The Montreal Screwjob

It’s 20 years since the Montreal Screwjob – an event which took place on 9th November 1997 at the WWF Survivor Series. A business decision which changed the fortunes of the WWF forever, which came at the expense of arguably its hardest-working and most talented star, Bret Hart.

What was the Montreal Screwjob?

The real-life deception of wrestler Bret Hart by WWF owner Vince McMahon. It was carried out in Montreal at Survivor Series 1997. McMahon and other WWF staffers conspired to change the scripted ending of Bret Hart’s match against Shawn Michaels, without Hart’s knowledge, so he would lose his WWF Championship.

What happened?

In what was his final WWF appearance for a decade, Bret Hart was ready to defend his title against challenger Shawn Michaels in the main event of the 1997 Survivor Series. It was decided backstage and agreed between Hart, Michaels and McMahon that the match would not have a ‘clean’ finish – a decisive victory by one man – and instead would be subject to a ‘schmoz’ finish, which would involve members of both wrestlers’ crews interfering in the match and the referee calling for a double DQ.

The main event began in unusual fashion, as Hart and Michaels brawled around the ringside area and on the stage for an extended length of time, before taking it into the ring for the match to officially begin. After a few minutes of in-ring action, match referee Earl Hebner was rendered ‘unconscious’ – an important phase of the plan that Hart and Michaels had laid out in advance.

With Hebner down, Shawn Michaels grabbed Hart’s legs and locked on the Sharpshooter, Hart’s own trademark submission hold. Although Hart’s plan was to reverse the hold and carry on the match, Hebner got up quickly and called for the bell to be rung, signalling Michaels’ victory by submission. The match ended before Hart realised what had occurred – the match ending had been changed without his knowledge, and he had lost the title.

Why did the Montreal Screwjob happen?

Basically, the Montreal Screwjob happened because Vince McMahon didn’t trust Bret Hart to drop the WWF Championship honourably, before Hart made the move to join the rival World Championship Wrestling. However, there were a number of other contributing factors, including the personal issues between Hart and Shawn Michaels.

McMahon and the WWF had been decisively beaten into second place by the WCW over the course of the Monday Night Wars. McMahon had been playing it safe for years within the cartoonish confines of his wrestling storylines, until WCW made a number of plays to gain some of that audience share during the mid-1990s.

Firstly, WCW Executive Producer Eric Bischoff made moves for a number of McMahon’s current and former stars. The most notable name was Hulk Hogan, who together with McMahon had put the WWF and pro wrestling on the map, bringing global prestige and a new generation of wrestling fans through the WWF doors. Hollywood beckoned for Hogan, who took his leave from the WWF in 1993 – but just a year later he would be back in the ring, this time for WCW, winning their World Championship in his very first match at their 1994 Bash at the Beach.

Initial plans for Hogan didn’t shake out too great – his world-beating act had grown stale – but WCW turned the wrestling world upside down when Hollywood Hulk Hogan re-debuted with a shock as the leader of the New World Order, along with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.

As former WWF Superstars Diesel and Razor Ramon, Nash and Hall had left for new, much more lucrative deals with WCW than the ones McMahon wanted to offer them in 1996. And with Hogan, the nWo would take WCW’s Monday Nitro far above and beyond the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in the ratings, as the Monday Night Wars brought millions of new fans to both shows. That was another of Bischoff’s moves – the launching of a new WCW flagship show to go head-to-head with Raw on Monday nights.

Nitro was on the verge of making their dominance insurmountable – and Hart was set to join them, following McMahon’s withdrawal of a contract offer just months into a one-of-a-kind deal, which would have seen Hart remain with the WWF for 20 years.

Old school vs new

Hart was old-school; he didn’t care much for the new edgy direction which the WWF was taking. With scantily-clad ladies and a new thirst for adult themes, Raw was becoming too raw for Bret.

Not so for Shawn – the leader of D-Generation X, a faction which encouraged fans who didn’t care for them to ‘suck it’, and the innovators of the style of raunchy content which was starting to bring back fans to the WWF’s failing product.

Once word got out that Hart was set to join WCW, McMahon believed that the loss of just one more big name – his World Champion, no less – would be the final nail in the coffin for the WWF.

With Hart now into the final month of his contract, he received a special perk which allowed him control over the manner of his departure from the WWF. It was customary for departing Superstars to lose to a chosen performer in order to pass on ‘the rub’ – but in a bizarre turn of events, the ever-professional Bret refused to lose to Shawn.

Refusing to lose

This decision came from a conversation the two had previously had. There had been an extended period of hostility between the two men, which took in off-script name-calling on the air, plus a real-life locker room fight. With their careers on the line against a dominant WCW, and Bret’s preference for a united locker room, Hart had attempted to patch things up with Michaels. According to his autobiography, Hart had tried to tell Michaels that he would always do what was asked of him in the ring, including losing to Michaels. In an apparent fit of pique, Michaels would tell Hart that he would never be prepared to return the favour.

As champion, Bret was appalled at this lack of respect shown to the entire locker room, and decided to have it out with Vince. With this, the expected outcome of their Survivor Series match – Hart passing the torch to Michaels – was now thrown into doubt, as Hart refused to lose the Montreal match.

Hart offered a number of alternatives to McMahon – he would lose anytime, anywhere, to anyone except Michaels. Hart’s move to WCW was looming, and the possibility existed in McMahon’s head that Hart would behave dishonourably – it had happened before during the take-no-prisoners Monday Night Wars – or that WCW would take the advantage in making an announcement on the next night’s Nitro.

On the very first episode of WCW Monday Nitro in September 1995, Lex Luger made his return to the company just one day after appearing at a WWF house show, and eight days after a high-profile appearance on their Summerslam pay-per-view. And three months later, former WCW wrestler Deborah Miceli fka Alundra Blayze returned to Nitro with her WWF Women’s Championship in hand – which she would drop into a trash can live on air.

