February 14th, 2007 provided World Championship Wrestling with a marquee moment in the history of the promotion. Not because it was Valentine's Day but because that was the day that the promotion officially opened its brand new headquarters in Aurora, Illinois.
When WCW had relocated to the suburb of Chicago some four years before, they leased a moderate-sized office building in a commercial-industrial area of the city. It was a nice enough office and it served the promotion well. But as the promotion gained back at least a bit of the prominence and prestige it had once held but lost, its needs evolved as well. WCW did not really outgrow the first office in Aurora in terms of needing more space, but they did in terms of needing a more impressive home.
The new building was not that far from the old office but the area was nicer and more prestigious. The facia and profile of the new building were a mix of traditional red brick and sleek modernity of glass and steel. There was symbolism there intended by the architect and by Beasley Burrows Sanford, as the mix reflected the internal perception of WCW's product. The four-story building had more than ten thousand square feet of office space, an underground video vault, a small production studio, and a full editing suite. Much of the main floor was an open atrium that would be open to the public and used to house the WCW Hall of Fame and memorabilia. The crowning finish to the building were a pair of aluminium sculptures on the wide expanse of lawn in front of the building.
WCW had commissioned a renowned local metalworker to create the first of the two sculptures, which was a 6-foot tall version of the current WCW logo. It turned out the metalworker was a big WCW fan so he made a second piece as well – a five foot tall, ten foot wide sculpture of the iconic “Big Gold Belt”, with a brushed copper front plate to emulate the gold plate. The massive version of the Big Gold Belt was a gift and a surprising one. The two sculptures marked out WCW's new territory quite effectively.
Because the building was set back on the larger property a bit, the promotion had to have a short approach lane built. In a nice gesture from the city, Aurora named it Championship Lane. So the official address of the new WCW head office became 1 Championship Lane. The new office was, in a fit of creativity, dubbed WCW HQ. It was one of the last legacies of Beasley Burrows Sanford. He received permission from the Perfect Storm ownership group in the middle of 2005, not long after the move from Fox Sports Net to Spike TV for Nitro was agreed. The land was purchased and planing begun. The cost of such an office would clearly not be insignificant and for the first time since the new ownership group took over late 2002, World Championship Wrestling took on debt. As a private company, it has never been made public how much money had to be borrowed or how it was done. There have long been rumors that Sanford was able to secure a low-interest or even no-interest loan from own the wealthy foursome who made up Perfect Storm Global Productions. Such conjecture has never been confirmed by anyone within WCW, nor would such financial details every likely be.
Given that the new office was set in motion by Sanford, it was only fitting that he was there on the day it was opened. The ceremony was also attend by all four Perfect Storm investors. It was worth noting as it was the first time any of the four had direct public interaction with the company they collectively owned. Some fans took that to represent some kind of embarrassment over owning WCW, while others simply recognized that the foursome didn't want their involvement to have an affect on the company, especially since one of them had celebrity status to some degree (Mark Cuban).
Many fans questioned how World Championship Wrestling could manage to spend millions of dollars on a new head office building when they could not afford to pay the talent adequately. It's a fair question... to an extent. The continual accusations of WCW underpaying talent seem to be unfounded. The promotion did not pay its top talent equal to what the WWE paid their top talent, but given the discrepancy in overall incomes of the two companies, that is only logical. That said, it still does seem out of character for a promotion that exhibits such strict financial restraint to make what many saw as a luxury investment.
And that, essentially, is where the external perception and the internal logic of WCW differ. According to several company insiders, the new office building was not viewed by those within the front office as a luxury but rather a necessity. One WCW executive commented, "The WWE is a massive global entertainment corporation. We aren't and are not trying to be. We do wrestling and that's it. But we do have business partners from all over the globe. When you have a TV exec from Germany, or maybe a video game developer from Japan... when someone like that wants to see your operation first hand and in person for themselves, having a really basic office complex is a definite detriment. It creates a negative perception. Perhaps it shouldn't... but it does." Having an shiny, impressive new facility for the headquarters also bespoke of long-term stability for the company as well.
If a nicer office provides the company with a more impressive status in dealing with business partners from around the globe, simply leasing a better location is a logical option. And one apparently considered. A building owned by the promotion provided another very real benefit - equity. Even with the debt it required, WCW HQ increased the value of the promotion significantly. The potential sale value of the promotion after the new office was completed was significantly higher than if WCW had remained debt free and leasing a location for its head office. That did not mean that the ownership group was looking to sell, but simply that they understood corporate financial realities.
While the new head office for World Championship Wrestling was a great moment for the company and of great interest to a small segment of fans, it meant very little to the majority of WCW fans. So long as WCW continued to product high-quality wrestling week to week, those fans were relatively content.
It is perhaps worth noting that the opening ceremony on Valentine's Day was attended by very few actual WCW wrestlers. This was not some kind of show of disrespect by WCW management. Rather, it was because most of the roster was on an overseas tour through the United Kingdom and Germany. They would spend most of the month there, running a series of well-regarded shows in front of rabid fans in sold-out arenas. The timing worked out nicely with The Big Bang being midway through January rather than right at the end. Late in January, was was able to run several nights of Nitro and Break Out tapings. The roster left right at the beginning of the month.
There was one glaring absence from the list of names on the tour – CM Punk. As the WCW World Heavyweight champion and one of the promotions most popular stars, he was expected the headline the tour. The advertising for the tour revolved around him. The champion was apparently not feeling well in the days before the tour departed, so he went to see a doctor. The reason he had been feeling “under the weather” was an infection in his throat that was moving down into his chest. The doctor would not allow Punk to travel, and subsequently he was pulled out of the tour on just two days notice. He would also miss the WCW HQ opening ceremony as he was hospitalized for several days mid-month to be given additional fluids. There have been suggestions that Punk refused to take any meditations for the infection due to his straight edge beliefs, but this has never been confirmed and would be a very questionable decision by Punk if it was true.
World Championship Wresting management had serious concerns over the health of their top star. He was not given medical clearance to wrestle again until just a few days before the SuperBrawl pay per view. Insiders indicate that there was still some discussion of holding the champion out of the event, just to be sure, but Punk was determined to wrestle.
One of the most interesting aspects of Punk missing the UK tour are unconfirmed reports that he received some backstage heat over it. That seems a big tough to accept, given the medical situation that caused it. The thought there was apparently that Punk should have “tried to work through it”, despite the hospitalization clearly proving how serious the illness actually was. This is one of the rumors that seems so illogical that it may simply be a dirt sheet or fan creation. But if there is any accuracy to it, it may show that there was not quite the strong degree of backstage solitary that some believed in WCW. Or perhaps that there was lingering jealousy over the new stars being created by the promotion.
Despite the absence of the world champion, the tour of England and Germany was a marked success for World Championship Wrestling. Most of the shows sold out. Although the tour stuck mostly to mid-size arenas (few larger than 10,000), WCW may have been able to successfully sell out larger venues in some of the major cities they visited. The matches were said to be of consistent outstanding quality. It should be no surprise that the English (and Irish, in the case of Devitt) contingent featured heavily on the tour, with Steven Regal headlining several shows against the likes of AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. WCW also brought in a few "local" talents for some of the shows, including Martin Stone, Alex Shane, Zack Sabre, and Darren Burridge. While the UK talent who came in are reported to have impressed, none were offered deals with WCW.
Since late 2003, WCW had done two to three overseas tours per year - usually visiting Japan, the United Kingdom (and always Germany at the same time), and Australia. They typically used the same format - doing a block of Nitro tapings before leaving, which was then used for Nitro and Breakout through the month. The process was relatively smooth and simple by early 2007, yet the shows that resulted always seemed to be a bit lacklustre. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for this, and it may be down to a smaller, more muted crowd for the large block tapings as compared to what WCW typically drew for regularly weekly Nitro tapings. Whatever the reason, it meant that February was a fairly mediocre month for Nitro, which reflected in the ratings dropped a bit. That is not to say there wasn't a lot going on, though.
CM Punk was once again front-and-center on Nitro. He had his Second City Saints cohorts at his side as he proclaimed he had "killed two birds with one straight-edge stone". He claimed that after defeating both Samoa Joe and AJ Styles at The Big Bang, there was no one left in WCW who had a legitimate claim to challenge Punk for the Big Gold Belt. The champ did have a point, through - no one else was really positioned as a real contender for the world title. Daniels had lost to Cabana and Regal had just lost to Sting. "The Icon" always made for a legitimate challenger, but he was actually leaving on another of his regular hiatuses. Raven was similarly absent and had been since Starrcade. Kanyon had the world championship pedigree but wasn't coming out of his feud with Booker T with that much momentum and he had been out of the world title scene for some time, so he would hardly make an ideal challenger. So much like in January, it was down to a choice between Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. While some fans derided this repetition and thought WCW had booked themselves into a corner, this was actually purported to be intentional rather than seen by WCW creative as a "problem".
February featured a couple weeks of debate - "Joe or AJ?" The WCW homepage even let fans vote for their choice, though there is no indication that their votes ever counted for anything. Styles and Flair cut several promos, laying out quite eloquently why AJ made the better challenger for Punk's belt. Samoa Joe wasn't really eloquent because he really didn't talk much, so he was never going to win the verbal battle with the Horsemen. On the February 14th Nitro, Kevin Nash declared he had been "adequately persuaded" and named AJ Styles the man to challenge CM Punk at SuperBrawl. There was a lingering impression given that it taken had more than words to persuade the Nitro Commissioner. Samoa Joe was not left entirely out in the cold – he would be given a match at SuperBrawl against Punk's close friend, Colt Cabana.
There was at least one other wrestler in WCW who would have made for a legitimate world title contender – Bryan Danielson. With his victory over Antonio Bank$, the U.S. title reign of “American Dragon” had surpassed the one-year mark. By the point of SuperBrawl, he had passed the Rick Rude's 378 day reign in 1991 and 1992 as the second longest in the history of the belt. He hinted more than once that he would covet a chance at the world title, but his position below Styles in the Horseman made that... difficult. When Danielson hinted at his world title desires in February, he was outright chastised by Flair for worrying about the world title instead of focusing on his own title.
Danielson would be called upon to defend his United States championship against Sterling James Keenan. The long-time cruiserweight standout seemed to have fully moved up from the division as his cold war with Christopher Daniels over leadership of The Flock heated up. They still came out for promos all together but Daniels and Keenan would essentially compete over mic time during a given promo, making for a strange dynamic. Keenan scored wins over Ace Steel and Billy Kidman through the month of February, which gave him some “heavyweight” credibility heading into SuperBrawl. Still, moving up from the cruiserweight division to competing for the US title in a two month period made for a pretty quick step up.
Notably absent from any group promos by The Flock were the Briscoe Brothers. And the mo-hawked punk-chick Christina who had begun hanging around the Flock in the last bit of 2006. After having been heels since they joined WCW full time in early 2004, the brothers were slowing becoming fan favorites and it seemed to happen simply because the fans grew to support the dynamic team. The brothers wanted nothing to do with a civil war within The Flock. Rather, they were intently focused on regaining the WCW World Tag Team belts. After having fallen just short at The Big Bang, they wanted another chance. They would face the Montreal Mafia on Nitro to determine who would get the next shot at the Calgary Bulldogs, but as the match had no clear winners, both of those teams would face the Bulldogs at SuperBrawl. Pure Southern Pride were demanding a title shot as well, but they would have get through Union Jacked to earn it.
