Wrestling Observer Flashback – 01.02.96

Wrestling Observer Flashback – 01.02.96

And now we’re off to 1996!

And the WWF is getting desperate. Man, there’s a phrase we’re going to hearing a LOT for the next while.

– With buyrates falling, the WWF has been sending out Royal Rumble invites to an eclectic group of people, with names like Dan Severn, Rick Martel, Jake Roberts, Ultimate Warrior and Big Van Vader. The Warrior one is especially surprising, even moreso because they’ve been dropping his name on the syndicated shows lately before a deal has even been signed.

– The scuttlebutt backstage is that Warrior is not only signed for the Rumble, but might even be returning as a regular character on TV again, although Dave does note that the people saying this stuff aren’t in a position to know 100% what’s going on, or even 75%.

– Vince was much less committed to giving a definitive answer during an “internet chat” session this past week, saying that “In order for the Ultimate Warrior to return to the WWF, the moon and the stars and the sun and the planet Pluto would all have to be perfectly aligned in some sort of celestial magnificence. But who knows? Anything can happen in the WWF.” (Unless of course he wore a HAT to an interview segment. Then it’s NO DEAL, PAL.)

– Apparently Jake Roberts has retired and gone into religion and seems unlikely to actually return. (Perhaps if he could find a way to showcase his newfound religion…?)

– Dave is pretty sure that Warrior MIGHT juice the buyrate for one show, but aside from Hulk Hogan there’s no one in the business right now that’s gonna do more than that. And if he stays around long term, the negatives FAR outweigh the positives. And he’s not coming back to wrestling unless someone throws a giant offer his way, given that he turned down a $500,000 a year deal from WCW already. Warrior has changed the more importantly the business has changed and he’s just not going to be able to be the same person he was when he was famous.

– This also opens up another can of worms, because there’s zero chance Warrior is returning without some sort of guaranteed contract, and Vince doesn’t do guarantees. So what are the Shawn Michaels and Bret Harts of the world going to think if Vince starts handing them out? (More importantly, what about the Kevin Nashs and Scott Halls of the world?)

– Anyway, Dave is much more intrigued by the idea of Vader coming in, what with the WWF short on heels right now. But Vader is used to an easy schedule for big money, and that’s exactly the opposite of what the WWF would be offering.

– And now, it’s time for…

– Looking ahead to the WWF over the next year, the signs aren’t looking positive for them. Buyrates are declining, house show revenues are down, and it appears that 1996 will be built around Shawn Michaels. (I don’t think Dave actually intended that last one to be part of the negatives, but him no write English gud sometimes) The biggest problem is that Vince has lost his Midas touch, with five failures in marketing to every success that he’s had. Before, he would take wrestlers that meant nothing elsewhere and turn them into legitimate stars, and he’s only been able to do it with Kevin Nash recently. Also, with the long-term fight against Nitro impending and Turner having deeper pockets than him, it seems inevitable that he might end up moving RAW to another night in order to avoid the long war with WCW. It’s the same story he faced in the 80s when taking out all the competition one by one, but this time he’s the one on the other side of the money equation.

– Moving onto WCW, Dave is still flabbergasted that they not only haven’t fucked up Nitro yet, but actually have Vince McMahon on the ropes on Monday nights. In a sense the shows were tied most of the year, but the important factor is the advertising sales. RAW was sold by USA on a 2.9 average rating, and it hasn’t reached that number since Nitro started. Meanwhile Nitro was sold on a 2.0 average rating, and they’ve been averaging a 2.8! So that makes Nitro the bigger success by far. Plus they’ve got the money, and the TV audience, and the deeper roster.

(I’m disappointed! I was hoping for some batshit crazy predictions for 1996 that I could mock, like “Nash and Hall leave for WCW and then Vince replaces them with terrible wrestlers but the same gimmick names”. Dave has let me down.)

– As for ECW, even though they’ve never sold 1500 tickets for a show, they’ve become the most crazily influential group in the world. But if they want to continue their growth, they need to move away from what has made them popular and find something that’s actually marketable. Also while having the audience chant “Show your tits” might make for a charming ambiance at house shows, it’s not so great for TV and PPV. (As long as no one tips off the PPV companies about it…)

– Dave is confident that the USWA will still be around for the next year, but that’s about as far as he’s willing to go. (Which is wise.)

– Moving away from predictions, Missy Hyatt settled her sexual harassment lawsuit with WCW over the past week. Terms were undisclosed and sealed as a result of the settlement. No truth to the rumors that Missy has been contacted about being Sister Love in the WWF. (If you want to know the details of the lawsuit, Missy has basically been telling everything to everyone lately because she figures that the company has been dead for 20 years now, so NDAs are null and void at this point.)

