Wrestling Observer Flashback – 01.29.96
And it’s ROYAL RUMBLE time!
But first WCW really did have a big surprise at the Clash…
– Dave is unsurprised that the Monday Night Wars have gone the way they have, with both sides bringing in big names and big matches on TV to try to win the war. But what did surprise him was the return of Elizabeth and the Road Warriors on WCW’s Clash of Champions show on 1/23. And it worked, scoring one of the highest ratings in the history of TBS, although only in terms of viewership and not actual rating as such.
– Dave does note that although the return of Elizabeth drew a huge rating, basically there’s nowhere they can go with her from here, because now people have seen what she looks like today and there’s no further place to go. (Nope. Nothing. Not like she’ll stick around until the end of the company.)
– Meanwhile, Woman is also now a regular character on the show, although she was trying to retain her job with ECW at the same time. The deal was going to be Kevin Sullivan sending Public Enemy back to ECW for shows in exchange for Woman being able to do the WCW gig, but that appears to have fallen through. Of course, Sullivan had been swearing up and down for weeks that there was no plans to bring Woman into WCW in the first place, even though plans had been in place for months to have her as a part of the Hogan-Savage stuff. WCW themselves even admitted it was true. (To be fair, it’s not like anyone in WCW knew what anyone else in WCW was doing at any given moment anyway) But as of last writing, Paul Heyman was going to write her out of ECW on the 1/27 show and she’ll start full-time with WCW instead on the 1/29 Nitro, and both she and Elizabeth will be regular characters moving forward.
– The huge success of the Clash show comes on the heels of Nitro walloping RAW 3.5 to 2.4, which prompted to Eric Bischoff to call Vince McMahon and leave a message with his secretary, telling him to “continue whatever it is he’s doing with the Billionaire Ted skits”. (SAVAGE!)
– However, WCW’s beating on the 1/15 episode wasn’t a trend, because the 1/22 episode of RAW rebounded back with a 2.9 to 2.7 victory. One major point that has come up is a toning down of the Goldust character, as they’re dropping references to homosexuality and adding in Dustin’s wife as “Marlene”.
– Another wild angle saw Roddy Piper return to the WWF as the new President after Vader destroyed Gorilla Monsoon in a great segment. Piper’s stated mandate as President was basically that anything and everything goes, which is the WWF’s attempt to copy the edgy nature of ECW without the blood.
– Meanwhile on the 1/22 Nitro, Randy Savage regained the WCW title from Ric Flair, which (among other things) led to Flair threatening to quit the promotion. Originally he was scheduled to take the big boot and legdrop from Hogan at the live Clash, so they switched the result of the match to Flair pinning Savage with brass knuckles instead. Also Lex Luger and Sting won the WCW tag team titles from Harlem Heat on the Nitro, and they defend against the reunited Road Warriors on the 2/5 Nitro.
– Onto the Clash show itself, which was 1/23 in Las Vegas with a sellout 3100 fans at Caesar’s Palace. This double shot of Nitro and Clash was such a success that there was immediately talk of doing Nitro live there every week, which comes only a week after Bischoff bragged about Nitro getting a three year renewal with TNT. (Man, can you imagine how dull it would get if both promotions did TV from the same building every week for months on end? I mean, maybe if there was some kind of, I dunno, GLOBAL PANDEMIC forcing them…)
– Although the wrestling on the Clash was good, the out of ring skits were pathetic, in particular the whole wedding deal with Sherri and Parker. Dave gets all woke and notes that the Madusa v. Sherri stuff “puts the women back in their stereotypical rightful place, good for nothing but sex playthings or having conflicts based on sex triangles.” (The world needed Stephanie McMahon and we just didn’t know it yet.)