With these reputation-damaging incidents in mind, and Bischoff’s tendency to talk out of turn about the opposition while Nitro was on air, McMahon decided to take drastic action.

The aftermath

Unusually, Vince McMahon and a number of WWF officials were present at ringside during the match – in storyline it was chalked up to the simmering tensions between Bret and Shawn, and the possibility that it may have spilled over into ‘real’ violence. However, McMahon was there to ensure that the plan was carried off without a hitch. According to the Hitman biography, McMahon was heard yelling at the timekeeper to ‘ring the fucking bell’ following the confusion which took place within the ring. Michaels, in a strop that was thought to be a mixture of his bad-boy attitude and a hint that something wasn’t right, grabbed the WWF Title and left in a hurry, closely followed by Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Gerald Brisco.

As seen in the footage, Hart calmly walked to the ropes, standing above McMahon, and spat on him. As the show went off the air, Hart made ‘WCW’ gestures with his hands, and began trashing television equipment around the ring.

Backstage, chaos reigned as WWF wrestlers who sided with Hart showed their anger at what had unfolded. The Undertaker reportedly threatened to beat down the door to Vince’s office, demanding answers and an apology to Bret. McMahon went to the locker room, where Hart and Michaels were. As captured in the ‘Wrestling With Shadows’ documentary, Michaels swore to Hart he knew nothing about this plan. Some sources, including Titan Screwed and Hitman, then report that Hart threatened McMahon to leave or he would receive a knockout punch. McMahon foolishly chose to stay, and was subsequently knocked out by Bret. McMahon also got an ankle injury during the commotion.

With so many conflicting sources, there’s some confusion over who was aware of the plan before it was carried out.

Who knew about the Montreal Screwjob?

Aside from McMahon and Michaels, a number of people were aware of what was planned for Montreal, including Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Gerald Brisco. It’s said that Pat Patterson knew about it, but others dispute it due to Patterson and Hart’s close friendship.

Another name left out of the plan was Jim Ross, then-head of talent relations, who it was felt was too close to a number of the wrestlers that would be affected to remain neutral in his dealings.

The highly recommended Titan Screwed has it that Vince Russo and Jim Cornette were at some point involved in meetings about what to do with the crisis situation, although neither were briefed on the final plan. Referee Earl Hebner was apparently told shortly before the match by Brisco on what to do, despite having sworn to Hart (according to the Hitman autobiography) that he would not go along with anything he was asked to do to screw Bret over.

No matter who was really behind it all, the Montreal Screwjob would have far-reaching consequences for the future of the WWF.

The Montreal Screwjob and the Attitude Era

With Hart leaving for WCW, the top babyface spot was now opened up for a fast-rising star: Stone Cold Steve Austin, who would capture the WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels, ushering in a new era at Wrestlemania 14.

As for McMahon, his company would benefit hugely from the Montreal Screwjob. With fans’ disgust ringing in his ears, McMahon took on a new character known as ‘Mr McMahon’ – the evil billionaire boss who saw Austin as the enemy, to be defeated at all costs. McMahon’s interviews immediately following Survivor Series 1997 – most notably his insistence that “Bret screwed Bret” – would actually make him one of the most hated and most effective authority figure characters in wrestling history. It’s a well-worn trope by now but in this guise, was a huge contributor to the success of the Attitude Era, as fans tuned in to watch McMahon get his comeuppance.

Hart would not fare so well in WCW, as their decline in popularity began a month after the Screwjob, with the supposed culmination of the WCW vs nWo storyline which saw Sting defeat Hogan in the main event at Starrcade 1997. Seen as the hottest free agent in wrestling history, Hart was badly misused, debuting as a guest referee in the semi-main event (between two non-active wrestling personalities on the roster) before objecting to the false finish in the Hogan/Sting match. Legend has it that Hogan ordered a so-called fast count favouring him to be counted normally, making his opponent Sting look terribly ineffectual, and squeezing all the satisfaction out of Sting’s proper win a few minutes later.

The months between Starrcade and Wrestlemania were a chance for fans who had had enough of the nWo, to change the channel to see the WWF charging up for its most successful ever boom period – the Attitude Era.

And suddenly the war was over – thanks to one huge business decision which shook the industry as we know it today. Bret Hart’s work through the late 1980s and 1990s was integral in keeping the WWF afloat, just long enough for McMahon to seize an opportunity to see it become the biggest wrestling show on earth.

WWF – the story of Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon

When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash left the WWF in early 1996, nobody knew the kind of impact the two men would have on the industry, and particularly on the Monday Night War.

In re-joining WCW and eventually teaming with with Hulk Hogan to form the NWO, the whole business brought a rapid audience resurgence, with millions of new viewers to both products.

But a few months on from that shocking development, the WWF’s personal response to Hall and Nash was fairly bloody weak – and sadly this evening I’ve seen it in all its trainwreck glory.

fake diesel glen jacobs kane

Having clearly learned nothing from the Undertaker vs Undertaker debacle at Summerslam 1994, this all began when good ol’ JR, Jim Ross, began teasing a major announcement on the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in an attempt at his own (short-lived) heel character development. One day in September 1996 he would brag that he had secured the services of Razor Ramon and Diesel, and would be bringing them back to the WWF. Fans were led to believe that this meant the return of Hall and Nash – but the reality was much worse.

The Return of Diesel and Razor

Back when more people wrestled under aliases than they did their real, or ‘shoot’ names, it may have been more feasible to replace them handily. So when JR presented his new recruits, two men emerged as the Razor Ramon and Diesel characters – greasy hair, toothpicks, black gloves, the lot. Fans were understandably disappointed that the names alone didn’t guarantee the talent that went with it.

And while it’s fair to say that Glen Jacobs, who had previously dragged Bret Hart down in his Isaac Yankem, DDS guise, was an improving talent, the same cannot be said for Rick Bognar, whose Razor Ramon impersonation and mannerisms were so far off the mark as to be offensive. This despite his own claims that WWF owner Vince McMahon ‘heard [he] did a great Razor Ramon’.

