The SmarK Rant for Written by the Winners #1 / 2 / 3

Bouncing off the question about reviewing Confidential a few days back, I figured that I’d start posting some of my columns that I’ve been writing for Inside the Ropes magazine in the UK, since we’re about a year removed from the original publication and it’s unlikely that 95% of my readership has read these.

So the idea with this column is that I review various things from the WWE Network or other WWE-approved media sources, looking at how they twist history to their own purposes and rating the shows on a scale of 1-5 Bruce Prichards, with 1 being the most truthful representation of history and 5 being Vince Russo and Jim Cornette on Dark Side of the Ring.

The first three topics covered are episodes of the Monday Night War series, covering the infamous D-X episode, the Bret Hart episode, and the Mick Foley episode.

Written by the Winners #1 – “The Monday Night War E4 – A New D-Generation”

It has of course been said many times that “history is written by the winners,” and it’s never been moreso evident than WWE’s handling of history since their purchase of WCW in 2001. After swallowing WCW whole and then rescuing the remains of ECW from the bankruptcy court trash heap, WWE used the various assets acquired in the best way they knew how: Producing endless DVDs and documentaries about how terrible that WCW was. And with the WWE Network needing content all the time, now we have documentaries covering not only WCW and ECW, but other remnants of history like AWA, World Class, and Mid-South. And even documentaries covering various wrestlers who never even worked for WWE like Adrian Street!

So I thought it would be “fun” (aka, “brain-melting”) to take a look at some of the more infamous pieces on the WWE Network and see how “truthy” they are. I’m not talking about nitpicking who said what and when according to the Observer or stuff like that, because this is wrestling and we have a certain tolerance for bullcrap built in as fans. Moreso I’m trying to find how these come off to fans like myself who lived through the events and how condescendingly dumb the narrative can be in them. To assess this, I will assign a grade from 1 to 5 Bruce Prichards, with 1 being “Mostly the way it happened” all the way up to 5 being “Vince Russo taking credit for the Montreal Screwjob on Dark Side of the Ring”.

And we start with one of the most notorious of all revisionist history pieces, The Monday Night War. Specifically the fourth episode, dealing with the rise of D-Generation X. And their tank.

We pick things up in the narrative in late 1996, with Nitro dominating the ratings thanks to the nWo and their “roster of former WWE talent” while WWE showcased stereotypical cartoon characters like Hunter Hearst Helmsley and the wrestling plumber and the pig farmers. Which is immediately silly because WCW had just as much nonsense like the Dungeon of Doom going on as WWE did in the midcard, and WWE’s main event was dominated by actual stars like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Anyway, Shawn Michaels was sick of being the “good guy” and we skip a bunch of stuff and move forward to fall of 1997 as Shawn and Hunter are now allowed to “be themselves” after badgering Vince.

So now Shawn and Hunter were using their backstage personas to have fun at everyone’s expense, and we get various clips of their high school antics. So the episode uses this to illustrate RAW’s ratings rising upwards during this point. In particular, they show the rating rising to a 3.0 on the October 6 1997 show, attributing that to the DX antics. In fact, that show was the one after Brian Pillman’s death the night before, which is where the boost in ratings came from, because it started dropping again right after.

On that same show, Bret Hart calls them “degenerates”, and the next week Shawn turns that into “D-Generation X”, which leads to the usual discussion of “shades of grey”. Eric Bischoff calls them a ripoff of the nWo, but Shawn rightly points out that the nWo beat everyone all the time and they got beat up all the time.

This leads to the famous moment where Rick Rude jumped ship to Nitro after appearing on a taped RAW, which ended up meaning not much. And again the ratings went up (even though the December ratings they showed were lower the ones from October they showed) but then they went TOO FAR. USA sent a letter from standards and practices detailing the curse words they couldn’t say, so DX did a famous speech where they promised not to say all the words and ratings somehow went up again! Well not really but you know.

This leads to the introduction of the New Age Outlaws, who also lifted the ratings. You’d think that ratings were going up exponentially during 1997 or something. It’s like in the Fast & Furious movies where people just keeping shifting to higher gears over and over every time they want to go faster. However, in 1998 Shawn’s back was wrecked and he was self-medicating anyway. The talking heads let us know that he put it all on the line against Austin because he cared about the fans and the company. Well, that and Undertaker knocking on his door and telling him to get out there or else. But they wouldn’t mention that one.

Also, ratings still going up. But for real this time.

This of course leads to the night after Wrestlemania, with Shawn fired from the group and Sean Waltman replacing him after getting fired from WCW. And then with the New Age Outlaws added to the group, which sets up the greatest moment in the history of the Monday Night War! HHH complains about how WCW gave away all the free tickets to their shows (which you know that Vince McMahon NEVER EVER did!), which gave D-X the opportunity to drive a TANK up to the arena. Yes, a TANK. Sure, it looks suspiciously like a jeep, but I assure you that despite the footage shown on this very show of a jeep, it was a TANK. Maybe it’s a Mandela Effect thing. Also a Mandela Effect is the idea that WCW gave away free tickets to their shows, because they were absolutely selling out all their arenas at this point, just as WWE was. Really, it’s just petty propaganda left over from the “war” at this point, long after they need to keep burying the competition.

