Tag Archives: WCW

#ECWWeek: Essential Viewing

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. This week we have Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. This is Day Two of #ECWWeek, the fifteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we started by making ECW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Today, we give you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing AND a Highlight Reel . Tomorrow, we discuss the idea of ECW and Another Fan’s Treasure before quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List on Thursday. Finally we’ll sum everything up on Friday with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

In 1994, Jim Crockett Jr. himself approached Tri-State Wrestling Alliance/Eastern Championship Wrestling promoter Todd Gordon about carrying the standard for the NWA. Based on nearly 50 years of NWA tradition, the move should have been an honor for the relatively small territory.

But Gordon and new booker Paul Heyman understood that following the death of Jim Crockett Promotions, the appearance of the title on WWF television, and the belt shuffling at WCW’s Disney tapings, the NWA Title had been devalued past the point of no return.

So, they — along with “The Franchise” Shane Douglas — did this:

Douglas’ promo isn’t great, with a “substitute news anchor reading off the prompter” feel to it, but he hits the right bullet points, successfully creating the sense of rebellion and anti-authority sentiment that made this dimly-lit moment the spark from which ECW’s “revolution” was ignited.

ECW had the attitude from that moment forward, but what really made the company work was that they offered an in-ring product that neither WWF nor WCW could even approach. The ECW-style was rooted in the super hard-hitting, fast-paced style of early 1990s Japanese wrestling. Matches like this one — between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko — is a perfect showcase of what ECW brought to the United States. Both men are nearly subatomic by the standards of height and bulk required in big-time operations of the day, but their work is so simultaneously smooth and physical that it seems like a well-choreographed dance performance compared to the awkward, herky-jerky main event style of the day.

If ECW was built on unapologetic, in-your-face attitude and high-level in-ring work, then Steve Austin was the perfect ECW star. He had only a short stint in the territory between his exit from WCW and debut into the WWF, but Steve Austin made the most of the time he had there. With the encouragement of Paul Heyman, Austin began developing the promo style that would make him one of the most successful wrestlers of all time.

Fifteen years before CM Punk, Steve Austin helped establish himself as one of the great characters in wrestling with this scathing shoot promo. Austin vented his frustration with the inner politics of wrestling, using impressions of Dusty Rhodes, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff that were as scathing and dead-on as Punk calling Triple H a doofus during his “Pipe Bomb” promo. Even if you were oblivious to the history of the Attitude Era, if you saw this promo from ECW in 1995, you would look at Steve Austin and say, “That’s a huge star.”

Austin put it well when he said that ECW was mostly “a bunch of violent crap.” The territory saw many great workers and historically significant moments, but everything was reduced in prestige and respectability by the fact that the company’s wrestlers treated each other like kidnapping victims in a snuff film. The unofficial motto of ECW was “more is more.” More spots. More risk. More violence.

When wrestling was at its white-hottest in 1997, both the WWF and WCW were borrowing heavily from the ECW playbook: outrageous injury angles, scantily clad women “spontaneously” bursting out of tight dresses, and a near-constant barrage of weapon shots and juice. Rather than reinvent themselves in the face of imitators, though, ECW decided to stick to the same tricks and turn them up to eleven.

The following match from Hardcore TV features three of the greatest tag teams in ECW history: The Dudleys, The Gangstas and The Eliminators. All three teams were crazy over, and fans loved their matches, but two of the three groups had the same gimmick: “guys who brutally beat up other guys” (The Gangstas had been involved in the notorious “Mass Transit Incident” less than six months earlier — I won’t link you to it, but you can look it up…). The result is a match that engages the crowd, but exposes the unsustainable nature of ECW’s booking for all to see. You could take this match “around the circuit” once, but how many times will fans pay to watch a six men sloppily beat the crap out of each other?

The escalating violence of ECW reached its crescendo at 1997’s Born to Be Wired in an ECW Title match between Sabu and Terry Funk. This match is possibly one of the worst ideas ever. It pits a then-53-year-old Funk against a then-seemingly-indestructible Sabu in a match that makes Funk look very old and Sabu look very destructible. The match, straight out of FMW, is every bit as gruesome as you would expect a match with barbed wire ring ropes to be.

The match’s signature moment occurs at the ten minute mark, with Sabu tearing open his bicep by flying into the barbed wire. Few moments embody the legacy and philosophy of ECW better. The match should have stopped for the sake of safety, but in the name of the religion of ECW (created in equal parts by Paul Heyman in order to control talent and stereotypical Philadelphians in order to feed their bloodlust), Sabu tapes his arm up with white athletic tape and finishes the match.

For all its fame, this match contains the most abysmal clean finish of all time. The two men become inextricably tangled in the barbed wire, with their clothes torn to the point that they seem in danger of being stripped naked. A terrified-looking Bill Alfonzo tries to interject, cutting the wire in hopes of freeing the men to the point where they can actually wrestle, but it doesn’t work. Ultimately, Fonzie and a referee have to gingerly lift and roll Sabu and Funk back in the ring in order to go home on the worst pin ever executed. You know what would have prevented all that? One iota of restraint.


