Having the promotion dealing with that fallout would definitely be a challenge from a writing perpsective. But its not really one I wanted to take on. Lazy, certainly, but given that readers and fans tend to have strong feelings on the topic, its a potentially ugly challenge.
I do agree that changing his career arc does not necessarily mean the tragedy won't happen. But it makes it much easier to alter things further. If Benoit dies in a single vehicle car accident in mid-2006 now (thus preventing the tragedy with his family), its a less direct avoidance. Or Nancy leaves him. Or the family still dies in some tragedy but its not that tragedy. Or whatever. It makes it much easier in that regard.
Tying the Benoit injury together with the Guerrero tragedy was very intentional. I won't say further on that but definitely not accidental.
All I'm going to say on the Benoit topic is that I'm actually glad BP went at it like that. I don't really have any interested in reading over the situation again.
Although I haven't been commenting on this very often (at all?) I try to read it whenever I can. It's difficult to remember it's there sometimes, being tucked away out of sight!
Needless to say both this and the original are fantastic pieces of work, and serve as inspiration for future plans of my own WCW 2000 game. In fact, I'd love to see a mod based around the diary. Would be a lot of fun methinks.
It is kinda buried down here. But Views seem to go up, so I can't complain. I actually did put a bit of work into trying to mod this when I first started on the second project. But I quickly realized how much effort it would take to get a TEW mod modified and running smoothly. I think part of it was just me wanting to be able to post this in the the TEW diary thread. I also considered using EWR but again, the amount of work didn't seem to be worth it. Especially as the results would only used so much anyway. If anyone ever feels like taking a swing at it... :-)
A New Fire Burns
As the end of 2006 approached, World Championship Wrestling found itself in a very sound position. The promotion had four hours of first-run TV every week, plus the recap show, twelve annual pay per views, as well as several specials. Nitro was promoted as a key program for Spike TV and drew respectable ratings. The roster was strong and deep. Most importantly, the promotion was stable and secure financially. Although it remained well behind World Wrestling Entertainment, one could reasonably say that recovery process was completed.
The decline of WCW around the millennium has been debated, discussed, analyzed, and even studied. There are plenty of facts but few absolutes, and opinions on the “causes” still vary. One factor commonly pointed to as a key issue that contributed to the significant decline in business which nearly saw World Championship Wrestling cease to exist was the inability – or unwillingness – to build new stars. The reasons behind this depends the perspective, but it was certainly an issue that caused the promotion significant problems.
The “new” WCW could realistically claim that building new stars was indeed a strength. That was not to say that WCW was without experienced veterans. Men such as Sting, Ric Flair, Booker T, Raven, and Steven Regal were all still important roster members and any of them could be counted on to main event if required. Yet their roles were not primary. Sting took frequent time off and would return only for bigger events. Flair wrestled only occasionally, taking more of a manager role for the Four Horsemen. Booker was still a full-time wrestler, but Raven was gradually moving toward a Flair-like role. Regal wrestled regularly, but he was seen as a bit below the rest in regard to importance, and he was the only one who was not a former world champion. They had all be surpassed on the roster by the likes of Samoa Joe, CM Punk, AJ Styles, and probably even Bryan Danielson. Given the talent that WCW also had in the midcard, building new stars was definitely no longer an issue.
As typical in December, World Championship Wrestling was focused heavily on building toward Starrcade. There was no question on the main event, as the feud between CM Punk and WCW World Heavyweight championship Samoa Joe had been ongoing for several months and yet always seemed to be building toward the Starrcade moment.
The feud was built around great promos from Punk, Joe ripping people apart in the ring, and the series of great encounters the pair had already had. In a fashion more akin to puroresu than typical American wrestling storytelling, the series of matches between the two built on each other, with each new match adding to the overall narrative. The cerebral nature of Punk was emphasized and he seemed to learn something from each encounter, even tag team matches. Joe's title reign was closing in on fourteen months long and it had been gruelling, with regular title defences against the great talent that WCW had to throw against “The Samoan Machine” and even a few talents from outside. Quite simply, Joe was being worn down. These dynamics played a major role in the feud and were emphasized throughout December in the build up toward the Starrcade showdown.
Through December, Punk cut some of his finest promos yet. Punk proclaimed that he was the hero that World Championship wrestling had always been waiting for. He harkened back to the history of the promotion, saying WCW had always been run by the "the bad guys". Ric Flair, Vader, Hogan, Nash, Steiner, then O'Haire, and now Joe. WCW had long lacked the kind of hero who had the moxie to stand up to anyone, the talent to defeat anyone, and the integrity to be worthy of the fans cheers. Ricky Steamboat had tried to be that guy but he couldn't overcome Flair. Sting had been that guy for awhile, but ended up joining the enemy (referring to when Sting would eventually become a NWO member). Goldberg was supposed to be that guy but he was "synthetic" and ran when he could. Even with Flair at his side, AJ couldn't be that guy. But I can, Punk proclaimed. Tying his chase of Joe and the world title back to Steamboat chasing Flair, Sting chasing Vader, and Sting chasing Hogan brought a real historical context into the feud.
The feud went beyond Punk and Joe. Flair and Horsemen felt that Styles should be getting the title shots at Joe and the Nature Boy was not hesitant to voice that opinion. Perhaps more importantly, Punk really didn't have the support of Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash. That added an interesting compelling aspect. What could have been a pretty generic babyface hero versus heel authority figure mini-feud was something different. Rather than make Nash a prototypical heel authority figure, he attempted to walk the line and be relatively fair. He made some unpopular on-screen decisions and there were fans who clearly relished booing “Big Sexy”, yet he was truly neither heel nor babyface. He didn't directly oppose Punk, but simply lacked faith in Punk to conquer the big, powerful WCW champion and he made that known. He therefore didn't think it was right that Punk kept getting chances at Joe. Nash went so far as to call Punk a “vanilla midget”. The conflict between the two played subtly off of the belief that Nash had held down the likes of Jericho, Benoit, Guerrero, and Malenko a decade before. It was those kind of aspects that added some layers to the storylines that WCW used.
The long-running feud between the Four Horsemen and Raven's Flock seemed to be moving to the backburner somewhat. While it seemed to overshadow world champion Samoa Joe somewhat early in his reign, his feud with Punk through the later part of 2006 clearly took top billing. Raven seemed to slip out of the world tile scene a bit and the nominal number two in the group, Christopher Daniels, had not really stepped closer to that level. That was made clear as Danielson feuded over the United States title held by Bryan Danielson late in the year, leading to a match between them at Starrcade. Styles had been clamouring for another title shot for some time but he would have to wait... and he would get a shot at another WCW legend in the meantime, as Sting challenged "Phenomenal" in early December. This was a bit of a swerve to fans, as Sting had been feuding with Regal to some degree and it looked like Sting vs Regal would be a match for Starrcade but instead, it would be Styles vs Sting. Flair was inspired by this, asking for a match against Raven and setting up another interesting match-up for WCW's biggest event of the year.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Horsemen vs Flock feud was the intense rivalry between the two tag teams, Pure Southern Pride and The Briscoe Brothers. The two tandems had established themselves as not only two of the best teams in WCW but two of the best in the world. Yet neither team had held the WCW World Tag Team titles for more than a year. That fact came to the fore when Kevin Nash announced those titles would be defended by champions The Montreal Mafia (Sylvain Grenier and Rene Dupree) at Starrcade in a four-team elimination match... but neither PSP nor the Briscoe's would be part of it. The Mafia would take on Bang, Union Jacked, and the Calgary Bulldogs. Pure Southern Pride and the Briscoe's would face each other to establish the next top contender for those belts.
The four-team tag team match for Starrcade was intriguing. After surprising many fans by winning the 2006 W2, the Calgary Bulldogs were getting a chance to win the World Tag Team belts... but clearly not in the easiest of situations. Despite their tournament success, the Bulldogs were seen as long-shots to win the belts. They were a young team - Wilson was 26 years old but Smith was just 21. Even the advantage of having Natalya at ringside could only help so much, as each of the teams would also have someone at ringside at Starrcade.
By late 2006, the WCW cruiserweight division was an interesting situation. A focused rebuild through 2006 had seen the division become deeper, in terms of pure numbers but also in terms of talent. It was tough to claim the division was as individually talented as ever, given the two peak periods were built around some immense talent - Jericho, Malenko, Guerrero, Myetero, et al in the mid to late 90s, and Danileson, Styles, Daniels, Low Ki, etc in the 2001-2003 period. But there were certainly some very talent wrestlers in the division in late 2006. Probably the biggest issue is that only a few of them had the combination of skill, name value, and history to really stand out. That small group included Jamie Noble, Sterling James Keenan, Austin Aries, and current Cruiserweight champion Low Ki. With no real clear challenger, it was not really a surprise when Kevin Nash announced that Starrcade would feature an 8-man Ladder War for the Cruiserweight championship. That did not make champion Low Ki very happy, so Nash gave the complaining cruiserweight champion a simple choice - participate in the match and possibly retain his belt, or forfeit by sitting out the match. It was not a difficult choice. There were no shortage of options to join Low Ki in the match.
The cruiserweight tag team division complicated matters a bit. There was really no separation between the singles cruiserweight division and the tag ranks. Nearly every cruiserweight had at least one associate they could call on as a tag team partner when required. And they were required often, as WCW made heavy use of tag matches of all sorts on Break Out, including regular six man and eight-man tag matches. The WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team champions heading into December were Emblem, the popular young combo of Paul London and Alex Shelley. While both could add some excitement to the Ladder War, they would be required to defend the tag belts. Their opponents would be decided in early December. Full Throttle – Elix Skipper and Elijah Burke – were offered the match. Burke had also been offered a spot in the Ladder War melee and he was clearly intent on trying to win the Cruiserweight title for the first time, but Skipper successfully talked his younger partner into trying for the tag belts they had already held once. Even with a few cruisers out injured, there were plenty of options. There was plenty of posturing, convincing, and even begging as the cruiserweights tried to get picked for the match. After all of that, the 7 men joining Low Ki in the mach would be Austin Aries, Kaz Hayashi, Fergal Devitt, Sterling James Keenan, Matt Sydal, Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Jamie Noble.
Although WCW fans who only watched Nitro didn't get to see much of it, December also featured the return of women's wrestling to World Championship Wrestling. Both Lacey and Daffney had two "warm up" matches apiece on Break Out. It was a clear and obvious way to build toward their Starrcade match. It would seem that not every WCW fan was into a female feud, but the build that run more than a year intrigued a few fans who might not otherwise be into it. The “warm up” matches established what fans could expect out of Lacey and Daffney in the ring – the “Sweetheart of WCW” Lacey was more technical and very willing to break the rules, while Daffney was an aggressive brawler.