Tonight I watched the two of them pair up in a tag match against the then-tag champions, the British Bulldog and Owen Hart, from WWF In Your House: It’s Time.

How I wish I hadn’t.

To Be The Man…

It’s said that the clothes maketh the man. If that were true then the t-shirt I’m wearing right now would see me dubbed Best In The World. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

CM Punk best in the world

The two men may look the part, but their mannerisms are terrible – and again, I feel bad for Rick Bognar, but Vince was a liar when he said Bognar did a good impersonation.

(To be fair, the story also goes that when Scott Hall showed off his bad Tony Montana ‘Scarface’ impression for the first time, McMahon had no idea Hall had lifted it from elsewhere.)

Terrible. But at least he was giving it a go; Jacobs barely raised a gloved fist in the entire match.

And while the Fake Diesel had a passable Nash-esque moveset at this time, judging by the match I watched, Fake Razor Ramon spent a good deal of the match either a) doing moves which Hall had never done before as that character (including what was, to be fair, an okay exploder suplex), or b) getting the basics completely wrong. (He couldn’t even ‘paintbrush’ the back of Owen’s head properly.)

The crowd reaction was fairly negative from the outset; it took Owen and the Bulldog, two cheap and cheating, down and dirty heels, to play the endangered babyfaces for there to have been any reaction at all. Hart was always so brilliant at taking the bumps, while Bulldog as the powerful hot tag worked really well – he’d been a face for about 80% of his WWF run to this point anyway, so the tactics were still fresh in his mind. This psychology confused me even more than the crap impersonators, but it was necessary just to keep the match ticking over. Interference from Stone Cold Steve Austin and a couple of luchadores certainly helped distract from the below-average work of ‘Diesel’ and ‘Razor’ as well.

Looking back

In 2015, I’m not impressed, but even the 1996 crowd felt somewhat cheated by this terrible cheap trick to get some press going back the WWF’s way. Basically, the feeling was that because they had created these gimmicks, it didn’t matter who filled them. And while you can maybe get away with more than one guy playing the role of Doink The Clown, or even Sin Cara (the former got worse with each incarnation, while the latter actually improved), their popularity was nowhere near on the level of Hall’s and Nash’s star power.

Kevin Nash may have had a bad run of it as WWF Champion in 1995, but that was a matter of the opponents he was pitted against and the way his matches were booked. When he was Shawn Michaels’ badass bodyguard, his performances demonstrated a very high quality and popularity, none more evidently than his run in the 1994 Royal Rumble, when he basically turned face with each louder reaction, such was his powerful performance.

As for Scott Hall, his entrances would more often than not get among the loudest reception of each show, and his in-ring talent was helped no end by the character he’d carefully crafted into a confident yet slightly dogged brawler. (Speaking of brawling, Hall’s punches were some of the best things to come out of early-to-mid 90s WWF – Bognar’s not so much.) A World Title run would’ve been brilliant for Hall, but for this and many other reasons (cough money cough) he took the decision to join WCW once his contract had expired.

When the two men helped turn the tide WCW’s way, the WWF’s arrogance in assuming their expendability would cost them dearly for at least another eighteen months – and their replacements would not fare well at all in these roles.

It turned out alright for Jacobs in the end; he would don a different outfit and re-debut further down the line, but for Bognar, who retired due to a neck injury in 1999, it was his highest point as a wrestler. Poor sod.

Happy Birthday, nWo! Hulk Hogan’s 1996 WCW Heel Turn

There are few moments in wrestling history that changed the way we look at the industry, but what happened on one summer evening at WCW’s 1996 Bash At The Beach is still talked about to this day, a full 19 years later.

WCW nWo hulk hogan heel turn

Let’s start with our mate Terry, aka Hulk Hogan, whose signing for WCW in 1994 opened the door for them to try and compete on the same national level as the WWF. As Ted Turner continued to burn through chequebooks like they were cheap lighters, World Championship Wrestling launched Monday Nitro directly opposite the WWF in the schedules. The following two years would see WCW reshape itself from the old-school territory style of booking into a lean, mean ratings machine for TNT, with Hogan flying the main event flag over a very capable roster of wrestlers.

As fans grew weary of Hogan’s incessant flag waving (and no-selling, and winning all the time), ‘booker man’ Kevin Sullivan had a plan to reinvent the Real American – turn him evil.

Of course, even the weariest wrestling fan could never have seen this coming, and Hogan himself was especially concerned about pulling the turn. After taking some time off from WCW programming (and his relentless schedule of winning matches), Hogan reappeared at the 1996 Bash At The Beach pay-per-view.

Rewind a few months to the sudden appearance of the former Razor Ramon, Scott Hall, on WCW television. Initially portrayed as an ‘Outsider’ of WCW (until they were forced to admit on live TV that he was not a WWF employee to avoid legal action), Hall would show up on episodes of Nitro to basically get in WCW guys’ faces and declare ‘war’ on their company. Joined shortly after by former WWF champion Kevin Nash, the two men would square up to half the roster on an especially gripping episode – leading WCW to begin to eclipse Monday Night Raw in the ratings, as the suspense began to mount over The Outsiders’ mystery ‘third man’.

The Hostile Takeover Match

Challenged by Eric Bischoff to a three-on-three tag match for all the marbles, Hall and Nash agreed – keeping their mystery partner’s identity a secret up until bell time – and beyond. Facing a loyal trio of Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger, Hall and Nash assured interviewer ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund that they wouldn’t need him just yet.

So when Luger left the match with an injury partway through the match, the odds were evened, as Hall and Nash – now officially billed as The Outsiders tag team – cheated their way to a stalemate against a strong WCW contingent.

And then, this happened…

Hulk Hogan, the man who’d paraded around in the red and yellow, telling youngsters to eat their vitamins and say their prayers, shocked the world with a legdrop on Randy Savage, revealing himself as the third member of what would be the nWo – the New World Order, or as he kept calling it in the admittedly pretty decent follow-up promo, New World Organisation.

