This is the fourth of a five part series in which Alex Kreit explores the history of pro-wrestling and its relationship with its fans. It was originally written as a paper for his "Sports and Society" class at Amherst College and represents a scholarly examination of our favorite Sports Entertainment. It is presented here complete with footnotes which are accessed by clicking on the number links scattered throughout the text. Return links are provided in the footnotes section to take you back to where you left off in the narrative.
The new target audience was college students. That the college students were the same people who, as children, watched wrestling in the 80's was not a coincidence. The newest incarnation of professional wrestling demonstrated its break with the 80's by introducing more intricate story lines in which wrestlers renounced their old personas.
Hulk Hogan had embodied professional wrestling in the 80's, encouraging youth to say their prayers and take their vitamins. "...the Hulk maintains that he does what he says because, 'It proves to all the little Hulksters out there that if you work hard and get to bed early, you can accomplish anything.'"(43)
Hogan was unquestionably the most widely recognized professional wrestler of the 80's, as well as the most popular, always wrestling in the main event of the card.
In July of 1996, the WCW symbolically killed 80's wrestling when one of their story lines had Hulk Hogan join "the New World Order," a new group of wrestlers who wore all black, mocked fans and whose mantra was "tradition bites." The tremendous success of wrestling web sites is the most striking example of the popularity of professional wrestling among college students. It is not uncommon for professional wrestling web sites to receive over 100,000 different visitors each month. Wrestling web sites offer a behind the scenes look at professional wrestling geared to the mature and educated wrestling fan.
Rick Scaia, a graduate research assistant at the University of Dayton who runs the popular web site "Online Onslaught," had stopped watching professional wrestling in the early 90's before regaining interest after discovering fans discussing wrestling on the internet.
"What brought me all the way back was the internet. My freshman year roommate had a PC and a modem, and it wasn't long before I stumbled across intelligent wrestling fans still having a good time with the sport on the Usenet news group rec.sport.pro-wrestling."(44)
While the web sites offer news and rumors, rec.sport.pro-wrestling is a forum for fans with a college education to discuss professional wrestling. The popularity of the news groups and web sites, like the ratings of wrestling television shows, are growing as more and more young adults rediscover professional wrestling.
Today professional wrestling is as almost as popular as it was in 1987. Monday Nitro, the WCW's featured show, and Monday Night RAW, the WWF's features show, almost always share the top two slots on the weekly list of highest rated cable programs. During the week of week of April 6th, 1998, for instance, professional wrestling programs held six of the top seven slots.(45)
"Advertisers are taking note. They say wrestling beats 'Mad About You' and 'Entertainment Tonight' for targeting teens and young adult males, a popular demographic group... WCW says advertising rates have jumped 70% in the past two years."(46)
Wrestlings' ratings success is especially impressive because both company's major television programs air opposite one another. WCW's president Eric Bischoff, attributes professional wrestling's success to breaking away from the cartoon characters of the 80's. "We've kind of re-created the industry in the last two years by producing more realistic story lines."(47) Vince McMahon and WWF wrestler Sean Waltman also agree that their product is geared towards young adults.
"'Our fans today are sophisticated,' McMahon said. 'Our fans know sports entertainment, they appreciate performances and story lines. It's the closest thing to a live athletic sports soap opera you'll find.'... Sean 'X-Pac' Waltman, back in the WWF after an acrimonious parting with WCW, adds: 'It's good trying to promote family entertainment, but having an adult slant is the way to go. We (Sean, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall) told him two years ago before we left (for WCW) we think the product needs to be more edgy.'"(48)
Colleges around the nation, including Harvard, have started professional wrestling fan clubs and WCW held an "On the Road to Spring Break" tour that had wrestlers spend time signing autographs and hanging out on a number of college campuses, culminating with a televised show held in Panama City, Florida during spring break.
To hold the interest of college fans, story lines are becoming more and more involved. A lot of story lines are based on real incidents that have occurred behind the scenes. For instance, when wrestler Sean Waltman was fired from the WCW because of a slow recovery from a knee injury, he signed to the WWF and gave an interview condemning WCW for firing him.
