Hello and welcome to the fourth chapter in our journey back to the days of wrestling yore, as we once again delve into the mist of time. As we left things in Part Three, Johnny B. Badd had just defeated Lord Steven Regal to end his second reign as WCW Television Champion. As mentioned in that prior chapter, Badd (Real name Marc Mero) had started off his WCW career as more of a character wrestler. He had charisma and athletic ability, but he wasn’t an especially good in-ring wrestler in his early days, although there was certainly promise there.
Badd continued to grow as a performer though, and eventually he became further polished as an in-ring wrestler, to the point that when he defeated Regal for the TV Title at Fall Brawl 94 he had become an all-around good worker who could be relied upon to carry his end in Title matches. Badd successfully defended the Title against the likes of Steve Austin and Bobby Eaton on WCW’s televised events, but the big feud of his reign saw him go head to head with someone who had turned defending one of the supporting Titles into something bordering on an art form.
Wayne Ferris had enjoyed success in the territorial wrestling system as “Punk Rock” Wayne Ferris, having a hand in essentially creating the entire modern idea of what constitutes a “hardcore” match in an incredibly famous bout known as “The Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl”. Ferris eventually decided to ditch the punk look though and instead take on a character modelled on a completely different kind of musical style. Going under the name “Honky Tonk Wayne”, Ferris started playing a deluded and deceitful Elvis cosplayer up in the Stampede Wrestling promotion in Canada, drawing plenty of hatred from the fans as a result.
Ferris’ success in the territory system brought him to the attention of Vince McMahon, who was in the process of turning his WWF promotion into the global monster it is today. Realising that he needed to bring in outside talent to freshen up the WWF’s ranks, McMahon recruited Ferris and introduced him into the company, where he’d go under the name of “Honky Tonk Man” and would play the role of one of Hulk Hogan’s friends. Hogan was the top star of the promotion at the time and other wrestlers (Such as Hillbilly Jim) had enjoyed success from being associated with “The Hulkster”.
Hogan never really properly endorsed Honky like he did Jim though, and ultimately the more northern based wrestling fans that the WWF mostly catered too just weren’t going to get on board with an Elvis impersonating wrestler, so Honky was booed a lot despite the fact he was supposed to be one of the good guys. Deciding to play into this dislike, Honky was turned from a babyface hero into a diabolical heel, a turn he cemented by blasting Jake Roberts with a vicious guitar shot. Far more comfortable in the role of a villain, Honky Tonk Man quickly settled into being a featured player in the upper-mid card of the WWF, even getting to defeat Roberts in their grudge match at WrestleMania III.
Honky was doing such a good job in the role that the WWF decided to put their secondary Title belt on him, as Honky defeated Ricky Steamboat in a gigantic upset to become the new WWF Intercontinental Champion. Despite his victory however, Honky was presented as an undeserving Champion who would bite, kick and scratch to hold on to his belt against the odds, to the point that fans would flock to arenas to finally see him get what was coming to him. It was a hugely effective character and the WWF was able to Main Event shows with Honky defending his belt and still draw healthy houses, something that future Intercontinental Champions would struggle to do.
When Hulk Hogan entered WCW in 1994, he brought with him a lot of the wrestlers who had been big stars during his “Hulkamania” Era in the WWF. Jim Duggan, “Earthquake” John Tenta and Honky Tonk man amongst others all entered the promotion in the autumn of 1994, and all of them were quickly put into important feuds and storylines. Whereas Duggan won the United States Title and Tenta feuded with Sting, Honky found himself feuding with Johnny B. Badd over the TV Title. In some ways it made a lot of sense, as both characters were inspired by classic Rock and Roll Stars of the past, with Honky having his whole Elvis thing going on whilst Badd’s character was heavily inspired by Little Richard.
