What makes a bad world title challenger for a major pay-per-view show in pro wrestling? This is still a fairly modern concept, as the vast majority of pay-per-view world title matches make some kind of sense. Usually, you've got the champ, a top challenger who has been built into that spot, and even if it's clear as day that the challenger isn't going to win, they're also a top guy, and could in theory hold that title sometime in the foreseeable future, if not right this second.
There are a lot of possibilities for this idea, and all of them have rarely come up. Occasionally, you just have a flat-out bad challenger who isn't over, isn't a main event guy, isn't even going to give you a good match, and isn't credible. Other times, some nerdlinger gets the shot as a favor. Once in a while, someone just needs an opponent, and it's not a good time to beat someone else, who might have some value in the short and/or long term. Still other times, you insult a fellow's dead father and make him ride his dad's casket through the cemetery. That's always a possibility.
Before we get to the chosen five for this week's theme, let me note a few other matches I chose to exclude:
- Diesel vs King Mabel, SummerSlam '95: Mabel was at least the reigning King of the Ring. This was certainly a bad idea, but they did, like, build up to it and everything. It was just stupid and sucked. It could have been here, but I felt the others were better examples, and also provided more variety than just another crappy match between guys who had no chance of having a good match with each other.
- The Undertaker vs Faarooq, King of the Ring '97: Undertaker needed an opponent, and everyone else was either on the shelf or busy. Faarooq stepped in for his one and only world title shot on a major WWF show. This is similar to the match I chose to use instead for '97 WWF, which was a pivotal year for the company but featured a ton of weird little hiccups like this that seem strange in hindsight.
- Randy Orton vs The Big Show, Survivor Series 2013: Remember how not very long ago this was? Remember how it sucked? I didn't include this because it's too recent, but I wanted to mention it here, because it belongs, even considering they'd spent months building to this, because by the time they actually did the match, the audience had totally lost all interest in Big Show getting any revenge on The Authority in favor of Daniel Bryan's plight.
There are others, but I'm just throwing those in for kicks and giggles. Also, I wanted to note that I didn't include anything from the dying years of WCW (1999-01), in part because nothing really fits the theme. As awful as they were, the world title did revolve around solidly-built challengers, or at least solidly-built given the handicaps of WCW during those years. Yeah, there was the David Arquette ordeal, but that's more novelty nonsense than anything to do with wrestling, and I don't even consider that important enough to matter in this conversation, or any conversation, really. But the last few years of WCW, discounting that crap, saw PPV world title challenges by Ric Flair, DDP, Sting, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage, Goldberg, Chris Benoit, Jeff Jarrett, Scott Hall, Booker T, Scott Steiner, Sid, and in a four-way at the very tail end, Road Warrior Animal, admittedly a horrible challenger. WCW was a disaster, and most of those matches sucked, and almost all the shows sucked, but they did generally keep their horrendously-booked world title revolving around their top guys.
Really, the worst of the last few years of WCW world title matches on PPV, at least in terms of the challenger being interesting, might have been Sting vs Scott Hall at Uncensored '98, a match that had to happen because Hall had won World War 3 in 1997. That or Goldberg vs Curt Hennig at Bash at the Beach '98, but that had the novelty of being Goldberg's first title defense, six days after he beat Hulk Hogan on Nitro.
I also included nothing from ECW for a few reasons. (1) I didn't feel like watching more ECW this week, (2) the ECW world title was debatable as a world title, even by PWI standards, and (3) ECW's belt was just different. Sure, Bubba Ray Dudley wasn't going to beat Taz, and Spike Dudley wasn't going to beat Mike Awesome, and Tajiri wasn't going to beat Taz, and on and on, but that was ECW. It was less about a title than about the show as a whole.
ON TO THE MATCHES!
Ron Simmons vs The Barbarian (WCW Halloween Havoc 1992)
Simmons had won the title in early August by beating Big Van Vader when Sting came up injured thanks to Jake Roberts, leading to Simmons winning a raffle to get a shot. He won the title in one of the great WCW moments in Baltimore. However, that great WCW moment was not something that turned into anything special, as WCW had nobody lined up for Simmons to defend his title against, meaning that they had on their hands an "out of left field" sort of brand new world heavyweight champion, and no strong heels to challenge him other than Vader, who unlike Sting was actually injured, necessitating the title switch in the first place.