The February 14th Nitro featured an interesting moment with Steven Regal. The English star came down to the ring without his Empire stable but there was a technical snafu with his theme. Regal typically walked out to “God Save the Queen”, which allowed him to be the aristocratic height of haughtiness. Immediately after he emerged from the brightly-flashing LED-ringed walkway, the theme restarted, then restarted again as he made it to the ring. Rather than cut a promo on Kanyon, who had taken a surprise win over Regal the week before, the leader of the Empire would spend five minutes berating the WCW technical staff over the theme error, which morphed into a rant on the inefficiencies and ineptitude he believed were prevalent and even accepted in American society. There were some fans who actually believed it was a real technical error and a shoot promo, which ignored the fact that the Nitro had been taped weeks before. Regal would learn that you don't piss off the technical support staff. The following Nitro, his theme was “Tubthumping” by Chumbawanba and then “The Neutron Dance” by The Point Sisters. In between those two, at the SuperBrawl pay per view, it was “Material Girl” by Madonna. Regal was irate but as Kevin Nash would do nothing to intervene, there was little the English grappler could do.
The plight of Steven Regal was a reminder that World Championship Wrestling did provide humor. That seemed to be a common criticism of the promotion's product, though not an entirely accurate one. WCW did not provide humor in the same manner as the WWE, which still tended to rely on really camp jokes or toilet humor. WCW tended to use more situational irony that was more subtle. Though there was not much subtle about poor Steven Regal trying to remain dignified and composed while walking down to the ring to “Material Girl” at SuperBrawl.
The WCW career of Jack Swagger got underway in February. His first match was on the February 14th Nitro against Jamie Noble. He would also have a match on the February 21st Nitro and one on an episode of Break Out. The other two were against lesser opponents than Noble, but Swagger was triumphant in all three matches. He did not look like a wrestler just six months into his career. Swagger had a unique combination of size and quickness, was already able to use both this power and speed quite effectively, and he used his amateur wrestling background well in spots but without being overly reliant on it. He won all three of his matches with different submission holds, showcasing his diversity. The fine young man showed his patriotism by wearing a red, white, and blue doublet, plus he shook the hand of each opponent before and after the match in a show of respect unusual even for WCW. Swagger also debuted his “signature pose” - facing away from the camera, head bowed, with right arm raised as in victory. WCW was clearly putting some effort into building the young man but the question was whether fans would buy it.
As WCW began to try to build a new superstar, a legendary one took another hiatus. After his win over Steven Regal at The Big Bang, Sting again disappeared from WCW television. The hope internally was apparently that he would return for another feud of some type for The Great American Bash, though Sting would reportedly never commit to a time-frame much in advance. Raven was also on a hiatus, the 43-year old taking a bit of time away... thought not entirely. Raven played a key creative role for WCW, second only to Lance Storm in the creative hierarchy. So he was still around backstage in early 2007. He was simply not wrestling or travelling. With the UK tour, he got to spend almost all of February at home.
There were two interesting dynamics in the cruiserweight ranks through February. The first was the very gradual face-turn of Fergal Devitt. "The Crown Prince" had been a heel since he had debuted in WCW, yet that was more by his association with Regal's hated Empire than his own actions. Devitt's combination of charisma and in-ring excitement was undeniable and he began to gain the support of the fans. This was very clear when his opponent for SuperBrawl would be the much-hated and endlessly-arrogant Austin Aries. As for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team champions, they continued clearly began to have issues. Lack of communication between Burke and Skipper lead to the duo losing a non-title match on Break Out to the Dragons. That set up a rematch for the belts at SuperBrawl, but Full Throttle seemed to be as likely to end up fighting each other as their opponents.
In January, a solid month of tapings had built toward The Big Bang in Spokane that had a mediocre crowd. In February, a mediocre crowd for the Nitro tapings somehow resulted in a great crowd for SuperBrawl 2007. Having returned from the tour of the United Kingdom and Germany, WCW went right back to the American west coast, with the pay per view held in Portland, Oregon. It wasn't a particularly large crowd as the event did not sell out, but they were definitely loud and boisterous throughout the pay per view.
SuperBrawl 2007 is probably best remembered for being a really solid card top to bottom. There were no truly disappointing matches, but there also wasn't any true standouts either. The tag team opener between Pure Southern Pride and Union Jacked was the closest. It was a really good tag match, but there was never a shortage of those in WCW. The main event between CM Punk and AJ Styles was also very solid, but just not on the same level as the encounters between Punk and Joe. Despite Flair getting involved in the match, Punk managed to retain his belt. The only belt that did actually change hands was the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team championships, won by The Dragons when Skipper and Burke began arguing during the match.
Perhaps the most memorable moment on SuperBrawl 2007 was an attack on Samoa Joe. Well into his match against Colt Cabana, a big fan in a red hooded sweatshirt jumped the security barrier and waylaid Joe on the floor with a vicious-looking spear. Chaos ensued. A number of WCW security officials swarmed the area, grabbing the fan. Referee Scott Armstrong ended the match and after a bit of confusion, gave the match to Joe via disqualification. Cabana argued with the ref while medical personnel checked on Joe and the “fan” was dragged from the arena. His hood came down, revealing former ECW and WWE wrestler Rhino. The chaotic scene had some fans convinced that it was “real”, although the reality of it being a planned work could be deduced from the commentary crew recognizing and naming Rhino.
SuperBrawl 2007 was another very solid event for World Championship Wrestling. It was not the best month in regard to business but that was reportedly not a real concern to WCW management. Its typical of months where overseas tours cause block TV tapings, and the success of the overseas tour itself more than makes up for a slight dip in TV ratings.
With the new head office opening and the overseas tour, it may be easy to expect that it was an otherwise-quiet month for the World Championship Wrestling front office. That would be far from accurate, however. It was a very busy month for Tully Blanchard and Lance Storm. With the annual W1 “King of the Cruisers” tournament coming up in April, the front office was already working diligently to bring in outside talent for that. But they were also working to secure new talent for the WCW roster at the same time.
WCW had long been pursuing the idea of signing a top-level worker from Japan, an idea which had resulted in the world title reign of Shinya Hashimoto back in 2004. The hope was that it would give the American promotion a stronger foothold in Japan, something that even the WWE lacked. They did not necessarily need to sign or create a true star who would become a world champion like Hashimoto had, but someone who could at very least be a solid midcarder. WCW had Kaz Hayashi and Jimmy Yang in the cruiserweight division but Hayashi had mostly worked for the "indy" promotions in Japan and Yang was actually American-born. WCW also had "young lions" Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito on-loan from New Japan but both would be returning to their home promotion at some point. As previously mentioned, a complicating factor in the search was the loyalty that Japanese wrestlers had to their home promotions. While it may seem foreign to many American wrestling fans, that loyalty was a powerful factor and its why the rare occasions that a wrestler did switch promotions were shocking - such as Keiji Mutoh leaving New Japan for All Japan in 2002. That factor alone meant it was unlikely that WCW could sign an existing star such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, let alone having to consider what such a move could potentially due to relations between WCW and the home promotion. Kensuke Sasaki was an obvious option as he was already a freelancer and therefore unattached to any promotion, plus he had worked for WCW in the past, but he was apparently unwilling to relocate to the United State. New Japan's Naofumi Yamamoto was reportedly an option as he was willing to relocate and his loss would not anger New Japan, but he was more cruiserweight size. In mid-February, WCW finally found the "right" worker who was willing to relocate to the United States and sign a long-term contract... Daisuke Sekimoto.
Sekimoto was not a name that would familiar to the average puroresu fan. He did not work for New Japan, All Japan, Noah, or even DragonGate. Rather, he worked for Big Japan and Pro Wrestling Zero-1. His "home" promotion was considered to be Big Japan, which specialized in violent and bloody deathmatches. Sekimoto was basically an "indy star" in Japan, the rough equivalent of someone in America who headlined for Ring of Honor or Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Despite the focus of Big Japan, Sekimoto was a solid wrestler. He was a power wrestler, which is not surprising considering his build. Only about 5'9", he was around 240 pounds - very stocky and barrel-chested. While he was seen as a solid worker, he was not really outstanding, and it was questionable whether he would have the charisma to really get over with the American fans.
WCW's search through the world of luchalibre came to fruition in February as well. Though it was not to end quite how anyone expected it to. According to multiple company insiders, the search was essentially for “the new Rey Mysterio”. Or perhaps the “new Eddie Guerrero”. As much as either of those things were possible. Yet the signing would be someone who was close no neither. Dos Caras Jr was not a cruiserweight – he was 6'5” and 240 pounds. The 29-year old was the nephew of lucha legend Mil Marascas had been one of the main technicos in CMLL the past few years. He had a number of professional MMA fights under his belt, including a highlight-reel knockout loss to feared Croatian striker Mirko “Crocop” via a vicious head-kick. Caras was definitely athletic but not a high flier, and he would almost certainly come into WCW as a heavyweight. The big question was whether he would work under a mask or not. He would spent at least a bit of time in the AWA rather than move directly to the WCW roster, and he would work under a mask there to start with.
The man that many pegged as “the new Rey Mysterio” had negotiations with WCW as well. Talks had actually been on-going for quite some time. Yet the promotion simply could not agree a deal with with lucha star Mistico. Although it was very likely he would once again be part of the W1 tournament, it seemed increasingly unlikely he would join on a more permanent basis. WCW insiders indicate that Mistico was demanding guaranteed money that would put him on the same level as the top earners in the company. As important as he could be to WCW in regard to the wrestling market in Mexico, that kind of investment just didn't make sense as he was not expected to be more than a top cruiserweight. It likely did not help Mistico's asking price that there were regular rumors of the WWE being “very interested” in him.
Plans have a way of changing. That was the case with the WCW women's division. Which is not to say that the promotion had abandoned the idea. Rather, things were simply delayed. At the heart of the delay was Chris Sabin. Indirectly. World Championship Wrestling reportedly had thoughts of raiding TNA's Knockouts division for talent for their own division. However, WCW signing cruiserweight Chris Sabin away from TNA in late 2006 had soured relations between the two promotions to some degree. Anticipating what WCW had intended, several of the Knockouts were signed to exclusive long term contracts that made them unavailable. The others could have been signed away, but TNA management made it clear to WCW management that further talent acquisitions from the TNA roster would end any existing positive relations between the two. Though the relationship was hardly vital to WCW, the Knockouts that could have been signed were deemed not to be worth the trouble. So WCW sought other options. The move toward a full division of women's talent was delayed as WCW sought to supplement the talent they had already signed with additional women's wrestlers.
On the same day that most of the WCW roster headed overseas, HDNet began to advertise for another live Clash of the Champions event on the network. Scheduled for March 10th, it would be the 41st Clash event. The advertisement made reference to the return of WCW's World War III match but gave few other details. With another Clash of the Champions, the debut of Rhino, the reign of Punk, and another edition of the W1 just over the horizon, March looked to be an interesting month for World Championship Wrestling.
February 25, 2007
Theme: “What I've Done” by Linkin Park
Pure Southern Pride d. Union Jacked
Paul Burchill (c) d. Dustin Rhodes for the WCW Television championship
Prince Devitt (c) d. Austin Aries for the WCW Cruiserweight championship
Antonio Banks d. Adam Pearce
The Dragons d. Full Throttle (c) for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team championships
Steven Regal d. Kanyon
Bryan Danielson (c) d. Sterling James Keenan for the WCW United States championship
The Calgary Bulldogs (c) d. The Briscoe Brothers & Montreal Mafia in a Three-Way Tag Dance for the WCW World Tag Team championships
Samoa Joe d. Colt Cabana via Disqualification
CM Punk (c) d. AJ Styles for the WCW World Heavyweight championship
The CM Punk stuff... is going somewhere...
