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1996 Stock Picks


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Yes, I realize the whole concept of stock picks is Phil's idea, but if you're going to steal, steal from the best.

 

Anyway, I'm going through the match list trying to filter it as much as possible, finding stuff I can on You Tube and watching it in order to ensure that everything on the set is needed and that there are no huge gaps.

 

But that's a topic for another time. Right now, let's focus on who was who in '96.

 

STOCK GOING UP

 

Lex Luger: I don't know about the second half of the year so much, but Lex Luger in the first six months of 1996 was great. The run is as good as or better than his more praised 1989 heel run, which I'm also a fan of, but Luger was working a lot more on TV in longer, more competitive matches during this time, with more complex booking around him. Comedy, sprints, tags, heel work, face work ... you name it. You wouldn't expect it, but when you look back at the booking of 1996, Luger was put in the upper card workhorse spot. He seems an odd pick for that role. But consider that from the time he returned, he wrestled twice in one night on four consecutive PPVs:

 

* He had two matches on the Halloween Havoc '95 show

* He had two matches on the World War 3 '95 show

* He had two matches on the Starrcade '95 show

* He had two matches on the SuperBrawl VI show

 

That's a pretty impressive run on PPV, and one I'm not sure anyone else in wrestling history can truthfully claim.

 

He had a terrific Eddy Guerrero match on WCW Saturday Night, wrestled very much like the Luger/Pillman series, just shorter. Eddy did not dumb down his style for Luger, and Luger kept up with him. To top it off, he put him over (by DQ, but still a big win) and gave Eddy 80% of the match. He had one of the weirdest, yet most fun matches I've ever seen on Nitro teaming with Sting against the American Males. In this match, Luger alternates between heel and face depending on when Sting is looking and when Sting is not. I'm not a video gamer, so I'll probably screw this analogy up, but it reminds me of whatever Mario game I've played at some point in my life where when Mario faces the ghoul, the ghoul is his friend, and the second he turns away, he's not. Luger high-fives fans when Sting is watching him on the way to the ring. As soon as Sting looks away, Luger acts disgusted and makes fans stop touching him. Luger tries to be a sportsman when wrestling Bagwell, but eventually loses his temper and beats the hell out of Bagwell in a very impressive looking sequence. On a side note, Sting and Bagwell are working a lot of student-teacher spots played up by the announcers, and are working ridiculous wrestling sequences you would never expect from those two, paced every bit as fast as peak Michinoku Pro, just in shorter spurts.

 

He has a terrific match teaming with Sting against Meng and Barbarian. He has a terrific Nitro match against Flair. He's also The Giant's best opponent by far, far more so than Hogan, Sting, Savage or Flair even, setting up Giant's bumps in ways that always ensure massive crowd pops.

 

And I shouldn't forget the hilarious Chicago Street Fight build, where he goads the Road Warriors into the match with himself and Sting, then backs out. "What's a Chicago Street Fight?"

 

To top it all off, during this time, he's being booked in a way that appears to be a parody of his entire career, as Luger was notorious for having turned so many times. Now, Luger is taking on both roles at the same time, alternating depending on who his opponents are. Very much a run worth watching, and one that surprised me, as I've always helped promote the line that nothing from him is worth watching after 1990.

 

Diesel: This a pretty short window, but it's a good one. He straddled the fence early on, but from the moment he attacked Shawn with the chair on the MSG house show in March, he went out of the WWF with a bang. Great promos and great confidence. He seemed far more comfortable in this role than he ever did as sweet babyface in 1995. The match against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XII is much better than I remembered, more so because of Diesel than Taker. He was great in the build to the In Your House match against Shawn Michaels, especially when he destroyed Shawn while wearing his t-shirt. He did a great promo on Superstars arguing with Shawn, with this exchange:

 

Diesel: "Do you know how much money I am worth? Do you?"

Shawn: "Do you know how much money I am worth staying right here, in the World Wrestling Federation?"

 

This was before he went to WCW and started undercutting babyfaces and turning every promo into a shoot. I mean, yeah, there's a veiled reference there, but Diesel wasn't a smarmy wrestler in the same way Kevin Nash was.

 

In his performances against Undertaker and Shawn, he looks like a legitimately great big man wrestler. Like Bix said to me on IM, Nash is a strong case for a wrestler not being bad, but just being lazy.

 

Losing Razor Ramon to WCW wasn't a huge loss. Losing Diesel at that point, when they finally round a role that clicked, was a major loss.

