In Defense Of…9.28.05: WCW Thunder (Part 1 Of 1) [REPOST]
In Defense of…
By JP Prag
WCW Thunder (Part 1 of 1)
Hello people who have actually put their beds together, and welcome back to In Defense Of…! Last week we finished off the case of the IWC vs. the Brand Extension, which can be read in the side-splitting Part 1, the expanding Part 2, and the dream ending Part 3. Why dream ending?
Because with 90.5% of the vote, the Brand Extension has been found:
A little lighter on the voting then usual. Is it the day in the week, or was the topic not that interesting? If Hidden Highlights starts getting more e-mail, then I know I’ll be in trouble.
Speaking of Hidden Highlights, have you had a chance to check it out yet? JT and I bring you a totally positive article that is all about changing the way we watch and enjoy wrestling. Check it out each and every Sunday morning in the former home of this article.
Speaking of this article, we should start to get to the case at hand!
But wait! Perhaps this is your first time clicking on In Defense Of…? Maybe you didn’t read about the Brand Extension, Goldberg, Vince not buying out WCW’s contracts, Earl Hebner Screwing Bret Hart, Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker, The Finger Poke of Doom, Kevin Nash, the Elimination Chamber, or even Eric Bischoff. It might be that you knew Seinfeld feared Thunder (first sign showed on Thursday Night Thunder, and an awesome classic Hidden Highlight). Well, for those new to the concept, this article has a pretty simple premise:
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum wrap. Certain writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
And that’s what I intend to do.
Me? I’m the One and Only JP, and I really want to put my bed back together. But first, this case!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
This one comes from our resident stenographer, believe it or not. Stenographer?
Thanks, JP. Well, since I figured I’d have the next couple of weeks off, I thought I’d get you to defend my favorite wrestling show: WCW Thunder. Whenever something bad happens on RAW or SmackDown!, writers and smarks go “that was as bad as an episode of Thunder!” But Thunder was enjoyable, and doesn’t deserve to always be associated with bad wrestling.
Thanks Stenographer, that does sound like a good case!
Like Stenographer said, WCW Thunder gets a bad wrap for being terrible wresting. But was it as bad as many would have you believe? Or was WCW Thunder truly an enjoyable program that more then pulled its weight in WCW. Only one way to find out, and that’s to start the case!
Where the heck did this show come from?
That’s the question that must have been running through Eric Bischoff’s head. After a very successful 1997, Turner Sports and TBS wanted to capitalize on the success of WCW and Nitro and expand the brand outward. Without consulting Bischoff, Turner (the company, not the person) added WCW Thursday Thunder to TBS’s lineup. Bischoff had just a few weeks (over the holidays) to pull together a set, an arena and taping schedule, and start writing the program. But feeling up to the challenge, Bischoff did not let the fact that he felt Thunder would cause an overexposure of WCW to deter him.
So, on January 15, 1998 WCW Thunder premiered with a bang. The show featured seven matches, including Chris Jericho defeating Eddie Guerrero (a workrate dream match), Rey Mysterio winning the Cruiserweight Championship from Juventud Guerrera (pre-‘Juice’ days, a lot more real Lucha style), and Lex Luger and DDP teaming up to defeat Kevin Nash and Randy Savage.
With little promotion, no pre-planning, and no support from Turner corporate, the first episode of Thunder pulled in a solid 3.4 rating (which was higher then this past week’s last RAW on Spike rating). But Thunder would soon start rolling in the numbers.
The following week Thunder jumped to a 4.2 rating. As the weeks went on, Thunder continued to pull in ratings in the high 3’s and low 4’s. Even on the weeks when Thunder was moved to Wednesdays because of a baseball game it would still get low 3’s. This would all continue until July 1999, when rating slipped into the high 2’s as WCW’s popularity waned. The ratings would continue to slide, and hang in the upper 1’s and lower 2’s until the end of WCW. Even with Thunder being taped after Nitro, it was still pulling in ratings double to triple anything ECW on TNN got. Relative to the times, WCW Thunder was pulling in strong ratings.
