Don’t do this: WCW Souled Out 2000

As a TNA fan viewer, I often criticize the awful writing/booking on the show week after week after week after week.  But the writing staff, headed up by Vince Russo, is not something new to the wrestling world.  Their brand of awful is actually the spiritual successor to the brand of awful that tanked the long-prosperous company World Championship Wrestling.  The level of ineptitude that TNA proudly calls “raising the bar” is the stuff not seen since WCW closed its doors back in 2001.  And in particular, the stuff that was proudly on display for Souled Out 2000 – a shining example of just what killed WCW.

The Souled Out name had sparked back in 1997 when Eric Bischoff was revealed as the backer of the nWo.  He was said to be buying “souls” into his organization, hence the name.  But by 2000, Eric Bischoff and the original nWo were gone, yet the name remained.  The show was supposed to be headlined by Bret Hart defending his WCW Heavyweight title against Sid Vicious, but Hart was forced to vacate due to complications from a concussion received from Goldberg at Starrcade that eventually forced his retirement from the ring.  Shuffling would be needed for the main event…but WCW, in its infinite wisdom, decided to shuffle the entire show around at the last minute to try to take care of another lingering problem at the same time.  And by last minute, I mean without announcing until the show itself.

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Don’t do this: The Sting/Hogan Debacle

It may be hard to believe now, but there was a time when WCW was the dominant brand of wrestling, and for good reason.  Their 1996 launch of the New World Order changed the playing field forever and, for a time, launched WCW above its rival WWF.  This storyline was arguably the most successful run of any wrestling story with the possible exception of Austin vs. McMahon.

But when it got time to close it out, it revealed the failures that would eventually unravel WCW.  And it all started with the ‘Grandaddy of ‘Em All’ and a whole lot of excellent buildup.

WCW Starrcade – December 28, 1997

When the nWo formed in July of 1996, they had one goal in mind – take over WCW and destroy what had been made.  Their process was as brutal as it was efficient.  The rank and file of WCW stood no chance (highlighted by Kevin Nash lawn darting Rey Mysterio into the production truck), but the main event stars would be more trouble.  To accomplish this, the nWo created a clever scheme to break up the alliance of WCW.

A fake Sting (who looked surprisingly like the real Sting) appeared to join the nWo, much to the chagrin of Sting’s BFF Lex Luger.  This was a huge problem as Sting had been scheduled to be a member of Team WCW at the 1996 Fall Brawl’s signature War Games match.  Sting assured Luger that it wasn’t actually him, but neither Luger nor his unlikely teammates Ric Flair and Arn Anderson believed him.  To them, it looked like Sting would be on Team nWo.  When the match itself took place, the fake Sting did show up, but so did the real deal, who proved his allegiance by attacking the nWo.  Unfortunately for WCW, Sting felt betrayed by both his friends and his fans and simply walked out of the match, effectively handing the victory to the nWo.  The next night, Sting spoke to the fans and announced he was leaving.

Fast forward to March’s Uncensored PPV in which Team nWo defeated Team Piper and Team WCW in a 12-man elimination match.  Lex Luger had put up a decent fight, but eventually succumbed to spray paint to the eyes.  Just as the nWo began their beat down, suddenly a shadowy figure descended from the rafters.  Sting had returned, but he was quite different from the one who had left six months before.  Gone were the bright colors of yesterday, replaced by an homage to the Crow face paint scheme and an almost skeletal looking scorpion on his black outfit.  Wielding a black baseball bat, he made quick work of the nWo, but when Luger embraced him, Sting remained cold.

For the next months, Sting remained in the rafters above the ring, watching the nWo’s activities and aiding WCW’s fight against the invading force.  Finally, when planning for WCW’s biggest show of the year, Starrcade, the match was made to have Sting challenge for Hollywood Hogan’s WCW Championship.  This was a huge deal, since Sting had not spoken nor wrestled since he abandoned WCW back at Fall Brawl.  The fans were hungry for the Sting/Hogan match that could finally defeat the nWo and launch a new age of WCW.  And WCW, to their credit, held out on giving the match until the perfect moment.  Such patience was not one of their virtues.