– In the dark match, Steven Regal pinning Chris Benoit in 6:40 after Benoit missed a diving headbutt. They didn’t even know they were working together until 2:00 before the match. A very good opener with both guys smacking the hell out of each other. ***1/4
1. Public Enemy went to a double DQ with the Nasty Boys in 4:02. A total brawl with great heat, although the DQ was called for no apparent reason. Unfortunately the table decided to shoot on them and wouldn’t break. Nasty Boys got over big from this. ***1/4
2. Dean Malenko pinned Alex Wright in 5:31. An awesome, but too short, scientific match. Dave thinks that Alex is going to be one of the great workers in wrestling in a short time. (Sadly, not.) The match was unfortunately ruined by the terrible announcing, as they were doing legit painful submission stuff and the announcers were telling jokes over top of it. ***1/2
The Road Warriors came out at this point, challenging Sting & Luger, with Luger begging off and Sting of course accepting the challenge immediately. Next, Paul Orndorff did an interview segment where he talked about taking down a “450 pound gorilla” and got a big babyface pop from the crowd for it. In unrelated news, TV psychic Gary Spivey was in attendance.
3. Brian Pillman pinned Eddie Guerrero in 5:50 with a crossbody and handful of trunks. This match earned instant historical status for Pillman, as he did an unplanned bit where he ran out of the ring and hid behind Bobby Heenan, causing Bobby to freak out live on air and exclaim “What the fuck are you doing?” because he, like everyone else in the company, is terrified of Pillman at the moment. **1/2
4. Sting & Lex Luger beat Steven Regal & Bobby Eaton in 7:46 with the Scorpion on Eaton. Regal had blown out his knee in the Benoit match so he mainly made faces on the apron for this one. *1/4
5. Konnan beat Psicosis via submission in 5:26 with a ziplock. (No idea what that move is, but I assume it’s freezer-ready.) They were told to go home 5 minutes early because the show was running late, so Psi lost all his shine at the end. The crowd liked it at least. **3/4
6. Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage beat Ric Flair & The Giant in 9:51 when Flair pinned Savage with knuckles. (Wait, what? I think Dave got his result backwards there.) Savage came out with a bunch of women including the unnamed wife of Steve McMichael and Hogan’s wife Linda. Dave does note that Debra used to be a Miss America contestant. (You don’t say? Wonder if they’ll mention that on TV at some point?) Match had big heat live but sucked as a match. Although Kevin Greene was in the corner of the babyfaces and clearly wants to be a pro wrestler. *1/4
– In another dark match, One Man Gang pinned Disco Inferno with the 747 splash in 6:16. -1/2*
– Onto the WWF’s offering from the same weekend, with the Royal Rumble on 1/21 in Fresno with a sellout of 9600 people.
– People were expecting a big effort coming off the ratings loss to Nitro. They didn’t get it.
– The show itself continued to move in their new direction of violence and edginess for the sake of it, and bad finishes like three DQs, including one in the main event.
– Dave was particularly triggered by the main event non-finish, since Bret Hart managed to drag a 30:00 good match out of Undertaker only to have it completely undermined by a stupid run-in finish that just makes Bret and the title look weak. (I’m sure we should just let it play out and see where it goes…) Dave’s pretty sure the next PPV match, against Diesel, will similarly end with Bret squeaking out a “win” over his opponent but looking weak heading to Wrestlemania. (I said let it play out, Dave! Oh, wait, no, he’s right, never mind.)
– Also the booking was sloppy as fuck, with stuff like Vader eliminating people from the Rumble but not having them count because he was out of the match, whereas in past Rumbles they would have counted. (In future ones as well!)
– Also, they’ve announced that Wrestlemania will feature a Huckster v. Nacho Man match on it, which is a major tactical error because you’re just drawing attention to the other guys. (Puh-lease. I think I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that no one is going to be talking about Hulk Hogan in the summer of 1996.)
