Last week, I ran a poll asking what YOU, the fans! would like to see on this week's WWE Network Deep Cuts, and beating out a focus on "A Man Called" Sting (and other options) was the NWA/WCW World Television Championship, so this week, we will discuss some NWA/WCW world television championship title matches.
The Great Kabuki vs Charlie Brown (NWA Starrcade 1983)
Start time on the video for this match is right about 52:00 in. This is announced with a 60-minute time limit, with the opening 15 minutes being for the TV title in a title vs mask match. Charlie Brown From Outta Town was the great Boogie Woogie Man himself, Jimmy Valiant, in what is probably my favorite of these "obvious masked babyface" angles ever done, beating out the likes of The Midnight Rider, The Yellow Dog, and Mr. America. It's always awesome, though. It's just that Jimmy Valiant was even more awesome than everyone else at it.
This probably isn't what one would call a "good match" these days, but the crowd is hot and Boogie is always fun to watch if you're a guy like me, which you may or may not be, I have no idea. Kabuki was often a better concept than a wrestler, but at the same time, as much as I do enjoy Jimmy Valiant, because he rules, like, Kabuki certainly had better matches over the years, and Handsome Jimmy is largely to blame, because for as much energy as he brings, he was always quite limited. He was old school -- it wasn't about what you did, it was about how they reacted to it, and he could get a reaction doing barely anything at all. Anyway, Charlie Brown From Outta Town wins the belt, which he'd have to vacate not long after when he was revealed to be Jimmy Valiant for sure.
Dusty Rhodes vs Tully Blanchard (NWA Starrcade 1986)
Start time here is around 2:05:00 in on what was a four-hour show. This is a First Blood match, and Tully's got JJ Dillon with him, who tries to put some headgear on Blanchard before the match, then when that is disallowed very loudly by the always scene-chewing Earl Hebner, he tries to grease his face up to make it tougher to cut, particularly from Dusty's bionic elbow, the big weapon. Hebner aggressively wipes that off with a towel, incensing Blanchard and Dillon, who sticks his finger up in Dusty's face and gets elbowed for his troubles, which leads to Dillon rolling around and obviously blading, setting the tone that one shot with the point of Dusty's elbow is a blood-drawing danger. The elbow usually didn't draw blood and he did it in every match, so, like, OK.
First blood matches weren't then what they are now, or, well, what they were recently. When Dusty drives in a headbutt, you think, oh, yeah, that could do it, but then Dusty checks himself, because, oh, yeah, that could have cut the Dream, too. In order to make the comparatively elusive Blanchard a more stationary target, Rhodes works the leg. If Tully's on the mat, Rhodes could drop an elbow or a knee, and that could be it. With Tully a moving target, that's a lot harder. Blanchard throws a wild left hand haymaker that misses. This is unusual and logical, all of it. And just in case you forget, the great and underrated Bob Caudle keeps reminding you that any damn thing or another "could draw blood."
Hebner gets bumped, and Dusty winds up with Dillon's shoe, but he doesn't need that. He drives the elbow into Tully's skull, works him over with right hands from a mounted position, and busts him open. But Hebner is out of it, and Dillon does his job, cleaning up Tully's cut quickly with a towel and vaseline, handing off a roll of quarters, which Blanchard uses to bust Dusty open. Hebner comes to, sees Dusty, and we've got a new champion. Dusty can't handle it. He can't even deal with this.
Lord Steven Regal vs Arn Anderson (WCW SuperBrawl IV)
Let's skip almost a decade ahead to 1994. Regal and Anderson are two of the guys who spring to mind immediately as noted TV champions, so let's just throw in this match between the two of them. Also, I've been meaning to re-watch this one, because I watched it maybe a year ago or so, and I didn't love it, but it was good, and I thought then, "I should watch this again sometime."
This one starts about 1:10:0 in. Get off your asses, WWE Network folks, and fill in these giant gaps where you don't have marked match starts. This match has a special 30-minute time limit, while the usual limit for TV title matches at this point was 15 minutes, which is a clear indicator that these two are, you know, probably going about 30 minutes. (Spoiler: They do!)
I think this is a match you have to either love the style, or be in the right mood for it. I dig the style, and I'm in the mood for this, so this is really working for me in the first half, at least. Anderson and Regal are just in there having a by god professional wrestling match, which they're both great at, and they're great at it in their own distinct ways, but both are genuine greats, and they know how to mesh their contrasting styles together. I've said this about Regal before, but I want to also say that I'm glad you younger folk got high on Regal and his style, because back when on the interweb, it was sort of 50-50 on Slick Willy, and people were constantly worried that he was going to ruin some opponent's style. Instead, he just always had good matches. Regal is one of the finest professional wrestlers of my or any "era." And he's still damn good, too, whenever he jumps back in the ring. He's also the best wrestling commentator to come along in about 30 years.
