The Mental Ward: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery…..


I first discovered pro wrestling in the mid-1980s. “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes doing battle with “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton inside a steel cage is one of my earliest wrestling memories. However, when I saw “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Sting go 60 minutes at the first Clash of the Champions, I was hooked for life. THAT was storytelling. THAT was drama. THAT was pro wrestling. In my youth Hulkamania ran wild. In my high school and college years, The Attitude Era redefined the industry. In my adult years, things just haven’t been the same. A spark is missing. The sport I loved has morphed into something almost unrecognizable at times. Yet, I still watch. I cling to hope that pro wrestling will one day again return to past glory. Webster defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Ladies and gentlemen, come on in. We’re all friends here. Welcome back to, “The Mental Ward.”

Ok….so this week I decided to take a trip back in time and frolic through a meadow of a happier, simpler, more peaceful era in my life. No, I’m not talking about a pre-pubescent time before things got complicated with girls, school work, and adult stuff. No, I’m talking about high school. Now, the four years you spend in high school is a very different experience for everyone. Some feel awkward to a degree and struggle with it more than others. Hopefully though, you latch on to some sort of civic or sports activity to pass the time. These formative years also set us up to be grown ups. Remember everyone talking about the “real world”, and I don’t mean an MTV reality show. The things that we like and dislike are often formed in this same time frame. I was a pretty typical kid from Middle Tennessee. I was into girls and sports. Eating will always be a solid first love for me as well. I’ve also always loved professional wrestling. Luckily for me, it really took off around 1995. I’ll never forget when WCW Monday Nitro started on TNT. I remember I was watching Jaws right before the debut Nitro came on. I was like, “Oh yeah…this thing starts, tonight.” Pro wresting changed forever that night. My life also changed that night. The Monday Night Wars began, and for the next 4-5 years, we all escaped our normal day to day routine with 3 hours of pure pro wrestling bliss every Monday night. It truly was the glory days of the sport. Well, the only glory days I’ve ever known. Folks in Dallas that went to the old Sportatorium every week might disagree, but to me this era was everything. As I’ve stated in recent articles, I could not wait until Monday night. The flipping back and forth between WWF Monday Night Raw and WCW Monday Nitro was unbelievably good. Most people that I knew were solid, hardcore Raw fans. I however, was not. I bled WCW, and I’m going to prove in this article why WCW was in fact the better product from 1996-2000.

Now, before you scoff at my declaration, just hear me out. I intend to not only prove my point, but also highlight various areas where the WWE is copying what WCW did 15-20 years ago. The first thing WCW did to distance themselves from Vince was to develop real characters. For the most part, WCW guys used either their real names, or made up names that sounded real. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall would never have been as big as they were if they would have had similar names to Diesel and Razor Ramon. The fact that they were Hall and Nash was, for lack of a better word, real. Now, I’m not suggesting they were the original trend setters that started this, but they were the first on a national stage to do so. Many others that came up after followed suit with guys like Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Bill Goldberg and many others. There are very few “gimmick” characters left in the WWE these days. Guys like Fandango and Los Matadores are holdovers from a different time in pro wrestling. This is just one example.

Remember the Power Plant? Long before NXT, or Ohio Valley Wresting or any developmental territory started churning out future World Champions, there was the WCW Power Plant. This facility produced stars like Kevin Nash, Goldberg, Big Show, Sean O’Haire, Kanyon and “The King Of Bada Bing” Diamond Dallas Page. This was at the tail end of what was left of the old territory days and allowed folks the opportunity to get trained by some of the best in the business. This was the breeding ground for so many guys that walked out from behind the curtain for WCW. The-then WWF, just hired guys from other territories or promotions, created a new character for them, and put them to work. They didn’t have anything in place to produce future stars. For as much Vince tries to act like he was superior to WCW in every way, he obviously stole this idea from WCW and just rebranded it. They did add live programming for NXT which is something WCW never did with the Power Plant, but I don’t think something like that would have worked in those days for any promotion. The biggest benefit going for NXT is the fact that it is only viewable on the WWE Network. If it was on a major network that required huge weekly numbers, it would never work. True story.

Another example on why I feel Nitro and WCW were superior to Raw and the WWE is the fact that Nitro came at you live every Monday night. Raw was taped a week earlier. Anything and everything that transpired over the previous seven days often came back to bite the WWE in the ass. Nights like the one when “Ravishing” Rick Rude was clean shaven on a live Nitro, only to be shown on a pre-taped Raw an hour later, IN THE OPENING SEGMENT, with a full beard. Guys like “Double J” Jeff Jarrett were on Raw one week, only to hop out of a limo the following week on Nitro. For the longest time, it was guys leaving New York for Atlanta, not the other way around, and that’s a fact. WCW was also superior to WWE with their quality of the in ring product. The action in the cruiserweight division of WCW was absolutely second to none. The nWo controlled the start and finish line for Nitro, but in between were some really incredible matches. Most of those talents were snatched up eventually by Vince. Another true story.

WCW also offered the suspense factor through their storytelling, in ring matches, what was being shown backstage, the limo’s that were pulling up, the surprise guests, etc, etc. When you look at the product that the WWE offers, minus the social media aspect that wasn’t around in those days, it really mirrors many of those things that WCW was doing. During the PG era of the 1980’s, the WWE did a phenomenal job with their product. It may be cheesy today, but it worked then. After a while the product got stale and boring. It was a total snooze fest. (Sound familiar?) It wasn’t until they got popped in the mouth by WCW that they started pushing the creative envelope. They did a fine job of it, but history often repeats itself, and Vince often out kicks his coverage.

I think it’s also imperative to mention that WCW Monday Nitro is still to this day the number one rated program EVER on TNT. It’s also important to remember that when WCW began to win the ratings war, they were attracting well over 2 million more viewers per week than RAW in Nitro’s prime. Need more proof the WWE took other ideas from WCW and made them their own? WCW had a huge deal with the folks in Universal in Orlando. Hulk Hogan filmed, “Thunder In Paradise” there for a few years. This program was what Hulk was doing while he was away from the ring before he returned to shock the world and form the nWo. Remember the movie, “Ready To Rumble?” I absolutely loved this movie. Diamond Dallas Page played the perfect heel. Joey Pants and Oliver Platt were in this movie…Charlie Tweeder from Varsity Blues was in this movie! That speaks for itself. Anyway, I just find it funny that NXT also now calls Orlando home.

So, let’s recap….The Power Plant? Check. Non cartoonish reality based characters? Check. Live weekly programming? Check. Exciting cruiserweight wrestling? Check. Suspenseful dramatic television? Check. Original TV and movie productions? Check. It doesn’t take a genius to see how WCW changed professional wrestling in the mid 1990’s. It’s also equally apparent to see that that Vince McMahon took a lot of those ideas and ran with them. So, Vinny Mac should get down on his knees and thank Eric Bischoff for pushing him to become all that he could be instead of his petty attempts to toot his own horn fourteen years after the Monday Night War ended with WWE on top. Don’t hold your breath though.

As always let me hear your thought and feelings by hitting me up on Twitter @jonward51.

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