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This month marks the 25th Anniversary of Bruce Mitchell becoming a Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter columnist. No single person has influenced the editorial tone and direction of the Torch brand over the years than Bruce, who brought a hard-hitting, supremely well-informed, speak-truth-to-power approach to his writing. He went after sacred cows out of the gate, such as the beloved among “smart fans” (today’s “Internet fans” or “IWC,” I suppose) Eddie Gilbert and Jim Cornette. He also went hard after people in positions of authority and power who were abusing or misusing that power, or just not delivering a worthy product. He has also applauded and paid tribute to the greatest moments and movements in pro wrestling over the last 25 years, with a style of writing that has yet to be matched anywhere, I contend (despite Bill Simmons’s arrogant and uninformed contention last year that no one wrote at a high level about pro wrestling until his “Masked Man” columnist came along).
To celebrate and highlight Bruce’s stellar 25 years of influential and eloquent truth-telling about this fascinating industry, we’ll be featuring a single column from each of the last 25 years each of the first 25 days this month. His long-form columns were a pioneer approach to pro wrestling journalism, and the next 25 years you’ll experience a slice of what it is that has earned Bruce Mitchell widespread recognition within the industry over the years as being “Pro Wrestling’s Most Respected Columnist.” We began on Oct. 1st with his very first column, from Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #89 (cover dated Oct. 5, 1990).
Today we feature his column from the June 15, 1996 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly Newsletter (#392) where Bruce looks at the jumps back and forth between WCW and the WWF and how WWF was showing signs of making a comeback.
NOTE: VIP members can access hundreds of Mitchell columns instantly in the BRUCE MITCHELL LIBRARY here, part of the massive unmatched online archives of insider wrestling coverage from over the past 28 years.
“Of bad news and acts of God”
By Bruce Mitchell, Torch columnist
Originally published June 15, 1996
Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly newsletter #392
“Ouch! Hey, that hurts! Ow!”
– Stevie Richards.
Think you’ve had it bad lately? Not enough cash to watch all of those pay-per-views? Family thinks you spend too much time downloading Sunny pictures on your computer? Get booked into a menage a trois, but still no one believes you like girls? Naw, you don’t have it bad. Not compared to Vince McMahon.
Now Vince, he’s got it bad.
And it all started on what should have been a night of triumphs for the sport’s number one U.S. promoter: The May sellout at Titan’s home arena, Madison Square Garden.
It should have been the best of times for Vince McMahon – the second consecutive sellout in the Garden, a record-setting $300,000 house, and a show so hot that when the Shufflin’ Hillbillies, of all people, won the tag titles the fans went berserk.
But then Shawn Michaels and his pals had to show out. The now infamous “Curtain Call” confused fans, showed up the front office, infuriated wrestlers, and put into serious doubt the professional judgement of the man Vince McMahon hand-picked to lead his company into the new millennium.
Now let’s be honest. No doubt most of the MSG fans, in their heart of hearts, know that it’s all a show, that Diesel and Michaels probably aren’t Better Enemies in real life, but they were willing by the tens of thousands to put that aside in order to voraciously cheer the cage match main event.
But instead of waiting until they were back in the locker room before they had their little good bye party Michaels had to invite Razor Ramon, then his supposed enemy Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and then the betrayer Big Daddy Cool to his feel-good hugfest.
I’ve heard it said that there’s too much violence in America, but this was ridiculous.
Not to mention arrogant and unnecessary. Ramon and Diesel had a big payday coming. They quit paying attention to Vince and the front office weeks ago. But Michaels and Hunter sent a direct message to management and every wrestler who had worked hard to turn around the years-long Titan slump that The Clique’s fun was more important than everyone else’s livelihood.
The Clique also rubbed the fans’ noses in the notion that, “Hey! we’re just playing!” Everyone knows “Mission Impossible” is just a movie, but you don’t see Tom Cruise and Jon Voight hugging during the credits. It would ruin the illusion that was so painstakingly created. The WWF’s recent house show success is too new to risk at the altar of the Superstars’ egos.
Which left Vince McMahon to spend a Monday morning yelling at Michaels and Hunter when he should have been celebrating a home town triumph. And Shawn Michaels gave more evidence to his detractors, a self-exiled Bret Hart among them, that he simply doesn’t have the judgement or good sense to set a champion’s standard and lead Titan Sports.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who had been meticulously groomed and protected since his entrance into the WWF, had his summer-long mega-push cancelled out from under him and the money that goes along with that besides. Poor Hunter not only had to do a high profile job to a totally washed up Jake Roberts, he was chastised as if he were a child and told not to hang out anymore with that bad old Heartbreak Kid.
Michaels himself quickly went into damage control, apologizing to wrestlers in the locker room, and since he has proven he has drawing power, things were smoothed over.
At least until next week.
Now, I’ve heard it said the lightning strike at the Florence, S.C. pay-per-view was just bad luck – the result of a spring thunder storm that could have happened to anyone of what seems to be hundreds of companies running live wrestling pay-per-views who have nothing more in common than the fact that they’re not ECW.
Well, it wasn’t.
It was an Old Testament style judgement from God.
Now, we live in a world where the concept of blasphemy seems outdated, what with everything from political assassinations to armed stand-offs to church burnings “justified” by someone’s idea of Divine Will, it might be hard to recognize when God is good and truly pissed these days.
