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

Thank You for joining me once again, as we take yet another trip down memory lane to explore the history of the WCW World Television Title. When we last left things, Booker T was the current holder of the TV Title, but a brutal attack on his knee by Bret Hart at the Bash at the Beach 1998 pay per view in July had left him with a serious injury that required a prolonged recovery time. However, rather than just strip Booker of his TV Title, WCW decided to try go in a slightly different direction with the storyline and use it as a way to play in to Booker’s brother Stevie Ray’s impending Heel turn.

Booker and Stevie had first entered WCW in 1993, working as a tag team under the name of “Harlem Heat”. Harlem Heat are not only in the WWE Hall of Fame, but they are also one of the most successful tag team units in WCW’s history, holding the Titles for an astonishing ten times over the course of their run in the company. Booker had always been the superior in-ring performer of the two brothers, but Stevie had a more imposing look and was probably slightly better on the mic. By the time 1998 rolled around WCW had decided that they wanted to try both Booker and Stevie as singles guys, so they started to gradually break the team apart.

Booker had enjoyed the greater success of the two with his multiple reigns as WCW World Television Champion, but Stevie started becoming a greater presence in Booker’s business as the year rolled on. Stevie’s role was usually to chastise Booker for not having enough of a mean streak and to roll his eyes whenever Booker tried to do something honourable or heroic. In what would be a recurring theme in their interactions, Stevie’s character was more interested in Booker tapping into his street roots in order to smash the competition to pieces, whilst Booker wanted to succeed in a more traditional babyface manner.

Stevie’s patience with Booker continued to deteriorate and eventually led to him making the most unenthusiastic “rescue” attempt in possibly the entire history of Professional Wrestling when he slowly sauntered out to the ring at Bash at the Beach to “save” Booker from Bret Hart’s merciless attack. Stevie seemed more disappointed that Booker had even gotten himself in such a situation to begin with, and gave Bret little more than a withering look as he scarpered. With Booker now injured, Stevie started bringing his brothers TV Title belt down to the ring with him, even though announcers Mean Gene Okerlund and Tony Schiavone were quick to remind him that he wasn’t actually the Champion.

Stevie was undeterred by this however, and eventually he was able to gain Power of Attorney status via a legal document, which allowed him to defend the TV Title on Booker’s behalf. Stevie was never officially recognised as the Champion due to the belt still technically belonging to Booker, but he did compete in TV Title matches, which mostly led to him bullying smaller opponents like Chavo Guerrero Jr. It seemed like the logical payoff to all of this was that Booker would eventually return from injury and request to have his belt back, at which point Stevie would refuse and the two could begin feuding with one another.

However, this being WCW in 1998, the storyline didn’t continue to its logical conclusion. In WCW’s defence, Booker didn’t fully return from his layoff until well into the autumn outside of one solitary match in August, so it probably would have been difficult to stretch the Stevie Ray defending the belt portion of the story out that long. I don’t want to speak too ill of Stevie’s wrestling ability (mostly because he could easily snap me in half like a chicken bone if he so desired) but he was never really known for having much in the way of technical wrestling prowess. Stevie was mostly a plodding brawler, and what offence he did do didn’t really look that good. He was fine as the bigger half of the Harlem Heat tandem, but he was never really cut out to be a singles star like his brother was.

Eventually the decision was made to take the TV Title from Stevie, with the man to dethrone him being an up and coming Heel wrestler known as Chris Jericho. Jericho had wrestled in both Japan and Mexico, as well as in America for diametrically opposed promotions Smokey Mountain Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. Though he could sometimes be prone to the odd bout of sloppiness, Jericho worked exceptionally hard in the ring and had a natural charisma that shone through in his bouts. He found his way onto WCW’s radar after a great match with Ultimo Dragon in Japan gained a lot of attention and fellow Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit put in a good word for him with WCW head honcho Eric Bischoff.

