Old sheets: Wrestling Observer this week twenty years ago

I don't know whether this will become a regular Fanpost - I'd like it to, but it takes an age to put together like this - so feedback and suggestions for future weeks are welcome. What this would be is taking a look at what was featured in Wrestling Observer Newsletter, wrestling's longest lasting and most famous and (arguably) trusted insider industry publication, this week in a past year. For this introduction I've chosen a round number year and by chance landed on a week featuring the official launch of a guest appearance that changed the course of graps history, not to mention a critical moment in the Monday Night Wars, an infamous early match for a big name on the way up and news of the impending farewell of a genuine legendary figure:

WWE held a press conference in Manhattan on the 5th to announce that Mike Tyson would be an "enforcer" in the Austin-Michaels Wrestlemania main event. It attracted a lot of press attention, although a lot of it was due to this being Iron Mike's first public appearance after a story broke two days earlier about Tyson splitting from Don King over money troubles, leaving Tyson with a $7 million income tax bill, and subsequently attacking him in public outside a hotel. King, who was not at the press call, was said to have been confronted by Tyson after he got word that WWE had paid King $300,000 for image rights Needless to say, the journalists who attended expecting a statement on Tyson's relationship with King and his management team barely mentioned the WWF angle in their reports - ESPN cut their live coverage as soon as they realized it would only be covering wrestling - unless it was to demonstrate how far he had fallen in the quest for money. (As Dave points out, describing a convicted rapist and alleged wife beater who bit an opponent's ear as sinking to a new low by working with WWE is a little much) It was though felt that the association had started getting WWF and Wrestlemania's names out there. His reported purse was $3.5 million, though he claimed it was higher and some sources said it was actually lower. Although an actual Austin-Tyson match was never seriously on the cards TCI Cable, the US' largest conglomerate carrier, had threatened not to carry the show if Tyson's role would adversely affect his boxing reinstatement, agreeing only after the confirmation, and the Nevada State Athletic Commission's refusal to play along in kayfabe and come down hard on Tyson being involved had already thrown storyline plans for a loop. As it was Tyson would be confined to the outside so he didn't get in the way of the match. He was expected to be involved in more angles on live Raws - not taped as WWF would have to release the tapes to the media for attention and that would expose their pre-tape strategy - and although nothing had been confirmed he was expected to continue in an open-ended story allowing at least one more PPV appearance, most likely at King Of The Ring as it came right before his boxing license reinstatement hearing. Tyson's people weren't allowing WWF to do anything to jeopardize the moneymaking "baddest man on the planet" image, which made for an impasse as WWF didn't want to do likewise for Austin's similar image. In response WCW, who had talked to Tyson at some point and been put off by the financial demands, had approached Oscar de la Hoya and Evander Holyfield to be a guest referee and got turned down by both.

Well, we all know how this ended up. I haven't read Tyson's books so while I know he lays fully into King, I don't know how close to the truth all the money reports were, but it was reported at the time that he had about $150,000 in total assets (even optimistic calculations put it at no more than $4 million) and the King issued weren't improved when Tyson was informed by his WWF go-between Shane McMahon that he could get his own action figure through the company and realized he'd have to go through King to make it happen. Tyson would sue King for $100m in March, claiming King fraudulently siphoned off millions from his boxing winnings, reaching a $14 million out of court settlement in 2004 - that may explain why he disappeared from the fallout stories, as well as having his license reinstated in October of that year. Meltzer has confirmed the $3.5m figure as recently as last year. Interestingly Bruce Prichard has claimed on his Something To Wrestle With podcast that there were plans for Tyson to guest referee a Hogan vs Savage match on Friday Night's Main Event eight years earlier but when Buster Douglas took his title he was used in the role instead.

As if to offset the cost of Tyson the Wrestlemania price has been increased five dollars to $34.95. Dave does the math and decides that while they can turn a profit on less, they really need 567,000 buys (a 2.0 buyrate) to make it all worthwhile, with the assumption that the match by itself would have made at least a 1.2 buyrate. He does caution, admitting that his is a lesser name, that Dennis Rodman wrestling in WCW the previous year drew a lesser buyrate than many of the PPVs around it even if it meant Uncensored beating the following week's Wrestlemania for buys.

730,000 buys in the end, compared to 237k the for WMXII.

Fleet Center had already sold out its 15,516 ticket allocation, 14,758 paid, already the largest gate for US pro wrestling in four years. A match between Marc Mero and Butterbean was originally penciled in but postponed as it made no sense to use Butterbean when you have Tyson. WWF were however looking to book "a list of sleazy celebrities" for the show but had only confirmed Pete Rose, whose role hadn't yet been decided. Michaels was being kept out of action as much as possible to avoid aggravating his back injury, except for a match at No Way Out Of Texas the Sunday after this was published.

