1992 saw a new sheriff in town at WCW.
With the demotion of Dusty Rhodes, Kip Frey turned over the promotion to Cowboy Bill Watts. (But not before Frey had hired Jesse "The Body" Ventura as a color commentator.) At the time, Watts seemed like a solid choice. In the mid-eighties, Watts ran the Mid-South / Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) - which was considered the most cutting edge wrestling promotion in the United States at the time. However, no one could have foreseen what was going to happen when Watts took over.
Watts sold the UWF to Jim Crockett about five years earlier and apparently he had not paid attention to changes in the business during that time. He made some rule changes to make WCW wrestling more sport-like in appearance - no mats at ringside, no brawling outside the ring, no using the barricades or corner posts as weapons, and the big one - all moves off the top rope were banned. Some of these rules were not bad ideas (such as the brawling outside the ring and weapons bans) because then the heels would have ways to get heat. However, the top rope ban came immediately after SuperBrawl had a match of the year candidate by high-fliers Brian Pillman and Justin Thunder Liger. Now Brian Pillman was getting disqualified for coming off the top rope - with fans hating that match ending every time it happened. But while fans were unhappy some of the rule changes, Watts instituted some rules backstage that caused just as much strife with the workers.
Watts instituted the rule that all of the wrestlers had to stay until the final match was over. If you were the curtain jerker at the beginning of the show, you couldn't leave for two and a half hours when the main event was over. Even better, the wrestlers could not bring their wives to TV tapings or have their children in the locker room, you couldn't even kill the two plus hours wait by playing cards in the dressing room. If wrestlers were on the opposite side of the face/heel line, they couldn't talk to each other outside the arena, couldn't stay in the same hotel, or even train in the same gym as another wrestler. But as bad as those and several other new rules were, the wrestlers were most aggravated by Watts' cost cutting measures, as Watts' pay was not calculated by how much new revenue he got, but rather by how much he cut costs. He got rid of catering at TV tapings and he tried to get people to take a pay cut or wait until their contract expired then hire them to a nightly deal. (Reportedly, he approached Brian Pillman to take a pay cut and Pillman refused. Watts threatened to job him out and Pillman replied then he would be the industry's high paid jobber in history.)
Watts first PPV was WrestleWar held on May 17th. For the most part, the card was unspectacular. Dallas Page and Thomas Rich over Bob Cook and Firebreaker Chip, Super Invader (Hercules Hernandez) pinning Todd Champion, Scotty Flamingo (now Raven) over Marcus Bagwell. The Freebirds won the US tag titles from Terry Taylor and Greg Valentine. Brian Pillman retained the Light Heavyweight title over Tom Zenk in a pretty good match. The Steiners defeated Tatsumi Fujinami and Takayuki Iizuka in a brutal WCW tag title match (the Steiners worked pretty stiff). The main event was a War Games match between the Dangerous Alliance (Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin, Rick Rude and Larry Zbyzsko) against Sting, Dustin Rhodes, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat, and Nikita Koloff. The main story behind the main event was tension between Sting and Nikita as they feuded the year before. The Alliance lost after Eaton submitted after Zbyzsko hit him with the metal part of a turnbuckle by accident - Larry was fired from the Alliance soon after and was going to be replaced by The Diamond Studd (Scott Hall). However, Hall quit after a dispute over money at that very show.
They had another show the next month called Beach Blast on June 20th. It only drew 5,000 fans which was a shame as this was a decent show. Scotty Flamingo (now Raven) won the Light Heavyweight title from Brian Pillman. Ron Simmons started being groomed for bigger things as he defeated Terry Taylor in a not-so-good match. Greg Valentine wins a solid match against Marcus Alexander Bagwell. In a wild brawl (mentioned in Mick Foley's book as his best match in his career at the time) Sting won a "falls count anywhere" match against Cactus Jack. It was followed by an Iron Man match between Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat. Rude and Steamboat did a great job with Steamboat winning 4-3...with seven near falls in the last thirty seconds. Watts' new rules mar the next match as Windham, Rhodes, and Koloff get a DQ victory over Eaton, Arn, and Austin when Arn comes off the top ropes after fifteen minutes of action. In non-wrestling parts of the show, Missy Hyatt wins a bikini contest over Madusa and Cactus Jack attacks Ricky Steamboat during an interview (which was never really resolved). The last match is what was supposed to be a dream match between the Steiners and the team of Steve Williams and Terry Gordy. It goes to a time limit draw and wasn't as good as expected.
