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

Thank You for once again joining me as I take a journey into wrestling’s past in order to look at the history of the Television Title. Last week we had a look at the early days of the WCW Era of the TV Title, picking the bones of the Title reigns of Z-Man, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton and Stunning Steve Austin. We closed with a look at Austin’s successful defence of the Title against Dustin Rhodes at Halloween Havoc 1991, as Austin managed to outlast the 15 minute time limit and escape with his Title by the skin of his teeth. His first reign would continue on until the April of 1992, coming to a grand total of 329 days.

Along the way he would join up with Paul E. Dangerously’s (Heyman) “Dangerous Alliance” faction, which led to him becoming embroiled in feuds with the likes of The Steiner Brothers, Sting and Barry Windham. Windham would end up being the straw that broke the camels back when it came to Austin’s iron grip on the TV Title, as Big Bazza was able to wrest the Title always from Stunning Steve’s waist on an edition of WCW’s, then, flagship show Saturday Night.

At the time WCW was experimenting with holding regular Two out of Three Falls matches on Saturday Night as a way to pique viewer interest, and the idea of giving the fans a big Title change on regular television in order to juice the ratings became an attractive one, thus Austin’s long reign with the TV Title was finally brought to an end when Windham defeated him via Two Falls to One in an excellent bout at the end of April.

Indeed, the matches between Austin and Windham were regularly of a high quality and the rivalry has remained a much loved one amongst grapple devotees. At around 6 foot 6 inches and with bright blond hair, Windham was not only a striking performer to look at but he also had smooth in-ring skills and was decent on the microphone as well. One thing that had always hampered Windham’s career had been his personal lack of drive. He could wrestle with someone like Ric Flair for an hour with effortless ease, but he just never seemed to have the same hunger and it meant he often remained in the middle of the card when by rights he should have been a lifelong Main Event attraction based on his looks and ability alone.

Despite the quality of the matches however, Big Bazza’s TV Title run was a bit of a damp squib, as he only defended it a couple of times on television before dropping it less than a month after winning it right back to Austin. What could have been a launching pad to greater things ended up being another example of Windham’s top skills going to waste. Austin had certainly proved himself in the division, and seeing the belt around his waist again was a welcome sight to those who had enjoyed his first reign, but by this stage it was probably time for someone different to hold the gold.

Austin spent his second reign re-matching with Windham and taking on previous victims from his first reign such as The Z-Man, with the matches continuing to be of a high standard, but this reign lasted a comparatively paltry 102 days before the time came for him to drop it and move on from the division once and for all. The man chosen to take the Title from him had been a regular thorn in the side of the Dangerous Alliance and would feud with Austin again a couple of years later over the United States Title.

Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat had long had a reputation for being one of the best “Fan Favourites” or “Babyfaces” in all of wrestling. Steamboat had pretty much been a Face from the moment he debuted, with his handsome looks and Lui Kang styled ring attire (complete with trademark headband) making him an instant hit with fans. Inside the ring he was one of the greatest performers of his age, with smooth technical wrestling skills matched alongside high-flying manoeuvres and an almost unmatched ability to sell the offence of his opponents. When Ricky Steamboat made it look like he was in pain then you believed him, so superior were his sell-jobs.

Austin and Steamboat met each other many times, both in singles and tag team bouts, with the two not only feuding over the TV and US Titles but also for the Tag Titles with their respective partners of Brian Pillman and Shane Douglas. “Chemistry” is a word often thrown around when it comes to explaining why two wrestlers can put on such great matches together, but in the case of Austin and Steamboat it was a descriptor that was suitably apt. Austin and Steamboat just clicked with one another and their matches were always a pleasure and never a chore.

Clash of the Champions 20 – 2nd September 1992
WCW Television Title
Champ: Stunning Steve Austin w/ Paul E. Dangerously Vs Ricky Steamboat

Before this match a young girl comes out to sing the National Anthem, which strikes me as something they could have done earlier so as not to delay the match, but in credit to the young singer named Meghan she does an excellent job. In a funny moment, we see that Paul E is still barking instructions to his client throughout the song, because he’s a psycho yuppie who cares about nothing other than victory, the National Anthem be darned!