These types of story lines give fans the opportunity to discuss the real life struggles in professional wrestling in addition to the fictional ones, which especially appeals to college students. "As [Nicholas] Stolar, 22, an English major at Harvard puts it, 'We can all watch the fighting, but you can also get into the politics of it. That's very appealing to most guys."(49)
The story lines become more realistic and involved with each show, and one can only speculate as to where the renewed fan interest will take professional wrestling.
Live from the Cox Arena in San Diego, CA - Bash at the Beach is on the air.
At this moment the main event tonight is very much up in the air. According to reliable reports, Dennis Rodman (who missed his scheduled appearance on Nitro this week to cavort drunkenly at a Pearl Jam concert) has not returned phone calls to WCW executives all week. And now there has been a death in Karl Malone's family (his sister) so he is not unlikely to no-show as well.
I have to say that they have been advertising the main event as if it would indeed take place right up to the time of the PPV.
The Goldberg chant starts up as the announcers hype the card. It threatens to drown Mike Tenay out.
They throw it to Mean Gene who stands near the entryway to hawk the Hotline.
Saturn vs Raven (w/the Flock) - Raven Rules match - Saturn meets his nemesis in the aisle and the fight gets started. He drags Raven toward the ring but continues to pound on him. He smashes him into the railing then chokes him with his own discarded shirt. In the ring, Saturn goes to the top and slips off but bounces right off the canvas and throws a drop-kick. This is all Saturn so far. The announcers are pointing out that Saturn has stopped wearing cut-offs in the ring and has donned traditional wrestling tights for the match tonight. He seeks to distance himself from the Flock in appearance. Raven is knocked to the floor and pulls a table out from under the ring. Riggs helps him set it up. Saturn comes out and is caught in a Russian Leg Sweep - he hits his head on the guard rail. Raven rolls him back into the ring and attempts a pin No cigar. Next he applies a verticle suplex then grabs a sleeper. Saturn counters it by backing into the corner but Raven is back on him Saturn executes a jaw-breaker and both guys are down. Saturn recovers and gets a belly-to-back suplex then brings in a chair to hit Raven with. He lays the chair on Raven and drops a leg. Saturn sets the chair up but Lodi and Riggs come in to attack him. He suplexes both of them! Then he uses the chair as a springboard - and catches Nick Patrick in the corner! Raven is knocked out of the ring and followed by Saturn, who sets up another table and lays Raven out on it. Then he sets the second table over Raven! As he climbs to the top Kanyon comes out and rescues Raven. Saturn trashes both tables and himself. In the ring, Kanyon drops Raven on his head then splits. Saturn recovers and re-enters the ring and is drop-toe-holded face first onto the chair. He comes back and gets the Death Valley Driver but can't get the pin. Riggs runs in again and distracts Saturn which allows Raven to put the DDT on him and get the pin.
Mean Gene interviews Eddie Guerrero - he comments on the fact that Chavo is wrestling Stevie Ray prior to his match with Eddie. Eddie expects to win easily and then shave his nephew's head.
Kidman vs. Juventud Guerrera - the two youngsters bull each other around the ring for several moments before Kidman grabs a side headlock. As small as he is he nonetheless has a substantial size advantage. Almost immediately, Lodi is interfering but it gets him in trouble when Kidman throws a suicide dive and catches him instead of his opponent. Then Juvey throws one of his own and catches both Flock members. Back in the ring, Kidman turns the tables and knocks Juvey out to the floor, then he goes out and presses the attack. He drops Juvey onto the railing but then goes up to the apron and dives only to miss his opponent and hit the rail himself. Back in the ring it's all Guerrera. He positions Kidman on the top but then receives a low-blow. Kidman super-powerbombs him from the top but takes a shot himself in the process. Still he recovers first and grabs a headlock. Juvey fights and escapes, the match see-saws until Kidman gets in a great drop-kick. Moments later Juvey tries to launch himself but Kidman levers him out to he floor again. Back in the ring they struggle at the top again and Juvey gets a Frankensteiner but still can't get the pin. Kidman comes back with a springboard bulldog. The match see-saws again until Guerrera gets the Juvey Driver. He goes for a pin but no soap. Kidman downs him and goes for the 7 Year Itch but misses. Juvey gets the 450 and takes the pin.
