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6.15.2008

Shades Of Gray #12

In February, I wrote a column saying that Vince McMahon should put “ECW” out of its misery - so for this week’s column, I decided to take a close look at Tuesday’s show to see if anything or anyone would change my mind. (Check out the “Links of the Week” section for the full episode) I also review the Monday Night Wars DVD, and look for lessons that could be applied to today’s wrestling scene.

In addition to "ECW" in “Links of the Week,” Vince McMahon gets Rick Rolled; Chris Jericho finally turns heel; Samoa Joe defends the TNA Heavyweight Championship; Hulk Hogan goes on damage control on Larry King Live, among other highlights. In “Extras,” you’ll get to see some of the major happenings from the Monday Night Wars, including nWo invading WCW’s production truck, DX invading WCW, and the final match ever on “Nitro.”

Friday Night with “ECW”

After getting home from watching Kung Fu Panda on Friday night (I try to check out as many Jack Black movies as possible, and I couldn’t resist Jables in animated form), I realized I had the oppourtunity to watch “ECW” on TV for the first time in a long time. For those who don’t know, “ECW” airs Fridays at midnight on Global in Canada - yes, “ECW” is number three in Canada too.

Shelton Benjamin and Mike Knox against Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne started off the show. I could have sworn Bourne (rhyme) wrestled as Matt Sydal last week. If changing your name was that easy, you’d think Frank wouldn’t have backed out of the name change stipulation so quickly. But I digress. When Bourne came to the ring, my girlfriend said: “He looks like Nick Lachey.” Actually, he looks like Alex Shelley, but either way, that’s probably not a description of someone with a bright future in professional wrestling.

Mid-card development is something that “ECW” has been doing well in comparison with the two more notables WWE shows (probably because all they have is mid-carders). The Shelton-Kofi feud is a good example of this, as they’ve put on some decent matches over the past month or two that have pitted Shelton’s ground game against the “Jamaican’s” acrobatics. And according to Mike Adamle, no one has “leg kicks” like Kofi Kingston - I wonder how effective his arm kicks are.

This week, though, the focus was on Bourne, who got the pinfall in the match. Kofi and Bourne seemed to complement each other well as a team, and if there was solid tag team division in the fed, I’d say they have the potential to be an entertaining team in the future. But there isn’t. So they don’t.

Up next was Kelly Kelly against Victoria. I groaned when I heard Kelly’s music play - I have to admit, whether it be “Raw,” SmackDown!” or “ECW,” I routinely change the channel during a Divas match. Sure, most of the Divas are smokin’ hot, but I don’t need to watch Divas matches to see hot women. And I just feel embarrassed for them most of the time. But when Victoria came out next, I felt better. She’s not only hot, but a great worker to boot.

I felt bad for Victoria while watching this match, though. She had to sell Kelly’s weak punches; Kelly rolled through an armbar takedown before Victoria sent her; and Victoria had to put herself between Kelly’s legs after a dreadful cartwheel on the apron. I’ll give Kelly credit for one thing though (besides her ass): she took a sick bump on her stomach from the apron to finish the match. Still, Victoria deserves to be wrestling the likes of Gail Kim and ODB. Oh ya, the fed had Kim under contract and released her - and then signed a bunch of models and rejects from the Diva Competition (including Kelly).

Tha O Show’s Rico Montana got his wish - Armando Estrada is officially a worker on “ECW” (but without a “contract”) Estrada's reward: getting beat down by Finlay. He was also pinned by Colin Delaney and Hornswoggle. I still feel worse for Victoria.

(Did you know Vince McMahon is giving away $1 million? You’d sure know after watching “ECW,” enduring the seemingly endless number of promos that played during the show)

Here’s an equation that I think everyone can agree on: Mark Henry + microphone = bad.Needless to say, I could have done without the Big Show-Mark Henry segment. It certainly didn’t make me want to plunk down $40 for Night of Champions. I thought it was interesting, though, that Big Show got more black and blue after a professional wrestling match then he did in his match with a professional boxer. Just sayin’.

The main event was Miz and Morrison defending the WWE tag team titles against CM Punk and Kane. John Morrison has the best entrance in wrestling - but shouldn’t the champs come to the ring together? Going into the commercial, Adamle and Tazz were talking over each other - I think it’s going to take awhile for this announce team to iron out the wrinkles.

Overall, the match was disappointing, especially considering the solid main event from last week. At one point, Miz overpowered Kane by getting out of an armbar - he then mounted the Big Red Machine for the ground and pound. When did Miz become so powerful? Also, the tag champs worked over Kane for much of the match, setting up a Punk comeback for later on. It would have made more sense the other way around, especially considering Punk had “injured ribs” for the champs to work over. And when Punk was finally tagged in, the crowd was dead.

