Commentary by Mike Mooneyham
March 25, 2001
Turn out the lights. The party’s over.
If you listen closely enough at the conclusion of this week’s Monday Nitro, you might be able to hear the Texas twang of Dandy Don Meredith in the background signaling an end to one of cable television and professional wrestling’s grandest traditions.
Former WCW president Eric Bischoff is billing it as the “season finale” of Nitro, but that’s probably his one final attempt to sugarcoat the obvious. In reality, the proverbial fat lady is singing, and that swan song is less than 48 hours away.
This, sadly, is the end of World Championship Wrestling as we know it. Not only will it be the final Nitro, it will be the very last live WCW event under the Time Warner banner. Twenty-nine years of Turner wrestling will come to an end.
Summed up one TBS spokesman last week: “It was a nice ride, but it’s time for the ride to be over.”
The much ballyhooed deal to sell WCW to Fusient Media Ventures reached an unsuccessful conclusion, and Bischoff’s last-ditch attempts to work out a deal with Fox last week met with the same unproductive results. When Turner Broadcasting Systems chose to remove wrestling from their net works, the interest ceased, and the game was over.
It truly is a sad day for wrestling fans – especially longtime fans who followed the business in the days before World Championship Wrestling and before Crockett Promotions was sold to Ted Turner in late 1988. Many of those fans had already left the ranks of the faithful, however, as Bischoff and others attempted to distance the product from its Southern-based roots. Those disenfranchised fans didn’t appreciate seeing their heroes like Ric Flair cast in humiliating roles, or having Gordon Solie unceremoniously removed from the announcing booth. Fans in Charlotte, long time headquarters of Crockett Promotions, couldn’t quite bring themselves to applaud when hometown boy Bobby Eaton was forced to job to some unknown from the Power Plant every time the company hit town. Or, more recently, understand why Arn Anderson, perhaps the most representative of any WCW employee, was released from a company he had so admirably served for many years.
Those in control at WCW never really comprehended the difference between positive heat and negative heat. It didn’t click when fans went from throwing garbage in to the ring because they were truly interested and influenced by what they were watching, to pelting the ring with trash be cause they truly hated the product.
The tradition of “rasslin” on Ted Turner’s station, however, will continue to evoke a flood of memories for thousands of fans who will focus on the many colorful personalities and events that brought them to the dance in the first place.
Ric Flair, the “flagship performer,” whom Turner made it clear upon buying Crockett Promotions that he wanted his new company built around, despite the protest of Dusty Rhodes, who ended up being the odd man out and was exiled to New York in the role of a plumber and with a valet named Sapphire.
Georgia Championship Wrestling, which along with Andy Griffith, kept Turner’s station afloat for many lean years while the Atlanta Braves were perennial losers. The show drew an average 6.4 rating on Saturday nights in 1981, making it the most-watched show at that time on cable television.
The late Gordon Solie, the most respected and professional of all wrestling broadcasters, opening his broadcast with the line: “When you see this symbol (the NWA), you are assured of the optimum in professional wrestling.” And you knew he was telling the truth.
Perhaps the saddest part of all is that WCW – or at least many of the individuals who assumed power and made the decisions – have only themselves to blame. The problems have been well-documented in this space over the past several years, and don’t bear repeating. But it should be noted that several years ago WCW had all of the advantages it needed to blow its No. 1 competitor – Vince McMahon and the WWF – out of the water. Money. Resources. Production. The best talent roster in the history of wrestling. But it couldn’t close the deal.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
The reasons are many. WCW destroyed the mystique of its product. The company crushed legends and promoted stiffs. And, ultimately, it became the graveyard of the stars. It was the place where guys like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and The Warrior cashed in on possibly their last big paydays in the wrestling business.
The one big angle that catapulted WCW to the No. 1 promotion in the country for 83 straight weeks, the NWO, obviously worked so well that Bischoff milked it to death. And while Bischoff started the free- fall, temporary fill-ins like Bill Busch and Brad Siegel, Turner execs with limited knowledge of the wrestling business, were ill-equipped to right the foundering ship. New AOL/Time Warner chairman Jamie Kellner’s most recent appraisal of the damage was swift and to the point. Wrestling was no longer “upscale” enough for the changing Turner networks. It was a big money-loser, and it had to go.
There are many ironies as the clock winds down on WCW, not the least of which is that this former Jim Crockett territory should die out in the midst of a Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes feud. And it seemed only fitting that WCW’s last pay- per-view was titled “Greed,” for it certainly was greed that put the final nails in the coffin of World Championship Wrestling.
