411’s Buy or Sell Wrestling 9.18.13: Goldust, the Harts, Diesel and More
Posted by Matt O’Connell on 09.18.2013
Was Diesel a bad choice to be a WWF champion? How did Bret and Owen Hart stack up as workers? Was the New Generation movement a huge failure? 411's Matt O'Connell and Jack Stevenson discuss all this and more in this week's Buy or Sell!
HELLO, THERE. MAY I OFFER YOU A FRESH MACAROON?
Welcome back to 411's Buy or Sell: Classic wrestling edition! This is the column in which opinions about pro wrestling history are produced from pockets and ever so gingerly traded, like some sort of sweaty philatelism. This week's theme is the dark age of the WWF, that ghetto of disappointment of bad television that was the year 1995. Join me, "the Sultan of Steel" Matt O'Connell and Jack "the Terrible Teacup" Stevenson as we do our duty all over your screens. It's time to Buy or Sell.
Diesel was a bad choice to be WWF Champion.
Matt O'Connell BUY: Diesel beat Bob Backlund at a house show weeks after the latter won the championship from Bret Hart. A few extremely dull title defenses later, the belt was back on Hart so he could lose it in order to facilitate Shawn Michaels' big babyface run in 1996. From where I sit, there was no real reason to shoehorn Diesel in when Bret could have just stayed champ (during this period, Bret was treading water facing such able foes as Isaac Yankem and Jean-Pierre Lafitte). If Vince really, really wanted the belt off of Bret for a few months, why try putting it on Owen, who had just finished a white-hot feud with his brother? They clearly knew that putting the title on Shawn was the endgame, so why not try? What's the worst that could happen, they'd wind up with their lowest-drawing champion of all time?
Wait . . .
Jack Stevenson BUY: I'm really torn on this one. I don't see Diesel as one of the great WWF Champions by any stretch of the imagination, but equally I don't see his reign as being without some redeeming features. He had a cracking battle with Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1995 which also turned out to have some historical value, and prior to that his bout with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XI was one of the show's very few high points. The fact that his title reign coincided with such a dramatic decline for the WWF is, in my eyes, neither here nor there, as the Fed's issues went far beyond their choice of champion. Despite all that, he can take a fair shame of the blame for some lacklustre matches, and though it lasted almost a year his reign was bereft of anything truly noteworthy until its dramatic ending. I'll buy based on the belief that there were better options as WWF Champion. I could be swayed though.
During his peak in the midst of his King of Harts run, Owen was a better worker than Bret.
Matt O'Connell BUY: And this is because I'm looking at their work holistically. Bret was always a step ahead of Owen in terms of ring work -- not a knock on Owen, Bret has just about everyone outclassed on that front -- but Owen far exceeded Bret in terms of personal charisma. But this is all pre-Attitude Era, when Bret really found his fire as a promo guy after some twenty years in the business. So yes, when circumstances were different, and the environment was amenable, Bret was able to capture something that made him a compelling character as well as a consummate worker; but until that happened, watching Bret do anything but wrestle was like watching paint dry compared with enjoying the delightfully smarmy antics of Owen.
Jack StevensonSELL: Ooh, Matt's throwing some tough questions today. Initially I was going to sell this without a moment's thought, because I can reel off Bret Hart classic after Bret Hart classic in my sleep, while struggling to do the same for Owen at the time in questions. In fact, Owen's best work, perhaps of his whole career, came against Bret. But then again, I can't say I've religiously watched every episode of television from that era, and I don't believe the big matches alone are enough to determine a wrestler's worth- how many genuinely classic William Regal matches can you name? Or Arn Anderson? Yet call either of them bad wrestlers and I will actually fight you. So, I'll sell this with the caveat that I'm not sure whether I can give the most informed answer- let me go back and compare the two's output in more detail and I can say with a little more authority.
The Allied Powers had a lot of unrealized potential as a top babyface tag team.
Matt O'Connell SELL: As much as the partnership between Lex and Davey Boy made sense on paper (the flagged tights thing, Davey Boy's tag chops, both men's sort-of association through Sting) it just never seemed to come through on air. In the 1980's, against Sheik and Volkoff, these guys could have gotten over huge, but by the 90's the patriot gimmick was starting to go stale; I mean, that's why Lex was stuck in a tag team in the first place. The best thing about this team was their totally logical break-up, in which Davey grew bitter that the fans constantly chanted "USA" at him as if to motivate him. I'm sure Chris Jericho knows that feel.
