Monday, July 31, 2017

Vince McMahon's Top Booking Blunders Pt. 2

So we're back again, with the second installment of "Vince McMahon's Top Booking Blunders"! Last time, we covered some of the WWF's worst decisions of the 1980s and 1990s. Now without further adieu, let's get on to 1999 and the 2000s!


The Lord of Darkness.

6. The Ministry of Darkness Storyline Should Have Remained McMahon Free

 Being an Undertaker fan, I had seriously mixed feelings in late 1998 and early 1999 when they were running the "Ministry of Darkness" storyline. To me, I liked it best, and Taker was AT his best, when he was a lone wolf, an "In-Betweener". Not fully good guy, not fully bad guy, out for himself, but not selfishly so like Steve Austin. He was out for himself, but he was still noble. That was the Undertaker from 1996 (after Paul Bearer turned on him) until about mid-1998. His feud against his "brother" Kane started to change him, however. It brought out the Darkness in him, and he started acting less and less noble, even turning around and joining his evil brother, in a fairly confusing and kind of silly turn of events. A few short months later, he then turned ON Kane, joining back up with Paul Bearer, his old manager, even though Paul had helped Kane make his life a living hell for about a year at this point, and he had previously convinced Kane to help him beat up Bearer! That, folks, is all horrible "creative" from the genius mind of Vince Russo, at least in part. Russo was famous, in the so-called late-90s "Attitude Era", for meandering plotlines that went nowhere, and countless "swerves" that lost all meaning, in an attempt to manufacture Jerry Spring type "shock television".

So, when Taker allied with Paul once more, nonsensically, I didn't care for it. Then when The Acolytes, Farooq and Bradshaw, showed up as his "demonic enforcers", I was confused, but curious. Then he kidnapped and "sacrificed" another former redneck character named Phineas Godwin, transforming him on live TV into the dark servant now called "Mideon". I still wasn't a HUGE fan of what was going on, Taker wrestling less and doing all this weird evil shit, but I was intrigued. Then at Royal Rumble '99 this "Ministry of Darkness" attacked and kidnapped the giant black wrestler formerly known as Mabel. When he next appeared with them, he too was changed, into a monster now known as "Viscera". And shortly after THAT, before Wrestlemania 15 occurred, the Ministry beat up, and "hung" the young gothic stars known as "The Brood" in the middle of the ring. They would later show up, as their normal selves, but now part of Taker's growing Dark Army.

Underwhelming, but it had promise.

Now, to reiterate, I didn't LOVE the whole Ministry thing. But once I started thinking about it, as both a fan, and a creative type myself, I started playing with the idea in my head more. And at least in MY version of how the Ministry could play out, it started to get really interesting. In a sense, the Ministry was an attempt by the WWF to emulate what WCW had been doing for years by this point, with the so-called "New World Order", the NWO, which started with former WWF stars Kevin Nash (Diesel), Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) and Hulk Hogan. They started out as a hated heel group, but quickly became an "edgy" counter-culture to the WCW norm, with fans cheering for the bad guys much as they would come to do in the WWF in the late 90s with characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. For that matter, WWF's own "Degeneration X" was also an attempt to have an NWO-like group, and it was the NWO that pushed WWF to start getting "edgier" with their programming to try and win back audience share.

While the Ministry DID suffer from some stupid moments here and there, all in the interest of that "shock TV", "Attitude Era" crap of the time, to ME, they had potential as a group. If they had handled it correctly, it could have been a solid NWO-like angle, where the Ministry is trying to "take over" the WWF, which is how they initially set out in the first place. Part of the reason they went with having Taker involved in a big stable, apparently, was because he was suffering from multiple nagging injuries, the wear and tear of wrestling getting to his body, and so in the interest of slowing down and wrestling less, but still being heavily involved in the show every week, they decided to go this route. And in theory, it could have worked, long term. The Ministry could have continued growing, as I imagined it would in my own mind, and keep kidnapping and "changing" members into darker versions of themselves. They could do this to both heels AND babyfaces, just to up the stakes, that the Ministry could "take" anybody, if they wished it. They could have even tied it in to the whole "end of the century/end of the world" type fears, making the growing Ministry out to destroy the WWF be parallel to the end of the millennium hysteria. And the army could get big enough, a dozen or more strong, that they were a very real threat to the whole roster, which would force evil Mr. McMahon as well as the heels AND faces on the roster, to band together, even temporarily, in the interest of survival. What they DID, however, was fucking dumb.

"The Higher Power"

The Ministry, as I've said, was flawed, but interesting. Especially when it picked up steam after Wrestlemania 15. Taker faced Mr. McMahon's top stooge, The Big Bossman, in a Hell in a Cell match on that show, and not only defeated, but with the help of his minions, "hung" the Bossman from the cage, in what was one of wrestling's most disturbing and genuinely unsettling moments. He also started coming at McMahon himself, harder and harder. He had his minions "kidnap" his daughter, Stephanie, and tried to force marriage on her in a "Black Wedding" in the middle of the ring, until McMahon's nemesis Stone Cold came out and made the unlikely save. That sounds pretty dumb right? Well just wait.

On the first ever episode of WWF "Smackdown", Taker's Ministry joined with Shane McMahon's (Vince's son) Corporation (formerly also Vince's Corporation), and they became known as the "Corporate Ministry". That, already, was falling off the rails for me, and seemed really dumb, as now members of the Corporation, including Bossman who Taker had tried to hang, were part of his entourage. But the worst part, as you can see above, came when Taker's "Higher Power", whom he had alluded to for weeks, was finally revealed to be none other than...Vince. The guy he had been fighting, the guy whose daughter he kidnapped, etc. For me, that was the last straw. I kept watching, but I stopped caring as soon as they involved Vince in the group. It all basically was played off as some (badly) convoluted ploy to "trick" Steve Austin, as part of McMahon's continuing war against "Stone Cold", which by now had been going on for well over a year, and was really tiresome.

To me, the Ministry COULD have been an interesting, even exciting angle, where Taker builds up this huge army of followers, and comes VERY close to actually either taking over, or destroying, Vince's company. So Vince has to wake up, stop acting like the maniacal boss, and try to rally everyone to fight the Darkness. That could have been pretty cool, if handled right. Unfortunately, A) It's "Attitude Era" WWF, where storylines rarely ever made sense, and B) It's Vince McMahon, who is not exactly known (at least from the 90s onward) for long, building, structured storylines. In the end, as a Taker fan, I was left feeling very disgusted with the direction the whole thing took, and Taker himself eventually kind of just faded out, first teaming with Big Show for awhile, and then leaving TV completely due to another injury. The next time we would see Undertaker, he would be a very human biker, and no longer The Lord of Darkness, or even the "Phenom".

A McMahon in every corner. Joy.

7. Mick Foley Should Have Gotten One Last Big Moment

At Wrestlemania 16 (then referred to as "Wrestlemania 2000"),  it was the first Wrestlemania event of the new millennium, and I suppose as a way to make it seem really special, they decided to have a "Fatal 4 Way" match as the main event. The rest of the card was, surprisingly, mostly tag team or other multi-man matches. And the main event was no exception. I think in part because their top star, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, was out with injury (not to mention another top star, The Undertaker, also being gone with injuries), that they did this match. Regardless, the buildup on TV, both on Monday Night Raw and the then brand new Thursday Night Smackdown show, was naturally huge. The dastardly Shane McMahon, his "Corporation" group disbanded, was in the corner of the giant Big Show, and his equally dastardly sister Stephanie was in the corner of her (at the time fictional) husband HHH, who was the standing WWF Champion. Vince McMahon, who had for the better part of three years, played the part of the evil boss "Mr. McMahon", was once again at least acting like he was on the side of the angels, since his precious daughter was with HHH and DX, who were running roughshod over the WWF. So in that spirit, McMahon made some kind of "amends" with his former Corporate Champion, The Rock.

