AS I SEE IT
by: Bob Magee
1999 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
From January when Mick Foley realized his lifelong dream and finally
captured the WWF title... people watching "Halftime Heat" in bars around the
US...to Paul Wight lifting an entire ring off the ground in April to the arrival of Chris Jericho in August...to the return of wrestling on network TV with SmackDown...to the IPO of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. to the "Last Battle of Atlanta" when the WWF appeared live at the Georgia Dome in October...
With all those events, people (for better or worse) are spelling wrestling W-W-F again.
In the wrestling world and in large portions of the mainstream world, Vince McMahon's wrestling company has become big business and has become a ratings success for the entire year. This has not come without moments of controversy.
This controversy included the tragic accident causing the death of Owen Hart, public outcry from some of what was perceived as a too adult product style, and criticisms of the toys/merchandise offered, including the infamous Al Snow "head".
Nonetheless, this year has by far been the WWF's.
1998 winner: WWF
1997 winner: WCW
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR:
Chris Benoit gets this for his overall technical excellence here and in Japan, for being a class act personally, and for reminding the Big Three that WRESTLING is supposed to be a part of the soap opera we all enjoy watching so much. In case you need to be convinced, watch WCW's Match Of The Year, and watch the spontaneous standing ovation by the crowd at the end.
1998 winner: Steve Austin, WWF
1997 winner: Eddie Guerrero, WCW
WORST WRESTLER OF THE YEAR:
Guess this one's too easy. Good Lord willing, I won't have to give this one in 2000, and Hogan actually STAYS retired. I'm not holding my breath, however.
1998 "winner": Giant Silva, WWF
1997 "winner": Hulk Hogan, WCW
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR:
Matt and Jeff Hardy, WWF
For bringing back sheer excitement to watching tag team wrestling again, for making workrate matter in a promotion that it seldom seems to matter in anymore. The ladder match at the No Mercy PPV, let alone their series with Christian and Edge in the...ahem..."Terry Invitational Tournament" gives this award to them.
1998 winner: Sabu/Rob Van Dam, ECW
1997 winner: Sabu/Rob Van Dam, ECW
FEUD OF THE YEAR:
Vince McMahon-Steve Austin, WWF
Some of the hottest, most over the top TV of 1999 came from the McMahon-Austin storyline.
I know most of the time many of us claim we'd all rather see more wrestling. But the fact of the matter is that the weekly 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 he came in on the Zamboni.
Then there was the "battle for control of the company" between Austin and Team McMahon in June. 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.
While WWF ratings have stayed relatively high, there does seem to be that something missing without Austin involved.
ANGLE OF THE YEAR:
Andrew Martin-Stephanie McMahon Wedding angle
This year I have to separate Feud of the Year and Angle of the Year to get in the Wedding Angle.
The leadup sometimes bordered on corny, with "wedding proposals" and such; but it did the one thing necessary: it got the live crowd and TV audience INVOLVED.
The "Wedding" with its payoff of the tape showing the HHH-Stephanie marriage in Vegas with her "unconscious" and "helpless" thrown in at the end as the thing that stopped the wedding was priceless. You knew something would stop the wedding, but were left guessing if it would be the return of the Undertaker, a DX run-in, or even one thought of Shawn Michaels somehow getting into it to stop the wedding.
Then McMahon "going over the edge because his daughter had been wronged", only to find she was in it all along...
At Armageddon, everyone KNEW that Stephanie HAD to turn on Vince, but the swerves at the end of the main event had us all wondering, until Stephanie uncorked that smile, and we knew we'd all seen McMahon find a way to give us the expected in a way we didn't expect.
FEUD/ANGLE OF THE YEAR WINNERS:
1998 winner: Vince McMahon as heel promoter versus Steve Austin, etc.
1997 winner: nWo-WCW angle
WORST/MOST TASTELESS ANGLES OF THE YEAR:
The Paul Wight/Big Bossman "cancer angle".
Where do we start?
Was it in using D-Lo Brown as part of an angle where "Paul Wight's father" has "cancer"...10 days after D-Lo helped bury his friend Brian Hildebrand who DID die from cancer after a two year fight?
Was it in the fact that Paul Wight's father DIED TWO YEARS EARLIER?