You know, looking at your WCW roster versus the one I envisioned for my aborted dynasty, I have to say: You've got a much larger roster composed of a much more diverse talents of IRL Japan-exclusives + indy talents + ex-WWE talents. I looked to raid ROH/TNA for the most part, and ignored a lot of, if not most ex-WWE talents.
As for the size of the roster, it felt really big when I first laid it out but I had to consider that WCW is doing for hours of TV a week. TNA has 40 guys right now by quick count and they only have 2 hours. A roster the size of WCW would mean that some guys wouldn't get that much exposure on TV, even with 4 hours, but I'm okay with that. I wanted to have some "low level" guys who are mostly there to job.
A New War
March saw the conclusion of a process that had begun a full year before. Early in the month, the relationship between World Championship Wrestling and the American Wrestling Association would be officially and legally terminated. The announcement of the situation caused confusion, as most fans who were aware of the AWA and even many industry insiders believed that WCW actually owned their developmental promotion. But the situation was... complicated.
When the AWA was resurrected in the spring of 2003, it was not actually done directly by WCW. As the parent promotion, what WCW actually owned was the talent (most of it, at least) and the training facility, plus most of the equipment that was used. They had a co-promotion agreement with Gagne Productions. As the promoter, Gagne was responsible for setting up the shows, arranging venues, advertising the shows – the promotional aspects. Gagne also provided most of the support staff – backstage workers, individuals to work the merchandise stands, and so on. The actually American Wrestling Association name and trademarks, including the title belts, were still owned by the Gagne family but leased to Gagne Productions. The co-promotion agreement called for specific sharing of costs and revenues between WCW and Gagne Productions.
So the AWA entity that put on weekly shows in the Chicago area for four years was a combination of the WCW talent and the Gagne promotions. By all reports, World Championship Wrestling never had any real problems with Greg Gagne when he was promoting. Gagne was able to make some money and WCW was able to consistently cover the costs it incurred with the aspects of the AWA they “owned”, so it was a successful co-promotion deal. The problems emerged after he sold the promotion to Dusty Rhodes in early 2006. Gagne Productions was renamed to American Dream Promotions. Rhodes gave up his position with WCW running the promotions developmental system so he could focus full time on promoting the AWA.
Although the sale to Rhodes was where the problems began, the deterioration of the relationship was gradual. The primary source of the antagonism was essentially Dusty's ambition. In mid 2006, he had the idea to put together a series of AWA DVD releases of the best events over the past few years. It was similar to what small promotions like ROH and PWG did, but Dusty wanted to produce them as cheaply as possible so they could be sold for just a few dollars each, rather than $15 or $20 per DVD. Even better, classic AWA matches could be put on the DVDs as extras. There were some key problems with these ideas – WCW owned the footage of all AWA events since the restart in 2003, and WCW also controlled (through a lease) all AWA footage from the territorial era. Suffice to say that the WCW front office was not so keen to simply allow Dusty to use it for his own benefit. Had Rhodes gone to WCW management and requested the use of the footage, offered to pay for its use in some manner, he likely would have been accommodated. Yet because he simply asked one the WCW video archivists for it, world quickly reached Tully Blanchard, and Rhodes was told no.
It was later in 2006 where the relationship became really strained. Since 2003, the AWA had been running one or two shows per week. Most took place in the greater Chicago area, with a few in Wisconsin and occasional ones in Minneapolis. That was insufficient for Rhodes, who felt his AWA should be running 3 or 4 shows per week and covering a much larger area. More shows meant more income and more exposure – keys to growth for Rhodes. This idea didn't work for WCW. The existing arrangement was ideal as it meant the developmental talent were not on the road much and could spend 3 or 4 days per week in the training facility to work with the trainers that were employed there. While the experience in front of a live crowd was key to developing the younger talent, so was spending time honing their skills with the trainers, working on promos, and so on. Given that, WCW blocked the move. Dusty was reportedly furious.
Another breech in the relationship happened at the start of 2007. The highly-regarded young prospect Jack Swagger moved from the Chicago Power Plant to the AWA in August of 2006. Despite being literally just out of initial training, the youngster was pushed and he excelled. Playing an arrogant heel, he got a real reaction from the AWA fans. Attempting to take full advantage of that, Dusty Rhodes booked Swagger to win the AWA World Heavyweight championship in late November. A month later, Swagger moved from the AWA to the main roster full-time. Rhodes was apparently under the belief that Swagger would work for both WCW and the AWA at the same time, but WCW management wanted him to focus on the main roster only. The AWA was forced to vacate their world championship. There are indications that the WCW front office gave Rhodes plenty of notice about the Swagger call-up and that the AWA owner never followed up to determine if it would be possible for the young wrestler to continue on with the developmental promotion in some manner. It was another rift, but the process to divorce the AWA from the WCW was reportedly already underway by this point anyway.
At the start of March, World Championship Wrestling was given legal notice that American Dream Promotions was severing the existing co-promotion relationship with WCW. They were able to do so because WCW had protected itself by inserting a clause in the agreement that gave them the right to terminate the deal if it became “financially damaging to continue the relationship”. And that is what Dusty's lawyers claimed, taking advantage of the fact that it was a reciprocal clause for both parties in the co-promotion agreement. While WCW could have fought the notice legally, they simply accepted it. The reality is that the loss of the AWA name and trademarks was not seen as that damaging by the front office. The process of promoting the shows internally under a new banner was begun and it just meant a few missed shows.
The termination of the co-promotion deal meant that the American Wrestling Association was bereft of most of its talent, as most of the wrestlers had been developmental talent contracted through WCW. Rhodes had a few workers that were contracted directly to AWA and he had begun the process of signing more. He even went so far as to go to the Chicago Power Plant and offer AWA contracts to all the trainees who were there and not already contracted to WCW. Only a few of the trainees took up the offer and all of those who did would end up washing out of the AWA fairly quickly. Beyond that attempted cheap trick, the AWA website would post a vicious and accusatory statement in late March. Though focused mostly on WCW and the now-ended relationship, it also took shots at the WWE and amounted to a declaration of war. The statement was really just a cheap attempt at gaining some attention amongst wrestling fans outside the Midwest, some of whom were unaware that the AWA once again existed.
The drama of the situation made for great dirt sheet fodder, but the reality was that the situation did WCW little harm. They retained all the developmental talent who had been working in the AWA. Some shows were missed and that was really about the extent of the “damage”. It was a minor setback for the WCW developmental system and there was almost nothing that Dusty Rhodes could do to harm WCW, let alone the much-larger WWE. That would not stop Dusty from trying, however.
Back in the early 1990s, Dusty had booked WCW and used the opportunity to push his son Dustin Rhodes. Now fully in charge of the AWA, he immediately began to push his younger son, Cody. The 21-year old was green but had a great look and a great deal of potential. He had finished training in mid 2006 and been signed up on a developmental deal by the WWE, but asked for his release in early 2007. He then signed up with the AWA. It was clear that Dusty was going to build around his younger son. There were also regular rumors that Dustin Rhodes would find a way out of his contract and join. Having returned to WCW in 2006 after a run in WWE as Goldust, Dustin was apparently happy and made no move to switch to his father's promotion.
Beyond the promotional breakup, March offered plenty for the fans of World Championship Wrestling. Questions such as who would challenge CM Punk and why Rhino had attacked Samoa Joe. There was Clash of the Champions XLI and the World War 3 match. Just over the horizon was the ever-popular W1 “King of the Cruisers” tournament.
The February 28th Nitro actually addressed many of the issues at hand. Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash came out to start the episode. He explained that Rhino had been signed by World Championship Wrestling prior to SuperBrawl, but that he was not scheduled to be there. Due to his attack, Rhino would be fined and kept out of the World War 3 match. In WCW, such attacks were relatively rare and they came with consequences. The Commissioner noted that since Samoa Joe had not defeated Colt Cabana at SuperBrawl, he could not be the top contender for Punk's belt but could regain that by winning the WW3. Nash also laid out the rules of the World War 3 match, which would not be the 3-ring, 60-man monstrosity it had been a decade ago. The WW3 match had been devised as World Championship Wrestling's answer to the WWE's Royal Rumble, but it seemed that the new one would be much closer. One ring, 40-entrants coming in with timed entrances, with eliminations over the top rope with both feet touching the floor. The winner would get a match for the WCW World Heavyweight championship at some point in the future, as well as a two hundred thousand dollar purse.
The same episode of Nitro saw Rhino come down to the ring. Wearing street clothes, the big man told the WCW fans they had been told to come out to apologize for his actions at SuperBrawl. But he would not do so. He claimed he had nothing to apologize for. He had attacked Samoa Joe because he was sick and tired of people around the wrestling world claiming that Joe was the most talented monster wrestler around. I find that insulting, Rhino claimed, then he stated that he would prove that there was only one true monster in pro wrestling today. Immediately after that, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica began to play and the crowd roared as Samoa Joe came storming out. He climbed into the ring and went nose-to-nose with Rhino. Before it could erupt into violence, WCW officials and security personnel poured into the ring and separated the two men. The positive reaction that Joe had regarded when he showed up was notable – just like that, he had become a fan favorite and would continue to get a strong positive reaction from fans.
With no clear challenger at the start of the month for CM Punk's World Heavyweight championship, the ever-confident champ took the time to point out that there was no one in WCW to challenge for his belt. He was careful not to bury the promotion's other tops stars, but rather simply talked himself up. After Clash of the Champions, however, Punk would have a challenger to worry about for Hostile Intent at the end of the month.
Since the events were resurrected in 2005, all of the Clash of the Champions events on HDNet had focused heavily on title matches. Which made sense, given the name and history of the event. For XLI, however, there were no major title matches as the primary focus was on the WW3 battle royal match. A special set was built, with no actual stage. The entrance was at ground level, with a platform about a dozen feet forward. The platform was connected to the ring by a 3-foot-wide walkway. The walkway and the platform had a waist-high railing. The platform and walkway both counted as part of the ring for eliminations purposes, so it opened the “playing area” of the match a little bit. Two wrestlers would start in the ring and they would be alone for five minutes. After that, another wrestler would enter every ninety seconds. The order of entry was by “random draw”. According to company insiders, consideration had been given to the idea of having wrestlers enter two at a time, but concerns over the use of entrance music to announce the wrestlers ended up nixing the idea.
Although there were a handful of other matches on the Clash of the Champions card, the clear and obvious focus on the World War 3 match. It would take up more than half of the three-hour card. Before the match began, Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash got a moment in the spotlight to announce the rules to the fans in attendance. The first two competitors were Austin Aries and Antonio Bank$. Before they got the match underway, CM Punk made an appearance to the appreciation of the crowd. Wearing street clothes but carrying the Big Gold Belt, he took a seat the commentary table and provided rather amusing color commentary for the duration of the match. The charismatic champion was definitely a hit with fans watching the broadcast. Finally Aries and Bank$ could get the match underway. The match would be more than an hour old before the last man – James Storm – made it into the ring. There was still another twenty minutes of match after that.