Konnan is back in the Internet room chatting with the fans.
Stevie Ray vs. Chavo Guerrero, Jr. - Chavo better pace himself in this contest or he's liable not to make it for his match with Eddie. Speak of the devil - Eddie shows up to scout the action. Chavo dedicates the match to "my favorite wrestler..." then does some posing for the crowd. He spends considerable time trying to get Stevie's goat then offers to shake hands. Stevie takes the proffered hand and immediately sends Chavo to his knees. Chavo submits and Stevie is the winner!
Chavo Guerrero, Jr. vs. Eddie Guerrero - the "Hair vs. Hair" match begins immediately. Unfortunately for Eddie, Chavo comes into the match fresh as a daisy. He continues his antics much to Eddie's chagrin. Eddie leaves the ring and Chavo grabs a chair to sit down and wait him out. Eddie comes back in and offers to shake hands. They toy with each other then Chavo takes the hand and pulls Eddie into a clothesline. Then he bites him on the butt!! Eddie complains then maneuvers the referee between them. As Chavo comes closer, Eddie does an end run and drop-kicks him in the knee. Now it is all Eddie as he attacks with a vengence. Chavo ends up flopped on the apron with his head hanging over the floor. Eddie launches himself over the top rope and deals a devestating blow. Back in the ring, Eddie applies the Gory Special backbreaker. Chavo escapes but goes down under a clothesline. Eddie grabs a Camel Clutch. He releases the hold and makes the mistake of whipping Chavo to the rope. Chavo comes back with a clothesline to turn the tables. He continues the attack until he is dumped outside. Eddie follows him out and rips up the mat then tries to suplex Chavo, but Chavo reverses the move and Eddie is the one who feels the concrete. Back in the ring Chavo is in charge again. He gets a scoop slam then goes for the top but is upset there. Eddie joins him there and gets a superplex but does damage to himself. Both are down. Chavo recovers first and slams Eddie again. He gos to the top and throws a Frog Splash but Eddie gets his knees between them. Eddie jumps up and executes Chavo's finisher (Tornedo DDT) then goes for the scissors. The referee talks him into dropping them and Chavo gets hold of them. Now the ref is now trying to calm Chavo down, thus allowing Eddie to blindside him and get a roll-up and the pin. Chavo has to be told to sit down for the haircut but then grabs the clippers away from Eddie. He starts shaving himself and then offers to shave Eddie too. Eddie rolls out of the ring and splits. Chavo sits back down and proceeds to butcher...er, barber himself.
The announcers are discussing the situation with Chris Jericho - who will he face tonight for the Cruiserweight Title?
Disco Inferno (w/Alex Wright) vs. Konnan (w/Lex Luger/Kevin Nash) - this is an unadvertised bonus match. Disco and Wright start out by taunting Konnan - aping his tag lines - then they conclude that everyone is here to see them dance. But Konnan's Wolfpack music plays instead. The Dancing Fools abandon the ring as the Wolfpack trio enter the ring. Nash makes a short speech then Konnan throws out his own version of his tag lines. Konnan starts the match strong and takes the immediate advantage. Disco has picked the wrong opponent to showboat against. Still he manages to lever Konnan out of the ring and right into Wright's attacking arms. Luger comes around after Konnan in rolled back in and racks Wright. The referee is distracted by this and Nash enters the ring behind him and jack knifes Disco. Konnan gets an easy pin.