Everything about December was focused on the build to Starrcade 24 at the very end of December. It was not simply that it was World Championship Wrestling's biggest annual event. It was an opportunity to create a superlative event, to really show fans what the promotion could deliver in terms of in-ring action. There seemed to be a lot of interest in the Joe vs Punk feud, and WCW hoped to take advantage of that by putting on an event that would kick-start business a bit.
Starrcade 24 would be the watershed moment that World Championship Wresting needed. At least in some ways. It was a “perfect storm” of sorts for WCW. It was held in Chicago, which was not only the adopted home of WCW and the actual home of CM Punk, but also the epicentre of Punk's popularity due to his time in the AWA. The promotion did a ton of work in the city to promote the event. That worked paid off. The show would draw a crowd in excess of 15,000 fans to the United Center. It was the largest crowd that World Championship Wrestling had drawn since 1999. While obviously impressive, the number is also a bit deceptive, as WCW had lowered its ticket prices across the board just prior to this show. Thus, one could speculate that the ticket price change had an effect on the attendance. Regardless of why it happened, that large crowd was loud and passionate, which definitely added to the event.
WCW went with a "long card" for Starrcade 24, getting a full four hours from the pay per view broadcasters for the 12 match card. The show kicked off with Dustin Rhodes defending his WCW World Television championship against the muscle of Regal' s Empire, Paul Burchill. The impressive Brit battled hard against the "American Nightmare" and scored a win that some saw as an upset, claiming WCW gold for the first time. That was followed by Kanyon facing down Booker T. The match was built around a feud that had not really grabbed the fans attention, and the ten minute match was truthfully a low point of the show, but a double count-out non-finish meant the feud was not over. Then came the 8-man Ladder War, and it was everything that one would expect a ladder match with 8 cruiserweights to be. While some are dismissive of the match as as “overblown spotfest”, it featured fast-paced action, innovative spots, and pure excitement for nearly twenty minutes. The Illinois fans loved it and they made that known. The match culminated in Fergal Devitt winning the WCW Cruiserweight championship for the first time. The young “Crown Prince” of Regal's Empire was nominally a heel but he got a great reaction for his victory.
Then came the battle between Lacey and Daffney. Those expecting a quick slap-fight were disappointed – in a good way. The match went a dozen minutes and featured plenty of actual wrestling. Both women were trained wrestlers and that showed. Daffney almost overwhelmed her nemesis early with a barrage of offence but Lacey fought back, cheated to keep the momentum, and then stole the win. The “Sweetheart of WCW” got some cheers after her victory but fewer than she once would have. The Cruiserweight Tag Team belts were on the line next, and a good match saw Full Throttle claim the belts from the popular tandem Emblem. The following match was outstanding, with “Captain Classic” Colt Cabana facing down the veteran Steven Regal. Punk's friend was clearly very popular with the Chicago fans and he delighted them by claiming the win, a victory that put him back near the top of the card. The list of battles between Pure Southern Pride and the Briscoe Brothers gained another entry as the two teams put on a show-stealing match. This one went to the brothers, taking down the Horsemen pair. They would therefore get a shot at the World Tag Team belts. Those belts were contested next, and the current champions Montreal Mafia faced a tough battle to retain them in a 4-team elimination match. That was proven quite early, as they were the first team eliminated. The victors would be the young duo The Calgary Bulldogs, winning the tag belts for the first time just a month after claiming the W2 Tandem tournament.
The last four matches were the real “meat” of the event, and any of them likely could have headlined a regular pay per view event. The battle between Raven and Ric Flair was heavy on the drama, though a bit light on the action. The two veterans milked every bit of drama and crowd reaction that they could, with “Nature Boy” eventually taking the victory. That would be followed by Flair's long-time nemesis, Sting, taking on Flair's Horseman associate, AJ Styles. The duo put on a back-and-forth battle that would have been the finest match on many cards, with “Phenomenal” Styles pinning “The Icon”. They two shook hands after the match in a sign of respect. The semi main event saw Bryan Danielson defend his United States championship against Christopher Daniels. “American Dragon” would be successful in that defence but Daniels presented the Horseman member with a stern test. The match was pretty much outstanding.
Only the main event remained. As strong as Starrcade had been to that point, CM Punk and WCW World Heavyweight champion Samoa Joe needed to deliver the kind of match they had proven capable of. They did. The match went just past forty minutes and it never really dragged. It started out with a bang, as the champion tried to overwhelm his nemesis early but Punk was ready for it and managed to minimize the damage that Joe could inflict, then countering with offence of his own when he could. Joe continually went to his vaunted arsenal of submissions but his challenger seemed ready for each one, either anticipating and countering or having the awareness to position himself so he could force a break. The middle portion slowed a bit, as Punk controlled a tiring Joe... but that turned out to be a ruse by the champion, who exploded with some offence just past the twenty-five minute mark and nearly won the match. Punk would persevere, to the delight of the Chicago crowd. The last fifteen minutes of the match were a blur of near-finishes and traded finisher attempts. One of the reasons that Punk had never been able to defeat Joe was that he had never managed to use his feared Go-2-Sleep finisher on the champion and there was question whether he could hit it on a man 50 pounds bigger. The challenger got Joe up for it and hit it clean, but Joe kicked out, to the shock of Punk and everyone else. Punk went for another but the champion countered, which led to a series of reversals before Punk managed a second G2S, and then a third. Joe did not kick out this time. WCW had a new world heavyweight champion.
Starrcade 24 was one of the best overall wrestling events in American wrestling in 2006. It drew a strong gate. The rumored buy rate was merely okay but it was the kind of strong finish to the year that World Championship Wrestling needed. It did not make up for a 2006 year that was, in many ways, merely average for the promotion. The hope within the company was that it would launch WCW into the new year with a significant amount of momentum.
The pro wrestling industry in American was only growing more competitive. Late in the fall, MTV had announced that they would carry a “season” of a new wrestling show called Wrestling Society X. The “promotion” behind the show was called the same, and it was looking to create an “edgy” product that would appeal to a younger audience. The same younger audience that the WWE had once captured with their “Attitude” and that WCW seemed to be now hoping to gain the attention of with their edgy new world champion, CM Punk.
Paul Burchill d. Dustin Rhodes (c) for the WCW World Television Championship
Booker T + Kanyon Draw
Fergal Devitt d. Low Ki (c), Austin Aries, Kaz Hayashi, Sterling James Keenan, Matt Sydal, Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Jamie Noble in a Ladder War for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship
Lacey d. Daffney
Full Throttle d. Emblem (c) for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team championships
Colt Cabana d. Steven Regal
The Briscoe Brothers d. Pure Southern Pride
Calgary Bulldogs d. Bang, Union Jacked & Montreal Mafia (c) in a Tag Team Elimination match for the WCW World Tag Team belts
Ric Flair d. Raven
AJ Styles d. Sting
Bryan Danielson (c) d. Christopher Daniels for the United States championship
CM Punk d. Samoa Joe (c) for the WCW Word Heavyweight Championship
Last edited by Bigpapa42 : 02-18-2012 at 10:37 AM.
I might have missed it but just curious when in 2006 that Colt Cabana returned to WCW from his stint in the WWE in 2005?
As the year 2006 wound to a close, World Championship Wrestling found itself in much the same situation as it had been a year prior. While such a statement might seem cliche, it is actually incredibly accurate in the case of WCW at this point in time. By almost every standard of measure – TV ratings, overall attendances, merchandise sales, and estimated pay per view buy-rates – the promotion was doing almost exactly the same business as it was at the same point in 2005. Those numbers held steady throughout all of 2006 with a surprisingly small amount of variation. December saw a small bump with a strong Starrcade, but it was not a monster improvement. The positive of this was that business for WCW was at a high point, given the standard set over the previous six years, yet it is difficult to ignore the lack of any growth at all over a fairly significant period of time.
In any line of business, stagnation of growth is a cause for concern. Serious concern. It is the kind of issue that will see a CEO released from their position in many industries. Yet multiple insider reports indicate that World Championship Wrestling management was not overly concerned with the issue. The topic generated much discussion amongst both industry insiders and over-analytical fans. Unless one disregards direct quotes from the likes of WCW President Tully Blanchard, it would seem that the promotion's management was perfectly okay with the situation. Professional wrestling can be a unique business. Blanchard was moreso focused on two major trends that had developed over the past few years for the promotion. The first, obviously a positive, was the ability of WCW to develop new stars and that trend definitely continued through 2006. The second trend, which was at least partly based on the first, was losing talent to the WWE empire. Although WCW was hit with some departures through the 2006 year, that trend seemed to be slowing, which was very likely related to a change in developmental focus by Vince McMahon.
One only has to look at the two men to hold the WCW World Heavyweight championship belt in 2006 to recognize the ability of the promotion to build new stars. Those two men were Samoa Joe and CM Punk. The two talents present a very intriguing dynamic, as their respective rises represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Samoa Joe was the athletic monster who was picked to be a star before he even joined the promotion full-time, dominating his way to the WCW World Heavyweight championship in the fall of 2005 and holding the belt in supreme fashion for some fourteen months. Joe was a stone cold killer, entirely focused on domination and showing little to no personality. Conversely, Punk had to force his way onto the WCW through sheer force of personality. He won over the WCW faithful through character and work-rate, moving up the card more rapidly than anyone anticipated. He was not really brought in with the intent of creating a new star, which has lead some label him an “unintended” or “accidental” star for WCW, which is only partly accurate. Their rises up the card happened differently but the two young stars, along with the likes of AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson, came to represent the new World Championship Wrestling and the positives it had to offer.
The roster losses suffered by WCW were rather minimal. Most of the departures were contracts that WCW did not renew. It was primarily lower-card talent like Crowbar, Derrick Neikirk, and CW Anderson. One can analyze why WCW lost less talent to the WWE than in previous years, but its difficult to draw any solid conclusions. A significant factor was the talent who had their deals come up for renewal and therefore would have been available. As well, WWE insiders have confirmed that the promotion did begin to alter its developmental system approach, with a greater emphasis being put on “fresh” talent who had no experience at all in the business prior to signing with the WWE. That process had been on-going for some time but definitely became more pronounced by early 2006.
The biggest departure to hit WCW in 2006 was not a wrestler. It was President Beasley Burrows Sanford.