World War 3 had heavy emphasis on stamina, durability, and the ability to avoid being eliminated. Several of the cruiserweights did very well, particularly Aries, “Electric” Alex Shelley, Low Ki, and cruiserweight champion Fergal Devitt. The cruisers were able to pull some rather spectacular moves throughout the match. The match was “every man for himself” but there were plenty of small alliances that formed and dissolved, as well as the expected ones of tag team partners and stable-mates. The powerhouse tag duo who called themselves Badass Inc (Brent Albright and Ryback) worked together to score several eliminations before they were eliminated by the entire Empire. That group didn't really begin to work together until Steven Regal arrived (with “Why Can't We be Friends” by War escorting him to the ring), at which point they became very effective under his direction. Regal allowed himself to become so focused on giving those directions that he was eliminated by a blindside dropkick from AJ Styles. The teamwork of the Empire fell apart after that. The tag team Full Throttle seemed to be completely over when Elijah Burke eliminated Elix Skipper. In the late going, it was mostly “usual suspects” - AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, Fergal Devitt, Christopher Daniels, Sterling James Keenan, Booker T, Paul Burchill, and Samoa Joe. “The Ripper” and “The Samoan Smashing Machine” hammered at each other before Joe finally got the TV champ out. Daniels and Keenan worked to eliminate Styles – while Punk commented that Danielson could have made the save but chose not to (it was definitely debatable as to whether that was accurate). Keenan would sneakily get Daniels out of the ring right after. The final three were Joe, Booker, and Danielson. Booker went for a Book End kick off the second rope, but Joe charged into him and launched the veteran over the top. Down to two. For close to eight minutes, Joe and Danielson battled. There were a number of close calls, and they ended up on the narrow walkway. A high release suplex from Joe finally got “American Dragon” over the rope and onto the floor. The US champion landed hard but seemed okay.
The match was followed by a presentation ceremony, where Joe was given a trophy and a ceremonial giant check for two hundred thousand dollars. After a brief discussion between Joe and Nash, the Nitro Commissioner announced that the former champion would take the title shot he had just earned at Hostile Intent 2007. CM Punk versus Samoa Joe one more time.
Clash of the Champions XLI was a solid success. It drew great ratings... by HDNet standards. While some fans were quick to write off the resurrected World War 3 match as a “Rumble ripoff”, the battle royal was enjoyed by most. It looked set to become a regular feature for the promotion, likely an annual happening. There have been suggestions that World Championship Wrestling didn't create the altered World War 3 match out of their own desire to update a piece of WCW history but were rather pushed toward it by HDNet, which wanted some WCW signature events as part of their programming. Given that the event was on HDNet, the majority of the WCW fanbase did not have access to watch the event live – as an HD-only speciality channel, the network still had a very small broadcasting base compared to even most cable broadcasters. Recognizing this, the promotion would put the event on the WCW website and on the Youtube page as well. HDNet was not always cooperative in such regard, but this time, they even allowed WCW to show highlights of the World War 3 match on Nitro on Spike TV later in March.
There was only a couple of weeks to build up the main event of Hostile Intent... though in truth, CM Punk versus Samoa Joe hardly needed much build at all. Given the abrupt face-turn of Joe at the end of February, it was now a battles of fan favorites. The situation was complicated by the presence of Rhino in WCW and the fact that “The War Machine” had targeted Joe. He was dominant in his first WCW match, decimating Kenny Phoenix and then calling out Joe. It did not allow the big former champion to focus on the task at hand, which CM Punk seemed perfectly okay with.
If the world title scene was “old hat” for many fans, much of what else was going on offered plenty of new. For many, the highlight was the feud between Bryan Danielson and Antonio Bank$ over the WCW United States championship. Like the world title feud, it was essentially two fan favorites, yet their approaches differed and so did their fans. It is interesting to note that Bank$ had already been the US for a short period in late 2005, when he was still further down the card. He was now closer to the main event scene yet still going after the same belt – which showed just how much “American Dragon” had elevated the belt in his year-plus reign. “Money” Bank$ cut some great promos in the build, easily the best of his career thus far and enough to convince many fans that he would make a capable world champion in the not-so-distant future. On the champions side, the feud created an interesting dynamic with the Four Horsemen as the feud seemed to catapult Danielson above Styles, at least for a time. Flair continued to encourage Danielson to focus on his US title, clearly favoring Styles in that regard. Yet it was equally clear that Danielson had one eye on the Big Gold Belt, a fact only emphasized by his near-victory in the World War 3 match. That didn't take away from the intensity of his feud with Bank$, and as “American Dragon” was continually getting better on the microphone, he cut some pretty solid promos of his own in response to “Money”.
Styles ended up in a minor feud with Booker T. Despite losing in the blow-off to his lengthy feud with Kanyon, Booker felt he still deserved a shot at CM Punk's world title. The Horsemen disagreed. On Nitro, Flair cut an over-the-top, insane promo and was more than willing to step into the ring against Booker but Styles interceded and the two former champions would battle at Hostile Intent.
The scene around the tag team titles continued to be jumbled and messy, but not at all in a bad way. Rather, it was indicative of how many strong tag teams the division had. Pure Southern Pride had earned a shot at the belts that the Calgary Bulldogs held, which made for a very tasty match. The Briscoe Brothers still wanted another shot, but they ended up feuding with their former Flock stable-mates. After cleanly defeating the imposing combination of Mike Knox and Brodie Lee on Nitro, they were challenged by the dysfunctional dual-leaders of the group, Christopher Daniels and Sterling James Keenan.
The division looked to be getting even more cramped as there were some promising young teams in World Championship Wrestling. The tandem who called themselves Badass Inc – Brent Albright and Ryback – had made an impact in the World War 3 match. That Lacey had aligned herself with them in late 2006 said something of their potential. The duo of Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero had come together for the 2006 W2 in November and were slowly evolving into a very promising tandem as well. Their motor-mouthed manager Larry Sweeney cut some great promos on Break Out as he made outrageous promises for the future of the team he called “Sweet n' Sour”.
The cruiserweight division was as active and dynamic as usual. The breakup of Full Throttle was a key storyline, with Elijah Burke attacking his former partner on Break Out after he had eliminated him in the WW3 match as well. They would face each other at Hostile Intent. There were a number of possible challengers for Fergal Devitt's Cruiserweight championship, so rather decide, the “Crown Prince” would defend his belt in a six-man match at the pay per view. Frankie Arion continued to wrestler regularly on Break Out... and he continued to lose.
World Championship Wrestling also debuted a new cruiserweight in March. He was a freelance luchadore from Mexico who worked under the name of Freelance. He had also worked as Panterita until he lost his mask in mid 2006. The wrestler was small even for a cruiserweight, small enough to make Frankie Arion or a young Rey Mysterio look sturdy. Yet he was dynamic and took big risks, which is what caught the eye of WCW scouts. The intent was debut him in the W1 tournament as he had been working in the AWA since late 2006, but the situation with Rhodes and the AWA lead management to debut him a bit earlier. More polished than most of the developmental prospects, it made sense. According to insiders, there was some internal debate within World Championship Wrestling as to whether he should be put back under a mask – the marketing possibilities were enticing – but the final decision was to have him work without a mask. He debuted on Break Out, billed as Johnny Riesgo, in a loss to Austin Aries.
WCW management did reportedly look at the possibility of bringing up other prospects they had in their developmental system due to the break with the AWA. There were several concerns, including the possibility of bloating the main roster as well as the issue of having new talent come in without clear role and intent. Since the process of “replacing” the AWA was well underway, the developmental talent was kept in Chicago at the WCW-owned training facility and plans to bring up the prospects at the “right” time were kept intact. In hindsight, it is easy to see this as the clearly correct decision.
In regard to top prospects, it was just a month into the WCW career of Jack Swagger and there was already some backlash. It was not as if the WCW fans were rejecting him, but rather some “smark” fans who were not happy with the push of “The American Tiger”. There was a presumption that he would be given a monster push, akin to that of Goldberg or Samoa Joe. That presumption was pushed off the rails when Swagger got his first notable match against top-level opposition, facing Steven Regal on the undercard of Clash of the Champions. The English veteran would pin his strapping young opponent cleanly. After a brief show of frustration at his first loss, Swagger would offer to shake Regal's hand. After hesitation, Regal shook it.
Showing respect even after his first loss was not surprising for Swagger. The youngster was being presented as a pure “good guy” babyface. Such a character was no longer common in World Championship Wrestling. One only had to look at the top of the roster to the fan favorites there. Virtually all of them were more “dynamic” characters – CM Punk with his confidence that pushed toward arrogance, AJ Styles with the boastfulness required of a Horseman, Samoa Joe had the same desire to smash as when he was booed by fans, Antonio Bank$ was brash, Kanyon was unstable... Jack Swagger was different because he had yet to display any character traits that could really be perceived as “negative”. Character comparisons were made to the direction that the WWE had taken their leading star, John Cena, as well as the most famous “good guy babyface” in the history of the business in America, the legendary Hulk Hogan. As there were some “smark” fans who believed that such a simplistic, idealistic character simply couldn't work in contemporary pro wrestling, there was some backlash.
Those fans of women's pro wrestling who were eagerly awaiting the full launch of WCW's burgeoning division – assuming there were such fans out there – had to be getting frustrated. The occasional matches continued, with a couple more women's wrestlers being used. But the proper kickoff of the division had been pushed back further, as WCW management recognized that doing it just prior to the W1 “King of the Cruisers” tournament would leave it overshadowed significantly. So the Hellcats would have to wait longer.
Hostile Intent 2007 would take place in Los Angeles. They drew a strong crowd of over 12,000. Just as important as being numerous, the LA fans were vibrant and excited for the event. It was clear that another clash between CM Punk and Samoa Joe was appetizing to the fans of World Championship Wrestling, something that would be reflected in a fairly strong rumored buy-rate for the event as well.
Hostile Intent was another very good overall event for World Championship Wrestling. The Cabana-Rhodes match was utterly forgettable but that was at least in part because Rhodes injured his knee in the early going and was limited for the duration of the match. On the plus side, it featured a couple really good tag matches, a messy but fun 6-man cruiserweight title match, and another encounter between Danielson and Bank$ that bordered on fantastic. "Money" Bank$ won the match, but not the title, when Ric Flair was caught trying to interfere on behalf of the "American Dragon", which did not make Danielson happy. All of that simply felt like a prelude to the main event battle. Once again, CM Punk and Samoa Joe delivered. For once, it seemed like it was Punk who held the advantage, as Joe was still nursing "bad ribs" that were taped and a clear target for the champion. Despite the lingering injury, the former champion was still dangerous and Punk still used a cautious approach. This lead to a lengthy period of Punk controlling the match and he looked to have Joe almost finished, but the challenger battled back. As the match nudged past the thirty mark and the end of the event closed in, Punk slid out of the ring for a breather. Joe executed one of his trademark suicide dives but he only partly caught Punk, slamming into the security barrier padding. Both men were on the floor for a period time, with Punk managing to get back in the ring and to avoid being counted out. It appeared Joe would make it too, but then a big man in a dark hoodie - obliviously Rhino - once again jumped the barrier and speared the holy hell out of Joe. Referee Nick Patrick called the match, first calling it a count-out win for Punk, then a disqualification for Joe, then switched it back to a count-out for the champion CM Punk. Rhino didn't follow up his attack, but stood triumphant over Joe, who was in pain on the arena floor, clutching his ribs. Security removed Rhino while the fans booed and Punk simply watched, not really celebrating his "victory".