But one would have to ask, what were they showing that would make people want to tune in?
Where are my main eventers?
The biggest lie I read all the time about Thunder is that nothing important ever happened on the show, and the main eventers were never there. That could not be further from the truth. Look, we already saw that Lex Luger, DDP, Kevin Nash, and Randy Savage were on the premier episode of Thunder, but that would not be the end. The Giant and Scott Hall main evented the following week, Bill Goldberg made regular appearances, Ric Flair most definitely fought on the show, Sting defended the championship, and even Hollywood Hogan lost a match to the Macho Man.
Not only that, but titles changed hands on Thunder. Above we mentioned the change in the Cruiserweight Championship. On the June 6, 1998 edition of Thunder the World Tag Team Championships changed hands. Even the World Heavyweight Championship changed hands, including one where Kevin Nash defeated Jeff Jarrett and Scott Steiner in a three-way dance on May 24, 2000. These are just a few of the examples, but most definitely not all.
Still, many complain that it was not always main eventers topping the program. One week, DDP would be defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Bam Bam Bigelow. Two weeks later, the show would be headlined with David Flair vs. Barry Horowitz. Seems rather inconsistent, doesn’t it?
But consider this: WCW was using Thunder as a chance to give talent more exposure. Mid-carders getting into the main event gave them a chance to show that they were worth it, that they could go all the way. And it was not just mid-carders fighting other mid-carders. DDP defended his title against Stevie Ray, Hollywood Hogan defeated the Disciple, Evan Karagias defeated Randy Savage (you read that right) and Konnan and Rey Mysterio defeated the Outsiders. Where else but Thunder could the mid-carder work his way up and fight in the main event? There was no room for that on the super-studded Nitro, but Thunder gave them a chance to shine.
Not only that, but it was not just the people who were spotlighted. The US title was often in the main event, as was the television and tag team championships. These belts (which hardly get recognition now, if they even exist), were given top spots on Thunder. And who were often around those belts? Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Booker T, Eddie Guerrero, Raven, Perry Saturn, Scott Steiner, and basically everyone considered to be the top workers in WCW. Thunder was their chance to shine, and get their belts a nice shine, too.
Since the real fight was on Monday Night, WCW got to have a little more fun with Thunder and try new things. For instance, on the June 18, 1998 episode of Thunder, Masa “My Hero” Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan defended the IWGP Tag Team Championships against Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart. Where else in America could you see a Japanese title defended? How often are other organizations even mentioned on national TV, nonetheless have their titles defended?
Or how about this one: On the July 16, 1998 Konnan and DDP teamed up to face Curt Henning and Scott Hall. Why was this a big deal? Because Konnan was a member of nWo Wolfpac and DDP a member of team WCW. This was the first time EVER that a WCW and nWo person teamed up. nWo had fought itself, but at no point had they ever joined forces with a WCW person. This was a first, and it happened on Thunder.
Also, Thunder was pretty much the unique home of Marty Jannetty. Without much fanfare, Jannetty would come out for weeks busting his butt in the ring and putting on a solid match with everyone. People talk about his matches in the WWE a few months ago as if they were his first wrestling appearances in a decade. But that is not true, as WCW gave him a chance to show what he was made of on Thunder in 1998 and 1999.
Towards the end of WCW, Thunder became the home of new stars. A.J. Styles (you might have heard of him) and Air Paris were teaming regularly and beginning to show the new generation of the wrestling game. Thunder was all about the future of the business; it’s a shame that that future was cut short.
(Fun Fact: Scott Steiner was in both the first and last Thunder matches. He was on the winning side both times.)
More big surprises and that old Nitro feeling
Thunder was not just the home of future stars and unique events, but it also played an important role in the bigger scheme of WCW. On the January 26, 2000 episode of Thunder, Ric Flair returned to WCW television after a long absence. Hulk Hogan also made his return to WCW after a 4 ½ month absence on the February 2, 2000 episode of Thunder.