But even God is going to sit up and take notice when a professional wrestling company, already a business in league with Old Scratch as it is, decides to sponsor a no-talent, self-admitted drug abusing, face painting, body selling flake’s attempt to get gullible kids to worship him as some sort of New Age god.
Think I’m kidding? It’s not just those beyond-belief commercials airing on WWF television featuring a blind man and a guy with no legs who encourages fans to “do things the right way” and “not take short-cuts” and follow the way of – not Jesus or Jehovah or Krishna or Buddha, but – the Warrior.
Just check out cult leader David Koresh’s, uh, I mean Warrior’s explanation of his own goofy self-obsessed religious beliefs as espoused in a recent issue of the comic book trade journal Wizard:
“Destrucity, in its meaning of purpose, is the living of your life in the way of a warrior according to those eight disciplines. The dissection of the word â€˜destrucity’ means creating a truth between one’s Destiny and one’s Reality.”
Hookay, pal. Whatever you say…
Vince McMahon was so desperate to bring back the Man Who Talks to his Hands that he’s become Warrior’s first disciple, shamelessly hyping the Warrior’s wrestling school and comic books, or as they refer to them in the cult business, the indoctrination center and the religious tracts. What would normally garner most folks a one-way ticket to the Puzzle Factory is actually encouraged by Titan Sports just because there is a wrestling war.
And if Vince McMahon can wear those backward collars that make him look like Father Flannagan so that WWF fans will think of him as their daddy, so what if one of their Superstars thinks he’s Jesus? After all, the guy helped out Wrestlemania’s buyrate and drew Monday Night Raw’s all-time record rating.
But God, unlike ECW fans, will not be mocked.
And God, being a just and merciful God, didn’t send a swarm of locusts to infest the P.W. MacInnes Memorial Coliseum in Florence or turn the Titan production crew into pillars of salt.
He just borrowed a lightning bolt from over on Timrod Park and sent it crashing into the Coliseum’s electrical equipment, knocking out the lights and forcing thousands of fans to spend time that Sunday night with their families.
The lightning wreaked havoc with not only the equipment, but with the buyrate itself, because it gave fans a chance to see the main event for free and then cancel their bill.
And that main event caused Vince McMahon even more trouble because the WWF brain trust didn’t respond well to duress, first sending the British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels out with instructions not to go all-out because they would be rematched live on the following Tuesday and then unaccountably changing their minds and signalling the referee to tell the wrestlers to go back to the original double-pin finish.
Both Michaels and the Bulldog let this, a screeching fan, and an incompetent sound man take them away from their professional focus, further damaging the show.
What’s worse, Davey Boy Smith was so irritated by the “It’s the Woman’s Fault” angle he found his wife and the mother of his children involved in, that he had sent his notice to Titan Sports over the previous weekend. Things have calmed down a little now between Titan and the Smith family, but the company’s major angle had to be scrapped in the meantime.
Now “Act of God” insurance (see, I told ya’ Who was responsible…) might make up the money lost on the In Your House, but this show was a disaster when you figure the number of loyal WWF fans who passed on the replay because…
Another headache, larger and more disspiriting than any retribution from Heaven was headed McMahon’s way in the form of the combined three hours of live wrestling on the following Monday night.
More specifically, it was the shockingly effective debut of Razor Ramon, I mean, You Know Who I Am, on Monday Nitro. Eric Bischoff took Titan Sports’s taunts and jibes and stuffed them down Vince’s throat in the meanest way possible. Bischoff took all that Huckster, Nacho Man, and Billionaire Ted stuff and turned it back on Titan Sports so Turner Broadcast could make a lot of money.
And it has to be killing McMahon to know that someone he has no respect for is smart enough to do this to him.
A good chunk of Raw’s audience deserted the show to see what Ramon was up to that night on Nitro. Poor Vince was reduced on Superstars the following weekend to warning off WWF fans from watching Ramon, Big Daddy Cool Diesel, and Ted DiBiase because “another wrestling company is attempting to use their star status for their own benefit.”
Even the most loyal of WWF fans had to be shaking their heads at that one.
And McMahon’s biggest win of late in the wrestling war, the dramatic signing of Brian Pillman out from under the nose of WCW, is frought with peril.
Pillman had reached agreement on price with WCW for a three-year contract apparently worth over a million and a quarter dollars. The only sticking point to Pillman signing with WCW was the 90-day clause.
Pillman was playing both companies against each other in his con to get the most money possible. The Loose Cannon certainly didn’t pass up all of that TBS money for a wink and a smile from Vince McMahon.
Pillman signed with Titan Sports for a reason beyond the fact that there was room at the top of the card for him.
McMahon, someway, somehow had to have offered guaranteed money in the WCW range, something totally against WWF tradition, for Pillman to have signed with the WWF. At least, that’s what every current or future WWF employee who pays attention now thinks and obviously they are going to want theirs, too.
So what does Vince do with all of these headaches? First, he stops going out of his way to provoke God. Second, he grits his teeth and accepts the fact that guaranteed money contracts are a necessity in this wrestling war and adjusts the pay structure accordingly so that he keeps a stable talent pool to make money with.
Then he takes a deep breath and plays to the WWF’s new strength: The fact that its booking and storylines are the best they’ve been in the company’s history and that fans are responding by buying wrestling tickets at the fastest rate in five years.
Vince McMahon doesn’t have to win any war, he just has to do business. If he remembers that, Titan will survive and just maybe, thrive.
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