ECW finally got a national television deal just as they were finding themselves unable to deal with the constant brain drain of talent leaving for WCW and the WWF. By early 2000, Taz(z), Raven, the Dudley Boys, and The Radicalz were all in the WWE and Lance Storm and Mike Awesome were in WCW. The result was a mixture of wrestlers with blind faith in ECW (Tommy Dreamer) and wrestlers that nobody wanted (Balls Mahoney). ECW, the company where wrestlers tore their bodies to shreds to make their home team relevant had failed supremely: they weren’t relevant, and the wrestlers’ bodies were still torn to shreds.

The dying days of ECW were hard to watch on many levels, but one redeeming feature was that ECW on TNN gave many talented, hungry workers a place to ply their craft on TV. This match between Taijiri and Psicosis is a gem in the coal dust, a wonderful, albeit feeble beat in the fading pulse of ECW.


#JCPWCWWeek: Difference of Opinion (Ish?)

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. For a curtain jerker, we have WCW and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions. This is the Final Day of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. We mixed it up by giving you a crash course in JCP and WCW and asked you to Essentially View a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. We exposed some harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us and quenched your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List. Now, we end everything with a Difference of Opinion, where JMS HQ actually doesn’t erupt into a civil war. But if we did, it would take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.

Nick: This was a weird week for us. I’ve written extensively about WCW and you are a pretty big JCP fan: Although our press times wouldn’t tell you it, this was actually a pretty easy week for us.

Dave: Well, I’m not old enough to be a real JCP fan, but I appreciate the hell out of what I’ve seen. And I feel like this week and last we had a lot of good stuff to say, so times be damned, I felt like it was important to unload both barrels.

Nick: So, the opposite of next week’s promotion, ECW?

Dave: I love several ECW stars (Sabu is one of my all-time favorites), but the promotion as its story lines are the most overrated body of work ever.

Nick: Yeah, and I feel like WCW and JCP especially are “underrated”, inasmuch as that kind of thing exists.

Dave: Agreed! You took the words out of my mouth. Bagging on WCW is so en vogue that people forget the good years JCP/WCW put together.

Nick: Like, “Roy Hibbert” underrated And even when they were “crap”, it was still good. The FPOD wasn’t “bad” in and of itself, at least for me. It’s that it was indicative of a real sickness in the company itself, but it’s not the first time somebody’s thrown a match for a buddy.

Dave: As I wrote in my comment on your FPOD post, I think it was outrageously unnecessary… but not the dump on the chest of wrestling that a lot of people make it out to be.

Nick: And I’ve seen those late-period WCW PPVs. There are some REALLY good matches. 3 Count is REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD.

Dave: Yeah, the quality of in-ring work was always insanely high outside of the main event in WCW. But most of their main eventers were either miles past their prime or larger than life characters who couldn’t deliver physically.

Nick: What’s weird is that almost all of the WCW fans I know NEVER gave a shit about the main event. At least in the sense that it being good was more of a bonus.

Dave: I feel like most of the WCW fans I know were in it for the match quality. Unlike WWF/E fans who love to engage in the top story lines.

Nick: As a life-long WWE mark I can attest to that. And I think that’s where WCW got into trouble. It wasn’t when they decided to get in the Hulk Hogan business, it was when they let him try to tell them to be like WWF. Where he ran roughshod over everyone with the idea that “the fans will love it, brother.”

Dave: Hey, look! It’s the same mistake TNA has been making the last decade!

Nick: That’s the most notable thing about JCP. It’s SO MUCH DIFFERENT than WWE.

Dave: Oh yeah. It’s SO sports-like.

Nick: Like, if you’re TNA, why aren’t you just recreating JCP now?

Dave: I couldn’t agree with you more.

Nick: And, I get it, WCW was primarily a television show first and a wrestling company second, but I totally agree with the guys on the Rise and Fall of WCW DVD, if JCP had stayed in the mid-Atlantic, they’d still be in business, probably national at this point. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if Magnum TA didn’t get into that car accident.

Dave: Magnum could definitely have been their Hulk Hogan. And, as you said, the Crockett name was so beloved in the Carolinas that their business could have stayed viable, but they got greedy, especially when they got the Road Warriors, and wanted to promote Chicago. JCP turned a great profit until they overextended themselves, whereas WCW intentionally operated at a loss in order to make money for TNN/Turner. People bag on Bischoff and Turner for handing out huge contracts, but the fact of the matter is that the expectation of WCW never to make money on its own. Which makes it unique in the history of big time wrestling.

Nick: Yeah, the difference between the WWF and WCW was always that WWF’s business, as I alluded to earlier, was the WWF and WCW’s business was “the wrestling show of a television network.” Whether or not they made any money was irrelevant. Things didn’t have to be sustainable, they just had to move the needle. And for a while, it worked. They were better at being “televised wrestling” than the WWF was at being the WWF. And it’s because they only had to be concerned about getting people to watch.

Dave: Right, they didn’t have to deal with nearly the same budgetary constraints.

Nick: Like, Bash at the Beach 1996 is the Platonic ideal of what a wrestling PPV is supposed to be. It’s almost a perfectly constructed wrestling show, and a singular moment in the history of wrestling. Purely in terms of “spectacle for which you would pay to see”, WrestleMania III is the only other one in the discussion. And that’s a TERRIBLE show, with one good match and one palpably important match, but that match is what made Hogan (spoiler alert) being the Third Man in ‘96.

Dave: This may be an unpopular opinion, but Hogan was much less of a piece of shit in WCW than he was in WWF. There were things he refused to do and guys he refused to put over, but it wasn’t like WWF where he wanted to be the only big star.

