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

Welcome back as we once again take a stroll upon the promenade of Professional Wrestling history to look at the lineage of the WCW World Television Title. When we last left things, Konnan was the current holder of the TV Title and had just defended the Title at WCW’s biggest event of the year “Starrcade”. Konnan was a popular member of the “Wolfpac”, a group of wrestlers who had broken away from the original New World Order stable in order to form their own faction. By the end of 1997 the nWo storyline had more than run its course, but by splitting the successful faction into two separate splinter groups WCW was able to milk it just a little bit more.

The Wolfpac enjoyed genuine popularity throughout the course of 1998, with the original members of Kevin Nash, Konnan and Randy Savage being joined by WCW refugees Sting and Lex Luger. The Wolfpac might have had fewer members than the opposing nWo “Hollywood” faction led by Hulk Hogan, but in some ways that worked in its favour as it made it easier for all of the members of the group to stand out and develop more defined personalities. The Hollywood group might have had heavy hitters like Hogan, Bret Hart and The Giant leading the way, but once you got down the lower rungs of the ladder you mostly found bland guys like Vincent and Brian Adams, who weren’t really adding much.

Going into 1999 it was decided that WCW needed to do something drastic in order to catch up with the WWF, who had by that point reasserted themselves as the #1 promotion in North America. The big idea to achieve this was to recombine the two nWo groups in order to create a super group, with Nash and Luger both going Heel in order to make it work. This left Konnan out in the cold, as it was decided he would be kept as a babyface as part of a tag team with Rey Mysterio Jr. In an effort to heat the new group up, the World Title was not only promptly returned to Hogan via some chicanery with Nash and Goldberg, but it was also decided that they would have the TV Title added to their ranks as well, with Scott Steiner taking the belt from Konnan on the 28/12/1998 edition of Nitro.

Steiner had previously held the Title back in 1992, but since then he had left WCW in order to win the Tag Titles in the WWF with his brother Rick before returning to WCW in 1996 and adding some more WCW Tag Title reigns to his Curriculum Vitae. The decision was made in 1998 to finally pull the trigger on the often teased Scott Steiner singles run though, with Scott betraying his brother and joining the New World Order group, bleaching his hair and renaming himself “White Thunder” in the process. Steiner didn’t instantly take to his new Heel persona, but he worked hard at it and WCW got behind him and kept giving him chances, and by the end of 1998 he was starting to get over as a muscular tough guy who was liable to snap at any moment.

The addition of Buff Bagwell as his gurning lackey had led to Steiner becoming one of the next acts most likely to break through the glass ceiling into the Main Events, and he had actually been made the stand-in leader for the Hollywood faction whilst Hulk Hogan was away to run for president (Yes, this was actually something they were doing). Once the two nWo factions converged with one another Steiner was relieved of his leadership duties, but he was still a key member of the new Elite nWo line-up, and having the TV Title only added to his presentation as someone the fans needed to take seriously.

Steiner didn’t really defend the belt that many times during his 76 day run with the belt, registering just 6 Title defences before dropping the belt in March of 1999, but his undeniable star power helped give the belt itself a bit of a boost and two of those Title defences gave him victories over Diamond Dallas Page, who had been a pushed commodity in the company since 1997. Steiner’s reign was somewhat similar to that of previous holder Lex Luger, in that he was probably at a level above the belt and he didn’t really need to have it, but it gave him a belt to carry around at least and it helped him tick another box when it came to establishing himself as a genuine singles contender. Eventually it was time for him to drop the TV belt so he could move up to the United States Title division, so WCW went back to a tried and tested wrestler to carry the belt going forward.

