Ask 411 Wrestling 03.13.13: Sting, Randy Savage, HHH, and more!
Posted by Ryan Byers on 03.13.2013
Would the WWF have survived if Hulk Hogan had died in 1986? Who is the Rock's greatest rival? Who has the greatest mind ever for the business? All this and more covered this week in Ask 411 Wrestling!
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am Ryan Byers, and I am still hosting this thing while Mathew Sforcina's 32" python recovers from his recent injury. For those of you who are curious, the latest word that I have received is that he's doing well on his comeback and will probably be able to type again around Easter, which is pretty impressive given the extent to which he was hurt.
Keep up the pace, Mat. In order to pay tribute to Sforcina, and in order to pay tribute for the fact that I have virtually no free time this week, I'm going to rip off one of his most popular gimmicks for the first time and do a TOTAL OPINION WEEK~!
Perhaps the most interesting string of comments last week had nothing to do with the answer to any question I'd given but instead focused on readers' perceived quality of the column as a whole, with some folks contending that the questions in Ask 411 had gotten a little too boring and a little too basic for their liking, with others noting a distaste for answers that relied on "rumors." I figured I'd go ahead and repost my response to those criticisms:
Regarding easily answered questions, I agree to an extent, but part of it is a problem of where you draw the line. I wouldn't answer a question about who John Cena beat for his first WWE Title, but I get enough questions about things that happened in the 1990s that I consider to be incredibly basic (because I was watching at the time) which lead me to believe that there are a fair number of readers who AREN'T familiar with what was going on there, so I do answer those questions, even if it's stuff that I or a certain segment of the readership might consider basic.
And, yes, google is a thing, but I suspect most people know that and have some reason for asking a question regardless of how google-able it may be.
Regarding the "hearsay," there's another question of where you draw the line. Are we only supposed to answer questions with accounts that came from people who were directly involved in the incidents? Or can we include accounts from journalists who follow the industry, i.e. the Dave Meltzers and Wade Kellers of the world? If you want to exclude the latter, you're cutting off may sources of information which are credible. That's what I'm typically relying on here, not "rumors."
One of the aforementioned commenters, Salvatore, pointed to an example of a question he asked that he felt would be more interesting than the normal fare, particularly how Obamacare would impact professional wrestling. Commenter Bobsky gave an answer that is pretty much exactly in line with what I would say, so I figured I'd publish it here:
I'm an independent contractor and in my opinion WWE might be on shaky ground and could be seen as using this classification as an end run around providing benefits such as those mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
I work in financial services and have an independent contractor agreement with my broker-dealer precisely because of the nature of the industry. See, I can use my broker-dealers products or any other company as I deem fit. So I don't really work for my firm. They are just the firm through whom I submit business (for which they take a cut), but I'm free to work for any company. So it might say ABC company on my business card, but I also am free to work for DEF, GHI, or JKL companies as I see fit. That being said, my firm still provides health insurance even though the law previously did not require them to do so.
In my mind it's the freedom I have to do business with every securities dealer and insurance company that makes me an "independent" contractor, no different than an actor who is free to make movies for different studios or a heating and air guy who does work for several different companies on a per job basis. Where the ACA comes into play, in my opinion, is the hours spent working for any individual company. Hypothetically, let's say a WWE superstar spends 6 hours at the arena for each show, 4 shows a week, throw in travel and WWE booked appearances and you're likely over the 30 hour week threshold set forth in the ACA.
Then toss in the fact that WWE's services contract includes exclusivity, which means John Cena can't work for TNA or New Japan on his days off. In fact, there's very little that is "independent" about a WWE superstar. If companies in other industries attempt to reclassify their employees as independent contractors as an end run around providing health insurance, you could see the IRS redefine the term or if a WWE superstar follows in Raven's footsteps and sues citing the Affordable Care Act, a judge could see the law very differently.
And yes, Salvatore, I'm counting that as your answer.
Your Turn, Smart Guy
Last week's question was . . .
I am a "second generation" wrestler who has been part of the industry for almost ten years. I have held a championship in one of the biggest wrestling promotions in the world and also participated in a Money in the Bank ladder match despite the fact that I had a steel rod surgically implanted into my back long before becoming a wrestler. Who am I?
Reader Devon Laney got it right, giving the answer of Hornswoggle.
Horny debuted in 2004 and has been portrayed as the son of Fit Finlay in storylines, after previously being portrayed as the son of Vince McMahon. While working with Finlay, he took a memorable fall in MITB at the hands of Ken Kennedy, despite the fact that he has a steel rod in his back from a surgery related to his dwarfism several years ago.
Let's go for another question!