Nick: WrestleMania IX is 100X worse than the FPOD: It shits on his successor while making himself look like a million bucks, at least he just looked like an asshole after the Fingerpoke.

Dave: Yes, because WMIX actually involved undermining the five-year future of the company, whereas FPOD was done against another well-established top star with that guy’s consent (in fact, I think Nash had a hand in booking it.)

Nick: But, like I said, the FPOD of doom IS super important, because it is them blatantly giving up. They were literally saying “we can’t come up with something more interesting than Foley winning, so let’s just see how much heat we can get for something”.

Dave: The sad part is, the majority of wrestling writers still think that way: “How can we get the most heat on the heels?”

Nick: Which is the least WWE thing ever. The WWE is OBSESSED with “giving the people what they want”.

Dave: Rather than “How can we get heat on the heels to make the baby faces look good” And then when a company actually takes care of a top face (Cena), “smart” fans resent the hell out of it (as you and Andy have covered many times).

Nick: Exactly, people say “John Cena is Superman” because he never loses, but what they don’t get is that he never loses, because he’s Superman.

Dave: Yeah, you want to see Speed Racer in danger of losing the race, but he shouldn’t actually lose.

Nick: Daniel Bryan, Spiderman, is going to have to let Gwen Stacy die every once in a while. And CM Punk is always be angry, just like Batman.

Dave: It’s almost like these are time-tested archetypes…

Nick: And while I love that style, I think the real tragedy of WCW’s demise is that there will never be a truly viable alternative to that style in North America. There’s never going to be a professional wrestling organization that feels like a sports league again.

Dave: Absolutely. WWE has redefined the business in a way that has forever changed the discussion in a way that favors them.

Nick: Because they are Wrestling. When people say wrestling, they don’t mean TNA.

Dave: Right. Or ROH. Or Chikara. Or PWG…

Nick: You would be hardpressed to find someone who isn’t friends with a wrestling fan that has even heard of TNA. Most people in the country knew what WCW was.

Dave: Yeah, it’s pretty sad, but it’s a problem that seems impossible to solve.

Nick: So, to be clear, you don’t see TNA signing John Cena after they get bought by TNT when they lose the rights to the NBA, then get Punk and finally have Daniel Bryan/Big E. Langston to “invade” a few years later?

Dave: …Yeah, I think that’s safe to say. They’re still miles more successful than Pro Wrestling U.S.A., though.

Juice Make Sugar Presents: #JCPWCWWeek Top 10 – WCW PPVs (Other Than The One You’re Thinking Of)

Because we’re wrestling journalists — and Buzzfeed contributors —  we’ve decided that we needed to start creating a top ten list based on each Wrestler, or in this case, Promotion of the Week. We’ve decided to not include any criteria for the list, because we’ve been told by experts in the list-making field that it would just muddy our ability to explain why we’re right. You should understand, because you read us, that we know more about wrestling than you and what we think is best IS best. We promise. If you want, you can guess what why we’ve chosen these people the way we have in the comments. Where you belong.

So, without further ado, we give you the definitive list of the Top 10 WCW PPVs (Other Than The One You’re Thinking Of) :

1. Slamboree ’94


2. Starrcade 1991


3. Starrcade 1996 


4. 1996 Great American Bash  GAB_96

5. Great American Bash 1998


6. Bash at the Beach 1998


7. 1998 Spring Stampede


8. Uncensored 1997


9. 1991 Great American Bash


10. Fall Brawl 1993 


#JCPWCWWeek: Lies the WWE Told Us, The Finger Poke of Doom

Wcw_doomAfter having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. For a curtain jerker, we have WCW and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions. This is Day Three of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. We mixed it up by making JCP and WCW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better in two parts. On Monday, we talked about the transition from JCP to WCW, and yesterday we gave you the finer points of JCP’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing then finishing the epic story of the great lost promotion of our time. Today, we’re going to start exposing harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us. After Hump Day — and throughout the week — we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List and a couple of odds, before ending everything with a Difference of Opinion, where JMS HQ erupts in a civil war, which will take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.

When Dave and I talked about The Varsity Club for #VarsityClubWeek’s Difference of Opinion, we spent much of our time discussing a rarely talked about part of WWE’s cultural hegemony in their little part of the entertainment world: To the victor goes the spoils, and as the ultimate victor in the fight for the soul of the medium, the WWE’s prize was complete control over the “story” of professional wrestling.

Which is to say that there’s no one checking the facts behind anything the WWE tells us happened in the history of wrestling. At least there wasn’t. UNTIL NOW. Okay, actually, there are plenty of people, but as you all know, we love you the most. And that’s why we’ve decided to spent some time talking about the some of the lies WWE has told us about its greatest rivals, Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW, in celebration of #JCPWCWWeek, and there’s perhaps no one lie more famous than the role Finger Poke of Doom had in the downfall of WCW.

Some of this is, of course, semantics. In a lot of ways the Fingerpoke of Doom was the end of “WCW”, but while it was symbolically the end of what had separated WCW from WWE, it wasn’t anywhere the deathknell of the company’s run as a major wrestling promotion, or even as a viable second wrestling company in the way that DVDs like The Rise and Fall of WCW would have you believe. Ignoring for a second that someone laying down for a title was something that WWF had done a full two years earlier (over the significantly less important European title, of course), the FPOD wasn’t even the most embarrassing thing that would happen to the championship in the in the next year and a half. That’s an honor that would go to David Arquette — even less of a wrestler than Hulk Hogan was an actor — winning the title in a match with Eric Bischoff, Jeff Jarrett and Diamond Dallas Page, for free, on a taped Thunder.