 

Ric Flair: I should preface this by saying that Ric Flair's haircut in 1996 was terrible, actively took away from his aura, made him look older (which he didn't need help with), and didn't fit him at all. That said, if you can look past that, he had a short window in January-February where he was being pushed like a world beater. One of my favorites is a Savage/Benoit match where Woman turned on Savage to reunite with Flair. Hogan comes out to help, then starts doing a promo, and Flair casually comes back in the ring and mauls him. With no help or cheating or anything. Pretty awesome. He was pushed hard enough during this time, and even after February, that I can see why he and Savage started drawing on house shows.

 

Because he was booked in his element so much, with both Woman and Elizabeth, he was also doing some great promos during this time, including my favorite where Liz and Woman bring out a gurney, and Flair pops out of it wearing sunglasses, a suit, and holding the belt.

 

Goldust: For the first half of the year or so, you won't see too much Goldust in the ring. He wasn't bad or anything, he just didn't do as much in the ring. He was a spectacular out of the ring character, doing things as raunchy or raunchier than anything in the Attitude era. There is a segment on Raw where he re-enacted Piper's Pit that I'm surprised was allowed to air. He talks about he's on the set of a show that was the subject of many of his teenage fantasies, and says growing up, he was hung on Piper's every word. He asks him also if he can play with his bagpipe, then proceeds to blow into the bagpipe and act like he was having an orgasm. Pretty shocking by any standard, especially those of the WWF in 1996.

 

Coffee and high heels: Flair beats Hogan with a high-heeled shoe on Nitro. Hogan sells the damage for weeks. Arn beats Hogan with a high-heeled shoe on Nitro. Hogan sells this as a reaggravated injury. Within a three week period, they had four finishes involving women's shoes, to a point where the Billionaire Ted skits started making fun of it. I guess they were sensitive to that, because then they switched to coffee. Flair beats Luger after Woman throws coffee in his eyes. The announcers do a huge over the top sell of how STEAMING it is. The next week, Flair throws coffee on Sting and Luger as the key point in switching momentum, and leading to a heel beatdown. The week after that, Sting and Luger have Flair cornered. Woman pulls a cup of coffee OUT OF HER PURSE (with a lid on it) and Flair tries to sneak up on Sting and Luger with the coffee, which reminded me of the Monty Python skit, "Self Defense Against Fresh Fruit". Flair tries to splash Sting and Luger and ends up getting The Giant instead. The Giant is furious and chases Flair out of the ring. This sets up a title change! Giant even says, "This coffee is hot, but it lit a fire within my soul!"

 

I want to comment more on the Japanese and Mexican footage we are including, but sadly, much of it is not online and I don't have it in my collection where it's easily accessible, so like the rest of you, I'll wait for the set!

 

Other notes:

 

* Shawn Michaels didn't stand a chance in 1996. There is nothing he could have conceivably done to turn business around. I think it's wrong to blame him for what happened that year. He got the belt to great fanfare, and his two most natural feuds -- Bret and Diesel -- had both guys leaving immediately after dropping matches to him. Then, there's Vince. Oh my God, Vince. Vince pushed Shawn so hard at the announce booth that he destroyed him.

 

* The Billionaire Ted skits went from being mildly funny to nasty and mean-spirited in record time.

 

* 1-2-3 Kid could go. I was falsely remembering that he sucked as a heel in early '96, but he was really good in TV matches. I think WCW missed the boat by not using him as the NWO workhorse guy who could have TV matches with guys up and down the card and win some/lose some.

 

* HHH has aged about 30 years in the past 14 years.

 

* The NWO is what turned things around, but WCW was headed in the right direction and had a strong foundation even before the NWO. Would they have done record business? No. But their television production and booking quality was on par with that of the WWF. They also had the better roster and were in a good position to take advantage of the NWO getting hot.

 

I've only made it through April -- aside from a few isolated matches -- so I'll cover the rest later.

 

No real stock picks going down because I've liked pretty much everything I've watched.

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This probably could be split in half years for some:

 

Shawn Michaels

1st Half: Up

2nd Half: Down

 

Shawn had a good run to winning the title, and the WWF's business was good. It hit the wall at a certain point. Vince knew it, and paid big to keep Bret. Shawn-Vader was pretty botched, and in a "modern era" (i.e. further along in the Monday Night Wars Era), we likely would have seen Vader win the belt at SS and have Shawn chase him to get it back. Probably would have made for a better feud. Anyway, Shawn had his meltdown at Survivors, then on TV in those interviews, then was dogshit on the mic for Bret-Sid. Ended the year without the belt, though booked to get it back at Rumble... but lots of questions of where he was headed. Not close to how the first half of the year turned out.