Was it in the fact that after the father's storyline "terminal illness", we were then treated to an announcement of Mr. Wight's "death", done in a manner resembling the announcement of Owen Hart's death earlier in the year?
Was it in the fact that the WWF did a ten-bell count after Mr. Wight's "death", an honor reserved for real-life boxers and wrestlers, in a manner that even Jerry Lawler was disgusted?
Was it in the surreal scene of "The Big Bossman" assaulting "The Big Show" at his "father's" funeral, and stealing Wight's "father's casket" with a "police car right out of the Blues Brothers?
Or was it in all of the above?
If that wasn't bad enough, Terry Taylor claimed on "WCW LIVE" that the original ending to the angle was supposed to involve Undertaker stealing an urn filled with the "ashes" of a "cremated Paul Wight's father". Undertaker would then appear on a subsequent RAW, and flush the "remains" down a toilet. How lovely.
I'm tired of hearing that "it's just a soap opera". There are lines that shouldn't be crossed. Not many, but there are some. This was one of them. Like I said when Paul Heyman did it last year... violating the boxing/wrestling tradition of interrupting the 10 bell count for the death of a wrestler/boxer/family member isn't "adult"... and isn't a matter of "getting it"... it's sick, unnecessary, and little more than cheap heat for those too damned lazy to use any honest-to-God creativity.
1998 winner: Ric Flair "heart attack" angle and the
Hawk/Scott Hall drug angles
1997 winner: DeGenerationX/Nation of Domination "racial angle"
MATCHES OF THE YEAR:
* WCW -- Chris Benoit-Bret Hart, Monday NITRO, Kemper Arena, Kansas City, MO, October, 1999
Chris Benoit and his own brother Bret put on a wrestling clinic in an
tribute match for Owen Hart, who had died in that very building only months before. The
match was a fitting tribute to their friend and brother. At the end, both were greeted
with a standing ovation. The ovation wasn't just for these two talented wrestlers from
Canada... but also for one of their own who wasn't there, and never would be again.
* WWF -- Matt/Jeff Hardy-Edge/Christian, Tag Team Ladder Match, "No Mercy", Cleveland, OH, October 17, 1999
These four may well have had the overall Match of the Year, with their exciting high spots, creative use of the ladder... and of each other to create easily the most excited match this year.
* ECW -- Rob Van Dam/Jerry Lynn, ECW Arena, Philadelphia, PA, August 28, 1999.
Any one of their matches this year could have gotten this award. These two are truly exciting to watch, keeping the WRESTLING in ECW.
But the atmosphere at the ECW Arena (I was there live) was tremendous, along with their closely-matched work. Given Jerry Lynn's talent and out-of-ring attitude, I don't know why the WWF or WCW haven't picked him up.
I guess as a fan, I'm glad they haven't. I'm afraid WCW would have him jobbing to Haku in 30 seconds, or that the WWF would have him in the character of the illegitimate son of Mae Young through Frank Gotch or something.
As for Rob Van Dam, he's hardly Kenta Kobashi. But together with Jerry Lynn, he can create magic in the ring, whether at an ECW Arena show, a TV taping, or a PPV.
(WCW) Chris Jericho/Eddie Guerrero-Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko, November 29th, Knoxville Civic Coliseum
(WWF) Mankind (Mick Foley)-Undertaker Hell in a Cell Match "King of the Ring" PPV, June 28, 1998
(ECW) Jerry Lynn-Rob Van Dam, August 8, 1998, ECW Arena
1997 winners :
(WCW) Rey Mysterio, Jr.- Eddie Guerrero, WCW "Halloween Havoc" PPV, 10/27/97, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
(WWF)Shawn Michaels-Undertaker, "In Your House: Badd Blood" PPV, 10/5/97, Kiel Center, St. Louis, Missouri
(ECW) Great Sasuke/Gran Hamada/Masato Yakushiji-TAKA Michinoku/Dick Togo/Terry Boy, "Barely Legal" PPV, 4/13/97, ECW Arena, Philadelphia, PA
BRAWLER OF THE YEAR:
I give it to him if but for no other reason than that the fact this will be the last year we can give him this award. Mick Foley is reaching the end of a career that saw him become an inspiration to every wrestling fan who had a dream of somehow being the one who got a crowd to react...to give everything he had.