The finish marred an otherwise-excellent match. Some fans have speculated that it "could have been" another 5-star match without that finish, but Rhino inserting himself into the finish made a big statement and swung the focus to the between him and "The Samoan Smashing Machine". It was a rarity that both the semi main event and main event of a WCW event both lacked clean finishes like that. Hostile intentions indeed.
The knee injury suffered by Dustin Rhodes was not serious enough to require surgery but it would mean some time off for the "The American Nightmare". It was a blow for the veteran who had already struggled to move back up the card since he had returned from his WWE stint.
Another wrestler had been absent with injury for some time, Frankie Kazarian, saw his contract expire in mid-March. After joining WCW through the AWA developmental system in late 2004, he had turned into a solid cruiserweight but was held back some by injuries. He suffered a shoulder injury in the fall of 2006 and it healed slowly than expected, meaning his return got bumped several times. There is some debate as the exact circumstance of Kazarian at the time of his contract expiration - some indications are that he was ready to return by February or March, but kept out by WCW as his contract was coming up. Others claim he was still injured. Either way, the split seems to have been relatively amicable and Kazarian would nothing but positive things to say about his time in WCW, stating simply that “things don't always work out how you hope”.
A cursory examination of March can make it appear a relatively harmful month for World Championship Wrestling. A messy split from its developmental promotion is difficult to paint as anything but a negative. Yet its a negative that did little to harm to WCW. Perhaps it was more harmful in perception than anything else but the average WCW fan had little clue about the developmental system of the promotion, so even any perceived harm didn't go deep. Given a solid month of Nitro, a good Clash of the Champions, and a very good pay per view event, one can actually view March as a pretty damned good month for the promotion.
Clash of the Champions XLI: World War 3
March 10, 2007
Theme: “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence
Kanyon d. Doug Williams
Steven Regal d. Jack Swagger
The Dragons (c) d. The Havana Pitbulls for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team championships
Booker T d. Dustin Rhodes
Samoa Joe wins World War 3 match
Hostile Intent 2007
March 25, 2007
Los Angeles, California
Theme: “Californiacation” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Steven Regal d. Kanyon
Paul Burchill (c) d. D'Lo Brown for the WCW Television championship
Elijah Burke d. Elix Skipper
The Briscoe Brothers d. Christopher Daniels & Sterling James Keenan
Colt Cabana d. Dustin Rhodes
The Calgary Bulldogs (c) d. Pure Southern Pride for the WCW World Tag Team championships
Prince Devitt (c) d. Alex Shelley, Austin Aries, Jamie Noble, Paul London & Matt Sydal for the WCW Cruiserweight championship
AJ Styles d. Booker T
Antonio Bank$ d. Bryan Danielson (c) via Disqualification for the WCW United States championship
CM Punk (c) d. Samoa Joe via Count Out for the WCW World Heavyweight championship
Requesting some assistance. While working on the April 2007 recap, I've begun to debate a certain factor. So I figured I would throw it out there and get some feedback. The W1 "King of the Cruisers" tournament will take place in April. The previous editions have all been a single-elimination format. A tournament. New Japan's "Best of the Super Juniors" event has obviously been an inspiration, and it has used a league format in some versions, much as some of the tag leagues in Japan do. The competitors are broken up into blocks, with a points-based round robin taking place - something like 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw - and that leads to some type of final. The upside to the league structure is that it creates more opportunities for "dream matches" - given that the W1 is meant to be a showcase, that's a very appealing factor.. The downside is that it means more matches. The 2007 W1 has a field of 32 wrestlers, which is pretty much undoable for a league structure. But having a prelimary elimination round to cut it down to 16 would work. So here are the options I am looking at:
So... If you were actually going to watch this, which option would you the wrestling fan prefer? Also curious if there is a reason for a given preference. Thanks
You have the benefit of not having to sim every match, so I'm not sure why an eight block tourney wouldn't work - the World Cup is run in a month, albeit with four matches a day on some days. Still, you have house shows and a lot of TV to show early matches.
Failing that, I'm a fan of straight single elimination tournaments, but for a recurring event with a large field a league structure seems to work better. Four blocks of four seems to work better to me, as you can keep the matches interesting in each block rather than ending up with dead rubbers in an eight man block (Next up, it's 4th vs. 7th!). It'd just feel a little odd to me to have an elimination first round, league second round, then elimination semis and a final.
I know what you mean about the hybrid seeming a bit... odd. I think that's why I was a bit hesitant. Yet that's the direction I'm leaning. Which is probably partly since I wanted to do a league structure from the very start and didn't for a few reasons (which seem minor and stupid in retrospect).
To Crown a King
In the period of 2004-2006, World Championship Wrestling seemed to gain a reputation as having a great backstage environment. This reputation seemed to be recognized by both the industry and the fans. Yet it remains questionable just how accurate that assessment of WCW actually was.
There are a couple of factors that contributed to the creation of this perception. A significant factor is the inevitable comparisons to World Wrestling Entertainment. The promotion that the McMahon's built has long had an abrasive backstage atmosphere. "Very very political," is how several industry veterans with plenty of WWE experience describe it. According to WWE insiders, that was very much the case in the 2003-2006 period - there were a large number of veteran superstars who were very protective of their spots on the card and that clashed with a number of rising stars, some of whom had or developed "attitude problems". Stories of such clashes through that period are rife. A few wrestlers who worked for both the WWE and WCW through that period are emphatic about how different the environments were. That said, when one is coming out of a situation where selfish maneuvering and backstabbing is common, anywhere more calm may seem like nirvana by comparison.
Another common factor pointed to is the experience of young talent. It has been fairly “normal” in the wrestling business for younger wrestlers to feel that their movement up the card is restricted - to have to deal with the proverbial glass ceiling. That goes back to the territorial era and has happened in almost every promotion. It happened very significantly in WCW in the late 90s. Yet in WCW in the 2003-2006 period, one only had to look at the likes of AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, Samoa Joe and CM Punk to realize how high young talent could rise. Moreover, some of the young have detailed in interviews about how they felt valued and respected by WCW management and that they could comfortably approach the WCW creative team with ideas or concerns. Bryan Danielson has spoken on this topic numerous times, but he is not the only young wrestler who has claimed that this was the case.
So was the World Championship Wrestling locker room some kind of idyllic paradise where various personalities meshed perfectly? Hardly.
One does not have to dig particularly hard or deep to find that there was discontentment and even anger within some of the talent in WCW. Former world champions Booker T and Chris Kanyon were known to be frustrated at their removal from the world title scene and slight slide down the roster. Former cruiserweights Billy Kidman and Shane Helms were finding life outside the cruiserweight ranks to be quite tough. Some of those wrestlers still in the cruiserweight ranks were known to be frustrated at the difficulty in moving out of the division and/or the existing hierarchy. There was suggestion that others might be similarly agitated at their circumstance within WCW around this period, such as Adam Pearce and Doug Williams, who had moved up the card and appeared that they could end up near the main event but instead topped out as solid midcarders.
There is a tendency to take the vocalized experiences of just a few individuals and extrapolate, applying those experiences to the entirety of the roster. There is danger in that tendency. It is not necessarily accurate to take the experiences relayed by someone like Bryan Danielson and apply them to other talent on the WCW roster. Neither is it accurate to take the issues and complains of someone like Kanyon or Billy Kidman and presume they apply in any "universal" way. The reality is that each situation is different and, at least to some degree, unique.
Booker T and Kanyon, arguably, both had the most "right" to feel slighted. Both were former WCW World Heavyweight champions. Both had headlined for the promotion. Both were veterans with a great deal of in-ring experience, solid characters, charisma, and fan support. Yet it's also not difficult to see why they had slipped a bit from the pinnacle of World Championship Wrestling. Both had topped WCW during low periods - Booker T mostly in 2000-2003 and Kanyon in 2003-2005 - when WCW was at a low-point and gradually recovering from that low point. As the roster got deeper and stronger by 2005 and 2006, both men had slid down the pecking order a bit. Not shocking since Booker was 42 by early 2007 and Kanyon was 37.
Lest one feel that the WCW creative team was unfairly pushing these two former world champions out to pasture, at least WCW insider claims that was not the case. The insider provided some significant insight on the situation of both Booker and Kanyon but on the condition of not being identified. As such, it's also worth noting that most of this information cannot really be confirmed either, making it essentially well-sourced heresy. The source indicates that both of the two former main eventers in question were given significant say in the creative process, at least compared to most WCW talents who were not actually part of the creative team. Booker and Kanyon were given the option to nix a storyline idea for themselves that they didn't like. And both of them exercised that option. Too often, which is essentially the source of the problem. "They got plenty of ideas thrown at them," the source claims, "but they would turn them down. No reason other than both figured they should be going after the world title. And that wasn't gonna happen." So the lull that the two talents saw in 2006 and early 2007 may have been, at least partly, self-created.
The situation with both Billy Kidman and Shane Helms were not much different. Both had started out as cruiserweights. Kidman looked to be moving out of the cruiserweight ranks during the "New Blood" feud of 2000 but he stepped back as a fairly key cruiserweight guy after the start of 2001. Helms developed into a core cruiserweight talent as well. Helms ended up leaving for the WWE. While he was gone, Kidman requested to move out of the cruiserweight division. That request was granted, but he was reportedly told that there was no certainty that he would be pushed to any degree. When Helms returned, he was also unwilling to go back to the CW division. He was also reportedly told the same thing. So both lingered in the midcard and teamed up eventually. They won the tag titles but by the later part of 2006, the strength of that division had moved the duo down a bit. Not that residing in the WCW midcard was such a terrible place to be, but for someone who had hopes of moving up the card, it is not difficult to see why that might be frustrating.
Most of the other names that have been suggested seem to be merely that - suggestions. Neither Adam Pearce nor Doug Williams have spoken out in regard to being frustrated. Neither has Steven Regal. Rumors about CM Punk and Colt Cabana being upset around this period of time appear to be mostly that - just rumor.
A backstage environment is a difficult thing to quantify. The "happiness" of one person is not exactly a simple thing to clearly define, let alone of several dozen individuals and over an extended period of time. As has been mentioned here a number of times, there are dangers to making comparisons. Yet that might be the most accurate method in this case. Those who have had experience in both locker rooms in the middle part of the decade have mostly voiced their opinions in favor of the WCW environment. The general consensus, at least based on first hand reports available, is that WCW was a pretty positive, solid place to work. Assessments of the WWE environment are a bit more mixed. Even without taking such reports as absolute (many individuals who make such comments may do so with some degree of an agenda), it seems safe to assess the WCW environment as relatively positive.
Examining the backstage environment in World Championship Wrestling is, like many topics tackled within these electronic pages, subjective and unfortunately speculative. But April also offered something that had become a yearly highlight to many WCW fans - the W1 "King of the Cruisers" tournament. Since its inception in 2003, the month-long tournament had quietly become a big deal for WCW. With international talent coming in for the event, it meant the eyes of the wrestling world were on the number two promotion in America. The event had yet to really translate into a significant draw for WCW but there was hope that would come in the future.
The W1 field expanded to a full 32 participants for the first time. That meant a full five rounds. Since the first W1 back in 2003, there had been discussions, both amongst fans and internally, about the possibility of using a points-based block format (a "league" format) rather than the single-elimination tournament format. The upside to such an approach is that it means more matches and that creates more opportunity for "dream matches", especially with the outside talent. The downside was, ironically, that it meant more matches. With a large field, it was simply too many matches to make the logistics work. Rather than reduce the field, WCW management and creative came up with a compromise - having a preliminary elimination round to cut the field from 32 to 16, then a "random draw" would place the remaining 16 into groups of 4. Each wrestler in a given group would wrestle each other once - a win was worth 3 points and a draw was worth 1. The winners of each block would then be drawn for the semifinal match-ups. This modified approach meant more matches to be scheduled, but only about 10 more. Many of the additional matches would take place on house shows, but WCW was committed to finding ways to give fans a chance to see them.