 

Hulk Hogan

1st Half: Down

2nd Half: Up

 

It really looked like time was passing Hulk by through almost all of the first half of 1996. The face thing was dying, Flair-Savage was hotter than anything Hulk was doing, and the Outsiders were coming in. Looking back this was perhap a small window of chance for him to have been x'd out of WCW, and history might have been different. Instead, he turned heel and *made* history. Without him, the nWo never would have gotten over to the degree that it did with him. The perfect time for a heel turn, pretty much the perfect person for that role from the perspective of drawing and holding fans. Long term it just restrengthened Hogan's power base: it just locked him into being King. But people tend to forget that the first Outsiders match didn't draw a massive buyrate on PPV: they were over, but they weren't Red Hot. Hogan Turn = Red Hot

 

There are other people in that mode. Austin was very little in the first half, and probably would have been a "sell" rather than a "buy". The Ringmaster gimmick was DOA. He was a clear "buy" come the end of the year.

 

Pillman was an overpirced "buy" in parts of the first half of the year, but a "sell for whatever you can get" by the end of 1996.

 

John

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Good point. There are definitely people who were resurgent or having downturns in dramatic fashion throughout the year.

 

It seems like I've read that during that small window, Bischoff and Hogan were having problems, and Bischoff was considering moving on without him. I'm thinking April-May 1996. Is there truth to that? Is that why he took the time off before the heel turn?

 

Also, I know there were rumors later in the year that he and Savage were going to jump to the WWF after Havoc. Was that just bullshit Internet rumors, or was there something legitimate there? Was Vince making offers to Hogan at that point?

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Totally agree on Luger. He was my favorite main event/near main event act in WCW at the time. I actually think Luger's real low point was the WWF run and the perception became so bad at that point that he could never recover. He was having good matches with Bret Hart in 99 - months after almost everyone in the company had given up.

 

As someone who is watching a lot of ECW the guy who really stands out to me as a "stock going up" pick is Bubba Dudley. Sadly I'm not sure this will be reflected on the 96 set because there really isn't a lot of Bubba Dudley that is essential to the narrative of what was going on that year. Anyhow he was a comedy act for the bulk of the year but he was insanely over with the live crowds. His athleticism at the time was unreal as he was regularly doing topes over the tope, dives, et and moving around the ring at lightning pace. He had a really good brawl at the Arena teaming with Rotten v. Dick and D-Von, his team with Spike had several strong matches, and he had singles matches with D-Von and Scorpio that were both very good - the Scorp match being pretty damned great.

 

I would say Mikey Whipwreck is a stock going up guy but I've been told by others that he is universally loved.

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I never understood SKeith's old talking point about how Summerslam '93 cemented Luger as a choke artist. The sport is a work, Luger/Yoko wasn't any different.

 

Between Luger's well documented greatness in 1989 as well as watching his WCW stuff throughout 1996-97, it's clear he could still go and there was genuine fan interest in him. I haven't seen it since shortly after it happened, but the Luger/Hogan Title switch on Nitro sticks out as one of Nitro's greatest moments.

 

Not to hijack this into a full blown Luger thread, but just to gauge some opinions, how does everyone think Lex would have fared had he stuck around the WWF in '95? I obviously don't see him reaching the same heights he did in WCW. I could see a feud with the Bulldog at the horizon, and maybe a heel turn to work with Shawn. But, I'm at a loss for what else they could have conceivably done with him.

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Good point. There are definitely people who were resurgent or having downturns in dramatic fashion throughout the year.

 

It seems like I've read that during that small window, Bischoff and Hogan were having problems, and Bischoff was considering moving on without him. I'm thinking April-May 1996. Is there truth to that? Is that why he took the time off before the heel turn?

 

Also, I know there were rumors later in the year that he and Savage were going to jump to the WWF after Havoc. Was that just bullshit Internet rumors, or was there something legitimate there? Was Vince making offers to Hogan at that point?

Our local paper ran a Blackjack Brown wrestling column that mentioned this. Now that I'm older, more familiar with Hogan's machinations, and more cynical I'm inclined to believe this was Hogan spreading the word through acolytes to pump up his per-appearance deal with WCW or at least get some sort of contract leverage.