And last but not least, there was Mick Foley. The man who originally entered the WWF known as the deranged Mankind, and would later (somewhat nonsensically) bring out his alternate personalities, Dude Love and Cactus Jack (his original wrestling name). But by this point, he was just going by his real name, Mick Foley, in the twilight of his in-ring career. The storyline was now really playing up the fact that his boyhood dream, had been to main event a Wrestlemania, the one thing he had never yet done (having already had short stints as WWF Champion). He had spent previous months feuding with HHH, and prior to Wrestlemania, had faced HHH in a "Hell in the Celll" match, with his career being on the line versus Hunter's title. Needless to say, he lost again, and had to "retire", which as a fan I remember making me legitimately sad at the time. But then lo and behold, the OTHER McMahon, Vince's wife Linda, decided to throw her hat into the mix, and used her corporate power as part owner of the company, to "unretire" Mick, so that he could take part in the Wrestlemania main event, with her in his corner. And thus you had the "big attraction" gimmick of a "McMahon in Every Corner".

Mr. Socko!

Where the blunder this time around comes in, is in the fact that, while yes, this was a "Fatal 4-Way" match, the Big Show wound up being eliminated fairly early in the match by the other three competitors, and while Mick hung around for a bit, ultimately he was also eliminated, and the brunt of the match was the matchup WWF was actually banking on to headline their event: The Rock vs. HHH. Now, mind you, The Rock had gone from being one of the company's top heels, to becoming their most popular wrestler with Austin gone. So him beating HHH for the title would have made sense, both from a storyline and business perspective. But that's not what happened. What happened, in one of the more pointless Wrestlemania booking decisions of all time, is that they had the "mega-heel" HHH retain his title. Granted, a heel closing out a Wrestlemania main event by winning, is not a common occurrence. The "old school" wrestling logic, especially for your biggest show of the year, is "Make sure the fans leave happy", and the easiest way to do that is for the wrestler they like to win in the last match of the night. So for the sheer novelty of it, HHH winning makes a little since, just as a "Surprise" to shake things up and keep fans guessing. However, that doesn't change the fact that out of the possible outcomes for this match, HHH winning had the least amount of impact.

The Rock winning would have made sense because he was "The People's Champion". Big Show winning would have made sense, because then "who is going to beat this giant?" And in either scenario, if you REALLY wanted to keep the evil HHH looking strong, he could have (and likely would have) won the title back in the following months anyway. But to me, the most emotional, meaningful outcome for this match, would have been to let Mick Foley, the perpetual unlikely underdog, who had tried and failed multiple times, even temporarily costing him his career, to beat HHH in prior months. Him coming out on top one last time, letting him be WWF Champ one last time, and then you could have him vacate the belt on Raw the next night, get a tearful standing ovation from the fans, and he could ride off into the sunset. It would have been a really sweet, and memorable moment, all around. And Mick certainly deserved that.

More McMahon drama. Joy.

8. Chris Jericho Should Have Been Booked As a Stronger Undisputed Champ

So in 2001, something both monumental and actually rather depressing took place in the pro wrestling world. Two of the "Big Three" American wrestling promotions, both World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), lost their TV deals and essentially folded, for various reasons. While I myself was never a HUGE WCW fan, I did watch it from time to time. At the height the "Monday Night Wars" in the late 90s, because WCW Monday Nitro was actually three hours for awhile, I would sometimes watch part of that first hour before Monday Night Raw came on, and would flip back during commercial breaks to see what was going on. It was never my cup of tea, but WCW did have stars I liked, such as Raven, Billy Kidman, Perry Saturn, Sting (specifically the silent "Crow Sting"), Ultimo Dragon, Rey Mysterio Jr., and Chris Jericho. When Jericho came over to the WWF in late 1999, after a long and mysterious "Y2K" countdown clock appeared on Raw for some time, I was actually excited, because he was a good wrestler, and a fresh face on Raw. Then they proceeded to put him in many questionable or outright dumb feuds and storylines, including being involved with Chyna (who I couldn't' stand).

But later in 2000 and 2001, they started treating him like a serious wrestler, involving him in some really great matches against the likes of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. He and Benoit, both Canadians, actually even teamed up for a bit. Well, in 2001, in the aftermath of the WCW and ECW collapses, with the WWF winding up more or less "owning" what was left of both, they decided to do this big "Invasion" angle, where it seemed like a bunch of former WCW stars were trying to take over the WWF. It was actually interesting and exciting at first, but then a handful of ECW stars popped up (including Rob Van Dam, who I instantly liked), and they joined up with the WCW guys, becoming "The Alliance", and from there it just got more and more convoluted, in true Vince fashion. In fact, I honestly could have included that whole period in this list, but I think it might be more appropriate to give it its own article someday. Sufficed to say, from summer 2001 until late November 2001, this "Invasion" story dominated WWF television. And it had its moments, but it was also nice when it was finally over.

King of the World

Now, in 2001, especially during the "Invasion", and with top stars like The Rock and HHH out for different reasons, Jericho actually became a top babyface on the WWF side of things, and they actually treated him like a star for once. I was all about that at the time, because I liked this version of "Y2J". Well, The Rock wound up coming back from Hollywood in time to hog the spotlight and be THE hero during the climax of the whole deal at Survivor Series. And in the midst of that, Jericho became jealous and furious that Rocky was stealing his thunder (and the title he wanted). So in the aftermath, Jericho slid back into being a heel again, because he hated The Rock, and he wanted the gold. Steve Austin, who had switched sides and been the "heel" face of the "Alliance" (in and of itself a stupid move, as one of the WCW stars should have been that), was the standing WWF Champion, and The Rock, upon returning, had won the old WCW World Heavyweight Championship from Booker T. So Vince set up a tournament to unify those titles, as the old WCW belts were being mostly done away with, and the winner of this tournament, would become the first ever "Undisputed Champion".

The final four participants, were the two champions, along with Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho. In the end, in a move that quite honestly took me by surprise, they actually had Chris Jericho beat BOTH The Rock and Steve Austin all in one night, becoming Undisputed Champ! A fact that you'd better believe Jericho rubbed in everyone's face for months to come. As he should have done, because as the top heel in the company (at the time), and THE champion of the company, the right booking move would have been to push Jericho to the moon, not just having him cheat to win, but having him look like a STRONG, unbeatable champion who is simply that damn good. It would really piss off the fans, in a "love to hate him" type of scenario, because they couldn't boo him being a chicken shit, they'd just have to boo him constantly winning because he's the "King of the World". And then you finally have someone come along and beat him, giving fans that big payoff. Well, that's not what Vince did, of course. Instead, they had Jericho get involved (on a professional level) with Stephanie McMahon, who had been part of the "Alliance" and tried to take down her father's company, now acting as his manager. And because of this, the whole time he was champ, the storyline circulated around her and her dad, and then later her and the returning HHH.

Jericho, and the championship itself, were secondary to the "McMahon-Helmsley" storyline they were telling, which "old school" wrestling wisdom would tell you should NEVER be the case. Chris Jericho should have been made to look as if being THE MAN who beat WWF's two top stars of the "Attitude Era", was important and that being the first ever "Undisputed Champion", the first man to EVER hold both the WWF and WCW belts at the same time, really mattered and was a big deal. Instead, he was made to look like a whiny bitch who only retained his title because Stephanie McMahon helped him cheat. He was overshadowed by his "manager", which defeats the entire purpose of the very IDEA of the wrestling manager (to get the wrestler over). And in the end, his match with HHH at Wrestlemania 18, and subsequent loss of those belts, was anticlimactic and inconsequential, because it had been made to be all about HHH and Steph. As usual.