Uncensored – 14th March 1999
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Scott Steiner w/ Buff Bagwell Vs Booker T

Bagwell was great as Steiner’s hype man and general lackey, and I was genuinely a bit upset when they split them up because it was such a good combo. Booker is very popular with the fans here, with a lot of them raising the roof for him during his entrance. Steiner was doing a lot of old school Heel tactics here, stalling and refusing to go at it with Booker, which always seemed like an odd thing for a guy his size to do, especially as his whole gimmick was that he was a big scary dude with legitimate amateur wrestling credentials who could quite literally snap at any moment. That was an aspect they’d adjust when he was Main Events in 2000 where he would just destroy people.

This is a solid match because both men knew one another well after years of going at it in the tag division and they are both good at playing their respective roles, with Steiner being an unlikable bad guy and Booker being likable good guy that you want to get behind. Booker gets to out wrestle Steiner in the early going with basic stuff and then unloads with some shots when Steiner tries to make it more of a fight. Booker actually gets to control things for quite a bit in the early going to show that he’s a deserving challenger, but Bagwell provides a distraction and Steiner is able to use it to cut Booker off outside the ring.

Buff’s interference was actually in full view of the ref there but they kind of cover it by pointing out that Steiner is so scary that the referee is too afraid to disqualify him, which works well enough I guess. Booker sells well in the heat, with Steiner getting a series of impressive power moves. They’ve built this one pretty well actually, and even though it hasn’t been fought at the fastest of paces you don’t really need to work Heavyweight bouts like that. It’s a very old school structure with a more modern style of wrestling, which works well for the most part.

Booker eventually makes a comeback, with his offence looking good and he also throws around the massive Steiner with relative ease, which is pretty darn impressive. Buff gets involved again though by crotching Booker when he tries to head up top, with Steiner at least distracting the ref this time, and Steiner follows up with a Superplex before demanding that Buff brings a chair into the ring. Buff swings at Booker, but Booker ducks and Steiner gets hit instead, which leads to Booker taking out Buff and then pinning Steiner for three. And because Buff was aiming for Booker the ref is happy to let it stand, which works I think but the commentators should have probably pushed that story point more.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: BOOKER T
RATING: ***

This was a good match outside of a few little things and it was put in the Semi-Main slot of the show as well, highlighting how WCW saw both of these men as potential Main Eventers of the future. The finish worked for the most part, although you can argue that the ref should have thrown it out, but I do like how the Heels were hoist by their own petard there and the ref decided to just let it go

This run would be Booker’s sixth and final time with the belt, and it was probably the least interesting reign he would have as well, with most of his Title defences either ending in unsatisfying non-finishes with the likes of Chris Jericho and Curt Hennig or coming against lower card guys like Chris Adams. In some ways it felt like Booker had reached the same point as previous Champion Steiner in that he was at a level above the Title now, a feeling that was reinforced when Booker didn’t even defend the belt at the Spring Stampede event in April and instead faced Scott Steiner again in the finals of the United States Title tournament.

Had Booker won it would have been likely that he would have just vacated the TV Title and carried on as US Champ, so it wasn’t a surprise to see Steiner end up getting the win, as the US Title was the next logical step in his roadmap to the top of the WCW mountain, whilst Booker could wait a bit longer in the TV Title division until it was time to step up himself. Booker and Scott Steiner is actually one of the rare instances of two essentially home grown WCW guys rising up the rankings at around the same time until they were Main Eventing with one another, and the two would actually face one another on the final ever edition of Monday Nitro in 2001 to close the book on not just their long-running feud but on WCW as a whole.

Following Booker’s failed attempt to win the US Title at Spring Stampede he was then booked to lose his TV Title at the Slamboree event in May, with the choice to dethrone him coming in the form of Scott Steiner’s brother, Rick. Rick had always been seen as the lesser of the two Steiner Brothers when it came to in-ring ability, even though he had debuted in WCW first and had actually brought his brother into the company in 1989 to back him up. It was the cause of much debate as to whether the Steiner’s should be broken up so that Scott could get the big singles push, but Scott himself had normally fought it. The two did finally split in 1998 though, and it led to an intermeddle feud between the two that seemed to never end.

