Canvas Critiques #2 - WCW Souled Out 2000
Posted by Nick Sellers on 02.17.2013
Sid Vicious meets Chris Benoit to crown a new WCW Champion, Kevin Nash and Terry Funk do battle over the Commissioner role and DDP meets Buff Bagwell in a Last Man Standing match. Also on the show- Harlem Heat explodes and Billy Kidman runs the gauntlet. It's WCW in 2000, and the best thing I can say about it is that at least it was never dull!
Canvas Critiques #2 - WCW Souled Out 2000
The first January of the Noughties featured one of the most talked about wrestling PPV events of the decade. The Triple H/Cactus Jack street fight in Madison Square Garden was another classic to add to that building's growing list of ***** matches, whilst The Rock was all set to meet the WWF Champion at Wrestlemania following his Royal Rumble victory. The WWF was massively popular and putting out some really exciting television and the fan base seemed to be growing every day.
But the Royal Rumble wasn't the only PPV put out that month by a wrestling promotion.
While their rivals were thriving, WCW was going through a really tough time financially and many of their younger stars were getting disgruntled at the lack of opportunities while the same old faces were being booked on to stay on top. The booking itself and the politics that came with it were among the chief concerns. Going into this PPV they also had a number of injury problems that forced a complicated reshuffling of the deck.
In the build-up, Goldberg gave Bret Hart what turned out to be a career ending injury thanks to a superkick, and his ongoing battle to recover from it forced him to vacate the WCW title. Goldberg himself got injured and thus he'd not be available for the PPV either. Jeff Jarrett was also slotted to play a prominent roll in the show, but a diving headbutt from Chris Benoit from the top of a cage gave him a concussion too, forcing more re-booking and more panic from those in charge.
Despite that, they still had some great talent in their ranks and most of the WCW fans were optimistic that they could turn the corner and get back to challenging the WWF again for pro-wrestling prominence. This show has received some extremely negative reviews in the past, but considering the injuries and forced changes to the show line-up, was it really that bad?
Billy Kidman got the W over Dean Malenko in a “Catch as catch can” match, which is part 1 of his Triple Threat Theatre series. Malenko lost because he went outside the ring, which you can't do in such a match type. Very confusing/frustrating.
Vampiro wins a triple threat match against Crowbar and David Flair.
The Mamalukes (Big Vito and Jonny Stamboli) defeated The Harris Brothers. Disco Inferno, managing the Mamalukes, appeared to turn on them by shoving Vito off the top rope, but Vito actually landed on one of the Harris Brothers to get the pin. They celebrate up the aisle oblivious to it all.
Oklahoma wins the WCW Cruiserweight title against Madusa. Madusa and some other ladies attack post-match by putting BBQ sauce all over him.
Brian Knobbs retains the WCW Hardcore title against Finlay, Norman Smiley and Meng by pinning Smiley.
Billy Kidman beats Perry Saturn in the second of his Triple Threat Theatre matches.
Booker T beats Stevie Ray by DQ after Ahmed Johnson runs in and attacks him. Post-match, Stevie Ray rechristens Ahmed as “Big T” and announces them as the new and improved Harlem Heat.
Tank Abbot beats Jerry Flynn by KO.
Buff Bagwell beat DDP in a Last Man Standing match.
The Wall beat Billy Kidman in a Cage match in Kidman's 3rd and final Triple Threat Theatre bout.
Kevin Nash wins the WCW Commissioner role from Terry Funk in a Hardcore match.
Chris Benoit wins the WCW title, beating Sid Vicious.
Radical Retreat – Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn and Malenko depart.
For many, Souled Out 2000 signalled the beginning of the end for the promotion. It actually took place before the WWF's Royal Rumble event, but even then you could see just how vast the difference in the quality of the product was actually becoming. WWF was fresh, exciting and innovative, while WCW looked like a complete mess by comparison.
It has to be said that the injuries to key performers like Bret, Goldberg and Jarrett won't have helped matters at all. Any time you get so many key performers hurt before a PPV there's not much your booking committee can do about it. Frankly, the decision to put the vacant WCW World title up for grabs in a match with Sid and Benoit was the only choice they really had when it came to the main event.
