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

Welcome back to another trip down wrestling memory lane, as we continue our look through the lineage of the WCW World Television Title. When we left things last, the TV Title had just been won by European wrestling star Alex Wright, with the German defeating Ultimo Dragon at a Clash of Champions event to win the belt for the first time. This 32 day reign would prove to be the only time that Wright would hold the TV Title, but he would eventually go on to win the WCW Tag Team Titles in 2000, thus leaving him with a pretty impressive belt collection by the time WCW ended, being that he had already held the WCW Cruiserweight Title prior to succeeding in the TV Title division.

Wright would successfully defend the TV Title against the likes of Dean Malenko, Chavo Guerrero Jr and former TV Champ Steven Regal on WCW’s flagship Monday Nitro program, as well as seeing off another challenge from Ultimo Dragon at the Fall Brawl 97 pay per view event. Wright was never a truly top level wrestler, but he was a solid one who could have decent matches with most opponents and he always had a goofy charisma to him that shone when he was in the role of a villain. He would eventually go down a more serious path in 1999 when he was repackaged into the dark brooding Berlyn character, but that gimmick never really got off the ground, despite a promising start, due to some questionable booking decisions.

As was the case in with the TV Title in 1997, Wright’s reign lasted roughly a month before WCW decided to quickly move it on to someone else. Why WCW seemed so eager to hot potato the belt in such a fashion was probably down to the fact that they were in a heated ratings war with the WWF at the time, and quick Title changes were usually a good way to keep fans on their toes. In some ways this sort of booking did suit the TV Title, seeing as the whole idea of the belt was that it was regularly defended on television, meaning the odds were naturally going to be increased that a Champion could slip up due to just how often they were required to compete, but it was a bit of a change in philosophy, as previously the big thing about the TV Title was that the shorter time limit for Title matches often meant Champions could eek out draws in order to retain the Title, thus making it a difficult belt to win as opposed to being a belt that was easy to lose.

The wrestler chosen to take the Title from Alex Wright was yet another dancing goofball, although this one was more about the music of the 70’s than the techno tracks of the 90’s. Glenn Gilberti had entered WCW in 1995 as The Disco Inferno, a character who could have walked right out of the movie Saturday Night Fever. Obsessed with gyrating, shaking his booty and making sure his hair was immaculate at all times, The Disco Inferno was a fixture of the mid-card during his two stints in WCW, and occasionally he would take part in some truly bizarre segments. One such occurrence took place in the summer of 1996, where Disco managed to defeat the burly Japanese wrestler Manabu Nakanishi by hitting him with a big disco ball that had descended from the roof of the building.

Silly though the character was however, The Disco Inferno actually wasn’t a bad wrestler in between the ropes and he could have good matches when in there with the right opponent. One notable good match from his first run in WCW came against Dean Malenko at the Bash at the Beach 1996 pay per view, where the hyper-serious Malenko beat down the dancing fool to the point that Disco finally started getting serious for once and almost won the match before succumbing to Malenko’s painful Texas Cloverleaf hold. However, Disco would leave WCW for a brief period in 1997 when he refused to put over a female wrestler in an inter-gender match. After a spell on the indies, Disco returned to the company in the autumn of 1997, where he would defeat Alex Wright on an episode of Nitro to win the belt.

Disco was never really presented as a strong or deserving Champion, at least in his first run with the belt at any rate. A lot of his Title defences would end in cheap non finishes such as disqualifications, and his credibility as Champion wasn’t helped when it came to the way he was presented in general. WCW still had a bee in their bonnet over Disco refusing to follow their orders during his first stint with the company, and they insisted that he go ahead with the inter-gender match that he had originally balked at. Realising that working in WCW beat struggling on the indies again, Disco this time agreed to do the match, and it was booked for Halloween Havoc 1997.

Disco’s opponent was Jackie Moore, a legitimately tough wrestler who would eventually go on to fight men in WWE too, including a brief period where she held the WWE Cruiserweight Title in 2004. Jackie would go on to play a major role in getting NWA:TNA’s women’s “knockouts” division going due to her series of matches with Gail Kim and she would eventually be inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame. Jackie was certainly not without credentials then, but losing to a woman on pay per view certainly didn’t help with the perception the fans had of The Disco Inferno as a weak Champion, and it didn’t really help with the credibility of the belt itself for the Champion to get humiliated in such a manner.

