September 2002: Welcoming the Women's Wrestling Renaissance
The times, they are a-changin'. Saturday Night is no more, but we have a new show all set to take its place:
The new show will be one hour long, taping and airing on Saturday beginning on October 5th. We'll be recording exclusively in Japan to begin with, to capitalize on our strong crop of talented joshi workers, but the show will be airing worldwide.
I would've loved to get it on the USA Network, current home of Nitro, but USA wasn't interested. This was actually a pretty enlightening conversation as to our current status on the network. USA has expanded their market penetration pretty significantly this year. That gets us into more homes, which is of course a good thing. Nitro is actually available in more homes than Raw reaches in the US via TNN, which is wonderful news for us. The flip side of this network expansion is that USA has higher expectations for us, and we're not meeting them at our current size. They haven't expressed any unhappiness with our ratings, but they made it clear during this meeting that if we didn't expand in size by the time our existing deal expires, they wouldn't be renewing Nitro. We still have seven months left and I'm confident we'll be able to meet their requirements by then, but it does give us a concrete deadline to shoot for. Still, for the moment it took USA out of the equation for the launch of Renaissance. For lack of a better option, we partnered with FX. They're nowhere near as big as USA, but we didn't really have any better alternatives. We made sure this was a very short term deal, because hopefully in a few months we'll have proven ourselves to USA and they'll be willing to add our new show to their programming.
We have basically the exact opposite scenario in Canada. We were able to negotiate a nine month deal with Much Music, which is a larger network than The Score (current Canadian home of Nitro.) We attempted to move Nitro over to the bigger network during a recent negotiation period but were rejected because Much Music didn't want a two hour block of wrestling, forcing us to remain on The Score. The length wasn't a hurdle with the 60 minute format of Renaissance, so the deal got done.
In Mexico we'll be on 52MX, which is a lateral move in comparison to Canal 5, the Mexican partner for Nitro. Our other deals are more cut and dry, as they're with the same broadcasters that air Nitro: Channel 5 in the British Isles, TV Asahi in Japan, Sky Euro in Europe and Ten Network Australia in, you guessed it, Australia. Having to settle for FX rather than USA was a disappointment, but internationally this couldn't have worked out better. Now we need to deliver quality shows and prove that this experiment is a good idea, and women wrestling deserves to be taken seriously and can draw money all on its own.
We'll post detailed features on WCW.com to introduce the roster to our audience, but I've compiled a breakdown for our own internal use.
Alexis LareeAlexis is a somewhat familiar face to our fans. She's played a plucky young babyface type, and she challenged Etsuko Mita for the Women's title at Clash of the Champions. She's still rehabbing a strained rotator cuff and won't be ready for the premiere of Renaissance, but she'll be healthy soon enough. She's a decent worker, and at 23 has plenty of time to blossom into a very good one, plus she's got a fair bit of charisma.
She's been working as Allison Danger on the independents, but we'll be fully playing her up as the real-life sister of Steve Corino by giving her the same surname. She's had a few interactions with her brother on Nitro, and we'll likely keep that going for a bit even when Renaissance begins. That should give her a means to build a bit of popularity up, but it remains to be seen how high her ceiling is. Her in-ring skills are passable but nothing special, and the same could be said of her entertainment skills. She still has plenty of time to improve both at 25 years old, but I don't know if she'll ever be a candidate to headline for Renaissance.
Nagayo was the owner of GAEA when I bought the company, but she's also one of the biggest stars in joshi history. As The Crush Gals, she and partner Lioness Asuka were legit mainstream stars in Japan in the '80s, and she went on to great success as a singles wrestler as well. She retired in 1989 per the mandatory retirement age of the All Japan Women's group, but came out of retirement when she formed GAEA in 1995 and was one of the promotion's top stars for its entire run. She's still going even at 37, and remains a fair technical wrestler in addition to solid promo ability. We'll be playing into her storied career and portraying her as a legend who still believes she has what it takes to compete and win at the highest level.
Not even going to bother with a picture, because she won't be around long enough to need one. 30-year old Nakayama was one of the workers I chose to pick up from the GAEA buyout, but she's already let me know she has no interest in re-signing when her contract runs out in about a month. Not sure where she thinks she's going to go, since the only women's group left in Japan is our own developmental territory that's set to launch, but more power to her I guess. She'll do a couple of jobs on her way out, and that'll be that.
Inoue's one of the most talented female wrestlers in the world today, and one of the strongest acquisitions from the GAEA deal. She held the WWWA title, now our own WCW Women's World Championship, three times between '96 and '99. She's famed for her Giant Swing and is also the creator of the Victoria Driver, which became better known as the Burning Hammer when adopted by Kenta Kobashi. She forms the team 'Double Inoue' with our own Takako Inoue (no relation), but she's coming in as a face while Takako is well-established as vain heel in WCW. Hmm...
Not much introduction necessary here. Toyota is arguably the most talented female wrestler in the world today, has been positioned as our top female face and will headline the debut show in her championship rematch against Etsuko Mita. We'll be depending on Manami to lead the way as we try to get this new brand off the ground.