Planning for the 2007 edition of the W1 had begun back in late 2006. As the tournament grew in prestige and importance, it also grew in logistical considerations. WCW management reportedly still had to perform an impressive balancing act in trying to keep all the other promotions who were sending talent happy. In late March, WCW put together a two-hour Fallout special on the 2007 W1, providing analysis and highlights of all 32 participants. It was hosted by Matt Striker and Diamond Dallas Page, who also did a fine job explaining and analyzing the new format. HDNet must have been feeling particularly gracious because they even allowed Spike TV to rebroadcast it - late at night, but at least it reached a wider audience.
The W1 managed to create some debate amongst fans every March over discussions of who would be included in the bit tournament. With 32 wrestlers being involved and the new format, there was plenty of discussion and debate. It was on the Fallout preview show the finalized roster was revealed. Who was not included became a talking point as well.
Nearly all active cruiserweights in World Championship Wrestling would be included. There were only a few exclusions from within the promotion. Theo Wilson, the defending W1 champion and one half of the WCW World Tag Team champions, would not be return to the tournament - that was not really surprising, but it did disappoint some fans. Amazing Red was still out injured. Elix Skipper, recently one-half of the Cruiserweight Tag Team champions and coming out of a short feud with his former partner, was left out and that surprised some. What was perhaps more surprising was who was included - which was essentially every other cruiserweight in WCW. Relative newcomers like Johnny Riesgo and Frankie Arion. Getting into the W1 tournament had previously been a reward of sorts for WCW cruiserweights, so low-level guys were typically left. Arion, for example, had still yet to win a match in WCW. Also included were several debuting WCW cruiserweights - Chris Sabin, TJ Perkins, and Jack Evans. All three had impressed with the American Wrestling Association as developmental talent before that relationship had ended.
The inclusion of Jamie Noble was a slight surprise. The three-time Cruiserweight champion was considered by both fans and management as the cornerstone talent of the division. He was a three-time Cruiserweight champion, had been part of the division since 2000 and a key part since 2001. Many fans were not aware that it was Noble who had taken over booking the division after Chavo Guerrero left – and that also explains why he mostly stayed out of the Cruiserweight title scene after Chavo left. Noble had always done well in the W1 – making the final of the 2004 edition but losing to his former partner Styles, and then making the Semi Final of the 2005 edition but losing to eventual winner Bryan Danielson. Yet winning one continued to elude him. Through the opening months of 2007, Noble had cut several promos on his desire to finally win the W1 yet strongly hinting he would not participate. That turned out to be smokescreen as he was to participate and he would be amongst the favorites to claim the victory.
The talent being brought in from outside World Championship Wrestling always seemed to generate some serious rumors and 2007 was more of the same in that regard. Typically, much of the rumor-mongering revolved around previous talent coming back for the event. Names such as Jushin Lyger, Keiji Mutoh, Mistico, Juventus Guerra, and even Rey Mysterio were bandied about. Mistico was not interested, as a deal with the WWE was apparently "close". The idea of WWE superstar Rey Mysterio making a WCW return was far-fetched at best - while WCW and the WWE were no longer warring, they certainly were not on talent-lending terms. The same applied to rumors of Chavo Guerrero returning.
Despite the rumored returns that would mostly turn out to be inaccurate, WCW did manage to secure elite cruiserweight talent from around the globe. Even if Mistico did not come, both Averno and La Sombra came from CMLL. Averno was a veteran rudo, while La Sombra was a very young technico luchadore who was starting to grab some attention. Abismo Negra came in from Asistencia Asesoría y Administración.
The talent that was brought across the Pacific from Japan was numerous and elite. Talent was brought in from five different Japanese promotions as well as several freelancers. New Japan Pro Wrestling sent Rysuke Taguchi and Wataru Inoue. All Japan Pro Wrestling sent Shuji Kondo. Dragon Gate sent Shingo Tagaki and Akira Tozawa. KENTA was the lone representative from Pro Wrestling NOAH, but he was already a former WCW Cruiser champion and veteran of the W1, making him a popular pick to become the second outsider to win the event. Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) was not a well known puro promotion but the wrestler they sent – Kota Ibushi – was regarded as one of the most promising super juniors in Japan. Katsuhiko Nakajima was considered a freelancer, as he was part of Kensuke Office, the promotional office owned by Kensuke Sasaki. Veteran cruiserweight and former WCW star Ultimo Dragon was also considered a freelancer, and he would also return to World Championship Wrestling for the 2007 W1.
Amongst the many changes that 2007 saw to the W1 tournament was the inclusion of talent from other promotions based in the United States. The management of World Championship Wrestling saw it as a chance to give some exposure to the smaller promotions. After talking with a number of the smaller promotions throughout the United States, including TNA, it would be only Ring of Honor and Chikara which sent talent. ROH provided Jay Lethal, one of their top stars, while Chikara sent a trio – Hallowicked, Arik Cannon, and owner Mike Quackenbush. The inclusion of US talent from outside WCW was the subject of a fair amount of debate. Which was mostly a waste of time, as all three Chikara wrestlers would be eliminated in the preliminary round. Only Lethal would make it into the “league” stage.
The preliminary round saw a number of the overseas talent eliminated, though it was none of the bigger name talents. Those eliminated early would still get some non-tournament matches in WCW through March. The round saw one notable upset, as Elijah Burke lost to the debuting Jack Evans. Burke was looked at as burgeoning cruiserweight star and a likely pick to go deep, so it was not a minor upset. A few weeks later, Burke would address the loss, apologizing to his fans and promising to longer take anything for granted. One of the more interesting and intense battles of the round was Low Ki taking on the still-winless Frankie Arion, who gave no ground and took the 3-time Cruiserweight champion to war. Ki won but Arion continued to win himself fans.
The April 11th Nitro saw the end of the preliminary round and the drawing of the four groups. Nitro Commissioner Kevin Nash conducted the draw, which was presented as a important moment and hyped as such. The groups were a “random draw” rather than any seeding system. The balance of the four groups made it obvious that there was little randomness involved. Block A consisted of
Alex Shelley, Paul London, La Sombra, and Kota Ibushi. Included into Block B were Ultimo Dragon, Averno, Austin Aries, and Rysuke Taguchi. Block C was made up of KENTA, Low Ki, Jamie Noble, and WCW newcomer Jack Evans. And finally, Block D was Jay Lethal, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Shingo Tagaki, and WCW Cruiserweight champion Fergal Devitt.
One of the most intriguing dynamics of the entire group stage was having tag team partners and friends Alex Shelley and Paul London dawn into the same group. Both were seen as burgeoning stars of the cruiserweight division and if either managed to win the “King of the Cruisers” crown, it would certainly establish that one as a top cruiserweight. In terms of pure match quality, it was tough to beat what Group A provided. Both Kota Ibushi and La Sombra – who was just 18 years old – did great and did not look out of place with two of the better known WCW cruisers. The match between Shelley and London was the obvious centerpiece of the Group – it would be the final match, it would decide which advanced out of the Group, and it would headline the April 18th Nitro. They two had a great twenty minute battle that finally saw “Electric” Alex Shelley triumph. The two friends shook hands after the match to show that there were no hard feelings.
Austin Aries was another heavy favorite coming into the W1. Drawn into Group B with three “outsiders”, Aries made sure to talk up how he would run through these unimpressive nobodies. The self-proclaimed “Great Man Alive” would eat those words as he lost to both Rysuke Taguchi and Ultimo Dragon, then only managing a draw against Averno. It was cruiserweight legend Ultimo Dragon who ended up topping the group and advancing.
The third group offered plenty of intrigue. Although Noble had brought attention and focus to his history of not-quite-succeeding in the W1 through his promos, the reality was that Low Ki was in much the same situation. There was plenty of attention on Jack Evans but he would fail to follow up on his upset win over Burke, as he ended up losing each match. The group came down to the match between Noble and Low Ki, where the winner would advance. But the match ended in a time-limit draw, which meant that impressive NOAH star KENTA won the group and moved on.
The final group was seen as pretty wide open, despite the inclusion of Fergal Devitt. It would be the reigning Cruiserweight championship who would advance, but the group rivaled Group A for providing quality matches, with the charismatic Lethal winning himself some fans in WCW. The match between Nakajima and Tagaki – calling it a match undersells it, as it was really more of a war – was picked by many as the best individual match of the W1.
Both of the two Semi Finals and the Final would take place on the Spring Showcase 2007 pay per view. They would be Alex Shelly versus Ultimo Dragon in the first and KENTA versus Fergal Devitt in the second.
Matches for the W1 tournament dominated WCW television through the first part of April. The promotion tried to get as many of the matches as possible onto either Nitro or Breakout. There were a number of preliminary round matches and several from the group stage that took place on house shows, but highlights were shown on TV and all those matches were made available on the WCW website. By the latter half of the month, with much of the tournament completed, things relatively returned to normal. A number of WCW wrestlers who were not part of the W1 tournament had actually taken time off in early April, taking advantage of the heavy focus on the tournament.
Considering how much of April was dedicated to the W1, some of the main storylines outside of the W1 still managed to move along – though mostly through promos. Early in the month, it was announced that Samoa Joe was out injured after the latest attack from Rhino. His return date was unknown but according to the WCW announcers, he would not necessarily get a rematch against WCW World Heavyweight championship CM Punk, despite their match at the end of March ending due to interference from Rhino. So once again, there was no clear challenge for the Big Gold Belt. Since there would be no world title match at Spring Showcase, there was no rush to determine who would challenge Punk. The champion delighted in telling fans that he was so far above all the other possible challengers that picking one was a waste of time. He was careful not to talk down his fellow main event talent but rather talk himself up. That might be a small distinction for some but it kept Punk's proclamations from feeling overly heelish, and he didn't really “bury” anyone.
The whole situation got a bit more interesting on the April 11th Nitro. United States champion Bryan Danielson was interviewed backstage by Amber O'Neal and he was without the rest of the Horsemen, which made it a rarity. “American Dragon” blasted the fans who were cheering for Antonio Bank$ in their feud, and then talked up his own impressive accomplishments. He then stated that he was getting pretty tired of people trying to tell him where his own best interests lay. It was a very solid promo by the fan favorite but far harsher than what fans were used from him. It was not quite a heel turn, but it was definitely a swerve toward that. There were obviously also hints that all was not well with the Four Horsemen status quo. Yet the following week, when the Horsemen were offered a tag team match at Spring Stampede against CM Punk and Colt Cabana, it was first leader AJ Styles who stepped up to be the first Horsemen, and after Flair hinted that he would step into the ring, asked Danielson to partner Styles. “American Dragon” accepted and the April-ending pay per view had a very intriguing semi main event.
Rhino reappeared on Nitro partway through the month. He cut a promo, stating he had been absent because he had been suspended and fined for his interference in the main event of Hostile Intent. But “The War Machine” had no regrets. He had proven to the whole world that Samoa Joe was no monster. Rhino also promised that his would be merely the start of his impact in World Championship Wrestling.
