AS I SEE IT
by: Bob Magee
First, a welcome to new websites carrying the AS I SEE IT column this week:
TWNP (in its column section), The Raging Climax, RawFeed Sports Entertainment, and
Ringsidenews.com. Next week will see the addition of twzcentral.hypermart.net.
Now to this week's column....
Steve Appenrodt of the Wrestling Booking Sheet asked 15 Internet wrestling writers, including myself to come up with their picks for Best of the Decade in several categories, limited to North American wrestling.
Below I'm going to give the criteria that Steve provided, then list and briefly explain my picks. What I'd like to see is e-mails commenting on these picks, including (if this is the case) who YOU would have picked instead, and why.
I should mention that in many cases, the order within the top 5 picks could be changed around totally, but that I'm pretty comfortable with the picks being the top 5.
Just for once, folks, let's be WRESTLING fans, and lay off the politics for this week. Let's have some fun with this.
Here were my picks:
WRESTLER OF THE DECADE
This is the performer who combined workrate, box office revenue, consistency over the decade and overall excellence (very subjective criteria).
* Steve Austin, WCW/WWF
Are there better workers? No question. But show me anyone who gets a bigger reaction at a house show. Show me anyone who's gotten more mainstream press attention in 1998 and 1999 within professional wrestling in North America...who's drawn more money in North America during that period...who's sold more merchandise in arenas, sporting goods stores, online, and damned near everywhere else...
Steve Austin has equalled and likely surpassed the Hulk Hogan of the 1980s as a gate attraction, and as a mainstream personality.
While his technical skills haven't been what they once were, due to his injury by Owen Hart; he still stands out as the name the average person will think of when they think of the business.
* Shawn Michaels, WWF
Whatever anyone ever says about HBK's attitude or "losing his smile" at seemingly convenient times...Michaels was without a doubt, a world-class performer on the major shows when it counted the most
* Ric Flair, WCW/WWF
What's there to say?
Unfortunately, successive generations of WCW management haven't used him in the way every wrestling fan over the age of 8 knows he can be used. That's the only reason I don't have him number 1.
I remember the "Where's Flair" weekend of 1991, with shows in the Meadowlands Arena, Wildwood, NJ and Philadelphia Civic Center; the weekend when WCW fired him after he refused to allow Jim Herd to cut his contract.
Even in those pre-Internet and pre-newsletter days, the word of Flair's firing spread like wildfire, with fans essentially disrupting each show, including at a cage match main event in the Meadowlands Arena, with seemingly the entire crowd chanting "We Want Flair" as the cage was descending in an atmosphere bordering on that of a lynch mob.
Vince McMahon knew how to use Flair when he went to Stamford shortly afterward. If McMahon ever gets the chance, he'll do so again, and let Flair end his career with dignity. When Flair won his WWF title, even the WWF crowds of the time who presumably didn't know better, knew greatness when they saw it, and reacted accordingly.
So did the fans of Charlotte in 1993, when Flair again became WCW champion, getting the belt over Big Van Vader.
* Chris Benoit, WCW
Since he blows most anyone away in three of the four categories, and has done well in the other in Japan, I feel justified in putting him in here.
* Mick Foley, WCW/ECW/WWF/independent
No wrestler not named Gilbert or Funk has loved the business more, and given more to it during the 1990s and more to the fans of it.
TAG TEAM OF THE DECADE
Same as above, but with far less emphasis on the amount of time together (how many top teams have tagged together for more than 6 months?).
* Rick & Scott Steiner, WCW/WWF/ECW
In the early half of this decade, no team (with the exception of the next choice) epitomized tag team wrestling like the Steiners. But as injuries took their toll on both brothers, their greatness faded. Still their run in the earlier part of this decade qualifies them.
* Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton (Midnight Express), WCW
From the mid 80s to the early 90s, when these two were together with Jim Cornette, no one gave a better tag team show to fans then the Midnight Express. Those of us in Philly got an unforgettable moment to see their title win back in 1988 over Tully Blanchard/Arn Anderson at the old Philadelphia Civic Center.
* Steve Austin & Brian Pillman (Hollywood Blondes), WCW
One of the worst moves in WCW history was to break up this tag team.
* Heavenly Bodies (Bobby Eaton/Dr. Tom Pritchard/Jimmy Del Ray/Stan Lane), SMW
In many ways reminiscent of the Midnight Express, Jim Cornette made this group the prototypical Southern heel tag team.
* Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko, ECW
Their New Japan style tag team work in ECW in 1995 was the best pure tag team wrestling anywhere for the latter half of the decade.
MATCH OF THE DECADE
* Mankind/Undertaker (Hell in a Cell II)
The most memorable match I've ever seen...for being the match of Mick Foley's career, surpassing even the Eddie Gilbert-Cactus Jack TWA tripleheader in 1991, for two psychotic bumps, including one I hope for Mick's sake I never see again, off of the top of a cage through an announcer's table...for making clear that the standards for wrestling in North America had likely changed forever.
* Shawn Michaels/Undertaker (Hell In a Cell I)
Given the events of earlier that day, when the workers of the WWF were told that Brian Pillman had been found dead in a hotel room, the workrate and storytelling of this match was off the scales.
* Shawn Michaels/Razor Ramon (Ladder Match, SummerSlam 1994)
* Ric Flair/Vader (Starrcade 1993)
Even with everyone in the crowd knowing that Ric Flair was going over that night in Charlotte, the set up of the match, the booking of the match and the emotional reaction of the fans when Ric Flair won the title in his home town made this one so special.
* Cactus Jack/Eddie Gilbert (Three Matches/Falls, Falls Count Anywhere Match/Stretcher match/Steel Cage match), Tristate Wrestling Alliance, Philadelphia PA, 1991, For the sheer psychotic brutality in these matches, for the dedication of these two men to their business; and for being the match that established the hardcore tradition of Philadelphia wrestling, this gets a pick.
FEUD OF THE DECADE
A series of matches that were both entertaining to view, drew revenue, and enhanced the careers of all involved.
* Steve Austin/Vince McMahon, WWF
Some of the hottest, most over the top TV of 1999, let alone the decade, came from the McMahon-Austin storyline.
As I said with my 1999 Year-End Awards: "The Austin-McMahon soap opera kept viewers and picked up viewers, as they wondered what would happen next between the two storyline protagonists. Each week, we got to see Austin and McMahon go at it in one way or the other.
A funny part of it was wondering what new vehicular toy Austin would come out with each week. My favorites were Austin coming in on a beer truck and giving a beer bath to Vince and Shane McMahon and 'The Rock'. Then there was the night Austin came in on the Zamboni, and clotheslined McMahon off of the top of it.
Then there was the 'battle for control of the company' between Austin and Team McMahon in June 1999. They finally wound up the Austin-McMahon angle in July, but here's hoping that Steve Austin can come back to resume it in some form at a future date."
* Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels, WWF
The DX/Team Canada storyline got great heat, and drew well; even though it went too far on more than one occasion with the DX angle depicting Team Canada as racist toward the NOD through the use of "racial graffiti". The movie "Wrestling With Shadows" showed some of this heat.
It's unfortunate that the storyline ended the way it did, with the infamous screwjob of Montreal.
* Raven/Tommy Dreamer, ECW
This feud was, in my mind, the best pure feud in terms of length and quality of twists and turns in it of any this decade. The only thing it lacks is the revenue produced.
* SMW-USWA 1995
As my late friend Brian Hildebrand said, this interpromotional feud got even smart marks who came in for the SMW Fanweek to understand what "white heat", good old-fashioned Southern style heel heat was all about; especially after the night a group of SMW fans in vans (at SMW Fanweek '95) were literally chased out of Louisville, KY by USWA fans.