This match has special rules whereby there are No Disqualifications and Paul E will be required to be suspended above the ring in a shark cage. As someone who has never really enjoyed heights, I can only imagine that being hoisted above the ring in a rickety cage like that was all kinds of stressful for noted acrophobia sufferer Paul Heyman. Steamboat has taped-up ribs here due to a prior injury, and Austin being the good villain he is instantly tries to attack them as often as possible.

As was usually the case with these two, the early sections of the match feature Austin and Steamboat trading holds with one another with the kind of smoothness and fluidity that most wrestlers would kill for. It’s really fantastic watching these guys go at it, especially if you are a fan of scientific wrestling like I am. I always thought these two just meshed so well together from a character perspective as well, with Austin being so cocky and Steamboat being so heroic.

Eventually Austin manages to get a prolonged period of offence in when he flings Steamboat off the ropes and then targets the injured mid-section with moves like back breakers. Steamboat of course sells that all in his indomitable way, making it look like his very life force is being drained from him at certain points. Steamboat refuses to quit though and is eventually able to hip toss his way out of an Austin abdominal stretch so that he can make a comeback.

We head into the finishing stretch, with both men getting near falls. In a great moment, Steamboat manages to catch Austin with a Tombstone Piledriver, but he stops momentarily before making the pin attempt due to his mid-section hurting so much, with the brief respite allowing Austin to just kick out at two. What I love about that is that the delay protects the move by giving the guys an out for why such a devastating manoeuvre didn’t end the bout, and it also pays off a big chunk of the match where Austin targeted the body part because it played a direct part in affecting Steamboat’s performance. It’s a great example of how both men are such excellent storytellers in the ring.

Austin tries to win the bout by rolling Steamboat up and grabbing the tights, but Steamboat is able to kick out at two and then gets a series of two counts himself in quick succession. Austin replies by elbowing Steamboat over the top rope to the floor, but that allows Steamboat to crawl under the ring to the other side before coming off the top rope with a flying cross body block. At the time moves from the top rope were banned in WCW, so the No DQ rule allowed Steamboat to bust out his classic finishing move like that.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: RICKY STEAMBOAT
RATING: ***1/2

This was a great match, with consistent selling from Steamboat and some great character work from both men. The action was exciting and the match told a fun story of Steamboat overcoming his injury and then making use of the match stipulation to turn back the clock with his former finishing move now that the situation allowed for it

Steamboat would suffer a similar fate as Windham did, with his reign barely lasting a month and just three successful defences. The reign did at least appear to last a little bit longer on TV though, as the Title changed didn’t air until more than two weeks after the match had actually taken place. One of those successful defences came against a young Kevin Nash, back when the big man was still wrestling under the name Vinnie Vegas. The reason why Steamboat’s reign was so short was because WCW desperately wanted to get the TV Title onto another wrestler so that they could entice him to remain within the company.

Scott and Rick Steiner were both successful amateur wrestlers with impressive physiques and near terrifying athletic ability. After forming a team in 1989 they had quickly become one of the most dominant acts in all of wrestling, smashing opposing tandems to smithereens both in WCW and abroad in New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, by 1992 they had grown tired of the promotion, at sentiment that many of WCW’s wrestlers shared over the years.

It was looking increasingly likely that both Steiner Brothers would leave WCW at the first opportunity, so as a way to entice them to stay WCW decided to book Scott to defeat Ricky Steamboat for the TV Title on an edition of the WCW Worldwide television show. On paper this wasn’t a terrible idea as Scott was always seen as the member of the team with the most potential for a singles push and the TV Title was a good way to start in that regard, especially with brother Rick out injured for a bit. The question was would it be enough to keep The Steiner’s a part of the WCW family?

WCW Worldwide – 17th October 1992
WCW Television Title
Champ: Ricky Steamboat Vs Scott Steiner

WCW were starting to tease that Scott Steiner might be potentially going towards the dark side, what with him attacking makeshift tag team partner Marcus Bagwell the previous week. That is teased further here in the early going, as Steamboat accidentally sends Steiner spilling to the floor at one stage and actually goes to help him up, but Steiner later on pie faces Steamboat back inside the ring after behaving in an unsporting manner by refusing to break on a clinch in the corner.

The wrestling here is to a high standard, as both men are proficient at working holds on the mat and are also in fantastic physical shape meaning that they can keep up with one another. Steamboat tries to wear Steiner down with basic holds, but Steiner eventually manages to get back into it with some of his trademark suplexes, followed by a single leg crab hold, and when that doesn’t work he wraps the smaller Steamboat up in a big bear hug.