So I have just described one of the best angles in the history of professional wrestling.  Why is this in the Don’t Do This category?  Well, that would come at the event itself – a mix of panic, backstage politics, and just an uncertainty of what comes next.  Follow past the jump as we learn how what could have been WCW’s best moment became it’s point of decline.

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Don’t do this: WCW on WWF

Before we get started with this week’s edition, I want to point out that this is not the Alliance Invasion angle that ran through the summer and fall of 2001.  Rather, this is the very beginning of that angle in which WCW was billed as a separate brand on WWF programming.  I think the Invasion as a whole is a vastly underrated as a whole storyline.  But that’s for a later argument.

WCW had finally been knocked out of business in early 2001 and its logos, archives, and several wrestlers had been picked up for a bargain price by the WWF.  Vince McMahon was set to triumph only to have it snatched away when it was revealed that Shane McMahon had swooped in and finalized the deal.  And that was the last we heard of it for a while until Linda McMahon confronted Vince and convinced him to allow WCW to compete on WWF programming.  It would be WCW’s chance to prove itself, with the idea being to perhaps create its own show, much like the current state of branded shows.  The first impression would be crucial.

WWF Raw is War: July 2, 2001

To sell that WCW was its own program rather than a part of the WWF, everything shifted during the commercial break before the main event of Raw.  Commentators Jim Ross and Paul Heyman were replaced by Scott Hudson and Arn Anderson.  Ring announcer Lillian Garcia was replaced with Stacy Keibler.  Even WCW referee Nick Patrick would be officiating the match rather than a WWF ref.  The apron was switched for one donning the new WCW logo.  And for the first match ever, WCW champion Booker T would defend his title against challenger Buff Bagwell.  It was a big day for the WCW brand.

And it all went horribly wrong.

WCW had closed for a reason.  Fans had switched over in droves to the WWF and largely saw WCW as the inferior brand.  Now they were forced to watch that which they had spurned on the program they had supported in the Monday Night Wars.  This wasn’t Booker T interacting with WWF guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin or the Undertaker.  This was Booker T fighting Buff Bagwell – the kind of match fans didn’t want to see when Nitro was still on the air.  Both competitors, last seen as heavy babyfaces in WCW, were heavily booed by the fans in their entrances even though they were playing for cheers.  And you can see the crowd start to shift.  They simply did not want to see a WCW product in the WWF.

And it didn’t help that the presentation was god awful.  When WCW closed, the commentary team was made up of two play-by-play guys and no color commentator.  Scott Hudson, while definitely better than his former partner Tony Schiavone, had the energy but lacked the style of the voice Raw fans were used to – Jim Ross.  And to make up for the lack of a color commentator, Arn Anderson was sent out to fill the spot.  Former WCW commentators like Dusty Rhodes or Bobby Heenan were not under contract and could not be used.  Hell, ‘Stagger’ Lee Marshall would have been an upgrade.  Anderson was the polar opposite of Hudson, speaking in a soft, sometimes near whisperish voice, mainly agreeing with the comments of his partner and not adding any thing of interest to the match.  A viewer could mute the TV and not miss anything.  Anderson’s commentary was better than Stacy Keibler’s ring announcing, though, as she clearly did not have the voice for the job.

But all that was cosmetic and could be fixed in the coming weeks.  If Booker T and Buff Bagwell could pull off a good match, perhaps that would draw the fans in, leading to the introduction of other WCW talents.  Instead, they stunk up the place.  The match was referred to by many to be purely awful.  You can watch the above clip and judge for yourself.  Buff Bagwell was never known for his wrestling prowess, and Booker T hadn’t been active in months.  They certainly did not put on a classic.

For the WWF, panic set in immediately and plans were quickly shifted.  WCW, they believed, could not handle a brand of its own and would need to have something added to it.  This became the Invasion, as WWF guys started rebelling against the WCW guys, who then brought in an ECW force of Tommy Dreamer and Rob Van Dam, leading to a mass desertion of WWF talents to the newfound Alliance.  This continued through to the Survivor Series before the storyline ended and the various talent was eventually shifted into the separate brands of Raw and Smackdown.  Of the original WCW class, only Chavo Guerrero remains.