– Duke Droese beat Hunter Hearst Helmsley via reversed decision in 6:25 in the pre-show match, which would have been a perfect opportunity to have two guys put on a hot match and get the crowd fired up. Instead we get that. ½*
1. Ahmed Johnson beat Jeff Jarrett via DQ in 6:40. Dave has a HOT TAKE: Ahmed looks really green out there. He also doesn’t know how to sell yet, which makes it tough to work with him. Jarrett gave him the El Kabong with the guitar for the DQ. *1/4
2. The Smoking Gunns beat the Bodydonnas to retain the WWF tag team titles in 11:14. Everyone worked hard, but it didn’t come together and the match was just OK. Vince called Zip “Flip” several times during the match by mistake, which was kind of a theme of bad announcing. The Donnas tried a double suplex on Bart, but Billy tackled them and Bart fell on top of Zip for the pin. **
3. Goldust won the IC title from Razor Ramon in 14:17, with Goldust debuting the new character of “Marlene” as his director. Although Vince was toning down the gay stuff, Mr. Perfect was more than happy to play it up even more, with Vince ignoring him and seemingly not happy about it. As Ramon made the comeback, Marlene distracted the ref and 1-2-3 did a run-in and put Ramon down with a spinkick, and Goldust got the pin. **3/4
4. Shawn Michaels won the Royal Rumble in 58:49 by superkicking Diesel over the top rope. Everyone got entrance music on the way out, which meant everyone got a pop and then it went back to being dead again. (Well better get used to that.) Overall there wasn’t enough talent in the ring to carry the match, so it was below par. One neat thing was Dory Funk Jr making an appearance in the match and getting acknowledged as a former NWA World champion by Vince, and then 1-2-3 Kid spent all his time trying to work with him because he grew up idolizing Dory. Doug Gilbert in particular had a good showing in the match, and Vader destroyed everything in his path while he was in. Vince was already phasing out the Ringmaster name for Steve Austin, calling him “Steve Austin, the Ringmaster” when he came out. After the match they teased a breakup of Diesel and Shawn, but they high-fived and all is well. **1/2
5. Undertaker beat Bret Hart by DQ in 28:31, so Bret retains the WWF title. The finish was obvious after Diesel confronted Undertaker on the way to the ring. The match was mostly Bret working on Undertaker’s knee, which was technically good but no one bought the idea of him submitting so it was pretty boring. Bret ended up getting booed by the end of the match, which saw Diesel pull out the ref after Taker had Bret pinned with a tombstone. **3/4
– Oh hey, off to Japan for the most shocking return of the year next to Terry Funk, as Atsushi Onita is probably coming back to FMW because Hayabusa isn’t drawing.
– Victor Quinones has officially left the IWA promotion in Japan, and will be booking another one, but Dave isn’t sure which one. Cactus Jack will be working one more tour before going full time with the WWF right away. The Head Hunters will also doing one tour and then “awaiting word from the WWF”.
– To Memphis, where they returned to the Mid-South Coliseum on Mondays and drew 675 fans for $4800, with a main event of Doug Gilbert & Tommy Rich v. Jerry Lawler & Tex Slazenger. Tex is already on the way out, so he did the job. (Yeah and he failed upwards right to a long gig in the WWF.)
– A team debuted on TV called the Border Patrol, billed from New York, but they might be from the Carolinas. (Cagematch has no insight on who they might be, with the closest guess being Michael Modest and another indie guy named Mike Diamond, but they don’t show any Memphis matches at that point.)
– To ECW, where Paul Heyman has promised Sabu that he’ll deliver the ECW PPV show by 6/12. (And you know that Paul is always good to keep his promises.)
– Former WWF jobber Jerry Allen apparently died at the age of 32 in his home in San Antonio. His name was all over the Zahorian lists, which would make the third person associated with him to die young in the past year. The other two were Eddie Gilbert and John Studd.
– Ads have begun running for the CWA PPV show with the football match, supposedly airing on 2/2, so it might actually happen. (Dammit why can’t anyone on YouTube post it?)
