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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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SLAM! Wrestling







EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, June 1, 2001

What's in store for the new WCW?

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
Editorial Column

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Right now, every indication points toward one of the following two events happening in the near future: either WCW will finally start up, or WCW wrestlers will 'invade' the WWF on a very, very large scale. A WCW wrestler was finally sighted on Raw this week when Canada's own Lance Storm interfered in a midcard match and then escaped with boss Shane McMahon. Since then, many former WCW stars have allegedly signed or are close to signing with the WWF. Jim Ross has started to play up both possibilities.

Before I get into this, let me say that I'm not going to touch the whole issue about members of the Hart family appearing on Raw this week with a ten-foot pole. It's just not worth the inevitable ensuing fight this time. Bruce Hart and company were protecting their business interests, Bret Hart stuck to his guns, Vince McMahon didn't do anything you didn't expect him to do, and you can't blame Martha Hart for her stance. That's all I'll say about that.

Now, I've given a lot of thought to the possibility of a new WWF-controlled WCW. After years of following both federations, I don't know how any fan could really avoid thinking about the possibilities. Pretty much every dream match you've ever wanted to see could go down, if this results in interpromotional cards, which I think it has to. Meanwhile, I would love to see a well-run and well-managed WCW, and I think the WWF can do that.

Given the choice, if the wrestling world were run for my personal benefit only, I would love to see WCW run as a separate entity, all building at a steady rate to a crescendo around the end of December or maybe next year's Wrestlemania. Start WCW up with a solid television show, even it's only one hour long, establish them as a force, and then start mixing. Much the way you couldn't miss Nitro during 1996-97, I would love to watch the interaction between wrestlers of each federation: sneak attacks, run-ins, confrontations, and the occasional teased match. If done properly, can see how the momentum from such an effort could result in pay-per-view numbers that blow away anything ever done before. Wrestlers could be positioned, however subtly, as rivals between the two federations, without ever even mentioning each other. Scott Steiner and his pipe versus Triple H and his sledgehammer, Kurt Angle versus Lance Storm in a flag match, Booker T versus Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock, Mick Foley versus Tony Schiavone -- you name it.

It's unfortunate, thus, that the wrestling world is not run for my personal benefit. In reality, I'm not convinced that such a setup would actually work.

I believe that there was a time when most wrestling fans were just wrestling fans. WWF, WCW, ECW, or whatever was on would be good enough for them. Some of these fans found themselves compelled to watch all of it. Sure, some of these fans still exist today, but I don't think there are as many left. At some point, the Monday Night Wars got really, really personal. Too personal, I think, for the casual fan to enjoy. Oklahoma, comments by WCW commentators, comments by WWF wrestlers, by WCW wrestlers, parodies, and comments by pretty much everyone outside of television inevitably made it a them-or-us scenario. Though the hardcore fans may still dig both, most of the casual fans I know and hear from in the mailbag tend toward one federation and pretty much shun the other.

That presents a question for the WWF, which has to decide exactly to whom to market the new WCW. They could either make it another must-see segment in the WWF television empire, or they could try to resurrect the WCW audience. I'm not sure either approach could succeed. If the show is aimed at WWF fans, then I think storylines will have to be of extremely high caliber to attract viewers to that much wrestling every week. Even people who can't get enough of Regis Philbin and his game show network still don't always watch him every time he's on the air. If the WCW show is aimed at WWF fans, they may burn out as they find themselves missing some WWF television and then just don't bother to watch at all. Not to mention, I wouldn't have the patience to ever regularly watch a late-night wrestling show. I'd tape it of course, but it wouldn't be the same water-cooler type of show for me.

Naturally, the obvious alternative is to market the new WCW to WCW fans. That makes a certain amount of intrinsic sense, but I'm really not convinced that WCW fans will warm to a WCW under Vince McMahon. I don't think you can really argue that production values and general consistency will probably be better, but in doing so WCW will invariably gain at least a partial sense of WWFness. I don't want to characterize WCW fans as a group, but a lot of them, especially the hardcore fans who hung on until the very end, really don't like Vince McMahon or his work. Building a WCW for WCW fans may not work at all.