For the four men who would become known as the Radicals, they'd already had their fill of garbage from management. They'd been told they were too short, not heavy enough or over enough. Yet week after week, they'd be collaborating with other talents like Rey Mysterio and Booker T to put on the best matches of the night. Finally, it seemed, that was about to change as Chris Benoit was slotted to take the vacant title in the match with Sid.
The match itself is perfectly serviceable, and the pre-match introductions from Michael Buffer and the pre-match interview with guest referee Arn Anderson really heightened just how important the WCW title was perceived to be. For want of a better term, it was the last paragon of virtue left in a company ruined by a collection of bad decisions and miscalculated financial gambles.
During the contest, Sid worked the crowd brilliantly and Benoit gave as good as he got in the physicality stakes. For a match thrown together at the last minute, credit has to go to both for making it flow as well as it did, largely down to the Canadian's selling and delivery of his moves.
Ultimately the result didn't matter, as Benoit, Malenko, Saturn and Guerrero were all granted their releases the next day and would shortly wind up in the WWF. The knew that it would only be a matter of time before they were made fools of again and they got out while they still could. Kevin Nash's backstage influence likely forced their hand.
Whatever their reasons, the departure of these excellent workers was only going to hurt WCW. Benoit in particular had been involved in some high profile midcard rivalries which were keeping the shows ticking over. But as we'll see from the rest of the show, you could hardly blame any of them for seeking pastures new.
Kidman runs the gauntlet- Then meets The Wall
Initially we were supposed to get a 3-match series between Benoit and Jarrett over the Unites States title. Jarret's concussion meant slots on the booking sheet needed filling, so Billy Kidman was given the nod to go into three separate matches and get some PPV exposure.
The initial concept on paper of this three match series seems noble enough; Have Kidman showcase his abilities in matches against Malenko and Saturn before ultimately succumbing to a mystery opponent in the third and final match after getting screwed over. In theory you'd then have Kidman keep fighting the odds and overcoming them over the next few weeks of TV, eventually leading to something a bit grander.
Sadly, it starts off with a total mess. The first match with Malenko starts off brilliantly with some fine technical exchanges and hot crowd ready to get into it. Then, because of the silly rules introduced, Malenko loses the match by going to the outside of the ring. Either Malenko legit made a mistake, or it was done to save Kidman for the two other matches he'd be in that night.
In either case, all it does is piss off the fans. You've just robbed them of what would've been a great little match even if it only lasted a few more minutes and with a clean finish, and the floor stipulation only hampered it anyway. If you need to keep Kidman fresh for later on, there are surely more intuitive ways to do so? If Malenko made a genuine cock-up, then it's a crap stipulation anyway which a worker of that calibre shouldn't have been shackled by.
Moving on, the second bout with Saturn gave us a good contest and it isn't hard to see why both were eventually brought into the WWF fold and at the very least were regarded as solid hands in their midcard ranks. Shockingly, when two talented athletes like this were allowed to wrestle, it produced results! Saturn made Kidman look like a plucky youngster who didn't know when he was beaten, which is more than can be said of many who would go on to work with Kidman throughout the year.
Then comes the third and final chapter of the gauntlet style series in the cage match, where The Wall is revealed as his mystery opponent. It's short but sweet enough, but The Wall pins him cleanly, without shenanigans, and it basically ruins the whole thing. Now Kidman just looks like he can't get the job done and comes across as a total loser.
There's so many flaws with this booking strategy. First and foremost, having someone wrestle 3 times in one night is a huge risk, even if they did have problems with injured talent in the build up. Jarrett's injury came in large part to having wrestled three times on the night of the headbutt incident, so why on earth would you risk such a thing again so soon? Thirdly, if you're not even going to put him over properly, why bother giving him so much wasted exposure in the first place?
I've no issue with The Wall per say, but even just a touch of interference by another source to cost Kidman the match and give them something to talk about for the next few shows would've been enough to put him over properly. And don't even get me started on cage matches being used in this fashion, without proper build up or a big rivalry being settled in it. That bugs me something rotten.
Overall, if you need an example of the booking well and truly castrating someone, this is it!