I guess even sleazy celebrities have their limits as only Rose appeared to receive the first of many Kane tombstones. In the end it did an attendance of 19,028 (15,681 paid), with a gate of over a million dollars. Michaels was withdrawn from that next PPV and would retire for the first time after Mania. Mero-Butterbean would happen on In Your House: D-Generation X in December. Don't go out of your way looking for it.

Coming off a record rating for a Monday Night Wars head to head the previous week, Nitro draw a 4.60 rating and 6.91 share against Raw's 3.20/4.79. WCW had expected to crack the 5.0 rating barrier so put their biggest possible match, Hogan vs Savage, on the show but the Winter Olympics counted against them, though the Westminster Dog Show Raw pre-emption was approaching the following week giving them a chance to set records. The 9.30pm to 9.45pm segment did set a total wrestling viewing audience record of 6.357m homes (8.8 rating), with the Cactus Jack/Chainsaw Charlie/New Age Outlaws dumpster incident on Raw and Scott Hall vs Jim Neidhart on Nitro. WWF did draw the largest gate in St Louis history on the 6th for a house show main evented by Austin, Jack and Charlie vs Rock & NAOs, though the main draw had been an advertised Shawn & HHH vs Taker & Austin match that didn't happen.

Nitro did indeed draw a 5.1 rating the following week, and would equal or better that figure three times before the end of the year. Of course they also fell behind Raw consistently by the end of 1998, so what data gives with one hand...

Not much of note on Raw apart from DX getting back the world title belt Austin stole, which may be why Dave spends the last part of his recap making jokes about Sable's boob job ("overall a flat show, well, maybe flat isn't the right word to use with implantmania runnin' wild") Undertaker was off TV - this is after Kane had set the casket with him inside alight at Rumble - to spend time with his ill father and heal from injuries

Dan Severn was due to debut in the coming weeks. Kenta Kobashi had been reported in the previous week's Observer as wanting to come in and work with Vader but it hadn't been discussed any further. Vader was due for eye surgery after the forthcoming PPV and would be touch and go for Mania.

This was when Kane attacked him with a wrench - Vader returned after Mania at Unforgiven PPV.

As mentioned Hogan vs Savage was the Nitro main event, but before we get there... "Bill Goldberg pinned Steven Regal with a jackhammer in 5:01. Simply put, it doesn't matter the opponent, Goldberg's matches have to be 90 seconds. He was totally exposed here and everyone in the crowd was it before their eyes. There was some heat on Regal because they thought he was kind of exposing him since Regal is a legitimate shooter as opposed to a paper shooter, but Regal was just doing a wrestling match and Goldberg only has his three spots and his quick burst of intensity and is lost doing anything else."

Well, this is a match debated time and again down the years, whether Regal was shooting or Goldberg tried to keep up with things he didn't know, and you may like to judge for yourself

Savage won via DQ after, go on, guess, an NWO run-in. Better than you might expect, apparently. Hogan beat Savage down with a chair but Macho Man still got the jump on them afterwards. Luger then challenged Savage, who jumped him for behind, only for Sting to attack Savage, followed by a net dropping from the ceiling on all three, at which the NWO attacked them and "injured" Sting. That was all followed by the Steiners beating Hall and Nash for the tag titles - Scott refused to tag out but he got knocked into Rick causing one anyway, causing Rick to deliver a top rope bulldog on Hall for the pin. (The Steiners were wearing the title belts at the Saturday Night tapings six days earlier) Chavo Guerrero Sr worked the dark match. Louie Spicolli, as Scott Hall's lackey doing color and messing with Larry Zbyszko, appeared several times over and gets praise from Dave. On the other hand, "that run down the aisle was the most movement Zbyszko has ever shown in his entire wrestling career."

Louie Spicolli died that Sunday. The Steiners, Scott already into his physical transformation and refusing to tag Rick in where he could, would break up on the 22nd at SuperBrawl and Scott joined the NWO with all that would entail for his career.

Flair was supposed to appear on Thunder in - ooh - a singles match against Eddie Guerrero but didn't turn up, though he did work the weekend house shows. He also didn't appear on Nitro as he was booked in New York as part of a toy fair, which didn't stop the company planning to shoot an angle to lead to a tag match on the show. WCW, everybody. Flair has agreed in principle to a three year contract but hadn't signed.

In more boxing crossover news, New Japan announced Muhammad Ali as special guest at Antonio Inoki's retirement match on April 4th, one of the many famous Inoki opponents set to be at ringside. It was also announced that his opponent would be decided via an elimination tournament, though most of the company's top names were declining to take part. It was expected the former world champion judoka Naoya Ogawa would win the chance.

Don Frye won the tournament, beating Ogawa in the final, and lost to Inoki in 4:09. Ali turned up before the match to literally pass a torch.

The Japanese TV roundup gives special mention to a Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama match for the Triple Crown shown on 1st February, giving it ****1/2. "Misawa picked him up inventing his new move, which is basically a tombstone piledriver but instead of dropping the man in front of you, you've got him picked up to your right side and then drop him like a tombstone for the pin."