The Giant vs. Kevin Greene - Special Challenge match - Greene comes in hot but the Giant calmly watches him. The Giant attacks first but Greene ducks him then gets in a slap to the face. The Giant is enraged and Greene rolls out to the floor. Back inside he catches the Giant stepping over the top rope and crotches him. The Giant finally gets in and catches Greene in mid-flight then sidewalk slams him. He rolls him to the apron and stands on his throat. As Greene is sinking the crowd starts the Goldberg chant. The Giant stands Greene up and chops him down. Greene ends up on the apron where he gets a little revenge by snapping the Giants neck on the top rope. Then he is headbutted to the floor. Outside, Greene turns the tables and manages to run the Giant into the railing and the steps. But the Giant shrugs him off. Back in the ring, Greene climbs to the top and uses a flying tackle to put the Giant down. He hits the Giant with several clotheslines in the corner then goes into a three point stance and runs right into a choke hold then a chokeslam. The Giant gets the pin.
Curt Hennig is in the Internet area telling us how he will beat Goldberg (dream on Minnissota Boy...) The announcers throw us to a video review of the Jericho/Malenko feud.
Chris Jericho vs. ? - Cruiserweight Title match - Jericho comes to the ring wearing a top hat and carrying a cane and announces his intention to "do a little softshoe..." JJ Dillon shows up and obviously has something up his sleeve. He offers a backhanded apology for the present circumstances and then says he has found an opponent for Jericho tonight. He says the guy hasn't wrestled in six months. Jericho agrees to the match as long as it is still a no hold barred match. The opponent of course is Rey Misterio, Jr. Rey has bulked up some in his absense and looks great (although he is wearing a knee brace). He goes right on the attack and the Champ is caught by surprise. Rey flies all over the ring and Jericho is thrown off at first but then comes back and clips Reys previously injured knee. Now it is all Jericho. They leave the ring and start fighting on the beach set. Just before they leave that area, Rey throws a handful of sand in Jericho's eyes. Back in the ring, Jericho regains the advantage. He positions his opponent on the top and gets a super-powerslam. He goes out and brings in a chair to beat him with. He then positions the chair on Reys leg and climbs to the top - but misses. Now Rey has the chair and uses it on Jericho's leg. Dean malenko arrives on the ramp. Rey goes for his springboard Frankensteiner but Jericho catches him on the fly and tries to get a Liontamer. Rey reaches the ropes and escapes then comes right back with another Frankensteiner attempt. This time Jericho catches him again and goes once more for the Liontamer - but this time Rey grabs his legs and rolls him up for the pin. Misterio is the new Champ! Malenko chases Jericho to the back where Arn Anderson blocks his path allowing Malenko to catch Jericho.
Bret Hart vs. Booker T - Television Title match - this should be a classic match - Booker T gets the first exchange in his favor. They lock up again and wrestle some on the mat for a bit. Booker seems to have the advantage here with his more modern style - he bests Hart at every turn. Out on the floor he steps up his attack. Then he is distracted by the fans and gets rammed into the railing. Back in the ring, Hart is in control for the first time in the match. He uses his usual series of softening up moves but then is sidestepped and sidewalk slammed. Hart comes roaring back and Booker is ejected from the ring. Back on the floor, Hart takes it to his opponent, smashing him onto the steps. Back in the ring, Hart continues his assault. He is wearing Booker down, setting him up for the Sharpshooter. He attempts several pins but you know it is only pro-forma. He stands Booker up in the corner and delivers a series of forearm smashes then some boots to the gut. Booker's talented feet finally rescue him - but he is reeling and slow. And he is limping... Still he is definitely on the comeback trail. He almost gets a pin but Bret gets his foot on the rope. They tumble to the floor and Bret uses a chair shot to get himself disqualified. He hits his opponent again after the bell then continues to attack Booker in the ring. Then he drags him to the corner and slaps on his peculiar figure four. So where is Stevie Ray?? Hart won't let go...and finally we see Stevie Ray coming down. He walks calmly to the ring, Bret retreats. Stevie looks disgusted with his brother. He starts to help Booker from the ring - eschewing the help of the referee and the trainer at first - then allowing them to assist.
Video tribute to Bill Goldberg.
Michael Buffer is on hand to announce the next match.
