Retro Wrestle Respawn – The WCW World Television Title: A Brief(ish) Journey In Time – Part One (Zenk to Austin)

I gave one of WWE’s unloved third tier titles some attention a few weeks back in the form of the European Championship, so it’s only fair that I do likewise for WCW’s main tertiary belt the World Television Title. The Television Title was a belt WCW carried over from its previous days as Jim Crocket Promotions, with “Z-Man” Tom Zenk being the first recognised Champion of the WCW Era. I’m going to focus on the WCW period of the belts history, mostly in the interest of time management but also because it’s a period I’m more personally familiar with.

What differentiated the Television Title from other belts in the company was that matches were often fought with a 10 or 15 minute time limit and the Title was regularly defended on TV at a time when the other belts didn’t get defended as often. Due to most of the matches having such a comparatively short time limit, a lot of WCW Television Title defences would often end in a draw due to the time running out. Occasionally you would see the time limit extended to 20 or 30 minutes on pay per views, but even then matches could still end up going the distance.

What this meant was that the holder of the Television Title would not only have to wrestle regularly on television against a variety of different opponents but they would also often have to go the full distance in those matches as well. In his autobiography Walking The Golden Mile, William Regal noted that the WCW Television Title was often referred to as the “Kiss of Death” belt, because it would test the capabilities of its holder to the limit. However, if the holder of the belt could answer the challenges that being Champion presented then they could often find themselves close to the hearts of the fans who appreciated that kind of worth ethic.

Now of course I won’t be detailing every single match for the WCW Television Title in this series, but what I will be doing is giving background history on each person who held the belt in the WCW days, as well as recapping some key matches that happened along the way. These will either be successful defences or moments the belt changed hands. Some of the matches will be good, others less so, but hopefully when our journey is over and done with you will have enjoyed our dive into wrestling history and, at the very least; you may have a list of interesting contests that you fancy hunting down.

As mentioned at the very start of the article, Tom Zenk was the man who brought the TV Title into the WCW Era. He had initially won the, then, NWA Television Title from Arn Anderson on an episode of the “World Championship Wrestling” television show in December of 1990 and carried the belt into 1991 in time for the belt to be re-christened with the initials WCW in front of it. Gifted with handsome looks and good athletic ability, The Z-Man as he was then known, had previously been mostly known for his exploits in the tag team division, teaming with Rick Martel in the WWF and with Brian Pillman in WCW.

Rumours persist that Zenk and Martel were due to eventually wrest the WWF Tag Team Titles from The Hart Foundation, but Zenk was dissatisfied with his treatment in the company and left before it could happen, leading to the belts being won by Martel and his new partner Tito Santana. Zenk had at least managed to win some tag team gold with Pillman, with the tandem picking up the United States Tag Team Titles in a tournament before losing them to The Midnight Express in a superlative effort at Capital Combat 1990: The Return of RoboCop.

Sadly for Zenk his WCW Television Title reign didn’t last very long, as he held it for just over a month before being dethroned by the man who he originally won it from, Arn Anderson. “The Enforcer” of the original Four Hoursemen group had held the Title on many occasions, and his dependable in-ring abilities had made him a solid choice as Title holder over the years. This particular reign would last until May 1991, where Anderson would defend the belt against long respected “good hand” Bobby Eaton.

Eaton had usually been a tag team wrestler, and had been the lynchpin in two versions of the legendary Midnight Express tandem, first with Dennis Condrey and later with Stan Lane. Both versions of The Midnight Express had been excellent for completely different reasons, but Eaton had always played a key role in both. With Condrey, the team had been insatiable heat getters, causing fans to literally riot and attack them in some of the territories they had worked in. The Midnight Express (Or “MX” as fans would sometimes refer to them as) was a legitimate Main Event attraction, feuding with the likes of Bill Watts in Mid-South and The Road Warriors in JCP.

With Lane however, The MX went in a different direction but still retained their place as one of the most respected units of the grapple game. Though this version of The Midnight Express didn’t get to Main Event with any semblance of regularity as the previous version, they instead made up for it by becoming one of the most exciting in-ring acts of their era. The Midnight Express of Eaton and Lane regularly stole the show with a frankly ludicrous number of good matches. Whether it was with old foes like Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, or with up and coming hungry youngsters such as The Southern Boys, the Eaton and Lane combo of the team raised the art of tag team wrestling to levels that had previously never been seen before.