Cactus Jack sort of got the call as Simmons' first challenger, and he was up to the task, doing what he could. He's also in Barbarian's corner here. Barbarian was a long-established mid-card talent with no main event ability. He was fun in tag teams, and he had a nice look and could move, but he couldn't really talk, and as a singles wrestler, there wasn't much to him. Still, the main issue with Barbarian is that for many, many years, he was just another bulky middle of the pack bad guy in the WWF, and throwing him into a WCW world title match at a major show in '92 did nobody any favors in terms of perception.
This was also not the main event of this show, as that was the Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal showdown between Sting and Jake Roberts, which was infamously boned when they failed to gimmick the wheel, leading to a coal miner's glove match in 1992, on a national stage, or at least in theory a national stage. In all reality, Simmons' WCW title reign was horrible.
This is a really lousy match, as Simmons was nowhere near good enough to carry this thing, and Barbarian was nowhere near good enough to carry this thing, so you wind up with two guys who badly need help to have a good match. This is no Kane-Test or Goldberg-Steiner miracle. They just go out there and stink as you would expect. It's sort of like a 1992 WCW version of a Big E-Rusev match, but longer, and without all the crazy hoss bumping.
Hulk Hogan vs The Butcher (WCW Starrcade 1994)
Hulk Hogan came to WCW in the summer of 1994, and I want to phrase this right so you don't think I'm being a 1999 internet nerd. Hulk Hogan artistically ruined WCW not only with his own tired act - and he was not the conquering hero that they wanted you to believe, and the crowd tried to let them know it - but by bringing in a bunch of his worn out pals to further take a dump on the rate of good matches that WCW could pump out to make their TV shows watchable. Along with Hogan came the likes of Jim Duggan, who was immediately put over Steve Austin; Earthquake, who was renamed Avalanche and later The Shark; Honky Tonk Man, who feuded with Johnny B. Badd before getting himself fired; and of course, his pal Brutus Beefcake, who came in as Brother Bruti, but then turned bad guy as The Butcher, and then became The Man with No Name, Zodiac, The Booty Man, The Disciple, and so on.
It wasn't bad enough that Hogan had forced Beefcake into the main event as his pal at SummerSlam '89, or that he'd tried again in '93 to make Beefcake a main event star as his partner for WrestleMania IX. Now, he was going another route, forcing us to not just watch him and Brutus Beefcake pal around together to fight Zeus or IRS, but to endure a feud between the two of them. By the end of '94, Hogan's influence had turned WCW into a cheap imitation of the WWF, more than it ever had been before.
To become what they would two years later, though, Hogan was necessary. It's not that I think WCW was wrong to hire Hulk Hogan. His star power brought in Randy Savage, and all that gave WCW the building blocks to turn the tide with the nWo angle, because they'd shown they at least had and would spend the money to bring in guys like Nash and Hall, who hadn't exactly had the best experiences there in the past. Hogan was a good hire all in all, but that doesn't mean that he didn't negatively impact their product from a creative standpoint for quite a long time. He did. And this is one of the most obvious disasters, as he and Butcher claw and back rake and allegedly fight all over. It's the sort of easy, ego-pumping stuff Hogan would have done all the time if he could have gotten away of it.
The match is crap, though arguably better than Simmons-Barbarian, and then the Dungeon of Doom started up as a result of this, and it was all just bad for everyone.
Bret Hart vs The Patriot (WWE Ground Zero: In Your House)
With Bret Hart going heel in the States, and Steve Austin too important to put back with Bret so quickly, and Undertaker and Shawn Michaels focused on one another after SummerSlam, and Vader's career basically shot in the face, and Ken Shamrock too new to sacrifice, the WWF needed an opponent for Bret to waste some time as he was once again the WWF champion, for what turned out to be the fifth and final time. Enter The Patriot, a former "star" in Global and WCW, a competent, meat and potatoes worker, and one who happened to have the All-American gimmick.