Steamboat manages to fight out of the hold, but ends up taking a spill to the floor when Steiner dodges his running attack. Steiner doesn’t follow Steiner out of the ring, but he’s hardly sympathetic to his plight either and catches Steamboat with an inside cradle back inside for the three count and the Title, with the idea being that this is another tease of Scott’s Heel turn due to him not returning the favour by helping Steamboat back into the ring as Steamboat had done for him.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SCOTT STEINER
RATING: **

The wrestling here was fine and there were some neat storytelling elements on display, but it also never really felt like the match got going. You definitely felt they had a higher gear they could have kicked into that they never did

Sadly for WCW their ploy of persuading The Steiner’s to stay in the company ended up falling on death ears, as both Rick and Scott were thoroughly sick of the company by this stage and ended up going to the WWF in 1993, where they won the Tag Team Titles, and they didn’t return to WCW until 1996. WCW was unable to ensure that Scott Steiner lost the TV Title before leaving the company however, which led to the company suffering the ignominy of having to vacate the Title and hold a tournament to decide which lucky wrestler would be able to claim a belt that the previous Champion didn’t even want.

16 men were chosen to compete in the tournament, with the list of competitors including the likes of Mick Foley, Rob Van Dam and Kevin Nash, although they all competed under the names Cactus Jack, Robbie V and Vinnie Vegas respectively. Eventually the Final came down to a match between veteran Paul Orndorff and youngster Erik Watts on the 2nd of March 1993, with the winner going on to claim the TV Title. The match itself was actually aired a whole month later on the 3rd of April 1993.

Paul Orndorff had been a mainstay in the WWF in the early days of its “Hulkamania” Era, with Orndorff himself being part of the very first WrestleMania Main Event, where he had teamed with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in a losing effort against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. Named “Mr. Wonderful” due to his incredible physique and cocky persona, Orndorff had briefly been a babyface star following that tag team match, even going so far as to team with Hogan for a while. However, this was only to be a fleeting moment for Orndorff’s character, as he eventually became sick of Hogan and attacked him, which led to ginormous business between the two as they battled over the WWF Title.

However, during that feud Orndorff suffered serious nerve damage in his right arm, an injury serious enough that it required surgery. Orndorff didn’t want to take time off though as the feud with Hogan was doing such great business, leading to him working through the pain and making the damage permanent. The damage was forever visible, as Orndorff’s right arm was always noticeably smaller than his left one. For most people this would have been the end of not just a career but a normal life in general, but Orndorff was an absolute beast and, after leaving the business for a brief spell, he returned and battled through the injury, to the point that the injured arm actually became stronger than his healthy one.

Whereas Orndorff was an impressive physical specimen and a good wrester to boot, Erik Watts was at a completely different end of the spectrum. The son of famous wrestler and promoter Bill Watts, Erik was still a young wrestler learning the ropes when he entered WCW in 1992. Despite his lack of in-ring ability and polish however he was quickly thrust into the spotlight due to the fact his father had become the head booker of the territory. A parent pushing one of their children was nothing new in the wrestling business, with the likes of Fritz Von Erich and Stu Hart doing it regularly.

The difference was that, whereas guys like David Von Erich or Bret Hart were good wrestlers that they could hold their own and earn the respect of the fans as a result, Erik Watts was not a good wrestler by any real barometer you could care to use, and the crowd knew it. It wasn’t like he wasn’t without potential, and in all honesty he became a passable wrestler in his latter career when he wrestled for the NWA:TNA promotion, but in 1992 he was nowhere near good enough to justify the kind of push he was getting and the fans hated him for it, so much so that poor Erik would get roundly booed on some occasions.

Bill Watts’ power as booker was beginning to wane as WCW entered 1993, partly due to him being undermined by other people within the company and also partly as a result of his own actions due to some questionable comments he had made in an interview regarding restaurateurs not having to serve African American’s if they didn’t want to. Watts had been a successful and ground breaking booker in his heyday, with his Mid-South Wrestling television show being must-see every week due to its combination of good wrestling and exciting storytelling, but by 1993 he was WAY behind the times and it showed in the way he booked WCW, including a baffling rule where he banned moves from the top rope, something that seemingly everyone hated but him.