For WCW, it was the break they needed, as the company began to really pull away from the WWF, and for Hogan, a career rejuvenation; it’s reported in The Death of WCW (still highly recommended) that Hogan was nearing the end of his WCW contract and, as far as a big-money renegotiation was concerned, wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. Without his joining the nWo, Hogan would categorically have not been the reason business was picking up for WCW – and it’s even been reported elsewhere that, with such a big decision to be made and his career at a huge crossroads, he had only decided to be the confirmed third man minutes before going out to assault Savage – it could’ve been Sting!

This week marks 19 years since Hogan’s turn at Bash At The Beach, and it’s still remembered as one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history. Few heel turns have been pulled off more convincingly, and the fact that it came from the single most popular babyface of all time was what made it all the more jarring.

Five For Friday: Worst Wrestling Gimmicks

This week’s Five For Friday examines five very interesting career moves by wrestlers and mythical beasts alike. You can find previous entries in the Five For Friday series here.

Worst Wrestling Gimmicks 

To make it in the world of pro wrestling you need three things: the athletic talent, the charisma, and a unique look. Tie all these together and you’re a guaranteed star.

The Rock. Triple H. Dare I say it, John Cena. These men have it – that special combination which makes them superstars. Even two out of three ain’t bad: Mick Foley certainly had the look and the charisma, even if he was never gonna win any races. Much as it pains me to admit it, Bret Hart was an absolute god in the ring and was devoted to his character, even if he was lacking on the mic.

Whether you’ve got it or you haven’t, some people are able to use what they get to try and make it to the top of the wrestling tree.

And then there are these poor sods. Ladies and gentlemen, the Worst Wrestling Gimmicks.

 

Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese

dukedroese 

[image: GaryColemanFan]

As Stewart from the New Generation Podcast laid out for us in a recent interview, Vince McMahon certainly loved his ‘double gimmicks’ in the WWF – wrestlers who were seen to be moonlighting in the ring because they, in kayfabe, had another job to be getting back for.

Whether it’s a comment on the number of 80s wrestlers who had to combine their real love with something that actually paid the bills, or just a weird creative genre that never really went away (The Miz, anyone? Brock Lesnar? Oh no wait, that really was a different job) – the absolute bottom of the trashcan came in the form of Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese.

From what I remember he was a decent enough competitor, but then again I’ve since been proved wrong about most of my childhood wrestling memories from listening to that afore-mentioned podcast and watching the relevant matches. Droese wrestled in the WWF for two years – most notably gaining some upset victories over a young Hunter Hearst Helmsley – before agreeing on a release from his contract in 1996.

 

Mantaur

MOO. Enough said? No? Fair enough. This might do it.

(To be fair, that’s a hell of a belly-to-belly suplex he hits.)

Mike Halac counts ECW and WWE among his career highlights, but in this guise he was pretty much doomed from the get-go. Even with all-time great booker and manager Jim Cornette in his corner, Mantaur failed to grasp gold, and only lasted about six months. It must have been the exact six months that I watched WWF because I remember this guy very clearly. If only for the make-up and the mooing.

 

Dean Douglas

Right guy, wrong gimmick: you might know Shane Douglas as the man who threw down the NWA World Title after winning it in a tournament, in favour of declaring himself the first ECW World Champion and spitting on wrestling tradition in one fell swoop. He was instrumental in establishing ECW as the third main player in the business…so when he turned up in the WWF dressed like this:

Dean_Douglas_at_RAH2

[Dean Douglas at RAH2 by Mandy Coombes – http://www.flickr.com/photos/mandycoombes/6921270651. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

We knew there’d be a problem.

Douglas was a pretty talented bloke, no question, but Vince’s obsession with a double gimmick didn’t endear the education-loving snob to fans one bit, and not even in the heel heat way. Sadly he fell foul of the Kliq in 1995 and made a pretty hasty exit, but not before winning and losing the Intercontinental Title in the space of about 15 minutes thanks to some particularly dickish politicking from Shawn and Razor.

Just Joe

If you watched Sunday Night Heat during its time on Channel 4 in about 2000, you might remember ‘Joe. Just Joe’, a man whose sole purpose in the WWF was to go backstage and inform Wrestler 1 that he’d just overheard Wrestler 2 saying he was going to kick Wrestler 1’s ass, or that Diva 1 was spotted getting close with Wrestler 1’s manager, much to the annoyance of Wrestler 2. On and on this went without any real, actual point to the man. Plus, as Kevin points out in a recent episode of The Attitude Era Podcast, he wasn’t even billed correctly – going from “Joe” to “Just Joe” and back again in a matter of seconds.

 

JustJoe

Sadly for Joe, his ideas outlived his own short time in the backstage area; he’s said to have been the man who first pitched the idea of a group of wrestlers who were out to censor the WWF – which one Steven Richards would actually head up instead.

The Yeh-TAAAAAY (Yeti)

Yeti

Why does this so-called Yeti look more like a mummy? If you’ve never had the misfortune of watching WCW Halloween Havoc 1995, you may be very surprised to know that this was not THE question everyone was asking that night.

No, that honour referred to the onscreen Monster Truck Match which took place atop the stadium between a debuting Giant (Paul ‘Big Show’ Wight) and the Immortal(ly lame) Hulk Hogan. At the conclusion of their epic rooftop battle, The Giant would attack Hogan and appear to fall off the roof of the stadium, to his death.

Just a few minutes later though, the Giant would show up for his World Title match against Hogan as if absolutely nothing had happened.

As for this gimmick…well, apparently he would go on to become a ninja. You know, those stealthy dudes? Yep. This bumbling shambles of a man would soon become a ninja.

Because WCW. Oh, and the reason he’s dubbed the Yeh-TAAAAAY is that the commentator couldn’t pronounce the word ‘yeti’. Simple as.