Mick Foley, as Cactus Jack and Mankind, was one of us who got the chance, one of the many who didn't "look like a wrestler".... yet through sheer desire, and a giant heart... made it. He made it beyond any reasonable expectation and then some. He's flat out given and given and given to wrestling fans to a point that more than once you screamed at the TV screen for him to stop.
As I said in the December 9th AS I SEE IT column, make damned sure you let him know you appreciate what he's done over the years through banners, signs, and the volume of the reaction you give him.
1998 winner: Mick Foley (a.k.a. Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love), WWF
1997 winner: Tommy Dreamer, ECW
CARD/PPV OF THE YEAR:
"Anarchy Rulz", ECW Odeum Sports and Exposition Center, Villa Park, IL, September 19, 1999
There may have some PPV's, especially with the WWF that may have been more "entertaining" in 1999. But it's important to remember that the form of entertainment we're talking about here is still WRESTLING.
"Anarchy Rulz" did that for me. A Chicagoland crowd that was stoked to the max for the show (something lacking in many early ECW PPV's) certainly helped create the atmosphere.
Lance Storm and Jerry Lynn gave another example of the wrestling that
is still there in ECW, with two guys who are talented off the scales, while the
Big Two gives us (all too often) nothing but T&A and skits for 2-3 hours a night.
Yoshihiro Tajiri and Super Crazy also excited with their mix of lucha and hard-hitting action.
Mike Awesome's return to ECW (I could do without Jeff Jones as his manager...Jones's type of character doesn't belong with a world champion) in squashing Taz, then beating Masato Tanaka was great.
The Chicago crowd would have given Taz one of the best send offs I've
ever seen, if he'd only been allowed to go to the WWF immediately after this
match. Unfortunately, Taz was left to dangle for another two months, doing job after job. Still, the reaction was one more special moment in this PPV.
It was great to see Steve Corino being used so well in "Anarchy Rulz", as an old-school style HEEL together with "rookie monster" Rhino in the ECW Tag Title match.
Other new faces such as Lance "Simon" Diamond were a pleasure to see as well, appearing less than 24 hours after he did a memorable farewell match in the promotion that broke him into the business, the Wilmington, DE based-ECWA.
1998 winner: "Survivor Series", November 15, 1998, St.
1997 winner: "Barely Legal", ECW Arena, Philadelphia, PA, 4/13/97
WORST CARD/PPV OF THE YEAR:
Fall Brawl, WCW
Fall Brawl is a repeat winner again this year.
In it, WCW proved that you could have Vampiro, Eddie Guerrero, Billy Kidman, Rey Mysterio Jr., Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Harlem Heat, and Chris Benoit booked on a show, and bore its fans (at best), and enrage them (at worst).
People's indifference to the card WCW presented (in the heart of Horsemen country) showed itself with WCW with a less than half-filled building in Winston-Salem, NC. The PPV created a further embarrassment for WCW when ECW's Anarchy Rulz PPV outdrew it 7 days later; and blew Fall Brawl away in terms of quality to boot.
Fall Brawl 99 featured "outstanding" matches like Berlyn vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan (owing to Marcus Bagwell's rumored refusal to do a job). Then there was Kaz Hayashi (who worked Japan as Shiryu), having to count the lights to Lenny Lane, then in the full flower of the "Gaylords" gimmick.
The straw that broke the camel's back for some was Chris Benoit having to lose the US belt to Sid Vicious. This result set off damned near every WCW fan on the Internet.
This PPV may well have helped set the wheels in motion that resulted in the firing of Eric Bischoff, and the hiring of Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara away from competitor WCW.
1998 "winner": Fall Brawl 1998, WCW
1997 "winner": Hardcore Heaven 1997, ECW, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
TV SHOW OF THE YEAR:
Monday Night RAW
Again, what wrestling show do fans talk about? What wrestling show has blown away Monday Nitro, so much so that Nitro has been turned into "Monday Nitraw" by WCW, after hiring away two of the former WWF scriptwriters, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara?
Through RAW's mix of compelling storyline, sex, violence, and occasionally even a little wrestling, the show has stayed on top of the Monday night ratings for over a year.
1998 winner: Monday Night RAW, USA Network
1997 winner: Monday Nitro, Turner Network Television
WORST TV SHOW OF THE YEAR:
Monday NITRO (a.k.a. "Monday Nitraw")
With all the resources available to the Time-Warner-Turner conglomerate, they can't do any better than this?