Some would argue that the WWF purposely sabotaged the WCW brand to prove its dominance.  Some say that WCW should have been immediately integrated into the WWF proper rather than trying this.  I say the WWF launched a story idea without doing their homework as to how it would come across and how it would be received.  They lacked most of the big names of WCW and tried to make a brand out of the leftovers of the midcard and it backfired badly.  But I also think that they did a good job in coming back with a decent angle and eventually integrated it.  It’s just a shame Buff Bagwell didn’t make it a month after his debut.  A real shame.

Don’t Do This: The Spirit Squad

Question:  How do you take a group of young, talented guys with loads of potential, and make it so that they do not have much of a future in the company?

Answer:  Make them cheerleaders.

The recent actions of The Nexus, a group of people who were just recently in WWE’s developmental territory (FCW), got me thinking about the last time the WWE tried to bring up a group of young guys and get them over as a heel team, The Spirit Squad.  Now, The Spirit Squad is a tricky subject, because as far as a storyline goes, they did have a successful run.  However, they find themselves in this column because of the impact this gimmick had on the members.

The Spirit Squad debuted on the January 23, 2006 episode of Raw, by coming to the aide of Coach, helping him defeat Jerry Lawler to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble.  The team consisted of Kenny (Ken Doane), Johnny (Johnny Jeter), Nicky (Nick Nemeth), Mickey (Michael Brendli), and Mitch (Nick Mitchell).  They later found themselves in the middle of the Vince McMahon – Shawn Michaels feud, with their actions contributing to the reformation of DX.  Their feud with DX was mainly a losing effort, most notably losing handicap matches at Vengeance and Saturday Night’s Main Event (7/15/06).  During their feud with DX, they also competed in the tag team division, winning the titles from The Big Show and Kane on the April 3, 2006 episode of Raw, and able to defend the titles under the Freebird rule, meaning any two members could defend the titles.  They eventually lost titles at Cyber Sunday to Ric Flair and Roddy Piper, ending the longest reign since Owen Hart and The British Bulldog held the titles in 96-97.  On the November 27,2006 episode of Raw, the group lost a handicap tag match against DX and Ric Flair.  DX then loaded The Spirit Squad into a crate, and shipped them back to OVW.

Kenny was the only member to stay active in Raw, but was released on November 10, 2008.  Mitch was released on May 18, 2007, Johnny in early 2008, and Mickey on June 13, 2008.  Nicky was able to re-debut as Dolph Ziggler in September 2008.

So, why should you not do this, even though the Spirit Squad had a successful run?  Because it was a gimmick that none of the members could overcome to be taken seriously again.  Yes, they were successful at drawing heat, and they made easy targets for DX to pull their shenanigans on, but that’s the problem.  DX was able to defeat them too easily.  There was never the possibility that the Spirit Squad would come out on top in any of their confrontations.

Having seen all but Mitch competing at OVW, from a talent standpoint, there’s no reason that Kenny and Johnny are not on the same level as John Morrison, The Miz, or CM Punk.  That is the potential I saw in those two guys while they were competing in OVW, and that potential was wasted in a silly gimmick and a one-sided feud with DX.  There were enough people in OVW that they could have brought up other wrestlers, with less potential, and let them be cannon fodder.  Guys like Seth Skyfire or Chet the Jet should have been used, because their long-term potential in the WWE were much less than the guys they saddled with the stigma of being a cheerleader.

So, what lessons should we take away from this?  If you want a chance to be taken seriously, cheerleader is not the gimmick that should be used.  Annoying?  Yes.  Threatening?  Not a bit.  If you want a group to be taken seriously, then they need to actually come out on top sometime.  Beating Big Show and Kane is good.  Continuously getting bested by DX in matches and with pranks is bad.  The break up of the group should push one or two of the members above the rest, so that they may progress with their careers.  Shipping them all back to the developmental territory is bad.

