AS I SEE IT
1998 Year End Awards
I should note that my selections are based on what I've actually seen; which primarily means North American wrestling.
PROMOTION OF THE YEAR:
World Wrestling Federation
Simple enough pick. What North American promotion has had actual storylines that played out....unpredictable angles on TV AND PPV... clear character development...and kept the average TV viewer and PPV buyer interested all through 1998? The WWF. Like them or hate them, they're doing business that would have been unfathomable just 3 or 4 years ago...
They've gotten mainstream press attention that would have never been believed just a year or two ago...and this time, as a product for adults, not the kiddie wrestling of the 1980s starring Hulk something or other...and his special "vitamins".
Additionally, having talent under contract, and bringing in new younger talent, they are building for the future; unlike WCW who seems to build for that week's NITRO.
They DO have to watch out with the outlandish angles with Undertaker, though....
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR:
Are there better workers? No question. But show me anyone who gets a bigger reaction at a house show (no, WCW's canned reactions for Bill Goldberg don't count...). Show me anyone who's gotten more mainstream press attention in 1998 within professional wrestling in North America...who's drawn more money in North America in 1998...who's sold more merchandise in arenas, sporting goods stores, online, and damned near everywhere else...
Steve Austin has equaled 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.
WORST WRESTLER OF THE YEAR:
Giant Silva, WWF
Errrggggg...and I thought the Shockmaster was bad. It's clear that Silva isn't ready for working in the bigtime now or any time in the foreseeable future. With Dory Funk and others in the WWF Dojo to work with him, you can't say he doesn't have the resources to train him. Hiding him in the Oddities allows him to be around.....but Silva's actual wrestling in such events as the NWA 50th Anniversary Show Battle Royal were painful to watch.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR:
Sabu/Rob Van Dam, ECW
Given the absence of real tag team wrestling in the Big Two this year, I'll go with this pick again in 1998. Now if WCW had the sense the Lord gave a common country jackass and let Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko work matches with something other than enhancement talent, I could have made THAT obvious pick. Any of you who got to see them work in ECW's glory days (as I did) got a real treat. Hopefully 1999 will see us watching Benoit and Malenko on a regular basis..somewhere.
FEUD OF THE YEAR/BEST ANGLE OF THE YEAR::
Vince McMahon as heel promoter versus Steve Austin and "the world"
Playing off of the real-life Bret Hart incident at the 1997 Survivor Series, Vince McMahon has taken his real-life actions, and woven them into a character who has gotten heel heat unlike anyone else this year. McMahon against Austin has morphed into the "Team Corporate" storyline, which will likely carry WWF well into 1999.
WORST/MOST TASTELESS ANGLES OF THE YEAR:
Unfortunately, there are lots of nominees for this one in 1998. I'm not interested in "politically correct" wrestling. Yet it seems that, all too often, WCW and the WWF don't know the difference between adult-oriented angles and tasteless ones. Angles about drug/alcohol use, suicide, religious blasphemy...and even one I left out, violating the boxing/wrestling tradition of interrupting the 10 bell count for the death of a worker/ boxer/family member...aren't adult..they're sick, unnecessary, and little more than cheap heat for those too lazy to use any real, honest-to-God creativity. So here's two of the nominees:
* Ric Flair "heart attack" angle
We can apparently now class Eric Bischoff in the company of Jack (Fritz Von Erich) Adkisson and Blackjack Mulligan as a desperate man prepared to do desperate things for their promotion. In the case of Adkisson and Mulligan, their promotions were going down the toilet when they did these ill-advised angles. WCW isn't in that position. But the desperation of Eric Bischoff to win the Monday night ratings race apparently made WCW do this angle...
* Hawk and Scott Hall drug angles
It first began in July... portraying Mike Hegstrand as being "impaired" during a RAW in some unmentioned way... followed by an "apology" on the following week's show... then, if that wasn't bad enough, during the week of August 7th, Hawk "falls off of the ramp to the ring" and is "ruled unfit to perform by Titan officials"....weeks later, after "going through rehab", Hawk comes out and "admits he has a problem with painkillers".
Then if that isn't bad enough, on the RAW of November 16, we have Hawk climbing to the top of the Titantron, and threaten to "commit suicide"; not to mention Hawk referring to Darren Drozdov as his "pusher" on December 21st...right out of the Billy Travis-Wolfie D angle in the dying days of the USWA.