Though for every bit it wasn’t the end of WCW chronologically, or even the nadir of its creative and narrative directions, it was the end of WCW’s attempts to challenge WWE’s storyline development or credibility amongst fans in terms of “entertainment value”. What’s lost by most WCW detractors, the WWE included, is that the greatest blunder WCW made was giving it away for free. Story lines like this are fine, or at least not catastrophic, in situations where the fans are given a chance for retribution. The problem wasn’t that Hogan and Nash were in cahoots again, but that they gave away an actual conflict that people were genuinely interested. Of course it’s embarrassing to have your major title handed over from one man to the other in such a blatant disregard for the idea of competition that is at the heart of many fan’s love of the spectacle. Sure. But the really appalling thing is assuming I don’t want to pay for the right to be this angry.

If this would have been used as a way to generate heat, to develop the idea of “anything can happen on a WCW PPV”, if this was an attempt to reignite of the weird spark that the original Hogan turn at from 96’s Bash at the Beach had created , why not make us pay for it? By giving this away for free, WCW said, “we’re willing to do anything to get you to watch us, including give away major resolutions for nothing instead of letting you pay us for them… ” which should have been followed almost immediately after by “so give all of your money to WWF, please, we’re all set.”

Fans want to be treated with respect, sure, and the Fingerpoke is one of the high-water marks of a promotion’s wanton disrespect for its fans, but more importantly they wanted to be treated like people who paid to watch a show about conflict resolution done by interpretative dancers in underpants. So, while it didn’t kill WCW, by any measure, it broke the covenant between fans and promotions: it told us our money didn’t matter and they were going to do whatever they wanted while forcing us to watch it.

Anyone who has ever worked retail can tell you the only thing worse than a consumer believing that a company doesn’t stand behind its products is the belief from a consumer that they don’t want their business. WCW, or whomever made decisions at that point — you’d have to assume some sort of manatee-and-word-ball-based writing system like the folks over at Family Guy —  had to understand, or least had to see the possibility, that if the people who had previously bought PPVs saw the disregard for their feelings that they were willing to display before they gave them their money, that they’d assume this just didn’t want their money to begin with. 

People buy wrestling PPVs and tickets not just to see something they’ve never seen before, but, to feel like things will never change, that they’ll always be entertained by the familiar things: the idea of good vs. evil, the excitement of trying to figure how close to reality something truly is, and most importantly for the sustainability of the business, that they’ll be given the right to pay for something in exchange for a finish, whether or its satisfactory or not. And The Poke ended that.

But what The Fingerpoke of Doom ended wasn’t WCW life, though. It was WCW’s will to live.

#JCPWCWWeek: Essentially Viewing A Promotion You Should Probably Know Better, Part Two


After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. For a curtain jerker, we have WCW and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions. This is Day Two of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. We mixed it up by making JCP and WCW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better in two parts. Yesterday, we talked about the transition from JCP to WCW, and today we’re giving you the finer points of JCP’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing then finishing the epic story of the great lost promotion of our time. On Wednesday, we’ll expose some harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us. After Hump Day — and throughout the week — we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List and a couple of odds, before ending everything with a Difference of Opinion, where JMS HQ erupts in a civil war, which will take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.

It’s fundamentally impossible to provide an Essential Viewing of pre-80s Jim Crockett Promotions: there isn’t a lot of decent-quality surviving tape out there because it was over thirty years ago, and (as fans of Dr. Who know) it wasn’t uncommon practice as a cost-cutting measure to tape over old shows in the days of syndication and even if the video had survived, to internet generation types who post videos of wrestling online, anything before the computer revolution might as well be a blurry daguerreotype of a Civil War soldier’s ass.

And so, in spite of thirty years of prior history, we’ll touch on the biggest (and last) decade of JCP’s existence: the 1980s, before Nick provides undeniable video evidence that they took all of the greatness they had in North Carolina, moved to Atlanta, became WCW and crapped all over it.

In the 1970s, Wahoo had been a huge part of the Mid-Atlantic’s transition from featuring mostly tag teams (as I covered yesterday) to being a territory with legitimate main event singles matches. McDaniel legitimized first the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship through his feuds with Johnny and Greg Valentine and then later the United States Title when it became JCP’s top singles title (not counting the traveling NWA’s World’s Champion.)

So when he took on Flair — who for anyone that managed to watch wrestling outside of the WWF’s considerable shadow was the 1980s in professional wrestling — it was undeniably fascinating, even if only to see the spectacle of the territory’s top star of ’75-’80 wrestling the top star of ’80-’88.

The fact that Flair and Wahoo held the World and U.S. title belts respectively places this match in the fall of ’81 during Flair’s first run as “The Man.” and while the match isn’t either man’s best, as Wahoo was past his prime at this point, Flair was a fantastic athlete at the time (as he was for much of his career) and coming into his own as a character. Furthermore, it’s interesting to see the tricks that Flair took from Wahoo and made his own: the way he paces the match early, the stiff chops to pop the crowd, the well-timed color, among others.