It is honestly difficult to overvalue how much Sanford meant to World Championship Wrestling through its period of recovery. His resignation in the early months of 2006 was a shock to some in the WCW front office, but not to everyone. The man was in his late 60s and still working long hours at the Aurora head office. It could not go on forever. Some insiders noted he had “slowed down” somewhat through late 2005. It was those insiders who expected (at least to a degree) the resignation of the man who did so much to help WCW rebuild itself.
There is a natural tendency to compare Sanford to his predecessor, Eric Bischoff. When Bischoff took over as President after the purchase by Fusient, WCW was in shambles. It was a shell of the promotion which had topped the industry just a few years before. The approach that Bischoff took was to try to revamp the product first. The problem with that approach is that it required money, which is something that WCW really lacked, so the President was unable to properly institute all the product changes he felt were necessary. When WCW was bought by Perfect Storm, Sanford came in with the benefit of having a proper operating budget, but he took the opposite approach to building the promotion. His initial focus was work to rebuild the foundation of the promotion, as he overhauled the management structure and worked to establish new business relationships. Changes to the product (including expansion of the roster) happened more gradually but did not result in the promotion over-extending itself financially. It was the strong foundation that meant that Sanford left World Championship Wrestling strong and stable moving forward.
He also put together one more key deal before he resigned. He had been working on a new video game deal for several years. Through the 1990s, the WCW-licensed games put out by THQ had been immensely popular. THQ now worked with the WWE so therefore had no interest in renewing their relationship with WCW. Canadian sports gaming giant Electronic Arts had published the last few WCW games but they also had no interest. WCW was deep in negotiations with Acclaim Entertainment through much of 2004, but that fell through when Acclaim declared bankruptcy late in the year. Things finally worked out with 2K Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two Entertainment. The deal was announced in February of 2006, with a targeted release of the first title in early 2007. It was another step forward for the promotion.
For the sake of levity, it is perhaps worth noting that a small minority of industry observers tend to downplay the contributions of Sanford. While his contributions to the business relationships and financial stability of WCW cannot be denied, these observers point to the fact that such improvements could only happen because of the product improvements. Sanford himself has made it clear that he had very little to do with the wrestling side – almost all aspects regarding the talent was handled by Tully Blanchard and the creative side was almost entirely left with Lance Storm's creative team. So if the handling of those two aspects what allowed Sanford to improve the business side of the promotion, does he deserve as much credit as he's given? One can also point out that the product improvements actually began under Eric Bischoff's oversight, and unlike Sanford, he took a much more hands-on approach with both talent and creative. It just goes to show that industry insiders, much like fans, can turn anything into a point of contention. As this is mentioned for the sake of disclosure, it is probably also worth mentioning that everyone connected with WCW is, without fail, quick to credit and praise Beasley Burrows Sanford and that has to count for something.
The great question regarding Sanford's departure was who would replace him as WCW President. Although the period between the resignation becoming public and the replacement being named was just a few weeks, it generated some intense speculation, both amongst fans and through the industry. Perfect Storm Global Productions chose to maintain the internal continuity and elevated Tully Blanchard to the position of President. Having proven most competent in his role as Vice President, it was a logical move. The great question hanging over Blanchard was whether he could come close to match the departing Sanford in regard to business acumen. That was a tall order and not particularly realistic.
With the position of Vice President now open, there was also speculation over who would been offered the spot. When Blanchard took his time filling the position, the speculation got intense. In a sense, the position was being over-valued by those debating who should fill it. The VP spot had been pretty vital when Sanford took over, as the former TV executive had no direct experience in the wrestling business and he needed someone as Vice-President who could capable handle those aspects. Blanchard obviously did not have that same liability. Rather, he lacked experience with building and maintaining the kind of business relationships that Sanford had expertly crafted to the great benefit of WCW. Rumours suggest that Blanchard recognized that and was working to find the right individual to help him with those aspects but after being unable to fill the spot, he asked Ric Flair to take the role of Vice-President on an interim basis. Flair would focus on the wrestling side, as his history of personal money problems made him an obvious bad choice to help on the business aspects of WCW. Before Flair was offered the role, it was apparently offered to Head Booker Lance Storm, who declined it as he did not want to give up his booking duties nor add more responsibilities to his current ones.
Later in 2006, Flair would be made permanent in his front office role, officially becoming the Vice-President of Product Development. He would deal with the creative and talent relations aspects. An senior account executive by the name of Ben Rutherford, who had been hired by Sanford back in early 2003, was also given a VP position, with the specific title of Vice-President of Executive Relations. Although Beasley Burrows Sanford was realistically irreplaceable for World Championship Wrestling, the hope within the promotion was that that the trio could combine to provide a reasonable facsimile of Sanford.
It is not difficult to understand why there were concerns from outside WCW at the plateau of growth. WCW had seen slow but gradual growth since its low point in 2001. Additionally, Nitro moving from Fox Sports Net to Spike TV in mid-2005 was expected to see the promotion get a jump-start in its visibility. Which did happen to an extent. However, it seems that many simply expected more. Unfortunately, the growth plateau would be attached to new management regime and seen as a negative legacy.
The in-ring evolution of World Championship Wrestling would be perfectly represented in 2006 through the two men who individually held the top two singles belts for most of the year. Samoa Joe had won the World Heavyweight championship back in October of 2005 and he would carry the belt until almost the very end of 2006. Bryan Danielson would win the United States championship at The Big Bang in January 2006 and hold that belt well beyond the end of 2006. Both men delivered consistent top-quality matches.
"The Samoan Machine" was already well-established as a dominant force by the start of 2006. Through the early part of his long championship reign, two "weaknesses" were exposed - he could sometimes get frustrated and would become over-aggressive, which could lead to mistakes. Those liabilities saw him lose the occasional match via disqualification but never did serious harm. In February of 2006, he took on a new manager - NWA legend Harley Race. The former NWA World Heavyweight champion worked with Joe to take him from being an instinctual wrestler to a more cerebral one, making him even more formidable. Race would remain in Joe's corner through the the summer.
Joe would feud with most of the top names in WCW through 2006. Joe would solidify his title reign by taking wins over the likes of Sting, AJ Styles, Ric Flair, Kanyon, Booker T, and even Bryan Danielson. The champion-versus-champion match between Joe and Danileson at Evolution was fantastic. Joe would also face puroresu legend Mitsuharu Misawa in the main event of the Rising Sun SuperShow earlier in August. While not up to the standard of Joe vs Kobashi from 2004, it was another top quality encounter. As the year wore on, it became apparent that one feud was inevitable - Joe versus CM Punk. WCW did a nice job of holding off until the fall of 2006, when fans were really pining to see the two young stars meet up.
The big Samoan has gained some criticism as the lack of growth that WCW saw in 2006 lead to some questioning his ability to draw. WCW reject the notion that Joe was a poor draw, with Blanchard commenting, "Joe did exactly what he needed and exactly what we asked him to. We wanted great matches and he delivered." Blanchard and others in the WCW front office recognized that were a myriad of factors involved in why the promotion had hit a plateau.
There was some hope that the feud between Joe and Punk could kick start things a bit, but that really didn't happen beyond a slight bump in the overall numbers for December, and specifically the attendance for Starrcade. Which is not to say that feud didn't deliver, as it's widely considered to be a great one. The matches between the two were simply fantastic.
Much as 2005 had been about the build of Samoa Joe, the first half of 2006 was very much about the build of CM Punk. It was a build that had started in the second half of 2005. It has become common to paint Punk as a complete "unintentional star" who got over only his own hard work. There is some truth there but it's not entirely accurate. Being part of Raven's Flock, then feuding with Raven, gave Punk a real boost through the fall and winter of 2005, and having a relatively unknown worker (to the WCW fanbase who did follow the AWA) feud with one of the top heels in the company is hardly indicative of a lack of support. More accurately, Punk was not picked by the front office as a certain star, the way that Joe, Styles, and Danielson had been. He did, however, have some support within the WCW creative team. Specifically Raven saw Punk as a future star for WCW and pushed hard to see the young man pushed. Raven had been part of the WCW creative team since Lance Storm took over the book, handling the Break Out B-show by himself and having a great deal of creative input in the overall WCW product. Even with that belief from Raven, the work-rate, character, and charisma of Punk allowed him to make the most of what opportunities he was provided.
After leaving the Flock in late 2005, Punk was badly outnumbered badly by the Flock members. While associating with veterans like Kanyon and D'Lo, Punk would end up teaming with his old AWA cohort Ace Steel. The pair would win the WCW World Tag Team championships in early 2006 but it would be a brief reign. Interviewer/valet Daffney would join the pair and they would form a mini-stable dubbed the Second City Saints. When Colt Cabana returned to the promotion, he would join the group as well, immediately taking up the position behind Punk as the number two in the small stable. In the spring of 2006, Punk had a short feud with Danielson and while he came up short in winning the US title, he realized he should be focusing on the WCW World Heavyweight belt held by Joe.
Punk got over with the WCW fans because he had great matches and because he was a compelling character. A maestro on the microphone, he was easily the best promo guy in the promotion. Beyond that, his "straight edge" character had a certain contemporary resonance to it as well. He had self-belief and confidence that bordered on arrogance and it clearly would have been easy to turn him heel simply by emphasizing certain aspects. But Punk was definitely a fan favourite to the World Championship Wrestling faithful.
Punk was presented as a very cerebral wrestler, an aspect played up as they build toward the feud between him and Samoa Joe. It made him a tough opponent for Joe. They faced each other several times through the last months of 2006 and neither wrestler was really able to consistently have an advantage. There were three dynamics at play that became apparent - the first was that Punk seemed to learn something from every encounter they had, even tag team matches. The second was that the long title reign seemed to be wearing on Joe and he was carrying several small injuries that were often mentioned by the commentary team. The third factor was that Punk was never able to use his vaunted finisher on the much-bigger champion. The culmination of the feud was the match that headlined Starrcade 24 where Punk finally triumphed and won the WCW World Heavyweight championship.
