December 2002: Pre-Starrcade News and Notes
December 29th, 2002
Starrcade 2002 - One hour before bell time
I stood just behind the curtain, and I couldn't help but smile at the view as people began to file into their seats. A lot of people thought I was being overambitious when I booked the Sydney Super Dome for Starrcade, that it wasn't going to be financially viable. Hell, a lot of people thought WCW was a lost cause and I was wasting my money in buying it. Yet here we are a year and a half later, and it was now official. The building was set up for over twenty thousand seats, and we sold every last one of them. It was going to be the highest attendance figure for any Starrcade in history (unless you wanted to do one cumulative total during the few years in the '80s where they simulcast from multiple venues.) Quite a turnaround from the company being all but dead.
We've still got a long way to go to be considered a true competitor to Vince the way WCW was back in '96-98, but the anticipation for this show sends a very clear message: WCW is on the rise once more.
Now it's time for our young, hungry, talented roster to go out and put on a show to remember.
The Fed ran their last PPV of the year, Armageddon, on December 15th at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The main event saw Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit put on their second match of the year contender together, and this time Benoit beat him to become the new ECW Champion. Eddie Guerrero defended his WWE title in the semi main event, and he put on a great match with Test. On the strength of those two matches, this was WWE's best PPV since Royal Rumble. We'll definitely have our work cut out for us if we want Starrcade to surpass it.
That was good news for WWE, but their year ended on a sour note: the Observer has knocked them back down to National status. I guess this is due to fluctuations in the market, because it's not like the quality of their shows has dropped. Vince will obviously pretend that doesn't bother him, but he's lying.
Vince has gobbled up another one: the WWE recently bought Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) just to close it. John Zandig opened CZW in 1999, and they were a hardcore promotion pretty heavily inspired by ECW. Zandig is a regular in Big Japan, where he is the current co-holder of the BJW Tag titles along with Takeshi Ono, so he should be fine now that his debts are taken care of. Vince must be really paranoid if he's buying out groups like this who were never going to pose any threat to him.
I was extremely impressed with how well the Rey/Booker vs. True Heroes match went on the December 16th Nitro. I considered having Booker walk out before the match and turning it into a handicap match just so we wouldn't have to deal with their poor team chemistry, but the match wound up being one of our best of the year. That was really all down to the Heroes too. Booker's performance was okay and Rey's was good, but Storm was fantastic and Punk did about as well as you possibly can. Those two are both amazingly talented, and when you factor in their chemistry and now the team experience they've built up as well, it's something special. Watching this match gave me confidence that I'm doing the right thing by putting the tag title match in the main event spot at Starrcade.
I've been getting some conflicting opinions on newcomer Bobby Roode. Scott Steiner was unimpressed with him after their singles match on Nitro, saying the fans don't care about him and the match would've been better if he'd been working with a heel who actually had heat. Hugh Morrus had a very different take after the same match. He was impressed with what he saw and told me he thinks Roode could be a top heel in the future. I lean more towards Hugh's line of thinking on this.
Mayumi Ozaki is starting to get some heat in the Renaissance locker room after she played what was apparently a pretty tasteless rib on the December 21st taping. She's charismatic and a decent brawler, but she's expendable, so I was hoping this would be the last negative report I hear about her.
It wasn't. The very next week she nearly got into a fight with a fan outside the arena before the show. Between her two incidents in her short time on the road, her bad attitude and her mutual dislike with Chigusa Nagayo, I felt she had the potential to tank the entire morale of the Renaissance locker room. She was only under a PPA deal as I had yet to convert her previous GAEA agreement into a written contract like I had with everyone else, so I just got rid of her. It necessitated a change in booking plans, as she was going to team with Daffney at Dancing with the Devil in part of an ongoing story, but I think I was right to be a strict disciplinarian in this case. Maybe this will serve as a reality check for her and she'll improve her attitude, but I'm pretty sure she's not a fan of me at this point. That's fine, because I'm not interested in bringing her back.
CM Punk continues to offer his feedback on what's going on with Renaissance. He's a fan of Alexis Laree's work in the ring and thinks she'll continue to develop
Disco Inferno thinks Flash Flanagan just doesn't get the business and I should probably stop booking him. He's just a jobber and probably won't be around too much longer, but Disco should be more concerned with whether or not HE'S going to stick around. His contract's just about up and I'm on the fence about whether to re-sign him.
Ironically, Flanagan came into my office a few days after Disco's comment and asked for, essentially, a 100% raise. I refused, and immediately terminated his pay per appearance agreement so I wouldn't have to deal with an angry jobber.
Not long after informing Flanagan we'd no longer be booking him, I set up an agreement with Billy Kim, a 3 year pro who trained at Rick Bassman's Ultimate University and was part of UPW until they went bankrupt this summer. Billy will basically be taking Flanagan's role as an occasional TV jobber.
Scott Steiner continues to try and convince me I should fire Kaz Hayashi. I'm on to you, Scotty.
Devil Masami and Aja Kong showed excellent chemistry as a team on the December 28th Renaissance. That's very intriguing, and that coupled with the release of Mayumi Ozaki gives me some options to potentially redesign a future story idea I was working on.
New Japan pulled the plug on the Osamu Nishimura title run pretty quickly. After making just two successful title defenses, he was dethroned by Yuji Nagata on the December 21st taping of the World Pro Wrestling TV show. This is the first time they've put the IWGP Heavyweight title on Nagata, who has been with the company since graduating from their dojo a decade ago. While Nishimura is very talented technically, Nagata brings more to the table, so I think this was a good move on their part. It does create the dilemma of Nagata holding both this and the Heavyweight Tag titles though.
NOAH shot themselves in the foot with the way they structured their final PPV of the year, December 21st's 'Destiny'. The show included a great match where young Naomichi Marufuji took the legend Mitsuharu Misawa to the limit before being defeated, and a similar story where Kenta Kobashi beat Yoshinobu Kanemaru in a very good match. The problem was that both of those matches took place in the midcard, and the main event where Akira Taue retained the GHC Heavyweight title against Yoshinari Ogawa wasn't anywhere near as good. It wound up being one of their worst PPVs of the year.
Steve Austin and Debra have announced their divorce. Sad to hear, but not really a surprise. I wonder if him not being re-signed by WWE, where she is still employed as a manager, was the beginning of the end for them since she's on the road there while he's working with (frankly inferior) talent in World Wrestling All-Stars.
Here's a strange one: a few months after her divorce from Gangrel, Luna Vachon is apparently dating Japanese star Naoya Ogawa. Ogawa works rarely for New Japan but much more often in Michinoku Pro, where Luna has been working as a manager. So that explains one part of this news, at least...
It's almost here! I'm right around or maybe slightly past the halfway point of the writeup. Sunday will be a busy day for me and I'll likely get very little, if any, time to work on it, so Starrcade will probably be up either Monday or Tuesday. This will be my last post here before then unless something important comes up, so be sure to get in your predictions if you don't want to miss out! This'll be the last show to decide who will be involved in the next UFS draft.