Probably the most interesting defence of The Disco Inferno’s TV Title reign was on an edition of Nitro in October 1997, when he was scheduled to defend the belt against the unstoppable monster known as Bill Goldberg. This would have surely been an easy win for Goldberg, but the match never actually got started due to both Alex Wright and Mongo McMichael running in, thus meaning that Disco was spared from losing his Title that night. He still got utterly destroyed of course, but the bell never officially rung and thus he was able to escape with his belt once more. His luck would eventually run out though, as WCW newcomer Perry Saturn defeated him on in November to claim the Title. A rematch was booked for the World War 3 pay per view, and Disco would be taking that one a tad more seriously.

World War 3 – 23rd November 1997
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Perry Saturn Vs The Disco Inferno

Saturn was pretty fresh in from ECW and had won the TV Title in his debut match, whereas Disco was coming off a humiliating loss to Jacqueline at Halloween Havoc. The dogged WCW camera crew manage to find a few lost souls dancing along to Disco’s entrance theme, but hilariously also focus on a sign saying “You can’t dance”. Harsh dude, harsh! Saturn was apparently still dealing with a serious leg injury at the time and wasn’t close to 100%, so WCW sticking the TV Title on him so quickly seemed like a baffling decision.

Saturn is wrestling in just a pair of jeans here and literally climbs out of the front row to get into the ring for the match. Saturn toys with Disco early on thanks to his superior technical skills and eyes his opponent with little more than disgust. Indeed, considering how Disco had been portrayed up to this point it’s kind of hard to buy him as a threat against the double tough Saturn. Disco responds to this by showing some aggression for once, taking the fight to Saturn in the process.

Saturn tries to fight back with a Quebrada, but there’s no water in the pool and Disco gets a nice running elbow smash as a result. Saturn replies by dropping Disco crotch first on the top rope however before delivering a cross body block to send both men crashing to the floor. Disco wanders over towards Raven and The Flock at ringside and gets into a scuffle with Kidman and Lodi, which allows Saturn to jump him. This was another display of Disco being more hard edged though.

Back inside, Saturn goes for a Tiger Suplex but Disco uses the ropes to block it and hits a spinning neck breaker for two. Disco gets a cross body from the top rope, but Saturn is able to roll through into his Rings of Saturn submission move. After the briefest of struggles, Disco uncles and Saturn retains the title.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: PERRY SATURN
RATING: *1/2

The work was fine for the most part but the match felt very disjointed and didn’t flow very well at all

Perry Saturn was a graduate of Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school and had wrestled under the name of “Gargoyle” on the independent scene, and it was a name that suited his gruff visage. Saturn was a U.S Army Ranger before entering the wrestling business and was legitimately a very tough man indeed, so much so that he once saved a woman from rape at the hands of two men and survived getting shot in the neck in the process. Saturn had enjoyed success in Philly based promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling in the mid-90’s as one half of “The Eliminators” tag team along with John Kronus, and it was that success that had put him on WCW’s radar.

The Eliminators were a team that could be hit and miss due to their spotty wrestling style, but when they were “on” against the right opponents they could have sensational matches due to their combination of tag team psychology and impressive high-flying moves. Saturn would leap from the top rope with elbow drops whilst Kronus would do wild 450 degree splashes, something you didn’t normally see men of their height and size perform. Their punishing “Total Elimination” finishing move was delightfully elegant in its brutal simplicity, as Saturn would sweep out the legs of an opponent whilst Kronus would destroy them with a big spinning wheel kick. When delivered to some of wrestling’s great bump takers such as Spike Dudley and Mikey Whipwreck, the move would look absolutely devastating and never failed to elicit a reaction from the crowd.