As good as their Starrcade match was, it is not that match which is generally regarded as their best. The Starrcade match was good enough to get a 4 ¾ star rating from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, the most respected industry observer and match reviewer in the business. The match that is generally regarded as the best of the series was a house show match from Philadelphia in early November. Originally scheduled to be a regular-length main event match with an indecisive finish, the pair recognized the hot Philly crowd and asked for permission to do an old school broadway. The duo delivered a 60-minute time-limit draw that was flawlessly executed, harkening back to the classic matches between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. Word of the fantastic match began to filter through the fan community pretty quickly. Footage of the match did exist, as WCW made sure to tape all house shows matches, though it was only with a couple stationary cameras. In early December, interest in the match as strong enough that WCW would take the unusual step of uploading the entire match onto their Youtube page. A few weeks later, right before Starrcade, the match was shown in its entirety on a special 2-hour edition of WCW Fallout in a further effort to hype the coming Starrcade match. Meltzer has refused to grade the match, as it an un-aired house show match at the time, but he has admitted that if it took place on a broadcast event, it likely would have been given a full 5 stars. It was perhaps some consolation that the match was voted the WCW Match of the Year by fans.
CM Punk and Samoa Joe were not the only WCW wrestlers having great matches through 2006. Bryan Danielson was also a standout in that regard and it was why he hung on to the United States championship for almost the entire year. The year would have a smashing start for "American Dragon", as he was not only asked to join the Four Horseman as the replacement for Lance Storm but he also won the US title at The Big Bang. Much as Storm had been, Danielson was the "straight man" for the group and he didn't really fit in personality-wise, yet he was an ideal fit in terms of being one of the best wrestler's in the world. He often teamed with AJ Styles and the duo had some great tag team matches in addition to the top-quality singles matches that Danielson had through the year.
The return of Colt Cabana in the early summer should have been a big moment for World Championship Wrestling, as he had been one of their top rising young stars before he left a bit over a year before. Yet because he was immediately aligned with his friend CM Punk and was obviously second-fiddle to the rising star, it made the return seem less important. Cabana was a surprise tag partner for Punk and Steel in a six-man on Nitro, and he was greeted with a big pop from the fans. The charismatic grappler moved right back into the upper midcard spot he had left behind, but he was now in the shadow of CM Punk. And it was a shadow that grew larger as time went on.
The plight of Cabana in the WWE was symptomatic of the experience of many wrestlers who had moved over to the McMahon empire from World Championship Wrestling. Given a sizable contract, it was reasonable to expect Colt would be moved onto either Raw or SmackDown right away. He was instead sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling, the developmental territory of the WWE. He apparently "needed polish". After spending the rest of 2005 there, he was called up to the main roster at the start of 2006. Given the horrible name "Scotty Goldman", he was used as a joke character. He got a spot in the Royal Rumble, but was eliminated in less than 10 seconds. He jobbed a few times on TV and was given the opportunity to look like a fool on a few segments. In the late spring, he was told that creative could find nothing for him and was wished all the best in his future endeavours. It has become a running joke amongst fans that the WWE creative department earned its title by being unable to find a use for a funny, charismatic, wrestler who was solid in the ring. But the WWE's loss was WCW's gain.
Going all the way back to 2002, it seemed that no one who left WCW for the WWE could really get a chance to truly shine. The biggest names to jump were, of course, Goldberg and Sean O'Haire. Both men were stars when they switched promotions and were treated as stars by the WWE, yet neither man was really given a chance to headline either. Both grew frustrated with the situation and the politics, and both would end up leaving the WWE and the wrestling business as a whole within two years of them joining the WWE. Most of the others who left WCW for the WWE would more midcard talent and most floundered to some degree. That isn't uncommon, though - plenty of talent that has eventually moved up the card in the WWE spent a significant amount of time in the undercard first. As well, its unlikely that the WWE signed talent like Shane Helms and Mike Awesome with the intent to turn them into main event stars as neither left WCW at that level. However, the experience of talent that moved to the WWE from WCW has led to the perception that the move will result in misuse by the WWE before an eventual release. That doesn't seem to stop wrestlers from taking that opportunity, as the bigger stage and bigger money of the WWE is an irresistible lure.
Although losing talent to the WWE has been a definite trend for World Championship Wrestling, it was less of an issue by the start of 2006. Not only was less talent departing, but the promotion featured a much deeper roster and was therefore able to more easily absorb any such departure. One of the areas of real strength for WCW was the tag team division. Although still nominally split into a "heavyweight" division and a cruiserweight division, both featured plenty of talent. The core of the main division were Pure Southern Pride and the Briscoe Brothers. Another core team formed in the late summer when cruiserweight star Theo Wilson convinced long-time friend Harry Smith that the stable he had associated himself with (Steven Regal's Empire) was the wrong choice. The duo formed the Calgary Bulldogs and a modern version of the British Bulldogs was born. Some of the teams in the division included The Montreal Mafia (Sylvain Grenier and Rene Dupree), the Montreal Mini-Mafia (Eric Young and Kevin Steen), the two Empire teams (Steven Regal & Paul Burchill plus Doug Williams & Nigel McGuiness), Bang (Antonio Banks & D'Lo Brown), the recently formed “Kings of Wrestling” (Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero), any two of the three members of the Second City Saints, and the combination of Shane Helms and Billy Kidman. Many of the teams were not full-time and permanent, but the depth and diversity of the division made it a strong aspect of WCW.
The cruiserweight tag team ranks were a similar mix with a few permanent teams and many occasional tandems. The division grew stronger and deeper throughout 2006, finishing the year in a much better position than it started. Amongst the teams who made up the cruiserweight tag division were Emblem (Paul London & Alex Shelley ), Full Throttle (Elix Skipper & Elijah Burke), the Havana Pitbulls, TJ Perkins & Kenny Omega, The GREATEST Men Alive (Austin Aries & Joey Ryan), and the reformed Jung Dragons. Jimmy Yang had returned to WCW in early 2006, leading to a reformation of their tag team, but now known only as The Dragons. There were also regularly talent from Japan and Mexico on-loan with WCW.
While the overall tag team ranks were an area of real strength for WCW, the same could not be said of the cruiserweight division at the onset of 2006. Through the 2001-2003 period, the division was deep, talented, and a key aspect to the product. That situation arose out of need as WCW had a thin roster and had to work with what was available. Many fans look back on that time period as WCW trying to intentionally differentiate itself from the WWE with the cruiserweights, but that seems to be no more true that during the CW heyday of the mid-90s. As the roster developed and more talent was added, the cruiserweights got a bit less emphasis, a process actually hastened by the need to fill the Breakout "B" show. The show featured frequent cruiserweight matches, but having them on there meant fewer of them were on Nitro, where most of the WCW viewers were. The other major issue affecting the division was the transition of talent from the cruiserweights to the "heavyweight" division. When top cruiserweights like AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, and Christopher Daniels moved out of the division, they were not really replaced. With those two factors at play, the division suffered to a degree.
WCW management and creative recognized the issue by mid-2005, according to insiders. And they began to work to rectify it. By the end of 2006, the division was in a much stronger position that it had been a year before. It was reloaded with talent and had been given a new emphasis. The man who had taken over booking the division after Chavo Guerrero left was Jamie Noble, and he worked hard to ensure that everyone had a role and a purpose. Noble was seen as the cornerstone of the division, a guy who had never left WCW after the 2001 low-point and who had never been moved up from the cruiserweights. There were three other workers who could claim the same - Kaz Hayashi, Elix Skipper, and Joey Ryan (who had joined in 2003). Frankie Kazarian and Austin Aries had both joined in 2004 (both coming through the AWA system). Low Ki had joined back in 2002 but he left WCW for a period in late 2004 and early 2005 to work in Japan, although it appears he was still under a WCW contract and therefore just “loaned” overseas. By the spring of 2005, he was back in WCW full-time.
It is interesting that after the likes of AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, and Christopher Daniels all successfully transitioned from the cruiserweight division into the “heavyweight” ranks, few others made that same switch. Billy Kidman would move up but no further than the midcard. Theo Wilson, after becoming one of the top cruiserweights from mid 2005 to early 2006, would leave the division behind as he formed up the Calgary Bulldogs with Harry Wilson. There is some debate why the movement out of the division stalled – whether it was down the individual talents or the overall depth of WCW improving.
In looking to restock the division with talent, WCW looked both to young talent from the "indy scene" as well as some workers who had been released by the WWE. Eric Young and Chris Sabin had worked for TNA. Elijah Burke and Paul London both had runs in the WWE before being released. Alex Shelley, TJ Perkins, Theo Wilson, and Kenny Omega all came through the WCW developmental system. As did Ricky Reyes and Rocky Romero, who like Low-Ki took time away from WCW for a run in Japan but came back in late 2005. Fergal Devitt was becoming a super junior star in Japan when WCW snapped him up in early 2006. The end result was that by the end of the year, WCW once again had a stacked cruiserweight division and they were once again giving those talents an opportunity to shine.
WCW continued to look to international talent, especially when it came to the cruiserweight division. Wrestlers from Japan and Mexico had always played a role in WCW and continued to do so. Given that the promotion was trying to make in-roads into both Japan and Mexico TV markets, having talent from there was seen as key. Most of the international talent from those nations that was used by WCW from 2004 on was simply loaned from their home promotion. Beyond coming in for the W1 and W2 tournaments, talent such as KENTA, Naomichi Marufuji, Takeshi Morishima, Takeshi Rikio, Magnum Tokyo, and Mistico had all won singles and/or tag team titles with WCW but were still all only on-loan and would not spend extended periods working full-time for the promotion. The front office was looking to bring in such talent on a lengthier loans or permanent deals but that proved difficult. Any talent of real interest to WCW from Japan was also of value to their home promotion, none of whom could afford to be without important talent for an extended period - especially with a downturn in the wrestling business in Japan. Signing a worker to an exclusive long-term deal wasn't really an option because workers in Japan tended to be very loyal to their home promotion but also due to the possibility of angering the home promotion. So WCW had to make do with the option with taking key talent on short-term loans and only younger talent on longer loans.
