What are some guilty pleasure PPVs you’d recommend from the WWE tape library?
Andrew: Obviously, there are a wide and delightful variety of shows from pay-per-view past that will be instantly available on the WWE Network from the word “go.” But once that word is official and I scroll through my first visit of the app, my choice for the first show is an automatic. Most people would go for a spectacular show that may have fallen through the cracks that they read a glowing review about or maybe a recent one from the past two years that they just never got around to watching. Not this guy! For me, one of the new benefits of the WWE Network is the fact that they have promoted pay-per-views from defunct promotions in all its slightly unedited glory. That is why the first show I am going to be clicking for is WCW’s Bash at the Beach 2000.
I cannot hide the fact that despite its train wreck booking, ill-advised storyline twists, and matches that seemed to have prerequisites for wild endings that involved outside interference, I could not keep my eyes off of Vince Russo’s vision for WCW. It was so bad and lazily concocted that you almost had to tip your cap to the sheer bravery (or maybe stupidity) of Russo and Ed Ferrara for some of the stunts that they pulled. And when it comes to Russo’s Crash TV template at WCW, Bash at the Beach may have been his finest hour. Russo, after tons of backstage drama, embarrassed Hulk Hogan by forcing Jeff Jarrett to lay down for him, then came out and gave what many still believe to be the most shocking verbal burial of the Hulkster ever put on air. It was also the show in which Russo handpicked Booker T, then a talented midcarder and tag team savant, to win the WCW Title at the end of the night, giving internet fans a collective heart attack. The Graveyard Match between The Demon and Vampiro (which somehow involves them slap fighting in a shallow creek) is WrestleCrap-tastic.
Norman Smiley and Ralphus are in a hilarious Hardcore Title match, Stacey Kiebler gets stripped down by Daffney, Scott Steiner turns on Kevin Nash, and KroniK and the Perfect Event somehow got 13 minutes. The entire show is a disaster, but I consider it a beautiful disaster where a company with a lengthy budget and an array of available stars still found a way to do things that I never even though possible, awful or not. Bash at the Beach 2000 ain’t no Mona Lisa when it comes to pay-per-views, but it’s more like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The pure chaos almost becomes enlightening when you stare at it long enough.
Todd: Finding bad wrestling PPVs is like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s only natural that once the companies started running 12 a year, you’d find some real duds. I’ll give a couple here that are so-bad-their-good or guilty pleasure types and since I mentioned ECW earlier, I’ll start with Wrestlepalooza ’98, the successor to Wrestlepalooza ’97, which is one of my top 5 ECW shows. ECW was great because it had maybe the most diverse roster in America, with everything from luchadores, to mat technicians, to brawlers, to garbage wrestling attractions. This was one of the rare instances where the pieces just didn’t fit. It was just a weird, clunky and bad card that stuck out in an otherwise good year for the company. Still, it’s after this show that Heyman really started to switch things up, so it’s worth a watch for the importance of the event alone. I’ll add In Your House 1 & 2 for the WWF side, in lieu of easy choices like December to Dismember or King of the Ring 1995 which every wrestling fan should watch at some point in their lives. When IYH1 originally aired, I didn’t really understand why it was any different than Superstars, or Raw or any other WWF show you’d see on regular TV for free. Watching the card for IYH1 makes you wonder, WHY would anyone pay for this mess? Watching the card for IYH2 makes you wonder WHY would a country star who’s already sold millions of records need to join the WWF to promote his album? Forget the absolutely awful card, WHY IS THERE A COUNTRY STAR IN THE WWF? SHOULDN’T HE BE ON MTV OR SOMETHING? I’m pretty sure CMT was around during this time too, wasn’t it? Would Garth Brooks join the NBA to promote his newest single? That being said, outside of one excellent match in Jeff Jarrett vs. HBK (the only Jeff Jarrett match I actually like, for the record), the only thing to take from either of these shows is the incredibly catchy theme song and the excellent “Be With My Baby Tonight”. If you’re going to devote an entire wrestling PPV to one song, it should definitely be that one. The early IYH run is a great snapshot into the worst period in WWF history and they’re worth a watch so you have a little perspective fresh in mind the next time you bitch about the 2014 Rumble or anything that’s happened since.
