Wrestling Observer Flashback–01.23.95

Wrestling Observer Flashback – 01.23.95

OK, time for a serious subject that we’ve been avoiding for a while now. It’s unpleasant, I know, but we need to discuss it.

Let’s talk about Hulk Hogan.

– WCW has dumped a LOT of money into the Hogan experiment thus far. And lots of people are negative about it over the past eight months, so it’s time for Dave to take a hard, objective look at the situation and peel back the layers of the situation like an onion.

#1. Show Quality.

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So yeah, there’s not really much of a positive way to spin this one, as the shows have gone downhill in quality at a rate that Dave calls “astonishing”. And while you can’t DIRECTLY blame Hogan, his fingerprints and friends are all over it. Sure, Ricky Steamboat and Steve Austin are both injured and out of the picture, but let’s face it, they were out of the picture anyway. Also, Flair.

#2. TV Ratings

This one is also a negative. Shows are down by about 5% year over year, even accounting for the usual seasonal excuses like football or winter or whatever. Syndication is way down and Hogan’s name isn’t enough to win them new deals. In fact, if anything the things moving the chains are when they spend a few weeks building up to big matches with better commentators, and that’s not something Hogan can help.

#3. Clash of the Champions Ratings

Hogan definitely boosted ratings on the Clash shows he appeared on. Yes, his debut Clash was considered a flop, but it was still up over the show from the previous year, and the Flair match was a clear success. Even the ridiculous six-man match was up over the previous year by 0.3. However, were those ratings increases worth the $300,000 he was paid for each match? Dave says yeah, if only for the Flair match.

#4. House Shows

He only worked six house shows so there’s not much in the way of conclusions to draw there. For the European tour, absolutely he was worth the money. They drew the biggest guaranteed money they’ve ever had on the Hogan name alone, so point for Team Hogan there. In fact, Hogan should probably work more dates.

#5. Merchandising

Hulk moves the merch and, to quote Dave here, “will continue to be the #1 merchandise seller of any wrestler in the United States for the next ten years.”

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On the other hand, Hogan’s piece of the pie is so high that there’s little chance of WCW making any money for themselves on it, so this one is mostly a push.

#6. Promotional Potential

WCW’s house shows used to elicit yawns from the media, and now they’re all over local media when they visit. But of course, Hogan doesn’t work many shows, so it’s not a huge boost like it should be. So unless he works more shows, this one is a negative.

#7. PPV Shows

This is the one that’s really for all the marbles. The deal was always based on increasing PPV business, and we now have results after three shows with Hogan. Bash at the Beach was an unqualified success. But really only anti-Hogan trolls would have argued anything else. Halloween Havoc did equally well on PPV, but the costs were much higher due to paying off Flair in exchange for “retiring”, so that one’s a failure. Starrcade was a fail. They did better than Starrcade 93, but with Hogan’s massive cut and all the promotional money spent, they were nowhere near the vicinity of profit. On the other hand, it’s pretty impressive that Hogan v. Butcher delivered a complete turd of a buildup and storyline and still outdrew Flair giving the performance of his life against Vader with his career on the line. So apparently the key is to book Hogan with great opponents on every show and he’ll recoup their investment. So even though PPV is technically up over 1993 with Hogan, the profit margin is down, and that can’t be considered a success for them.

Overall:

Hogan’s overpaid, but not by much. On the other hand, Hogan has brilliantly put himself in the position where losing him would sink the company for good. So did WCW get taken for a ride? Maybe a little, but they knew what they were getting into. Overall it’s a very slight negative for Hogan’s first six months, but now they’ve given him another two year deal and the novelty is wearing off. Maybe if a bunch more people jump ship (and Dave is pretty sure more people are jumping this year) they’ll make WCW into the company they want it to be. But there’s no more Hulk Hogans to go out and get.

– Dave does a business breakdown for the companies, and check out this terrifying chart of WWF house show attendance from 92-94:

HOUSE SHOW BUSINESS

’92 ’93 ’94

January 6,580 3,660 2,880

February 6,240 3,410 3,130

March 6,690 4,040 3,450

April 3,570 3,200 3,370

May 4,150 3,650 3,570

June 3,900 2,610 2,940

July 3,990 3,100 1,950

August 3,250 4,620 2,470

September 3,280 4,130 2,750

October 3,310 3,290 2,880

November 2,840 3,300 3,230

December 3,210 3,430 1,980

EST. YEAR AVERAGE 4,250 3,540 2,880

– As Dave notes, they “hit the skids” in 1992 and never recovered. (Yeah, watching those Superstars shows leaves little doubt as to why. Thanks a lot, Papa Shango.)