* Cactus Jack-Eddie Gilbert (1990-1991, TWA and WWA)
Gotta mention this one. The matches are credited by Mick Foley as helping him in to the Big Two, and the feud helped establish hardcore wrestling in the States; including their legendary barbed wire match and their three matches in a night listed in the above category.
MANAGER OF THE DECADE
Short but entertaining runs are acceptable (the 90's have not been a good time for the position).
Part of what Steve said was true. Much of the work that I'm crediting as Manager of the Decade happened in the earlier half of the decade. With the exception of SMW and ECW, managers weren't a high priority
in the 1990s.
* Jim Cornette, WCW/SMW/WWF/OVW/Memphis
In my mind, Jim Cornette is the standard by which all managers in the 1980s and 1990s are judged.
He has an old-school attitude about the business (which may not be popular among some circles these days); but can also look at the business from the perspective of a wrestling fan, and enjoy it like one. I got to see that up close at SMW Fanweeks 1993 and 1994.
* Sherri Martel, WWF/WCW/ECW
In the 1980s and 1990s, Sherri Martel was the standard for all female managers. Her work with Shane Douglas may well have been some of the best example, because it allowed her to do all that she had the talent to do.
* Bobby Heenan, WWF
Most of Heenan's best work happened in the 1980s, but he was still around enough before switching over the commentator.
* Woman (Nancy Duas-Sullivan), WCW/ECW
If she'd done nothing but her work in the Sandman "blinding" angle in ECW, she'd qualify for this one. This was one of the most realistically done angles both live and on TV I've ever seen.
* Paul Heyman, WCW/ECW
BEST INTERVIEWS OF THE DECADE
This is the performer who combined entertaining promos with a compelling build up to his programs.
* Arn Anderson, WCW/WWF
I go back to Anderson's first days in Georgia Championship Wrestling, way back in the days I rushed home to catch the weekly show on Saturday. I remember looking at Arn and seeing a WRESTLER who WORKED in the ring. No glamor. No flash.
Then, when he got on the mike, Arn Anderson's character always came across as credible to the point that you would literally fear him if you saw him on the street. He came across as tough and real. THAT is what a wrestling promo ought to be about.
* Ric Flair, WCW/WWF
What's there to say?
* Mick Foley, WCW/WWF/ECW
If he never had done another interview, after his 1995 ECW "anti-hardcore" series of promos Mick Foley would belong on this list... or if he'd never done another one after his WWF interview with Jim Ross to set up this incarnation of "Mankind"...or after any one of of a dozen others every readers of this column has heard, Mick Foley would belong on this list.
* Jerry Lawler, WWF/USWA/NWA Music City/Memphis Power Pro/other
From back in the 1980s, Jerry Lawler has shown hundreds of wrestlers how promos should be done, how to get themselves over as heel or babyface, and to draw money in the process. Jim Cornette even said "I've made more money off of Jerry Lawler's material than he has". Pretty high compliment.
* Jim Cornette, WCW/WWF/SMW/OVW
Jim Cornette explained during one of the SMW Fanweeks what a promo ought to be about, from an old-school perspective: "The babyface stands up and says, this guy pissed on my leg (figuratively speaking), and here's what I'm going to do about it."
In other words, it was about getting over a storyline. Not being cute, not strictly being "entertaining". But getting over a storyline to get people to come to the show that week, so the wrestler could get PAID.
Jim Cornette could always do that, and be entertaining at the same time. It's a good thing he's in a position to teach a new generation how to do that with Memphis Power Pro and Ohio Valley Wrestling.
MOST CHARISMATIC OF THE DECADE
* The Undertaker, WWF
As a babyface, with the lights off, the trademark music, and flashbulbs popping from every direction... Undertaker had the single most dramatic entrance in the business, bar none. No matter what inane angle the WWF came up with, Mark Callaway was over. Period.