I also want to note that for whatever reason, this is an exceptionally sweaty matchup. Maybe the building was hot. Maybe it was just all that rubbin' and wrestlin' they were doing in there. Close quarters and all that. They're basically right on top of one another the whole match, grinding away. This is getting really erotic.
Anyway, in all honesty, this match is longer than it needs to be, particularly within the context of the show and not just taken as a solo watch, which is what we're doing here, but still. I do think it works better this way, but within the show, it's not quite as good. It's good, just not 30 minutes good.
Prince Iaukea vs Rey Mysterio Jr (WCW Uncensored 1997)
By 1997, the TV title had taken some steps back, and a youngster name of Prince Iaukea had scored an upset of Lord Steven Regal in February 1997 to win the belt. He was just some ham-and-egger before then. And actually, he wasn't even that young, as he was 32 when he won the title, which is like putting the TV title on me right now, kinda. There's no future in me. Of course, Iaukea was just a two-year pro, too. Tenay claims he's 26 here, but that's nonsense, unless he graduated high school when he was 12. In the words of Gorilla Monsoon, "Highly. Unlikely." Now that you know the REAL DIRT on this "Prince Iaukea," let's talk about this wrestling.
Iaukea's reign never got over and it wound up not doing much for him. Iaukea was a decent wrestler, but his big upset just didn't take off like often can happen in those cases. It was closer to Barry Horowitz beating Skip than The Kid beating Razor Ramon. Iaukea did get to tour Japan later in the year, though.
And they did try to legitimize the win as more than just a fluke, at least kind of, anyway. Iaukea retained the title at SuperBrawl VII with a win over Rey Mysterio Jr, but that was due to Regal's interference, so here they have a return match.
I do have a strangely fond memory of this two month experiment, though. I remember thinking at the time (I was just about 15, or was I just about nine?!?!) that he definitely had legitimate potential, and he wasn't out there stinking out the joint or anything with guys like Rey and Regal. Looking back on it, like, nah, man. He was outclassed by Regal and Rey and they were going insane trying to carry him. I'm not trying to dump on Iaukea by saying that, either. Regal and Rey were two of the best wrestlers on the planet in 1997, and Iaukea was still really green. He retains the belt here. It's an OK match, but that's about all it is.
Fit Finlay vs Booker T (WCW Great American Bash 1998)
The TV title would experience something of a renaissance after Iaukea lost the belt to Ultimo Dragon, who traded it with Regal in '97, before brief reigns for Alex Wright, Disco Inferno, Perry Saturn, Disco again, and then the real money: Booker T taking over the title. Booker would hold the title six times total between 1997 and 1999, notably feuding with Rick Martel (who won the belt once before his outstanding and surprising comeback was sadly cut short), Saturn, Fit Finlay, and most notably, Chris Benoit.
Booker T and Benoit went back and forth with the title on house shows, something that had become very rare by 1998, on April 30, May 1, May 2, and May 3, before Finlay beat Booker for the belt on the May 4 edition of Nitro. Booker and Benoit then engaged in an epic best of seven series to determine a number one contender, which concluded in the opening match of this pay-per-view, and set Finlay up to face a potentially exhausted Booker later in the night.
Now, the reality, at least in my view, is that while Booker's rise to singles stardom in WCW was definitely fun, and was super cool at the time, because a MFer throwing an axe kick was about all I needed, Booker was carried there by Benoit, who made him look a good deal better than he really was. There was still a rawness to Booker's work, and while he was clearly gifted and had the great charisma, he wasn't really "there" yet. Benoit helped hide some of that, and Finlay does that here, too, as Fit puts on a clinic while Booker ... does not. Reality is, Booker was always overrated as a worker, but he had star quality, and he wasn't 152 years old, so he was more than worth rooting for in 1997-2001 WCW.
As for this match, Finlay makes it pretty damn good until the finishing sequence, where Booker shakes off all the work done on his leg not only by Finlay, but by Benoit, and not only tonight, but in the weeks leading up to tonight, and just springs into fully-formed, full strength action. The finish is meant to be Booker reversing Finlay's tombstone, but they blow that horribly, and Finlay pulls an audible, shouldering himself on the ringpost to set up Booker executing a piledriver that he drops into a kneeling rather than seated position, which is its own mess, but since nobody got broke neck'd out of it, the least of the mess that is made in the final minute or so.
LET'S DO ANOTHER POLL FOR NEXT WEEK