An article by Mike Mooneyham
(Published July 16, 2000)
In a business that is built around its performers working its audience, World Championship Wrestling went one step further at last Sunday night’s Bash at the Beach pay-per-view. It worked its own performers.
The “work shoot” worked to near perfection, and if it was designed to get wrestling fans talking, it achieved its goal. It was, in fact, so well executed that the vast majority of WCW employees believed – and many still believe – that the angle was a shoot (real). Even one of the major participants, former WCW world champion Jeff Jarrett, days later still couldn’t believe that it was anything but real.
“I swear on my life. If it’s a work, I’m not in on it,” said Jarrett, who laid down for Hulk Hogan in a 15-second nonmatch that will be talked about for some time to come. “Everybody in the world knows what we do is a work. Why would they pull something like that?”
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]It is believed that the only individuals in on the assumed work were Hogan, Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo, the controver sial booker who delivered a profanity-laced tirade against Hogan at the pay-per- view, calling him a “big, bald SOB.” Bischoff has been involved in several similar attempts to fool fans and his own wrestlers, most notably with the Brian Pillman “booker man” incident several years ago in which Pillman refused to wrestle Kevin Sullivan. Russo also has been around similar swerves in the WWF, including the Shawn Michaels collapse on Raw and the infamous 1997 Survivors Series double-cross involving Michaels and Bret Hart.
Jarrett’s version of the story that unfolded Sunday is that he laid down for Hogan after Hogan not only refused to job to him, as had been planned at one point, but now wouldn’t even agree to do a DQ finish, and furthermore demanded to go over clean when Hogan failed to get assurances from Russo that there was anything planned for him following the pay-per-view.
After all, time is money, and Hogan makes more than anyone in the business with a contract that includes $60,000 per TV appearance and a minimum of six pay- per-views per year at $675,000 per show.
Hogan confirmed on a Tampa-based radio show last week that he, Russo, Bischoff and Jarrett had a meeting the day of the pay-per-view where it was decided that Hogan would win the match by disqualifi cation and beat Jarrett to a bloody pulp in the process, prompting interference by Scott Steiner for the DQ and setting up a match later in the evening in which Jarrett would lose to Booker T. Hogan said he agreed on the finish until he understood that Russo had no immediate plans for him, therefore he decided to invoke a cre ative control clause in his contract and give himself the title.
Hogan’s declaration reportedly sent Rus so into a rage, prompting a heated verbal exchange between Bischoff and Russo, which resulted in Bischoff walking out. Hogan then said he would job to Jarrett but wanted out of his contract, which triggered another tirade by Russo, after which WCW boss Brad Siegel was called in, declaring that the company couldn’t let Hogan out of his contract and that he could have the title. Jarrett and the recently hired Johnny Ace then worked on a new finish, but Jarrett never returned to the meeting.
Russo and Jarrett later gave Hogan his wish with the uncontested pinfall victory.
Hogan said that he attempted to confront Russo after his on-camera rant, but he was asked to leave the building by WCW securi ty head Doug Dillinger and several others. Bischoff, meanwhile, left the building with out talking to anyone and is currently on sabbatical at his home in Phoenix.
“The next time you see Hulk Hogan in WCW is the last time you’ll see me here,” Russo said last week. “If for some reason his contract forces WCW to allow him back, I’m out of here. It’s that simple.”
Was Jarrett upset with Hogan’s refusal to do the job? “
Are you kidding me? I laughed to my self,” said Jarrett. “This business is a genuine work. So he (Hogan) exercises that con tract. So that means he’s really going to beat me? He’s really going to go out there and throw me around, and I’ve got to lay down 1-2-3? Who holds the cards in that situation? The guy with the creative control clause in his contract or the guy who has to get thrown around and actually get pinned? It takes two to tango. This is a work. Why would I? If this guy – it’s not a maybe, it’s not hearsay – if he doesn’t want to put me over … it wasn’t maybe, he didn’t even want to do a DQ where we both got out of there. That’s the real story. Why would I want to go in there and be tickled to death to do that? That’s why the whole thing wreaks of insanity. Not work shoot
Jarrett questioned the rationale behind the entire scenario.
“This business is entertainment, and if it’s not treated as 100 percent entertainment, then we’re all missing the boat. It’s not the ’70s, it’s not the ’80s, it’s not even the ’90s. It’s a totally different ballgame. As much as people talk about liking to go back in time, it’s impossible. It’s like trying to take the three-point shot out of basketball or coming out with an old western. The era’s gone.”
Jarrett also refused to accept the possible explanation that the swerve was done for the benefit of the relatively small internet audience. Last week’s Nitro, coming off of the PPV, drew a 2.6, including a 2.1 for the second hour, bolstering the theory that catering to internet fans is a poor business strategy.
“It’s miniscule. Are we saying that we did it for them? I don’t know. It certainly didn’t spike the ratings.”