Can you guess who did the clean J-O-B in the match? I’ll give you a hint: his name rhymes with CM Punk. Somehow I doubt Edge was too scared when Punk threatened to cash in his MITB briefcase during Edge’s wedding on “SmackDown!” Punk couldn’t beat MVP on “SmackDown!” either (he lost by DQ), even though Mick Foley and Michael Cole were emphasizing that MVP was going through a rough patch recently. No matter how you slice it, there’s no way you can say “CM Punk seems to be getting some sort of push now.” Sorry, Casur.

This week’s show certainly did nothing to change my perception of “ECW” as a watered-down version of “Raw” and SmackDown!” Sure, there’s a few positives, but they’re highly outweighed by the negatives. WWE doesn’t need four hours of original programming per week, let alone five. Don’t be surprised when Sci-Fi fails to pick up “ECW” for another season.

Monday Night Wars DVD: Review

As I mentioned in the intro, I figured I’d re-watch the Monday Night Wars DVD to see why the product was so superior ten years ago. Plus, I figured I could review the DVD for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Throughout the documentary portion of the disc, you’ll hear comments from Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Mick Foley, Big Show, Shawn Michaels, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, among others. Unfortunately, besides Bischoff, there’s very few pro-WCW comments, which isn’t entirely unexpected. But you’d think that with the time that’s passed, more people would respect Bischoff for being the only promoter to best McMahon.

After briefly highlighting the debut of “Monday Night Raw” in the Manhattan Center (which Mean Gene Okerlund refers to as a “toilet”), much of the first half of the documentary is dedicated to the launch of “Nitro” on TNT. There’s an interesting story behind the creation of Nitro: in a meeting between Bischoff and Turner, Billionaire Ted unexpectedly asked Bischoff what WCW had to do to compete with Vince McMahon. Bischoff responded by saying he needed two hours of primetime television (they’d previously had a Saturday Night show on TBS at 6:05), so Turner gave him two hours on Monday nights, in direct competition with “Raw.”

Like many, many others, James Cornette thought WCW was crazy to go head-to-head with the WWF. As he says on the DVD, TNT had never produced a wrestling show before, and “Raw” already had an established audience. But as Bruce Pritchard says, the move successfully “divided the audience” - Bischoff knew that if he could create something of interest, there would already be wrestling fans watching television at the time that he could steal from the competition. (Take note, TNA - or you could read this and this) On a related note, “Raw” will be pre-empted on August 25, due to USA Network’s coverage of the U.S. Tennis Open. Hmmm.

Lex Luger unexpectedly showed up on the debut episode of “Nitro,” only a day after his WWF contract expired. It was a sign of things to come. Soon, Bischoff was giving away the results of “Raw” on the air and Alundra Blayze was putting the WWF Women’s title in the trash. Vince’s only response was the “Billionaire Ted” skits, of which (according to Bischoff on the DVD) Ted was a fan.

Next, Bischoff explains the rationale behind signing Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, and footage of their controversial arrivals are shown. By coming through the crowd and referring to “Billionaire Ted” and the “Nacho Man,” it appeared as if Hall and Nash were sent by Vince to take over WCW. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was Hulk Hogan turning heel for the first time in his career and forming the nWo with The Outsiders.

Bischoff makes mention of focus groups that he held before the launch of “Nitro”- most of them revealed that fans were most satisfied when they were surprised. And certainly, “Nitro” delivered that to their fans - maybe if WWE did that today more people would be watching. When was the last time you were genuinely surprised (in a good way) by something on “Raw”? When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I can’t miss next week’s show?”

Much of the second half of the disc is dedicated to how WWE rebounded after being pummeled in the ratings war. The development of the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin character is given a lot of play. J.R. says that they tried to push him hard as the top heel in the company, but the fans decided to cheer him anyways - so they went with it and he became the top babyface instead. J.R. adds that the “fans are always right.” Perhaps WWE should be listening to the fans as it concerns another top WWE Superstar.

Rocky Maivia turning heel was another important moment in WWE history, creating The Rock character. As the DVD shows, he was a major factor in the ratings turning back in WWE’s favour, and Big Show says that even as a fellow worker from the rival company, he conceded at the time that Austin and Rock were the best two entertainers in the business.