That's why, even though this isn't how I'd like to see it play out, I think an all-out invasion of WWF storylines by WCW wrestlers would do best. Start slow, introduce the new wrestlers one or a few at a time, draw out the stories, and establish the WCW brand within the WWF program. The pay-per-view confrontations will follow naturally, thus.

Set up a program with a specific length, and then pull the plug no matter how successful it seems. The temptation to continue with a hot item is exactly what destroyed WCW's momentum three years ago. Then, once the WCW brand is attuned to the WWF's, you can give it a spin-off wrestling show that WWF fans will almost definitely watch and some WCW fans will hopefully return to see.

Of course, for this to work, it would be important to establish neither the WWF nor the WCW roster as heels. The nWo was very watchable as a heel group, but ratings showed that no one wanted to see 'nWo Nitro', just as people don't buy as much heel merchandise as they do face merchandise. I'm still not confident in WCW's chances for success at that point, even if everything is done right.

The WWF is kind of between a rock and a hard place here. On one hand, they have this WCW brand name, with a terrible reputation amongst most wrestling fans. Meanwhile, if they wait too long, fans may forget the federation ever existed. Go too soon, and their show may not end up being well-done at all. Wait too long, they'll be holding a cold fish. Rush things, and they may end up with a terrible time slot. Wait too long, and given the declining Raw and Smackdown! ratings, they may find WCW with no time slot at all.

And that's exactly why I think WCW would best be played out as an infusion of talent into the WWF, a big angle from which to make a lot of money. No more, no less.

Here's the mailbag.

George, from swine@escape.ca, writes:
"I have a feeling that Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho will lose the tag belts a week maybe two after the Canadian shows are done. I think the WWF gave them the belts to boost ticket sales at these shows.

But, it sure would be nice to see them keep the belts for a couple of months.

I agree and I disagree. I do think that Benoit and Jericho will be dropping the belts soon, but not just because they're back in the United States. I think giving the belts to Benoit and Jericho was an excellent way to get the titles off of Triple H and Steve Austin, while accomplishing something and while avoiding having Helmsley and Austin job to one of the permanent tag teams. I'm not saying it's a good thing that Austin and HHH are considered 'above' Edge and Christian and company, but I'd rather see Benoit and Jericho lose it to their evil Canadian counterparts (or some other talented tag team) than have Austin and Triple H drop the straps in some lame contest where no one really jobs.

If the tag titles were really meant to boost ticket sales in Canada, then I have a feeling Benoit and Jericho would actually be defending them in Canada, which so far, they have not been doing on television.


Robert Vollman, from rvollman@mrf.com, writes:
Stop complaining about TSN censoring stuff. It's their station, they can censor whatever they want. Was your enjoyment of WWF Raw seriously reduced because you didn't get to see that 1.5-second spot where Triple-H hit Austin with a sledgehammer? With any luck, Chyna will start carrying around a sledgehammer so TSN can do us all a favour and censor her matches instead. I probably won't hear you complaining then!

"It's their station", "stop complaining", "they can censor whatever they want"? You're kidding, right? By that logic, the WWF is "Vince McMahon's federation", "he can put whatever he wants on the air", and so we should stop criticizing that, too. I don't think online wrestling fans and wrestling pundits would go for that. In complaining about TSN, I am voicing my opinion (and clearly, the opinions of many SLAM! readers) about their actions. If I don't, and if no one does, TSN won't know what their viewers think.

Stop complaining about TSN censoring stuff. It's their station, they can censor whatever they want. Was your enjoyment of WWF Raw seriously reduced because you didn't get to see that 1.5-second spot where Triple-H hit Austin with a sledgehammer? With any luck, Chyna will start carrying around a sledgehammer so TSN can do us all a favour and censor her matches instead. I probably won't hear you complaining then!

I'm not complaining about censorship per se, in the "you can't tell me what to watch" way, but in the "I find watching shots of the crowd kind of boring" way. I hardly think I can be taken to task over that. Do you really enjoy watching the crowd? Did you enjoy watching them this week for a solid 60 or 90 seconds while The Dudleyz tried to decide whether to put Molly through a table over Spike? Do you know how many crowd signs we were subjected to?

And here, a perfect example to illustrate my point: [CENSORED BY TSN].

Oops, oh well, there goes that.


Anyway, have a great weekend and don't forget to write in!

Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.


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