Jack StevensonSELL: The WWF's tag team division was in a serious slump during Bulldog and Luger's brief spell together, and so to be honest they did about as well as they could within the circumstances- certainly they both contributed far more as singles than they did tagging together. Maybe with a stronger division they would have had something to offer, but then I don't see a mass cult following eulogising the Allies' instant chemistry and unique connection. I don't think they had any more potential than many other thrown together face teams.
And now, a brief intermission before the switch. WHO CAN I WRESTLE!?
The WWF's New Generation era was by and large a failure.
Matt O'Connell BUY: It was really a series of failures disguised as a movement. Sure, there was a legitimate effort to feature smaller and younger guys to distract from the blood drawn by WCW, but if you believe for a minute that if Hogan or Savage were to suddenly defect from down South they wouldn't be back in the main events right away you're crazy. But it wasn't always about young talent (Bob Backlund), it wasn't always about smaller guys (Mabel) and it certainly wasn't about trying new ideas (Diesel as the dominant babyface champion). It was a desperate attempt to try something that actually worked to restore interest in the product, which incidentally did not happen until the Attutude Era, which by definition excludes anything that went on here with the singular exception of Goldust. This is not to say that everything that happened during these years is worthless or somehow unwatchable, only that the New Generation was Vince trying to put a positive spin on his inability to revitalize his flagging popularity.
Jack Stevenson SELL: Another tough one. Obviously the New Generation oversaw a financial slump that left the WWF on the brink of catastrophe, and also ushered in some truly dreadful characters, matches and angles. But, for all its flaws, I really enjoy large swathes of early nineties WWF. There were talented wrestlers up and down the card putting on quality, fast paced matches that would have been almost inconceivable in the late eighties boom period. Monday Night Raw started up and revolutionised televised wrestling from its atmospheric Manhattan home. There were some surprisingly excellent pay-per-views as well- most remember Wrestlemania X for its incredible combination of Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon, but both King of the Ring and Summerslam 1993 have a lot to offer, while every single card in 1994 had at least one noteworthy encounter. I'll sell this because I really do enjoy the WWF during that time (well, 1993 & 1994 at least), but again I could easily change my mind.
Mantaur was the worst . . . thing . . . ever managed by Jim Cornette.
Jack StevensonBUY: Do I have to explain this? It's Mantaur! From memory I can't think of anyone allied with Jim Cornette on screen that was anywhere near as bad as him.
Matt O'Connell BUY: I was going to suggest that the Dynamic Dudes might have been worse but they were at least a tag team, which was something Jimmy was known for. I'm not certain why it was decided that Corny was deemed the right man to mentor a giant mooing fatso. Why not put Brawler out there in the Kim Chee mask or something?
Given Goldust's impressive performance on Raw, you would like to see more stars from the mid-1990's made occasional appearances.
Jack Stevenson SELL: I agree with the spirit of the question because, as I mentioned in the 4Rs this week (a column which incidentally has received rave reviews in my mind from a staggering selection of authors and literary critics) I think bringing back old wrestlers for a bit of nostalgia and a rub to the current crop is a darn good idea. But mid nineties wrestlers specifically? (I take to mean about 1993-1997). Is there anyone aside from Goldust who's that appropriate? Who can work a decent sized TV match still? I'm struggling to think of too many. Let's be stingy and sell.
Matt O'Connell BUY: Not that I really have a soft spot for guys from that period, but a lot of casual fans probably do and wouldn't mind seeing them again. I mean, WWE is always good for a Doink appearance (though one wonders if that's still the case given Matt Borne's death), and I always enjoy me an IRS cameo. But if Nash can return as Diesel, why not Viscera/Big Daddy V as Mabel? What about Savio Vega? That guy was everywhere for a couple of years and he's just gone from WWE history as far as I can tell. The last time I think he was mentioned, it was by CM Punk was on commentary for Superstars, so there you go. It just seems that if WWE wanted to create the impression that everything they touch turns to gold, they oughtn't avoid mentioning the years between WrestleManias X and XIV like the plague.
That's all for this week, folks. I'd like to thank all my readers, and my fellow 411 staffers that participated in this week's round of questions. I hope to see you all this same time next week for more 411 Buy or Sell: Classic Wrestling Edition.