Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mid-‘90s wrestling production notes

By Rick Morris

It’s rare for us to post anything like this (largely because we rarely use production notes with this much detail!), but for the benefit of any big pro wrestling fans, we’re putting up our production notes for Mini-Episode #40 (which can be seen here), our examination of pro wrestling from 1992-96. FDH Lounge Dignitary Kyle Ross, a longtime pro wrestling talk show host, joined us for a discussion of the weird period between wrestling’s two big national boom periods. Our strangest discovery was finding out the extent to which the two big national companies seemed to mirror each other, year by year, as they each struggled to return to their former glory.

WCW pre-‘92

^ attendance plummet started in ’88 – a year after WM3 put to rest any talk of real competition and in the aftermath of the UWF flop acquisition and defections of the Crockett boom cornerstones (Tully/Arn, Rock’n’Rolls, Garvins)

^ did not turn around with multiple regime changes

WWF pre-‘92

^ attendance drop first came in ’90 after Warrior’s title win – stayed steady and then plummeted again in ‘92

WCW ‘92

^ Watts era was a throwback to Mid-South approach of the ‘80s – this year was seen as a nirvana of in-ring activity – many great matches, including 6-man tags with Dangerous Alliance members – notably, most of the best wrestling came below the main event level with Luger-Sting-Vader-Simmons on top (who needed to work with strong workers to have great matches), but the great-match pool was deep – rupture of Dangerous Alliance in late ’92 left promotion without a franchise heel group going forward

WWF ‘92

^ link to the ‘80s was very pronounced in the Royal Rumble, the most star-studded match ever – with Flair-Savage-Hart on top, main events were better than WCW/NWA for the first time since the regional promotions were extinguished – decent workrate in semi-mains also with Bulldog/Michaels/pre-WWF Title Hart leading the charge

WCW ‘93

^ despite remarkable stability of keeping Vader on top, a year of throwing crap at the wall – put Blondes together & broke them up when they were hot – force-fed reunion of Horsemen with Roma – goofy Cactus injury angle – Watts depushed after father was fired, but kept face – two world titles kept around even after NWA designation revoked – WWF castoffs Nasty Boys brought in & immediately put on top – new crop of young talent with no real direction: Cole Twins, Harlem Heat, Shockmaster, Charlie Norris, Big Sky, Equalizer – Bulldog came in & stayed near the top of the card the whole year & left – Hawk came back as Road Warrior reunion was teased

WWF ‘93

^ throwing crap at the wall – from Hart on top to Hogan (via Yoko) to Yoko – previous Prime Time Wrestling is shoved aside for Raw, which becomes flagship show for the promotion before long Hogan brought back w/fanfare & left suddenly – Luger comes in as huge heel & gets desperation turn/push to the moon – Ramon & Doink turned face abruptly, Crush less abruptly went heel – Michaels left abruptly w/I-C belt & Quebecers came in suddenly to win tag belts – Ross came into announcing team early in the year & Lawler left late in year w/legal situation – Jimmy Hart, Heenan, Sherri, Hennig & Dibiase (injury) were all gone after being key players for years

WCW ‘94

^ vastly new direction: with promotional demise looming, Hogan is signed in desperation & given keys to the kingdom – direction away from previous Southern identification accelerates as other ‘80s WWF types came in (Savage/Honky/Duggan/Beefcake/Jimmy Hart/Heenan/Sherri) and existing talents being developed are depushed (Rhodes, Austin, Pillman, Cactus) – one nod to the old days with Dusty/Dustin War Games match & Anderson on the other side

WWF ‘94

^ new direction embraced when Hogan signed with WCW: the New Generation campaign built around Bret/Shawn/Diesel/Razor/Tatanka/Luger – one nod to the old days with Backlund in the main event again

WCW ‘95

^ Big Man Syndrome reigned with Hogan/Vader & Hogan/Giant as two most pronounced main event feuds – start of Nitro refocused both promotions on Monday night primacy – trying to get a leg up on WWF late in the year, Hogan teased a heel turn & belt was taken off of him for WWIII battle royal – Savage/Flair/Sting/Luger brought interest to semi-main events

WWF ‘95

^ Big Man Syndrome reigned with Diesel on top most of the year & battles w/Sid & Mabel – Bret/Shawn/Lawler/Bulldog brought interest to semi-main events – to deal with WCW’s challenge with Nitro, belt was returned to Hart as means of setting up Michaels at next ‘Mania

WCW ‘96

^ summertime shakeup with NWO formation – return of ‘80s WWF boom stars Piper & Dibiase (managing) to accelerate trend of using Hogan-era stars as part of present landscape – boom period and direction of the company for the next few years was underway

WWF ‘96

^ summertime shakeup with Warrior and then Sid put near the top of the cards (also mirroring WCW turning to the past) – by dipping toes in the water of heel vs. heel matches on PPV (Austin/Helmsley, Bulldog & Owen/Gunns) and introducing elements like the Pillman gun angle, company was starting to put down roots for the coming “shades of gray” Attitude Era

There was essentially a slow-motion trade between the companies between 1993 and 1996. It’s fascinating how so many wrestlers who struggled to stay or get over and lift up their own promotion in 1993 were in a much better place in the other promotion in 1996. Here’s the top dozen wrestlers (as far as how they were positioned and used) in no particular order for each company in 1993; ones that were in the other company in 1996 are in bold:

WCW: Sting, Ric Flair, Big Van Vader, Davey Boy Smith, Rick Rude, Dustin Rhodes, Cactus Jack, Barry Windham, Sid Vicious, Steve Austin, Brian Pillman, Ricky Steamboat (8 of 12 were in the WWF in 1996)

WWF: Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Lex Luger, Undertaker, Rick Steiner, Scott Steiner, Jerry Lawler, Ted Dibiase, Irwin R. Schyster (7 of 12 were in WCW in 1996)

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