Friday, July 11, 2014

Bill Watts in WCW: Where He Went Wrong

The Steiners felt the wrath of Bill Watts' poor booking
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To be fair, Bill Watts didn't helm the worst WCW creative staff in existence. The Vince Russo zeppelin fire takes the cake for that one pretty easily. But what we might have seen here is perhaps the most tonedeaf creative staff in existence, and one that proves the age-old maxim: The Customer Is Always Right.

First, a bit of background. Prior to the Watts era, someone by the name of K. Allan Frey ran WCW. He brought in Jushin Liger from Japan, cultivated a working relationship with New Japan, and was at the helm for the creative apex of the pre-nWo WCW. Simply put, it was a good run. And then, because politics in wrestling in general, and WCW in specific, are as important to understanding why and how things happen as workrate would be, he got turfed. In his place was Watts.

For a point of explanation, Bill Watts had run the UWF, which he had sold to Jim Crockett five years prior to his ascension. You know the UWF better by its colloquial name of Mid-South. Mid-South routinely sold out the Superdome with some of the best angles not just of the time period, but ever. The trouble was twofold.

Firstly, Bill Watts was not exactly a people person. He had a lot of views of how things needed to go, and quite a lot of people began to regard those opinions as antiquated. Just some of this was that the faces and heels weren't allowed to train together, ride together, or even talk to each other in the locker room area. As well, everyone had to stay until the end of the show. So, immediately, he did a lot to destroy morale.

The second problem appeared to be this other thing. He liked, and wanted to promote, a style of wrestling that wasn't in keeping with the style that WCW fans actually wanted.

Just before Watts came aboard, Superbrawl II happened. And in the opener, in a match that many regard as one of the greatest opening matches of the pay-per-view era, Jushin "Thunder" Liger lost the WCW World Light Heavyweight Title to "Flyin" Brian Pillman. It was widely considered a match of the year candidate at the time, and a match that made a fan out of so many (including this humble scribe). What did Bill Watts do when he got in? He banned any and all moves off of the top rope.

This thus meant that the match we had just seen, the title change and the spectacular matches that we had been promised, gone. In its place? Mat wrestling. Buckets of it. Now the top-rope rule is, on its own, not the worst idea in the world, although Watts's explanation that he felt the crowd was becoming de-sensitized to top rope manuevers stretched the bounds of incredulity. It was also that he drove the light heavyweight division, one of the main things that differentiated WCW from the big man's playground that WWE has always been, right off of a cliff, which then fell off into a volcano. To wit, the belt went from Brian Pillman to Scotty Flamingo. Not Brad Armstrong, who could have put together exciting matches while still keeping together with the ethos that the division was seemingly built on. Add that to the fact that he had surprisingly good chemistry with Liger and Pillman and you had something. NOPE. Instead, Scotty Flamingo got the belt only to lose it to Armstrong who then got hurt and, inadvertently, killed the belt.

Why was the division de-emphasized? Easy. Bill Watts had to get his son pushed. Erik Watts came into WCW and was immediately pushed as the next big young face. The only problem with this is that Erik wasn't ready. It's sort of sad to realize it, and think that it was nepotism, but this is the first and arguably the worst modern example.

Where we really start to get in trouble though is the NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament. At this point, WCW was still a member of the National Wrestling Alliance, and much like TNA would do a decade or so later, was using the NWA legacy and name as a nod to its great wrestling tradition. So over the course of a Clash of Champions and a pay-per-view, WCW hosted the tournament to crown the new NWA World Tag Team Champions. Now, anyone who knew enough to knew assumed that the Steiner Brothers, at the peak of their powers as a team and the dominant WCW World Tag Team Champions, were going to have to face the only team who had pushed them to their limits, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams and Terry Gordy (also a proto-hoss tag team). But what everyone assumed was that the match was going to take place at the Great American Bash.

Instead, after a terrible attempt at a storyline called the Puerto Rican Incident which was handled terribly by all sides, Williams and Gordy vs the Steiners took place at the actual Clash. You are also probably assuming that the Steiners went over because that's how the story is supposed to go right? The Steiners go over in the rematch after figuring out what they did wrong?

Williams and Gordy go over in the one match everyone would have paid to see. They then crush and rend the NWA World Tag Team Tournament, no-selling nearly at all and systematically dismantling everyone.

There are more mistakes (like his running off of the Steiners, Scott Hall, and a few others) to go over, but that might be another story for another time.