Then we get Scott Hall coming out "drunk" to ringside numerous times, highlighted by various "trips to bars" during Nitros, and by him vomiting on Eric Bischoff and other wrestlers who were concerned about his "problem". Too bad they didn't show legitimate concern back when the problem was real. Ask Dana Hall. She'll give you an opinion on that.
Let me repeat what I said in a previous AS I SEE IT: I worked within the Philadelphia Prison System from 1995-1997 as an pre-release and post-release employment counselor. While working within the Prison System, I saw men and women addicted to heroin, crack and powder cocaine, meth, ice, angel dust, marijuana, prescription drugs, or combinations of many or all of them.
I found out from them personally what they did to get their drugs...burglary, prostitution, assault, and murder. I found out first hand from them what those drugs made them do... in more detail then anyone would ever want to know. I also watched wives, husbands, and lovers...and children as young as one year old sitting in a waiting room of a maximum security prison to see their parents.
I've also had friends who have had drug problems. I've seen their pain, and felt the helplessness of not being able to help them, knowing they had to help themselves.
Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, and Paul Heyman need to wake up and deal with the very real drug problems in their companies, or face the fact that they'll have blood on their hands for another Brian Pillman, another Louie Spicolli, or yet another wrestler, valet, or office employee far too young because of their negligence in dealing with real-life drug and alcohol use in their companies. It's a problem that isn't helped by their casual depictions of drug and alcohol use on their TV programs.
MATCHES OF THE YEAR:
* WCW Chris Jericho/Eddie Guerrero-Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko, November 29th, Knoxville Civic Coliseum.
Sometimes matches are special for reasons other than work in the ring. The evening of November 29th featured ceremonies honoring Brian (Mark Curtis) Hildebrand, his love of the business, and his courage in his fight against cancer. The Jericho/Guererro- Benoit/Malenko match was apparently a dream match for Hildebrand, a reason it was featured on the Knoxville show.
Those of us in Philadelphia got this Jericho/Guerrero-Benoit/Malenko tag match later in December, but their match in Knoxville was beyond topping...a match with all their signature spots, and with dedication and emotion befitting the moment.
* WWF Mankind (Mick Foley)-Undertaker Hell in a Cell Match King of the Ring PPV
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 wrestling in North America had likely changed forever..this gets Match of the Year for Titan this year.
* ECW Jerry Lynn-Rob Van Dam (August 8, 1998 ECW Arena)
It was nice to see on August 8th, the world class kind of matches that ECW was once capable of a routine basis. Jerry Lynn and RVD are some of the few reasons I bother attending ECW Arena shows anymore. Their world-class talent will take them wherever they want to go. On August 8th, it took them out of this world.
BRAWLER OF THE YEAR:
Mick Foley (a.k.a. Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love), WWF
In some ways, this ought to be retired. Foley's won God knows how many straight Wrestling Observer Brawler of the Year Awards. He's the name you think of when you think of the hardcore, brawling tradition. Just his psychotic bump off of the top of the cage at King of the Ring would earn him the right to some award by itself.
Fans got to see a little of the "fourth face" of Mick Foley, the real person, in the WWF promos earlier this year. It's the face of a fan, much like all of us, who got to make his dream come true...and is having a ball doing it. I hope fans remember, years from now, when he feels the physical pain that will no doubt result from a career of bumps...how much Mick has given and how much he loves and respects the business and those in it.
There's not a one of us are true wrestling fans that didn't mark our when Mick getting the WWF belt on him at the beginning of 1999. Intentionally or otherwise, it's a great tribute, one that's well-deserved and long-overdue.
CARD/PPV OF THE YEAR:
Survivor Series, November 15, 1998, St. Louis, MO
There may have been better worked PPVs in 1998. But the booking of the event...the twists and turns kept me watching at the edge of my seat. The Rocky Maivia and Shane McMahon turn were unexpected as hell. Smart mark or not, if you're a real wrestling fan, you ENJOY getting fooled. Especially when it's done so well.