However, both Lane and the teams mouthy manager Jim Cornette grew weary of the tiresome malaise that JCP/WCW was becoming in 1990 and, after one snappy comment from Ole Anderson too many, they decided that they were done with the company and walked out on a TV taping. Though so blinded by their utter contempt for the company that they were happy to walk away from guaranteed money at that point, Cornette and Lane were both cogent enough to realise that, with a family to provide for, it made more sense for Eaton to remain, especially as he was generally well liked by everyone due to his work ethic and attitude, and they encouraged him to do so.

With Eaton now no longer having either a tag team partner or a manager, WCW decided they would give him a bit of a push in the singles ranks, almost as a pat on the back for the years of loyal service and great matches. This led to him not only briefly holding the Television Title, but also getting to challenge World Champion Ric Flair on an edition of Clash of the Champions, as well as getting a decent allocation of time to have a fabulous outing with Terry Taylor at Halloween Havoc 1991. His reign didn’t last that long, but he at least got to win the belt on a pay per view event and have a moment in the sun all to himself until returning to the tag team ranks again in late 1991, ironically with Arn Anderson!

SuperBrawl I – 19th May 1991
WCW Television Title
Champ: Arn Anderson Vs Bobby Eaton

Bobby gets good support from the crowd here and quickly shows that he isn’t messing around by popping Arn right in the mush with one of his patented right handed punches. Both men end up taking a bump on the ramp outside the ring, which goes all the way up to the ring not unlike how All Elite Wrestling sets their show up, with Bobby getting flung onto it from the top rope and Arn taking a back body drop onto it when he tries for a piledriver.

Bobby continues to get the better of things for the most part until Arn targets his left leg by flinging it into the ring post and then illegally using the ropes for leverage so that he can crank in some leg based submission holds. Its good devious stuff from the villainous Anderson and Bobby does an excellent job selling it all. It’s classic wrestling storytelling, with the more technically focused of the two wrestlers trying to take out the quicker one by targeting a body part and working it over.

Bobby makes sporadic attempts at a comeback, firing off some more right hands to try and buy himself some time, with Arn continuing to sell them fantastically. Of course technically closed fist punches should be illegal, but American’s have never really seemed to care about that rule as much as we do here in the UK. For a long time in British Wrestling punching was illegal and the rule was still enforced. Sadly it’s not really done anymore, which is a shame as in a world where punches aren’t allowed you can draw mega heat from the crowd by firing a sly one off behind the ref’s back.

Arn delivers his trademark Spine Buster at one stage, but Bobby manages to kick out and then makes a comeback with a spinning neck breaker. Bobby’s finisher at the time was a leg drop from the top rope, named The Alabama Jam, and he heads up top to deliver it. However, Barry Windham (An ally of Anderson) runs down to try and prevent it. Windham was feuding with Brian Pillman at the time though and he rushes down to stop Big Bazza from getting involved, which allows Bobby to come off the top with his finishing move to pick up the clean three count and the WCW Television Title.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: BOBBY EATON
RATING: ***

This was good solid bread and butter wrestling, with Bobby getting a chance to shine in the early stages before Arn cut him off to work some heat, leading into an eventual clean finish and Title change. In a nice touch, Bobby is so overcome with emotion at his win that he even hugs the referee!

Eaton’s moment atop of the WCW Television Title mountain was sadly not to last all that long, with his reign being a fleeting transitional one, ending in June of 1991 at the hands of WCW newcomer “Stunning” Steve Austin. Yes, before he became “Stone Cold”, Steve Austin was a blond haired arrogant jerk managed by the lovely Lady Blossom. Rather than cracking open a can of beer, Stunning Steve would be more likely to sip on sparkling mineral water. However, though his handsome looks and valet may have made you think otherwise, Stunning Steve was already well on his way to stardom as his dispensed with Eaton to claim his first of two TV Titles.

Austin held the Title for an impressive amount of time over his two reigns, with his first one coming in at 329 days and his second being 102 days long for good measure. Austin was already mechanically sound even at this early stage in his career, with him just needing some polish in order to take things to the next level. During his two reigns with the Title, Austin took on all kinds of different opponents such as PN News, Z-Man, Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham. Windham briefly curtailed Austin’s iron grip on the belt for a scant 26 days as a way for WCW to pop a rating on their Saturday Night program, but Austin so won it back in short order. The matches between them along the way were of a high quality though.

Clash of the Champions 16 – 5th September 1991
WCW Television Title
Champ: Stunning Steve Austin w/ Lady Blossom Vs The Z-Man

This was a chance for Z-Man to get the belt back following his loss to Arn Anderson earlier in the year, and he was ranked #9 in all of WCW at this stage, so he’d apparently been racking up some wins. Z-Man was also 1/3 of the WCW Six Man Tag Team Champions at this stage as well, although that wasn’t a Title that survived for too long.