We are a professional wrestling tag team, though, from our name, you would think we had a different job within the industry. We were trained by a former world heavyweight champion, and we have worked in a variety of different promotions, including one that the author of this column watches and one that he does not. Our finisher is a variation on the moonsault, and one of our most noteworthy feuds was with a bunch of drug addicts. Who are we?
If you think you can solve this mystery, drop a guess down in the Disqus-powered comment section.
Questions, Questions, Who's Got the Questions? / My Damn Opinion
Rick has two opinion questions on two entirely unrelated subjects:
First, who in your opinion is the greatest wrestling mind of all time? Vince McMahon, Vince Russo, Bischoff, Heyman, Jim Cornette, Jake Roberts, Scott Hall, Verne Gagne or someone else?
I'm not sure how exactly Jake Roberts and Scott Hall get in there. Yes, Roberts is credited with having a great mind for what to do in the wrestling ring, but everybody else on the list has some aptitude for booking and/or promoting wrestling, which Roberts and Hall have never really demonstrated. Then again, neither has Vince Russo, but that's another story for another time.
With the exception of Russo, everybody who you've named has their own strengths and weaknesses. (Russo just has weaknesses.) Though he's had his weaknesses from time-to-time in terms of booking, Vince McMahon is a genius when it comes to marketing and moneitizing professional wrestling. Jim Cornette is the master of putting together a coherent storyline with no logical holes, though he doesn't work well in a business environment. Eric Bischoff had a couple year run where he promoted pro wrestling in such a way that it captured the imagination of fans like no other, but he's never been able to replicate that magic. Gagne ran a profitable company for decades, but he ultimately failed to change with the times and died out. Heyman is great at making wrestlers into stars almost regardless of their weaknesses and integrating pop culture into wrestling, but he's a lousy businessperson.
Really, among McMahon, Heyman, Cornette, and Gagne, I think that you could make a case for any of them. I exclude Bischoff from the list just because he's got almost thirty years in the industry, but, as noted above, he's only had strong success for about two of them.
Another name that you have to throw into the ring for consideration is "Cowboy" Bill Watts, who ran a successful territory for quite some time and also booked one of the most critically acclaimed weekly wrestling TV shows in history . . . though his drawback is his almost universally panned run as the head of WCW.
A couple of modern names that I don't think get nearly the credit they deserve for being great wrestling minds are Gedo and Jado, who have been booking New Japan Pro Wrestling for the last several years, in addition to being pretty damn good wrestlers. Yes, they've been in charge of the company during some of its bleakest financial times, but they've put together a very solid, compelling product while business was in the doldrums, and they did it consistently enough that they managed to rebuild a damaged fanbase. Particularly within the last two to three years, they've turned the promotion around into something that, though it's not been restored to its former glory, is making money once again and is still on the upswing.
However, I think that I'm going to have to give my absolute, number one first place finish to Giant Baba. He knew how to get himself over to the point that he was one of the most beloved performers in the history of puroresu. He ran his own very successful promotion for close to twenty-five years, and during that time it was consistently in the top two or three companies in the word in terms of both business and critical acclaim. Plus, you'll be hard pressed to find a single person who worked for him that has a negative thing to say about either the man personally or his promotional style, which in and of itself take some smarts within the dog-eat-dog world of professional wrestling.
Secondly, do you believe that women's wrestling adds any viewership or merchandising possibilities to the product?
As it currently exists and is booked in WWE? Absolutely not. The women are booked as a complete afterthought, getting only two and three minutes on the show at a time and generally being far less talented than their male counterparts due to the promotion's policies in terms of hiring and training women before they are called up to the main roster. If anything, at this point the women's division actually detracts from professional wrestling viewership, because, if you look at the quarter-hour ratings for segments of Monday Night Raw that involve women's matches, those segments consistently lose viewers and have for years.
Could women's wrestling theoretically add viewership or otherwise be meaningful to a national promotion? Sure, theoretically it could. It is my strong personal belief that, if you present a well-booked professional wrestling product with compelling personalities, that product will draw money, regardless of whether the people in the ring are men, women, eunuchs, or hermaphrodites. If you want an example, look no further than All Japan Women's Wrestling, an all-female promotion which, during the 1970's, 1980's, and most of the 1990's, drew audiences that were just as large and just as rabid as the crowds at men's wrestling shows.
However, the current mentality regarding mainstream women's professional wrestling in the United States is such that I doubt we will ever see an American equivalent to AJW in our lifetimes.
Joe wants me to play psychologist:
I've been a wrestling fan since the early 80's, and I noticed that there are a huge group of fans out there that can't separate a wrestler from his on air persona and realize that they are only playing a role. Even people who've watched it as long as I have if not longer sometimes despise certain wrestlers. The one I hear about the most nowadays is CM Punk. Why do you think that some wrestling fans can't understand that someone who plays a heel, and gets you to believe that they are a heel are doing their job, and doing it well? I just can't understand this way of thinking. Case in point, the people who get caught up in the story, and actually pick a fight with the wrestler.