– Speaking of the WWF, Dave finds it interesting that Royal Rumble is being sold solely on the Pam Anderson appearance, and they’ve spent more on TV commercials than any PPV in recent memory.

– Back to WCW, as SuperBrawl V is 2/19 in Baltimore and Dave is not moved by the card on paper. (I was moved enough to break out the dreaded Hot Poker Up the Ass rating system for it.) On the bright side, advances are strong thus far.

– Also, Dave has been hearing from people, who should know better, that they want to see Vader “shoot” on Hogan. Dave notes that this is ridiculous and Vader only works as stiff as his opponent wants to, and it’s only when someone insane like Cactus Jack goes out there to die that injuries happen. The whole “Vader shoot Hogan” thing is just a weird fantasy people have. In fact, Dave would go further and say that the REAL MARKS are the ones who buy SuperBrawl thinking they’re gonna see Vader shoot on Hogan, because it’s not 1925 with Stanislaus Zbyszko shooting on Wayne Munn. (Coming this week to WWE Network Hidden Gems…) In fact Vader would commit career suicide by trying anything with Hogan, especially at 39 years old with a bad back and guaranteed money all over the world. (Geez, Dave, what a buzzkill.)

– UFC V has been moved from Wichita, KS to Charlotte NC on 4/7, and now the main event is officially Royce Gracie v. Ken Shamrock. Shamrock got the nod over Severn because Dan was fine being in the tournament whereas Shamrock was not. It’s actually very gutsy on the part of Pancrase to allow their World champion to go into the Octagon with Gracie and probably lose, with the feeling on their part being that even the loss will benefit them. This time UFC is being pretty cautious about PPV time and booking a full three hours of time, and they’ll tape the first round earlier in the night to make sure everyone is rested and they have enough time for the main event. Also, some guy named Oleg Taktarov from Russia is in the tournament and he’s apparently pretty good. (Is that one worth an understated Observer debut? I know people on the blog aren’t generally big fans of UFC and MMA stuff but Taktarov was fucking awesome.)

– To Japan for your Yoji Anjyo update of the week: On the UWFI show on 1/16 at Budokan Hall (where Vader beat Gary Albright to retain the World title before another sellout crowd), Anjyo appeared before fans for the first time since the Gracie incident and admitted that he “had a big mouth but lost to Rickson Gracie” and wants to fight him again. Fans booed him out of the building regardless. Later in the show, Anjyo teamed with Masahito Kakihara to beat Naoki Sano and some geek named Kazushi Sakuraba. (I wonder how HE’D fare with a Gracie…)

– The 1/8 Cactus Jack v. Terry Funk match taped for TV by IWA in Japan drew rave reviews from readers, with one guy calling it one of the best matches he’d seen in his entire life. Highlights of the action: Jack taking a facefirst bump on barbed wire, lighting a chair on fire with kerosene and giving Funk second degree burns from the melted plastic, Funk lighting his branding iron on fire and hitting Jack in the stomach, and of course the old wrestling standby of Jack tying himself neckfirst in the barbed wire and then ripping the skin off his fingers trying to get out. (Why can’t they book anything ORIGINAL? I’m so sick of seeing that spot, week after week.)

– To Memphis, where they were up to 2800 people for a big angle with Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee building to their first singles match in years and giving classic promos on TV slagging each other to get there. Dundee called Lawler a Vince ass-kisser who leaves Memphis every time he calls, while Lawler mocked him for going to WCW and changing his name to Sir William because he was so embarrassed by the stupid gimmick he was given.

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– Also, it’s another contender for Understated Observer Debut of the Week, as the show this week also featured the debut of a “Tom Zenk clone” named Scott Studd, who got over pretty good as a babyface. (Yes, it’s the senses-shattering first appearance of SCOTTY RIGGS!  Don’t worry, the actual Understated Debut is coming up later, though!) 

– Over to SMW, where Tammy Sytch was un-fired over the weekend and whatever issues she had with Cornette have been smoothed over. (Jim Cornette overreact to something? You jest!)

– Speaking of Cornette, he’s also got heat on him for maybe being a little bit racist. (Jim Cornette saying something stupid and then having to backpedal? You jest!) Seems that he’s been doing house shows against the Gangstas and telling New Jack “If you came to flap your lips, you’ll kill half this building.”

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– Cornette’s rationalization after they did the bit a little too far of their usual territory and got blowback: “To me, the babyface needs to say what everyone in the building wants to say and I just said it. It got a big pop every night. I don’t see one line (out of an entire night of wrestling) being that big a deal.” (Discuss amongst yourselves.)

