Wrestling Observer Flashback – 01.15.96
For those that think 2020 is a strange and wild ride with unexpected twists and turns every week, I’ve got the strangest and most unnatural happening to top them all, all the way back in 1996. Buckle up, because for the first time in their 7 year history…WCW TURNED A PROFIT?!?
Truly we are in the darkest timeline.
– OK, Dave notes, the profit was a small one, especially with the added costs of live TV every week. Plus Hulk Hogan’s salary is RUMORED to be deferred to other areas of Turner Broadcasting in order to keep it off the books for WCW. So there’s that. Plus TBS plays a broadcast rights fee to WCW of $4 million a year, so that helps too. (Hmm, someone should look at those rights fees closer, sounds like it’s easy money!) Oddly enough what put them over the top was “a major video games sale”, without which the company would have lost money for 1995. (I don’t even know which one that would be. nWo World Tour and Revenge were MASSIVE hits on N64 but we’re still years away from those. About the only thing I could find with my extensive Wikipedia research was the SuperBrawl game on SNES around this time.)
– Also, ridding the company of big salaries like Steve Austin, Ricky Steamboat and Dustin Rhodes helped out tons. Although Dave notes that if they’re signing guys to big salaries and then not featuring them in a role where they can draw money on PPV, there’s no point in signing them to that money in the first place.
– Dave is pretty sure that they’re not going to maintain profitability moving into 1996, since much of the profit came from financial trickery like holding off on various expenses until 1996 in order to make the company look that much better, so many of those bills will come due this year.
– Meanwhile, Muto and Takada set the record for biggest drawing feud in the history of wrestling this past week, selling out the Tokyo Dome again for their rematch, which saw Takada submit Muto with a cross armbreaker to win the IWGP title in 17:51. Much like the October show that drew the biggest gate in history, the January 4 show was also built around the New Japan v. UWFI feud and sold out the Dome with 64,000 people and 14 million people watching on TV. The live gate, estimated to be as much as $6 million, was likely the largest live gate in wrestling history.
(Yup. And that’s not even getting into the modern era of stadium Wrestlemanias, where a mere $6 million gate wouldn’t even cover the cost for Rock’s flamethrower bills.)
– It was actually Inoki and Vader who stole the show at the Dome, however, drawing by far the most heat with a ****1/2 match, with Inoki winning with his own armbar at 14:16. Inoki absorbed a “Cactus Jack-like” beating and got the match over as a classic.
– Although the ratings for the TV special were slightly disappointing at a 10.1, with hopes for a 15.0, tapes had already hit Los Angeles video stores by the next day and the rest of the West Coast of the US by Saturday. (Didn’t they have New Japan World?)
– So with this show, New Japan has accomplished everything they need from their purchase of UWFI. New Japan has been clearly established as the toughest and the crowd no longer cares about UWFI as shooter badasses. Plus they sold out two Tokyo Dome shows. And Takada came out looking strong enough that he can continue to headline in 1996.
– For those keeping track, Kensuke Sasaki was wearing the WCW US title for the show.
– Back to the US, as the WWF stepped things up another notch with their second “Billionaire Ted” sketch on 1/8, introducing allegations that Hogan and Savage are now back on steroids this time. Plus Vince claimed that he had already written a strongly worded letter to Ted Turner and issued a challenge to him to deliver a stronger steroid policy. This time around, the joke was that “Ted” wanted to use the term “Uncooked and uncensored” for his show, but his executives told him that they’d already stolen that idea. Another funny line had execs saying they should play off “It’s Unbelievable” with “Ted’s Rasslin’ – It’s Not Believable!” (They really did have some funny ideas to start, and it just got so mean-spirited and went off the rails.)
– Immediately after the episode of RAW where the skit aired, Vince issued the following statement: “The World Wrestling Federation is concerned about the health and well being of its talent. Although on tonight’s RAW program, we used satire to demonstrate a point about the WWF’s steroid policy as opposed to Ted Turner’s WCW, we realize that the use of steroids and other drugs of abuse is a serious issue and can pose health risks. Therefore, in a personal letter to Ted last week, I challenged him in the interest of the health and well being of all the athletes under his umbrella, as well as mine to implement a policy which would adhere to the same strict standards which the WWF adopted several years ago. I also indicated that perhaps the only way this could occur is if we jointly select an independent drug policy advisor, collection agency and testing facility. The WWF has taken the lead in developing a program with teeth in it. Hopefully, Ted Turner will see the value in protecting his athletes as well.”