– Congratulations to Mean Gene Okerlund, who has found a new level of sleaze for the WCW Hotline, as he talked about a retirement ceremony for Ricky Steamboat that’s upcoming on the 1/1 Nitro show from Atlanta. The problem is that he totally made the story up. He basically sold the hotline story on Nitro by teasing a former WCW legend announcing his retirement as though it was a breaking news story, when in fact the legend he was referring to was Steamboat, who retired in August of 1994. There are no plans for WCW to do a retirement show for Steamboat, and no one from WCW has even called him. In fact Steamboat is currently engaged in lawsuits against both WCW and the WWF for various reasons and he isn’t on good terms with either one. In fact, the only time WCW even called him was when they threatened him with a counter-suit three weeks ago.

– For his part, Okerlund is claiming that he is merely reporting on the RUMOR of a retirement ceremony and never actually said that it was happening. (He should end all his hotline reports with “….allegedly” because then he can cover his ass and still have a hilarious running joke that gets funnier every time he drags it out of mothballs.)

– The Public Enemy is supposed to debut at the Clash of Champions on 1/23 in Vegas against the Nasty Boys, but there’s a legal holdup (BECAUSE OF COURSE THERE IS) over whether they can in fact legally call them Public Enemy. So if you’ll recall from our last issue, WCW made a deal with Def Jam Records for the rights to the name, but now Paul Heyman is claiming that HE made a deal with Def Jam first and he has all the merchandising rights from that deal. However, he does admit that he gave them the rights to “Flyboy Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge” so they can have those. (How much you wanna bet they made that one go away with a quick trip to the ATM?)

– Rey Mysterio Jr. did a small show in Compton on 12/22 against Damian and Psicosis and ended up destroying his ankle while doing a rana onto the floor, to the point where his ankles were hurting so badly that he wasn’t able to drive home due to pain from pressing on the gas pedal being too much to take. He likely won’t miss any shows. (Rey getting an early start on his career path, I see.)

– Also on that show, a fan on the balcony was throwing stuff at Psicosis, so he went up there and punched the guy out. Police were called and tried to arrest him, but he simply unmasked and everyone pretended that he had already left the building.

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– Koji Kitao was in Los Angeles this past week, talking with Royce Gracie about doing a match in Japan after his supposed appearance on the 5/16 UFC show. Dave notes with supreme Dave dry humor that Kitao was “a Grand champion in Sumo before becoming a very poor pro wrestler” and if he can somehow win his supposed match on the UFC show, then Gracie would agree to do a match with him at the Tokyo Dome in September.

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– BREAKING NEWS FROM FMW: The deal with Shark Tsuchiya “going missing” from last week’s issue turned out to be just an angle and she was back for the barbed wire match at FMW’s all-women’s show. More notable was the fact that Atsushi Onita and Mr. Pogo were both there, which looks to be the start of an angle to bring Onita back to wrestling. (You mean he’s NOT actually retired? Next you’re going to tell me that Terry Funk didn’t actually retire at the end of 1995 like he claimed, too!)

– Weekly Pro Wrestling in Japan, which normally puts out a calendar with top stars from all the major promotions, got into the spirit of the Manami Toyota 30 match challenge by putting out a calendar with nothing but Manami Toyota pictures. The actual 12/25 show where she worked 30 different matches was less of a series of “matches” and more just a series of one-minute rounds with young girls, although she did get pinned by Mima Shimoda and Kyoko Inoue to set up her next couple of challengers. (Vince should look into doing the same with Baron Corbin on Smackdown. I’m sure it would be ratings gold and Tommy would still give it a C+ because at least the show had direction.)

To Memphis, where in fact the plan is now to cut their losses and move the Mid-South Monday shows to Wednesdays and hopefully escape the Monday Night Wars.

– Your sick burn of the week goes to manager Scott Bowden, who was on TV making fun of PG-13, noting that they’re so small that they should only wrestle other midgets like Little Beaver, Little Tokyo and Bill Dundee.

– Steve Austin, Dr. Tom and Public Enemy are all finishing up with ECW this week, although only TPE will be on the 1/5 Arena show, doing their last ECW match.

– Rey Mysterio is going to working that show, teaming with 911 against the Eliminators. Dave thinks this is a huge mistake because it’ll expose Rey as being the size of a small child next to all of them and no one will ever take him seriously. Evidence cited was something that happened with Tiger Mask in New Japan a decade earlier. (Or it could turn out…differently than that.)