Entering WCW in the autumn of 1996, Jericho was initially a fan friendly babyface who smiled and helped old ladies across the road. It was not a hit with the WCW fan base, especially as the latter half of the 90’s was a period in popular culture where cynicism was considered much cooler than sincerity and enthusiasm. Jericho never seemed fully comfortable in the role either, and sometimes he would even get booed during matches, especially when he was ever forced to come across “Cool Heels” like Sean “Syxx” Waltman and the rest of the New World Order faction. Jericho still managed to win a couple of WCW Cruiserweight Titles in this period, but he was firmly a lower half of the card guy, even though he had a number of good matches with the likes of Benoit, Dragon and Eddy Guerrero.

What eventually turned Jericho’s WCW run around was when the company decided to turn him Heel in early 1998. Jericho would lose matches and then freak out about it, even going as so far as to attack the ring announcer David Penzer and rip up his suit. Every time Jericho did this he would apologise, but as the weeks wore on it became clear that his apologies were less than sincere. Jericho then took his character to the next level, becoming a deluded egomaniac who thought all the fans loved him, even though they really thought he was a goof. In an era where so many bad guys were trying to be cool, Jericho coming along and being willing to be as lame and deplorable as possible was a genuine breath of fresh air and he instantly started getting over as one of the best acts of the mid-card.

Feuds with Juventud Guerrera and Dean Malenko continued to raise Jericho’s stock, with the Malenko feud in particular being one of WCW’s best of the entire year. Jericho had yet more Cruiserweight Title reigns in 1998, but eventually he lost the Title once and for all to Juventud at the Road Wild 98 pay per view in August, with Malenko being the guest referee to finally close that chapter as well. With Jericho now out of the Cruiserweight hunt, it was time to start mixing it with the Heavyweights instead, with Jericho defeating Stevie Ray for the TV Title on the 10th of August 1998 at a WCW Nitro television event. Interestingly, Jericho won with help from The Giant, who was a member of the New World Order at the time. According to Jericho’s first book, this was supposed to lead to Jericho himself joining the nWo but he decided he would rather do his own thing, so the group instead added Stevie Ray down the line, thus making Giant’s attack even more of a head scratcher!

Jericho was a solid choice to be TV Champ due to his versatility and charisma, meaning he could not only have decent matches with a variety of opponents but he could also create interesting angles and stories if given the chance due to his strong mic skills. Jericho wrestled a lot of really good workers during the course of his reign, and the almost random nature of the TV Title meant that it often led to some odd, yet interesting, combinations. Let’s have a look at two such instances of that right now.

Monday Nitro – 24th August 1998
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Chris Jericho Vs Curt Hennig

Hennig was one of the bigger stars of the “Hulkamania” Era of the WWF in the 80’s and 90’s, with his “Mr. Perfect” character being one of the more fondly remembered from that timeframe. Injuries and age had slowed down Hennig as a worker since those glory days, but he could still have good matches when motivated and in there with someone who could get the best out of him. This match is another example of the TV Title being a belt that could put interesting or odd combinations together, as both Jericho and Hennig were Heels at the time, but Hennig was the challenger of the week so they get to wrestle each other, which is a fun thing that you don’t always get to see.

Jericho is in his full wacky pomp here, ripping up fans’ signs on his way to ring and then bouncing around with a goofy look on his face. Hennig is actually kind of amused by Jericho’s antics, even outright chuckling at one stage, but gets more serious once the match starts proper. Hennig outwrestles Jericho in the early going, which leads to both men pulling the others’ hair, because they’re both villains who are willing to cheat, which is a neat little touch. Eventually the match becomes a slugfest though, with both men trading punches and chops, and its fun action.

The match is mostly back and forth, with both men trading momentum throughout. There’s the odd spot or move that ends up a little on the sloppy side (with a Hennig attempted Dragon Screw leg whip on Jericho being a notable example) but the wrestling is mostly good and it’s fun to see two cocky villains going at it and trying to get the better of the other. The crowd gets into the match in the closing stages, and actually end up booing when the match goes to a time limit draw as they were enjoying the bout.