Interview: New Generation Project Podcast

I recently had a word with Stewart from the New Generation Project Podcast, who was kind enough to answer a few questions about wrestling’s past, the podcast’s future, and Alan Partridge references.

Your podcast starts at King of The Ring 1993, when ‘Hogan jobbed to fire’ and subsequently left the WWF. What is it about a post-Hulk Hogan, pre-Attitude Era WWF that made you want to study this particular period in wrestling history?

Well, the idea initially came out of being a fan of the Attitude Era Podcast and then OSW Review. I probably listened to every OSW episode in about the space of a week and then recommended them to Paul. He suggested we attempted something similar ourselves and having enjoyed both those shows, the “New Generation” era seemed like the logical option. In addition to that, 1992-1995 was the period I grew up watching, so there was some familiarity there for me and a touch of nostalgia, so getting to watch shows like “King of the Ring 1993” and “Wrestlemania X” again were definitely part of the allure.

Hogan’s move to WCW put the WWF into something of what we’ll kindly call a creative holding pattern during the following years. To what do you attribute this spell? Further to that, what exactly is with all the double-gimmick wrestlers during this time?

Hogan’s move itself is what creates this period. Vince is determined to create another Hogan-esque top liner, and that’s what yields the ‘creative holding pattern’ you mention. His initial attempt is an exact Hogan replica: Lex Luger, and as we’ve all seen, it failed spectacularly. Vince never truly wanted to commit to Bret Hart as ‘the guy’ so we get those short spells between Vince’s different failures where Bret steps in to steady the ship. We’re currently at the period where Vince goes with Shawn, and fair play to him, he goes all in with Shawn, but as we’ll see he isn’t the one who ultimately works out, due to a combination of behaviour and ultimately, injury. As for the two-job superstars? I blame The Big Boss Man, Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake and Rick ‘The Model’ Martel – those gimmicks were successful in the late 80s, so Vince went back to what he knew. We’re about to hit another wave of those types of characters, so I’m looking forward to Adam and Paul meeting The Goon and TL Hopper.

new generation project podcast

Paul experienced a ‘Jimmy Del Rey’ moment early on in the run, when a wrestler he’d not really known of put in some impressive performances. Who’s provided you with your own JDR moment during the span of the podcast so far?

Without a shadow of a doubt, Bull Nakano. I definitely remember her from when I was a kid, and in fact, I must have actually seen her live, but seeing that “Summerslam 1994” match between her and Alundra Blayze opened up a whole new world of wrestling for me. I’ve been out and got hold of a ton of 90s joshi stuff and been blown away by the likes of Manami Toyota, Mayumi Ozaki, Akira Hokuto and Kyoko Inoue. If I could recommend a couple of matches, I’d say people should definitely check out the Manami Toyota/Toshiyo Yamada “Hair vs Hair” match from August 1992 and the 8 Woman “Thunder Queen” match from July 1993 – you won’t believe what you’re seeing is over 20 years old.

Armchair booking time: after the legendarily awful show it turned out to be, who from the whole roster do you think should’ve won King of the Ring ’95 (I will accept ‘Nobody’ as an answer), and how?

I think the correct answer is “anybody other than Mabel”. In all seriousness, the correct answer was probably Shawn. He was red-hot at the time, and eliminating him in the first round in a time limit draw with Kama, of all people, made no sense. You could have built to Shawn vs Diesel at Summerslam, and maybe done some face vs face stuff before turning Diesel heel. Plus, Shawn being in that lineage with Bret, Owen, Austin, HHH etc definitely seems more fitting than what we were left with.

One of my favourite things about your podcast is the clearly evident strong friendship between the three of you. That could all be down to the magic of an edit though! Do you think that the output of a typical episode gives an accurate depiction of how you guys get on?

Yeah, I’d probably say it’s a pretty accurate representation. Editing definitely does a lot for the show, but I don’t think it really affects how the dynamic plays out between the 3 of us. I’d say some of the random tangents and discussions we end up with are fairly true to what the conversations would be if we were to just sit down, watch the shows and discuss them between ourselves. Adam and I live together so we have to get on, and Adam used to live with Paul in the pre-Mrs Scrivens days so we definitely all know each other pretty damn well!

On the podcast so far we’ve had pay-per-views from both WWF and WCW, TV specials and even a special listeners’ mailbag edition. What’s been your favourite episode to make so far both from a research and recording standpoint?

I’m generally fairly critical of what we record and often come away from a recording session worrying about the quality of what we’ve produced. Generally editing and putting the episode together will ease those worries somewhat. From a recording standpoint, the WCW shows tend to stand out as the most fun to record; “The Great American Bash 1996” was one of the rare recording sessions that I came away from feeling good about what the show would turn out to be, and “Halloween Havoc 1995” was one I knew was a lot of fun also. “Baywatch vs Thunder In Paradise”, despite containing no actual wrestling, was a lot of fun to record. In terms of research, that’s something I quite enjoy on a personal level – reading about things like Vince’s steroid trial and Brian Pillman’s contract shenanigans stand out as favourite memories from that side of things. The mailbag episodes were fun to do in that I had to do no actual work for those in terms of research, so it was a bit like having a couple of weeks off.

Aside from, obviously, what’s on the WWF PPV schedule, do you have anything special lined up for an episode in the near future?

The WCW shows are VERY popular, so while we won’t be doing them on a month-to-month basis, we’ll probably look at doing them more frequently to keep up to date with the happenings over there. We’ll definitely do an episode for “Pillman’s got a Gun”. When we reach the end of the calendar year we’ve discussed doing another episode of “Thunder In Paradise” alongside the episode of “Baywatch” where Shawn Michaels turns up. “Santa With Muscles” has been requested by a few people, so we may do that nearer to Christmas. And there is another super-secret bonus episode that I can’t say anything about right now!

And finally,

Anything else you’d like to promote?