The situation with talent from Mexico was a bit different. There was less concern with talent being loyal to either CMLL or AAA, but rather that it was a bit tougher to identify the "right" talent. WCW had enjoyed success in the 90s with Mexican wrestlers such as Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, Juventud Guerra, Psicosis and others. The talent that had been brought in over the past few years, notably to participate in the W1 tournament, had been a rather mixed bag. For every success like Mistico, there was someone who had bombed to some extent, such as Sicodelico Jr. So the key was to find the ``right`` wrestlers. There were two in particular that WCW was interested in were Mistico and Dos Caras Jr, but both were apparently hesitation to sign exclusive deals with WCW. The hesitation may be in part due to rumors of WWE interest in both. After a short run in 2005 that saw him win the WCW Cruiserweight championship, Mistico came in for for 2006 W1 tournament, but he once again would not to commit to anything longer
The 2006 editions of both the W1 and W2 tournaments were quite successful. Both were used to elevate some young talent, in addition to once again highlighting some great talent from around the wrestling globe. For 2006, the W1 field was 28 wrestlers. It was just short of a full field of 32 to have five complete rounds. Instead, there was once again “preliminary” round that some of the top WCW cruiserweights got to skip. There were rumors that WCW would switch to a league format with two blocks of wrestlers, but that wasn't really an option with such a big field. Of all the talent brought in for the event, none received more hype than CMLL star Mistico. The 23-year old had become the biggest star in the world of lucha libre, and with both WCW and the WWE interested, he was considered by many to be the “new Rey Mysterio”. Mistico did well in the W1, making it to the quarter finals, but his matches impressed a bit less than some expected. The finale was current WCW Cruiserweight champion Theo Wilson against one-half of the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team champions, Austin Aries. Wilson would triumph in a really solid match, a triumph that surprised many fans.
The previous two years, being crowned “King of the Cruisers” had marked the elevation of the winner from the cruiserweight ranks into the heavyweight division. It would again for Wilson, but not directly. The W1 would also have a direct effect on the W2 tournament. The tournament finale set up a rematch between the pair, with an inconclusive finish at Slamboree. At The Great American Bash, Aries would be successful. Although he and tag partner Joey Ryan had already lost the tag titles, the self-proclaimed “Most Awesome Man Alive” would defeat Wilson and win the WCW Cruiserweight title for the second time. Before Wilson could even try to get the belt back, he would find himself embroiled in a feud with Regal's Empire. The stable-leader Regal picked Wilson as a target for Harry Smith to prove his loyalty to the Empire. Canadian born and raised, and Calgary-trained, Smith hardly fit into the British stable, but he wasn't really given a choice when it came to joining. Smith tried to make it work, even faking an awful English accent to appease Regal. But trying to get Smith to go after his old friend proved to be a serious mistake. The fact that Smith and Wilson had trained together in Calgary was well-established to WCW fans. So Smith refusing to act on the order was an show of loyalty that the WCW fans loved, especially as it meant Smith was tossed from the stable. Once again, it would backfire on Regal was Smith would form up a tag team with Wilson, calling themselves the Calgary Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs were an immediate hit with fans. Heading into the W2, they were far from favoured, however. The WCW tag team division was simply so deep that it was hard to pick a favourites. Fans were intrigued by the myriad of directions that WCW could take with the W2. This edition has 24 teams, so like the W1, there was a partial preliminary round. With a strong division and some of the teams from outside the company, there were almost new random pairings of WCW talent. Every WCW-based team in the W2 were regular or at least occasional tandems. The first round proper offered a treat, as two of WCW's premier tag teams – the Horsemen members Pure Southern Pride and Flock members The Briscoe Brothers – were drawn together and their long-running feud was reignited. The match between them on Nitro was bloody and exciting, with the brothers emerging as the winners. The match took a toll and the battered Briscoe's would be upset in the next round. Another possible favourite, the Empire duo of Steven Regal and Paul Burchill, also went out out that same round. As did the Montreal Mafia duo of Rene Dupree and Sylvan Grenier, upset by Emblem (Alex Shelley and Paul London). The cruiserweight duo would be the only non-heavyweight team to make the final four, which also included the Calgary Bulldogs, Union Jacked (Doug Williams and Nigel McGuinesss), and Bang (Antonio Banks and D'Lo Brown). At Sheer Mayhem 2K6, the Bulldogs defeated Bang and the English duo grounded the cruiserweights. In the finale, the Bulldogs completed their rise to the elite tag team ranks in WCW with a victory.
In their run to the W2 trophy, Harry Smith and Theo Wilson introduced their own secret weapon – Nattie Neidhart. The lovely daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was the real life girlfriend of Wilson, a fact that was used to introduce her as the valet for the team. A trained wrestler herself, Nattie limited herself to a cheerleader role... except in the finale at Sheer Mayhem 2K6. She prevented Steven Regal from interfering in the match on several occasions, and when he shoved her away, Nattie responded with a right hook that floored the pompous veteran. The crowd loved it. Nattie would also be in the corner of the Bulldogs when they were part of a wild four-team elimination match at Starrcade that would culminate in them becoming the WCW World Tag Team champions for the first time. The parallels to the legendary British Bulldogs were obviously strong, and some fans took delight in pointing out that “the new version of Matilda” was notably more attractive.
One of the major storylines for WCW through 2005 was the continuing feud between The Four Horsemen and Raven`s Flock. The legendary Horsemen stable began the year down a man, after Lance Storm was retired by Bryan Danielson. The search for a replacement didn’t take that long – after Danielson defeated Steven Regal for the WCW Untied States championship at The Big Bang, he was given the membership offer by Flair. Danielson accepted. Very much like Lance Storm, “American Dragon” didn't fit with the Horsemen ethos in terms of a hard-partying life-style. Not at all. But he was clearly one of the most talented grapplers in WCW and proved that with a US title reign that would run the rest of 2006 and endless great matches during that time. The great question was whether WCW would ever push him to true main event status, let alone make him a world champion, when he was well under six feet tall and barely 200 pounds.
With Lance Storm booking, WCW had gained a reputation for running lengthy feuds and layering things. One single incident in a throwaway TV match could be the trigger for a significant feud months later. One of the longest feuds that Storm put together was between two non-wrestlers. After leaving the promotion for part of 2004, Lacey returned late that year. She had played a key role in the feud between AJ Styles and Jamie Noble but was now on her own. She became the primary female character for WCW after the departure of Stacy Kiebler. Although well-liked by fans, the lovely Lacey had proven fairly manipulative and she always managed to attach herself to a succession of successful talent. In the fall of 2005, she was acting as a valet for the WCW World Tag Team championship team of Adam Pearce and Doug Williams. Daffney was mostly working as an interviewer, though she had also worked as a valet for some of the foreign teams who came through WCW. In a random backstage interview in late 2005, Daffney innocently managed to somehow offend Lacey, who verbally lashed out and chased Daffney away from the set. It wasn't clear what set Lacey off, but the “Sweetheart of WCW” had such moments upon occasion and still managed to stay in the hearts of the fans. This time she held a grudge, and she began to torture poor Daffney at every opportunity. Even when Daffney attached herself to CM Punk in early 2006, she remained a target for Lacey.
The situation felt very much like the pretty and popular girl at school picking on the weird goth girl. Which was obviously the intent. Lacey knew just how to push Daffney's buttons and could have her enraged with just a few cutting words. Yet while she often came across as petty and mean, even bitchy, she never quite crossed that line to where she would drive away the fans who still loved her. This continued through most of 2006. Most of the interactions between the two ladies took place on Break Out, but it was mentioned and recapped enough on Nitro that fans who only watched that main show on Spike TV. In October, Daffney finally snapped when Lacey wore a “Halloween costume” that was how Daffney normally dressed. Daffney lost it, attacking Lacey and having to be peeled off her nemesis by WCW security officials. For her efforts, Daffney was removed from the building, then fined and suspended. When she returned, she was forced by Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash to issue a public apology to Lacey on Nitro. Daffney used the moment to challenge Lacey to an actual match. “WCW's Sweetheart” refused, but Daffney turned the tables and began to taunt and stalk her tormentor. Lacey finally got angry enough to agree. So a match was arranged to Starrcade 24. Lacey wanted some type of “theme” match, such as evening gown or bra & panties, but Daffney demanded and got a straight wrestling match.
Through December, both women had some “warm up” matches on Break Out against “local talent”. For the first time since 2000, WCW had women wrestling on television again. The women in the ring were, for the most part, pretty well received. It was unclear whether WCW was simply dedicating significant time and effort to a under-card feud or building a new women's division. The idea of a women's division seemed to have garner a mixed reaction from fans, at least i the online discussion communities. WCW had a pretty spotty history with women's wrestler and had never really had a full regular division. The WCW Women's championship had been introduced in 1996, then largely ignored until it was dropped in 1997. It was mainly used by joshi promotion GAEA. The promotion had no division history to draw from, and it was debated whether a women's division would add or detract, and also whether it would be serious or the equivalent of the WWE's Diva's, where showing skin trumps wrestling skill.
Beyond the return of Colt Cabana in the summer and Steven Regal in late 2005, the year 2006 also Shane Helms and Dustin Rhodes return “home” to World Championship Wrestling. Neither had accomplished that much in their WWE respective WWE runs. Both were on TV regularly, which is at least somewhat notable. Helms also held the WCW Cruiserweight (formerly Light Heavyweight) title twice, but he did so while playing a goofy masked superhero gimmick that made it clear that Vince McMahon's stated intent to have a “serious” cruiserweight division was not a particularly reliable promise. Rhodes has stated he was told that he would not have to return to the Goldust character, yet that was exactly what he ended up doing. The wrestler has claimed that in late 2005, he asked WCW what their creative direction was for him. The only plan they had, he claims, was for him to join the coming third brand as a comedy jobber to put over the young talent. So Rhodes requested and was granted his release. To be fair, neither would get a heavy push in WCW either, as both were midcard mainstays. Both apparently found the more serious approach of WCW more appealing than working in the WWE (for around the same pay, in their cases) as comedy characters.
One backstage addition made by WCW in the middle of 2006 was “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, who joined in a road agent role. The ultra-tough veteran had starred with Mid Atlantic, All Japan, and WCW, and had won his toughest bout by overcoming cancer. The circumstances that lead to Williams being hired by WCW have been discussed and debated, but nothing is particularly clear. What is known is that WWE announcer Jim Ross saw a ton of potential in a young kid by the name of Jake Hagar. The young man was an extremely talented heavyweight wrestler for the University of Oklahoma, athletic enough that he had also played football for the Sooners. Ross had been Executive Vice President of Talent Relations until about 2005 and had actually tried to sign Hagar back in about 2004. Choosing to instead focus on his education, Hagar actually attended a WWE training camp in the summer of 2005 (unpaid due to NCAA regulations) and seemed to regard professional wrestling as a definite option once his collegiate career was over. When he graduated in 2006, there was no contract offer from the WWE as had been promised. But there was one from WCW, which Hagar instead accepted after a bit of hesitation.