As the 80s took shape, Ric Flair’s talent and charisma were so evident that the Crocketts would have been fools not to hitch their wagon to him. Pushing Flair became the top priority of JCP (and by extension the NWA who they largely steered) to the point that the first Starrcade was literally called Starrcade ’83: A Flair For The Gold (which should have carried the subtitle: Spoiler Alert, He Wins).

In the build to Starrcade, the Crocketts cast Flair as the hometown boy about to make good by taking on big bad Midwesterner Harley Race. Flair wasn’t as magnificent a babyface as he was a heel, but he knew what to say and do and how to play to the fans in the Mid-Atlantic. This set of promos from the build-up to Starrcade shows Flair cutting promos on Race and pledging assistance and brotherhood to babyface (and once and future rival) Ricky Steamboat.

As we touched on last week with our Tully Blanchard feature, Jim Crockett Promotions at its height wasn’t just about Flair and Dusty, it was about robust cards filled from top to bottom with some of the greatest role players of all time. The mid-to-late 80s were a deep era for tag team wrestling in both the NWA and the WWF, and one of the Crocketts’ most valuable acts at the time was The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.

Neither Ricky Morton nor Robert Gibson was a total package as a wrestler, but as a team they were one of the top ten acts of the 1980s. Even on worn out old tapes, their matches sound like Beatles concerts with near-constant high-pitched feminine screams throughout. Ricky Morton got the heat on heels with his selling as well as anybody every did, and Robert Gibson cleaned house in a way few wrestlers of his size ever could. If men (or in this case tag teams) are to be measured by the mark the make on history, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express are one of the most important tag teams of all time. Easily half of the babyface tag teams that followed them from The Rockers to The Hardy Boyz were direct imitations of the The Express.

This match sees The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express take on NWA Tag Team Champions Ivan Koloff & Krusher Krueschev (two evil Soviets played by a Canadian and a guy from Minnesota). The match is ‘80s tag team psychology at its best and helps illustrate how good both wrestlers and promoters were at giving the fans what they wanted to see at this point.

As our journey finds us in 1985, it would be impossible to write anything about Jim Crockett Promotions resembling Essential Viewing without talking about Hard Times. As we covered last week, The Four Horsemen broke Dusty Rhodes’ ankle in maybe the biggest injury angle of all time. When Dusty came back, he cut the now-legendary Hard Times promo, connecting his own suffering as a wrestler to that of working class Americans whose industrial jobs were suffering in the early days of Reaganomics. Hard Times is to wrestling as Born in the U.S.A. is to rock music. Was it presumptuous for the rich and famous Rhodes to compare himself to struggling laborers? Probably. Did it get him white hot over? You know it!

In the latter half of the 80s, Jim Crockett Promotions’ goal was to wrap up the pantheon-level Dusty-Horsemen feud in a way that created the next big star to lead the NWA. The Crocketts and booker Dusty Rhodes were heavily invested in pushing Terry Allen, known as Magnum T.A. (Tom Selleck pun? Yeah, we’re in the 80s.) as the next top babyface in the territory. Allen brought a lot to the table: he had a good look, could talk so well he often did color commentary, and understood how to build sympathy and build a comeback.

Dusty rubbed Magnum T.A. the only way he knew how: by putting him storylines with the great Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes’ self-centeredness aside, the plan worked, and following a fantastic feud with Tully Blanchard (some things just keep coming up, don’t they?) that culminated in their brutal, amazing I Quit cage match at Starrcade ’85, Terry Allen looked well on his way to becoming the next face of Jim Crockett Promotions.

This match shows Magnum at the height of his babyface powers taking on Nikita Koloff. Nikita was not a great worker, but he had tons of Cold War heat and played his character well. This match displays everything that was right with Terry Allen. If you close your eyes and imagine an alternate course of history, you can see how the guy who wrestled this match could have gone on to do big things.

Unfortunately for JCP, wrestling fans, and most of all, Terry Allen himself, Allen was involved in a horrific car wreck in the fall of ’86 that left him paralyzed and ended his career. In addition to being a tragedy on a human level, Allen’s accident was a kick between the legs to JCP and the NWA, who were close to putting their eggs in his basket.

In an interesting turn of events, with Magnum T.A. unable to wrestle, Dusty and the Crocketts decided to turn his rival Nikita Koloff babyface. In a move that shook the foundations of Cold War wrestling booking, Koloff showed sympathy for his injured opponent and essentially claimed to fight in his honor in spite of their political differences.

Two years later, Jim Crockett Promotions would be out of gas and out of money. The loss of Magnum T.A., the cost of jet fuel, and the company’s decision to serve two masters by promoting nationally while still trying to stay a regional company all came together into a thick, meaty stew of failure. The Crocketts, The Horsemen, and Dusty Rhodes had created some of the greatest wrestling moments of all time during the ‘80s, but they had been crushed by the weight of their own ambitions. Even though Ted Turner acquired JCP’s roster, title belts, and lineage, something died when the last great regional promotion became a cable TV show.

After making it through much of the pre-nWo fiascoes following the transition of the organization from the wrestling offshoot of a promotions company to the wrestling offshoot of a media company.