– The Bruise Brothers might be coming into ECW, but Ron Harris wants to go into police work full-time and is taking his exam at the end of February. (I’m just so overwhelmed with potential punchlines here that I don’t even know where to go with it. As a bonus I can probably literally offend everyone reading this with one terrible line if I try hard enough. So I’m gonna be the bigger man and just leave it here, like New Orleans cops planting evidence after…no, I said I’d pass on this one, and I’m gonna stick by it. It’s a new year of Flashbacks and that’s my resolution, to cut back on calling the Harris Brothers neo-Nazi hatemongers.

…allegedly.)

– Incredibly Strange Wrestling ran another show in San Fran on 12/23, but sadly everyone involved in the last time we heard from them (You remember, the valet who pissed all over a wrestler?) was fired from the company. So they toned it down and instead only had a heel shooting a flamethrower at heckling fans as their big spot. (It’s like they’re not even trying now.)

– To WCW, where Dusty Rhodes has managed to talk himself into a color commentary job for Starrcade, and although Dave hasn’t actually seen the show yet at press time, he’s confident that it’ll be the worst-announced one of the year. He’s pretty sure that between them, Bobby and Dusty will burn through all their Japanese jokes in the first match and have nothing left for the other six-and-a-half matches.

– On the 12/25 Nitro, Bischoff was really gloating about their ratings success, although Dave notes that he’s totally right to do so. Bischoff also gloated about all the top stars deserting the WWF for WCW. (Yeah, just wait…)

– Dave’s mind is boggled that they’ve got Flair v. Hogan booked for 1/1 on Nitro and didn’t even mention it on their unopposed 12/25 Nitro, and in fact didn’t even advertise a single match.

– To the WWF, where John Hawk did a tryout match for the Superstars tapings, jobbing to Savio Vega in a dark match. He was managed by “Uncle Zeb”, a repackaged Dutch Mantel. Hawk got some good heat despite being a new guy to fans.

– The Sons of Samoa also got a tryout, beating the Spiders. The Samoans were Samu and a guy named the Tahaitian Warrior, managed by Afa. (OK, so Tahaitian Warrior was the guy who went on to be LA Smooth, and this gimmick briefly became the Samoan Gangsta Party later on when Samu teamed with Matt Anoia, aka Rosie, and you know what this shit is already giving me a headache so let’s move on again.)

– Rad Radford was already fired from the Bodydonnas after taking the pinfall against the Smoking Gunns, which will set up the debut of Zip or Flip or whatever. The new Bodydonnas actually did a squash and Pritchard was so funny in his role that they ended up cracking up the jobbers in the ring with them.

– BREAKING NEWS: Dave is pretty sure that Bret actually did gig himself at In Your House. (Quality detective work there.)

– Buddy Landel managed to mess up his ankle after the tapings last week, slipping on ice while going through a revolving door, and he’ll need surgery and be out long term. (That is the most horrifying and yet awesomely stupid thing I have read all week. Who else could possibly end their WWF career in that fashion?)

– Ironically, Buddy doing the squash job for Ahmed at the PPV was a last-second desperate request from Vince himself, since Shane Douglas refused to do the job due to his “back injury” and they had no backup plan. They were so grateful to Buddy for being a team player that they were going to reward him with a huge push.

– Talk of giving Sunny a new storyline where she marries a 91 year old millionaire and then he dies, leaving her with money to buy a new heel. (Like…maybe a black guy in a Gladiator outfit?)

– SICK BURN OF THE WEEK, PART TWO: One of the pigs in the hogpen match was called “Terry” as a rib.

– And finally, highlights from Vince McMahon’s internet chat:

– He hasn’t spoken to Paul Heyman in years and doesn’t watch ECW. (Plausible, according to Dave, because Heyman deals with Brother Bruce and not Vince.)

– Public Enemy went to WCW because Ted Turner is throwing his money around to keep people from going to the WWF. (Actually money thrown at them: $85,000 a year.)

– Putting Monday Nitro on that night is “showing no regard for the wrestling fans of America” and is just Bischoff carrying out the greedy, selfish vitriol of Billionaire Ted. (Oh, Vince would know a thing or two about selfish vitriol and greed.)

– Hulk Hogan is a selfish and shallow human being who believes he can con wrestling fans into thinking he’s as good as he was years ago. (And then he conned Vince into thinking the same thing. TWICE.)

– WCW are treating fans like they’re morons by presenting the Giant as Andre’s son.

And while Dave’s eyes roll so hard that they nearly break out of his skull right there on the page, we’ll take our leave and see you next time!