The Straight Edge Superstar

9. Completely Shitting the Bed with CM Punk's "Pipe Bomb" Momentum

Fast Forward a decade, to 2011. In the 2000s, WWF had several fresh faces come and go, some of whom they legitimately treated (at least for a bit) like top stars and champions, such as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Edge, and others they should have done so with but really didn't, like Rob Van Dam, Booker T, The Hurricane, Carlito, and MVP. By 2011, pretty much all of those stars were gone, and in the interim, WWF (now called World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE), entered a period from about 2005 onward, where they got increasingly stale. For most of that time period, after making guys like John Cena, Randy Orton and Dave Batista top stars...that's literally what you got. For the most part, Cena, Orton, and Batista, were champion most of that time, with HHH interjected so he could catch up to Ric Flair, and some rando like Bobby Lashley thrown in once in awhile.

So in 2006, on an ill-conceived "revival" show of ECW (which was short lived because of more, big surprise, bad booking decisions by Vince and Co.), a lesser known indie darling and former Ring of Honor star named CM Punk, was brought up from their farm system into the "big leagues" (on the C show, anyway) of WWE. He was instantly a hit with fans, myself included. For me personally, I liked his "martial arts" persona they originally tried to saddle him with, but I also identified with his real life "Straight Edge" persona, meaning he didn't do drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or engage in promiscuous activity. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is also pretty much me (I stopped drinking at age 24 back in the mid 2000s, and never really did the other stuff anyway). So I thought he was pretty damn cool, and it helped that he was a really good wrestler to boot. Unfortunately for Punk and his fans, the people in power, including Vince, were not big fans of his, and didn't believe he was "Star Material". The only reason he hung around for the next couple of years, is because those damn fans wouldn't stop cheering for him. In spite of their best efforts to NOT highlight him on their shows, he became one of the most popular stars WWE had. So they eventually had to recognize this, and start treating him better. They did this by having him win the 2008 "Money in the Bank" match at Wrestlemania, which guarantees the winner a shot at the champion of their choice.

What could have been...

Punk went on to cash in, and he was briefly the World Champ (the former "Big Gold Belt" from WCW) on Raw. Unfortunately, Vince and Co. seemed determined to underplay his Champion status, and he eventually lost the belt, being once again relegated to what they call "mid-card" status. Except then they had him win the NEXT year's "Money in the Bank" again, the only guy to do it back to back. So like...what's the dealio, WWE? Punk made it matter more this time, becoming a heel and feuding with popular star Jeff Hardy. In an ironic turn of events, Punk used his real life Straight Edgeness (turned way up to obnoxious levels of course), against what he claimed was Hardy's real life drug problems, and not only took his title but eventually "chased him out of the company". The irony was that short after Jeff left WWE, it turned out he DID actually have drug problems, sadly. Regardless, Punk used this to fuel his Straight Edge fire, making a stable, called "The Straight Edge Society", and pissing fans off by pointing out how they're a bunch of loser addicts, and basically painting himself as some kind of sober messiah figure. Doing this made him essentially the top bad guy in WWE for the next couple of years, though as usual, WWE continued to fail to treat him like he was all that important.

So we get back around to the summer of 2011, and Punk, in real life, is fed up, and with his contract expiring soon, he plans on just walking away from the WWE for good. Because he's leaving anyway and doesn't care, he (obviously with some blessing by McMahon), switches gears and starts going "Real Talk" on WWE and the fans. He comes out and has his infamous "Pipe Bomb" rant, until his mic is cut off, and all of the sudden fans are behind him again, just like that, and he's suddenly the hottest thing in WWE. Again. So he has Vinnie Mac "over a barrel", and since Vince doesn't want to lose this hotness, he gives Punk a new contract, but they do a storyline where he faces John Cena, THE top star of the company, for the WWE Championship. And he wins it, clean, in his hometown of Chicago, and for all the fans know, walks out of the arena, "without a contract", with VINCE'S belt. It was pure gold, and it had the wrestling world talking.

So what do you DO with that kind of major fan excitement and media buzz? Well, you have CM Punk come back and face John Cena again at Summer Slam to determine who is the TRUE WWE Champion of course! And Punk beats Cena AGAIN! The fans go wild, Punk is as popular as ever, and Vince McMahon/Stephanie/HHH hate Punk, because he talked shit about them on live TV, and they don't want him being the face of THEIR company. Sounds like a great setup, right? Sounds like Punk could be the next "Stone Cold", facing off against those evil McMahons, right? Punk would eventually, after some roundabout nonsense, go on to have one of the longest WWE Championship reigns in modern history, holding the title for over a year. But you'd barely know it, because most of the main events of their PPV shows during that time, and even many episodes of Raw, were dedicated to a returning Brock Lesnar, or John Cena, or HHH, or a returning Rock.

Rocky, just Go to Sleep.

Now think about that from a logical, business perspective for a minute. You've got CM Punk, THE hottest, most controversial, most talked about pro wrestling star of the last decade+. You make him your champ, and you DON'T push him to the fucking moon. You DON'T put him over big time, making him seem like THE most important and biggest star your company has. He's not on all of your posters, he's not the guy you promote the most as the face of the company. And he's NOT the major focus of your biggest storylines. Instead, you parade a bunch of old washed up wrestlers over him, or John Cena, who fans are tired of, and the man you had Punk beat clean, MULTIPLE times in a row. You'd think that having Punk beat Cena over and over, would be to establish him as the "New Guy", the "Next Big Thing", etc. But apparently not.

In fact, in Vince's infinite wisdom, they broke with tradition (and common sense), and promoted John Cena vs. The Rock as the main event of Wrestlemania a YEAR in advance, not once, but TWICE. For one thing, that is beyond stupid, because traditionally you leave next year's event to be a surprise, not have fans knowing what to expect a year in advance. But to do it TWICE in a row? All the while totally ignoring your most popular star? Beyond idiotic. In fact, Wrestlemania 28 and 29 came and went, and in both instances, CM Punk should have been in the main event, of at least ONE of those shows. As a face, as a heel, WHATEVER. He had done everything possible to earn having that spotlight, and he never got it. Vince took easily the hottest star and angle his show has had in decades, that could have really revitalized interest in WWE, and Punk could have been big for years, and he just ignored him. Even disrespected him, by giving these other stars the spotlight. And eventually, Punk had enough. In 2014, he legitimately walked out for good, after the January Royal Rumble event, never to return, because he was burnt out and sick of how he had been treated.

That "What could have been" picture you saw a ways up there, was CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, another indie darling who had by 2014 managed to become a popular star, even though Vince "didn't see him as a star". Punk vs. Bryan at Wrestlemania 30, could have been a great main event, a great match. Or hell, at least turning what they DID do, having a "Triple Threat" match between Randy Orton, Batista, and Bryan, into a 4-Way including Punk. That way, Punk would have gotten the WM Main Event he had wanted and deserved, and we could have gotten a much better match. But, that's not what happened, and Punk left wrestling behind for good, because he had simply had enough.


10. The Undertaker NEVER Should Have Lost His Streak

This tenth and final blunder carries more weight than pretty much any of the others, by a country mile, because for me it's personal, and affects me more as a fan. The others were just plain dumb. This one was just plain wrong. As a bit of background, The Undertaker, up until Wrestlemania 18, had never lost a match, though he HAD missed out on Wrestlemania 10 and 16 due to injuries. But this was more of a little known trivia factoid, that got little notice, until he beat Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 18. It was then, after the match, that a heel Undertaker looked at his hands, and counted out 10, indicated that he was 10-0, undefeated at Wrestlemania. The next year, he faced off against both Big Show and A-Train (two giants), and won, further emphasizing his undefeated status. After FINALLY returning as a new incarnation of his "Deadman" persona, leaving the biker gimmick behind at Wrestlemania 20, he defeated his "brother" Kane again, officially making him 12-0. It was at this point, going forward, that his "Streak" suddenly became a thing that was talked about prominently. And every Wrestlemania going forward, it became a big deal every year, as someone tried to end his streak.

They even made a DVD just about the Streak itself.