It seemed like the two characters were a natural fit for a rivalry, and WCW promptly booked two TV Title matches between them that ended in non-decisive fashion. Following a draw at Halloween Havoc 1994, Honky got himself intentionally disqualified against Badd in the rematch at Clash of the Champions 29. It was all logically building to Starrcade 1994, in Nashville of all places, where it looked like Badd would finally defeat Honky once and for all to get his revenge. Considering that Starrcade essentially filled the role of WCW’s WrestleMania, and the fact that they’d actually invested some time building up the rivalry, this would seem to be the perfect time to end things between the two men. However, at this stage Honky got cold feet and didn’t want to lose the match.
Honky’s reasoning was that he was working without a contract and he wanted to be signed up to one before putting Badd over. In his mind, once he had looked at the lights for Badd then WCW could easily dismiss him because he wasn’t tied down to a deal. WCW’s (Read Eric Bischoff’s) argument was that Honky refusing to do business and leaving it so late to give the ultimatum was hardly a good omen were they to offer him a contract, and eventually things fell through and Honky left. Honky’s story is that he walked out whereas Bischoff’s story is that he fired him, but regardless Honky wasn’t going to wrestle Badd and the feud ended up having an unsatisfactory non-conclusion.
The always dependable Arn Anderson was eventually inserted into the bout with Badd instead, and they had a solid outing with one another. With Honky now gone from the company, it was decided that they’d build up a feud between Anderson and Badd seeing as neither really had a dance partner at the time, which led to a rematch on WCW’s “Main Event” program at the turn of 1995 where Anderson would collect his second TV Title of the WCW Era and his final one overall. Badd would get a measure of revenge by defeating Anderson in a non-Title Boxing bout at WCW’s Uncensored pay per view event in March, but ultimately he was unable to wrest the Title away from the Champ and “The Enforcer” would move onto new opponents.
One of those new opponents came in the form of German dancing sensation Alex Wright. The son of noted grappler Steve Wright, Alex was a good looking young man who played the role of a nice smiling lad that the ladies (and I’m sure some of the lads too) in the crowd could imagine bringing home to meet their parents. Given the nickname “Das Wunderkind” (Essentially translated as “The Wonderkid”), Alex would play up to his European roots by dancing to a techno themed entrance music and doing an often imitated, but rarely duplicated, wacky dance. Though he was still quite inexperienced, Wright showed potential and was given some matches with respected veteran Anderson before going on excursion in Japan. WCW was also very popular in Germany at the time (possibly even more than the WWF was in that country) so having a young German talent they could feature was something WCW was thankful for and Alex remained a big star in his home nation whenever WCW toured there.
Slamboree 1995 – 21st May 1995
WCW Television Title
Champ: Arn Anderson Vs Alex Wright
I do really love Wright’s techno-styled entrance music, although I believe the German broadcasters would dub in a special different song for him whenever he would wrestle on those shows. This match has a special 30 minute time limit due to Anderson and Wright going to a 15 minute draw on WCW Worldwide in the build-up. Wright had been given an undefeated streak prior to this bout, so either he’d win the Title here or suffer his first defeat, so there is something tangible on the line regardless of the match’s result.
Wright controls things in the early going with a side headlock, with the occasional dropkick thrown in, and it’s decent. Watching this you can see that Wright was still developing as in-ring performer, but he gives a good account of himself for a young lad who debuted in the autumn of 1992. It’s kind of crazy that he was wrestling for a major Title in a big company like WCW at this stage, and I think it’s a credit to him that he looks as good as he does. Being in there with an experienced guy like Anderson certainly helps, and Anderson gives him quite a lot of offence too.
The crowd responds to the action as well, especially when Anderson bails to the floor and Wright follows him out with a body press. Wright showed some good fire there and Anderson sold it really well. Anderson tries fighting back outside the ring, but Wright dodges his clothesline attempt, causing Anderson to hit the ring post, and then works the arm over back inside the ring for a bit. Anderson eventually manages to deliver his trademark Spine Buster, almost in desperation, and that allows him to take over control of the contest for a bit.
