Hello guys and gals to the eleventh in this ongoing series. Today's episode is a cautionary tale of why kids should not play with matches...
Please Note: This was originally going to be article 5 of this series but due to obvious reasons I delayed it.
The year was 1990. The WWE had two massive babyfaces on a collision course for their Wrestlemania main event. On one hand the established face of their company and WWE Champion Hulk Hogan- the man who defined the early days of Wrestlemania and helped it to get off the ground. On the other was the red hot Intercontinental Champion known only as the Ultimate Warrior- a character who seemed to have leapt off the pages of a comic book and had captured the imagination of a lot of new wrestling fans.
The match itself would go down in history as arguably one of the most important in Wrestlemania history- perhaps, along with Hogan/Andre the most important pre Attitude Era. It was the first face vs face feud- dividing fans down the middle and forcing them to make a choice. It also was the first championship vs championship match in the history of Wrestlemania- perhaps even the WWE. Not only that, but Hogan was beaten clean and so passed the torch on to the younger wrestler with the hope that Warrior could lead the company through the next phase.
Fast forward nine years and a great deal had changed. Warrior had proven to Vince McMahon three times that he was more trouble than he was worth and Hogan had upped ship to WCW and become leader of the nWo. It would seem that there was little way that these two would cross paths again. However, the fates- and WCW- had other ideas.
You have to hand it to Eric Bischoff in a perverse kind of way. When people were probably screaming at him to elevate guys like Benoit, Jericho, Malenko and Guerrero he decided to go instead to a superstar who's heyday was eight years previous in order to try and capture the imagination of his audience. You really have to admire his gall.
Straight away the Warrior had one opponent in mind- Hulk Hogan and his faction the nWo.
The debut promo of the Warrior in WCW has gotten much coverage over the years- much of it due to the Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior doco that the WWE put out. Suffice to say that the promo is not a pretty one and it doesn't really do anything to put over the match that WCW were clearly lining up between Hogan and the Warrior. Indeed, I have to admit Hogan does fairly well to sell the promo after the burial that Warrior gives him.
But if Bischoff thought that the Warrior deserved some blame for the crummy promo that he gave to Hogan as why the feud didn't start all that auspiciously, he also should shoulder some of it himself. WWE's managed to keep the character of the Warrior relatively simple by having it revolve around just him and the appeal of the character. WCW, on the other hand, went totally crazy and seemed to attempt to make the Warrior their version of the Undertaker. Mind games would be the order of the day, with the Warrior using 'magic' to convert the Disciple to the oWn (One Warrior Nation) as well as magic smoke to knock out the nWo cronies.
However, the WWE have the advantage of being able to use the special effects few and far between with Taker, as Mark Calaway is both brilliant in the gimmick as well as being a brilliant wrestler. WCW seemed to go nuts with it's special effects department (I don't know how much they spent on smoke machines) which made the angle seem rather cheesy. Furthermore, the idea of brainwashing someone did not come off as awfully babyface-like.
Still, even with all these concerns and more (the infamous Warrior-in-the-mirror segment for example) there was no doubt that the WCW crowd were looking forward to seeing Warrior and Hogan go at it again at Halloween Havoc.
For a start, what exactly constitutes a DQ in WCW? Both wrestlers hit each other with the belts several times, Hogan kneed the referee while he was on the ground and he also low blowed the Warrior RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE REF. The announcers said that Hogan wanted to get DQed but why? He had no title to retain. If he was DQed it would have 2-0 to the Warrior in their bouts. Why not just make it a no DQ match? Would that have been such a bad thing?
Secondly watching the first third of this match really feels like you had hit a time warp back to 1990 where an arm bar could go for ages to show the babyface overcoming the odds. There's a lockup in this match that goes for a full two minutes. I would say that it's a little overboard for a rest hold, but the wrestlers haven't had time to had a rest yet either- the match is only 4 mins old.
And while we're on the subject of timing, both wrestlers can at best be described as 'jerky' when performing their moves. One of the best examples is a series of elbow drops that Hogan attempts on Warrior. Warrior rolls out of the way of the first one, then the second...only to find he's now at the end of the ring. Instead of rolling outside the ring, he proceeds to roll back to the centre- almost tripping Hogan up in the process- a sequence the announce team hilariously describes as "a rolling block that took Hogan off of his feet". Yep, that Warrior's a real innovator.
Finally, the flash paper idea of Hogan's- to blind Warrior before Warrior made his comeback was stupid to say the least. The fact that it didn't come off probably made the match better- as the idea of Warrior making his comeback blind would be truly ludicrous- something that Hogan today to his credit acknowledges.
The idea that WCW brought the Warrior back to massage Hogan's ego seems pretty far fetched. Fact of the matter was he was a big WWE star and Bischoff had sold many a ticket from big WWE stars. However, the Monday Night Wars was beginning to turn. At the same time as two old generation superstars were facing off in October of 1998 in WCW, Stone Cold Steve Austin was driving the WWE towards the edgier product that would become known as the Attitude Era. His ability to connect with the crowd by being himself was making big inroads. WCW was still waiting for the business to turn back to the colourful wrestling heroes of yesteryear.
The Warrior/Hogan feud also showed how nWo centric WCW had become. The fact that everything that Warrior did was in direct reaction to the nWo seemed to show the audience more and more that when it came to program time and prominence the nWo seemed to gobble up more and more. The WWE, on the other hand, were canny enough to spread out the time so that one never got sick of seeing Stone Cold or the Rock. Likewise, they were willing to show rising superstars and give them the time to shine.
Warrior was not a great worker and there is no doubt that his time at WCW was limited because of it. However, if he did stay, it is questionable whether it would have taken the company to another upswing or only re-emphasised the fact that WCW was looking for help in all the wrong places. Nostalgia is all very well and good, but the reason it is nostalgic is because it is old.
That concludes article 11 of this series chaps! Next time we'll examine a feud between what seemed to be a substitute teacher and a school prefect.