TIME LIMIT DRAW
RATING: **

They ended up going 6 minutes instead of 10 there, but it was a fun match whilst it lasted. It’s just interesting to see two guys of this calibre going at it and it makes the match a fun curio if nothing else

Halloween Havoc – 25th October 1998
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Chris Jericho Vs Raven

Raven was in an odd period in his career where he wasn’t really a full-on Heel anymore but he wasn’t really a babyface either, with him essentially playing a troubled figure that seemed to be on a hiding to nowhere, thus causing worry for his friends and family. Raven whinges on the mic prior to the match starting due to his recent losing streak and the fact this match was booked for him without his knowledge. Raven tries to walk away as a result, but Jericho goads him back into the ring and the match takes place after all.

Raven sells a lot in the early stages, and he’s very good at that so the match is fun as a result. Raven fights back though and sends Jericho tumbling to the floor with a Cactus Clothesline before dropping Jericho mid-section first onto the ring steps at ringside. The fans aren’t really sure who to cheer for here, but they do enjoy the action and react to it positively. Like the previous Hennig match, there’s a lot of back and forth stuff in this one, with both men trading momentum throughout the match and the wrestling being generally good.

There’s a good mixture of outside the ring brawling, wrestling within in the ring and character work, with both men having their characters down and the knowhow of how to put a match together to keep the crowd invested. In a good spot, Jericho undoes a turnbuckle pad and tries throwing Raven into it, but Raven sends up catapulting him into it instead and then following up with a clothesline for two in a good near fall. Quite a lot of the fans bought that as a potential finish.

We get some more near falls following that, with both men timing their kick outs well for maximum drama, and that leads to a submission tease when Jericho gets Raven in The Lion Tamer. Raven fights the hold and manages to make the ropes though, thus breaking the hold, and that causes Jericho to lose his cool. Raven catches Jericho with his Evenflow DDT out of nowhere following that, but Jericho is able to kick out at two and then hits Raven low before getting a German Suplex for two. Some of these near falls have been spot on. Raven’s only buddy Kanyon tries to help him, but Jericho fends him off and then locks Raven in The Lion Tamer again for the submission win.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: CHRIS JERICHO
RATING: ***1/2

This was a really good match, as these two had decent chemistry together and the crowd was into the action

Jericho was proving to be a solid TV Champion and his doofus Heel character was very entertaining, but he was still stuck very much underneath the glass ceiling with no clear way to bust through, which was a predicament that a lot of WCW’s talented mid-card troupe found themselves facing. As a way to gain some more notoriety, Jericho began making overtures towards WCW’s World Champ and top babyface Bill Goldberg, even going so far as to defeat a mini-Goldberg lookalike at the Fall Brawl 98 pay per view in September.

Though the “match” had clearly been bogus, Jericho began proudly proclaiming that he had been the first man to end Goldberg’s long undefeated streak, and he even began referring to his monstrous foe as “Greenberg” in an effort to wind him up. In wrestling parlance, to refer to someone as “green” means that they are inexperienced or wet behind the ears, so Jericho was taking pot shots at Goldberg for still being new to the wrestling business. The whole idea behind this was that Goldberg would eventually destroy Jericho the way he had destroyed so many others, but rather than just be a throwaway squash match it would be a match that the fans would be genuinely interested in seeing due to just how much of a wind up merchant Jericho had been.

Sadly though the more established wrestlers in the locker room got in Goldberg’s ear and poisoned him against the idea. Goldberg was already unhappy that Jericho had been doing comedy at his expense, such as when Jericho riffed on Goldberg’s long entrance from the backstage area to the ring, only to then get locked out of the building like a goof. What Goldberg didn’t realise was that Jericho was doing all of this because he knew it would get more heat on himself so that when Goldberg finally shut his trap in brutal fashion it would make him even more of a hero to WCW’s fan base, who wanted nothing more than to see the arrogant Jericho get clobbered.

It was genuinely amazing to see WCW and Goldberg squander something that had been dropped into their laps like this. Jericho wasn’t trying to get one over on Goldberg or even have a competitive match with him, he was gung-ho to get murdered in impressive fashion live on pay per view in order to pay the whole story off, but WCW wasn’t interested and Jericho’s tentative scheduled match with Goldberg at the World War 3 pay per view in November 1998 was changed to him instead having a serviceable yet bland match with youngster Bobby Duncum Jr.