The kayfabe niece of Arn Anderson made her main roster debut in May. She's been working a lot in nothing matches on Saturday Night recently, as the title picture has revolved around Toyota and Mita and we simply didn't have time to do much else with the women. That shouldn't be a problem now that the women will have their own show. Melissa is one of our most promising prospects, and hopefully the 20-year old will continue to grow now that we'll be able to use her in more meaningful spots.
Daughter of the Anvil, my niece, and a graduate of The Dungeon. Obviously I have a soft spot for Nattie, but she wouldn't be here if I didn't think she were good enough. She's developed some solid technical skills already but there's still work to do elsewhere, especially in her verbal skills. I am hopeful she will be a success, but we can't afford to strap a rocket to her and build the brand around her before she's ready. If and when she reaches the top of the food chain on Renaissance, it'll be because she deserves it.
Yamada's primary role in WCW has been as the support/tag team partner of Manami Toyota, but she has value to us in her own right. She's a talented in-ring worker who throws lots of kicks. Her lack of charisma and star quality will limit her, but she's a solid hand and should see plenty of ring time on the new show.
That's the in-ring lineup. The announcing will be handled by Tony Schiavone and Tracy Brooks, who have been working together on Saturday Night for months in preparation for this very moment. Charles Robinson will be the lead ref for the brand, and Dusty will be the road agent. We also have two Japanese non-wrestlers inherited from GAEA that will be on-screen performers. Ryu Nakata will be a ring announcer/interviewer, while we'll look to find good chemistry for someone that Panch Tahara can manage (hopefully one of our North American girls, to circumvent the language barrier.)
Aja Kong (AAAW Singles Champion)
Kong is the quintessential female monster character. She's got a great aura and is clearly the best brawler in the division. She debuted in AJW in the mid-80's and was a major force in the company for a decade, winning the top title (now our top women's title) three times, with her first reign lasting nearly two and a half years before Manami Toyota finally dethroned her. Aja was the reigning AAAW Singles champion (GAEA's top title) when we purchased the company, and she'll be bringing the belt along with her when she debuts. She will instantly slot in as a monster heel at the top of the card.
Daffney was mainly a valet in her first stint with WCW, but we've brought her back as a wrestler. Her in-ring skills still aren't dazzling, but her time in Wildside did at least turn her into a decent worker. Her dark, goth-like character offers something different if nothing else, especially with the poison mist gimmick. She's been on the backburner recently, especially once her partner Akira Hokuto went to rehab, but should get plenty of TV time now.
Probably Aja Kong's only serious competition for the top brawling spot on the brand. Masami was one of AJW's top stars during their big '80s boom period, and the primary opponent for Chigusa Nagayo at the top of the card when GAEA first opened. She came over in the GAEA purchase. At 40 years old her best days are behind her, but I think she should still be able to produce in important matches for the brand in its early days. We'll be presenting her as a bloodthirsty brawler who loves to beat her opponents to the point of unconsciousness.
Etsuko Mita (World Women's Champion)
The current top female heel, reigning World Champion and member of Eric Bischoff's Empire. She'll headline the first show in a title rematch against Manami Toyota. I'm perfectly satisfied with the job she's done, but with an influx of new talent from the GAEA purchase (particularly Kong), she has competition for the top heel spot.
LuFisto was signed to a developmental deal in January. She actually graduated to the main roster in June but has yet to appear on TV, working strictly in pre-show matches. That will obviously change now. She's okay but nothing special in the ring. She does play a crazy character pretty well, so we may try to play her up as a wild heel who should not be underestimated despite her small stature.
Another GAEA pickup. She unfortunately shattered her knee last August with GAEA and has been out ever since, but according to the medical staff she should be cleared to return very soon. Her in-ring skills aren't anything to get excited over, but I didn't choose to take on her contract for her wrestling ability. She's here because she's a fantastic heel and one of the best promos on the brand. Maybe her matches won't be fantastic, but she should do a great job at "talking them into the building" and enhancing feuds.
Kandori's been around since our purchase of AJW earlier in the year, primarily working to help build up faces before they work a title program with Mita. That's seemed like a logical position for her at 37 years old. She's a solid all-around worker with a legit judo background, and she incorporates that judo into her ring work.
Kato was one of the young women Chigusa Nagayo was hoping to build GAEA around, but she never really broke out as a top singles star for the group. She did have three tag title reigns with three different partners, and was a coholder of those belts when we bought the company. She works as an old school heel, and will probably be used primarily to put others over.
Another of the pickups from the AJW purchase earlier in the year. She's a good worker and has been pretty convincing in her role as a vain character who flaunts her looks. As noted earlier, there's natural history we can now play off with her and new acquisition Kyoko Inoue.
Another young GAEA talent that never quite broke through into the main event. I think I may know why: she worked a dark match for us in August clearly not in a good state, and we later found out she'd taken a bunch of painkillers. Hopefully that won't become a recurring issue, or she might not stick around very long. She works as a classic "win at all costs" heel, and given that she and Kato were the last AAAW tag champions in GAEA, they'd be a logical pairing to match together in WCW.