Now, in the interest of fairness, the Undertaker is my favorite wrestler of all time, and so it's pretty damn cool to have him be the ONLY guy to be not only undefeated at Wrestlemania, but to be so for that long of a duration. And thus AS one of his biggest fans (if I do say so myself), I totally would have loved him to just remain undefeated. However, as much as I would have HATED it at the time, there WAS a time that I would have accepted him losing at Wrestlemania. The caveat being that it was to some young star, back when it really would have mattered. Such as Edge at Wrestlemania 24, that would have put the "Rated R Superstar" over even more than he already was. Or as much as I REALLY would hate it, a young Randy Orton, back when he was still rising up, during his "Legend Killer" phase. I'd HATE if he had beaten Undertaker at Wrestlemania 21, but it would have made sense. It would be lame, but it would have made sense. BUT, considering that those guys didn't beat Taker, once the streak became SO long, I think it honestly got to a point where it, and his career, just went on way too long. Taker was once quoted in an issue of WWE Magazine as saying that he DIDN'T want to be a guy like Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan (he didn't name names, but you knew who he was referring to), old guys that hung on well past their prime. He said he never wanted to hang around so long that he was just a shadow of his old self. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he wound up doing.

I feel ya.

The above image was a snapshot of the crowd right after Taker's match against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 30. There were undoubtedly some dumbass Lesnar marks, who were cheering like crazy (I had to put up with one at the friend's house I watched the PPV at, which made the whole thing worse). But what you see above was representative of most of the massive New Orleans crowd: stunned shock and silence. If you were to ask me, Taker should have stuck to his own words, and hung up those boots long before it got to this point. He should have retired, let's say, after beating Shawn Michaels the second time. Or at the VERY least, he should have retired after going exactly 20-0, making it a nice, even, colossal number. And instead of it being a throw away match against CM Punk (instead of Punk being in the main event where he belonged), what WWE SHOULD have worked out, was bringing Sting on board in time for that match, and giving fans the Sting vs. Undertaker match that everyone had dreamed of for years. Having THAT be his last match, having THAT be 20-0, and then have him ride off into the sunset, his legacy fully intact? That would have been a bad ass moment I, as a fan, would have been proud of.

What happened instead, was what we got. We got Vince McMahon bringing Brock Lesnar back to the WWE, a guy who, by the way, after Vince had made him a top star, a household name and a fuckin' millionaire back in 2002-2004, just walked out on the company that made gave him his "star power". He walked out to try his hand at the NFL, but failed to even make a regular season roster. So then he got into MMA, and eventually became a UFC Champion. Good for him. But the point is, Lesnar is a guy who, by his own admission, was not a wrestling fan growing up, he is not a fan now, and he really doesn't care about the business, OR the fans who make him rich. He is a mercenary who does it for the money and nothing more, and that has always been the case. THAT is the sorry SOB that you allow the singular distinction and HONOR of beating The Undertaker, one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling history, and ending his historic streak? I don't mind telling you, that as a wrestling fan, as a TAKER fan, that made me sick. When Taker lost to Lesnar that day, it legitimately felt like a big piece of my youth died with his streak. That may sound like hyperbole to some, but considering The Undertaker is the character that made me a wrestling fan in the first place, it makes sense.

I must admit, as much as I love and will ALWAYS love Undertaker, and he'll ALWAYS be my favorite wrestler ever...the longer he continued to hang around long past his prime, flying directly in the face of what he himself had said he wouldn't do, the more I started to lose a bit of respect for him. And him agreeing to lose the streak when he did, or worse, even CHOOSING to lose to Lesnar specifically? That just broke my heart, honestly. And then he continued to hang around longer, having MORE WM matches in the following years, even though at that point it literally no longer held any weight or mattered. He had become one of those guys who barely wrestled all year, but then took up a spot and a big payday at the biggest show(s) of the year. I don't know that that is literally how I see how Taker acted in his final years, but sadly it's close enough. And the fact that he (once again chose) to lose to a guy like Roman Reigns as his final match ever? Not AS bad as losing his Streak to Lesnar...but still, as a longtime Taker fan, and someone who doesn't like the phony Reigns, whom WWE has shoved down fans' throats for years even though most don't like him, it just felt wrong.

Taker should have retired long before it ever came to losing to Lesnar. His legacy will always be a great one. But I can't say it's NOT forever tainted and at least SLIGHTLY diminished, by losing the matches he did on his way out. Yes, it is customary for an old star to lose to a young one on their way out, but Taker was a special case. And I'm sure most Taker fans felt the same way I did. He never should have lost his Streak, period.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Vince McMahon's Top Booking Blunders Pt. 1

Vincent K. McMahon (Vince Jr.), is the primary owner and and CEO of "World Wrestling Entertainment" (WWE), formerly known as the "World Wrestling Federation" (WWF) promotion. The son of Vincent J. McMahon (Vince Sr.), who himself owned and ran Capitol Wrestling, which later in the late 60s became the "World Wide Wrestling Federation" (WWWF), after growing up not really knowing his father well or being around the business, he finally got into it as an adult, and became an announcer for his father's company in the 1970s. By the early 80s, he was practically running the promotion as his father's health declined, and he eventually bought the company from his dad in 1983. He father would pass away in May of 1984.

I can't speak for Vince Sr., of course, but I would imagine, knowing his "old school" wrestling territory sensibilities, that he probably wasn't thrilled with what his son did after the sale. Vince Jr. went about, basically, "poaching" many of the big stars from other territories and promotions nationwide, until by late 1984 and into 1985, he had what looked to a growing national (instead of merely regional) audience, as a "superstar" roster. He also undercut the other promoters and promotions, not just by taking many of their stars, but by going against the "old ways" of territory wrestling in North America, and getting his product broadcast nationally in syndication, cutting into regional audiences. Due to this, most of the old promotions and territories, unable to really compete, eventually had to close up shop. Many within the business revilved Vince Jr. for his strong-arm tactics, but many wrestling fans, especially as that audience grew thanks to the WWF's growing exposure, hailed him as a genius.

The Event that started it all.

Regardless of his perception, Vincent K. McMahon undeniably had the pro wrestling world (or at least the United States and Canada), by the proverbial balls by 1985. He further tightened his grip, by cross-promoting with MTV, and with celebrities such as Cindy Lauper and Mr. T, in the buildup to what many hail as his greatest creation: the very first "Wrestlemania" event. He put so much money and effort into building up and promoting Wrestlemania 1, that it is very fair to think that the WWF might not have succeeded long term if the event had flopped. But, bolstered by a main event that saw fan favorite Hulk Hogan team with Mr. T to fight against the dastardly duo of "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Wrestlemania was a success in closed-circuit venues around the nation (this was before Pay Per View really took off). In the years since the first Wrestlemania, he has been hailed by many within the industry and fans alike, as a "genius" promoter and booker of matches and creator of "stars". And in all fairness, he does deserve some of the credit he gets.

But I am here today to illustrate that not all that Vince McMahon has touched was gold. In fact, I could probably write a book on the number of booking gaffes and silly, bad, or outright distasteful TV moments and wrestling angles McMahon has been responsible for over the decades. Hell, the much-lauded "Attitude Era", which I will likely write about at some future date, was absolutely rife with such examples. In fairness to "Mr. McMahon", not every bad moment and match and angle has been his idea, nor fully his fault. Yet, it is a well known fact that even though other "writers" or bookers come up with ideas, ultimately, it is Vince himself who has final approval of everything that you see on WWF/E television. And ultimately, many of the biggest (and sometimes worst) ideas that make it to TV or PPV, are in fact Vince's own brainchildren. So without further buildup, let's dig into some prime examples of what I personally consider some of Vince McMahon's Top Booking Blunders!

THE Top Villain of mid-80s wrestling.