The W1 had become a major event for World Championship Wrestling, popular and typically quite successful. Yet it was not immune to criticism. One of the biggest gripes directed at the event was that it put much of the “normal” WCW action on hold for most of the month. Moreover, it also gave a lot of spotlight to talent from outside the promotion. That was typically true of the Spring Showcase pay per view as well, which typically featured a number of “super matches” with outside talent, in addition to the Semi Finals and Final of the W1. Only one of the matches on the 2007 edition of Spring Showcase featured no WCW wrestlers.
Spring Showcase kicked off with an exciting opener, as KENTA defeated Fergal Devitt in a great battle. The match felt very much like a super junior battle as they laid into each other, but showed respect afterward. The full Montreal Mafia foursome losing to a foursome from New Japan Pro Wrestling was something of a statement about how far the former tag team champions had slid in just a few months, but it was a close match and Hirook Goto (who was “on-loan” with WCW) essentially stole the win by rolling up Eric Young. The second W1 Semi Final saw Ultimo Dragon take on “Electric” Alex Shelley in another really good match, with the WCW wrestler taking the win over the cruiserweight legend.
Things got really interesting when the time finally came for the semi main event between AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson against CM Punk and Colt Cabana. Many fans were convinced something would happen in the match – either Danielson turning on Styles or the Horsemen booting him out. Something did indeed happen, but it was not on the side that most expected. Ten minutes into the match, the champion Punk got isolated and double-teamed by the two Horsemen. The beat-down went on for a good five minutes where Styles and Danielson showed great teamwork. When Punk finally made it into his corner for the tag, Cabana stepped off the ring apron rather than be tagged into the match. He then stood at ringside and watched as Punk battled valiantly against his two opponents. The WCW World Heavyweight champion was resilient and fought against the odds but he ended up taking a clean pinfall by “American Dragon”. After the match, Punk grabbed a microphone and demanded an explanation from his friend Cabana... and he got attacked instead. “Captain Classic” even used a chair on his friend before WCW security officials could stop it. The fans booed Cabana viciously, while the Horsemen at ringside just watched in amusement.
The main event was the W1 finale between KENTA and Alex Shelley. Both men came in nursing the wounds of their earlier battles, the downside to having two matches in one night. Yet the match still went nearly thirty minutes. Shelley was battered early by the vicious kick-based offense of KENTA, yet he fought through and managed to take control as he worked over the knee that his opponent had seen damaged in his match against Devitt. That knee would come into play later as it kept KENTA from connecting properly on his attempted Go-2-Sleep. It took two of Shelley's Electric Shock swinging reverse STO finishers to put the NOAH star down for the three count. Shelley celebrated as he was named the 2007 W1 “King of the Cruisers”. His friend Paul London came down to ringside and after a tense moment, began to celebrate with his buddy.
The 2007 edition of the W1 was pretty much par for the course for World Championship Wrestling. It provided great wrestling action and was well-regarded by most fans and critics for that reason. It looked to have a new cruiserweight star in Alex Shelley. In terms of business, the TV ratings and PPV buy-rates were nothing outstanding but that was pretty much the norm for the event. As previously stated, it was not really a significant draw for the promotion. Not yet, at least.
One interesting note is that after Elix Skipper was left out of the W1 tournament, he did not appear for WCW at all through April. There were rumors that he was injured, but it would turn out that his contract was coming up due in May. There have been suggestions that WCW was keen to keep Skipper but that his demands might have been too rich and demanding for the promotion. Given the amount of young cruiserweight talent that was emerging and the fact that were still more such workers in the developmental system for WCW, it made sense.
April was another good month for World Championship Wrestling. Not a great month, but a good month. It can be easy to lose perspective and paint a “good month” as somehow something negative or lacking. But when one considers where WCW was back in 2000 and 2001, a “good month” is still a very good thing.
Spring Showcase 2007
April 22, 2007
Theme: “Don't Stop Believing” by Journey
KENTA d. Fergal Devitt in the W1 “King of the Cruisers” Tournament Semi-Final
Averno d. La Sombra
Rysuke Taguchi, Wataru Inoue, Hirooki Goto & Tetsuya Naito d. The Montreal Mafia (Sylvain Grenier, Rene Dupree, Kevin Steen & Eric Young)
Alex Shelley d. Ultimo Dragon W1 “King of the Cruisers” Tournament Semi-Final
Havana Pitbulls d. Shingo Tagaki & Akira Tozawa
Steven Regal, Nigel McGuiness & Doug Williams d. Mike Quackenbush, Hallowicked & Arik Cannon
The Calgary Bulldogs d. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Kota Ibushi
Antonio Bank$ d. Sterling James Keenan
AJ Styles & Bryan Danielson d. CM Punk & Colt Cabana
Alex Shelley d. KENTA in the W1 “King of the Cruisers” Tournament Final
A Phoenix is Born
When the relationship between World Championship Wrestling and the American Wrestling Association was terminated in early 2007, it was viewed as a blow to WCW. This view came not only from fans but from many wrestling insiders. That break between the promotions was seen as having a negative effect on WCW as a promotion. Yet this is a situation where the perception does not equal to the reality. At worst, the organizational prestige of WCW took a hit. A small one. There was no real damage beyond that.
Part of the misconception likely stems from a lack of true understanding of the nature of the relationship between WCW and the AWA. Which is understandable, given the complicated nature of that relationship. When the relationship was terminated, WCW lost none of their contracted developmental talent. They did not lose any equipment or the training facility, nor any of the trainers they employed. It did not affect the Chicago Power Plant at all. What they did lose was the banner or name that shows had been promoted under since 2003, and they lost the next few scheduled shows. In the end, the developmental talent missed out on about seven weeks worth of shows. That could have been reduced but WCW management chose to take their time in setting up the new developmental promotion banner.
According to WCW insiders, the idea of the AWA “loss” being “harmful” was viewed internally as rather amusing. Back in 2003, when Beasley Burrows Sanford charged Tully Blanchard with the task of assembling the new WCW developmental system, the idea of resurrecting the AWA name came from a “courtesy call” Tully made to the Gagne family. He sold Sanford on the idea because it was essentially risk-free for World Championship Wrestling. If promoting under the AWA name failed, they could simply begin promoting the shows under a different name. Which is essentially what happened, though not quite in the way or for the reasons that anyone could have expected.
On Saturday, May 5th, 2007, the Phoenix Wrestling Company held a show called New Genesis. PWC was the new promotional banner for the WCW developmental system. The first show drew a decent crowd, but as it featured much of the same talent as AWA previously had (obviously) and similar exciting action, there were expectations that it would do well.
WCW had long used main roster talent to help out with their developmental system, with many wrestlers having spent some time as trainers or working occasional AWA shows. Raven was perhaps most notable in this regard, as he had booked the AWA for long periods of time while appearing as an-ring talent upon occasion, at the same time as wrestling full-time for WCW and working as part of WCW's creative team. It is a surprise that he never burned out with that workload, but as Raven himself has stated, he has a personality that needs to be kept busy. The timing of putting together PWC together worked well, as April's heavy focus on the W1 allowed some of the WCW talent time to work on the PWC project.
When the developmental system was set up in 2003, Tully Blanchard tapped Dusty Rhodes to run it. He had done so well, but resigned in 2006 when he purchase the promotional side of the AWA. Curt Hennig had taken over for WCW after that and done a fine job, so he was expected to continue in that role once PWC was running. However, in early April, the man formerly known as “Mr. Perfect” requested a meeting with WCW President Tully Blanchard and recused himself from the role. Still working as a color commentator, its commonly accepted that Hennig quoted familial concerns as the reason. Raven was reportedly offered the role but he preferred to remain in a booking role with the developmental promotion. So it then fell to Diamond Dallas Page, the former WCW World Heavyweight champion who had become a great color commentator.
It is perhaps a touch debatable as to exactly what constitutes “success” for a developmental promotion. Is it developing new talent for the parent promotion in the expected manner? Is it more traditional measures of success for a wrestling promotion – attendance, show quality, and so on? However you choose to measure PWC, the developmental promotion did well for World Championship Wrestling. That success is a great compliment to the wrestlers and non-wrestlers from within WCW who made significant contributions to PWC.
One of those who made significant contributions to the Phoenix Wrestling Company was Steven Regal. The veteran helped with the start-up of the new promotional facade. He would continue to contribute, working regularly as a trainer and also appearing on some PWC shows in various capacities, including in the ring occasionally. Regal had already impressed WCW management with his willingness to contribute to World Championship Wrestling in any manner required since he joined in late 2006.
One area where Regal's contributions were particularly appreciated were in the locker room. The locker room dynamic of a large promotion is an interesting thing, a melting pot of diverse personalities and beliefs. One of the reasons that many promotions have traditionally been wary of having too many young workers on the roster is the negative affect they can potentially have on the locker room. Many promotions have looked to offset that dynamic with the presence of influential veterans. But in early 2007, the WCW locker room was very heavy on younger workers but relatively short on the influential veterans. Both Sting and Raven filled that role typically but both were taking time away – Sting away from WCW completely while Raven was dealing with the creative side only. Ric Flair could potentially fill that role, but between his role with management and the fact that he liked being “one of the boys” a bit too much, he really didn't. Booker T and Kanyon were both too focused on their own issues. So recognizing that situation, Regal reportedly took it upon himself to take on a clear leadership role in the WCW locker room in early 2007. He met with some of the top younger workers – Joe, Punk, Styles, Danielson, Noble, Pearce, and a few others – to make sure they took their own leadership roles seriously. It was that kind of initiative that WCW management loved out of Regal.
When Internet wrestling fans discuss WCW talent who might potentially be unhappy in their circumstance within the company, Regal often seems to be brought up. Factors such as the unsettled state of his stable, the fact that he had never really moved into the world title scene, and the comedy brought by his rotating themes are quoted. Yet there is no indication at all that this was the case. Rather, any actual evidence – including statements from Regal himself – would indicate the opposite. Every indication leans toward the fact that the British grappler was more than content with his place in WCW. His contributions to PWC reflected that. The amount of work that Regal put in with helping set up the Phoenix Wrestling Company was significant, and he continued to be involved with the developmental promotion after the initial show.
With the W1 “King of the Cruisers” tournament over, the focus in World Championship Wrestling returned to “normal”. And it was perfectly clear that “Captain Classic” Colt Cabana turning on his longtime friend CM Punk was going to be a key focus. Sure enough, Cabana lead off the April 25th Nitro. Just days after he turned on the WCW World Heavyweight champion at Spring Showcase, the former fan favorite was roundly booed by the fans. He came out to a new theme – “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys – and seemed to revel in the boos. He garnered more boos when he started his promo by claiming that he had no regrets about turning on Punk and that he would gladly do it again if ever given the chance. Then Cabana explained his reasoning – that Punk had crossed the line from confident to arrogant since winning the World Heavyweight championship, that he had become willing to take shortcuts, and that every time Punk claimed that no one in WCW could keep up to him in the ring, it was like another knife to Cabana's heart. He abandoned me long before I abandoned him, Cabana finished. Then, finally, he demanded a shot at Punk's belt.
The following Nitro, Punk answered back. He admitted that yeah, perhaps he had crossed the line to arrogance. That was what happened when you worked so hard to prove your doubters wrong and win the world title. If Colt wanted a title shot, he could have just asked. But Punk didn't expect his friend to covet his title when he was supposed to have his back. So Punk wanted – demanded - a match against his former friend at Blaze of Glory at the end of May. Later on the same show, Nitro Commissioner gave a short interview with Amber O'Neal, confirming that Punk would get his wish and face Cabana at Blaze of Glory. He wished the WCW World Heavyweight champion luck in the match but warned that Punk should learn to be careful what he wished for – facing a close friend was a great challenge, Nash warned, because no one knows you better.
