Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 7 (The Year I Almost Quit)

As 1991 began, one of the big two wrestling promotions (AWA had folded in 1990 so it was really down to the WWF and the NWA, who soon became WCW officially) was stuck in a major creative rut and riding on fumes from the 80s, and the other was trying in vain to reinvent the wheel.

January 19, 1991 was significant for me because it marked the first WWF PPV I ever ordered, the 1991 Royal Rumble.  Why I picked that particular event to order after four years as a WWF fan I'm not sure, but I was excitedly hoping either Randy Savage, Undertaker, Hawk or Animal would win the Rumble match itself (This was before the Rumble winner automatically got a WWF Title shot so it was still anyone's ballgame).  Much to my dismay Hogan won it for the second straight year (yawn) and even worse, Sgt. Slaughter of all people won the WWF Title.  I figured we'd be getting a Warrior-Hogan rematch at WrestleMania, so it was mindboggling to me that Slaughter took the belt.  It was the first time I remember feeling like a championship had really been devalued - this long irrelevant, marginally talented 80s midcarder just waltzes in and wins the top championship in under six months??  Needless to say the '91 Rumble was and is not one of my favorite PPV events and it would be nearly two years before I ordered another one.

Yup, this actually happened.

Why they felt a cartoonish drill sargeant turned Iraqi sympathizer would draw huge money I'll never know.  But they cast their lot with the exploitation of the Persian Gulf War by pitting turncoat Slaughter against "Real American" Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania.  This was literally the least interested I had ever been in a PPV match.  Not surprisingly ticket sales for the event slumped and a lackluster 'Mania ensued. 
In the one 'Mania 7 match that interested me, Randy Savage famously lost his "retirement" match against the Warrior so he could heal nagging injuries.  As a result the WWF main event scene was reduced to a months-long World Title feud set against the backdrop of a now-irrelevant war, and an intriguing but rather short-lived program between Warrior and the newest monster heel The Undertaker.

I was familiar with "Mean" Mark Callous from the NWA, as he subbed for an injured Sid Vicious to become the newest member of The Skyscrapers.  At the time I was a big fan of Sid's and wouldn't accept a sub.  I also thought Mark was a little goofy-looking compared with Sid's chiseled, intimidating appearance.  So I didn't think much of Mr. Callous, but was duly impressed when I saw him walk across the top rope to deliver an elbowdrop for the first time.  Of course it also occurred to me, why not just jump from the turnbuckle since there's less sag in the corner of the ring and you'd get more height?  Anywho, when Mark appeared at Survivor Series 1990 as Ted Dibiase's mystery partner, I was pretty excited because a) I knew who he was despite the character repackaging, and b) I thought the Undertaker gimmick was awesome (who didn't?).

I mean, come on, Mark was pretty goofy-lookin', right?

With Savage gone the only things keeping me interested in WWF programming were Taker, LOD, and Mr. Perfect.  The Hart Foundation had dropped the Tag belts to the Nasty Boys, who I couldn't (and still can't) stand, so they became an afterthought until Bret Hart went solo.  It was just a very stale product at this point and I briefly considered giving up for a while.

Down in Atlanta, WCW was trying desperately to modernize their product with some pretty absurd ideas.  Executive VP Jim Herd wanted to repackage Ric Flair as a gladiator character called Spartacus, which would've impressed no one.  Flair wisely refused but compromised by giving himself the worst bowl-cut of all time.  Herd decided Sting and Lex Luger were the future of the company (to be fair this made perfect sense) and wanted to phase Flair out more or less.  Flair was supposed to drop the newly rechristened WCW title to Luger but due to a contract and booking dispute Flair was fired and babyface Luger won the vacant title (Flair still had the actual belt so they used a WCW Tag belt as a stunt double) from heel Barry Windham, then the two of them switched roles for no apparent reason, confusing the already disinterested crowd ("We want Flair," anyone?).

I was no longer watching WCW by this point but I was happy to hear that Luger had finally won the big belt, even if it wasn't from Flair.  Luger was still kinda my favorite wrestler even though I wasn't watching any of the shows he was on.

Oops, no Flair tonight.....

This was one of the dreariest times to be a wrestling fan that I can remember.  Not much going on in either company was exciting to me.  I was starting to move on, focusing more on listening to and writing/recording music, and my budding dating life.  Then in the late summer of '91 things in the WWF suddenly got really interesting.  Two former WCW headliners showed up, one of whom turned the WWF's main event picture on its ear.

The first was Sid Vicious (renamed Sid Justice since that sounded more like a good guy), and I couldn't wait to see the inevitable monster vs. monster clashes he'd have with the Undertaker.  Initially he was allied with Hogan, which I figured would also pay off in a feud later on.  So that opened up some nice possibilities.

The second guy to jump from WCW was heralded by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan carrying around the NWA's Big Gold Belt and talking about "The Real World Champion."  Then he announced that Ric Flair was coming to the WWF.  Cue brain explosion.

Ric Flair in the WWF = mind officially blown.

The timing couldn't have been better.  Finally a top heel I could root for again!  Surely he would end up winning the WWF Title at some point and become only the second wrestler to ever hold both the NWA and WWF World Titles (after the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers).  Flair's first order of business was a feud with Roddy Piper, but an eventual Flair-Hogan clash had to be on the horizon.  Of course the WWF foolishly gave that match away on a series of house shows and it was met with little fanfare.

On top of all this were the LOD winning the WWF Tag Titles (making them the first and only team to win World Tag Team Titles in the AWA, NWA and WWF), Bret Hart becoming a singles star and winning the Intercontinental Title, and the reinstatement of Randy Savage to feud with new heel Jake "The Snake" Roberts.  This feud by the way was fantastic, even though they never got a very good payoff match.

The WWF roster went from horribly stagnant to tremendously exciting in a short matter of months in 1991, and subsequently my interest level went from "considering fan retirement" to "can't wait to see where this all goes!"  1992 would prove to be quite a WWF changing of the guard.

Part 6                                                                                                                                              

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