My hope is that WWE will handle the rise and eventual downfall of The Nexus better than they did with The Spirit Squad.  But, I suspect the goal of the Spirit Squad was never to actually build any of them up, and instead, simply provide harmless competition and goofy entertainment.

Don’t do this: David Arquette – World Champion

WCW has a masterful archive of god awful decisions throughout its long history (it wasn’t all Vince Russo’s fault), but this week we’ll be looking at perhaps the god awful-est.  It was a day that every WCW fan, past and present, died a little inside.  It was the day that David Arquette took home the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.

Yes - THAT David Arquette.

WCW Thunder – April 26, 2000

Despite that it was now completely left in the dust by the WWF and near the point where it was practically bleeding money, WCW still thought that it had a pretty good thing going.  Sure, the nWo was (finally) a thing of the past and big names like the Giant, Chris Jericho and Bret Hart were long gone, but WCW had spent years on top!  It was only a matter of time before they hit that one storyline that would put them back on top.  That one thing that would grab viewers’ attention and bring them back home.

Enter David Arquette.

Recently released was the generally terrible movie Ready to Rumble, starring Arquette and a number of WCW wrestlers (most notably Diamond Dallas Page) and Arquette was brought in to help promote it to fans.  He showed up in the crowd on the April 12th edition of Thunder and eventually made it into the ring to confront Eric Bischoff.  With the help of WCW Champion DDP and Chris Kanyon, Arquette “trained” for a match against Bischoff and defeated him on the April 24th edition of Nitro.  And that should have been it.  Promotional appearing actor beats evil non-wrestler.  Everyone goes home happy.  But Vince Russo had a better idea.

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Don’t do this: December to Dismember

This week, we’ll be looking at one of the biggest PPV snafus ever.  That’s right – the now-defunct ECW brand’s first (and only) solo branded PPV, December to Dismember.

Nothing screams Christmas quite like the Sandman's arm.

WWE (ECW Brand): December 3, 2006

Things had not been going well for the ECW brand since it was introduced after the second edition of One Night Stand in June.  At that point, the brand had drafted Kurt Angle and had an intriguing storyline in which Rob Van Dam held both the newly reestablished ECW Championship as well as Raw’s WWE Championship, which he had won from John Cena at the PPV.  Unfortunately, just after having broken through his so-called “glass ceiling”, RVD got caught driving while smoking pot, so the WWE quickly took both the belts off of him and made him climb up and glue the shattered ceiling back together.  Kurt Angle was released to give him proper time to heal his staggering list of injuries, but quickly jumped ship to the neophyte TNA.  So in full panic mode, the Big Show was elevated to the top spot and the increasingly popular Bobby Lashley was shoehorned in from Smackdown to pad the roster.

December to Dismember, an awful named PPV trying to harken back to the original ECW’s November to Remember, would be the ECW brand’s first PPV, though it was pretty much doomed right from the start.  The Survivor Series – one of the WWE’s big four PPVs – was held the week before, and the Smackdown brand’s Armageddon would be held two weeks later.  Just three weeks after that would be Raw’s New Year’s Revolution.  So right off the bat, the show was in trouble since both Raw and Smackdown had been focusing on Survivor Series and had not had time to help promote this show.  Not that there was much to promote.

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Don’t do this: The Fingerpoke of Doom

With our show reviews usually being posted the morning after the show airs, Thursday is categorically our off day, but some of us here at the 1/8th Nelson dislike going an entire day without mentioning something about wrestling.  So I came up with an idea.

As much as I like to complain about TNA, they are not the only ones who have ever made questionable decisions in wrestling.  Through its illustrious lifespan, professional wrestling has given us some of the most ludicrous moments TV has to offer.  So on Thursdays, we’ll be going back through the archives and look at some of these things, in a bit I’m naming Don’t Do This: A Lesson in Questionable Booking.  And yes, I’m aware Wrestlecrap does it better.  Shut up.

To kick things off this week, we’re starting big: one of the biggest turning points in WCW history…and not in a good way.

My friends, I give you the dreaded Fingerpoke of Doom.

WCW: January 4, 1999

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