I think that there are two groups of people who react to professional wrestling heels in the way that you are describing. The first are people who, even though they may be completely normal, rational human beings in their day-to-day lives, get so caught up in entertainment media when they're watching it, such that they can't help but have strong emotional reactions. In other words, they're the people who can't help but yell at characters on the screen when they're at the movies or get suckered into reality television programs and mistake them for legitimate documentaries as opposed to scripted entertainment.
The second group of people? They're just morons.
Patrick M. is going to offend the Cenation:
Is there really any long term benefit of continuing to push this Super Cena character in the WWE? As many have pointed out before, as long as Super Cena is atop the WWE it seems as though no one else has a serious chance of breaking out. Not only does Super Cena physically bury most of his opponents, but he seems to also treat most of his challenges as jokes. Why should I care to watch his feuds when he doesn't seem too concerned by the opponent and the outcome rarely seems in doubt? The guy seems very talented, but his act is tough to watch. Am I getting swept up in anti-Cena sentiment or are these concerns valid? I enjoy watching the WWE, but I might have to take a hiatus if the rumors for Wrestlemania become reality.
Yes, there is a long-term benefit: The character is still making the company tons of money and drawing better television ratings than just about any other member of the WWE roster. He has for several years now - regardless of what audience reactions to him are in the arenas - and there is no indication he will stop drawing those rating and earning that money at any point in the near future.
You might not care to watch his feuds when he doesn't see too concerned about his opponent and the outcome rarely seems in doubt. However, you need to learn that you're in a small minority and that the people who WWE is making the majority of their profits off of disagree with you. That's just reality.
Besides, the dominant babyface champion isn't exactly a new phenomenon in WWE. It's the formula that they've succeeded with literally for the entire history of the promotion. Bruno Sammartino was dominant for eight years. Bob Backlund was for six years. Hulk Hogan, though he didn't hold the championship for the entire time, sat in the same basic position as Cena for nine years. Steve Austin would've been in the exact same role if not for the fact that injuries cut his tenure short.
If you have a problem with that, you don't just have a problem with Cena. You have a problem with how WWE has done business for decades, and you might be better served by switching to a different promotion, because they don't show any signs of changing tactics.
Jeremy Castillo has a question for the ages:
What do you think were WWE's best years in the 2000s? To me it was 2000, 2005, and 2008--which is still a very underrated year, in my opinion.
The front runner is unquestionably 2000. You still had the strong characters and creative that epitomized the Attitude Era, but you also had a much stronger pool of in-ring talent than you did for most of 1998 and 1999, thanks to the WCW-defections of Chris Jericho and the Radicals, as well as the amazing development of Kurt Angle and the tag division of the Dudleys, Hardys, and Edge & Christian.
If you want to look at things in terms of pure in-ring wrestling, I think 2001 actually gives 2000 a run for its money, just because the collapse of WCW and ECW took that awesome roster from 2000 and augmented it even more, with the addition of men like Billy Kidman, Shane Helms, Booker T., Dallas Page, Lance Storm, Rob Van Dam, and many more. I have trouble calling it a great year for WWE just because they took one of the biggest potential money angles in professional wrestling history and flushed it straight down the toilet, but it's awesome if you want to only take into consideration what happened from bell-to-bell.
A Guy Whose Name Mathew Lost has a whole series of questions:
1) In October 1986, Hulk Hogan is injured in a plane crash and his career is ended. What would the WWF have done in 1987 and how would that have impacted wrestling as a whole (the survival of the NWA, AWA, WCCW, etc)? Using that we know that happened at Wrestlemania III, Piper retiring, and Andre turning and losing, what would you have done as booker? How different does wrestling look today?
If I were booker, with the benefit of hindsight, I think that I would have filled the vacant championship as soon as possible after Hogan's death. Andre the Giant would become the champion. How he gets it really doesn't matter . . . something like a star-studded battle royale would suffice. (In fact, if they invented the Royal Rumble a year earlier, that would've been perfect.) Then, you take Randy Savage and strap a rocket to his ass, having him run through the heel side of the roster and essentially maneuvering him into the Hogan role, putting him into the championship match with Andre defending against him at Wrestlemania III. The Macho Man pins the Giant clean in the middle at the Silverdome in order to become the WWF Champion for the first time.
From there, you can essentially take the rest of Hulk Hogan's run as the top babyface in the company and book it the exact same way that it was booked, just replacing Hogan with Savage. The next logical question after that is who replaces Savage in the angle with Hogan that occupied the time between Wrestlemanias IV and V. I think that you could move up the Ultimate Warrior's major push a little bit in order to fill that spot, though I would definitely keep Savage as the member of the team that turned heel given his better aptitude for the role.