* Steve Austin, WCW/WWF
See above Wrestler of the Year comments.
* Sting, WCW
Especially as the crew-cut, blond "Stinger", he could get a WCW crowd going like few others. For years, he was also one of those that WCW couldn't "kill off" with idiotic storylines. But the "Crow" type characters have well have finally done it to a significant extent. That and the fact that WCW seemingly can't decide if they want him as face, ' tweener, or heel from week to week.
* Hulk Hogan, WWF/WCW
This one may surprise you coming out of me. In the earliest part of the 1990s, Hogan was over. Other than Gorgeous George, Hulk Hogan was the first mainstream wrestling celebrity at a time when wrestling was still viewed as something other people watched....the dirty little secret that many of who were fans had.
A lot of people have made a lot of money because of what Hulk Hogan did in the 1980s and 1990s.
The fact that Terry Bollea has overstayed his welcome, and is seen as the relic what so many see him as now...is no one's faulty but his. Because at one time his name meant wrestling. To some it still does.
* Shawn Michaels, WWF
As his nickname indicated, Shawn Michaels was "the showstopper" in most every big-money PPV he took part in. From his days as the "Boy Toy" to the days of DX...few, if any, could put on a show quite like Michaels did, bumping like a madman, portraying the underdog and playing the crowd.
BRAWLER OF THE DECADE
The brawler of the decade will have participated in credible looking brawls that came together into great matches (garbage wrestling would be an example of a bad brawl).
* Mick Foley, WCW/WWF/ECW
The man who's won the last several years worth of Wrestling Observer Brawler of the Year Awards has epitomized the style during the 1990s.
I've seen so much of his work, both live and on tape that I can't put anyone else number 1. See elsewhere in these awards for my thoughts on Mick.
* Eddie Gilbert, ECW/TWA/USWA/GWF/other
Eddie Gilbert's death in 1995 left many who loved him and his style with a empty feeling in their hearts that will never be truly filled.
Gilbert was the consummate Southern brawler with his years of background in Memphis, Continental, and WCW. If he never worked another match after the series of matches with Cactus Jack mentioned elsewhere in this column, he'd have earned a place here.
He also deserves recognition for being responsible for ECW becoming what it is today, both as its first booker of the company's TV era, and in providing his own talent to the fledgling Eastern Championship Wrestling; as well as bringing Paul Heyman, who has become more known for the company's success.
It can safely be said that no one of his generation loved the business more than Thomas Edward Gilbert, Jr. did. Few gave it more.
* Tommy Dreamer, ECW
In a change from a pretty boy babyface to hardcore maniac, Dreamer's brawling feuds and partnerships with Raven, Terry Funk, and Sandman have been a large part of ECW's history.
While it isn't popular among anyone other than ECW fans to say so, Dreamer put his body on the line for fans to a degree to be applauded. He made the choice to do it, likely knowing the long-term consequences of what he was doing week after week.
So enjoy him while you can if you're an ECW fan. One hopes he doesn't meet the fate of Tom Billington for our amusement.
* Sandman, ECW/WCW
The night Jim Fullington returned to the ECW Arena, fans rejoiced like their hero had returned. In the minds of many ECW fans, he is a symbol of everything ECW, even more than perhaps Terry Funk, Sabu, or Eddie Gilbert. His character, which Fullington has said over and over again to anyone who'll listen isn't a character at all is the epitome of all that isn't politically correct.
* Raven, ECW
See Heel of the Decade.
HIGH FLYER OF THE DECADE
The high flyer of the decade will have combined aerial maneuvers into a somewhat credible package (without a million missed spots).
* Jushin Liger, WCW
In the 1980s and 1990s in Japan, and occasionally in the US, Jushin Liger was the pioneer of the high-flying style. He appeared all too briefly in the United States. Our loss...