A few days after this PPV, on June 22nd to be exact, Clash of the Champions XIX was aired (which was actually taped on the 16th, before the PPV). Watts came to an agreement with the NWA and this show was the beginning of a tournament to determine new NWA tag champs. Bizarrely, the NWA tourney had different rules than normal WCW matches as top rope maneuvers and brawling on the floor was allowed. This wasn't a good idea as fans were confused by the different rules (or angry because this tourney reminded viewers of how dumb the off the top rope ban was). The show itself was very good, though there was a major mistake in booking at the end of the show. Steamboat and Nikita advanced by defeating Joe and Dean Malenko, Rude and Austin beat Bagwell and Zenk, Gordy/ Williams over Larry and Jeff O'Day. The Steiners would get a forfeit when their opponents were attacked in back. Windham and Rhodes advanced past Arn and Eaton, the Freebirds (Hayes and Garvin) beat El Texano and Silver King. Chris Benoit made his WCW debut in a loss with his tag partner, Beef Wellington, to Justin Liger and Brian Pillman in the best match on the show. Akira Nogami and Hiro Hase beat the Headhunters. An angle was run between Harley Race and Ron Simmons - continuing Simmons' push (in an angle that made Harley look like a bigot). The show ended with Gordy and Williams defeating the Steiners in the only second round match on the card, a terrible mistake as they gave away on free TV the match that should have been one of the major draws for the tourney finals on PPV.
The titles start changing hands with Dick Slater and Barbarian getting the US tag titles from Terry Taylor and Greg Valentine (Slater and the Barbarian would be the last US tag champs as the belts are retired a month later) on June 25th. July 5th, two titles change hands as Brad Armstrong wins the Light Heavyweight title from Scotty Flamingo and the Steiners drop the WCW tag titles to Gordy and Williams at the Omni. Williams and Gordy are getting a major push as they were part of Watts' old UWF crew.
WCW had a comic book about the promotion come out this year, produced by Marvel Comics. The book is well done but a major source of amusement is during the production time and the release date, several wrestlers featured prominently in the comic have left the promotion - notably Lex Luger, El Gigante, and Scott Hall. The comic lasted twelve issues before it is canceled.
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A new wrestler came into WCW who immediately got a big push, his name was Eric Watts - Cowboy Bill Watts' son. Whatever potential the kid might have, he is way too green to be on TV - let alone get any sort of push. Bill started using him after Eric had only been in the Power Plant for a very short time - against the advice of the trainers. A match he has at this year's Starrcade exposes how unready Erik is as he throws a dropkick that hits his opponent in the knee. The fans boo Eric at every show and the other wrestlers resent him as they are fighting for their jobs. Eric's career is majorly damaged before it really began and has never recovered.
Watts' bad booking decision for the NWA tourney hurts the Great American Bash as it only draws 8,000 fans live and a 0.4 buy rate. Despite their presence on the show's advertising, the Steiners are out of the tourney. The second round actions sees Nikita and Steamboat over Liger and Pillman, Windham and Dustin advanced past Austin and Rude, with Hiro Hase and Shinya Hashimoto getting past the Freebirds. The semifinals have Gordy and Williams defeat Koloff and Steamboat with Dustin and Barry advancing past Hase and Hashimoto. Sting loses the world title to Big Van Vader. Gordy and Williams beat Dustin and Barry to win the NWA tag titles, thus unifying the NWA and WCW tag titles in the finals of the tourney. Yet another mistake that makes the entire tournament a major waste of time (why have a tourney for a second tag title if you immediately unify it with the other tag title?) - especially since Watts proceeds to de-emphasize the NWA. After the Great American Bash on July 12th, WCW would not have another PPV until October after Watts cancels a couple of scheduled PPV shows.
A house show in Baltimore heats up WCW on August 2nd. Early in the show, Sting is attacked by Jake "The Snake" Roberts when he comes out of the crowd. Sting receives two DDTs on a steel chair and can't wrestle in his world title match against the champ, Big Van Vader. In a drawing out of a hat, Ron Simmons gets the match and wins to become the first black world champion. Back in the old Mid-South territory, the Junkyard Dog was a huge draw and Watts hoped that lightning would strike twice with Simmons. The circumstances leading to the match and the entire match are shown in their entirety on the weekend shows.