How many 3 minute main events have there been? Too many.
How many falsely advertised main events have there been? More than I want to remember.
How many times did we see "The Powers That Be" shoved down our throat? Probably more times per hour than Hulk Hogan.
How many times have we seen talented workers used as backdrops for Sid Eudy's "winning streak"?
Yes, there were the rare exceptions, like Hart-Benoit. But the fact is that there were opportunities to do so many more, given that fact that WCW had the largest talent roster, with the most depth of any promotion anywhere on the planet.
Now before all the WCW lemmings send their profanity-strewn hate mail to my mail box, ask yourselves one question.
Am I right?
Has WCW wasted opportunity after opportunity to use its flagship TV show to get over storylines, to get over workers, to get you to watch their PPVs, to go to their house shows? Or not?
Or has it become a disorganized, ultra-politicized embarrassment to Time-Warner-Turner? Or is it not?
There was once a time where I made sure I taped the replay of Nitro
while watching RAW. I don't bother anymore. There was once a time when I was a major
league NWA/WCW mark. Hell, I even watched it on a Spanish language station out of New York
City in order to be able to see it at all.
WCW, even with the supposedly creative Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, has descended to depths they couldn't have imagined. They aren't even competitive with the WWF's Monday Night RAW. As a wrestling fan, I WANT to see them competitive. It keeps the WWF honest when they are, and forces them to be more creative in their storywriting.
Some hope that the December 20th "Nitraw" will mark a turning point for Monday Nitro. Some within WCW described it as the rebirth of the show. Unfortunately, while WCW created what was an admittedly entertaining show, they managed to forget to have their censor ready in the middle of a profanity-strewn shoot monologue by Kevin Nash.
WCW and Nitro deserve this award. For what they've done, and especially what they've failed to do in 1999. Here's hoping 2000 is very, very different.
1998 "winner": Music City Wrestling TV
1997 "winner": USWA Television, USWA
TV ANNOUNCER OF THE YEAR:
Who gets over a storyline better? Who gets over the WORKERS better?
Who is so far ahead of the competition on TNT that they have to resort to tasteless ridicule to even challenge him?
Who has taken the high road when online "journalists" from the competing company publicly took him to task in disgusting ways that should embarrass their employer?
Who was able to survive Vince Russo's nonsensical "Evil J.R." storyline; owing to the fans of the WWF and wrestling overall refusing to play along... because they could see right through the angle for its basic stupidity and for the politics that were really behind it?
Jim Ross has.
Jim Ross is the standard of excellence behind the mike, and has been since the days of Gordon Solie (now sadly silent for the rest of his life). One can argue about the politics within the World Wrestling Federation that he's been involved in for hours upon hours. But not for what he does behind the mike.
I remember listening to Ross making a presentation at the 1998 NWA 50th Anniversary Weekend in Cherry Hill. He talked about how he saw Danny Hodge as a hero when he was younger, and still did. That kind of love for the wrestling business and some in it shows in his commentary.
1998 winner: Jim Ross, WWF
1997 winner: Mike Tenay, World Championship Wrestling
WORST TV ANNOUNCER OF THE YEAR:
OK, so I unretired Tony. But how can you miss giving it to him?
For example, we have Schiavone's sickening attempt to foster with the "Oklahoma" character on the November 15th Monday Nitraw, throwing in every little bit of personal baggage that ever occurred between he and Jim Ross. There have been reports that Schiavone even scripted much of the tirade.
Way to go, Tony.
You STILL can't hold Jim Ross's jockstrap professionally. You can't hold Joey Styles's jockstrap. Hell, you can't even hold Joel Gertner's. At least, Gertner's SUPPOSED to be trying to make us laugh.
We won't even get into Tony's talking over match after match after match, rather than actually getting over the action in the ring. That would be too easy to go after, because there are so many examples to cite.
1998 "winner" Bert Prentice, MCW
1997 "winner": Tony Schiavone, WCW
NEWS STORIES OF THE YEAR:
One could say THE story was the mainstream exposure for wrestling again this year...but that breaks down to many different items. Here's a few of the good:
* Mick Foley's "Have A Nice Day" goes to #1 on New York Times Best-Seller List for Hardcover Non-Fiction on December 5th.