Since you’ve talked some pre-nWo WCW here with Beach Bash, Andrew, I gotta ask…what are your thoughts on WCW Uncensored 1996 in this category? I think the ’95 Uncensored is one of the absolute worst PPVs in wrestling history and while 1996 is awful too, it may be the most unique “wrestling” show I’ve ever seen and I put wrestling in quotes for a reason. If there was anyone by 1996 who still had their doubts wrestling was fixed, they need to do no more than watch the last two matches of this show. WCW would always struggle to find the balance between gruesome violence and entertainment that made hardcore wrestling so fun in the WWF circa ’99, but their early attempts to cash in on the rise of ECW is hilarious and a must watch in my opinion.
Andrew: It’s funny you mention that one, Todd, because in anticipation of attending WrestleMania XXX at the Superdome, I was looking back on the previous shows I had attended, and one of them was Slamboree 1996 in Baton Rouge. Word had already come out that Diesel and Razor Ramon had left the WWF to go to Atlanta, so we were staring at the entrance all night thinking that one of them would debut at the pay-per-view (Hall debuted a couple weeks later on Nitro). The pay-per-view that aired before that one for WCW was Uncensored 1996, which featured quite possibly the most lopsided handicap match of all time. It was 8 (felt like 12) on 2 with Hogan and Savage taking on a weird combination of the Four Horsemen, the Dungeon of Doom, and Lex Luger to make the original Alliance, the Alliance to End Hulkamania. Sadly, no YE-TAY to be found, but we did see Z-Gangsta, so it all balances out. The match is hilariously bad, with one unintentionally funny spot being when the Booty Man (Ed Leslie) gives Hogan and Savage frying pans and Savage bops every heel in the cage with the pan like Pac Man in a maze to the sheer delight of Dusty Rhodes.
The show itself is one of my least favorites, although it was memorable to say the least, but there are some hidden gems even in the most awful of shows on the Network. Sting could not team with his co-tag team champion Lex Luger against the Road Warriors that night in a Chicago Street Fight (Only WCW could book a Chicago Street Fight in Tupelo, Mississippi) because he promised Jimmy Hart he would join the Alliance in the main event. So Sting surprisingly enlisted help from a tag team rival, and that was Booker T from the Harlem Heat. Four years before he won his first world title, Booker had his first break out as a star in the making by teaming with Sting in this unique brawl of a match that ended with Booker pinning Hawk after Stevie Ray gives them an assist. It was a small step, but the first one, towards what later became a Hall of Fame career for Booker T.
Don’t forget also that there is an 18-minute Eddie Guerrero match (this one against U.S. Champion Konnan) to open the show and what had to be a stiff fight between the Belfast Bruiser (Fit Finlay) and Lord Steven Regal. That feud would culminate a month later with a Parking Lot Brawl that was one of the most brutally violent things WCW did at that time (It’s on the first Nitro DVD WWE put out, so even they realized its greatness over the years). WCW did not do a lot of things right, but you have to dig deep inside of some of these available shows on your queue to find the greatness, because believe me, Todd, it’s there waiting to be discovered.
What are your thoughts on the Network’s original programming?
Todd: We’ve known about Legends House for a couple of years and looking at the little preview WWE’s provided, it looks like some great trash TV. Still, it looks more like WWE creative’s rendition of a reality show as opposed to what would really happen if you just let the cameras roll in a house full of this superstar cast. Considering how ugly and seedy the wrestling underbelly is, I can understand why Vince wants us to chuckle at Howard Finkel doing yoga and not Jim Duggan actually being Jim Duggan. As for the rest, I wanted to roll my eyes at the Monday Night Wars show, but I’ll say the little snippets they have of Taker talking out of character and Punk blasting the taser bit with Goldberg have got me interested. We’ve all heard these stories and watched the scenes a million times by now, but getting to hear some actual insight from people associated with both companies that we haven’t heard before is interesting. Other than that, I’m mostly interested in how the Network is gonna deal with matters of kayfabe. WWE has always been pretty careful in when they choose to pull back the curtains or keep the illusion alive. I’m interested to see how their post-RAW or Smackdown recap shows will handle this specifically. I’ll also start watching NXT, which might not be original material, but I’ve heard great things but couldn’t bring myself to look for it and watch it until now. Hopefully the WWEN will change that since I love the concept. I think it’s the closest thing the WWE will ever have to a minor league. I sort of imagine it like catching D-League games on NBA Network…getting to see who’s going to be on primetime months from now.