Saturn suffered a serious knee injury in the summer of 1997 and was coaxed over to WCW by Terry Taylor thanks to the promise of regular guaranteed money. Saturn was immediately paired up with fellow ECW alumni Scot “Raven” Levy, coming in as the enforcer for Raven’s “Flock” faction, a group of lost souls that the despotic and nihilistic Raven would use and abuse in order to further his goals. Saturn, along with Billy Kidman, were the only members of the group that Raven seemed to have any modicum of respect for, and they would often act as his lieutenants. In that regard, giving Saturn the TV Title seemed to make sense as it gave the group credibility and he was a wrestler who, when healthy, could be expected to deliver good matches with various different kinds of opponents.

However, Saturn still wasn’t entirely healthy and it became quite clear when watching his matches. The snap and spark that the ECW Saturn had been known for just wasn’t there, with Saturn instead going for a more patient mat based game. As time wore on Saturn would be able to shake off the ring rust and his health improved, meaning that he could once again start wrestling a bit more like the Saturn of old. Like most of the other TV Champs of 1997 however, Saturn’s reign was not destined to be very long, as after 35 days it was decided that he would drop the belt back to The Disco Inferno on an edition of Monday Nitro.

On paper this actually wasn’t a bad idea, as it had given Disco an obstacle to overcome and him coming back from the disappointment of losing to Jacqueline and his Title to Saturn only to then learn, grow and come back to regain was a good story. Sadly though it never really felt like WCW put that level of thought into it and it wasn’t as if Disco’s pursuit to regain the belt was this big story arc that the fans could really get behind. It didn’t help that, having finally managed to win the belt back from Saturn, Disco promptly went and lost it 21 days later before drifting out of contention. Disco would remain a fixture in WCW’s mid-card, and in 1998 he would form a team with former foe Alex Wright and they would be quite an entertaining act, especially when paired up with dancing Japanese wrestler Magnum Tokyo as a wacky trio. Disco would win the WCW Cruiserweight Title at one stage, but he would never hold the WCW TV Title ever again.

The wrestler chosen to dethrone The Disco Inferno was hard working tag team wrestler Booker T, and he was an excellent choice. Booker had been in WCW since 1993, teaming with his brother Stevie Ray as the tandem known as “Harlem Heat”. Harlem Heat were an incredibly successful outfit that would eventually go on to hold the WCW Tag Team Titles for an amazing ten times, but as WCW was leaving 1997 and entering 1998 it was decided that they would try Booker T as a singles star for a bit, not unlike how Bret Hart had been moved away from Jim Neidhart in 1991 so that he could spread his wings as a solo star after a successful tag team run.

Booker defeated Disco at the end of December in 1997 and, outside of a brief six days in February, he would hold the Title all the way up to May 1998, proving himself to be a talented and versatile wrestler along the way. Gifted with both size and athletic ability, Booker T was also a solid all-rounder who could brawl, wrestle and even take to the air when the need arose, with his Missile Dropkick and Harlem Hangover senton leg drop moves from the top rope being impressive parts of his repertoire that could normally be guaranteed to get the crowd off their feet. Although Booker had wrestled elsewhere before coming to WCW in the early 90’s, WCW had been where he had really hit it big and he felt like a “home-grown” WCW talent as a result, which was something the fans liked and honed in on.

The two main opponents that plagued Booker in that first run with the TV Title were Perry Saturn and Rick Martel, with both of them giving him hard fought matches over the belt. Saturn still wasn’t full on 100% yet, but he was getting there and the two men had solid matches together that raised both of their profiles. Martel was an absolute revelation though. A veteran of the wrestling business for many years, Martel had wrestled in the American Wrestling Association, where he had reigned as World Champion, before moving over to the WWF in the second half of the 80’s. Martel had been originally teamed up with Tom Zenk, a man we have already been introduced to during this series. Martel and Zenk were supposedly scheduled to win the WWF Tag Team Titles from the hated Heel tandem of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart in 1987, but Zenk left the WWF before it could happen and Martel was stuck without a partner.

Deciding that they still wanted Martel to be one of the men to take the belts from The Hart Foundation, the WWF instead formed a new team by paring Martel up with long time roster member Tito Santana as the smiling babyface tandem known as “Strike Force”. Strike Force did indeed manage to wrest the WWF Tag Team Titles from The Hart Foundation, but their reign ended up meeting an immovable object in the form of face painted duo Demolition, with The Demo’s taking the tag belts from Martel and Santana at WrestleMania IV. Martel would be injured in that match and, when he returned, it was decided that he would be booked to turn on Santana and be pushed as a singles Heel.