Even though it marked a paradigm shift as massive as anything the industry had seen before, Hulk Hogan turn into “Hollywood” Hogan at 1996’s Bash at the Beach wasn’t even the most remarkable thing that happened that night, nor would it have the longest-lasting impact on the industry. That distinction belong to the first match of the night, a lucha libre barnburner between Psicosis and Rey Mysterio, Jr:

The bout, which ends after a top-rope powerbomb from Psicosis being reversed into a hurricanrana by Mysterio, gives a delicious slice of the true lesson/legacy of WCW, and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions, the idea that being a global phenomenon in the world of professional wrestling means doing everything, and doing it well. A card from the golden era of post-NWA WCW — essentially between the ‘96 Great American Bash, from just one month before this match to July 6, 1998, when Goldberg defeated Hulk Hogan on an episode of Nitro (for free) — is like remind you of what most of the cards for WWE PPVs look like today, with an eclectic mix of performers, gimmicks and story lines that scream “there’s something here for everyone, we promise!”.

But, as we talked about yesterday, this was the Terry Bollea show. Instead of allowing the things that needed to happen to build a company around the wattage and heat that came from the nWo’s name on the marquee, Bollea — along with Nash, Hall and eventually Vince Russo — would do seemingly whatever it took to keep their names in lights.

The nuts and bolts story of WCW’s downfall is well-tread, even by yours truly. There are pressures points that are brought up constantly: ending Goldberg’s streak with a cattle prod, the Fingerpoke of Doom, Ric Flair being declared insane and ending up at a mental institution, the Russo-Hogan incident, Ed Ferrara’s raison d’etre:

Which makes sense, as these moments, and the moments like them are “what” caused WCW to fail. The “why”, comes from a much different place, though. Someone in charge thought most of these were a good idea, whether it was for the company, for wrestling or for themselves. That’s the only explanation for letting people like Chris Jericho, William Regal, Eddy Guerrero, Dean Malenko, HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED and Brian Pillman go, even after matches like these:

Unlike JCP, who was put out of business WWF largely through backroom political/business maneuvering and machinations, WCW’s “lost” the battle against Vince McMahon much more than he won it. And because of this, WCW’s demise meant something much larger. Ending the way it did didn’t just mean that the WWE had lost a competitor for cultural hegemony. It meant it had lost competition for cultural hegemony, period.

By proving unable to beat out WWE even with piles of Ted Turner’s money, it created a vacuum both inside the industry — by leaving almost the entirety of recorded wrestling in the hands of one entity — and wreaked havoc on any other high-profile media company — the only people who could possibly match WWE’s production values and marketing muscle — ever trying to reach for the throne again.

We’ll spend more time this week talking about what that all means, but ultimately, it means that professional wrestling is worse off for what happened to WCW, and because of that, we’re all worse off. Period.

A Promotion You Should Probably Know Better: JCP and WCW, Part One

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. For a curtain jerker, we have WCW and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions. This is the First Day of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series and we’re going to mix it up, by making JCP and WCW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better in two parts. Today, we’re talking about the transition from JCP to WCW and tomorrow, in addition to giving you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewings, we’ll finish the epic story of the great lost promotion of our time. On Wednesday, we’ll expose some harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us. After Hump Day — and throughout the week — we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List and a couple of odds and ends, where JMS HQ erupts in a civil war, which will take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.

The history of Jim Crockett Promotions is in some ways the chronological inverse of the history of the WWE. JCP started out as, well, a promotion company. Jim Crockett Sr. put together wrestling cards starting in the 1930s, but he wasn’t just in the wrestling game, he was in the live event game. JCP helped bring popular music acts of the day to the Charlotte, North Carolina area while also organizing and marketing legitimate sporting exhibitions in a region that did not yet have any professional teams. When the NWA formed, Crockett was granted exclusive rights to promote in the Carolinas and Virginia (branded as “the Mid-Atlantic”). This instantly made wrestling the moneymaking backbone of JCP because they didn’t have to compete with other promoters for talent – they owned wrestling in the Carolinas.

Looking back, it’s fascinating to think that JCP started out promoting music and legitimate sport and then transitioned into wrestling in order to have absolute control over a particular market. WWE, the biggest wrestling company of all time, started as a powerful wrestling promotion with absolute control over a particular region, but sought to branch out into more competitive arenas such as movies and sport. Jim Crockett Sr. promoted outdoor sporting events seventy years before the XFL – and he was much more successful at it!

Before Jim Crockett Jr. became NWA President in the early 80s, JCP was known mostly as a tag team territory. Tag team wrestling was extremely popular with fans in the 70s because the format provided natural drama and, in an era with fewer professional sports teams, babyface tag teams gave fans a local brand to believe in.

More fundamentally, tag team wrestling was extremely popular with promoters because you could pack a card with wrestlers and keep costs down. The line of thought went something like this: “All the workers know I have 100 beans to pay out for my main event. If I have a singles main event, I will pay each of those men 50 beans, which will set the precedent that wrestlers can expect to make 50 beans per night. If I have a tag team main event, each man gets 25 beans, which is an amount I’m comfortable paying people.” The goal was control, and in the tag team era, Jim Crockett Promotions were masters of it, which helped them become one of the most profitable and powerful promotions in the country.

In the early 80s, largely due to Jim Jr.’s presidency of the NWA, Jim Crockett Promotions scored several major coups.

The company partnered with Dusty Rhodes, one of the creative masterminds of the day, to put together Starrcade, wrestling’s first nationally-televised supercard. Dusty understood the importance of bringing wrestling national, and the Crocketts had the money to make it happen with the production values the show would need to get over.