Now, I wanted to include this one simply because it's not a bad match by any means. Taken as just the match, it's very good - ignoring that Patriot was a crap challenger who had no hope of winning the title, meaning the match was meaningless calendar filler for Bret's ill-fated fifth and final WWF title reign. Not all "lousy world title challengers" are lousy because they have bad matches in their shot. Patriot was a lousy world title challenger because the match was essentially an afterthought on a card headlined by the first-ever major match between Shawn Michaels, who had indeed stolen Hart's heat, and The Undertaker, who lost the title at SummerSlam to Bret via Shawn's misdirected chair shot. Two months after this, Survivor Series came to Montreal, and American wrestling forever changed yet again, as it felt like it had been doing rapidly and repeatedly since the summer of 1996.
Patriot isn't in Hart's league, but Bret was still good enough to make this better than it probably needed to be, given the audience's understandable apathy toward the match. Bret and Patriot pick up a nice pace as they go on, working a match that is solid, sound, and all other things that are meant to describe "3.5 points out of 5 points," or "7 out of 10," or "a nice, strong B."
The Big Show vs The Big Boss Man (WWE Armageddon 1999)
Things that led to this match:
- Boss Man had a guy pretend to be a police officer and tell Big Show that his father had died of cancer. This was revealed on GTV. This is all very 1999.
- Boss Man got hold of a watch that Big Show's grandfather had passed down to his father, and then smashed it with a hammer.
- Big Show tried to kill Boss Man and Prince Albert by throwing a dumpster onto a car. He did not care.
- Boss Man's poem when Big Show's dad did die: "With the deepest regrets / And tears that are soaked / I'm sorry to hear / Your dad finally croaked / He lived a full life, on his own tearms / Soon he'll be buried, and eaten by worms / But if I could have a son as stupid as you / I'da wished for cancer, so I could die, too"
- Boss Man dragged Big Show's father's casket behind an old Hazzard County-style police cruiser, with Big Show running after it and eventually body surfing on the casket as it was pulled away on a chain.
- Big Show won the WWF title at Survivor Series, replacing Steve Austin in the main event against Triple H and The Rock.
- Boss Man upset The Rock with the help of Prince Albert to become No. 1 contender.
- Boss Man and Prince Albert gassed Big Show. Like, they locked him in a room and gassed him.
- Boss Man "dug up" a matter of public record and confronted Big Show's mom at her home. The matter? Big Show's dad was not his dad. This gave us the eternally great line, "Hey, Paul Wight! Yer a nasty bastard, and yer mama said so!"
Big Show squashed him in just over three minutes once time came, also chokeslamming Albert through the Spanish announce table. The bad guy got what's for in the end, as it should be. But Boss Man was a garbage world title challenger and nobody cared about this story. I mean, I find it tastelessly funny now, but 15 years have gone by and I've stopped hating it for the week-to-week agony that it was in real time.
Brock Lesnar vs Hardcore Holly (WWE Royal Rumble 2004)
I actually really dug this angle, but, I mean, it is what it is. Brock had broken Holly's neck, and then Holly came back, as he put it, not to wrestle, not to fight, but to end Brock's "fucking career." As a longtime organizational soldier, all-around solid wrestler, and credible tough guy, Holly wasn't the worst opponent. Hell, I'd rather watch Lesnar-Holly than most matches. However, he was never a top title challenger. The good news is that this match wasn't even really about the title - Holly wasn't talking about winning the belt, he was coming to break Lesnar's neck as payback.
Still, this is a WWE title match on a pay-per-view, and Holly is one of the least credible challengers ever seen on WWE pay-per-view. The match also doesn't really match its build-up. Holly has moments where he is clearly going for violence over victory, but a lot of this is spent with Lesnar wringing a gutwrench hold on Holly, and Holly's hope to break Lesnar's neck seems mostly centered on a full nelson, which seems unlikely to break a neck, particularly one as big as Lesnar's. I like this match alright, and I thought Lesnar did a great job selling his desire to have as little to do with Bob Holly as possible, but it's a very weak world title match for a pay-per-view, even counting its strong points.
Next week has no theme! I'm winging it by the seat of my ear!