Over in Japan, Masahiro Chono defeats Rick Rude in the finals of the NWA world title tourney on August 12th. They have a rematch at Halloween Havok. September 2nd, 1992 airs the twentieth Clash of the Champions - which is a celebration of wrestling's twentieth year of wrestling on WTBS. Clips of wrestlers from the past are shown and special guests appear including Andre the Giant, in what would be Andre's last US TV appearance before his death. Action includes Ricky Steamboat defeating Steve Austin for the TV title, Anderson and Eaton over Dick Slater and Greg Valentine (managed by Larry Zbyszko), and Simmons beating Cactus Jack in a world title defense. Cactus was injured during the match but still came out to commentate during the Barbarian / Butch Reed win over Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes. Cactus, Reed, the Barbarian, and Roberts were supposed to form a stable but Reed would be fired soon after the show. In the main event was an elimination match between Rude, Roberts, Vader, and the Super Invader against Sting, Nikita, and the Steiners. Rude and Roberts survive winning the match for their team. The show is done at Center Stage so it only draws 500 fans due to space but receives a 3.7 rating. The show is also notable for the turn of Brian Pillman as he slaps Brad Armstrong, who is on crutches, and the ban on top rope maneuvers is voted on. The vote is decidedly against the ban and is dropped soon after.
Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes defeat Terry Gordy and Steve Williams for the unified tag team titles on September 21st in Atlanta. Gordy demands more money a few weeks later and is given the boot. Also gone are the Steiners. Scott Steiner had won the TV title on Sept. 29th and stripped of it when the team left. Watts wanted to sign them for less money than what they were currently making and they refuse. Amazingly, Watts lets them out of their contract early and they show up in the WWF way before they should have.
WCW uses a mini-movie to set up the Jake Roberts - Sting match at the next PPV - Halloween Havok. The matches gimmick is called "Spin the Wheel - Make the Deal." Several gimmick matches are put on a wheel and after spinning the wheel, whatever match is landed on Roberts and Sting will wrestle in. The feud between the two gets WCW their highest PPV rating to that point for the Oct. 25th show of a 0.9 (7,000 fans were in attendance). However, the wheel ends up on probably the worst gimmick match on the wheel - a "coal miner's glove" match. The match isn't very good and it ends with a very fake looking angle of Jake getting bit on the face by a cobra (when he is clearly holding it to his face). Other action includes Zenk, Gunn, and Douglas over Arn, Eaton, and Hayes. Steamboat defeats Pillman while Vader pins Nikita Koloff, Windham and Rhodes retain the unified tag teams in a draw with Williams and Austin. Rude gets a DQ victory over NWA champ Masa Chono. And, believe it or not, Ron Simmons defends the WCW world title against . . . The Barbarian. Simmons keeps the title, of course. Soon after Havok, Roberts is gone from WCW.
The Clash of the Champions (XXI) returns to WTBS on Nov. 18th. Brian Pillman pins Brad Armstrong after Pillman fakes an injury then goes on the attack. The referee tries to DQ Pillman but Brian gleefully informs him he can't because the match hadn't started. The match starts and Brian pins Brad in a few seconds. Scotty Flamingo beats Johnny B. Badd in an awful "boxing" match with help from Dallas Page and Vinnie Vegas. Arn and Eaton lose to Kensuke Sasaki and Eric Watts - Watts gets the submission victory over Eaton. In previous weeks on the weekend shows, Tony Atlas, The Barbarian, and Cactus Jack were attacking rookie Bobby Walker, with Ron Simmons helping the youngster. A handicap match was set up for the Clash but Walker was "injured" before the show. Simmons said he would have a mystery partner for the show. He delivered as a young black wrestler joined him - who has some spectacular moves. The newcomer pins Atlas - debuting the 450 splash to a national audience. The newcomer isn't named during the match - until the post match interview where he gives his name as Too Cold Scorpio. Madusa wrestled Paul E. Dangerously to a draw (they started feuding when the Dangerous Alliance broke up). Sting and Rude wrestled to a draw in the "King of Cable" tournament - Sting advanced by a judge's decision. Windham and Rhodes lost the tag titles to Steamboat and Douglas, with Windham turning heel in a very good angle. Steamboat received an accidental low blow and Dustin refused to take advantage of the injury, despite Windham’s instructions. Windham tags himself in and gives Steamboat several atomic knee drops. Eventually, Douglas gets involved to cause Windham to lose. Dustin walks away from Windham after the match but Barry calls him back and attacks him. Barry then attacks Steamboat and Douglas with a chair during an interview.
Dec. 28th saw the last PPV of the year Starrcade: the Lethal Lottery / Battle Bowl. Van Hammer / Dan Spivey over Badd and Cactus Jack, Vader and Dustin pinned the Barbarian and Kensuke Sasaki, Muta and Windham advanced past Pillman and Too Cold Scorpio, Williams and Sting advanced over Liger and Watts in the Battle Bowl matches. Muta won the battle royal after. In the title matches, Douglas and Steamboat retain against Windham and Pillman. Williams is disqualified in his WCW title match against Ron Simmons. Chono beats Muta by submission in their NWA title match. Sting also defeated Vader in the "King of Cable" tournament finals. It drew 8,000 fans and got a 0.5 PPV rating.