Jericho was really demoralised by the whole experience and it certainly played a part in him deciding to jump ship from WCW to the WWF in 1999, where he would go on to become a multiple time World Champion and WrestleMania Main Eventer, before then reinventing himself yet again and making a triumphant return to TNT as the World Champion of AEW. Back in 1998 however, with his potential pay per view match with Goldberg evaporated into the wind, the decision was made to take the TV Title away from Jericho. The man chosen to wrest the Title from Jericho’s very sexy waist was none other than Konnan of the New World Order.

Konnan had been a gigantic star in Mexico and had eventually crossed over to the US in 1995 for ECW. Konnan was a serviceable wrestler in the ring, but what really helped him stand out was his charisma. Fluent in English and Spanish, Konnan was an excellent interview, and could either jazz a crowd up to an energetic frenzy or rile them to the point of wanting to riot. Konnan had entered WCW in 1996 as a generic babyface, but he didn’t really start getting over in the company until he joined the New World Order in 1997. His thuggish attire and general cool factor made him fit into the group very easily, and when the nWo splintered into the Heel “Hollywood” and babyface “Wolfpac” factions, Konnan was a natural fit for the latter group.

Konnan had developed good momentum throughout 1998 and his catchphrases rarely failed to garner a reaction from the fans, so in that regard it was perfectly reasonable to try him in the TV Title division. Konnan had actually already held the United States Title in 1996, but that had been before he’d really tapped in to his cool Wolfpac persona and the reign had been a bit of a damp squib. Konnan wasn’t as strong of an in-ring performer as the likes previous Champions such as Jericho, Booker, Fit Finlay and Steven Regal, but he was charismatic and the crowd genuinely liked him, so it was worth a roll of the dice. Konnan defeated Jericho in November of 1998 to win the belt and the two were scheduled to rematch at Starrcade in December, an event which was traditionally the biggest show of the year for the promotion.

Starrcade – 27th December 1998
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Konnan Vs Chris Jericho w/ Ralphus

Jericho was doing the old “steal the belt” angle here after losing the Title to Konnan, whilst Ralphus was a layover from Jericho’s days of mocking Goldberg and he would remain in WCW until 2000 as a comedy figure. Jericho cuts a good promo pre-match, saying that he’s the greatest TV Champ of all-time and encouraging Konnan to pull his pants up. Konnan was letting his pants hang low of course, as was the style at the time. Konnan responds with some of his own mic work and the crowd is into the catchiest of his phrases.

This is quite a fun match in the early going, with both men working at a decent pace and doing some nice stuff. Konnan gets a lot of stick sometimes and is treated like an all-time rubbish wrestler by some, but I’ve never seen it. He wasn’t the most technically proficient wrestler or anything like that, but he had good energy and he was a solid middle of the card guy. He reminds me a lot of Road Dogg Jesse James in that regard. The role he was in here was pretty much perfect for him.

Konnan gets a bit of a shine in the early going but ends up flying into the railings outside the ring and that allows Jericho to cut him off and work him over for a bit. Jericho makes sure to goad the crowd at points in order to keep them invested in the match, and Konnan does a decent job selling. Eventually Jericho allows his customary arrogance to cost him though, as he waits too long to do a move off the top and ends up landing on the raised feet of Konnan, allowing Konnan to get a comeback and a pinning hold for two.

We head into the ending stretch following that, with Jericho trying to dive out onto Konnan but Konnan is able to move and send Jericho crashing onto the ring steps, which gets him a two count back inside. The referee gets momentarily stunned and that leads to Jericho clocking Konnan with the Title belt for two in a good near fall, which gets one of the better reactions from the crowd. Konnan is able to catch Jericho with a face buster following that and then locks in his Tequila Sunrise submission hold for the win.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KONNAN
RATING: **1/4

Solid enough action there, although the crowd was a little bit quiet at points and it took away from the atmosphere a bit

With Jericho now out of the TV Title picture, and soon out of WCW entirely, Konnan was seemingly free and clear for a long successful reign as Champion, especially as the Wolfpac was so hot and he was probably at his popularity peak as a singles star in the US. However, WCW had some controversial plans, and sadly for Konnan he would be one of the main men bit in the bum by those plans, but we’ll cover that next time.

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