1. The Main Event of Wrestlemania 2

In 1985, in in the buildup to Wrestlemania 1, and in the aftermath, there was honestly not a single personality more hated, nor with bigger "heat" from the fans, than "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. He was the biggest villain of the mid 1980s in the pro wrestling world. From attacking beloved pop star Cyndi Lauper, to antagonizing Mr. T, to bullying his "Piper's Pit" talk-show guests and infamously smacking Jimmy Snuka in the head with a coconut, this man was controversy personafied. He could talk fans into a frenzy, and though he was more of a "brawler" in the ring most of the time (an 80s Stone Cold, if you will), he was more than capable of taking people apart on the mat, and through various means both legitimate and nefarious, he always found a way to win.

And that is the point of this, not only chronologically the FIRST of Vince McMahon's missteps I'm going to list, but in many ways, his BIGGEST Booking Blunder. The fact is, Roddy Piper was nuclear hot in 1985, and that didn't really diminish because Hogan and Mr. T won that first Wrestlemania tag-team main event. Now obviously I've never worked in the pro wrestling business, but I've been a fan of it for a very long time, and I think I have both a firm enough grasp of wrestling, and a creative enough mind, that I can understand how something might "go over" or be popular. To my mind, the BIG money, and the OBVIOUS move, if Vince McMahon wanted to follow his first Wrestlemania event with something even bigger, was to "pin his star", if you will, to the villanous Mr. Piper.

 The Match that SHOULD have been.

It has long been stated by fans and critics, that Roddy Piper is one of the most notorious examples of a top star in the business who was never "World Champion". And that easily could have, and easily SHOULD have been rectified in 1985, by having Piper win "the strap" from Hogan sometime shortly after Wrestlemania 1. Have him do it by cheating, with "Cowboy" Bob Orton's help, or whatever else you can think of. But the hot money, I think, would have been to have the asshole Roddy Piper take the belt from everyone's "Hulkamania" Hero, and continue to find ways to keep the belt around his waist, and OFF of Hogan's, for the next full year. Add new wrinkles as the year goes along, find new, more "heelish" ways for Piper to cheat Hogan and scurry away. By the time Wrestlemania 2 is going to happen in 1986, fans are legit going to want to kill this guy (even though I'd like to point out that actually being wrestling fan reality decades ago, was really sad). They should be so furious at Piper, and so sick of their Hero being denied retribution, that the ONLY answer the WWF can provide, to ensure a FAIR and FINAL outcome, is to have a Cage Match for the title at WM2.

Now, in reality, they DID have a Cage Match at Wrestlemania 2. But for whatever ridiculous reasons, Vince Jr. decided that it was a better idea to have the hulking King Kong Bundy face Hogan in a cage as his main event. As for Piper? Well, he got caught up in a very awkward continuing feud with TV celebrity Mr. T, made more awkward by the fact that the two men very obviously disliked each other for real. They were put in a "Boxing Match" at WM2, already not a great idea, and it not only wasn't a good match, but ended anticlimactically. And frankly, while I'm sure fans were happy Hogan survived facing the "behemoth" Bundy in a cage, it did not have anywhere NEAR the same kind of marquee value or colossal impact  that Piper vs. Hogan could have had. Not only did Roddy Piper, one of wrestling's greatest stars ever, DESERVE to be a world champion, but him as a cheating, shit-talking, conniving champ who made Hogan chase after him for an entire year before finally giving fans some payoff in a Steel Cage? Yes, THAT would have been guaranteed money. In fact, it would have, to my mind, only been second in possible epicness of a Wrestlemania main event, compared to what would follow the next year: the immortal Wrestlemania III match between Hogan and Andre the Giant.

I don't know if we'll ever know exactly WHY Vince didn't see the obvious with this Piper/Hogan feud. In fact it makes it WORSE that they DID feud after WM1, just not for very long. Not only that, but while he was absolutely the most popular wrestling star of the mid-80s (or hell, all the way into the early 90s), Hulk Hogan being champion from 1984 all the way into 1987, wore thin on many fans. It would have had greater impact, I think, and more meaning to fans, if Piper had been champion for a long stretch, and THEN Hogan got his belt back, and went on dominating for awhile. Either way, I think this is easily the most obvious and most glaring Booking Blunder on McMahon's part. He could have had one of the greatest and most memorable Wrestlemania main event matches of all time, and instead, he chose a rather boring match-up that most fans probably forget these days.

The Immortal Macho Man, Randy Savage.

2. Cutting Short the Macho Man's Run

After the aforementioned Wrestlemania III match pitting Hulk Hogan against the hitherto undefeated Andre the Giant, which saw Hogan infamously body slam a man who had never been body slammed before (at least to popular knowledge), Hogan's days as World Champion were finally numbered. A newcomer to the WWF landscape in 1987, was "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, a rich man who believed that for "the right price", he could get anyone to do almost anything. He even believed that he could buy the WWF Championship from Hulk Hogan, which Hogan declined. So instead, he formed an alliance with Andre, effectively "hiring" the giant to win the championship for him instead. This occurred on the first ever "Main Event" (later called Saturday Night's Main Event) program on television, which saw Andre finally beat Hogan for the title, only to turn around and sell it less than one minute later, to Ted Dibiase for a "large sum of money". The WWF vacated the belt, however, treating it as Andre relinquishing the title, and put it up for grabs in a title tournament that would be held all in one night, at Wrestlemania IV.

Meanwhile, "The Macho Man" Randy Savage, who had spent his first two years as a dastardly bad guy in the WWF, lost his Intercontinental Championship to Ricky Steamboat at WMIII in a match that many consider the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. After that humbling loss, he gradually underwent a transformation, spurred on by his valet (and love) Elizabeth, until by 1988, he was a full on fan-favorite. He entered the tournament at Wrestlemania IV, and for the first time in WM history, Hulk Hogan would not be in the main event match, which instead pitted Savage against "The Million Dollar Man" himself. In what was actually a rather good match, Savage overcame all odds, and became the WWF Champion. All of that is what DID happen, but I'm now going to show what I think SHOULD have happened next.

Dibiase, caught in the grip of Macho Madness.

In what would become a recurring theme for Vince McMahon, he would build up new top stars for his company, only to basically abandon them and revert back to his older star. This happened to Macho Man, it happened to Ultimate Warrior, briefly to Bret Hart, and has even happened a lot in the modern era, with many stars being forgone for the likes of Randy Orton or John Cena. In Macho Man's case, by 1988, especially after winning the title, he was easily on equal popularity footing with WWF fans as Hogan. What actually happened, however, is that his "babyface" run with the title didn't last all that long, as over the next year, he became "paranoid" of Hogan spending too much time with his girl Miss Elizabeth, and this jealousy drove him to turn on Hogan, and even Elizabeth herself for years, effectively turning him back into a heel rather abruptly.

Now on paper, I get it, Hogan vs. Savage at Wrestlemania V WAS big money, and a pretty good match. But I just don't think it all should have went down quite like that. I think that Savage was a popular enough star, and WWF NEEDED a fresh face in the spotlight, that Vince should have chosen to keep him as a top babyface for much longer than he did. I think the main event for Wrestlemania V, should have seen Savage facing some top heel, perhaps even a rematch against the "Million Dollar Man", or perhaps fellow newcomer villain "Mr. Perfect" Kurt Hennig. Just the thought of Hennig vs. Savage sounds amazing to me, as these were two of the best actual wrestlers in the pro wrestling industry, of all time. And if you HAVE to have your man Hogan in the spotlight, hell, even another Tag Team main event for Wrestlemania V, with the "Mega-Powers" of Hogan and Savage vs. Dibiase and Mr. Perfect, that still would have been a great and memorable match.

You could eventually do the Hogan vs. Savage thing, and the Savage heel turn, if you MUST, at Summerslam 89 or something. But really, I think that Savage could have worked as a babyface in the late 80s and early 90s much longer than he did. Make no mistake, he was a fantastic heel, one of the best ever. But he was also a great, and colorful hero, whom the fans loved. To my mind, he would have been a far better choice as "the next guy" after Hogan, than Ultimate Warrior, who was pushed the following year in 1990. Hell, now that I've brought it up, I'm always going to want to see a Wrestlemania V main event with Savage vs. Perfect, especially considering Perfect was another amazing talent that never got to that World Champ level.