Andrew: This one for me is really easy, because I have seen installments of NXT off and on for the last couple of years and I have been extremely impressed with the foundation that company C.O.O. Triple H has laid at Full Sail University. This is the WWE’s fresh training ground that ditched the olden, lifeless environments of OVW and FCW in favor of an in-house, lively episodic show that was not afraid to go out on a limb with its prospects. Before the Shield and the Wyatt Family, Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose were doing some incredible stuff down there in Florida, and now we get to see the next batch of stars like Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, and Alexander Rusev show everyone on a national stage what they can do. I thought NXT was the best wrestling show on television back in 2012, which was sad because you could only watch it through Hulu Plus or local Florida television. Now the dream factory is right at your viewing disposal, and the first installment the week the Network launches will be a loaded super show called NXT: Arrival with a bevy of Hall of Fame guest stars and three big matches (Zayn vs. Cesaro, Paige vs. Emma, and Bo Dallas vs. Adrian Neville for the NXT Championship in a ladder match). Everyone is worrying about what they will be doing on 2/24 and 2/25. I know what I will be doing on 2/27… I will be watching NXT.
Closing thoughts on the WWE Network before launch…
Todd: We took a quick stroll down memory lane. Do you have any closing thoughts on the WWE Network? I’ll say this is sort of a childhood dream come true. If I were ever granted three wishes, one would likely be free reign in the WWE video library and this might be as close as we’ll get. Still, going off of our earlier PPV memories, it does kind of put things into perspective. As a big gamer, I haven’t bought a PC game in a store for years, since everything is available online. Almost all of my video has gone that direction too, with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. WWF PPVs were a cornerstone of my childhood, so it is sort of bittersweet to say goodbye to the days of calling an 800 number and praying the PPV would actually unscramble on time to watch an entire show. Still, I feel like a lot of that nostalgic luster wore off once we could just press “buy” on a remote and instantly see stuff through our cable boxes, but whatever, I’ll still miss it. A huge benefit with the WWE Network, for me at least, will be the fact I can actually be invested in the current product. I keep tabs on what happens week to week in the world of WWE fairly close, but I haven’t actually paid for a PPV in over a decade. Part of it is the stagnant product, but we write articles for a wrestling website for God’s sake! When has bad wrestling ever stopped us from watching before? I just usually don’t find myself in front of the TV on Sunday nights or wanting to spend the money. Now I’d feel stupid NOT sitting down and watching. I look forward to actually watching the good, bad, and ugly of WWE’s 2014 offerings and hopefully many more on my Xbox, smart phone and TV. So in true millennial fashion, it’s time I ditch the archaic technology of yesteryear and run headfast into the wave of the future baby, with reckless abandon. Let’s just hope the NSA isn’t judging me for my love of ’95-96 WWF. As a side note, I’m pretty interested to see what other hard to find stuff from the WWE’s library ends up on the app. Their website has done a great job recently bringing up stuff like Smoky Mountain Wrestling and they’ve never missed an opportunity to give a mention of promotions like Stampede Wrestling or Mid-South. Or, what about all of the WCCW stuff? I’d love to have some full shows from those sorts of promotions at some point, as hard as it might be to dig up on their end.
Andrew: In closing, I am simply pumped beyond words for the cavalcade of recaps, nostalgia-filled retrospectives, and endless number of pay-per-views that will be unleashed on Monday morning for all of the WWE fans (and wrestling fans in general) to see. The WWE has always taken hits in the blogosphere and in the mainstream for a variety of reasons as a company that is great at teasing their fans into following the product, but never completely rewarding them for their devotion. Well, to even the most bitter of wrestling fans, I ask, “What is there to say now?” It is not a deus ex machina on its own because there are still plenty of things that WWE currently involves itself in that deserve criticism. But I believe that since buying out the competition and all of the territorial archives over the past decade, the company has done a very fair job (in some cases) of realizing their responsibility as purveyors of wrestling history and having to keep that torch lit for the next generation of wrestlers and fans. Now, thanks to the WWE Network, that torch will stay lit forever in the hearts and minds of every fan who joins it, no matter if you are a Hulkamaniac or a member of the YES! Movement. It will be a beautiful day to see an entire universe finally become centralized, and that will occur this Monday.
Todd: Before we go, I’d like to share a great idea PTBN’s own Steve Rogers had on his pick for the first show to watch on the WWE Network, Survivor Series 2001, which conveniently lines up with Place To Be Nation’s excellent Vintage Vault podcasts, something near and dear to all of our hearts. Andrew, imagine the absolute blast all of us can have in following Scott and Justin along IN REAL TIME! Thanks for the tip, Steve. That’s all we’ve got folks, a couple days out from the release of the WWE Network. As always, PTBN will have extensive coverage of the WWE Network and lots of great material for readers moving forward. As it stands, I can’t wait for us to go into this new era. The mythical WWE Network is finally here!