At the end of 1990, Ole Anderson was fired as head booker of WCW after booking the promotion into losing what was reported to be 6.5 million dollars for the year, despite Ole being in charge only seven months. The promotion was looking for a new booker but surprisingly, a name out of the past was being mentioned. Things had gotten so bad under Ole that Dusty Rhodes was being considered for the head booking job. Dusty's booking was a contributing factor to the failure of Jim Crockett Promotions. People were optimistic because this time Dusty was not going to wrestle, so he would not be booking to make himself look good. Dusty returned from an embarrassing WWF stint (polka dots, anyone?) to the man in charge at WCW (Bill Watts was considered but was asking for more control than what WCW was willing to offer).
Another change took place as a disagreement between the owners of the NWA name and Ted Turner's executives caused them to separate. When Ric Flair defeats Sting for the World Heavyweight Title on Jan. 11th (his thank you for the Black Scorpion bail out), he is announced as the first World Championship Wrestling world heavyweight champion. The NWA still recognizes Flair as their champion as well.
Three days after the world title change, Tom Zenk loses the TV Title back to Arn Anderson at a TV taping. The match isn't aired for several weeks after and Zenk continues to defend the title until then, notably at the Jan 30th Clash of Champions against Bobby Eaton. Dave Meltzer rips WCW for this practice in his Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Most of the Clash is pretty forgettable but is notable for Flair's title defense draw against Scott Steiner, which is the first time Scott was in a main event.
During January, Rhodes proceeds to change the booking committee to a group of his friends - Barry Windham, Grizzly Smith, Magnum T.A., Kevin Sullivan, Ron West, Mike Graham and Jody Hamilton. Only Kevin Sullivan was kept on the temporary team in place after Ole was released. The other members of the temporary team went back to their normal duties, Flair to wrestling and Jim Ross and Tony Schavione to announcing. In 1991, Schavione was appearing on two superstations as WCW had a show on Superstation WGN out of Chicago for a year. Tony's co-host was Larry Zbyszko and legendary broadcaster Jack Brickhouse had a small segment on each show.
One of the fears of Dusty taking over was his way of booking to put himself over but most people thought since he wasn't wrestling it should not be a problem. They underestimated Dusty. He appeared on a lot of the shows (with the title of "Goodwill Ambassador for WCW" appearing under his name) and everyone was having to mention him. Then Dustin showed up in February and the promotion had a new star.
The first pay per view of the year was Wrestle War which took place on Feb. 24th. This show had a woman tag match featuring ladies from New Japan. New Japan and WCW were planning a big show in March over in Japan and the ladies were sent over to help promote the show. The big story occurred during the main event, however. Wrestle War's main event was the War Games match that Dusty created several years earlier. The participants were the Horsemen (Flair, Windham, Vicious, and Zbysko - subbing for an injured Arn Anderson) against Sting, Brian Pillman, and the Steiners. During the planned finish, Sid Vicious forgets about the enclosed cage during his power bomb of Brian Pillman. Pillman's feet hit the top of the cage and he doesn't rotate enough, landing on the back of his head and his shoulders. Then Vicious picks him up and delivers another one. El Gigante runs out and the show ends abruptly. After the show it is reported that Pillman was injured during the first power bomb and doesn't even remember the second one. He is out for several weeks with head, neck, and shoulder injuries. Brian's real life injury could have been a money making storyline upon his return (like Bruno Sammartino's broken neck during a match with Stan Hansen in the seventies) but Dusty squanders the opportunity and does nothing with it.
WCW one ups their decision to have Tom Zenk defend the TV Title after losing the belt by having the Freebirds win the tag titles from Doom at WrestleWar. However, they had already lost the titles six days earlier to the Steiners at a TV taping that was aired in March. Yes, you read that correctly. The Freebirds lost the titles before they ever won them. Once again, WCW is heavily criticized for this practice of not recognizing title switches until they appear on the air.
The March show in Japan has a bit of controversy as Flair is pinned by Tatsumi Fujinami for the title. Flair was thrown over the top rope during the match so WCW doesn't acknowledge the switch. However, the NWA does recognize the title change. It basically allows both promotions to claim they have the world champion, in order to try to increase the profits at the rematch.