It now appears that Vince McMahon, whose vendetta with Turner took very personal turns over the past decade, will get to write the last chapter of the story. McMahon is buying the remaining assets of a network-less WCW – the contracts of a handful of WCW wrestlers, the WCW name and its tape library. The move will no doubt meet opposition in some circles, with critics questioning the logic of McMahon, in the midst of the money-losing XFL debacle, investing more funds into salaries that have caused WCW serious financial problems. There’s also the potential problem of established WWF stars being reluctant to put over any former WCW performers.
The real winner, though, is McMahon, who will finally have a monopoly on the national wrestling scene. While many WCW performers will either be out of work or looking for jobs on the independent circuit, its top talent should find a place to land in New York.
WCW’s David Crockett on Friday could only sigh when an official memo from Siegel’s office came over declaring that McMahon had indeed bought the company, a promotion that had its roots with his father, the late Jim Crockett Sr. The memo tersely stated: “World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. is announcing that we have reached an agreement for the sale of WCW. This agreement with WWF holds tremendous potential for the WCW brand and assets. The press release announcing the news is attached.
“As we told you last week, WCW programming will not appear on TNT and TBS SuperStation after March 27. We will share more information with you about the WWF’s immediate plans for WCW in the all-staff meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 28, at 10 a.m. at the Power Plant. “Thank you.”
“To the victor – Vince McMahon – goes the spoils,” Crockett lamented. “I never thought it would come to this. I thought I’d always be fighting him – in some way. It’s a shame. I enjoyed it.”
TBS aired its final wrestling show last Wednesday. Hopefully fans, when reminiscing about the grand tradition of wrestling on the SuperStation, won’t dwell on the negatives, like Jim Herd’s tenure in the late ’80s and early ’90s that gave us such acts as The Ding Dongs and Oz. Or “ATM Eric” Bischoff’s success-turned-failure and the outlandish contracts that led to a re ported $80 million in losses. Or, in the end, the inmates running the asylum, laying waste to the fertile ground that had been sown by a generation of blood, sweat and tears.
When I think of WCW in the future, I’ll most likely ponder what might have been.
Sources say Ric Flair is at the top of a short list of WCW performers Vince McMahon is interested in. The WWF reportedly is not willing to offer anyone in WCW any million-dollar deals, which puts the immediate future of top stars such as Bill Goldberg, whose WCW deal was $2.5 mil lion per year, in jeopardy.
Scott Steiner is questionable for his title defense against Booker T on the final Nitro. Steiner, who has been hampered by a bad back, has a pinched nerve in his left leg and last week experienced no feeling below his knee.
The official WWF press release on Friday announcing the purchase of WCW stated: “The purchase of WCW creates a tag- team partnership with the World Wrestling Federation brand that is expected to propel the sports entertainment genre to new heights. In keeping with the company’s strategic alliance with Viacom, new WCW programming is anticipated to air on TNN in the near future. The possibility of cross- brand storylines and intrigue, however, may start as early as Monday night during WWF Raw Is War on TNN and the final performance of WCW Monday Nitro Live on Turner Network Television (TNT).
“The binding agreement provides World Wrestling Federation Entertainment with the global rights to the WCW brand, tape library and other intellectual property rights.”
“This acquisition is the perfect creative and business catalyst for our company,” said Linda McMahon, Chief Executive Officer of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment. “This is a dream combination for fans of sports entertainment. The incendiary mix of World Wrestling Federation and WCW personalities potentially creates intriguing storylines that will at tract a larger fan base to the benefit of our advertisers and business partners, and propel sports entertainment to new heights.”
“The acquisition of the WCW brand is a strategic move for us,” said Stuart Snyder, President and Chief Operating Officer for World Wrestling Federation Entertainment. “We are assuming a brand with global distribution and recognition. We are adding thousands of hours to our tape library that can be repurposed for home videos, television, Internet streaming, and broadband applications. The WCW opens new opportunities for growth in our pay- per-view, live events, and consumer products divisions, as well as the opportunity to develop new television programming using new stars. We also will create additional advertising and sponsorship opportunities. In short, it is a perfect fit.”
Hulk Hogan reportedly has had talks with Vince McMahon about a possible return to the WWF.
The WWF announced on Friday that Wrestlemania in Houston is completely sold out today. Nearly 64,000 tickets have been sold, while another 1,000 tickets or so will be released the day of the event.