Curt Hennig vs. Goldberg - WCW World Title match - Hennig is looking in great shape as he makes his entrance. He appears to have been bulking up a little for this one. Goldberg brings the crowd to it's collective feet and the chant starts up before he arrives. The belt has been cleaned up and polished, as it usually is when someone other then Hogan wears it. He has a wound on his head from head butting a locker backstage. Hennig is overmatched from the get-go. Goldberg runs right through him on their initial encounter. He seems clumsy but he out maneuvers his opponent and sends him out to the floor. Back in the ring Hennig keeps the monster at bay then goes to the top and gets caught there . Hennig is thrown to the mat but then attacks the big guy's legs. Goldberg is actually in pain from the going over Hennig is giving his left knee. He escapes momentarily but but then gets clotheslined off his feet again. Hennig gets the Fisherman's Suplex but Goldberg kicks out of it. The spear is next then the Jack Hammer. Hennig is history.
Video review of the events leading up to the tag team main event.
Hollywood Hogan/Dennis Rodman (w/The Disciple) vs. Diamond Dallas Page/Karl Malone - Hogan and Rodman enter first - I would have thought it would have been the other way around...but what do I know. DDP and Malone enter to Page's music. I guess Malone's family matters didn't distract him. They dive into the ring and chase their opponents out to the floor. Malone's physique is really quite impressive for such a tall, rangy dude. I notice that Rodman is keeping his shirt on. Malone and Rodman start the match. Rodman fails to remove his shades - but then Hogan gets them for him. Rodman begs off of the first lock up. and then the second. He is trying to get Malone upset. He is stalling mightily.
They finally lock up and Rodman gets a side headlock. But when Malone throws him off he bolts from the ring. Hogan is tagged in to face Malone. Hogan is on the receiving end of a headlock and eventually gets thrown. Rodman comes back in to face DDP. Page decks him with dispatch. They lock up and DDP struggles with Rodman then throws him down again. They lock up again - after Page spits at him - and Rodman gets an armdrag. Another lockup and DDP gets a side headlock. Rodman throws him off and they collide and Rodman goes down again. Through all of this, Rodman has kept his bandana on somehow. DDP tags in Malone and Rodman immediately tags in Hogan. Hogan grabs a top wrist lock and forces Malone to one knee. Malone fights back to his feet and throws Hogan off. Hogan distracts the referee complaining of a hair pull while Rodman blindsides the Mailman. Now Hogan is working Malone over with punches then a choke on the mat. He dumps his opponent and drops two elbows then steps on his face. Rodman is tagged in and he drops and elbow, then another one. He throws Malone into Hogan's upraised boot then goes for a pin and gets a two count. Hogan is back in and continues the attack. He gets another two count on the Mailman then grabs a reverse chinlock.
Rodman is back in and holds Malone for Hogan to hit him. Hogan knocks both basketball players down. Now Malone is missing tag opportunities - showing his inexperience. He finally tags Page who comes in a house afire but the opponents overwhelm him with a doubleteam. Hogan uses his belt on Page and gets away with it. They are isolating DDP now but Hogan can't get the pin. Malone is arguing with the referee and not helping his partner at all. Rodman and Hogan raise double boots and plant them in DDP's face. Rodman is in and bulls DDP into his corner so Hogan can take over. The Disciple holds Page's tights as Hogan pounds on him. DDP is sinking fast. Page suddenly fights his way out of the corner but can't quite get away. Rodman is in a grabs a front chancilry. Page struggles to force him back into his own corner where Malone waits to tag. No luck, and Hogan is back in again. He goes for a leg drop and misses. Page gets the tag and is in with Hogan. He drops Hollywood with a clothesline then gives the same to Rodman. Malone slams Hogan then he knocks their noggins together. He pounds Hogan's head into the corner pad. He whips Hogan off the ropes then puts a boot in his face. DDP comes in and executes the Diamond Cutter. Rodman tries to interfere but is Diamond Cut by Malone. The referee is busy getting Malone and Rodman out of the ring and fails to see that the Disciple is putting the Apocolypse on DDP. He rolls Hogan over to get the cover and the pin. Afterward, Malone Diamond Cuts the referee. What sportsmanship...
That was a pretty solid card, although neither of the main events really turned me on. It was made up for somewhat by a great undercard however.
At least that's the way I see it...
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