After months of people asking, T-Shirts are on the way! We’re doing it all by ourselves (WOO!) so what you receive will be a package completely from us, with some cool little freebies put in there. They should be available in the next week or so [EDIT: NOW AVAILABLE!]. And obviously, just the show in general. We’re massively thankful to everyone who listens and it’s genuinely a joy to interact with our listeners.

Who invented the skip?

Bobby Moore, I don’t bloody know, do I?

You can find the NGP Facebook page here. Or find them on Twitter at the slightly simpler @newgenpodcast, and on iTunes.

What I’ve watched on WWE Network UK so far

Finally, the WWE Network has come back to the UK.

I was pretty excited to read that the WWE Network was finally ready to launch here in the UK yesterday, following the announcement of its delay in November – mere minutes before it was set to go.

I was even happier to read on Digital Spy on Sunday that it was already a-go – only a couple of days early but still a good long weekend of viewing for viewers.

WWE Network UK launch details

Without hesitation I signed up on Sunday morning and enjoyed a full day’s viewing of old and new WWE programming, starting with the end of this week’s NXT which was definitely a revelation when I first saw it on Sky Sports a while back. I’ve got to say, the live PPV every month is all well and good – certainly better than paying twice the price for just the one event through Sky Box Office – but I’m more excited about being able to get into the archives, not just for the WWE/WWF but also WCW, to educate myself on the ratings juggernaut that was Nitro – and the mess that was 1999/2000 WCW live pay-per-views.

So here’s what I’ve enjoyed so far – I’ve yet to watch a full PPV event but the following have tided me over nicely.

The Monday Night War

The brand new documentary series examining the history of the two major wrestling companies as WCW Monday Nitro went into direct competition against Monday Night Raw.

While there are plenty of interesting tidbits and anecdotes from all the major players involved, there’s some seriously heavy bias running throughout which kinda taints the whole thing. I’ve watched a good few episodes so far, though I’m not at all interested in watching the antics of DX who appear to have their own episode, and am looking forward to seeing the rest.

Hulk Hogan v Sting – Starrcade 97

First brought to my attention by the Attitude Era Podcast, this match was nearly 18 months in the making, with Sting’s attempt to destroy nWo leader Hollywood Hulk Hogan signposted as a sure conclusion to the feud.

While fans rightly expected Sting to let out his pent-up rage on Hogan, what viewers got was actually a fairly one-sided match the other way round. Hogan even managed to deliver his leg-drop finisher and get a three count, though referee Nick Patrick was supposed to make it a crooked fast count (he didn’t). Whether Hogan was simply playing up his creative control or the bookers just did a horrible job of this blow-off match, the storyline was set to go on…and on…and on…

Royal Rumble match – Royal Rumble 1996

Thanks to my excellent sound syncing skills (and no thanks to my below-par internet connection) I was able to watch the ’96 Rumble match along with the commentary supplied by the New Generation Project podcast in their latest episode. The Rumble match is one of my favourite events and this one was pretty good too – though the work of the alternative commentary certainly added to the fun. It’s got me looking forward to this year’s match too – expected Reigns win aside.

Vince McMahon vs Shane McMahon – Wrestlemania 17

And finally just for the amazing move which concludes the match, I watched father and son go to war in a fondly-remembered highlight of what’s generally regarded as the greatest Wrestlemania of all time.

Oof, that bin shot.

I could do with your help here, fellow Network viewers – I’m looking for recommendations of good ECW and bad WCW shows from the archives. Let me know in the comments or by sending a tweet to @AlpSig5.

My Top Reads of 2014

Picking out my favourite books I read last year.

According to my Goodreads.com profile I managed to read an even 20 new books in 2014, excluding the various graphic novels I managed to get through (my favourite probably being a good six volumes of Matt Fraction’s Invincble Iron Man run).

That comes out at under one every two weeks. Still pretty good going, but with the amount of books I received for Christmas I definitely hope to top that this year.

top reads of 2014

Here are the six books which I rated as the highest I’d read in 2014.

Snow Crash

Published in the early 90s, this techno-thriller set both inside and outside a virtual world has just the right amount of surrealism in both and a far-reaching subject matter in ancient linguistics and how they might affect the way we use technology in the future. The characters are a great mix and there’s plenty of laughs in among the building suspense.

The Death of WCW

One of the best wrestling books I’ve ever read, blending methodical reporting with hugely satisfying amounts of wrestling snark to tell the story of the downfall of one of the world’s largest entertainment companies – and being the 10th anniversary edition, with even more relevant stories and opinion from those on the scene.

Death of WCW book

The Internet is a Playground

I really liked David Thorne’s first collection of emails and anecdotes from his website, his bizarre hypotheticals and the way he handles angry respondents are truly funny stuff. It’s not really a novel, more just an anthology, but it made for some great holiday reading in the sun all the same.

The Hellbound Heart

I haven’t seen Hellraiser in absolutely years, and thought I’d give the novella it was based on a whirl. As previous film reviews will attest, I’m really not a fan of horror but I really enjoyed The Hellbound Heart – it predates most of the generic conventions you get in most horror nowadays and as such is a pretty scary read.

Flowers For Algernon

I remembered reading this when I was young but apparently there was a whole section missing from the version I’d read before; in its entirety this book made me experience what’s commonly known these days as ‘the feels’.

Brave New World

A great take on civilised society in the future, this book still holds up well today despite its being published many decades ago. I loved this vision of a so-called perfect society and the way all people are literally not created equals, to warn readers that individualism and freedom of expression shouldn’t be taken for granted the way we sometimes do.

Any recommendations for my 2015 reading list?

The Death of WCW – 10th Anniversary Edition

A fascinating independent chronicle of the fall of WCW pro wrestling.

I don’t know if it was because I was purely a WWF kid, but the few times I tried to watch WCW programming in the UK, it just didn’t click.

Sometime in late 1997/early 1998 I will have happened across it on TNT; best known to people my age as the channel which began at 7pm when Cartoon Network went off the air.