The Crocketts built the entire show around hometown hero Ric Flair winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Harley Race. Flair had held the title before, but the platform created by the pageantry of Starrcade made his win one of the biggest moments many NWA fans had ever seen. It also, more importantly to the Crocketts, gave meant that “their guy” would be the champion, giving the promotion a significant amount of control over the title. This meant even more money for the promotion, as they could make extra money booking Flair out around the world and control the overall direction of the NWA.

The final coup that put JCP on the top of the heap was reclaiming the Saturday afternoon timeslot that Vince McMahon had snatched away from the NWA on the legendary “Black Saturday.” This put Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling on a nationwide cable system and made them partners with Ted Turner, the most influential businessman of the era in television.

David Crockett and Jim Jr. were not the savvy, bottom-line businessmen that their father had been, however. They were just as into living The Four Horsemen lifestyle as The Horsemen, and while they were drawing great gates, the expenses of their superior production values were catching up to them. Famously, the Crocketts bought two private jets to shuttle their stars around the country to various shows. While the price of jet fuel alone did not tip the balance sheet towards loss, the use of the jets was the ultimate example for how the company had fallen into 1980s excess.

Ultimately, the expenses and the aggressive growth of the WWF caught up to the Crocketts, and by late 1988, they were struggling to keep the lights on. Their television partner, Ted Turner, who loved professional wrestling and felt it an important building block of his network, bought the company for a song as it teetered on bankruptcy (an action that would be repeated less than 15 years later) and renamed it World Championship Wrestling.


And transition from JCP to WCW is a strange one, significantly stranger than the one between Dave and I for this piece.

For all the pomp and circumstance that the lifestyle of the Horsemen entitled, anyone watching a  JCP show wasn’t going to find much in the way of WWF-style Sports Entertainment. A rugged bunch of Good Ole Boys, like the aforementioned Horsemen and Dusty, along with highly athletic performers like Sting and the Steiners formed the backbone of the preeminent wrestling company in the US.

Which is why it was so odd when WCW decided to get into bed with Hulk Hogan, the avatar for Vince McMahon’s Grecian wet dream/vision for what professional wrestling was supposed to be. And along with Hogan — and Randy “Macho Man” Savage, who actually received a fond farewell from then-only-a-announcer-on-TV Vince McMahon after leaving the company for the greener pastures of Ted Turner’s money — came the exact type of over-the-top spectacle tied in a stale storyline that had left the WWF in financial shambles for several years after Hogan’s departure.

Even things like a three-story Doomsday Cage (no, not the Dave Arquette one from Ready to Rumble/Vince Russo’s WCW) match would be overshadowed in terms of weirdness, contrivance and, most importantly, public ridicule by things like a Monster Truck Sumo Match ON TOP OF A BUILDING. That the reason for the (pardon the pun) over-the-top location was so that The Giant (The Big Show, Paul Wight) could pretend to fall off the roof before coming back during the main event (read: aborted match-cum-Hulk Hogan promo) to win the WCW championship BY DISQUALIFICATION.

Needless to say, fans were not buying into an even worse version of the exact things they hated about Hogan, no matter how many times he flexed. Which is why what happened at 1996’s edition of Bash at the Beach felt so epic (which it was), unprecedented (which it essentially was), and like a portent of positive things to come and the possible end of WWF’s reign as the top promotion in the top market for wrestling in the entire world (which it absolutely was not).

While Hogan turning on the frenemies like Randy Savage and the fans appeared to be the important part of what happened, much more significant was him turning on “the company Up North”, and by extension, his entire legacy of as the Immortal Hulk Hogan. In turning heel, he was rejecting not just his former character, but the notion that his success was due to anyone other than Terry Bollea. Tomorrow, we’ll see just how well that turned out.

A Stable You Should Probably Know Better: The Varsity Club


It’s the First Day of #VarsityClubWeek. In celebration of this month’s Survivor Series, we’re taking a look at famous stables from the wonderful world of wrestling. This is the tenth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always we’ll start with A Stable You Should Probably Know Better, then give you the finer points of their oeuvre tomorrow with some Essential Viewing. On Wednesday, we’ll be asking Some Serious Questions. After Hump Day, we make our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Letterman-jacket-fueled civil war.) 

The last two years have seen an unprecedented return of powerful factions to professional wrestling. The Wyatt Family, The Shield, and Paul Heyman’s Guys have been among the most pushed and praised acts in the WWE over that time span, and TNA, while less successful, has also been built around Aces & Eights and EGO. Wrestling fans today are being treated to a renaissance of an idea that worked for decades: the heel faction.

The Varsity Club, who ran roughshod over Jim Crockett promotions as it morphed into WCW, are a perfect example of the deepness from the great era of heel factions, and the pervasiveness of the official WWE version of wrestling history.

Since they didn’t have any historically important performers (for the E, at least) they have received short shrift in retellings, mainly surviving as historical footnotes in WWE-produced documentaries. And with their pretty unfortunate timing — the JCP-to-WCW transition is pretty much the most confusing, ill-understood shift outside of the National Wrestling Association disbanding to make way for an Alliance — they are placed firmly in the blindspot of most millennial fans.