That'll be the debut of the Emerald Flowsion, which you may also know as Samoa Joe's Island Driver and which Ishii and even (in a WWE-friendly form) Cena have broken out occasionally. As for the match, here it is

Masahiro Chono, who at this point was part of NWO Japan in NJPW, speculated that after Inoki retired the promotion would be changing to a new, probably more Americanized style, and also that NWO Japan would be changing its name. WCW was pushing for Scott Norton to get an IWGP heavyweight title run that year.

And he did, in September through to Wrestling World 1999 (Wrestle Kingdom's January 4th forerunner). NWO Japan remained as that until it disbanded in 2000.

Johnny Ace, then with All Japan, worked an apparently unimpressive tryout dark match at the WWF TV tapings. Really he was there as an agent on behalf of AJPW as the two sides were in discussions to have WWF stars work the forthcoming Tokyo Dome show. What seems to have happened is WWF found out the Tyson angle got Austin into the Japanese wrestling magazines and assumed AJPW would want their biggest names for publicity purposes, pricing them accordingly, but AJPW only wanted the few names that had longtime Japanese awareness as WWE was only shown on a small satellite station. While nothing had been ruled out, the feeling was there was a wide gap between the parties not just down to money but also them both misunderstanding the other's knowledge and culture. Giant Baba was also upset that he represented AJPW in the initial negotiations as their president but that Vince McMahon sent Bruce Prichard and Jerry Brisco on his behalf instead of meeting Baba personally, and that pair fell out with Baba's journalist interpreter.

Vader alone ended up working the Dome show. Ace - John Laurinaitis, in case you don't know - never joined the WWE roster. Oh, apart from that one PPV main event. And a match against Teddy Long.

"It is said that Onita's major goal for 1998 is to introduce the explosive bomb match to the United States and it's a real big deal to him to try and get it on the August ECW PPV show".

Just imagine that. Onita had actually met and been pictured shaking hands with Vince the previous year trying to sell him on a Foley vs Funk exploding ring match, which is even more baffling.

Jesse Ventura was looking at running for Governor of Minnesota in 1998 as a Reform Party candidate.

And look how that ended up nine months later.

"Sabu is nothing short of a medical visionary." Doctors have approved a version of Superglue that closes wounds in place of stitches or staples, a method Sabu has been using for years.

In the ongoing USWA case, a Memphis bankruptcy judge ordered Mark Selker to show more evidence or his lawsuit for fraud against Jerry Lawler would be thrown out.

Hooo boy. Having just bought it from Jerry Jarrett, Lawler sold the remnants of USWA to Selker's company XL Sports in early 1997, promising it would turn a profit and that its TV deals meant it had national appeal. It closed in November. Selker had filed a lawsuit two months earlier, and eventually Lawler and Mark Selker's go-between Larry Burton was found guilty of racketeering and awarded XL Sports more than $2.5 million dollars. The jury also determined that Burton was liable for fraud and conversion, awarding a further $235,000 in compensatory damages and $3.3 million in punitive damages. The case is why nobody really knows what's going on with the Memphis tape library. Lawler, who entirely blamed Burton despite having been first to bring him into the situation, was cleared.

Stan Lane, working as a sportscaster on an ESPN show covering offshore powerboat racing, said he had no plans to return to wrestling and wouldn't be returning to WWF as he left on bad terms and thought the current product was bad for kids and should never be aired in prime time.

Yes of course Lane came back, for a brief run in the Mid-Atlantic area around 2004.

Letter: "In the most recent issue of WWF Magazine, there is, on page 10, a reference to you and to the Observer that is, to say the least, highly critical. After reading the article, I have no idea what this is all about. I'm now quite curious. Could you please explain." Dave: "Vic Venom is the pen name for Vincent Russo, a former fourth-rate newsletter writer who wound up being hired by Titan Sports almost six years ago. In that time he has risen to the level where he actually has some creative input on angles and even scripting interviews for wrestlers as to what goes on within the story lines at Titan Sports. He even has his own television commercial where he does essentially WWF's version of the Mark Madden gimmick as a house shill pretending to be a gutsy reporter... The story in question was Russo trying to defend his boss' behavior regarding the Survivor Series finish. The article wouldn't appear to make much of any sense to the readership of the two WWF magazines (the same story was printed in both magazines). The story itself in question was written so poorly I'd rank it right on the same level as the newsletter articles I wrote when I was 13 years old. Actually worse, because I can still make sense out of what I wrote in those days and I didn't have to use fake swear words back then to get attention. Since it isn't really comprehensible, you'd have to try and read between the lines and hope you get what he was trying to get across"

Finally, one Hunter Johnston is in the long list of those given thanks for providing show results. Wonder if that's the same one who became Delirious, who'd have been 17 at the time.

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