences. I would appreciate your thoughts on this if and when you have time. Thanks, I'll keep watching, just enjoy it too much. I was happy to see Rob Van Dam back even though he is the whole f'in show as he would say."
You know, I'm very defensive about pro wrestling, and I'm awfully quick to attack those who criticize wrestling. After all, who are they to tell me what to watch, right?
But your point is well made, and I confess, I don't think about it like that very often. By taking wrestling to that next level with profanity and vulgarity and lewdness, the feds are actually compromising the ability of some fans to watch.
In Montreal, many people are discouraged by the extremely high cost of attending a Canadiens game. They understand that the Canadiens is a business, but it's also a tradition and a part of our heritage, and it's as if these people and their children have some kind of 'right' to see the games at a reasonable cost. Because we all respect our local hockey franchise as a piece of history, that point of view is easy to swallow.
But wrestling doesn't seem that way at all, at least to me. And so it never occurs to me that we should maybe ensure that all wrestling fans can get in on the action. That's a new point of view for me, and maybe something to think about.
Some of what I like about wrestling I wouldn't be willing to part with, like a good chunk of the violence (not all of it), and the adult (I don't mean X-rated, I mean realistic and not cartoonish) storylines. Let me keep that, and I'd support toning down other extraneous stuff.
Thanks for reading this week. Have a great weekend and see you Friday!
Send email to email@example.com.