Big Sexy, Big Boss- Nash wins the Commisionership
The semi-main event of the show was a Hardcore bout between Kevin Nash (who'd just reformed the nWo along with Bret Hart and Jarrett) and Terry Funk. It's actually quite a fun brawl, largely because of Terry Funk's threshold for punishment and because it doesn't last long enough to become too tedious or boring. The blatant set-up for the finish hurts it, but all things considered I surprised myself because I quite enjoyed it.
I'm not sure how much stroke Nash had backstage by this point, but ignoring all of that and purely focusing on this match alone, the announcers did a nice job of highlighting how disastrous it would be if he won and took control. Staying with kayfabe, it absolutely makes sense to do that. Heel authority figures are part and parcel of what usually makes a wrestling show tick, so the issue isn't with that per say. But when you mix that on-screen power with power behind the scenes, a fat, guaranteed contract and abuse of creative control, it was only ever going to lead to problems in the long run.
Still, in this context and on this night, the booking initially made total sense. If Benoit sticks around, presumably you have Nash and the nWo trying to get the title off of him, only for Benoit to keep defying the odds and scuppering their plans. Then you bump up guys like Billy Kidman and Booker T to join him in the fight against them and hey presto, you've got a couple of big new stars to invest in. Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?
Last Man Standing, Harlem Heat collide and Hardcore headaches- Other stuff
Buff Bagwell and DDP continued their rivalry with a perfectly serviceable Last Man Standing bout, which Bagwell wins in a bit of an anti-climax. I talked about Kidman being a home-grown star earlier and here are two more you can add to a pretty rare collection of talents which the modern WCW actually moulded themselves. The storyline itself centred around DDP's wife Kimberly Page, and it had themes which you could actually resonate with. Was DDP jealous over the younger Buff and his advances? It was one of the few soap opera storylines they had which didn't seem like a total carwreck.
Next we go from one soap opera storyline that was working well to one which just wasn't. The Booker T/Stevie Ray bout was a total disaster on the part of the latter, saved only by the extremely athletic and energetic Booker carrying the match, selling wonderfully and executing his moves with panache. Stevie Ray couldn't hang with him at all, and it was blatantly obvious that Booker was capable of so much more than petty midcard rivalries at this point and was ready to ascend to main event status. The Ahmed interference at the end entertained the crowd, but the revelation afterwards left a lot to be desired.
Speaking of less successful siblings, I won't be watching the David Flair/Vampiro/Crowbar triple threat again in a hurry. The actual interactions between Vampiro and Crowbar weren't bad, and Crowbar in particular looked like someone who was quite skilled for his size, but Flair just looked totally out of place in a wrestling ring. Everything he did looked totally sloppy, unprofessional and just total rubbish. Even if that was supposed to be his gimmick to a degree, which I'm not sure it was, it made the whole thing look like a total debacle. Abysmal.
Speaking of garbage, the Hardcore title four-way was a poor imitation of the WWF's hardcore division. The match essentially consisted everyone hitting each other with a trashcan, or the lid, and not a lot else, so this was just totally confusing and bewildering to me.
Another pointless match that shouldn't have been on a PPV card was the Mamalukes/Harris Brothers tag bout. The energy of the Vito/Stamboli combination was welcome, but the more the match dragged on the worse it became. The Harris' big man offence worked well initially, but it should've been contained into shorter bursts and a much shorter match.
Tank Abbott's failed push continued after he knocked out Jerry Flynn. This is actually a reasonably commendable experiment that might've worked better today in light of the mainstream success MMA enjoys now, but in this context it just fell totally flat.
Last but not least, we get to the Cruiserweight title match between Ed “Oklahoma” Ferrera and Medusa. I really can't be bothered to go into this, but it was another sad sign of the times that this particular title had come to such a sorry existence when you consider how one of WCW's few good points was bringing through a number of cruiserweights into the mainstream.
The 411: You'll be amazed to know that this wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be. On the plus side we had reasonably good matches in the form of Benoit/Sid, Perry/Kidman, Nash/Funk and Bagwell/DDP, but everything else is either an absolute mess or it ran for too long. And actually, this PPV had WAY too many matches taking place on it. The cracks had already started appearing long before this, but this show cemented the fact that WCW was taking a serious nose-dive and edging closer and closer to needing life support. To some degree you can give them the benefit of the doubt for this show considering the problems going into it, but that still doesn't excuse some of the dross they were putting out.