This has Main Event written all over it.

3. The Bewildering Choice for the Wrestlemania 8 Main Event

The WWF's top rival in the 1980s was the NWA, the National Wrestling Alliance, or what was left of it, a governing body of territories that was once part of. Their top star in the late 80s, was "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair, and many wrestling fans had dreamed of what a clash between the two great champions, Hogan and Flair, would be like. That match became possible when Flair left NWA/WCW in 1991, and joined the WWF. The world title would become vacated by Hogan, and put up for grabs in the 1992 Royal Rumble match (the only time that the Rumble was for the belt ITSELF, and not for a SHOT at the belt), and Flair went on to win that match, becoming he new World Champion. The initial plan, as stories have it, was for Flair and Hogan to fight at Wrestlemania 8, in what likely would have been a huge main event. However, because of egos, politics, or maybe even in part to the brewing (and now infamous) "steroid scandal" of the time, that match didn't occur. Instead, Randy Savage, who had shifted back from heel to babyface (with Miss Elizabeth once more), became the challenger for Flair's title.

Still one of the funniest images in wrestling history.

Now whale Flair vs. Savage probably didn't have QUITE the marquee value that Flair vs. Hogan would have, still, it was a no-brainer to be the main event of Wrestlemania 8, pitting two of wrestling's biggest stars against each other, in what had become a very personal feud. The match itself, was also rather good, and while I contend that Ric Flair is actually one of the most overrated "Legends" in wrestling history, his match with Savage was actually rather good. But, Vince McMahon, in his infinite wisdom, decided to put his "True Star", Hulk Hogan, in the main event, in a NON-title grudge match, against yet another villainous giant, Sid Justice (aka Sid Viscous, aka Sycho Sid). This made no real sense on any level, as the World Title match SHOULD have gone last, by tradition, and Hogan was a fading star at this point, about to take "time off" due to being caught up in the steroid scandal, and Sid himself would not remain with the WWF long after this match. The match itself was dull, with a badly conceived clusterfuck "disqualification" ending built around the "SURPRISE RETURN" of the Ultimate Warrior.

Rumors have it that Flair vs. Hogan didn't happen in the first place, because too much ego was involved over who was going to have to lose the match. But regardless of that, Flair vs. Savage was the match that should have main evented the show, no matter how you try to look at it. It was purely a bonehead decision on Vince's part to ever do otherwise. Savage certainly deserved another main event, and he wound up winning the belt anyway, so it would have been a nice moment to end the show with. And why bother bringing in a huge star like Flair and MAKING him World Champ, only to NOT have him in your main event? I don't rank this QUITE up there with the Piper/Wrestlemania 2 debacle, but it's pretty close.

Another One Bites the Dust.

4. Bret Hart's First World Title Run Being Cut Short

As I said, it became a recurring theme. After Wrestlemania 8, which had also seen Bret Hart start to rise as a singles star (after years as part of the successful "Hart Foundation" team with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart), Savage and Flair would continue to feud, with Flair ultimately recapturing the WWF Championship. However, for variety of reasons, Flair's WWF tenure was didn't last much longer, and he wound up dropping the belt to the young Bret Hart in October 1992. Flair returned to World Championship Wrestling television, and Hart was chosen by Vince to be the new face of the company, in a new era he was heralding as "The New Generation". A huge part of the reason for this, was because of the previously mentioned "steroid scandal", as Vince made a concerted effort to have less stars on his shows that LOOKED like they were, to put it lightly, "big roided up bodybuilders". Bret Hart was a smaller, more natural athlete, and an incredibly technical wrestler, who had become popular with the fans, so he was a great choice to represent this "New Era" for the WWF.

Along with many "smaller" stars like Tatanka, Shawn Michaels, the 123 Kid, Owen Hart, etc., Vince also started pushing more "fat guy" wrestlers, the opposite extreme of "big men" who didn't look like roid freaks. The most prominent of these, was a Samoan wrestler with a sumo wrestler gimmick, called "Yokozuna". In reality part of the famous "Wild Samoan" wrestling family, Rodney Annoa'i was a mamoth of a man, standing at around 6'4" and weighing over 500 lbs. For such a huge man, he was still surprisingly agile in the ring, and a solid wrestler, and he dominated everyone in his path. This led to him challenging Hart for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania 9, an outdoor event held in Las Vegas. The match itself was decent, and there was plenty of drama with fans wondering how the smaller Hart could triumph over this giant.

Sorry Bret, you got Hoganed.

However, as you can see above, Bret Hart did not get the spotlight he deserved as the "New Top Guy", in the end. Hulk Hogan, who had a tag-team match earlier in the night, was back in the WWF, and sporting a notably smaller look, as if perhaps he had been through a "Juice Squeezer", if you get my meaning. In the main event, Bret Hart got "salt" thrown in his eyes by the villainous manager Mr. Fuji, and due to this cheating, Yokozuna became the new WWF Champion. Almost immediately afterwards, the song "Real American" started blaring, and out comes Hogan, to "defend Hart's honor". In reality, Hart was being pushed to the side, while Hogan was being plugged BACK in by Vince McMahon as his top star. In a very brief match that followed, Hogan beat Yokozuna cleanly, 1 2 3, and yet another Hogan related clusterfuck of events to end a Wrestlemania, he was the new champ.

Not only did this move once AGAIN not make sense, but it wound up biting Vince in the ass, as Hogan's following reign and feud with Yokozuna, unsurprisingly, wasn't met with tons of fan enthusiasm. As great a star as Hogan had been, he'd also been on top for about a solid decade in the WWF at this point, and even with many of his most ardent fans, his act was growing stale. Yokozuna eventually won the title back at Summerslam '93, and Hogan was soon gone "for good", joining the rival WCW. Meanwhile, Bret Hart, who had been left with the scraps after being built up as a top star, was STILL popular with fans, and even in the face of Vince trying to shove the big buff Lex Luger down fans' throats as the NEW "All-American" hero, Vince finally relented and crowned Hart as the Champ and Top Guy over Yokozuna in the main event of Wrestlemania 10. 

If I were Vince, I would have stuck with my guns, and pushed "The Hitman" Hart to the moon. Have him retain the belt at WM9, he can lose it to Yoko later, only to finally gain it back at WM10, etc. But the point is, this was the third time in a row that Vince had done this, moving on to a new Top Guy, only to lose his nerve and put the spotlight back on Hogan. He did this with Macho Man, then Warrior, then Hart. With Hogan finally gone, you'd think maybe he would have stuck with Hart as the top guy long-term, but no...that's just not Vince. Instead, a whole different "Kliq" of problems arose.

One of THE top "Big Men" of the 90s.

5. Squashing Vader's Monster Push Because HBK Whined About It

Hart WOULD be the star of the WWF, for a time, but eventually Vince moved on again, to another "Big Man", as he is historically infamous for being enamored with. This time, it was the giant "Diesel", otherwise known as wrestler Kevin Nash, part of a new "Kliq" of wrestlers in the WWF that included Razor Ramon, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, 123 Kid, and "The Hearthbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. In another rather bullshit turn of events, Vince had Bret Hart feuding with former WWF Champion from his father's era, Bob Backlund, who had returned with a "crazy heel" gimmick. He had Backlund beat Hart, which on paper is fine, because Backlund was a great wrestler, whom Hart could eventually win the belt back from. But instead, he had Diesel beat Backlund shortly thereafter, in a "historic" matter of seconds with one move, becoming the new WWF Champ. Diesel would go on to hold the title for over a year, and while he was popular with fans, he was not really a "big draw", as his year+ as champ was the lowest point, ratings and gate attendance-wise, in the WWF's modern history. Meaning, that keeping the belt on Diesel as long as he did, was yet another of Vince's Booking Blunders.