– Basically Vince is trying to cover his ass against slander or libel by couching it in satire.
– They also did skits with “Scheme Gene” shilling his 900 line, where he teased a new entrant into the Royal Rumble but “couldn’t read the name on TV”. Then Jim Ross confronted him and asked him the name, and he admitted it was Vader, who had already been announced as showing up for the Rumble the week before.
– And of course Dave has a hot take for 17 paragraphs, give or take, about how Vince is a hypocrite for going off on anyone else’s steroid policies.
– Meanwhile, Public Enemy finished up with ECW at “House Party 96” on 1/5 at the ECW Arena, ending with a typical bloody brawl against the Gangstas.
– In order to distract fans from PE’s departure, Paul Heyman debuted a big angle where Beulah announced she was pregnant and Tommy Dreamer was the father! (Who would ever believe that could happen in a million years? Of course the “payoff” to this nonsense was even wackier.)
– Also on the show, Rob Van Dam debuted and Shane Douglas returned. Apparently Douglas’s new gimmick is that he’s going to teach Buh Buh Ray Dudley to speak English. (No wonder he ended up with such a potty mouth.)
– Meanwhile, the UFC continues humiliating WWF and WCW combined on PPV, with the Ultimate Ultimate doing a 1.0 buyrate when factoring in replays whereas Starrcade did the second-lowest buyrate in company history and In Your House V did even worse, setting the WWF record for least bought show. Dave is once again declaring that PPV is dead for wrestling, and thinks that the next “golden goose” is TV companies owning promotions.
– Hulk Hogan filed a lawsuit against a Minneapolis woman and her attorney on 1/4, charging them with extortion. The suit alleges that Kate Kennedy sent Hogan a letter on 12/24, threatening to expose “criminal conduct” on his part unless he settled with them for millions of dollars. Or else they would involve the police and have him arrested. (I bet it was that stupid fist helmet! I knew it would get him in hot water someday!)
– According to a story in USA Today, the law firm alleges that Hogan engaged in “reprehensible conduct of a sexual nature that went well beyond harassment”. It’s not known what Kennedy’s relationship to Hogan was, but she was believed to have been employed in public relations for the “Hulk Hogan’s Pastamania” restaurant. (Now THERE’S a job to put on your resume!) Whatever sordid events are alleged, they are believed to have occurred on the night when the first Nitro was being taped at the Mall of America. (Good thing for Hogan that Twitter wasn’t around in 1996.)
– Dave notes that on the next New Japan show on 1/14, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima will be forming a tag team. (I feel like they might work well together.)
– Riki Choshu has apparently decided to do away with foreigners on the New Japan shows for the time being, since their biggest drawing show of all time was strictly Japanese v. Japanese (outside of Vader) and they have so many domestic guys under contract that they can’t find room on their shows for everyone as it is.
– Apparently digital TV will be available in Japan starting in September and, get this, there’s already plans for a 24-hour wrestling channel! Dave is practically LOL’ing on the page at the ridiculous idea that anyone would watch a 24 hour wrestling channel. (Why, you’d have to be the biggest promotion in the world and own all the other footage available from every other company, and how likely is THAT?)
– To Memphis, where the crowd was decent for the 1/3 show where Doug Gilbert won the USWA version of the Royal Rumble and earned a spot in the real Royal Rumble.
– The ECW show opened with a risky move, putting Rey Mysterio in a tag team with 911 against the Eliminators, but it paid off with a **** opener. The Eliminators also debuted a new finisher, the old Midnight Express “high low” move that was called the Double Goozle. (Hopefully Joey Styles can come up with a more dynamic name than that.)
– The crowd was very mean to Konnan in his ECW title match with Sandman, chanting “US Chump” and singing about how he performs various sexual acts on Eric Bischoff. (I mean, he DID get over in WCW getting the crowd to endorse “peeling his potato”, so who knows?)