WORST CARD/PPV OF THE YEAR: Fall Brawl, WCW
Yawn...in the most over-hyped match in the history of the planet, Hulk Hogan and Jim Hellwig were shoved down our throats for weeks upon weeks upon weeks. They then proceeded to stink out the joint beyond the imagination of even the biggest Hogan and Warrior haters.
TV SHOW OF THE YEAR: WWF Monday Night RAW, USA
Monday Night RAW this year had entertaining, compelling storylines, and had you wondering what would happen next (which reminds me of the way a promotion whose style Titan Sports has pretty much taken USED to be... ECW).
Sometimes these angles are taken too far...sometimes their tasteless is questionable... but they are never boring. You wonder what's going to happen next. Inevitably, you're talking about RAW the next time you see fellow wrestling fans.
WORST TV SHOW OF THE YEAR: Music City Wrestling TV
Music City Wrestling, with the largest syndicated network outside of the Big 2, is simply embarrassing to watch. I love Southern wrestling when done right...just ask Jim Cornette. I even like traditional heel-face booking when done right. But this promotion, the embarrassing production values, and the embarrassing announcing by Bert Prentice make this harder to watch than a Best of the Shockmaster video (if you forgot the Shockmaster, consider yourself lucky).
Thank the Lord this program will convert to a program showing matches from the various NWA promotions beginning in January 1999. The quality has GOT to go up. Seeing a variety of promotions from across the United States has to be an improvement than the poorly produced, poorly conceived Music City program. The promotion itself should also be helped by the Bill Behrens takeover.
TV ANNOUNCER OF THE YEAR: Jim Ross, WWF
For getting over what we are actually looking at on TV, as opposed to the WCW style of talking endlessly about Hogan, the Warrior, Sting, or anything but what's being shown on the screen...for actually acting like he's reacting to what he sees (what a novel concept)....Jim Ross gets it this year. Admittedly, having an interesting program to commentate on helps..a major reason I didn't give it to Mike Tenay again.
Best wishes to Ross for 1999, given the way his 1998 ended with the recurrence of the Bell's Palsy that affected him previously and the deaths of his mother and his uncle.
"TONY SCHIAVONE" WORST TV ANNOUNCER OF THE YEAR: Bert Prentice, MCW
NEWS STORIES OF THE YEAR:
* Changes in WWF product, making it more adult in nature
Some have said that the WWF of 1998 is ECW with a budget and a national TV contract....and better management. It's certainly true that this is not "your father's WWF". Numerous angles involving adult themes, and for better or worse: suicide, drug abuse, religious symbolism, B&D, and homosexuality...and a product style of a far more hardcore nature than ever seen in Titan, with matches that you didn't think you ever see in a WWF ring (witness the Mankind-Undertaker Hell in a Cell Match at King of the Ring) makes one wonder where they're going next.
* ECW's 1998 problems
Fritz Capp said it well on the PWBTS newsboard some weeks ago:
"I told of the troubles in ECW as far back as April, 1997 but I was ridiculed and was made out like I had a vendetta. I spoke of the crumbling of ECW in June, 1997 but was mocked. I said that ECW died in mid-1996 as far as what is had become as opposed to what it was and I was made out to be a fool. All I can say now is it looks as if I was one of the few who actually had the foresight to see the handwriting on the wall."
At PWBTS, we've been in the unfortunate position of documenting much of what's happened in the last 2 years to this once creative, exciting company. The wrestling fan in me hopes that the predictions are wrong, because the passing of ECW would be one less territory for wrestlers to get work. But the person who has seen and commented on fact that ECW has been in many ways "rotten to the hardcore" since 1996...thinks it may be different.
It seems that numerous ECW talent are on their way to greener pastures, or have at the very least indicated their willingness to listen to offers.
Paul Heyman's acquisitions of Kaientai, Steve Corino, and (rumored Reckless Youth) will help replenish his depleted talent roster, and his company. So will spinning off the business end of things to others. But he has a LONG way to go to approach the ECW of 1994-1996
* Mainstream attention given the wrestling business
>From the "Wrestling with Shadows" documentary, to the countless stories in publications ranging from PEOPLE Magazine to TV Guide to the Wall Street Journal...from the countless stories on broadcast and cable TV on events and personalities...1998 has been the year that a much larger portion of mainstream America discovered the wrestling business. This time it's being treated like a business, not like a circus sideshow.