He eventually, once again, had to go back to Hart, who was popular not only in North America, but worldwide, as his top guy. And he built up a feud that culminated in one of the best Wrestlemania matches and main events of all time, an hour-long "Iron Man" match between HBK and Hart at WM12. Michaels had already challenged for the belt against Diesel at WM11, in a match overshadowed by a main event that saw the giant Bam Bam Bigelow lose to former NFL star Lawrence Taylor. He had also faced off against Bret Hart in the past for the title, including in a ladder match that preceded his famous one against Razor Ramon at WM10. But in all of those instances, he had been the cocky, chickenshit heel that he played so well, in part because in real life, at that time, Michaels was cocky, arrogant, and not terribly likable as a person. At WM12, he beat Hart for the title, in a forced "overtime" restart of the match, and finally became Champ. The problem, at least from my view, was that he did it as a "babyface". Why is that a problem?'ll see.

It's Vader Time, Bitch!

Hart took a hiatus from wrestling for many months after that WM12 match, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, he had been working for the WWF almost non-stop, 300+ days a year, since the mid-80s. For another, he was just burnt out from, quite frankly, dealing with backstage BS from the likes of Hogan, and now the likes of the Kliq, whom Vince reported deferred to (meaning he let them get their way), quite a bit. Turning HBK into a babyface didn't really work, because he had been SUCH a slimy heel for years by this point, and fit the role so well. Him suddenly being a "starry-eyed hero, who just wanted to live his boyhood dream of becoming World Champ", just didn't come off as genuine. Even after the WM12 match, as a glimpse of his real life persona, he famously told the ref to "Get Hart out my fucking ring", so he could have all the spotlight to himself. A move not only classless to the guy that just put you over and helped make you a star, but also clueless, because while fans DID cheer for Michaels, they also STILL loved "The Hitman".

So it was 1996, the "Year of Michaels". Bret was gone off of WWF TV for many months, and HBK had the spotlight all to himself to be "The Man" of the company. Except, similarly to Diesel, he was not really that much of a top draw. And part of the reason for it, was that he always won, and many fans just didn't buy his new "good guy" image. Kinda like how Randy Orton never comes off as a convincing "good guy" nowadays. Well, in the meantime, a new star had debuted in the WWF, the monster Vader, once a top star and World Champion of rival WCW. They brought him like a force of nature, the ultimate bully, "breaking" Yokozuna's leg, and attacking good and bad guy wrestlers left and right. He had no allies except for his manager Jim Cornett, and he seemed pretty unbeatable. This was the setup for Summerslam 96, which saw HBK defend his title against "The Man They Call Vader" in the main event. Now, it seems very obvious to me, looking back, the way Vader was booked from his debut all the way up to Summerslam, that Vince was behind this guy, and rumor has it that Vader was supposed to have a run as champion. And that totally makes sense, because Vader IS one of the best "big man" wrestlers of all time, coming hot on the heels of his dominating WCW run. Having him be WWF Champion, even for a short while, would have really cemented the guy as a credible monster in the WWF, who could have been a threat for years.

Instead, Shawn Michaels, as he had built a reputation for doing, complained to Vince that he didn't want to work with Vader, because Vader was very "stiff" in the ring (meaning that while he didn't literally beat you up in a match, it was pretty close), and he didn't want to put Vader over. So, just like that, Vince capitulated to his new "Top Guy", and Vader was beaten at Summerslam, and wasn't given a serious push for the entire duration of his tenure in the WWF (which lasted well into 1998). To me, Vince should have seen that there was bigger money, and bigger fan interest to be had, if you just let Vader run wild over the roster for awhile, by himself, an unbeatable monster. Make him your champion, and have HBK, or a returning Hart, or hell, even my guy The Undertaker, be the one to finally end his reign of terror. Making Vader champion and having the heroes try to stop him, to my mind, would have had a lot more value in it, than pushing Michaels to beat big guy after big guy after big guy, which is what basically happened. Even when he eventually lost the belt to Sycho Sid, it was due to Sid cheating, essentially. Plus, it's just shitty the way that Vince treated Vader during most of his WWF run, all stemming from the fact that HBK whined about having to work with him.


And that's all for Part 1, folks! Stay Tuned for Part 2! 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Godzilla Chronicles: Mothra vs. Godzilla

After the initial mega-success of the original Gojira film in 1954, as this series has already shown, Toho immediately jumped into production of a sequel to capitalize on that success, even using a different director. The resulting film, which came out under a year later, Godzilla Raids Again, is a solid film, and notable because it featured the first time Godzilla (or any Toho monster) would fight another kaiju, but it also came off, ultimately, as rushed, smaller-scale, and smaller budget, than the original classic that terrified and mesmerized audiences. As such, the film didn't have nearly as great of success at the box office, causing Toho to functionally shelve Godzilla for the next near-decade.

Daikaiju Baran.

In the meantime, for the duration of the 50s, Toho continued to dabble and experiment in the science fiction and monster movie genres, most such attempts being directed by Ishiro Honda, such as 1956's Rodan, 1957's alien invasion flick The Mysterians, and as seen above, the 1958 monster film, which would later be bastardized and released in the states as Varan the Unbelievable. Unlike Rodan, and a certain other kaiju who received their own solo film during this time period, poor Varan would not be heavily featured in future Toho monster movies, only having a (very) brief cameo appearance a decade later. The decade would end with a semi-sequel to The Mysterians, featuring the same "Earth Defense Force", called" Battle in Outer Space.

The only Toho monster to almost rival Godzilla. Almost.

Come 1961, Ishiro Honda directed what would be a surprisingly popular film, featuring a giant moth trying to retrieve a pair of immortal fairies who were stolen by greedy humans. That film, of course, was Mothra, and it was enough of a hit, to merit them resurrecting the idea later on. After the smash success of the first true "Kaiju Battle" film, 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla (King Kong got people more excited than poor Anguiras), Toho decided to pull the trigger on just such a resurrection.

The Egg of the Gods.

Now in Japan, a big part of the reason for Mothra's success, was the popularity with fans of all ages, of the two immortal fairy girls.  who dwell on her island and act as intermediaries, communicating with the "god" Mothra for the humans, and vice versa. The "Shobijin" (small beauties, as dubbed by one of the humans that initially encountered them), were played by real-life twin singers Emi and Yumi Ito. Their "Mothra Song" became something of a hit, and it was with this in mind that the set-up for a showdown between Toho's two most popular monsters formulated.

The basic set-up to 1964's Mothra vs. Godzilla, is very similar to the original Mothra film. In the original Mothra film, which features the mysterious "Infant Island" being irradiated by nuclear testing of the fictional nation Rolisica, and the expedition of said island leading to the discovery (and kidnapping by nefarious persons) of the twin fairies. In this movie, a great storm causes an enormous egg to be washed away from Infant Island, to the shores of Japan. The people who find the egg, naturally decide to try and make a profit off of the unusual spectacle, claiming ownership over it and planning to go so far as to build a theme-park of sorts around it. In the original Mothra, the fairies kidnapping prompts a larval Mothra to hatch on the island and go looking for them, eventually cocooning and later hatching as the adult form of Mothra. This time, it is the fairies who come to Japan on their own, trying to plead with the humans to help them recover the egg, because if these new larva hatch, they will likely cause great destruction, just milling around searching for food.

The Ultimate Showdown?

The way in which the two are most similar, of course, is that greedy humans want to try and capture/own the fairies, and use them as a spectacle to make money. In both cases, good humans who aren't scumbags, try to help free the fairies, before shit gets too ugly with their guardian, Mothra. The twist in this second film, of course, is that there also happens to be a Godzilla lurking around somewhere. I mean he basically has to be in the film, he's in the title!