Another significant moment was when Vince McMahon screwed Bret Hart out of the WWF title at Survivor Series ‘97, leading to the well-known “Bret Screwed Bret” interview on “Raw” with J.R. That interview launched the Mr. McMahon heel character, and he proved to be the perfect antagonist for Austin. Bischoff admits that when he saw Austin interrupt Mike Tyson and McMahon on “Raw” in 1998, he knew Vince had figured out how to beat WCW in the ratings.

I think it should be noted, though, that the Stone Cold character is indebted to the nWo. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were using the bad-ass, anti-authority figure gimmick against Bischoff before Stone Cold did the same to McMahon. Ditto for DX.

J.R. reveals what he believes to be the main reason “Raw” ultimately outlasted “Nitro” in the ratings war: WWF was able to develop new stars, while the WCW main event scene remained the same for a long, long time. And it’s true. While guys like Kurt Angle, Kane, Triple H and others became well-known Superstars, WCW could only boast the development of one Superstar: Goldberg. Even with Goldberg, “Nitro” became stale, while “Raw” was innovative, “must-see” television. WWE could learn a lot by watching some older tapes in their video library.

The last part of the DVD rather quickly passes over the demise of WCW: the lack of organization; the restrictive corporate structure; Bischoff being sent home, with Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera being hired to replace him; and Bischoff’s eventual return. Bischoff also talks briefly about his failed purchase of WCW, and WWE’s subsequent acquistion. I’ve always wondered how different the wrestling landscape would be today had Bischoff successfully acquired WCW.

It’s interesting to hear some of the wrestlers’ views on the last episode of “Nitro.” Whereas Rey Mysterio was worried about finding a job, and Eddie Guerrero was similarly worried for his nephew Chavo, Ric Flair says he was glad to see WCW finally put to rest. It was merely a shadow of its former self.

The Extras on the DVD include some memorable moments, such as the aforementioned “Bret Screwed Bret” interview, DX invading WCW, Goldberg vs. Hogan for the WCW title in the Georgia Dome, and Rick Rude appearing on “Raw” and “Nitro” on the same night. I wish there were more Special Features, as well as more detail in the documentary portion of the DVD, but overall, it serves as a great look back to arguably the best period in wrestling history. As the WWE product continues to disappoint, the significance of DVDs, WWE 24/7, and internet sites like YouTube and dailymotion will grow, as they remind us why started watching professional wrestling in the first place.

Links of the Week

1. Vince McMahon gets Rick Rolled during $200 000 giveaway
2. Chris Jericho’s long-awaited heel turn on the most entertaining segment on “Raw”
3. “ECW” on Sci-Fi, as discussed above (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)
4. Samoa Joe defends the TNA World Heavyweight Championship against Kaz . . .
5. While the Kevin Nash-Samoa Joe saga continues
6. LAX gets beat-down after retaining tag team gold on “iMPACT!”
7. Since I showed all of his hype videos, I should show Abyss’ actual return at Slammiversary
8. Vickie Guerrero once again opens “SmackDown!” with a tremendous amount of heat - has she surpassed Edge as the best heel on Friday Nights?
9. MVP vs. CM Punk, at the request of Vickie Guerrero (look out for a couple of wedgies from MVP)
10. Hulk Hogan attempting to explain his controversial comments about John Graziano on Larry King Live

Extras

11. The nWo invades WCW’s production truck
12. James E. Cornette speaks his mind on the problems with WCW
13. The Greater Power is revealed!
14. Goldberg faces Hulk Hogan for the WCW title in one of the highest rated segments in wrestling history
15. Ric Flair and Sting face-off for the last time on the final episode of "Nitro"
16. Operation DX: Triple H, Chyna, X-Pac, and the New Age Outlaws invade WCW
17. Unfortunately, Vince didn’t answer Bischoff’s challenge at Slamboree
18. Stone Cold interrupts Mike Tyson’s appearance on “Raw,” leading to major mass media exposure for the WWF


4 comments: on "Shades Of Gray #12"

Anonymous said...

please more dvd reviews i loved this one. thanks

Christopher Casúr said...

Vickie Guerrero gets X-Pac heat because her promos are brutal.

Andrew Gray said...

I'm sure I'll do more DVD reviews in the future. Once my cheap ass decides to buy the new Rock DVD, I'll review that one. And you can guarantee I'll review the Curt Hennig DVD when it comes out too.

Maybe Vickie has X-Pac heat for some people, but she doesn't make me want to change the channel. I want to hear what she's going to say (maybe in part because I'm interested in seeing her screw up), and to see how the crowd responds to her. Plus, I think fans are invested in seeing her character taken down in the end- X-Pac never had that.

Chris said...

Jericho's turn was awesome, the only thing missing was his foot on HBK's chest and striking the pose. I need to start watching RAW again.