By that point, you really have had enough time since the tragic demise of the Hulkster that you could have built up other wrestlers to fill whatever slot you need/like.
How would a premature Hogan death at this time change the modern look of professional wrestling? I don't think that it would have changed too much throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, because wrestling already had a lot of momentum at that point and the right babyface probably could have stepped in and replaced Hogan and managed to keep the company alive, though business probably would've been down somewhat. However, I do question whether the late 1990's wrestling boom would have occurred, just because, even though they might have been able to keep the business alive, Hogan's replacement would have to have been just as iconic as him in order for the nWo heel turn that kicked off the boom period to work, and there are few men in the world who could take up the mantle of being "just as iconic as Hulk Hogan."
Steve Austin does not recover from his neck injury at SummerSlam 97 and his career is ended. What would the WWF have done in the aftermath and would they even be in business today? Using what we know happened at Montreal, Bret Hart leaving, Mike Tyson and the Mr McMahon character, what would you have done as booker? Is WCW the only company today, surviving on the hardcore fan to generate 3.0 ratings regardless of how bad the show is, just like WWE/Raw today?
I think that, without Austin in the latter part of 1997 and 1998, professional wrestling as we know it dies. Nobody else in the WWF was capable of becoming the breakout star that he was at the time, unless the Rock was going to magically figure out the business two years ahead of schedule. Without that breakout star, WWF could not have survived. They were in dire, dire financial straits at the end of 1997, and Austin reviving them was nothing short of a miracle. I also think that, even without competition from the WWF, there was so much incompetence and greed behind the scenes in WCW that it would've been impossible to keep the company profitable and it would have died out eventually anyway. I don't even necessarily think it's worthwhile for me to answer the portion of the question regarding what I would have done as booker, because it would just be a case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
3) Had you been in charge of WCW in December 1997 with no worries about creative control (Hogan) and the power to make every wrestler (Nash & Hall) follow your directions to the letter, how would you have booked Starrcade 1997 and Bret Hart's first 3 months in the company to capitalize not only on Montreal, but to ensure the WWF fans that must have tuned into Nitro to see their favorite wrestler continued to watch WCW?
The answer is pretty simple, really. If you want to capitalize on Montreal and get WWF fans to watch Bret Hart in WCW, you have to make Bret Hart the focal point of the company. You know, the exact opposite of what the real WCW did. See my comments about incompetence and greed in response to your earlier question.
I actually think that the finish of the Sting/Hogan match at Starrcade 1997, as it was originally planned, was not a bad one, assuming you could get Nick Patrick to actually do a slow three count and not bungle the whole thing. From there, you move the Hulkster into a feud with Bret Hart, which you could easily get a Superbrawl main event out of. Sting could defend the championship against Nash in a co-main event. Hart defeats Hogan in their feud, Sting defeats Nash, and then, bam, after that you've got the build to a Sting vs. Hart program for the championship by the middle of 1998, which in my mind would start out as a face-face program with Hart turning heel as part of the build to the second match in a multi-match series between the two.
With Hogan and Nash having been defeated decisively by the WCW faces of Sting and Hart, the secondary feud while the Hitman and the Stinger are feuding over the title would be the self-destruction of the nWo, with the group splitting into two factions and battling it out with each other. I would probably put Hogan's version of the nWo over in the end before eventually disbanding the entire group by the end of 1998.
Pat wants to talk feuds:
Is The Rock's greatest rival through his career in fact HHH given the longevity of their rivalry, number of different matches and the parallel nature of their careers even though most people will recall the marquee matches against Austin? Likewise can the same be said of HHH greatest rivalry of his career in The Rock?
I think that HHH's greatest career rival is the Rock. There really aren't that many other candidates given the fact that Trips didn't really have many back-and-forth rivalries at a main event level due to the fact that he tended to dominate people when he was on top of the promotion. The only other candidate that I can possibly thing of is Batista, as nobody else has gone back-and-forth with the Game for an extended period of time (and even that is slightly stretching the phrase "extended period of time.")
However, I would give Austin the nod over HHH as the Rock's greatest career rival. Yes, Triple H and Rocky had more matches over more years, but, in my mind, what gets remembered is what matters, and, as you correctly point out, the Austin/Rock three match series at Wrestlemania is going to be remembered longer and better than just about anything else Rocky has done. And, really, Austin and Rock didn't have that many fewer matches than HHH and Rock if you think back to the days when Stone Cold and Rocky were feuding over the Intercontinental Championship.
That's it for this week's Ask 411. If you can't get enough of Ryan, follow him on Twitter here.