Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 6 (From Awesome to Boring)

January 1990 saw the NWA at the top of its game, with Ric Flair having vanquished the challenge of Terry Funk and seemingly moving onto a feud with rising heel Lex Luger.  Sting had just won the Starrcade Iron Man tournament and joined the newly reformed Four Horsemen, and was poised to become a full-fledged main eventer. The Steiners stood atop the burgeoning Tag division that included The Road Warriors, Doom, and The Skyscrapers, and The Midnight Express was rekindling their longtime feud with the returning Rock & Roll Express. 

Everything was going well, then suddenly the World Title picture seemed to shift completely away from babyface Flair vs. heel Luger, in favor of heel Flair vs. Sting (something we had seen already, brought on by a heel turn that came out of left field).  So now Sting would be the #1 challenger to Flair's Title and heel U.S. Champion Luger would be moved back into the midcard.  I was baffled and furious at this turn of events as I thought 1990 would finally be Luger's year, and we'd see the company take more risks like they had in '89.  But instead they played it completely safe and everything seemed to reboot to the 1988 Four Horsemen era. 

Then an abrupt injury threw a wrench into their plans as Sting hurt his knee and would be out of action for six months.  Heel Luger was moved into the #1 contender spot to challenge heel Flair.  Oh good.  So now there was no protagonist in this feud at all.  The ensuing Flair-Luger showdown at WrestleWar '90 ended up being a very good, epic match that involved Luger's "redemption" back into a babyface (only about 8 months after he turned heel).  Sting appeared at ringside to support Luger in the match, and then the Andersons showed up to attack him.  Then came one of the stupidest match endings I'd ever seen.

Come on, Luger was pretty badass in 1990

Luger had Flair in the Torture Rack, seemingly seconds away from winning the NWA World Title, but outside the ring the Andersons were double-teaming Sting.  Luger turned full-face by dropping Flair and running out to rescue Sting, and Ole & Arn pounced on him.  Here's where it gets really stupid - this was all happening in full view of the referee, who proceeded to count Luger out of the ring WHILE HE WAS BEING DETAINED BY TWO GUYS WHO WEREN'T IN THE MATCH.  Ummm, clearly that's a case where either the ref disqualifies Flair for his friends' interference, or he ejects Ole & Arn from ringside.  Just terrible booking.

Luger got one more shot at Flair in a steel cage, which ended when Ole Anderson hijacked the cage control panel, allowing him to raise the cage so Barry Windham could jump Luger and get Flair disqualified.  A DQ ending in a cage match.  Alright then.  After this match Luger went back to defending the U.S. Title and the company prepped for Sting's triumphant return.

I dreaded what was happening next, as Sting finally got his hands on Flair at the Great American Bash and won the NWA Title.  And that's where I lost interest in the NWA.  Like seriously, I gave up watching NWA programming after that.  I could not stand Sting at the time and was so upset about Luger both not getting the belt, and being used just to keep Flair occupied until Sting's comeback.

Turns out I wasn't missing anything in late '90.  The Road Warriors left for Stamford, Luger feuded with Stan Hansen of all people, and Sting's first Title run was mired in the insipidly moronic Black Scorpion storyline which, after all the smoke and mirrors, mask reveals, and clues about the Scorpion's identity, resulted in Flair being the mystery man all along.  Just awful.  If I weren't already disinterested in all things involving Sting, I sure would be after that.

I'm still baffled that the NWA went from amazing in 1989 to unwatchable by late 1990.  I can't remember any other time a promotion flip-flopped that quickly, except maybe in late 2001-2002 WWF.

On the WWF side of things, 1990 wasn't much better.  The first quarter of the year was centered around the Hogan-Warrior feud, which I understood from a money perspective (It was a HUGE match), but I just didn't care much.  By this point I hated Hogan.  I had completely outgrown his antics, especially the "Hulk-up" ending to every single one of his matches (Seriously Terry, you couldn't change it up a bit?), and I resented the fact that not only did he have to win every match, but he made his opponents look terrible in the process.  My personal assessment of Mr. Bollea would remain a constant to this day.

I was intrigued about the Warrior getting a WWF Title shot at WrestleMania because I still liked him okay in 1990.  But the face vs. face aspect of their feud left me bored, since I was mostly rooting for heels.  I also wasn't jazzed about two brawling power wrestlers fighting each other, as my appreciation for technically-proficient wrestlers had grown considerably over the previous year.  Since Randy Savage was stuck in a silly midcard feud with Dusty Rhodes (the only wrestler at the time I liked less than Hogan), Mr. Perfect was the WWF wrestler I was most interested in.  I think at the time I would've preferred a Hogan vs. Perfect main event for 'Mania 6, but I still got why they went with Hogan-Warrior.

Yeah, the match was huge and everything.  It just never did anything for me.

Anyway, the match itself kinda stunk.  I know everyone went ga-ga over it, but it's really not good.  Even the first time I watched it I was bored by it.  That whole show is pretty dull, and a good indication that the WWF desperately needed to focus on some new stars.  I was very happy (and rather shocked) that Hogan lost cleanly, and was looking forward to a new direction with a new top star.

Unfortunately that didn't really happen.  Whether the fans' response to Warrior as Champion didn't live up to company expectations, or whether it was his attitude, it never really felt like the WWF got behind him as The Man.  Every PPV was given the "double main event" treatment so Hogan's matches were presented as on the same level as Warrior's.

Warrior spent the summer feuding with Rick Rude, whom a) he had just feuded with and defeated a year earlier, and b) wasn't ever presented as a World Title contender.  So this new Champion was never given a top-level heel to work with (no disrespect to Rude - he was a fine wrestler but never pushed as a credible main eventer), and Hogan's matches and feuds were still given more attention.  No wonder the guy never caught on as Champ.

Survivor Series was even worse, as The Warrior's match opened the show(!) and the captain of the opposing team was Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect, with whom Warrior had no issue.  Warrior was feuding with Randy Savage at the time (who to be fair was injured and couldn't really work).

The one enjoyable part of the 1990 WWF card was the tag division.  Post-Mania they focused on a three-way feud between Champions Demolition, The Hart Foundation, and The Rockers.  I found it confusing that the top three teams were all babyfaces (this was apparently The Year of the Weak Villain), and it seemed like The Harts were about to turn heel.  But then Demolition Ax decided to scale back his schedule and a third member, Crush was added to the team.  Demolition adopted the "Freebird Rule," where any two members of a three-man team could defend the titles (Incidentally I love this rule.  LOVE it.), and it made more sense for them to turn heel and feud with the babyface Harts.  To add to the awesomeness, The Road Warriors jumped from the NWA and appeared on WWF television, using the name The Legion of Doom (I never understood that but I could not have been more excited to see Animal & Hawk in the WWF).

Even goofy red shoulderpads couldn't hide the unbridled awesomeness of LOD.

Finally I'd get to see one of my favorite dream matches, Ax & Smash vs. Animal & Hawk.  But that didn't really happen because Crush more or less took Ax's place, and now that Vince had the real thing in LOD, he phased out the imitators Demolition.  What should've been an epic tag team feud was a bit of a squash overall.

As 1990 came to a close, I had lost interest in one company and was fairly close to doing the same with the other.  The Hart Foundation, LOD, Mr. Perfect, and the potential of a Warrior-Savage in-ring feud were the only things keeping me around really.  I was kind of dreading what I figured would be the inevitable Hogan-Warrior rematch at 'Mania 7.  Turned out I had nothing to worry about.  The WWF's plan was far worse.....

Part 5                                                                                                                                             
  Part 7

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