Wright sells well, which is something that can sometimes be difficult to learn in the early days of your career, but Wright doesn’t overdo it and registers the pain in believable fashion. Eventually Wright makes a comeback, getting some nice flashy moves including a missile dropkick from the top rope, but he isn’t able to put Anderson away. Anderson is on the back foot, but in a clever finish he mimes that he’s going to throw a punch, which causes Wright to duck, only to leave himself in prime position for a DDT, which Anderson delivers for the three count.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: ARN ANDERSON
I enjoyed that. It wasn’t a classic or anything but it was a good match where Anderson sold a lot for Wright before using his experience to catch him out and pick up the win. It was probably time for Wright to lose at this stage, as it wasn’t like he was a Bill Goldberg styled monster babyface who really needed the winning streak, and he was presented as a credible challenger throughout the bout who only lost due to the wily veteran pulling an ace out of his sleeve at a crucial moment
Anderson’s next big pay per view match for the Title would also be against an inexperienced younger wrestler, although in this case the younger star wasn’t quite as capable in the ring as Alex Wright was. Richard Wilson (Not the British actor of the same name, in case you were confused) was a former male exotic dancer who had been trained to wrestle by famed wrestling legend Killer Kowalski. Other notable trainees from Kowalski’s school included Triple H, The Eliminators tag team and Kofi Kingston, although Wilson was never as proficient an in-ring competitor as those particular Kowalski alum.
Wilson debuted in 1992 and wrestled mostly on the independent circuit, but in 1995 an opportunity arose for him in WCW. WCW at the time was trying to bring Jim “Ultimate Warrior” Hellwig into the company, going as far as to hype an “Ultimate Surprise” at the Uncensored pay per view event. They were unable to acquire the services of Hellwig however, but by that stage they were committed to debuting a new star at the pay per view, so they instead brought in Wilson and dressed him up in Ultimate Warrior cosplay as the rampaging Renegade.
Even if we ignore the fact that essentially promising one of wrestling’s biggest stars, only to then pull the rug out and bring in an Aldi/Lidl equivalent instead, was only going to agitate the onions of the fan base, WCW also brought in someone that simply wasn’t ready for the kind of push required of him. With the best will in the world, Wilson should have still been on the independent scene honing his craft. He was not remotely good enough to be in a major storyline like this, especially as an associate and friend of Hulk Hogan.
It wasn’t as if Wilson didn’t try his best, because he absolutely did, and he had enough of a look and athletic ability that he potentially could have become a decent member of the roster down the road if WCW had brought him in under a different guise, but coming in with this huge push right out the gate only ever set him up for disappointment. By all accounts I’ve read, Wilson was respectful and did his best to pretty much learn on the job, but he was way out of depth. Enter Arn Anderson. WCW decided that after all the hype behind The Renegade they now had to push him, and considering Renegade’s lack of experience he needed to be in there with someone who could lead him through a pay per view encounter. Thus Anderson was tasked with getting a watchable match out of the discount Ultimate Warrior, but could he manage it?
Great American Bash 1995 – 18th June 1995
WCW Television Title
Champ: Arn Anderson Vs The Renegade w/ Jimmy Hart
Anderson has gone on record to say that he considers this match to be the very worst of his career, and the opening exchanges between the two men are certainly awkward at points with their timing being way off. WCW’s inconsistent over the top rope disqualification rule rears its ugly head once again in the early going, as Renegade clotheslines Anderson over the top to the floor, but they have to excuse it as Anderson’s “momentum” taking him over, thus it isn’t Renegade’s fault and the match can continue. This is absolute poppycock of course, but hey, it wasn’t supposed to be the finish yet so they need to cover for it somehow!