Of course, Thunder did not need big surprises to make it feel important. Despite being focused on younger talent and not trying to make every week a PPV, Thunder was still made to feel big. Notice something different about the lengths of RAW and SmackDown!? RAW always goes overtime (a leftover from the Monday Night Wars) while SmackDown! ends on time. It is a little distinction that makes RAW seem that much more important and give it that “anything can happen” feeling. Thunder actually shared this trait with Nitro, where both would go overtime. Also, if Michael Buffer was the guest ring announcer for Nitro, you can guarantee that he would show up on Thunder. And who does not like to hear Michael Buffer announce La Parka?
Feel the Thunder
WCW Thunder constantly gets ripped into as if it were the worst show in wrestling. But Thunder was given solid talent to work with, from main eventers and their world titles to the workhorses and their championships to the future superstars of tomorrow. The ratings would back up the fan interest in the show, even during WCW’s waining years. The ratings were not the best ever at the end, but were much higher then ECW ever saw, and TNA has yet to see.
Big events happened on Thunder, from the return of stars to championship changes. And at the same time, unique events occurred from other organizations getting their titles on TV to the nWo and WCW teaming up for the first time. And Thunder was given the same rights as Nitro, with overrun main events and Michael Buffer doing the announcing.
Was every episode of Thunder the greatest night of wrestling? No. But on a weekly basis could it entertain the fans? You bet. How can anyone continually say compare any bad event to Thunder when on any given week, Thunder could have been just as good as a PPV.
The defense rests.
Well everyone, that wraps up our tenth (can you believe it!) case. So what do you think?
And please take into consideration the rules (well, they’re more what you might call guidelines than rules) of a fair court system:
(1) All parties, events, circumstances, etc… are innocent until proven guilty. In this court, the defendants have already been found guilty without trial, and so therefore this is an appeals court. Finding a defendant guilty means you disagree with the evidence presented.
(2) The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt. That means that if there is doubt in your mind that the defendant is guilty, then you cannot find the appellant guilty. Reasonable doubt means that the average person, looking at the facts presented, could not find the defendant guilty on all counts despite personal feelings.
(3) This is a court of fact, not fiction. Fantasies of what could have been or should have been do not fly here; especially fantasies of the impossible (such as a wrestler not getting injured at an untimely moment). All we have is what did actually occur and the intentions of those being accused.
(4) A defendant cannot be judged by events outside the case at hand. For example, if we were trying a particular contract signing by a wrestling promoter, you cannot use that ten years later that wrestler died from a heart attack relating to the drug use that the wrestler started when he signed with the promoter. One has nothing to do with the other in terms of the case at hand.
(5) You do not have to like the accused before or after the case at hand, and a vote of not guilty does not change your personal preferences. You can make it clear that you feel the accused is the worst thing you have ever seen, but if the facts compel you to see that the accused cannot be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, then voting guilty would be unconscionable.
Keeping the rules of this court in mind…
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS WCW THUNDER, WCW THUNDER HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING A POINTLESS SHOW THAT HAD NO ENTERTAINMENT VALUE IN WRESTLING WHAT-SO-EVER.
YOU THE JURY FIND WCW THUNDER:
You know, sometimes these one shot cases seem like a pushover. Perhaps something that will make me FLEX my brain a little more…
That is why next issue we will have <B>In Defense of… Lex Luger (Part 1 of 2)</b>!!
In the meantime, be sure to check out Hidden Highlights! Don’t forget to send JT and I your Hidden Highlights for RAW, SmackDown!, Heat, Velocity, Impact, or any other show you saw this week (that includes house shows and indy events, you know)!
Until then, the next time you read some throwaway line presented as fact, challenge it. The truth matters, and you have a right to know.
Know a particular person, event, organization, storyline, etc… in wrestling history that needs a defense? E-mail the One and Only JP at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be glad to hear your case.