So why did World Wrestling Entertainment not offer a contract to a young talent who had such a strong legitimate background, a great look, and a genuine interest in the business? No company insiders have ever been willing to explain that. There have been hints that pressure not to sign Hagar may have come from a couple of “big names” within the company. The man most often pointed to by fans as the culprit is Kurt Angle, who comes from an even stronger legitimate wrestling background. If Hagar was being looked as a “new Angle” by some within the WWE, as it has been suggested, its possible that Angle may not have taken kindly to the idea of being pushed out to pasture. Triple H is another name that is often brought though, that might simply be because his relationship with Vince McMahon's daughter makes him a target for everything from contemporary fans. There is no indication that Ross ever made contact with WCW regarding Hagar. Yet some have “connected the dots” to pass the blame to him. The dots are that Ross is good friends with Williams, and Williams signed on with WCW around the same time as this all happened. Although Ross has reportedly never been directly accused of telling his friend “Dr. Death” about Hagar, its rumored that the legendary announcer took some heat from the company for it.
As for Hagar, he was immediately put into an on-going class at the Chicago Power Plant, where he excelled. He would quickly debut in WCW's developmental territory, the AWA, drawing rave reviews. He worked under the name “Jack Swagger”, a moniker that was apparently suggested to him by Ross back in the summer 2005 WWE camp. Although it is questionable whether the WWE really wanted Hagar – as they obviously could have offered him a contract if they did – it for once at least appeared that WCW had managed to acquire something that the WWE also wanted but couldn't have.
Another talent who moved from the WWE to WCW was a former wrestler by the name of Matt Striker. He had been a wrestler and signed with the WWE back in early 2004. After a short stint in development, he came onto the main roster using a gimmick based off his previous occupation as a teacher. Striker had a decent look and he certainly smooth on the microphone but he was only okay in the ring and already over 30, so it didn't seem like the WWE had big plans for him. After suffering a nasty knee injury in late 2004, he was faced with a tough choice – retiring from the ring or attempting to continue by going through surgery and a lengthy rehab. With the WWE interested in him mostly for his ability to talk, Striker retired and began to work as a manager. When the WWE launched the their third brand, NXT, Striker was tapped as the color commentator. Unfortunately for him, he made several notable gaffs on the debut NXT show. Whether it was the pressure of the situation or Vince McMahon's habit of talking into the commentator's headsets while they were on air, Striker did better on the subsequent shows but it was too late. He was replaced on NXT before a month was out and released from his WWE contract a short time later. Despite Striker having the support of a number of individuals within the WWE, reportedly including Jim Ross and Triple H, he had lost the trust of Vince McMahon and that was fatal to his WWE career. WCW was only too happy to sign him and he became part of the commentary team for Breakout.
One of the more interesting developments outside the WCW in 2006 was still connected quite directly to World Championship Wrestling. After more than a decade with the company, Dusty Rhodes resigned from his role as the President of Operations of the WCW Talent Development division. The legend had been in charge of the promotion's overall developmental program, overseeing the Power Plant training facility as well as the AWA, which he also booked. The reason Rhodes resigned is that he actually became owner of the American Wrestling Association. Sorta. In a rather complicated situation, he bought out the promotional company that WCW had partnered with, Gagne Productions. Dusty renamed it American Dream Promotions. Gagne would not sell him all the AWA trademarks, so Rhodes had to lease them. It was an interesting situation, though for the moment, it didn't really change much. Rhodes would bring in a few of his “own” talents (much as Gagne had with Punk) and butt heads a bit with WCW management but that was about it.
WCW also ran into some complications in its relationship with Total Non-Stop Action. That relationship has always been a bit odd and not at all clear. After providing financial assistance in 2004, WCW had loaned WCW some talent, lead many to believe that it was type of “parent promotion” relationship. In 2005, Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler found investors for the promotion, which put them in a significantly more tenable financial situation, yet occasional talent still came in from WCW. In addition, WCW did sign some guys worked for TNA. Yet in late 2006, that happened again, as WCW signed X-Division star Chris Sabin and assigned him to the AWA, TNA was apparently irate. As the year ended, relations between the two promotions were best described as “strained”.
If one takes certain factors out of consideration (the lack of growth and loss of Sanford), then 2006 was actually a very strong year for World Championship Wrestling. They continued to build new stars and the depth of the roster, continued to make money, and put out a product that was strong. Yet those factors cannot really be ignored and it meant that WCW moved into 2007 with questions and concerns rather than just determination and confidence.
WCW World Heavyweight Championships
Samoa Joe (1) – won October 2005 – lost December 2006
CM Punk (1) – won December 2006
WCW United States Championship
Steven Regal (1) – won November 2005 – lost January 2006
Bryan Danielson (1) – won January 2006
WCW World Tag Team Championships
Bang (1) – won December 2005 – lost February 2006
Second City Saints (1) – won February 2006 – lost March 2006
Kanyon & Rhodes (1) – won March 2006 – lost July 2006
Cabana & Steel (1) – won July 2006 – lost September 2006
Montreal Mafia (1) – won September 2006 – lost December 2006
Calgary Bulldogs (1) – won December 2006
WCW World Television Championship
Doug Williams (2) – won December 2005 – lost February 2006
Kevin Steen (1) – won February 2006 – lost May 2006
Sterling James Keenan (1) – won May 2006 – lost August 2006
Dustin Rhodes (2) – won August 2006 – lost December 2006
Paul Burchill (1) – won December 2006
WCW Cruiserweight Championship
Mistico (1) – won December 2005 – lost February 2006
Sterling James Keenan (3) – won February 2006 – lost March 2006
Theo Wilson (1) – won March 2006 – lost June 2006
Austin Aries (2) – won June 2006 – lost August 2006
Katsuhiko Nakajima (1) – won August 2006 – lost September 2006
Alex Shelley (1) – won September 2006 – lost September 2006
Amazing Red (1) – won September 2006 – lost October 2006
Low Ki (2) – won October 2006 – lost December 2006
Fergal Devitt (1) – won December 2006
WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championships
Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi (1) – won December 2005 – lost March 2006
Averno & Mephisto (1) – won March 2006 – lost April 2006
Greatest Men Alive (2) – won April 2006 – lost June 2006
Full Throttle (1) – won June 2006 – lost August 2006
Emblem (1) – won August 2006 – lost December 2006
Full Throttle (2) – won December 2006
Theo Wilson d. Austin Aries
W2 Global Tandem Tag League
The Calgary Bulldogs d. Union Jacked
Wrestler of the Year:
Cruiserweight of the Year:
Rookie of the Year:
Tag Team of the Year:
The Calgary Bulldogs
Feud of the Year:
CM Punk vs Samoa Joe
Match of the Year:
Samoa Joe vs CM Punk @ House Show
So that brings us to the end of the "catch-up" posts. Next up will be the January 2007 recap and we'll be rolling properly. I hope to have that posted by the end of the week. I will also be working to get the front page updated fully with info like the current roster. So if anyone has any questions - whether its filling in a blank on something I didn't cover in much detail (or perhaps at all) in the recaps, or just wanting a bit more detail on a worker's role - ask away.
Really enjoyed the 2006 writeup, BP! While it's still a little odd to see the name WCW using young talent without veterans taking over, it's a really enjoyable story to read.
Can't wait for 2007 to begin!
Glad you are enjoying. Really looking forward to getting this rolling properly. I have a ton of plans. Should be really fun.
I don't really have time to read all this stuff here now, since I missed this topic being started in the first place, but I just want to say that you have a reader in me. I read the original quite often actually though I doubt I ever commented anything. I'll try to remember to read this before you manage to publish more stuff and I must admit a mod based on this scenario would definitely be interesting to see!
Have to agree on the mod. It would be a ton of work to put together, though. Not the kind of project I'm willing to take on while I'm rolling with the project, too. Maybe once this ends eventually. Or if someone out there feels ambitious... :-0
The New Genesis
Delving into the history of professional wrestling provides some interesting nuggets of knowledge. One such piece of history is that the “pseudo-sport” evolved from a legitimate sport. This is something that some fans are aware of, but apparently not all. Once upon a time, wrestling was very similar to pro boxing in terms of legitimacy and popularity. The theatrics of the sport took over and lead to what we know today. Which raises the question of exactly what professional wrestling is... Is it an athletic competition that happens to be fixed to maximize the drama? Or is it a soap opera that that is simply built around fake fighting?
The answer is that it can be either, and anything in between. It just depends on how its presented. It depends on the exact “product”, if you will. The above questions do a reasonable job of defining the difference between the products of World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling throughout the mid and late 00s. That said, while the WWE was close to the one extreme of those, WCW was not really at the opposite. Because the opposite of the “Sports Entertainment” approach of the McMahon empire would be “wrestling as a sport” or “shoot-style”. WCW certainly had a more “serious” overall approach but it never tried to presents wrestling as a sport nor were “shoot” matches ever used. Characters still mattered and storylines still sold the drama, but they weren't the primary emphasis as they tended to be in the WWE. The reality is that in professional wrestling, product matters. One can claim that “wrestling is wrestling”, but that's like saying “a car is a car”. It requires taking a very broad view of things. Details and context matter, and thus the specifics of a given product matter. One can pick any number of possible examples to demonstrate this... A simple one is that hardcore wrestling which makes heavy use of weapons and barbed wire is not necessarily going to appeal to the same wrestling fans as a comedy-product. Yet they are both, essentially, professional wrestling.
What is the point to all of this? It is just a very long and detailed way to get to this fact – according to WCW insiders, in 2004, Beasley Burrows Sanford commissioned a study of wrestling fans and their product preferences. This was not a thorough, detailed and in-depth study as such things take time and, more importantly, money. For a truly professional study, it takes plenty of both of those. World Championship Wrestling did not have the financial resources at that point to undertake such a project. This was more of a “quick and dirty” study, but it used a broad enough sample group of existing fans and target demographics that it generated some results which could be analyzed and assessed.
Analysis of the study results reportedly made one thing clear – the potential audience of WCW's current “more serious” product had inherently limitations when compared to a “sports entertainment” product like that of the WWE.
Although WCW has never made the details of the study public, its not difficult to speculate on reasons for such a bias. Sports entertainment, at least in the format used by the WWE, offers a bit of everything to fans. It emphasizes characters, storylines, and drama to draw in the more casual fans. It has comedy and goofy characters, even toilet humor, to draw in a younger audience. It has women wrestling to draw in the female fans (though it is certainly debatable how much the Diva's division does this). And there is enough actually wrestling to appeal to fans who prefer that. The emphasis on charismatic individuals has allowed the WWE to create superstars like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena, who have crossed-over into mainstream pop culture to some degree. With the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts and specifically the Ultimate Fighting Championships, wrestling fans who sought something closer to legitimate athletic competition could be tempted toward that.