Dusty's time in the WWF shows as WCW is filled with gimmicks this year. Unfortunately, most of Dusty’s ideas were not very good. Veteran Matt Bourne is given a lumberjack persona and the name of Big Josh, as if no one would know who he was. An obese wrestler is given the name P.N. News, a rapper who could only repeat the same lines over and over. A muscular rookie is given a $25,000 music video and told he is now Heavy Metal Van Hammer, despite the fact that he never plays the guitar he carries because he doesn't know how. Billy Jack Haynes is put under a mask and called Blackblood. And then there was Todd Champion and Firebreaker Chip, the Patriots who were announced as coming from "WCW Special Forces", whereever that is. Brad Armstrong is put under a hood to become the masked Freebird, Fantasia (quickly changed to Badstreet because of the Disney movie). But the worst wasn't completely Dusty's fault as, like Robocop the year before, it was forced on to WCW by Turner executives.
At the May pay per view, Superbrawl, fans in attendance are "treated" to the debut of a new wrestler, inspired by a classic movie now owned by the parent company of WCW. Kevin Nash comes out as OZ, accompanied by Kevin Sullivan in a wizard get-up. The introduction even has actors dressed as Dorothy, the Tinman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion. Other than that, the show has some decent action, notably Flair retaking the NWA World Heavyweight Title from Fujinami, Freebirds and the Southern Boys, Windham against Pillman in a taped fist match, Bobby Eaton wins the TV Title from Arn Anderson, and what is called one of WCW's best matches of the year, the Steiners wrestling Sting and Lex Luger. This match ends with Sting getting pinned after pushing Luger out of the way of a Russian sickle with a chain by Nikita Koloff. The feud between Sting and Nikita goes on for several months until Nikita leaves in August. This PPV is also has Diamond Dallas Page majorly screwing up and ending a live promo that went badly with "Let's get the f*** out of here", thinking he was off camera. They hadn't gone back to the ring yet and it was heard over the airwaves. Dusty gets in hot water with the higher-ups but he manages to keep DDP's job.
From February to April, fans are treated to a feud over the TV Title between Arn Anderson, Tom Zenk, Bobby Eaton, and Terrance Taylor, "The Tailor-Made Man" - the first member of the York Foundation. (The feud ends when newcomer "Stunning" Steve Austin wins the belt on June 3rd.) The York Foundation (led by Alexandra York, now Terri Boatright in the WWF) is created because of the departure of Michael (Rotundo) Wallstreet but the group is damaged when, instead of bringing in the rumored Bobby Eaton and Tom Zenk, Ricky (Richard) Morton and Tommy (Thomas) Rich are put in instead. Fans were more interested in Eaton and Zenk because of the TV Title matches. Rich and Morton are turned heel along with Taylor to clear the way for Dustin Rhodes's run as top face.
To further help things along, Pillman (a potential problem for Dusty's plans for Dustin) is pinned in a loser leaves town tag match at the June Clash of Champions. Also at the Knocksville, USA Clash, the OZ experiment continues with his win over Johnny Rich. The IWGP Tag Titles are defended on the show as the Steiners retain over Masa Chono and Hiro Hase. The debuting Diamond Studd (Scott Hall) pins Tommy Rich. Studd's manager is Diamond Dallas Page, who created the gimmick for Hall. Lex Luger retains the US Title over the Great Muta and in his only main event ever, Bobby Eaton wrestles (and loses to) Ric Flair in a 2 out of 3 falls match for the World Heavyweight Title. Also, during an attack angle by the Hardline Protection Agency (Dick Slater and Dick Murdoch), Scott Steiner gets a torn bicep, knocking him out of action for several months. The Steiners were the hottest team in wrestling at the time and adds to WCW's woes.
After this Pillman is put under a mask as the Yellow Dog, a old Barry Windham gimmick from the early eighties. If Pillman isn't in the Yellow Dog gimmick, he is in barnyard costumes (rat, chicken, etc.). It doesn't make sense to use someone as popular as Pillman this way but in appears that Dusty is more concerned with getting his son over than anything else. Dusty was reported to have told Dustin's opponents to make him look good as the announcers (including the recently hired Eric Bischoff) were told to hype Dustin constantly. Dustin was a decent wrestler against the right opponent but he was not ready for that type of push. Dustin was on every PPV and never jobbed. He is even booked to win tag matches against Anderson / Taylor or the Freebirds after his partner Ricky Morton walks out, leaving him in a two on one situation. Dustin even resorts to blading to try and get over. Sound familiar?