Who would have EVER thought that a book, legitimately written by a wrestler, would ever be on the New York Times Best-Seller List? Who thought that, unlike biographies such as Arn Anderson's, that kayfabe wouldn't even be an issue? And most importantly, that it would be such a genuinely interesting book to read for both wrestling fans and the average person?
* WWF CD DEBUTS at number 4 on Billboard Chart in Mid-November
* ECW TV on TNN
In a move that allowed the struggling company to survive, ECW finally got international TV exposure when it began running its "ECW on TNN" show on the network that allows them tens of millions of homes in potential exposure in the United States and Canada.
And there were the bad:
* Parents Television Council censorship attempts
With mainstream exposure, wrestling has to deal with the extremist political nuts that the rest of the world does. Ending 1999 and beginning 2000, the news story will be the Parents Television Council attempting to get WWF programming pulled from the air by targeting advertisers like the US military, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, and Coke.
* The death of Owen Hart
In a tragedy witnessed by millions on PPV, as well as the audience in the sold out Kemper Arena, Owen Hart fell to his death in a tragic accident, falling from the roof of the Arena to the ring below after a malfunction with a harness that was to allow him to come down to the ring as the "Blue Blazer".
In some ways almost as tragic, was the way in which some used Owen Hart's death to score political brownie points. Some in WCW used constant coverage of the legal situation between Owen's widow, Martha and Vince McMahon in a way that was despicable.
And a news story that was some of each...
* Brian Hildebrand's death from cancer and the reaction by fans and workers everywhere.
Brian Hildebrand left us on September 8th after a two year fight with stomach cancer; after being diagnosed with the disease in October 1997. He refused to allow cancer to stop his incredible spirit and his wonderful sense of humor. He seemed amazed and somewhat embarrassed at all the attention his battle with cancer received.
He came back for several months after his first battle with cancer to
go back to work as referee Mark Curtis in WCW, before the cancer recurred in
When I say that this story has some good, it is in the way that the best of the wrestling industry showed itself earlier this year in the year at the "Curtis Comes Home" show. Jim Cornette, Shane Douglas, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Tracy Smothers, Chris Candido, Tammy Sytch, Public Enemy, Dominic DeNucci, Al Snow, D-Lo Brown, Terry Taylor, Les Thatcher, and Sandy Scott all took part in this tribute and fundraiser for Brian in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Brian refused to let the illness that eventually took him from this earth get him down. He kept himself going through sheer will and determination, so much so that he refereed a match for a local independent promotion only days before his death. He had the often-expressed hope of returning to work full-time for WCW, and never gave up that dream.
It can be said that at the time Brian Hildebrand left this world, he knew he was loved and respected by all within the business he himself loved so much.
While a small man in stature, Brian showed us all a giant heart that is an example for us all.
1998 stories: Changes in WWF product, making it more adult in nature;
ECW's 1998 problems; Mainstream attention given the wrestling business; Jesse Ventura's
election to Governorship of Minnesota
1997 stories: Brian Pillman death, Bret Hart leaving WWF/Title Change Doublecross
Now, as always, the unofficial awards to the naughty and to the nice...
To the nice...
To Mick Foley..
See the Brawler of the Year Award
To Brian Hildebrand...
As I said above... thank you, friend, for being an example to us all of how to live and how to die. There's no award that would be sufficient to say what so many of us feel. Hopefully, we all will see you in a better place someday.
To the naughty...
The "Excellence" in Internet Journalism award goes to the following:
To Jonny Fairplay and Marc Middleton: for copying an April Fool's Day story from PWBTS about how "ECW was folding and the news would be announced by Paul Heyman at the CyberSlam Q&A"...adding their own little embellishments, and claiming it as THEIR news story.
To Matt Cannatta of Wrestling News 2000 for telling me "No one one cares about the indies, quit reporting about them". I suppose all the workers and promoters for independent promotions will be happy to know that fact.
See you later, Matt. Oh well, only 36 places for my column to go to now.
To the lowlife bastards who persist in putting false death rumors
regarding wrestlers on the Internet...you know who you are. There have been far too
many real-life deaths in the wrestling business this year... people that were admired as performers, and loved by friends and families. We don't need some sick 14-year-old moron with a keyboard and a website paid for by his parents to add to that total.
That's the AS I SEE IT year in review. Until next time...
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org