It would not be entirely wrong to dismiss the results of the study, given its limitations. There were apparently a few within World Championship Wrestling who felt that would be the correct reaction. Yet WCW management did not dismiss it. This was likely in part because the findings supported a hypothesis that had been talked about amongst the WCW front office for some time. The hypothesis was simply that a more serious and traditional wrestling product would have a more difficult time finding a mainstream audience than one based around the ideal of Sports Entertainment.
So throughout 2006 and early 2007, while fans and insider analysts fretted over the lack of growth for World Championship Wrestling, the promotion's management remained relatively unconcerned with that. There was no panic or dramatic changes or desperate attempts to jump-start the growth. WCW simply continued on with what they had been doing for the past few years. The front office also recognized that in addition to the possible inherent product limitations, there were other issues that made chasing the WWE difficult. These factors included greater star power, much better "brand" perception, and a nostalgia factor that WCW really could not match.
There are no indications that WCW even considered making any notable adjustments to its product to make it more similar to "sports entertainment". Rather, it appears that there was near-absolute faith within WCW about the product they were producing. There was real genuine belief within the WCW front office, within creative, and within most of the talent that the WCW was a superior wrestling product to the WWE. Perhaps it was not a superior entertainment product, but that wasn't the intent of WCW anyway. The feeling internally was that the product being produced by WCW through this period was the evolution of the traditional athletic NWA style that traced back to greats like Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Harley Race, the Funks, the Brisco's, and Ric Flair.
The idea that World Championship Wrestling simply accepted that it was number two in America and that closing the distance between them and the WWE would be difficult, or even impossible, has been criticized as representing a lack of ambition by some. That seems harsh. Ambition can be both a positive and a negative. By the start of 2007, WCW was financially healthy, stable, and putting out a product that they believed strongly in, so they were hardly in a poor position overall as a company. There was also recognition that over time, the existing situations (such as product biases, industry health, even the WWE situation) could change. In addition, WCW was not completely lacking ambition. Management was still looking for growth, but they were simpyl not willing to make drastic or reactionary changes in seeking it.
The front office of World Championship Wrestling obviously recognized how prevalent discussion of the company's financial health and long-term future had become amongst fans. Almost all of the discussion seemed to stem from the lack of any growth through 2006, plus the loss of Sanford almost a year before. While perhaps touching, the concern of fans may also have been a touch humorous to management, as WCW was in better overall health than any other point since the turn of the century. WCW President Tully Blanchard took a usual step at the onset of 2007 - kicking off the January 3rd Nitro with a "State of the Union" address to WCW fans. The President came down to the ring and thanked the fans for the support over the past few years, talking about how WCW had been through some tough times but that the future was bright. He talked up some of the key talents and singled out a few of the younger guys on the lower-card. He put over the promotions respect and ties to the history of the business, but also about how WCW was evolving in every way for the future of professional wrestling. Although Blanchard never specifically said "We are fine financially, stop worrying", that was clearly the point he was trying to get across.
The first Nitro of January was also notable for another reason. A very visual reason. World Championship Wrestling debuted a brand new Nitro set on the taping. Although it stuck with the darker overall tones that it had used for the past few years, there were a few bright splashes of color. It felt a bit flashier than the old set, which likely made Spike TV happy. It was definitely more modern, with the entryway atop the stage being the central focus. The entryway was recessed beneath the super-structure, which was topped by the WCW logo and a large video screen that retracted when not being used. The entryway recess was about 8 feet deep and ten feet wide, with the entrances on the sides. The back wall of it was a large LED panel. Right at the front of the recess was a 24-inch-wide panel across the floor, with matching panels running up the side walls and then another one across the roof. The effect was that anyone walking out came through a ring of lights, with a wall of lights behind them as well. The side panels of the ring connected to LED panels that curved outward and connected to forward-facing screens that flanked the entryway. The LED panels were costly, and apparently designed for use in night clubs, but they allowed the WCW production staff to create some really awesome lighting effects during entrances. And since they stopped using pyrotechnics - though they already used far less than the WWE even before the new stage and entryway - the set up did reduce some long-term costs, as high quality pyrotechnics are quite expensive.
The new stage super-structure moved away from the "industrial" look of the past, as there were no exposed girders and everything felt more "closed in". The long wide ramp had the WCW logo inlaid and back-lit in the middle, with another inlay near the top of the ramp in the shape of the iconic WCW World Heavyweight Championship belt. The stage had the rather large commentator booth on the left side, and on the right was a small raised platform where a microphone was always available, essentially providing a podium where the crowd could be addressed. The whole stage setup was larger than the previous one the promotion had been using, mainly as they were now holding Nitro tapings in slightly larger arenas than in previous years.
A smaller yet still notable change happened down at ringside, where the black foam security barrier covers that WCW used to surround the ringside area became advertisements. Those panels had long been adorned with the WCW logo. But on the January 3rd Nitro, several of them instead had the logos of some of the primary WCW sponsors. The sponsor logos alternated with the WCW logos and were relatively unobtrusive. According to company insiders, some of their main sponsors such as Monster Energy, Mountain Dew Code Red, and Go Daddy had paid well for the extra advertising. Some fans declared it the "selling out of WCW" and the start of a mass commercialization and so on... yet a great many fans didn't even notice the addition with all other set changes to Nitro. Despite the defiant naysayers, it was a relatively small and unobtrusive change for WCW that paid definite financial dividends.
The January 3rd Nitro was more than just Blanchard's state of the union address and a new set. It also had the first promo by CM Punk as WCW World Heavyweight champion. The newly-crowned champ came down to the ring by himself, escorted to the ring by the new theme music he had debuted at Starrcade - “This Fire Burns” by Killswitch Engage. The theme replaced the music he had used since he left Raven's Flock, which was “Cult of Personality” by Living Color. The taping took place in Milwaukee and the Wisconsin fans gave the new champ a strong reception. The satisfied smirk never left his face. When they quieted, he began by saying “I told you so”, which got a big pop. Punk proceeded to go on a rant, bashing Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash for doubting him, Flair and Styles for meddling in the world title situation, Raven for trying to manipulate him... He was relatively complimentary toward his nemesis Samoa Joe and quite thankful toward the fans who had supported him. Notably absent of mention were his Second City Saints cohorts. It was hardly the most gracious of coronation speeches. In fact, it came across as much more "heel" than "babyface"... but being brutally honest and unrepentantly outspoken were personality aspect that the fans loved about CM Punk. The new WCW champion had never really been a traditional "good guy" and that was clearly not changing now that he laid claim to WCW's top championship.
There was more on the Nitro that kicked off 2007. In fact, it was a pretty busy show and there were plenty of happenings. The Four Horseman, accompanied by Ric Flair, cut a great group promo - Bryan Danielson declared he would defend the WCW United State championship against anyone, James Storm proclaimed that Pure Southern Pride would earn another shot at the WCW World Tag Team titles and win them for the 5th time, and AJ Styles all but demanded that he be made the number one contender and get the first shot at CM Punk's world title. Samoa Joe proclaimed the same thing, though the angry monster did so without actually speaking – he had a match against Rob Conway, who the former champion eviscerated, and then Joe emphatic made the belt gesture at his waist. Lacey came out to gloat over her win over Daffney, and went so far as to proclaim herself the Queen Hellcat. And the show is also notable for featuring a somewhat cryptic hype video. It was set to "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor and showed dark clips of someone training hard. The clips were too quick to identify the individual but they were clearly in good shape. Similar hype videos would be shown on subsequent episodes of Nitro.
On the January 10th Nitro, the main event for The Big Bang was decided. Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash announced that after deliberation from the WCW Championship Committee (WCW still used the idea on occasion so that it was clear that Nash was not a final and absolute authority figure), there was no way to pick between Samoa Joe and Styles as the number one contender. Joe clearly deserved his rematch, and since Styles did not want to wait until after that rematch for a title shot, the main event of The Big Bang 2007 would be a Threeway Dance with the WCW World Heavyweight championship on the line - CM Punk versus AJ Styles versus Samoa Joe.
Nash was busy during the month of January. After Lacey spent several weeks crowing about her victory over Daffney, the "Sweetheart of WCW" was told by Nash that she would get an opportunity to become the "Queen Hellcat" legitimately, rather than just in her own mind. Confirming what many had expected, women's wrestling was returning to World Championship Wrestling. The Nitro Commissioner didn't provide man specifics, but he did note that the WCW Women's championship, inactive for a full decade, would return and be known as the "Queen of Hellcats" championship. However, there was no stated time-frame for this to happen. There were a few matches on Break Out through the month, with Daffney being upset by one of the unknown women, Serena Deeb.
Things continued to grow tense within Steven Regal's Empire. It should have been a heady time for the stable, as the combination of Doug Williams and Nigel McGuiness had done well in making the finale of the W2 tournament, while both "The Crown Prince" Fergal Devitt and Paul Burchill had won titles at Starrcade 24. Yet all these things just created more tension within the group. Regal was clearly irritate that McGuiness and Williams had lost to former Empire member Harry Smith (with his partner, Theo Wilson), which was exacerbated by the Bulldogs winning the WCW World Tag Team belts at Starrcade. Devitt was clearly seen as the burgeoning star of the group by Regal, but the leader was vocal in his belief that Devitt should focus on becoming a "respectable technician" in the ring and leave behind the "flippity-floppity" stuff, so the stable leader was definitely not thrilled that "Prince" became the Cruiserweight champion. With Burchill, Regal was also vocal that he saw "The Ripper" as the muscle of the group and thus should not be focused on something like holding the WCW Television championship. Instead of the leader of the Empire being happy about these developments, he was angry and it was clearly threatening to tear the group asunder. Regal was also looking to find closure to his feud with Sting, which had been put on hold in December. The two veterans would face each other at The Big Bang.
The timing of the discord within Regal's Empire could not have been much worse. After his loss to Ric Flair at Starrcade 24, Raven disappeared. The Flock clearly had no idea where their charismatic leader was and it left them in chaos. It would have been ideal timing for Regal's stable of British talent to establish itself as the dominant heel stable in World Championship Wrestling, yet it didn't happen because of the tension that Regal himself was creating.