Now positioned as a villain, Martel took on a new character of an arrogant model, complete with a “Yes, I AM a Model” badge that he would apply to his entrance jacket. Martel was excellent at playing the preening vain model character, and he even got to feud with the likes of Jake Roberts and Shawn Michaels during his time in the WWF, but for whatever reason his matches were often dull affairs, even when he was in there with some of the better wrestlers of the era. It could have been that the character just wasn’t conducive to good matches or Martel himself might have been happy just to coast, but for whatever reason Rick Martel was a bit of a chore to watch from an in-ring perspective, even if his character work was on point.

However, when Martel hit WCW in January of 1998 it was like new life had been breathed into him, and it showed in his in-ring performances. It could have been that the knowledge of this possibly being his last big run in a major promotion caused him to up his game, or the fact he was back playing a serious wrestling character again allowed him to focus on having good matches instead of hitting the necessary character beats, but regardless Rick Martel for the first two months of 1998 in WCW was fantastic. It really felt like he had been rejuvenated and crowds responded to his performances, leading to WCW booking him against Booker T for the TV Title at the Souled Out pay per view.

Souled Out – 24th January 1998
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Booker T Vs Rick Martel

This was a career renaissance for Martel, as he returned to the mainstream after being off TV for a few years following the mid-90’s, with his work stepping up a notch as a result. I don’t know why, but when he was The Model in the WWF he was an absolute snore-machine, but during this WCW stint he had quite a few hot matches and looked great in the process. Both men had a feud going on with Perry Saturn at the time also, so I’m pretty certain we’ll see him in some form before this one is settled.

Booker looks really sharp here, as he was still rather new to working as a single but was putting a lot of effort in and the crowds were noticing and responding in kind. Martel looks good too, and they work an interesting match with Martel doing the speed-technician approach whilst Booker is focusing more on working as striker-technician, which means the match is technically sound and tells an interesting story of the two differing ring styles colliding.

Martel fits comfortably into a subtle Heel role, even though he was ostensibly a Face at this time, and the crowd isn’t going nuts for the action but they are paying attention and appreciating the effort from both men. Martel plays possum at one stage before snapping on Booker with some punches and kicks to show that he has a mean streak, and that essentially leads into the heat segment. Booker sells well during that and Martel does really good facial expressions to show that he’s ticked off at how much of a fight Booker has given him, but he’s still yet to fully embrace the dark side.

The match does have a few too many rest spots perhaps, but Martel keeps them to camel clutches and abdominal stretches, which works with the story they are telling of Martel working over Booker’s back so as to soften him up for his Quebec Crab finishing hold. Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan do an especially good job on commentary of getting the story and struggle across too, which didn’t always happen due to their squabbling and constant plugging of matches for later in the card.

Booker makes the comeback and heads up with The Harlem Hangover, and that’s the finish, without them really bothering with a finishing stretch of near falls. I kind of like that actually, as you don’t always need five minutes of false finishes in a match like this. They wrestled in the early stages and both held their own, Martel got annoyed and started working some heat and then Booker managed to survive the onslaught and put Martel away after a flurry. You get a clean finish but Martel looked like a deserving challenger and you can always come back with rematches if you want.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: BOOKER T
RATING: ***1/4

Another good match in a series of them tonight, with them working well together and giving us a satisfying clean finish whilst also leaving the door open for more matches down the line

Martel is annoyed following that, but hands Booker the belt and shakes his hand. As promised, Perry Saturn does indeed show up and attacks Martel with a suplex.

Martel’s teasing of Heel behaviour would eventually lead to him fully embracing the dark side when he met Booker in a rematch on Monday Nitro, where Martel went full Heel in order to win the Title from Booker in another good match. The series of matches between Booker, Martel and Saturn were not only raising the profiles of all three men, but it also gave the TV Title itself some much needed prestige that these three talented wrestlers were all working so hard in order to try and win it. Martel’s reign would not end up lasting that long and his incredible Indian Summer would end up coming to an unforeseen swift brutal end, but we’ll cover that in Part Eight.

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