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I've been watching a lot of Nitro from 96-98, and I agree that Luger is underrated from that era. I watched a Buff Bagwell match from 04/98 that was really smartly worked and put together. For a guy with the reputation of being lazy, he busted his ass back then. I'm not sure why we were so down on him.

 

I also have to agree with the Flair love from that time. The first half of 96 may have been Flair's last great run. The storyline with him having Liz and Woman by his side, while extravagantly spending Savage's money, was the best possible angle you could put him in. His promos from that time were hysterical, and him and Arn had their last great tag matches together. I really enjoyed a match they had with the American Males from May 96, as well as a singles Nitro match with Guerrero.

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Woman and Liz looked so incredibly hot for most of 96. Woman flirting with Mean Gene during Flair's promos was great

 

the McMichael/Greene/Horsemen angle was booked perfectly and was a legit suprise at the time. It was also the only angle where they kinda put over Bobby Heenan's credentials

 

does anyone else remember a promo airing on Nitro in summer of 96 showcasing Teddy Long's brigade of Jobbers (Jim Powers, Joe Gomez, and I can't remember the rest) running shirtless on the beach with softcore skinemax music in the background?

 

I also remember this is the time where Madusa's implants started to get out of control and she was getting a lot of airtime including an angle on one of the syndies where she was claiming the (married) men of WCW were all hitting on her (this was weird because it was never mentioned again and was completely dropped but I remember it airing)

 

It's kind of awesome how important the secondary shows were in 96 before they became filler in 97/98. Regal beat Luger in Sept. 96 on Saturday Night after a rare appearance by Hall and Nash on that program

 

You can make the case that WCW was doing the stunt/suprise booking before Vicne Russo. Russo just took it to the next level

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I never understood SKeith's old talking point about how Summerslam '93 cemented Luger as a choke artist. The sport is a work, Luger/Yoko wasn't any different.

 

I think it comes from all the times he challenged Flair in the NWA and never won the belt, and now here he is in the WWF challenging for the belt and again coming up short. Looking at it with 2010 eyes where everyone trades wins weekly and belts don't matter, yes it looks silly. In 1993 it made a lot of people think he was a guy who would never win the big one. Plus the whole deal with the balloons and confetti falling from the sky to celebrate a count-out win was so odd, it kind of made him look like a goof for being so excited over an empty win.

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Totally agree on Luger, he was a strong, ambiguous character and his work was the best he's ever been. The three Luger stints I really enjoy are the 89 one, the early 96 one and the Total Package in late 99-00, one of the only bright spot of the awful Russo era.

 

Liz & Woman in WCW were the most attractive women in wrestling ever. Flair & the Horsemen coming out with both of them was so right on every level.

 

The gay porn video with the four JTTS was hilarious.

 

Really, WCW at this time was going strong. It was so varied in what it had to offer, from old-school worker to the NJ3 to the mexican guys to the martial arts goofy stuff of Glacier feuding with Wrath & Kanyon to european guys, to the nWo angle. The package was a mix on tons of different things, and that's what made it so fun to watch to me.

 

Bubba was fun, but man, his feud with D-Von was unwatchable to me.

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I never understood SKeith's old talking point about how Summerslam '93 cemented Luger as a choke artist. The sport is a work, Luger/Yoko wasn't any different.

 

I think it comes from all the times he challenged Flair in the NWA and never won the belt, and now here he is in the WWF challenging for the belt and again coming up short. Looking at it with 2010 eyes where everyone trades wins weekly and belts don't matter, yes it looks silly. In 1993 it made a lot of people think he was a guy who would never win the big one. Plus the whole deal with the balloons and confetti falling from the sky to celebrate a count-out win was so odd, it kind of made him look like a goof for being so excited over an empty win.

 

Yeah, I was going to write down that Luger already had the choke artist reputation from his days going up against Flair but you beat me to it. His rep did hurt him.

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Yeah, I was going to write down that Luger already had the choke artist reputation from his days going up against Flair but you beat me to it. His rep did hurt him.

Which goes back to my point, it's all a work. Not to mention that Lex *had* won the big one, at the '91 Great American Bash.

 

I do agree with Sek's point, that Lex looked like a moron celebrating when he won by count out. Although it wasn't an uncommon thing in the WWF during the '80's and '90's for the workers to forget that titles only changed hands on pin and submission.