– And now, it’s our…
– WWC had their biggest show in a long time, drawing 6000 fans to a stadium on 1/6 in Puerto Rico, headlined by Carlos Colon winning his “134th Universal title” from Mabel (although he lost it back the next night). Also on the show, a cage match saw Hurricane Castillo Jr. beating Shawn Morley. (I’ve heard Morley is a real rising star, with big things ahead, just waiting to get his shot at the money, but he’s a little too cocky.)
– Despite Wahoo McDaniel working what was advertised as his final match in November, he’s back on the road again and still working as of this week. (To be fair to poor Wahoo, he really did wrap it up for good this year.)
– Ultimate Warrior has a comic book that will be hitting stands any day now, and it’s actually called “The Warrior”, about how a young punk transforms his life through the powers of self-belief. “So that’s how he did it!” snarks Dave.
– Hard Copy ran an “investigative story” on the UFC on the 1/3 show, claiming that “two men are locked inside a cage with no time limit until one man either submits or is knocked unconscious”. They did admit that no one has died in a UFC fight…YET…but it’s still “an orgy of sex and violence”. (I mean, I’ll grant you the second one, but what show are THEY watching if they’re getting sex orgies out of it?)
– To WCW, where Bischoff was openly burying Brian Pillman on commentary and it sounds like he might not be long for WCW because everyone backstage is terrified of him. The irony, Dave notes, is that he’s the best heel in the business right now while playing this out of control maniac.
– Hogan is also trying to get Zodiac turned babyface and given a push, with his rationale being that Bischoff pushed his friend DDP, so why not Ed Leslie? Of course, Dave notes, DDP worked his ass off and delivered in the ring, whereas Ed gets a zillion chances and shits the bed every time.
– Dave also notes that the more that WCW builds around using Hogan and Savage every week instead of special attractions, the more that WWF stands a chance of rebuilding its ratings lead.
– Public Enemy was supposed to debut on the 1/8 Nitro but Rocco Rock was snowed in, so they had Johnny Grunge team with Bobby Eaton in a dark match with the Nasty Boys and it was…not good.
– Jacques Rougeau is talking with WCW about coming out of retirement and wrestling again.
– Mean Gene Okerlund spoke up about the allegations against Hulk Hogan, noting that he was with Hogan all day on the date in question and nothing happened, and he would be willing to testify in court as a character witness. Dave then DIVES on that football and carries it to the endzone, snarking “That’s just what Hogan needs, is Okerlund in a courtroom as a character witness. That last guys who did something that stupid were Ken Patera and Masa Saito.” TOUCHDOWN DAVE MELTZER.
– To the WWF, where it’s still not a done deal with Vader and for the moment he’s only working the Rumble.
– Same for Jake Roberts.
– Cactus Jack started doing promos over the weekend, but he’s not in the Rumble and might not be in until after Wrestlemania.
– Sabu was also supposed to work the Rumble and do a wacky spot where he’d throw a guy over the top but then do a plancha because he doesn’t understand the rules, but Heyman vetoed the move because he wants to do a PPV in the next couple of months with Sabu v. Taz on top.
– Shawn Michaels apparently inherited $2.5 million from a fan who passed away and willed him the money. Dave notes that Shawn is still going to continue wrestling, but will probably move to a bigger house. (Bet he wished that he saved that money when he was working for JBL later on!)
– Sister Love was originally going to be Ashley Allen, but she ended up as Hunter Hearst Helmsley’s valet instead, so either way she’s going to have a major role this year! (I checked and apparently she was a Playboy Playmate in 1992 and that’s about all I can find on her. So I guess that no, she didn’t end up having a major role.)
– There was talk of debuting Steve Austin with a name a little less silly than “Ringmaster”, but that’s what they went with on RAW in the end.
– Tom Prichard is no longer Flip and is now Zip instead. (Whew. They almost had him looking STUPID there!)
– John Hawk is headed in as a heel.
– Al Snow might get a new gimmick at the next set of tapings. (Well that could apply to about 17 different sets of tapings this year…)
– And finally, they are making reference to the idea on TV that Goldust’s whole deal might just be an act to throw Razor Ramon off his game, so he can win the title. However, there have been lots of complaints from fans at the arenas because he keeps fondling himself at the shows. (At least they made him start wearing a cup. Small victories.)