– To WCW, where Eric Bischoff responded to the WWF’s recent potshots by doing an interview with Mike Tenay on the WCW hotline. He doesn’t think that the drop in PPV buyrates is caused by Nitro, although Dave points out that buyrates for both companies started plummeting in September so obviously Nitro was the cause. Eric blames the “In Your House” concept for watering down the market moreso than Nitro siphoning away viewers. After some more bon mots, Eric finished by calling Vince “the Verne Gagne of the 90s” and that his time has come and gone. (Careful about throwing out the V-word there, Eric…)
– A terrible team called “The Overlords” got a tryout on the 1/17 Center Stage tapings, having taken plenty of “Hulk Hogan vitamins”, and they were doing a biker gimmick and looked dreadful. (Cagematch was again no help here in figuring out if they were anyone of note.)
– Despite all the work to put Teddy Long with Joey Maggs on TV as his manager, Joey is still doing TV jobs and in the same spot, which has Dave confused as to what the point was.
– David Finlay debuted as the Belfast Bruiser and looked great, but he was a total heel despite getting a big babyface reaction when beating up Steven Regal previously.
– Iron Sheik was backstage looking for work. Dave notes that it hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work now.
– Terry Taylor issued an apology for calling the ECW World champion a drug addict, and said he was referring to the character and not the person. (Oh, I see, it’s actually the SANDMAN he was referring to. I thought it was Raven, because I was like “Well, duh” but yeah, calling out Jim Fullington like that is a lot more questionable, for sure. And even then, he’s a drunk, not a drug addict.)
– Both Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero have signed full two-year deals with the company now that their initial three month contracts have expired.
– Allan Iron Eagle, real name Joe Gomez, is headed back in. (What the fuck, Dave? You give paragraph after paragraph to “extreme fighting” and Japanese women’s wrestling, but JOE GOMEZ is about to change the face of the business as we know it and it gets one sentence at the end of the WCW section of the issue, like it’s NOTHING? Like he’s nothing? You know who’s nothing? YOU ARE, DAVE MELTZER!)
(Sorry, got all worked up there. Must be all the snow here, making me stir crazy today.)
– Antonio Inoki met with Bischoff in Vegas on 1/24 after the Clash show, and tried to get Vince to attend the meeting as well in preparation for his supposed multi-promotional show on 5/18 in LA. Inoki actually got a meeting with Fidel Castro about putting on a show in Cuba over the next year or so.
– Johnny B. Badd did a dark match on the 1/22 Nitro against the Giant and got pinned in 8 seconds with a chokeslam and wasn’t happy about it. (What’s he gonna do, LEAVE?)
– Even after winning at the Clash, Flair is still bitching about WCW’s desire to phase him down to legendary babyface level, and is making noise about leaving again.
– Elizabeth got all kinds of flak from the hierarchy about her looks at the Clash, since she’s now about 35 and no longer tanned and looking like a pin-up girl. “The truth is,” notes Dave, “whatever she had before and what she mainly had was great marketing behind her and the right look, [which] she doesn’t have now.” (Wasn’t he the guy who was JUST COMPLAINING about the women being judged as sex objects earlier in the issue?)
– To the WWF, where despite a small crowd, the RAW show on 1/22 was so hot that you’d think this company had some serious momentum behind them. (Spoiler: No they didn’t.)
– The final Ted’s War Room skit aired on the show, although next week they’re switching to a format where “Ted” is going to give a press conference and talk about why he wants to put the WWF out of business. (And THERE’S where it all went off the cliff for them.)
– In a couple of notable debuts on the tapings, Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw debuted with manager Zeb, who is “no longer an Uncle”, and HOG introduced his new partner Phineas I. Godwinn, or PIG. The Head Hunters also did a dark match as The Squat Team and didn’t look great.
– The reason behind Flip becoming Zip is because of a copyright on the name from a singing duo in the 60s called Skip and Flip.
– And finally, a left-wing newsletter called the Alternative is endorsing Bob Backlund for President, although it was obviously all tongue-in-cheek. (Thankfully no President in real life could ever be as crazy and ridiculous as Bob Backlund.)