– Dave also saw the interview that Cornette did with the Heavenly Bodies at the WWF TV tapings that had all the Titan guys in a panic, and it was just a normal promo. WWF is just really, really paranoid about bad press in recent years.

– Dave wonders if Jerry Lawler wins the SMW title from Dirty White Boy, does that make Shatner the #1 contender?

– Here’s a shocker: Jim Crockett is about to lose TV in Dallas in favor of infomercials. With no TV, only 325 came out to see young John Hawk win the North American title from Kevin Von Erich thanks to Skandor Akbar turning heel on Kevin. Akbar was supposed to be a babyface for a while, but APPARENTLY people in Dallas won’t cheer him and so they rushed the turn. (Wonder how long it took them to figure that one out?)

– Al Snow is trying to get “I’m going back to the dressing room to have some sex” over as his new catchphrase on the indies, stemming from his appearance at UFC 4.

– Dave goes into a whole thing about how about 85% of pro wrestlers he’s talked with believe UFC to be a work. Mostly because they just can’t buy that a little guy could beat a big guy like that. Specifically they don’t buy that little Royce Gracie could possibly choke out Dan Severn unless he wanted to lose. Dave wonders how all these people with zero experience working matches suddenly learned how to work incredibly convincing matches without ever missing spots? Dave also notes that most of these brain surgeons also think boxing matches are worked and also most football games. (Well that last one is just common sense.) In fact, Dave adds, the Gracies are so despised by the martial arts community for exposing their ineffective techniques of “real fighting” that if there WAS the slightest bit of funny business that could be proven, it would be all over the media in seconds. Also, how do you work Keith Hackney getting repeatedly hit with elbow strikes in the groin? Because, DAMN.

– To WCW, where Jean Paul Levesque finally made his choice and gave notice on 1/10, turning down a $1500/week contract in favor of the WWF. His feeling was that even though WCW was offering him the tag titles with Regal, the WWF can make him a superstar because they’re so desperate for new blood in 1995. (SMARTEST MAN IN PRO WRESTLING.) Eric Bischoff was reportedly furious about the lack of loyalty shown. (Sorry, I already used my Steve Austin meme for the week.)

– Brian Pillman returned at the TV tapings this week, now called California Brian. (And Levesque thinks they can’t make superstars!)

– Back to Levesque, as they tried jobbing him out at the tapings, having him lose to Alex Wright on Main Event and then asking him to lose to Sting on WCW Saturday Night as well, but he declined being made into a jobber on the way out and left without doing it. (SMARTEST MAN IN PRO WRESTLING.)

– The taping was something of a debacle, as usual, in that they had about 800 people in Center Stage for the Saturday Night taping, and then went through the rigamarole of changing banners to Main Event, which resulted in 600 people leaving during the delay. At that point they just shut down the taping and moved the Main Event portion to the next night, where they figured out that by just covering up the “WCW Saturday Night” banner with something else, they could eliminate the delay.

– Larry Sharpe’s 7’1” protégé, named Paul White, was backstage and might be brought in.

– Over to the WWF, and it’s time for the actual…

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– Dave has some corrections from last week’s WWF RAW taping notes. He had reported that some weightlifter named Anthony Clark ran off King Kong Bundy, but this in fact untrue, and the guy’s name is actually Mark Henry.

– Also, the final name for the Bruise Brothers will be Jacob & Eli Blu, managed by either Uncle Zebekiah or Uncle Zebulon, and they are NEVER to be referred to as “The Blues Brothers”.

– Maxx Payne’s Blacksmith gimmick is already history and he’s been repackaged as a guitar player named Man Mountain Rock.

– Also scrapped is the Minotaur, and he’s now Mantaur and Dave is pretty sure the whole thing is just a rib on Jim Cornette.

– Bob Backlund is already turfed from the World title matches against Diesel, with Jeff Jarrett taking his place in the main events and Backlund sent down to the prelims against Adam Bomb because the matches were sucking and he’s hard to work with. He looks to be on the way out completely very soon.

– Shawn Michaels got the line of the week, noting that Diesel looked like the Cowardly Lion and “he’ll knock him back to Oz.”

– Tony Norris showed up at the tapings looking for work, but didn’t get a tryout match. (I’m frankly shocked Vince didn’t give him the damn World title on the spot.)

– Jim Neidhart is gone.

– Chris Candido will likely get a “Mighty Mouse” gimmick playing a short superhero. (Jesus, they’ve been trying to foist that one on someone for TWENTY YEARS?!)

– And finally, in their quest for New Generation superstars, WWF is going to be giving hot young prospect Dick Murdoch a big push as a babyface after the Rumble. (Still would have drawn better than Diesel.)