The Death of WCW book

The colour scheme in the ring was entirely black and white, and various people I recognised – among them one Hulk Hogan – were strutting their stuff and not actually doing much wrestling. I don’t recall seeing a single wrestling match during this time; in fact, I wasn’t even sure it was actually a wrestling show but for all the various archetypes they had; entrance themes, big strong men and commentators not describing the action properly.

When Channel 5 showed it in about 2000, there was plenty of wrestling to go around – the only problem was that none of it made any sense. Having got back into the WWF when it came to Channel 4 at this time, the differences were clear: the WWF had great production values, young talent, well-defined characters and logical storylines; all sorely lacking from what I saw in the WCW product of the time.

I’ve managed to piece together what exactly happened to turn the WCW from a cultural giant in the mid-90s to the absolute shambles of a company it became at the turn of the millennium, but reading The Death of WCW by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez has more than filled in the gaps.

Death of WCW book

The 10th anniversary edition has been revised and expanded to include more quotes from the people involved, as well as the story of what has happened in the years since WCW was swallowed up by Monday Night War enemies the WWF in 2001 – and the cautionary tale of some of the same mistakes which are being made by TNA to this day (whose future is still not 100% safe according to some sources).

The book as a whole outlines the success of the old Jim Crockett Promotions during the late 1970s and 1980s; the move into a rivalry with Vince McMahon as the two then-biggest companies redrew their boundaries are prepared for war, as well as how a young producer named Eric Bischoff made some key strategic and financial decisions to give WCW more than an edge during the mid-90s – one of which was the addition of former WWF stars Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

Scott Hall Kevin Nash WCW NWO

Look at the adjective! “Play!”

What follows in the pages of this book is the story of how WCW went from being atop the wrestling mountain thanks to Hall/Nash being the origins of the phenomenally successful NWO, to shedding viewers and box office like they were going out of fashion through bad booking, dodgy contracts and no sense of continuity or playing to the crowd; using inside stories, gossip and cold hard numbers to tell a very entertaining story of the at times bewilderingly logic-free decisions which caused the downfall of WCW.

Reynolds and Alvarez combine great wrestling journalism with great storytelling and plenty of humour to produce this fine work. It’s essential reading for wrestling fans, no two ways about it.

Hulk Hogan and Creative Control

Examining the excessive use of Hulk Hogan’s creative control in WWF and WCW.

Hulk Hogan is a wrestling legend, no two ways about it. When he defeated The Iron Sheik for his first WWF Championship in 1984, plans were already in motion to make the charismatic Hogan the face of American wrestling – a plan which came to financial and cultural fruition with the first Wrestlemania in 1985.

For the rest of his career, the Hulkster used the fact that he’d single-handedly built Vince McMahon, Jr’s WWF empire to his own ends; helping friends get over at the expense of more talented competitors, even choosing between alternate title runs and extended breaks from wrestling to further his Hollywood career in a somewhat loose form of creative control.

But when Hogan signed for wrestling rivals WCW in 1994, he actually had a clause written into his (massive) contract that allowed him full creative control of his character. Hogan could choose when, where and how much he wrestled, whether he won or lost, and who to.

In having that control, Hogan was able to protect his image during his most relevant years, but as the market hotted up again during the mid-90s, fellow veterans were beginning to make way for the younger stars – except Hogan and a select few colleagues, all of which spelled trouble for WCW in the end.

Here are three times that Hulk Hogan’s uses of creative control rubbed fans and colleagues alike the wrong way.

1993 – Wrestlemania IX

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan had already wrestled earlier in the night, teaming with his ‘old pal’ Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake in a match against Money, Inc. (Ted DiBiase and ‘The’ IRS) and losing by disqualification after Hogan used Brutus’ protective facemask as a weapon. But following the main event which saw Yokozuna cheating Bret Hart to become the new WWF Champion, Hogan hit the ring to defend his friend’s honour. Manager Mr Fuji, who threw salt in Hart’s eyes to get the win for his giant protégé, randomly offered out Hogan for a match then and there.

There’s a reason Cagesideseats.com ranked this match the second-worst Wrestlemania main event of all time (the worst wasn’t for the title and had an NFL player in it), as Hogan had had a word in Vince’s ear that Bret wasn’t the guy to carry the company through its (too numerous to mention) problems in 1993. The answer? Put the strap back on the Hulkster, brother.

His very first title defence was the loss to Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1993; it was also Hogan’s final WWF appearance for almost a decade. Bret had to content himself with winning the tournament itself, but wouldn’t get near the belt again for months.

Bash at the Beach 2000

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan signed for WCW in 1994, and won their World title in his very first match against Ric Flair, as you do. Hogan held the belt for fifteen months before dropping it to a pre-Big Show Paul Wight as The Giant in October 1995 – by disqualification, obviously – before taking an extended break.

When he returned to shock the wrestling world by forming the NWO with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, he was once again indestructible – although this time the script called for it, rather than just how he was feeling that day. An account of the events at Starrcade 1997 – in which Hogan may or may not have influenced the result to make him look better – proves that Hogan was in business for himself, artificially extending a feud that had already been 18 months in the making and exposing the first chink in WCW’s hitherto impenetrable armour.

But in the year 2000, at what would be Hogan’s final WCW appearance, it was head writer Vince Russo who had had enough. After Hogan had decided (as you do) he fancied winning the World belt from Jeff Jarrett that night in order to get the most from his remaining contract, he and Russo planned to fake Jarrett’s laying down for Hogan. After Hogan convincingly told Russo to shove it and left, planning on a big return match down the line to clear up this apparent badly-booked mess, Russo – for realsies – came back to the ring and blasted Hogan for playing the dreaded creative control card when “he knew it was bullshit all along”.

 

2005/6 – Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton

In 2002 Hulk Hogan returned to WWE, winning another World title and doing the very occasional job to younger guys before deciding he wasn’t satisfied with the role he’d been placed in and making on-and-off appearances. He falls out with Vince McMahon over pay, telling McMahon he felt his driver was making the same money that he was on.