Z-Man controls things in the early going by trying to wear Austin down with holds, with Austin selling both the pain of the holds and the frustration of being on the back foot well. It’s not overly flashy stuff, but it’s solid wrestling and Z-Man’s execution of it all is spot on. The crowd responds to the action as well, cheering when Z-Man gets traditional good guy moves like a back body drop and cross body.

However, Z-Man goes to the well once too often and misses a second cross body block, which allows Austin to take control of the match. Z-Men sells well whilst Austin works him over, using classic villainous tactics such as putting his feet on the ropes to make a chin lock hurt more. Blossom is good on the outside of the ring as well, reacting with anger and horror whenever her man is in trouble.

Austin manages to catch Z-Man with the Stun Gun (A throat first drop onto the top rope), which was his regular finishing move at this time, but rather than go for the pin he tries to punish Z-Man some more, which allows Z-Man to catch him in the sleeper hold, which was a finishing move of his own during this period. Austin manages to make the ropes, but Blossom passes him a concealed weapon of some kind, which Austin hits Z-Man with when the ref isn’t looking for the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STUNNING STEVE AUSTIN
RATING: ***

This was a good match, as Z-Man got plenty of offence in and looked good, but Austin and Blossom were wicked and deceitful enough to ensure they could find a way to win. Z-Man looked like a genuine contender whilst Austin looked like a clever villain who was not to be underestimated. Job done!

Halloween Havoc 1991 – 27th October 1991
WCW Television Title
Champ: Stunning Steve Austin w/ Lady Blossom Vs Dustin Rhodes

Dustin was still quite early into his career at this stage, a career which is amazingly still going on in All Elite Wrestling. After a brief stint in the WWF at the start of the year, Dustin had joined his father Dusty in leaving for WCW in 1991 and was already receiving a decent push as a young up and comer. There was some resentment to his push, but nowhere near as much as poor Erik Watts would receive a year later, although Rhodes was significantly better in the ring than Watts was, he was just lacking polish and that would come over time.

Both of these men are big lads from Texas who are mechanically sound in the ring, so they know what to do in order to have a solid outing and they would have quite a few together in WCW during their respective stints in the company. We see that Dustin’s gran has travelled all the way to come and watch him here, which would normally be a strong suggestion that Rhodes might go on to win the Title, but that’s not how it ends up turning out.

The match is wrestled at a quick clip in the early going, with both men moving at a decent pace and showing off their athleticism, such as when Rhodes clotheslines Austin over the top rope to the floor at one stage, with Austin taking a fabulous bump to the floor. Blossom gets her fair share of wolf-whistles from horny patrons in the crowd, and to be honest she does look gorgeous in her snazzy red outfit and doesn’t seem to mind the attention sent her way.

The turning point in the bout is when Rhodes takes a spill to the floor and ends up opening a cut above his eye. Austin is of course more than happy to target the cut like the good villainous jerk he is, which leads to most of Rhodes’ face being caked in blood. The blood has the desired effect of getting the crowd behind Rhodes, and he tries to fight his way out of a chin lock as the ring announcer confirms that we have only five minutes remaining in the 15 minute time limit.

The time continues to ebb away, with Austin continuing to work Rhodes over and even Blossom getting the odd cheap shot in when the opportunity allows. Rhodes keeps coming though, sending Austin to the floor and then opening him open by flinging him into the metal ring post, at which point the match becomes a desperate chase, where Rhodes tries to put the Champion away whilst Austin desperately clings on in order to be saved by the bell. Eventually it is Austin who is successful, as Rhodes can’t hold him down for three and the time limit expires.

TIME LIMIT DRAW – AUSTIN RETAINS THE WCW TELEVISION TITLE
RATING: ***1/4

This had good wrestling and some excellent storytelling, with Rhodes mostly winning the contest until his wound slowed him down, only for him to then turn the tables in the closing stages when Austin was also busted open. One good thing about the TV Title was that the time limit draw would give a way for the Champion to retain without making the challenger look weak. Rhodes looked gutsy here but Austin also looked resourceful for running out the clock, so they both gained something from the match overall

As you can see from those two matches, Stunning Steve Austin worked out the requirements for being a good WCW TV Champion early into his reign and he had a number of good matches as a result. I think this will make a good place to bring things to a close for now, but stay tuned for next week where we will take a look at the man who finally brought Austin’s second reign to an end with an almost Dragon-like ferocity…

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