Jarrett said he refused to believe the scenario was designed to help Hogan.
“To do what? What can you do on another TV show that you couldn’t do right here today? Is this is a work, what can he do on another show or somewhere else that he couldn’t have already done the last six months or the last year? What’s changing? He’s still Hulk Hogan, he’s still Terry Bollea, he’s still Hollywood or whatever you want to call him. Russo’s still Russo, Eric’s still Eric. It’s still the same players with the same company.
“Look at history. Look how Jerry Lawler’s going out in Memphis. He’s on a U station – a two-camera shoot. Look what they’ve done to Ric Flair, a true living leg end in this business. Who’s been the biggest star in WCW for the past 20 years? Ric Flair has. If they’d do it to him, why can’t they do it to Hogan? But life goes on, and when you look at the numbers we’re doing right now, nobody’s a superstar.”
Hogan lent further credence to the assumption that the incident was a work when he claimed last week that he was giving the WCW belt to son Nick and would let him present it to Vince McMahon on Raw. The WWF, however, is treating the situation as a total work. A number of insiders have speculated that Hogan will again resurface as a ma jor player, and the move was done to revitalize his character yet once again.
“What are you reinventing here?” asked Jarrett. “There are so many cynics, and it may be. But I’m asking the question
what are we doing here? Where are we going with this? Everybody’s the big know-it- all. But for what?”
Jarrett, undeniably, has a valid point. Why would WCW want to invest more time, effort and money into a performer whose time has come and gone and, more importantly, one whose stock and drawing power in the business has dropped to the point where he is a liability to that company?
For the answer, perhaps one has to look beyond the numbers, as grim as they appear, and understand the hold that Hogan holds over company management who still perceive him as the man with the most stroke in the business. Few would have the courage to make the call to give Hogan his walking papers, fearing that Hogan’s influence could come back to haunt them in future endeavors. The wrestling part of Hogan’s contract expires in June 2001, but he has an additional year as a WCW “consultant” which could prevent him from wrestling elsewhere until June 2002.
Hogan said last week that he was demanding his release from WCW and even went so far as to have his lawyer, Henry Holmes, send legal documents to WCW. A gag order reportedly has been imposed by the WCW legal department.
The big question, of course, is where this game will lead. The anticipated result appears to be a “second promotion” that will take over the Thunder show on TBS in September and “compete” with WCW and Ni tro. The new promotion would include Bischoff, Hogan and a select group of WCW’s older, established stars, most of whom currently compose The Millionaires Club. New stars, however, could arrive weekly, creating interest and speculation among WCW fans. Russo is expected to head a “rival” promotion made up of the younger “New Blood” talent, with most of the veterans working for the “opposition.”
For now Russo will continue to book Nitro, while Ed Ferrara will be given the secondary writing job with Thunder, which will revert to a B-level program while Russo concentrates on rebuilding Nitro and making it competitive with Raw. Thunder will feature fewer bigger-name wrestlers and will be a showcase for the younger talent. Conspicuously absent will be brand names like Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger and Kevin Nash, who is not booked for house shows the rest of the month. Diamond Dallas Page is expected to return next week.
WCW also is hoping that it will gain fans when the WWF switches from the USA Network to the weaker TNN in the fall. WCW sees the WWF as being vulnerable at that point, although Viacom plans a multimillion advertising campaign to make viewers aware of the change.
WCW, a beleagured promotion that has been “remade” several times over the past year, has featured longer and more competitive matches in recent weeks, a trend that may continue for the foreseeable future despite Russo’s involvement. It has been speculated that Russo is being pressured from above to have more actual wrestling, more clean finishes and less run-ins on the shows, a pattern that began two months ago when Terry Taylor took over in Russo’s absence.
Jarrett, meanwhile, said he wouldn’t be upset if he learns the incident was an elaborate work.
“Absolutely not. That’s their decision. It’s not my decision to make. I can only do what I do in the ring. So if that’s their decision, right on. I’ll work with them. Let’s go after it.”
Jarrett also confirmed that little planning was done for his match with new WCW champ Booker T (Booker Huffman) at the end of the pay-per-view due to the obvious commotion beforehand. “Zero,” said Jarrett.
“What you saw is what you got. I thought it probably took the luster off of him winning the gold after what had happened earlier. But it was circumstances beyond control, and you have to move on.”
Jarrett said regardless of how things turn out, the company has to proceed and learn from its mistakes.
“We have to start new things from here on out and forget about what has been done in the past. Learn from it but don’t try to dwell on it and patch it up. Start fresh and move on. If we give them good stuff, they’re going to forget about G.I. Bro, no shows and things in the past that they didn’t like. Build new stars. That’s what Vince (McMahon) did. A lot depends on timing and who books the show. Change has to happen. Nothing stays the same.”