Renegade controls things in the early going, working a headlock but getting his footing all wrong whilst doing it, and mostly sticking to basic things like clotheslines and shoulder barges. Anderson does his best to sell it all, doing a big bug eyed reaction at one point to get across his shock at how powerful his opponent is. Renegade mostly shrugs off any of the offence that Anderson replies with, but the crowd isn’t really into it. To be honest, Anderson is just as big as Renegade, so it’s kind of hard to buy that Renegade would just no sell his offence like that.
There are more moments where their timing is completely off, and you can see Anderson desperately trying to hold the match together. It’s moments like this where you really appreciate just how good someone like Anderson is, because even though this match has been pretty rough he’s still managed to mostly carry Renegade through it. You really learn about how good a wrestler is when they’re put in there with someone who is considerably worse. Renegade does take a nice bump for Anderson’s Spine Buster move to be fair, but he kicks out at two and the two men bonk heads for a double down soon after following a horrible Atomic Drop from Renegade.
Anderson tries going up top for something, but Renegade stops him and brings him down with a Samoan Drop before heading up top for a flying move of his own, getting a big splash from the top rope for the three count. I think that might have been a veiled jab at Ultimate Warrior actually, as Warrior was known for finishing opponents with a big running splash whilst they laid on the mat, so they had Renegade do his big splash from the top rope to show off how much more impressive he was. I could be reading too much into things though.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: THE RENEGADE
I’d never seen this match before reviewing it for this series, so I was really hoping that time would have been kind to it. A lot of the time I hear about horrible matches, but when I watch them they’re not really as bad as people make out. I’m sad to say though that this match is as bad as advertised, as Renegade didn’t look like he had a clue about what he was doing and it was only through a Herculean effort from Anderson that the match didn’t complete disintegrate
Renegade’s reign with the TV Title lasted for 91 days, with the major feud of his run with the belt being against Paul Orndorff, another respected veteran who WCW hoped would be able to get the inexperienced Champion through their matches together. Orndorff really didn’t seem thrilled to have the assignment, and in his match with Renegade at Bash at the Beach 1995 it sometimes looked like he actively was working against his opponent. It also didn’t help that the poor Renegade was booed by the crowd for good measure.
Eventually it was decided that it was time to bring The Renegade experiment to an end, as he lost the TV Title to Diamond Dallas Page at the Fall Brawl 1995 pay per view event and was gradually phased down the card. At one point WCW had Renegade suffer a humiliating defeat to Kevin Sullivan on an episode of their Monday Nitro program, with Jimmy Hart turning his back on his former charge and brow beating him following the contest. Renegade would remain part of the WCW roster for another few years but he was eventually let go from the company in 1998. Sadly Richard Wilson, the man behind the gimmick, was suffering from real life depression and he ended up taking his own life in the February of 1999.
Looking back on it, the plight of The Renegade struck a bit of a chord with me. It partly might be because Wilson was roughly my age when he passed away, and speaking as someone who has experience of the wrestling business I can understand how it can just chew people up with no regard for what happens to them. Fans that booed The Renegade or hated his matches obviously didn’t do so with the knowledge of how things would turn out for him, and I’m sure WCW didn’t think that letting him go would lead where it did either. Despite that though, the rigours and pratfalls of the business ultimately all combined to push a seemingly decent man over the edge, and it’s a story that is sadly all too familiar with an uncaring and unsympathetic industry.
The Renegade may not have been a particularly good wrestler, but he clearly shouldn’t have been in the position he was in and WCW should shoulder the majority of the blame for that. A novel idea would have been to not put their own backs against the wall by teasing the Ultimate Warrior before they had concrete confirmation that they could actually deliver him. Wilson was just the unlucky guy they saddled with the gimmick, but he took the brunt of the anger from fans and industry insiders alike. Who knows what might have happened had Wilson spent a few more years on the indies improving his skills before entering WCW with a better character. He still might have flopped, but at least he also might have had a fighting chance.
With The Renegade now out of the TV Title picture, it was time for an unlikely star to rise in the form of Diamond Dallas Page, but we’ll leave that till next time…