Two days later, the Ron Simmons experiment concludes as Vader retakes the title in Baltimore - the same place the initial title switch took place. Simmons never connected with fans as he wasn't a good interview. Watts also didn't book him very well with title defenses against people like the Barbarian and usually not in the main event. (The Roberts / Sting match was the last match on Halloween Havok.) Simmons as champ was not drawing fans to house shows as attendance was in the hundreds.
On January 4, 1993 - the NWA world title changes hands over in Japan as Chono loses to the Great Muta. Parts of the match are shown on WCW programming later that month and what is shown, it appears to be a very good match.
As 1993 started off, Watts was under fire. The ratings, house show attendance, and PPV buy rates were falling. Watts wasn't helping himself with several incidents during meetings with his bosses where he showed disrespect to his supervisors and an interview which fellow Turner employee Hank Aaron found racist. There were also reports that he told undercard wrestlers to "dog it" so they wouldn't upstage his main eventers. And his bosses felt that all the shows looked alike and the feuds had little continuity from week to week.
Interestingly enough, things looked pretty good for WCW at the time. For the year and a half since his departure, fans had been chanting "We want Flair" at every show. Reports were that Flair was about to leave the WWF and return to WCW. Also, Watts had arranged a working agreement with Smokey Mountain Wrestling. He had hired some new talents to WCW such as Chris Benoit, Max Pain, Robbie V (later Rob Van Dam), the Wrecking Crew, Steve Regal (now William Regal in the WWF), and WCW was talking to the "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith. Paul Orndorff, Sid Vicious, and Eddie Gilbert were returning and there was a working arrangement with New Japan Wrestling.
Watts had a hot angle that turned Cactus Jack face at the beginning of the year. Rick Rude was injured in a match and he was supposed to wrestle in a tag team cage match on the upcoming Clash of the Champions. Harley Race had a match between Cactus Jack and Paul Orndorff to determine who was going to take Rude's place. Cactus takes exception to Race shoving him and manhandles Harley. Vader comes down and the three of them destroy Jack. Later, during an interview, Jack gets his revenge against the threesome - using a metal shovel. Jack beats them severely and knocks around the guys out of the back who came out to break it up. Orndorff was not under contract and this angle was probably his last shot at working for a major company. Thanks to the strength of the angle, Orndorff ends up getting a job and takes the bookings for the injured Rude.
Due to Rude's injury, the US title he held since Nov. 91 is put up in a tournament. Dustin Rhodes wins the final over Ricky Steamboat on Jan. 11th. The Clash of the Champions takes place on Jan. 13th. Cactus Jack pins Johnny B. Badd, Too Cold Scorpio beats Scotty Flamingo, Chris Benoit defeats Brad Armstrong, the Wrecking Crew beats Johnny Gunn and Tom Zenk, Vinnie Vegas wins an "arm wrestling" match against Tony Atlas. Shane Douglas and Ricky Steamboat beat by DQ the new team of Brian Pillman and Steve Austin in a tag title match. In the main event cage match, Sting and Dustin Rhodes are short handed due to an injury to Ron Simmons. Vader, Orndorff, and Windham have a major advantage but Cactus Jack breaks into the cage - getting the pin on Orndorff.
Watts starts building for the next PPV - SuperBrawl. He has a dumb mini-movie with Sting going to Vader's "White Castle of Fear" to accept a match for SuperBrawl. The movie made no sense and was laughable but another tactic was used that was much more interesting. The announcement was made that the Rock and Roll Express would appear on the show - using old footage of a match between the Rock and Rolls and the Midnight Express. The next week, Cornette and the Heavenly Bodies from Smokey Mountain Wrestling disrupted the Saturday show in protest of the use of that footage. The following week Watts and Bob Armstrong (the Smokey Mountain commissioner) agreed to punish Cornette and his crew by wrestling on SuperBrawl against the Rock and Roll Express - despite Cornette not waiting anything to do with WCW. However, Watts wouldn't be there when SuperBrawl comes around. Reportedly, there is a problem with getting Ric Flair back as Watts and Flair are disagreeing over money. This is the last straw as far as Watts' bosses are concerned and Watts is demoted. He is still part of the booking committee but will no longer handle contracts. Watts finds this unacceptable and quits. Most people are expecting Tony Schiavone to get put in charge but executives surprise everyone by giving the job to a third string announcer by the name of Eric Bischoff.
Next: Enter EZE - Exit Millions Of Dollars
To Be Continued . . .