Pro-wrestling is show business. To be successful an organization must find balance between the two. ECW put on great shows, but the business side was so bad that checks would bounce. Contemporary WWE is currently recording record profits, but the creative side is certainly lacking. Lucha Underground came up with some unique storylines, but their treatment of talent was some of the worst in recent memory (to the point that talent had to sue to get out of their terrible contracts). WCW in the late 1990s is a sterling example of failing both at the business side (they spent more than they made) and the show aspect (not being compelling entertainment). Over the last twenty plus years it’s been debated where WCW turned from the most successful wrestling promotion on the planet, to a lost cause. Today we’ll look at one potential chink in the armor, the infamous “Fingerpoke of Doom” from January 4th, 1999.
Our champion going into 1999 is Kevin Nash, who just 8 days prior won the title from Goldberg via cattle prod. This resulted in the end of Goldberg’s winning streak. Nash, formerly of the NWO, now found himself the leader of the NWO Woflpac. Hollywood Hogan in storyline had retired, but now he was back to challenge for the belt. Still hated by the fans, he was still the head of the NWO (black and white version).
The Nitro on this date is the second highest attended Nitro in company history. Over 38,000 fans attended and to their credit they were hot for this match-up. Nash is the default babyface, due more to the hatred of Hogan I’m guessing. The bell rings and we get some posing. Nash mocks Hogan’s t-shirt rip and we get our first offensive maneuver as Nash shoves Hogan into the corner. More circling and both men stare each other down. Hogan pulls back for a punch and extends a single finger into Nash’s chest. Nash goes down with force and Hogan covers for the 1-2-3. The crowd is confused to say the least. The match is over before we hit the 2 minute mark. Nash then celebrates with Hogan and the rest of the NWO.
Here is where normally we'd show the point breakdown for moves, but in this case what's the point?
Is it unfair that my graph includes 30 minutes despite the fact that the match only went 5% of that time? Maybe. Do you see that long line of zeros at the end? That’s WCW flatlining. This match represents such a disconnect from the bookers of WCW and what the fans paid to see. Wrestling fans want to see a fight, some drama, some surprises. The reformation of the NWO was certainly surprising, but it made no sense from a drama standpoint. Retroactively it managed to damage their World Championship in the process. The title that Nash stole from Goldberg just a week prior clearly wasn’t all that important to him as he just hands it over to Hogan. If the workers don’t care about the title, then why should the fans?
Meanwhile over on WWF programming, fan favorite Mankind would win his first World Title. This night in the Monday Night Wars is historic as it showed a clear difference between the two organizations. Compare the energy of the fans watching Mankind win, a feverish excitement as they celebrate with the new champ. The fans watching WCW were confused, angry, and showered the ring with boos. Some would never return.
Kevin Nash is an interesting persona in wrestling. He’s physically imposing but no one can ever claim he was a great technician or understood the psychology of a match. It strikes me that he never took it all that seriously either as a worker or a booker. He was having a good time and getting paid well for it. We should all be so lucky. I really enjoyed his time in TNA as he goofed off with the Motor City Machine Guns and later the Main Event Mafia. The segment where he and Booker T became the commentary duo of Chet Lemon and Black Snow remains one of my favorite TNA moments. Nash has gone on to craft a nice little filmography and I smile whenever he shows up in a movie.
Hogan, like Vince McMahon, may be both the best and worst thing to happen to American professional wrestling. According to Hogan himself, he’s the best! The best draw, the best physique, the best champ brother! According to most of the people around him he’s the worst. A backstage politician who was delusional in his ability to draw and to make new stars. His run in TNA was a mess and drove me away from the brand entirely. He’s also a racist (allegedly). AEW was smart to ban him from any involvement with their company.
Depending on who you talk to, WCW had been on a downward slide since Starrcade ’97. One year later, the Fingerpoke of Doom increased the rate of collapse. To see the mess the company was in, check out the WCW Championship history for 1999. The title would change hands eleven times. The year 2000 was even worse with nineteen title changes plus six vacancies. Goldberg never won the belt again and the guy to take the belt off of Hogan? Was he some plucky up and comer that the company could ride their future on? Nope, it was 50 year old Ric Flair.
Championships in wrestling are more than props. An organization’s champion is the face of the company. The quality of the championship matches is reflective of the strength of the champion, which in turn reflects the strength of the company. Wrestling fans want to care about matches. We want to get emotionally invested in outcomes and feel joy when the good guys win, or rage when the heel takes one. If the workers and company don’t care about who’s champion, if they don’t care about how their belts are won or presented, then why should the fans? If the fans don’t care then they move on.
The relationship of the show and the business is intertwined. The success and failure of one affects the other. In the case of WCW the show was the first to falter. These bad creative decisions were a cancer to WCW, and just a little over two years later the company would die and be bought out by Vince McMahon for a paltry sum (less than $5 million). It’s one of the more stunning business stories in the last thirty years in my opinion. All because WCW didn’t give the audience the show they wanted to see.
Happy April Fools Everyone! If you get pranked today don’t worry. You’ll never be as big a fool as WCW creative was in 1999!