The other main sub-plot early on, besides the arrival of the giant egg, is the unusual presence of radiation on the shores of Japan, after the great storm. Trying to tie these early films together is a bit of work, because they ARE tied together, and all technically happen in the same universe, but the continuity isn't always as iron-clad as, say, the 80s/90s Heisei era films. Basically, at the end of Raids Again, Godzilla is buried under tons of ice on a glacier. Then in Kong, he reawakens and breaks out of the glacier. At the END of Kong, both monsters tumble into the sea, and while Kong resurfaces and swims back to his island, Godzilla is presumably still under the ocean, taking a nap or something.  Where it gets tricky, is how he first appears in THIS film.


It needs to be said, that the reason Godzilla first appears the way he does in this movie, very likely boils down to the fact that somebody just thought it would look really fuckin' cool. And admittedly, it does. It just doesn't make all the much sense, for many reasons. So, reaching a bit, I'll just say that since the last movie probably left the Big G napping somewhere on the ocean floor or something, this big huge mega-storm must've, in the process of washing up tons of sand and other ocean shit, also magically deposited Godzilla on the Japanese shore. Underneath a ton of sand/ that nobody notices an enormous monster sleeping, like, right there. As I said, admittedly, the entrance IS pretty cool looking, as the main reporter characters are investigating shit, all the sudden the ground begins to churn and shake, and the next thing you know, BAM, Godzilla just up and rises out of the very EARTH itself, like "Surprise, bitches!"

The first thing of note about this, other than the sheer silliness/awesomeness of Godzilla nonsensically rising out of the ground, is that this movie established the start of an undated, cooler look for the G-man. While in his first three films, he had a much more dragon/reptilian look, with eyes on the sides of his head, a longer lizard-like snout, etc., this new look saw him begin to appear a bit more humanoid, with eyes set in the front of his face, and a somewhat shorter snout that looked a bit more canine rather than reptilian in appearance. The various suits, in Godzilla fandom, have been given different names to differentiate them, and this suit specifically, is known as the "MosuGoji" suit, because it first appeared in a Mothra (Mosura) film. This is not my VERY favorite Godzilla look (that would be the very next suit, used in 1965/66), but it set a precedent for the overall look (outside of a certain "Son of" aberration), for my preferred OVERALL Godzilla look, which he had throughout the 1960s.

Not cool, bro.

So, with Godzilla showing up, shit breaks down, and he sets about trampling some more of Japan. I first saw this film myself, as part of TNT's MonsterVision in the early 90s. And one thing I will say, while it is not one of my TOP favorite Godzilla films, is that Godzilla in the early going, is absolutely established, perhaps moreso than in any other Showa film outside of the original, as being a totally unstoppable badass. That is, at least, against human weapons. Artillery shells, missiles, you name it, he shrugs everything Japan tries to throw at him, completely off, and I think they tried to establish that tone with the "ground rise" entrance. Even as a kid, as silly as the idea is when you think about it too much, I probably was shocked that he just came up out of the ground, like "You can't fuckin' defeat ME!"

As far as the rest of the story goes, with Godzilla unstoppable and on a rampage, the main human protagonists decide to travel to Infant Island to ask the fairies who had visited them earlier, for the help of Mothra. Initially skeptical, saying Godzilla was Japan's problem, they were finally able to convince the fairies to convince Mothra to battle Godzilla. Though they also left the warning: Mothra is growing weak from natural causes, and doesn't have long left to live. Mothra swoops in to save the day nonetheless, and discovers Godzilla about to smash her egg, making it obvious she should have come in the first place. Mothra does her damnedest to beat up Godzilla, but there is a huge difference between a godlike moth guardian, and a walking engine of destruction. In the end, Godzilla is too much for Mothra to handle, and in a desperate last ditch effort, she unleashes her "poison dust" from her wings, an attack that drains what little is left of her life force.

Like a Phoenix?

In the end, Mothra distracted Godzilla long enough to give her children a fighting chance. Yes, children. In a twist, instead of merely one larva hatching from the egg, this time there are twins. Most likely because even the producers realized that if a fully grown Mothra can't beat Godzilla, how is ONE larva going to do so? Regardless of logistics, the twin larvae hatch, and follow a suddenly disinterested Godzilla to Iwa Island, where he randomly decided to mosey off to, threatening, of all things, some innocent school children (that bastard).

How humiliating.

Now to me, as a kid first seeing this film, AND as an adult, I simply do not like the film's conclusion much. Granted, it would be sad if Godzilla toasted the larvae and proceeded to wreck shit unchecked. But as even as a kid, the final battle came off as equal parts ridiculous, and cheap bullshit. Not that I HATE this film at all, mind you. It's fine, enjoyable, and not lacking in positives aspects. But in short, the JUST hatched Mothra larvae, hunt down and confront Godzilla, attacking him with the same "silk" thread substance they would normally use to make their cocoons for metamorphosis. Somehow, the thread is strong enough, that it basically straight-jackets Godzilla, and he falls, ingloriously, back into the ocean, beaten like a total chump by a couple of baby bugs.

If you thought kid-me was incensed at his "losing" to a goofy looking King Kong, you can bet your ass I was pissed that he "lost" to baby Mothras, in THAT kind of fashion. Granted, in neither fight does he truly LOSE, as in getting totally beaten down. Both fights end with him just plunging back into the ocean, not to be seen again (til the next movie), so if anything, they are stalemates, and in this case, I think it's obvious the bugs get damn lucky, catching him by surprise with something no one would have really expected. Just the same, child me felt cheated somehow, that my monstrous "hero" was getting shortchanged like that.

Taking out his rage on the screenwriters.

All in all, as a final verdict, I would say that Mothra vs. Godzilla is a MOSTLY good film, that starts strong, but ends weakly. It is not AS entertaining, to me, as King Kong vs. Godzilla was, although that film is largely entertaining on how silly it can be. This is definitely an attempt to reassert Godzilla as a nearly unstoppable force, and it succeeds at that, yet that last act just feels anti-climactic. Which is odd, because this is, for most fans, widely considered to be one of the top best Godzilla films. I would say, that for a film called "Mothra vs. Godzilla", they should have done something to make Mothra herself more worthy to fight Godzilla. Granted, she's a giant moth, but much later down the line, they would establish that she has some kind of "antenna beam" or whatever, other offensive powers, and they could have easily done something along those lines to make her more formidable.

Even if the end goal was to have an emotional moment where Mothra gives her live protecting her egg, they could still do that, but the climactic act of the film, should have been the battle between MOTHRA and Godzilla, perhaps ending with the larva managing to escape back to Infant Island, with maybe Mothra's "last ditch" poison dust managing to knock Godzilla out long-term, sending him plunging back into the ocean, instead. That, I think, would have been a more powerful and more satisfying ending. With her last act, Mothra manages to "beat" Godzilla, at least long enough to save her babies. I still would have been pissed as a kid that Godzilla loses, but it would be a better ending. Newborn larvae wrapping him in a cocoon WORKS...but it's so damn silly. While I know we're talking about made up rubber monsters here, listen, goddammit, all I'm saying is REALISTICALLY, Godzilla should have charred baby moths in a matter of moments. Just saying.

It's Clobberin' Time!

On a last, odd, minor note, as the poster above illustrates, the American release of this film, while not greatly altered like some other early Toho films were, tried to rebrand and promote the film in a very weird way. They basically tried to make what was in the egg a huge mystery, so that moviegoers coming to see the film would wonder "Who is Godzilla going to fight?" That poster art is pretty bad ass, but the title is otherwise silly and pointless. It boardered on false advertising, as it seems as if some massive, terrifying beast is going to fight Godzilla, and instead, it turns out to just be Mothra (if they had even seen that first Mothra film and knew who that was).

Overall, it's a pretty good movie, though with a weaker final act, as stated. I would still recommend it, though I would not put it in my own personal Top 5 Godzilla movies. Top 10? Sure. But I would recommend several other Showa era classics over this, even though it's certainly still worth seeing.