For reference, the actual tank was the NEXT week, a taped segment on a taped show.

We move onto Eric Bischoff challenging Vince McMahon to a fight in a grandstand challenge that went nowhere. At this point Chris Jericho gets a hilariously prescient comment, as he notes that “WCW’s ratings were able to hang on for another few months because it was a habit, and then when people fell out of the habit they started leaving in droves and ratings fell.” Almost like what’s happening to RAW today, in fact! Because as we also know, history might be written by the winners, but those who fail to heed its lessons are doomed to repeat it. Usually to a 20% decline in the key demos year over year.

Final score: Five Bruce Prichards out of five. This one has set the standard for revisionist nonsense and I don’t know if we’ll be able to top it.

 

Written by the Winners #2 – “The Monday Night War E6 – The Hart of War”

Having recently watched the Dark Side of the Ring’s take on the Montreal Screwjob, I’m thus sure this in turn will be a fair and balanced look from the WWE side of things.

What?

Yes, this time around, WWE presents their view of Bret Hart’s departure in 1997.

So let’s take you back again to the launch of Nitro in 1995, as Vince McMahon notes that “there had never been a live event show competing against a live event show like that before” as if this was such a crazy untested idea. THEY HAD JUST DONE IT LESS THAN 10 YEARS BEFORE! SEVERAL TIMES! The whole concept of the Clash of Champions shows was to mess with Wrestlemania by airing at the same time, and the Survivor Series was created to directly oppose Starrcade in 1987. OK, I’m getting too worked up already, let’s carry on.

Bret Hart was the leader of the “New Generation” (even though it’s also either Diesel or Shawn depending on which documentary you’re watching) and they were all about YOUTH. Like that hip young Kevin Nash! This led to Bret defending the WWF title against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12 in the Iron Man match, and they kind of make up some “real life” animosity between them, as Bret notes that he felt like he was just “carrying the belt” until Shawn could get it. Well, yeah.

Bret took a hiatus, but Vince offered up a 20 year contract (which he had no intention of paying) and Bret decided to stay. Whew. Well, this will be a short documentary. Oh wait, there’s still 45 minutes left.

Meanwhile, Shawn admits that he was messed up on pills and other stuff, and we get into the on-screen battles between Bret and Shawn (which actually took place a year after the time we’re supposedly discussing) like the “girly magazine” line from Bret. By February of 1997, Shawn had lost his smile due to a crippling knee injury, thus robbing Bret of the chance to win the WWF title in the ring. You know, via “time honored tradition”?

Moving forward to the Attitude Era, and we get a choice quote from Stephanie: “One of the keys to WWE’s success is that we always listen to our audience.” Pardon me while I clean my drink off my keyboard after spitting it out. Bret of course did not enjoy this evolution of the business because he was a wrestler and not an entertainer.

At this point, Vince decides that he can’t (or won’t) pay out his 20 year contract with Bret and encourages Bret to move to WCW. But Bret doesn’t want to go, despite Vince coming up with scenarios where Bret loses endless matches to Shawn while trying to drive him off. This included Survivor Series, where Vince had to get the title off Bret and move it onto Shawn, but according to Vince Russo, Bret just shot down every scenario he was given! What else could they do? And again, HHH pops in with the complete lie that Bret could very well have shown up on WCW Nitro the night after Survivor Series with the WWF title and thus killed their company. Bret was STILL UNDER CONTRACT until December!

Vince McMahon just wanted “what was right for the business”, even though Bret disagreed with that viewpoint. Shawn, meanwhile, didn’t realize at the time that was going to have to talk about it in every interview he did for the rest of his life. Shawn was told to deny everything no matter what. Which he certainly did! Vince told Bret beforehand that it was going to be a DQ of some kind, but of course that’s not what happened. Paul Heyman pops in, speaking from the perspective as a company owner, saying that ultimately the title was Vince’s property and if Bret didn’t want to drop it on that night, too bad. Vince Russo of course says again that Bret left them absolutely no choice! Except for all the times Bret offered to drop the title before and after the Survivor Series. But other than that, no choice!

Vince takes a punch from Bret, “sacrificing himself for the sake of his company” according to the narrator, and things are looking bleak. And then Bret Hart showed up the next night on Nitro! Except he didn’t of course. He showed up a month later like he was contractually obligated. Which they don’t mention.

Of course, Vince gives his nonsense about the “time honored tradition” (even though we just talking about Shawn dropping the belt via “losing his smile” 20 minutes earlier in the show!) and becomes the evil Mr. McMahon.