At least Regal's Empire wasn't in tatters. That was what appeared to be happening with the Flock. The two-time world heavyweight champion Ravel held the diverse personalities in his stable together through sheer force of personality. Without him, it came apart at the seams. Two of the longest-tenured members stepped up and attempted to take the helm. Christopher Daniels had been with the group from the beginning, but as his leadership rival Sterling James Keenan pointed out, “The Fallen Angel” had distanced himself from the group through much of the fall. The reason for that was Daniels had begun to try to pursue the world title, which Raven himself still coveted, and Daniels was trying to avoid the direct conflict that would bring with the group's leader. As some of the Flock members began to take sides and it looked liked it could be come a civil war, the Briscoe Brothers began to distance themselves from the group. With the Flock's punk-chic mascot Crazy Christina at their side, they focused on getting back the WCW World Tag Team titles.
In addition to his bid to lead the Flock, Daniels also attempted to assert himself into the world title scene. Despite his failure to take the United States championship from Bryan Danielson at Starrcade, he fancied a shot at Punk. Mid-month, he would interrupt a promo by the new champion and his Saints mini-stable. For his effort, Daniels would get a match with Colt Cabana at The Big Bang to prove himself a contender for the world title.
The feud between Booker T and Kanyon rolled along. The two men were clearly making an effort to inject some intensity into it and they both cut some decent promos, but the fans just didn't seem to be that into it. The feud had become a staple of Break Out but they also got segments on Nitro. There were not many roster members who regularly featured on both shows, so Booker and Kanyon both individually had more airtime through January than any other wrestlers in WCW. All that time was used to build up toward a Street Fight between the two at The Big Bang.
Speaking of Break Out, Nitro was not the only show to be treated to a swanky new set. It necessary as the show mostly had separate tapings now. Even Fallout got a new "in-studio" set. After being co-hosted by Diamond Dallas Page and Matt Striker for most of the latter part of 2006, the new year kicked off with Striker hosting it himself. Despite having been released from the WWE for being "inept on commentary", Striker excelled in WCW. He was well-spoken and obviously very knowledgeable, yet able to relate that knowledge to fans. In addition to hosting Fallout, Striker was part of the Breakout commentary team with Mauro Ranello and Curt Hennig. The trio was very solid and some fans preferred them to the Nitro and PPV team of Mike Tenay, Stan Lane, and Page.
One of the more popular tag teams in WCW looked to be on the very of coming to an end in early 2007. The combination of D'Lo Brown and Antonio Bank$ called themselves “Bang” for their explosive athleticism, plus it was a slight nod at WCW legend Diamond Dallas Page. After holding the tag team titles for a short time the year before, they had remained in the tag title scene through much of 2006. There had been some teases through 2006 of them going their separate ways but it never actually happened. But when Bank$ was offered a shot at Bryan Danielson's United States championship, he jumped it – clearly eager to prove himself as a singles wrestler. It appeared that Bang might be coming to its end.
That would probably be a good thing for Bank$. He was a quiet success story for WCW and some felt he could potentially reach the main event level. Bank$ had been one of the earliest signings to WCW's developmental system back in early 2003. He was pushed in the early days of the AWA, getting over with fans due to solid microphone skills and a brash attitude. Unfortunately, the 30 year old was inexperienced and very green. He ended up being put through a Chicago Power Plant class in mid-2003 to fortify his fundamentals and basics in the ring, which lead to a significant improvement in his ring work. When he moved onto the WCW roster in late 2004, he was not yet great in the ring but he worked hard to improve and his character work was already very strong. He would be paired with D'Lo in an effort to further improve his ring work, and it was seen as a classic "veteran and youngster" tandem - ironic as D'Lo was just a few years older than Banks... yet he had nearly a decade more experience in the business. By the start of 2007, Banks had improved his ring-work markedly, which had earned him the respect of fans, some of whom had derided him years earlier as being "just a character and not a wrestler". He was obviously not on the level of Danielson or Punk, but he could be relied upon to have good matches with almost any opponent, even someone inexperienced and green. Given his improvement and a character that was over with the WCW fans, Bank$ was an easy pick for someone who looked set to get a push up the card through 2007.
A small historical note - not long after WCW successfully put Banks through the Chicago Power Plant to improve his basics, they tried the same thing with another green wrestler by the name of Ken Anderson. It did not work as well. Even after going through the Power Plant, he remained fundamental unsound. To use the technical term applied by one of the AWA trainers, "sloppy as pigshit". Anderson would be released a short time after returning to the AWA. He would end up in the WWE, and is now a burgeoning star for them as "Mr. Kennedy"... though he is still considered quite sloppy and imprecise in the ring.
Regarding the possible dissolution of Bang, it appeared that it would put D'Lo Brown back where he had been a few times since joining WCW - floating in the midcard. At least D'Lo would not be alone in that regard, as many of the more experienced vets on the WCW roster often ended up in that position. Dustin Rhodes, Billy Kidman, Shane Helms, Adam Pearce, and even former world champions Booker T and Kanyon. They all still got matches, won regularly, and got some mid-level feuds. But feuding over the TV title seemed like a drop for guys that some fans felt should be near the world title. The reality was that an overt focus on developing new stars meant something had to give and these vets seemed to "suffer" for it.
The cruiserweight division was as exciting and diverse as always, with both the new WCW Cruiserweight champion and Tag Team Cruiserweight champions being called upon to defend the belts frequently on Break Out. There was a lack of clear-cut top contenders, so both the singles and tag team champions would be called upon to defend their belts at The Big Bang in mulit-man matches. To an extra edge, Nash made the three-team tag title match into a ladder match. Full Throttle would take on the team they had beaten for the belts, Emblem, as well as a team that was one of the best the cruiserweight tag division had seen in the Havana Pitbulls. "The Crown Prince" Fergal Devitt would have to take on Low Ki, Austin Aries, and Jamie Noble.
Back in mid-December on Break Out, then-Cruiserweight champion had a match against an opponent who was considered to be a low-level cruiserweight jobber. The match became something more. It took the hard-hitting champion nearly a dozen minutes to get the win over his opponent. The youngster who gave the champ problems was Frankie Arion, a stocky 21-year who was undersized even by cruiserweight standards. He had been signed to a developmental deal in early 2006 and had been working occasionally on WCW shows through the last few months of the year. He always lost but he never went down easy. Against Low Ki, he took that to another level, battling hard against the surprised champion. It took a vicious-looking series of kicks to keep Arion down. Through January, Arion became a regular on Break Out, always losing but always battling intensely. Every time he picked himself up off the mat, the crowd popped a little bit more for his gritty determination. Something was going on with the young cruiserweight, though it wasn't clear yet what.
There was only three weeks to build up the feuds for the pay per view rather than the customary four, as The Big Bang 2007 took place on January 21st. WCW typically held their pay per views at the end of the month but bumped this one forward a week due to the WWE Royal Rumble. Moving TBB back would have typically been an option but WCW was heading overseas in early February. Given that most of the feuds were already established, the shorter build didn't hurt them much. With the strength of Starrcade 24 at the very end of 2006, there was much hope that The Big Bang would not only be another strong event for WCW but that it could also give a kickstart to some business growth for the promotion.
In most ways, The Big Bang 2007 was a prototypical pay per view event for World Championship Wrestling. That is primary a good thing. That meant one or two truly standout matches, one or two that disappointed to some degree, and everything else was solid. The high quality in-ring action also mostly featured relatively-decisive finishes. The standout match was actually the opener, as the Calgary Bulldogs successfully defended the WCW World Tag Team belts against the Briscoe Brothers in an excellent match. The surprise on the card was Sterling James Keenan taking a win over D'Lo Brown in a rather mediocre match. The Street Fight between Booker T and Kanyon was also merely okay to many. “The American Dragon” defeated Antonio Bank$ in a great match. The main event went thirty minutes and had some great moments but it just didn't flow, at least not in comparison to the matches that Punk and Joe had put on through late 2006. Punk and Styles worked together in the first half of the match to inflict damage to the big former champion, which limited Joe in the later going. He delivered a Muscle Buster to Styles but before he could pin, the champ hit a blindside drop kick on Joe that sent him through the ropes to the floor below. Punk quickly hit a Go-2-Sleep on Styles and got the pin. It was not the most honourable win for the babyface champion but he kept the belt.
One of the more interesting moments on the pay per view was Ric Flair coming down to the ring for a promo early in the show. He came alone, without any of his Horsemen cohorts. “The Nature Boy” told the Washington crowd that he was not there as a representative of the Four Horsemen but as the embodiment of the history of World Championship Wrestling. And he was there to introduce the future. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor played out and walked a young man by the name of Jack Swagger. Tall, blond handsome, and athletic, he was stylish dressed in dress pants, dress shirt, and tie. Smiling gregariously, he make his way into the ring to minimal reaction from the fans. Swagger took a moment to address the fans, standing beside the legendary Flair in the ring. Swagger spoke clearly and confidently, but he had a rather notable lisp. He thanked World Championship Wrestling for giving him the opportunity to pursue his dream and he promised that he would work hard to earn the fans' respect.
The lack of reaction to the unknown wrestler was understandable, but it symptomatic of what the fans did through the whole show. It was a good-sized crowd, nearly ten thousand fans filling the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena near to capacity. But they were quiet through much of the show. They would react loudly for big moments, then quiet down again. They would come to life for the last few matches, but mundane crowd definitely took away from the rest of the show. As one reviewer would comment, it would more akin to a prototypical Japanese crowd than an American one.
The hopes that The Big Bang would jump start business proved false. The Big Bang was certainly a solid show, despite the fans. Yet the increase in business for January overall from the year prior was minimal. Rather than focus on that aspect and the frustrations it must have brought, WCW management continued to focus on putting out the best pro wrestling product they could. Because in terms of producing top-quality wrestling action, business was booming. And things were going to continue to get more interesting for World Championship Wrestling.
The Big Bang 2007
January 21, 2007
Theme: “Here it Goes Again” by OK Go
Calgary Bulldogs (c) d. The Briscoe Brothers for the WCW World Tag Team championships
Colt Cabana d. Christopher Daniels
Full Throttle (c) d. Emblem & The Havana Pitbulls in a Three-way Ladder Dance for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team championships
Sterling James Keenan d. D'Lo Brown
Ric Flair, James Storm & BJ Whitmer d. Paul Burchill, Nigel McGuiness & Doug Williams
Prince Devitt (c) d. Austin Aries, Jamie Joble & Low Ki in a Four-Way Dance for the WCW Cruiserweight championship
Kanyon d. Booker T in a Street Fight
Sting d. Steven Regal
Bryan Danielson (c) d. Antonio Bank$ for the WCW United States championship
CM Punk (c) d. Samoa Joe & AJ Styles in a Three-way Dance for the WCW World Heavyweight championship