* Rey Misterio, Jr., WCW/ECW
Most Americans, unless they bought or traded lucha tapes, haven't seen Rey Misterio, Jr. at his best, or unless they saw him on the "When Worlds Collide" AAA PPV, or in ECW. At his best, Rey Misterio was the most creative flyer of our generation. Most recently, he's been confined to playing a hoodie version "Mini-Me" to Konnan, or out with knee injuries. Again, our loss.
* Juventud Guerrera Jr., ECW/WCW
I remember former PWBTS writer Kathy Fitzpatrick interviewing Juventud Guerrera, and asking him how he created the moves he used in the ring. He said to her that "I just sit in the ring and imagine them."
Again, the Juvi that some of us got to see working world-class matches in ECW with Rey Misterio, Jr. is now confined to playing a parody of Rocky Maivia, "commentating" in a bad ethnic joke written by Vince Russo.
Get yourself some ECW tapes from 1995-1996, or some lucha tapes if you want to see the best of these two.
* Sabu, ECW
Sabu has mixed the psychotic daredevil style of FMW and ECW with high-spots that were ahead of their time for many. These days some complain that these spots may seem repetitive, and that he isn't always consistent. But many of us remember when he was the first to do them at all.
* Brian Pillman WCW/WWF/ECW
I remember a Pillman match at the Meadowlands Arena back in 1991 with Jushin Liger. A mother sat next to me and told her son in the most serious (and appreciative) voice: "Pay attention. You're watching the two best in the world."
BABYFACE OF THE DECADE
Short but explosive runs on top qualify (odds are all of the top choices have turned at one time or another)
For all but Maivia, see my comments in "Most Charismatic of the Decade".
* Steve Austin, WCW/WWF
* The Undertaker, WWF
* Sting, WCW
* "The Rock", WWF
As we go into 2000, we've seen a flash of what Duane Johnson can do to a crowd. The only reason he wasn't included in "Most Charismatic of the Decade" was the length of time he's been in that position.
He's had to carry the babyface end of things since Steve Austin has been out with his neck injury, a challenge that would have made most people wilt under the pressure. Maivia hasn't.
* Hulk Hogan
HEEL OF THE DECADE
* Vince McMahon
McMahon first did a heel promoter gimmick in Memphis, as the "big outside promoter" who was challenging the local USWA, and was tremendous at it, from the tapes I've seen.
The "Mister McMahon" heel promoter gimmick that then grew out of the real-life 1997 Bret Hart screw job in Montreal (and, some argue, his real-life personality), as well as the related "Higher Power" gimmick played the emotions of the crowd like a violin; with Steve Austin as the bad-ass babyface helping propel the McMahon heel persona.
* Ric Flair
Well before Flair had to play heel who was a heel who'd lost his mind, he was the "dirtiest player in the game". I prefer to remember him that way.
* (Big Van) Vader, WCW
His work in WCW with Ric Flair as the killer heel Flair was challenging for the WCW title in 1993, and his well-known matches with Cactus Jack were tremendous.
It never seemed that the WWF had a clue what to do with Vader, from the moment he started. Their loss.
* Shane Douglas
Douglas gets this for his heel personas in 1993-1997 and 1998-99 in ECW.
I remember the night in 1996 at the ECW Arena when Douglas "shook the halo" in the head of Pitbull Gary Wolf, which had been there after a legitimate and accidental injury to Wolf, during a match with Douglas. When Douglas "shook" the halo, I thought there was going to be a riot. When you get an ECW Arena crowd THAT hot...that they're trying to go over the rail at you...you've done your job as a heel.
Scott Levy created one of the most memorable characters of the 1990s, period, with Raven in ECW. His 2 1/2 year feud with Tommy Dreamer (beginning again soon?) was one of the best of the decade, because Raven could play his role and play it perfectly in match after match with his mind-blowing character and mind-blowing brutality.
Levy as Raven had the old-school trait of not getting out of character, even with the ECW fans, which got over his character all the more.
Until next time....
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)