Meanwhile, Bret gets brought into WCW as a referee at Starrcade in an “undefined role”. WCW’s mishandling of Bret is, if anything, undersold here. As CM Punk notes, they were given the Hope Diamond and went “Huh, nice diamond, we’ll just put it over here.” At the same time, Steve Austin became a huge star (after getting turned into a main eventer by that selfish and washed up Bret Hart who never wanted to do the time honored tradition) and everyone watched RAW instead of Nitro.

And then Bret returned in 2010 and WWE didn’t do anything good with him, either, but we won’t mention that second part.

This one is really mystifying because there’s a literal documentary about the Montreal situation already out there that covers it in far more detail and honesty than this ever could. I don’t know who they were trying to convince with this one, but it certainly wasn’t me.

It’s another “WWE can do no wrong” special, earning 5 Bruce Prichards out of 5.

 

Written By The Winners – The Monday Night War Season 1 Episode 5, “Have A Nice Day!”

And now for the story of Mick Foley, which has already been told a million times but this time will be told through the lens of the Monday Night War documentary series. So probably with more revisionist lies. So once again we’ll examine the evidence and rate the show from one Bruce Prichard for an honest and truthful look at the subject matter, up to five Bruce Prichards for something resembling Eric Bischoff on his 83 Weeks podcast.

On with the show!

Let us take you back to Cactus Jack’s early days in WCW, as we get a montage of his crazy bumps over his five years there. But he didn’t have a superstar look, so they stifled him and then let him go. Jack moves on to ECW as the doc dumbs down this stuff to the point where you’d think it was aimed at brand new fans or something, making sure to introduce ECW and what it was about. Just a strange choice, as it feels like the series was intended for a mainstream audience but ended up on the WWE Network, which is only viewed by the hardest of hardcore fans who already know all this basic stuff.

We get a quick montage of the brilliant “I’m Hardcore!” character in ECW, where Cactus refused to do anything but clean scientific wrestling, but sadly we move on right away. Vince’s view on Foley was that he was only good for “falling off things” and didn’t have any ability in the ring. But he signed with WWE in January of 1996 and was given the character of “Mason the Mutilator”, complete with initial sketches shown here in a nice touch. But he suggested the name “Mankind” to give the character another layer, and off we went with it. But Vince was still not a fan of the character or Mick.

By 1997, Mick got a series of sit-down interviews with Jim Ross to expand on his personal connection to the character, and get an extended series of the original Dude Love home videos here in another cool touch. And this is what finally turned Vince’s opinion on Mick and made him a fan. So we got the weird situation of real life history overtaking the previous character, and Mankind became Dude Love for a while. And then in the historic Madison Square Garden episode of RAW, Cactus Jack debuted as his third incarnation.

We skip ahead a year to King of the Ring 98, as Mick is back being Mankind and faces Undertaker in his career-defining Hell in a Cell match. And of course, poor Mick gets hurled off the top of the cage before the match even starts and then chokeslammed through the roof. I think an underrated aspect of the match was not only that Foley got over as a big star, but it gave us career-defining calls from Jim Ross as well. There’s a reason why “STOP THE DAMN MATCH!” has become such a meme now. Mick does note that they would stop the damn match today, but 1998 was a different time. The response from the WCW side: “Well, we’re not beating that one.”

But while the rest of the company went more physical to raise the bar, Mick was breaking down and injured and needed to switch up his character. So he went the comedic route and got paired up with Mr. McMahon, giving us the debut of Mr. Socko. This not only showed how brilliant of a comedian that Mick could be, but also showed how great that Vince himself could be in the same type of role and added another layer to his own character. And Mick somehow found a way to put a sock on his hand and turn himself into a main eventer. And even though Vince didn’t want it, the audience did, so he went with it. We skip over most of the feud with the Rock over the WWF title and go right to January 4 1999, as Steve Austin explodes the arena and puts Mick on top of Rock after a chair to the head, to give Foley his first WWF title.

But then bad ol’ WCW got wind of the title win and Eric Bischoff told Tony Schiavone to bury the title change on air. That of course backfired badly with a huge swing in the ratings. Although to be fair, WWF themselves gave away the taped title switch on their own website a week earlier and made no secret that it was happening, so you can’t really credit WCW for causing everyone to switch channels. But you know what they say about printing the legend when it sounds better than the truth.

After hitting the climax of Mick’s story, we kind of slide back down with a discussion of the Rock N Sock Connection and some classic clips of them. And of course, “This Is Your Life, Rock”. Even Mick admits that they were so disorganized and off-the-cuff with it that the names they reading out didn’t match the graphics. Vince thought it went forever and wasn’t THAT good, but then the ratings came in and they set an all time record. And then we skip over his retirement match(es) and quickly wrap things up, which was a weird flex but OK, as the kids say.

As far as being honest and forthright, this was the best episode I’ve watched of this series yet. Nothing really ground-breaking, but everything was presented pretty much as it actually happened in the order it actually happened, which is like the gold standard for these things.

This earns a mere one Bruce Prichard out of five, for a truthful and refreshingly spin-free look at the WWF career of Mick Foley!