Though the information provided is sometimes questionable, and the commentary often critical, it is still an attention that the wrestling industry as a whole could have never contemplated receiving only two or three years ago.
*Jesse Ventura's election to Governorship of Minnesota
While this is really more a political story, it again brought out the lack of seriousness some "learned" people treat wrestling with, and the stereotypes they view wresting fans with. It must have been interesting to see all the new recipes for crow that "political pundits" were forced to prepare the next day.
While I would have voted for Skip Humphrey, the Democrat; it is nice to see our political "experts"; much like certain online wrestling "experts" we know, made to look like the proverbial donkeys or elephants they are.
Now, as always, the unofficial awards to the naughty and to the nice...
* A collective Class Act award goes to:
Mike Tenay, Terry Taylor, Eddie Guererro, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, and Chris Benoit, and all those responsible for the Brian Hildebrand ceremonies in Knoxville on November 29th, Knoxville Civic Coliseum.
Many from World Championship Wrestling, as well as from the former Smoky Mountain Wrestling promotion created a night to remember for a person who deserves to be remembered; a story that has been reported in AS I SEE IT and many places elsewhere online.
The setting for this special evening was appropriate, given that Tennessee has become Brian's adopted home after his three years working for Smoky Mountain Wrestling from 1992-1995, and the place where he fell in love with and married his bride, Pam Murphy.
Like Eddie Gilbert, Terry Funk, Mick Foley, and some of the best... Brian Hildebrand has always been a mark FOR the business, not about it. So his love and dedication for the wrestling business, right down to the word "mark" in his ring name; his love for his lady Pam, his friendship to others, and the heart he's shown fighting his cancer in the last year make him a truly exceptional individual thought of highly by nearly everyone in the industry.
The wrestling business at its worst can be a highly political, backbiting type of a business. But there are people and times that allow the business to transcend that, and show the best of itself. November 29th was one of those times.
As I said the last time I wrote about Brian, please continue to keep him in all your prayers. If the good Lord has a Christmas miracle in His pocket...now's the time for it. There are few people like him around. This world can't afford to lose him.
* The 1998 Herb Abrams "Biggest Mark for Himself" Award goes to:
Tod Gordon for his 1998 attempt to revive his career within Dennis Coraluzzo's NWA-CWA. This included his "shoot monologue" at a show in Mt. Holly, NJ, which allowed him to whine about every real and imagined enemy he had in the wrestling business and media. He thought he'd even have a little fun at this writer's expense, involving the use of a certain twelve-letter word.
Two problems: Some of us don't forgive or forget things done to our friends. Some of us are quite willing to bring out dirty laundry out into the public. Including Tod Gordon's. So in response to an AS I SEE IT column airing Gordon's dirty laundry, Gordon sent his friends who write for certain websites and newsletters to defend him; e-mailing me and the editor of this newsletter to whine about how unfairly I'd treated Gordon in print. The fact was that there was quite a bit I left out of that column.
During the program, Gordon's egotripping included his playing around in a jacket of Eddie Gilbert's and coming out to the "Hot Stuff" music playing heel manager. One problem, Tod. Eddie drew money in his career. You never did a day in your life. You just enjoyed getting the rub from being around him during 1993.
More than a few found it especially pathetic how Tod Gordon refused to do the blow-off angle to this "feud" at the NWA 50th Anniversary show, and walked out of the building.... again allowing his friends in the wrestling media to defend him with their creative interpretations of the truth.
* The "Most Likely to Foster a Running Ethnic Joke" award goes to:
Vince McMahon for his turning Kaientai into a running weekly ethnic joke. These men absolutely tore the house down at ECW's 1997 Barely Legal. So what do they become when they go to the WWF? Nothing more than a weekly ethnic joke...
I mean, we first get TAKA as the stupid "little brother" of Bradshaw, then we get the role of Sonny Ono being played by Yamaguchi-san"... then we get the various members of Kaientai being used as enhancement talent all over the place. Vince, you DO have this show called SuperAstros. You might consider having them work with El Hijo Del Santo, Negro Casas, Apollo Dantes, and the like. Or if you don't want to do that, Paul Heyman could certainly use some talent...consider farming them out there. Paul Heyman knew what to do with them, at least.
Until next time....
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org