 

I'd say that Lex was one of the first big examples of Vince not getting behind something that wasn't his creation. After the Summerslam '93 match, he was more or less strung along until WrestleMania, which saw Vince go back to Bret. Then he went on to feud with Tatanka, and then formed the team with Davey, that ended when Davey turned heel.

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Which goes back to my point, it's all a work. Not to mention that Lex *had* won the big one, at the '91 Great American Bash.

Today there are still plenty of fans who totally suspend their disbelief, so it's not entirely implausible there were plenty more back then. I've run into quite a few people who think Steve Austin's act was legitimate.

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I watched the American Males/ Sting Luger tag you were talking about Loss and it was awesome as you stated. The thing that stuck out the most to me was how the commentary was so much better at putting the product and the wrestlers over. You generally don't think of Bischoff and MOngo being great commentators but both did an excellent job emphasizing the teacher/student aspect and also Bischoff reeling off how deep the tag division was at the time with naming 5 solid teams that were a threat to the titles. I guess I had just become complacent with excepting Striker talking out of his ass, Lawler not caring one bit, and Cole changing from heel to face every match that I didn't realize how bad the current commentary is at times.

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What does it matter if it's a work? The work is that Luger is a choke artist.

What Daniel says.

 

Yes, it's a "work". But don't we all talk about how Triple H and other stomp on people push and overness by *beating* them, or at least failing to put them over?

 

It wasn't intentional to make him look like a choke artist. It's just how it ended up via the booking: he couldn't beat Flair for the belt (despite lots of other people doing it, including Sting). And he couldn't beat Yoko for it, while Bret and Hogan did.

 

John

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He had a terrific Eddy Guerrero match on WCW Saturday Night, wrestled very much like the Luger/Pillman series, just shorter. Eddy did not dumb down his style for Luger, and Luger kept up with him.

How does the DDP/Eddy program look with hindsight? At the time I remember it being contentious among your smart mark set. It was pretty much a B show main event program that the live crowd seemed really into, but it was before Savage v DDP feud and DDP didn't have anything in the way of smark fans (I remember being surprised at how much I dug DDP v Hacksaw at the time but again have no idea how that will look in 2010). But there was an argument at the time as to how much or how little DDP was forcing Eddy to dumb down and curious what it looks like 14 years later.

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I wouldn't say Eddy dumbing down is the right argument to make, but Eddy and DDP were definitely on two different planes. Eddy apparently hated working with DDP because he overthought things and tried to lay out matches in advance, and I believe DDP even called Eddy on Christmas day to try to lay out the match.

 

The match isn't bad at Starrcade, and it's even pretty good in spots.

 

Anyway, the issue wasn't to me that Eddy was having to dumb down, but rather that they really didn't have chemistry. The post-match brawl where the NWO let Eddy get the better of them for much longer than you'd think before finally laying him out is much better than the match itself.

 

But, Waltman has complained about Eddy not wanting to even go over ideas before their ladder match at Souled Out, so that seems to be a consistent frustration with people who worked with him at the time.

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Also I believe part of the problem with the DDP/Eddie dynamic was I believe DDP was booked as the 1st guy to get revenge on the NWO so he got over super fast. DDP was a heel for his whole tenure up to this point. So his dynamic worked better with Chavo and Badd. So when he goes into his bouts with Eddie we have a guy DDP who the crowd clearly sees as a guy who's about to break through to the top and has been getting mike time. While with Eddie he's kinda being booked into a holding patern that the crowd sees and would be proven with feuds with Syxx and Malenko for the U.S title. So we have face going through the glass ceiling to face who wins somes and loses some. If memory serves me I think I have my timeline right here.

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Everyone always likes to say that the only star WCW made during the Monday Night war is Goldberg, but DDP also became a star. I don't care how many swapping parties he went too, getting over depends on the guy getting the push being able to take it and run with it. DDP managed to go from manager who's no longer needed to World Champion. He was as over as any guy I've ever seen for awhile there.

And no wonder the Savage/ DDP stuff is so well remembered, it was two guys who love to plan every little detail. I'd iimagine they'd sit together and purposely try and write/ their stuff to steal the show.

Savage and Steamboat both agreed to the same thing at Mania 3, but just for the match stealing the show. By the time of Savage/ DDP the angle, promos, and booking all had to work with great matches, and they pulled that off.

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