In July, the impossible happens. Ric Flair leaves the promotion when he can't come to terms with Jim Herd. Even worse for WCW, he is the champion and departs with the title belt (which he owns as it was given to him by Jim Crockett before Crockett sells to Turner). The first PPV after Flair's departure is the July 14th Great American Bash. Fans express their displeasure by chanting "We want Flair" the entire show. WCW would hear that chant for the next year and a half. Luger is given the title after defeating Barry Windham in a cage but since he didn't defeat Flair, his credibility is damaged. The OZ experiment is deemed a failure as he jobs to Ron Simmons but the Dustin push continues as he is the sole survivor in an elimination match between himself and the Southern Boys (Steve Armstrong and Tracy Smothers) against the Freebirds. The show is extremely weak with a scaffold match between P.N. News (on a scaffold!?!?) and Eaton against Austin and Taylor, Big Josh vs. Blackblood, El Gigante pinning One Man Gang, and a cage match between Arn Anderson and Paul E. Dangerously against Rick Steiner and Missy Hyatt (that Steiner wrestled alone because Missy wasn't allowed to wrestle men by the athletic commission).
By this point, the promotion is floundering. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reports that the higher ups at World Championship Wrestling feel Dusty has not helped turn around the promotion. They respond by limiting Dusty’s television appearances. WCW suffers further embarrassment when Ric Flair signs with the WWF and the belt they had been using for three years for the World Title appears on WWF programming. (Flair is stripped of the NWA Title and eventually sells the belt back to WCW.)
With Ole Anderson gone, some of the people he got rid of returned such as Cactus Jack, who immediately is put in a program with Sting. Jack attacks Sting after his US Title defense against Johnny B. Badd on the September Clash "Fall Brawl". Jack elbowdrops Sting from the second turnbuckle to the floor. Later in the show, Sting returns the favor by attacking Jack. The wild brawl includes Sting hiptossing Jack from the ramp to the concrete floor. Unbelievably, Cactus would get up and continue brawling to the back. The Fall Brawl clash also has some wrestling on it as well as the Enforcers (Arn Anderson and Larry Zbysko) defeat Rick Steiner and Bill Kazmeier in the finals of the World Tag Title tourney. A light heavyweight title is introduced but the division gets off to a bad start as Morton against Mike Graham is one of the matches for the belt on the Clash. It is overshadowed by the other match between Brian Pillman and Badstreet. It would be Morton vs. Pillman for the title at the next PPV.
Cactus Jack and Abdullah the Butcher are put together as a tag team. They would be participants in an awful gimmick match at Halloween Havok - "The Chamber of Horrors" match. They were teamed with the Diamond Studd and Big Van Vader against the Steiners, Sting, and El Gigante. It takes place in a cage with Halloween props and the objects was to put one of your opponents in the "electric chair" and turn it on. Abdullah gets the honors of going to the chair as sparks fly when the lever is pulled. It looks really bad. It is the night of bad gimmicks as Big Josh and P.N. News battle "The Creatures" (Joey Maggs and Johnny Rich) and a wrestler is brought out under the name of the Halloween Phantom. During the Phantom's match, he uses a very familiar looking reverse neckbreaker on Tom Zenk to get the win. Later, Paul E. Dangerously reveals the Phantom to be Ravishing Rick Rude as the Dangerous Alliance is born. Other action included Austin against Dustin in a time limit draw for the TV Title, Pillman defeating Morton for the Light Heavyweight Title, the Enforcers retaining the tag titles from the Patriots, and Luger defeating Ron Simmons for the world title in a 2-out-of-3-falls match.
About three weeks later, the last Clash of the year takes place with a major surprise. Dustin's partner Barry Windham was injured for his title match against the Enforcers. Dustin and Barry come out with a man covered with a cloth and a lizard head. He removes the cloth to reveal Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (the second time in less than three years that Steamboat was a surprise mystery partner). The Enforcers are great in their reactions (Arn Anderson is heard saying "Not Ricky Steamboat!") and the match is very good as The Enforcers bump like crazy for Steamboat, ending with Rhodes and Steamboat as the new tag team champions. The show also has a hot angle with Sting getting attacked as it is revealed who originally paid Cactus Jack to attack Sting at the September Clash. Lex Luger attacks Sting as he is distracted by Dangerous Alliance member Madusa, sending Sting to the hospital with a knee injury. Sting is supposed to defend the US Title against Rick Rude later in the show. The angle plays out that if Sting can't wrestle, Dangerously snuck into the contract that Rude would win the title on a forfeit (explaining why Madusa helped Luger earlier). Sting manages to get back to the arena and wrestles the match. The heat during the match is incredible as Rude, with help from Dangerously, wins the title. None of the other titles change hands on the show including TV champ Austin over P.N. News, Light Heavyweight champ Brian Pillman defeating Johnny B. Badd, and Luger successfully defending the title against Rick Steiner. Later that month, Diamond Dallas Page debuts as a wrestler, deciding to wrestle after his managing and announcers jobs were cut back.