Had Watts still had the same power in 1993 as he had in 1992 then maybe the result of the TV Title Tournament might have been different, or perhaps to give Watts credit, even he would have realised that his son wasn’t cut out to be a Champion just yet. Regardless, it was eventually Orndorff who won the tournament, claiming the TV Title as a result. Despite his in-ring ability however, Orndorff wasn’t an especially exciting Champion, with most of his defences either coming against low-ranking guys who had no real chance to begin with such as The Italian Stallion, or in unsatisfying disqualification finishes against top stars such as Ricky Steamboat and Ron Simmons. One of those matches against Simmons took place on pay per view, and it was the last successful defence Orndorff would enjoy during his reign.

Beach Blast 1993 – 18th July 1993
WCW Television Title
Champ: Paul Orndorff Vs Ron Simmons

Simmons had originally been one of half of Heel tag team DOOM with Butch Reed, and the two had managed to successfully win the Tag Team Titles in 1990. Ultimately the team split up in 1991 though, with Simmons becoming a babyface in the split and defeating Reed to bring that chapter of his career to an end at SuperBrawl I. following on from that win, Simmons became a fixture of the upper mid-card in WCW, coming to close to defeating Lex Luger for the WCW Title in the autumn of 91.

Simmons did eventually win the WCW Title from Vader in 1992, but his reign was a disappointment and he never really looked comfortable in the role, even though he was a naturally gifted athlete who had excelled at American Football prior to entering the wrestling business. By 1993 Simmons had dropped considerably down the pecking order and he would eventually leave the company in 1994, having a spell in ECW before joining the WWF in 1996 under the new name of “Faarooq”, where he remained a mid-card fixture until 2004 when he mostly retired as a regular performer.

This match has a special rule where Orndorff will lose the Title if he gets disqualified. The fans have fun in the early going by referring to Orndorff as “Paula”, which he plays up to big, and he spends so much time yelling back at them that it allows Simmons to clobber him and start the match. Orndorff bumps around big for Simmons in the early going, with Simmons even firing off a dropkick at one stage in an impressive display of athleticism for someone his size.

Orndorff is on the back foot for large periods of the bout, with Simmons targeting both his left arm and left leg at different points, with Orndorff selling it well, although Simmons’ attacks have been a little unfocused. Eventually Orndorff is able to lure Simmons out to the floor though, where he slams the challenger face first into the announce table before putting him back inside the ring for a chin lock. The crowd gets behind Simmons whilst he sells, and he makes sporadic attempts at a comeback here and there, timing that well.

This has been a reasonably well worked match from a purely mechanical aspect, but it hasn’t been especially exciting or thrilling in all honesty. Whereas Steve Austin and Ricky Steamboat had a special chemistry together, it really feels like these two just don’t click as opponents. They are both polished wrestlers, but neither is really tailored to get the best out of the other. There’s nothing offensive about this match, but it’s just kind of “there” for the most part. The crowd mostly reacts when and how they are supposed to, so it has that at least.

Unfortunately the finish is a bit of lame one, as Simmons makes the big comeback and gets some near falls, with Orndorff only just managing to kick out at certain points, including an occasion where he grabs the ropes when it looks like he is about to be pinned. Orndorff goes for his Piledriver finishing move, but Simmons counters it with a back body drop, sending Orndorff over the top rope as a result. Throwing an opponent over the top rope was a disqualification in WCW at the time though, so the referee disqualifies Simmons, even though there was nothing he really could have done there and he didn’t intentionally throw Orndorff over.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: PAUL ORNDORFF
RATING: **

This was an okay match with a really lousy finish. The biggest problem with WCW’s “over the top rope DQ” rule was that it was never consistent. Sometimes a wrestler would clothesline an opponent over the top for instance, but a DQ wouldn’t be called because it was unintentional and the “momentum” simply caused the wrestler to tumble out. Essentially WCW wanted to have their cake and eat it too, with being thrown over the top rope only being a DQ when it suited them for it to be one, and this just happened to be one of those occasions

With Orndorff’s run proving to be less than thrilling, the decision was made to put the belt back onto Steamboat again. In some ways WCW could have saved themselves A LOT of bother by just keeping the belt on Steamboat in 1992, as it would have meant that they likely wouldn’t have needed to vacate the belt to begin with. Steamboat defeated Orndorff at Clash of the Champions 24, but alas his second reign was to be as fleeting as his first as WCW already had an idea in mind for his successor in the form of a certain upper class British snob, but we’ll cover that next week…

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