That was an aspect to the feud that the WCW commentators played up heavily in the build – the familiarity between champion and challenge. It was mentioned frequently that Punk and Cabana had come into the wrestling business together and had trained together. Cabana brought it up in his promos. So did Punk, for that matter. A very cerebral champion, Punk always made certain to carefully scout his opponents and he was always able to use that to his advantage. Yet now Punk had to face an opponent who had that exactly that same advantage over him. It was clear that Cabana's decade of friendship with Punk would make this match a very different and difficult challenge for the world heavyweight champion.
Adding to the former friends dynamic of the new world title feud was poor Daffney. Having been associated with Punk and Cabana for the past few years, she was good friends with both. That put her squarely in the middle. The other member of the Second City Saints, Ace Steel, would have been as well but he had been out since taking a nasty dump out of the ring in the World War 3 match in March.
The feud did garner some criticism in the early going. A number of fans felt that rather than Cabana turning on Punk, it should have been the opposite. That was a fair point, as Punk's character made it seem as though he would be relatively easy to turn heel. Similarly, Cabana was a natural babyface. That was the second issue – concerns over whether Cabana would be able to carry his end of the feud as a heel. It was also a legitimate concern. Through both of his runs in WCW since 2002, “Captain Classic” had been a fan favorite. He projected a very natural goofy charm and in the ring, he worked a relatively old school style but infused it with some creative comedy spots. None of that lent itself to making Cabana a workable heel, though. After he turned on Punk, however, he put almost all of that aside, turning off the goofy charisma for righteous anger and stormy intensity that he had only shown a few flashes of through his career in World Championship Wrestling. Through May, it definitely worked and if he could continue to channel those aspects successfully, it would make for a strong feud.
The feud between Punk and Cabana put some other possible world title feuds on the back-burner. Rhino was still focused on Joe, but since “The Samoan Smashing Machine” was still out injured, he was offered a shot at Four Horseman star AJ Styles. For their part, things continued to grow tense with the Horsemen. Styles and Flair continued to argue that the man who called himself “Phenomenal” deserved another shot at Punk's world title. The tension between those two and Bryan Danielson continued to grow, however. Even while “American Dragon” continued his feud with Antonio Bank$ over the United States title, it seemed increasingly clear that Danielson coveted at least a chance to test himself against the world champion. It was also increasingly clear that Styles and Flair were against that happening. WCW was careful not to overplay the tension in the legendary stable but it was clearly there. And growing.
Since winning the WCW World Tag Team championship belts in December, the Calgary Bulldogs had established themselves as a really good young team. Not just “promising” but also talented and obviously successful. Theo Wilson was the 2006 W1 winner for a reason – he was a great cruiserweight. Harry Smith was still just 21 years old and a very promising 250-pound powerhouse. Natalya Neidhart was rumored to be a strong wrestler in her own right, but she did great work as a valet for the tag champions. The Bulldogs had really solid teamwork and were able to pull of the standard babyface-in-peril match format wonderfully as Wilson would often get isolated and then sell it like a million bucks until he managed the hot tag to Smith. They were already getting called one of the best young teams in the world.
As well as the Bulldogs had done so far as champions, World Championship Wrestling boasted one of the strongest tag team divisions of any wrestling promotion in the world. It was not just about the talent of the individual teams but how many good teams there were. That was on display in May, as a mini-tournament of the top teams took place to determine which team would be the number one contenders. Both the Briscoe Brothers and Pure Southern Pride felt they had claim to that, so neither team was impressed to be made to “jump through hoops”. The tag matches provided WCW fans some fantastic action. Badass Inc continued their gradual ascent as they took down the Montreal Mafia, but it came down to the two main tag teams of the past few years – The Briscoe Brothers against Pure Southern Pride. The match headlined the May 23rd Nitro and was fantastic, likely to be one of the best tag team matches of the year. The Briscoe's scored the victory after their valet, Christina Von Eerie, kept Ric Flair from interfering on behalf of the Horsemen duo.
“The American Tiger” Jack Swagger continued to impress with his solid ring-work. He cut the occasional promo on Break Out and that aspect was still a work in progress. He was confident on the microphone and spoke very clearly, but he still struggled to overcome his lisp. There were regular rumors that he could be paired with a manager of some type but it had not yet happened. He did move into a feud with WCW Television champion Paul Burchill. At Blaze of Glory, the patriotic young American would get his first chance to win gold in World Championship Wrestling.
With the W1 over for another year, the focus on the WCW cruiserweight division returned to normal. But that still meant the smaller wrestlers got a reasonable amount of attention. After winning the W1, “Electric” Alex Shelley had earned himself a shot at Fergal Devitt's Cruiserweight championship. And he asked for the title shot at Blaze of Glory. Shelley was one of the better cruiserweights on the microphone and he cut some solid promos, answered back not by “The Crown Prince” Devitt himself, but by Steven Regal. The feud had another element, as Shelley's long-time friend and partner Paul London showed some signs of jealousy over his friends rise but nothing came of it... at least for the moment.
One of WCW's low-key cruiserweight storylines took a twist in May. Young Frankie Arion lost yet another match on Break Out, noted by the commentary crew as his fortieth defeat. If accurate, it meant he was 0-40 in World Championship Wrestling. After the match, Low Ki came out and addressed the youngster. He told Arion that no one in WCW had ever amasses such a one-side record of futility... yet Arion never stopped trying. He never got discouraged or “mailed it in”. Low Ki warned that unless Arion won a match soon, he wouldn't be in WCW much longer. But Ki claimed he had faith... and when Arion did manage to win a match, Ki had a reward in mind. The fans approved – for someone who had yet to win a match, the hard-battling youngster had earned himself some fans already.
Regarding Low Ki, there were reportedly some backstage issues with the long-serving WCW cruiserweight star. One insider indicates that there were a number of complaints after the W1 about Ki “working stiff”. It was something the wrestler had a history of and he had toned down his style to a degree earlier in his WCW run. There had been sporadic complaints from other wrestlers since, but WCW management typically didn't pay it much attention. After several complaints stemming from April's tournament, there was no ignoring it. The source indicates that Low Ki did not take it well when he was told he needed to “take it easy” or management would forced into taking action.
After facing several delays, the formation of the WCW “Hellcats” women's division took another step forward. A couple new female talents were introduced in May and the commentary team confirmed that a title tournament was played for June. The details remained limited but after several months in delays, progress was progress.
The Blaze of Glory 2007 pay per view took place in San Antonio, Texas. It utilized the song “Blaze of Glory” by Jon Bon Jovi, theme song from the film Young Guns II. The song had been used for the previous editions of the pay per view of the same name and was apparently some kind of inside joke. The event was not a joke however. Blaze of Glory provided the vibrant San Antonio crowd plenty of great wrestling action.
The show kicked off with a Four Corner Elimination match that would determine the next top contender for the Cruiserweight championship. That made many to expect Paul London to take the match, potentially setting up a London-vs-Shelley showdown in the near future, but it was Jamie Noble who was victorious, pinning London last to take the win. Pure Southern Pride's win over Badass Inc was great pure old school tag team action. Then Jack Swagger had a surprisingly good match with Paul Burchill over the Television title. “The American Tiger” took the win but not the belt when Steven Regal interfered for Burchill – which was odd, since he was clearly unhappy that the Empire's enforcer had won the belt in the first place. When the occasional team of Kanyon and Dustin Rhodes defeated Christopher Daniels and Sterling James Keenan, it was more about the inability of the Flock's dual leaders to work together than a real victory for the veterans.
The Cruiserweight championship match was a great showcase between Shelley and Devitt. The champion retained when Regal once again interfered, but more subtly this time. It ensured that there was likely to be a rematch. The Briscoe Brothers then managed to wrestle the WCW World Tag Team championships away from the Calgary Bulldogs in a fantastic match. Rhino faced his first real in-ring test as he took on “Phenomenal” AJ Styles, and the former WCW World champion had significant difficulty in facing “The War Machine”. The crowd went crazy when Samoa Joe charged down to the ring and attacked Rhino. The match was called and awarded to Rhino, but while Ric Flair looked annoyed, Styles himself seemed more relieved. The semi main event saw Antonio Bank$ finally recapture the United States championship, ending Bryan Danielson's outstanding fifteen month reign. The match was more than worthy of being a main event.
Yet there was still a main event to come. World champion CM Punk taking on his former friend Colt Cabana was made to feel like a major deal – and to fans, it was. The lead-in to the main event had plenty of pomp to add to the atmosphere, made all the better by over eleven thousand Texas fans being loud and proud. Daffney was at ringside but was not in the corner of either man. The match was surprisingly even – Cabana had not been booked overly strong in the the months prior, to stepping in against the world champ seemed a step up, yet one he handled. The familiarity was a primary dynamic to the match, with “Captain Classic” able to counter some of Punk's trademark moves with perfect timing. Past the twenty mark, the action slowed as the damage inflicted by both accumulated. Then the match took a brutal turn as it went outside the ring and Cabana managed to bust open Punk. Cabana got nasty, using the ringside area to brutalize his former best friend. The champion looked to be in real trouble, but Daffney intervened, begging Cabana not to further harm the bloodied Punk. The champion told his long-time valet he didn't need her help, an argument ensued, and referee Charles Robinson ended up counting both competitors out. It was a rather disappointing end to a good, intense main event. But it also meant that there would certainly be a reamtch.
Despite the finish, the match between Punk and Cabana was well-regarded. It was a great cap to a very good overall event. Perhaps most importantly, it did pretty strong business. WCW not only had some really solid ratings through May, but the rumored buy-rate for Blaze of Glory was thought be the best-drawing May pay per view for World Championship Wrestling going back to the start of the decade. That was a very positive development for WCW if accurate, though it was a bit too early to attempt to determine what specifically to attribute the strong business to.
The opening of the Phoenix Wrestling Company boded well for the future of World Championship Wrestling. But the interest that fans seemed to be taking in the Punk-Cabana feud and the promotion as a whole boded well not only for the future but, just as importantly, for the present.
Blaze of Glory 2007
May 27, 2007
San Antonio, Texas
Theme: “Blaze of Glory” by Jon Bon Jovi
Jamie Noble d. Paul London, Low Ki & Austin Aries in a 4-Corner Elimination match
Pure Southern Pride d. Badass Inc.
Jack Swagger d. Paul Burchill © via Disqualification for the WCW Television championship
Kanyon & Rhodes d. Daniels & Keenan
Fergal Devitt © d. Alex Shelley for the WCW Cruiserweight championship
The Briscoe Brothers d. The Calgary Bulldogs © for the WCW World Tag Team championships
Rhino d. AJ Styles via Disqualification
Antonio Bank$ d. Bryan Danielson © for the WCW United States championship
CM Punk © + Colt Cabana Draw via Double Count-out for the WCW World Heavyweight championship
So its been almost a month since the last update. Unfortunately, this one is done. I was hoping to have this project last a few years, but I've honestly lost the passion for it. Burned out on it, to some degree. I'll post the "where things were going" epilogue explanations in the next few days. Sorry folks.
I am sorry to hear that, BP42. Though I understand getting burned out and the like. But I have checked back every day to see if there was an update. Looking forward to what happens in the future. Hope this isn't the end of your diary writing!