The year ends at Starrcade with a new Dusty concept called "The Lethal Lottery" which is actually a fun concept of teams being drawn at random. You had the Freebirds on different teams in the first match, the feuding Richard Morton and Dustin Rhodes as a team later, just like Tom Zenk and Terrance Taylor. But the most fun matches were Ricky Steamboat and Todd Champion against Cactus Jack and Buddy Lee Parker and the match between Brian Pillman and Bobby Eaton against Sting and Abdullah the Butcher. In the first one, Buddy Lee Parker is announced as Cactus Jack's partner and is attacked by Jack's regular partner Abdullah, who doesn't understand the concept. Jack wrestles the match by himself as Buddy Lee crawls down the ramp to the ring, as the crowd chants his name. Buddy is tagged in as soon as he arrives to the ring and pinned where he suffers more abuse at the hands of Cactus Jack for losing the match. The second match has Abdullah ignoring that he is supposed to be teaming with Sting and attacking the guy he has been feuding with for months. Brian Pillman turns on Eaton so Sting isn't in a three on one situation and Eaton is pinned. The show ends with all the winners of the tag match competing in a battle royal, which is won by Sting. At Starrcade, Brian Pillman was no longer the light heavyweight champion as he lost it to Jushin Thunder Liger a few days earlier.
1991 hadn't been much better for the promotion and Jim Herd was feeling the heat. Finally, Herd had enough of being undermined by the bookers, the bad press, the bad ratings, and low house show attendance. He tried to bring a corporate structure to the federation but the bookers he hired (Ole and Dusty) would bury any wrestler that Herd hired by squashing them in matches against wrestlers hired by the bookers. Herd resigned in mid-January 1992, replaced by Kip Frye. Frye only was in charge for a couple of months but during this time apparently his bosses had allowed him to spend some money. He signed Dallas Page to a contract and gave out some raises. He also had a policy of giving a $5,000 bonus to the best match of a big show (like a Clash or PPV).
The first Clash of 1992 was held in Topeka, KS and led with a match between the Steiners against Vader and Mr. (Curtis) Hughes. Vader and Hughes were being managed by Harley Race, as was the world champion, Lex Luger. Dallas Page wrestled on his first Clash (losing to P.N. News), as did his new tag partner, Vinnie Vegas (Kevin Nash), who beat Thomas Rich. The most fun match of the evening was a falls count anywhere match between Cactus Jack and Van Hammer. They ended up fighting in an outside arena set up for a rodeo, complete with livestock (according to the story line, it was there for a rodeo later that week but Mick Foley's book indicates that was a work). Abdullah shows up and tries to hit Jack with a metal shovel but Hammer takes the blow instead and is pinned. Jack and Abby continue to fight, knocking on the scene interviewer Missy Hyatt into horse trough filled with water (and it was eighteen degrees outside). The Dangerous Alliance was well represented on this show as two tag matches headlined the card. Dustin, Windham, and Simmons defeated Anderson, Zbysko, and Eaton with Sting and Steamboat beating Austin and Rude.
Last major show booked by Dusty was the Feb. 29th, 1992 Superbrawl show. It opened with what is considered by some people as WCW's best opening match on a PPV ever as Pillman regained the Light Heavyweight Title from Liger in a seventeen-minute classic. Ron Simmons continued his winning ways defeating Cactus Jack. Windham and Dustin beat Austin and Zbysko while Anderson and Eaton kept the World Tag Tiles when the Steiners were disqualified in their match. Rude pinned Steamboat in the US Title match while Sting defeated Luger for the World Title. It was Luger's WCW farewell as he went to Vince McMahon's World Bodybuilding Federation immediately after the show (he could not wrestle until his WCW no-compete clause expired). An angle is done after the show with the Dangerous Alliance disrupting Sting's victory press conference, setting up a showdown. However, Dusty wouldn't get a chance to continue it. Dusty was demoted to commentator and Kip Frey turned over the promotion to Cowboy Bill Watts not long after SuperBrawl.
Next: The Cowboy Rides In
To Be Continued . . .