For the uninitiated, the gimmick was simple: they were jocks — mean jocks. They were the guys who picked on you in high school. They strutted around wearing letterman’s jackets and insisting upon their credentials as great athletes and, more importantly, their credentials as men. The part that made it work was that it was true – or at least mostly true (which is as true as anything needs to be in wrestling) – they were tremendous athletes. Nobody in the group was ever going to lose a fight in a bar. They were tough. Real, mean, scary tough.

Above all, The Varsity Club embodied the top role of the legitimate athlete in NWA-style professional wrestling. Wrestling, as guided from Vince McMahon, has strayed so far from sports in favor of “sports entertainment” that it’s almost impossible to contextualize The Varsity Club to a modern audience. Ask a wrestling fan under twenty-five to tell you about wrestlers who are great athletes –They will start by telling you about Brock Lesnar (legit), then the next names on the list will probably be Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas. The correct response to this answer is to invite them to the bar for a drink, offer them a ride, open the car door for them, and then slam it on their hand as soon as they start to get in.

Although Kevin Sullivan didn’t have the stature and athleticism to be a top-flight sports star, he was tough as nails (as any short Irishman who grew up in 1960s Southie would be) and could talk a crowd into a building to see him get his ass kicked. For most of the 80s, Sullivan had been the evilest heel in Florida, leading his Satanic “Army” against the Grahams, Dusty Rhodes and other top babyfaces in the territory. While Sullivan’s previous gimmick was in a different hemisphere than the dead-serious, sports-oriented Varsity Club, his time leading The Army had prepared him well to guide a group of a different kind of monsters – monsters who could actually tear you limb-from-limb, not just pretend tear you limb-from-limb. Fans today know about The Army in Florida and “The Taskmaster” in mid-90s WCW, but not to understand the importance of Kevin Sullivan’s time in The Varsity Club is a sin against wrestling history. Sullivan was the hub to which all the spokes of the wheel were lashed, the straw that stirred the drink.

Varsity ClubSullivan’s original Club members were young studs Rick Steiner and Mike Rotunda, tremendous wrestlers out of big time programs (Michigan and Syracuse, respectively) . On top of their legitimate wrestling records, Rotunda and Steiner both looked the part of no-nonsense, killer jocks. Rotunda was big as a house, a quality that served him well even when he was awkwardly forced into a button-up shirt and red suspenders. He looked like a guy it would take you a week to walk around.

Steiner, while short for a main event-level pro wrestler, emoted the single-minded intensity of a competitive athlete as well as anybody ever. He looked like the guy who would have beat you up in the hallway for bumping into him. They weren’t the kind of monsters Sullivan had managed in Florida – they were real monsters. Fans admired The Varsity Club for their legitimate accomplishments, but found them utterly hateable as braggart, bully jerks.

Steiner and Rotunda each had long — if unspectacular as singles competitors — runs in both WCW and the WWF; and while they would settle into different gimmicks as their careers matured, fans always recognized both men as members of The Club. They were presented as real at a time when wrestling was becoming increasingly cartoony. Compare The Varsity Club to the top WWF stable of the day, The Heenan Family: Heenan’s goons, while legendary, seem like kids’ stuff comparatively.

As time went on, Steiner was spun out of the club as a babyface (a move that made him and his brother Scott a massive amount of money as one of the premier tag team attractions of the early 90s), causing “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and “Dangerous” Dan Spivey to be added in order to prop up Sullivan and The Club.

Steve Williams was the utter embodiment of The Varsity Club, perhaps more so than any of its original members. The eventual Dr. Death was terrifying to look at – a legitimate football and wrestling star from The University of Oklahoma, a football and wrestling school. Williams seamlessly bridged the gap between monster heel and super athlete; a natural fit to team with Kevin Sullivan. The two won the United States Tag Titles (JCP/WCW’s tag title at a time when the NWA Titles were still national), and Rotunda and Williams later won the NWA World Tag Titles from The Road Warriors [trivia note: a fast-count in this match led to the heel turn of then-referee Teddy Long, playa’!].

Pause for a minute and consider this: Steve Williams and Mike Rotunda beat the Road Warriors in 1989. This victory speaks equally to two important points. First, The Varsity Club were great. To put a team over The Road Warriors, even dirty, was a huge deal at the time. The Road Warriors were tag team wrestling in the late 80s. They had the best look, they had the best finisher, and they were the most over act. The idea that WCW believed there was more money to be made with the straps on The Varsity Club than The Road Warriors proves how over their act was and what a respected faction they were within the industry.

The second important message that can be gleaned from this moment is that wrestling fans should know far more about this group than they do. Maybe they are discussed and written about so little because they worked for the opposition during the Hulkamania era, that they were the replacement for the beloved Four Horsemen, or even because internet wrestling fans have so much invested in the “Kevin Sullivan killed Chris Benoit” lie (Editor’s note: “Kevin sullivan killed Chris Benoit” returned 40,900 search results on Google.) Either way it’s clear to see that The Varsity Club were a massively important part of wrestling in the late 80s, both in terms of story lines and culture.

The Varsity Club was the ultimate anti-McMahon faction. Legitimate athletes who were tough in spite of not looking like bodybuilders. Led by a short, decidedly unsexy manager, they didn’t need gimmicks and barely needed title belts. Their letterman’s jackets and their attitude were all they needed. They were the guys who pushed you into lockers, who slept with your girlfriend, who acted like they were better than you. They were real heels.