Two of Hogan’s biggest-profile matches in the mid-00s come against Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton; the latter, an upcoming star who’d become The Legend Killer; the former, a legend in his own right who just wanted to find out who was stronger.

By this time, Hogan was getting on in years – at 53 he was more than twice Orton’s age when they faced off at Summerslam 2006. But nonetheless, Hogan wanted to win the match cleanly, which he did against a former World Champion in Orton.

But it’s the match with Michaels that’s more interesting. Having never faced off before, it was being sold as something of a dream match. Michaels even agreed to turn heel just to make it happen. The idea was that both men would win a match each, with Hulk winning the first. Hogan agreed, and their match at Summerslam 2005 was…interesting.

Michaels bumped around cartoonishly for the aging Hogan, knowing it would make him look somewhat foolish in the way he was hitting big moves. There are points in the match too where Michaels just looks outright annoyed at having to carry Hulk Hogan throughout, losing his cool and stiffing Hogan with a slap in between Irish whips. Michaels agreed to lose clean in the centre of the ring, which Hogan duly obliged – and later called off any talk of a rematch, causing Michaels some understandable aggravation.

Even in the midst of the new era of wrestling, Hulk Hogan couldn’t be relied upon to make his youngers look the slightest bit competitive by losing, or even drawing in the big-profile matches. What’s even worse is what happened when he made his way over to TNA, but that’s a story for another time.

Is TNA Wrestling Finished?

Thanks to an old-school Vince Russo reveal, American wrestling’s number two promotion TNA could close down after Spike TV pulls the plug.

This all sounds quite familiar to me – a TV company drops a wrestling programme leading to fears for its future. And although it’s 2014 and TNA does its best to rise above some of the muck that WCW was turning out towards the end of its storied history, some of the same hallmarks which led to the former Jim Crockett Promotions being acquired by business rivals WWE in 2001 are starting to show in America’s current #2 promotion, TNA Wrestling.

is TNA wrestling finished?

In late 2000, WCW was staying on the air despite heavy financial losses because of Ted Turner’s loyalty to the product, a product which thanks to the likes of Vince Russo had shown a drastic decline in quality; business had seriously picked up (as Jim Ross would say) over at the WWF during the previous year with The Rock and Triple H at the head of a company that was enjoying the most success in the mainstream since the early days of Hulkamania.

When Time Warner merged with AOL to force Turner out of his own company, all WCW programming was cancelled – a decision which severely reduced the value of the company and forced producer Eric Bischoff to pull out of a deal to purchase WCW.

At the time WCW was itself beginning to pull out of a creative nosedive thanks to the reins finally being handed to younger, self-made stars like Booker T rather than having the old hands calling the same old shots. But the damage was done and, in March 2001 the final WCW Monday Nitro program featured live link-ups with WWF Monday Night Raw as the latter’s poorly-received Invasion angle began once WWF had purchased WCW.

Fast-forward to today and, while I definitely don’t see history repeating itself the way it did in Panama City 13 years ago, the same danger signs are there for TNA, beginning with Spike TV’s announcement that it won’t be renewing their TV deal for TNA Impact Wrestling. Although there’s still a long way to go before the deal expires in the autumn, losing a major source of income like TV after some very harsh cutbacks have already been made can’t be good news for fans of the Impact Zone.

Not that there are that many there, or on the road. Attendances have been anaemic at house shows, and photographs taken at their annual showpiece Bound For Glory from last October demonstrate perfectly the problems the company is having in engaging their audience.

According to reports by Dave Meltzer, Spike TV had a huge problem with TNA using Vince Russo as a creative consultant. The same Vince Russo who, in one of his trademark worked shoots, called Hulk Hogan a “goddamn politician” back in 2000, when Hogan played his creative control card to secure yet another WCW World Title – by having Jeff Jarrett lay down for him. (The same Hulk Hogan who signed a staggeringly massive TNA contract in 2009 for what turned to be precious little return, but that’s only another factor in their money problems).

Jeff Jarrett lays down Hulk Hogan

I never even liked Jeff Jarrett, but the poor sod didn’t deserve this.

During a previous Russo run at TNA, Spike were very upset at some of his more controversial angles – including regular occurrences of male-on-female violence. (Of course, none of this has anything to do with TNA’s biggest hook of late – tune in to Impact and see Bully Ray finally put TNA owner Dixie Carter through a table!) The main issue is that Spike did not know that Russo was on the payroll until recently, when he accidentally sent an email to wrestling reporter Mike Johnson rather than commentator Mike Tenay.

And so, their trust violated that TNA wouldn’t do such a silly thing as rehire a man who was persona non grata with Spike, the channel has reportedly decided not to renew – leaving TNA’s future very unclear indeed.

Despite my personal dislike of most of TNA’s work for the past decade, I personally think this is a blow for pro wrestling; their authority unchecked, WWE may not feel the need to grow and develop their offering. I’m not saying TNA were ever at the heights of WCW’s run – far from it – but with no mainstream alternative it’s going to be hard for fans to get their fix of wrestling if Spike decides not to renew.

Update – 27/9/14: Dave Meltzer (via Den of Geek US) reports that Impact Wrestling will not stay on Spike once the deal expires, and is currently negotiating with four other networks to stay on the air – any of which would carry the product to fewer potential viewers than Spike provides.

Update – 21/5/2015: 

The following is a tweet from senior TNA rep Bob Ryder:

This comes hot on the heels of a report by Dave Meltzer that, just months after signing to a different channel called Discovery America (which reaches far fewer US households than Spike TV), TNA could be getting cancelled again.

TNA made itself welcome all throughout the week’s schedules, with spin-off shows and ‘remixed’ highlight packages, but has been gradually wound back to a single episode of Impact Wrestling each week – and even that will be reportedly gone as of September, after the channel allegedly exercised an option to exit from the deal early.

While the ratings have been good, they apparently aren’t good enough to justify the TNA budget – especially as advertisers are reportedly keen to avoid working with them at all.