On no less than four occasions WCW promised a singles pay per view meeting between Rick and Scott, only to deny the fans a proper finish or just outright not do the match at all. The closest they came to delivering on the promised collision between the two was at the Halloween Havoc 98 event in October, where the two did finally have a match but not before some chicanery involving Bagwell and The Giant prior to it. With the feud sputtering to an end as 1998 drew to a close, Rick was left kind of aimless in the middle of the card with little to do. He had at one stage been Tag Team Champions with Buff Bagwell’s mother Judy (Oh yes that was a thing) but by the early months of 1999 the belts had been vacated and awarded to new Champions in a tournament.

Thus the decision was made to try and heat Rick up again by putting the TV Title on him and also turning him Heel, with his brother Scott assisting him in his victory over Booker T at Slamboree and Rick returning the favour later in the night when Scott defended his US Title against the freshly turned Buff Bagwell. Rick had been decently popular as a babyface, with the crowd having genuine sympathy for his plight when Scott betrayed him and his barking babyface act being something the crowd liked to get behind, especially as it gave them an excuse to bark along with his “Welcome to the Jungle” styled entrance theme.

However, once Rick turned Heel he seemed to have a bit of a charisma bypass, as he went from a goofy entertaining hero to a scowling Heel who spent the majority of his matches just clobbering his opponents in drawn out “squash” matches. On more than one occasion it seemed like Rick was outright trying to work against his opponents for real, no selling their offence and gobbling up 90% of the match for himself, which didn’t really lead to much excitement in the ring unless you really enjoyed watching slow one-sided shellackings every week. Rick also took part in a bout with one of the worst finishes in all of 1999 when he took on Sting at the Great American Bash in June.

Great American Bash – 13th June 1999
Falls Count Anywhere
WCW World Television Champ Rick Steiner Vs Sting

Steiner and Sting had faced off for the TV Title a couple of times on Nitro, with Sting winning one of the bouts by disqualification and Steiner winning a Cage match between the two when guest referee Tank Abbot from the UFC helped him win. Steiner and Sting had previously been allies and friends in storyline, but now that Rick has joined the dark side it has sent him on a collision course with his former friend. This was probably the most high profile singles pay per view match Rick Steiner had during this stage of his career, although he had challenged Lex Luger for the World Title on a Clash of Champions event in the early 90’s.

This one is mostly a stand up brawl, as both men trade punches in and outside of the ring, with Steiner eventually cutting Sting off with a piledriver outside the ring. Sting is popular with the crowd, so they’re interested in seeing him take it to Steiner, but they don’t make a lot of noise when Steiner is on top. As a result the match is pretty dull as Steiner takes most of it, as was usually the case in his Title matches. Sting seems content to just lie around and sell to be honest, so I doubt he was too bothered about not getting much offence in.

Eventually Sting does make a comeback, getting a big splash off the top at one stage, but Steiner shrugs that off and hits Sting right in the Borden’s before putting him more rest holds. This match has been really flat crowd wise and it hasn’t been much fun from a wrestling perspective either. We do get the odd case of Rick Steiner grabbing the ropes to break a hold at stage, even though it’s Falls Count Anywhere and rope breaks shouldn’t count. Both men eventually brawl to the back, at which point we get a horrible ending where Scott Steiner and Tank Abbot are waiting with Rottweiler’s and Dobermans, which they the sick on Sting, causing the match to be thrown out whilst the crowd boo’s.

NO CONTEST DUE TO DOG ATTACK
RATING: DUD

The match itself wasn’t terrible or anything, but that finish was borderline offensive to the paying customer and looked horrible, with Sting clearly holding on to something so that the dog would bite him. It all ended up looking like a bad skit and was one of the many examples of WCW presenting nonsensical rubbish during this period

Steiner continued to have one-sided mostly lousy matches during his reign, with one of them being on pay per view at Bash at the Beach against Van Hammer. Hammer had previously been a Heel as part of Raven’s Flock, but he had turned babyface in 1998 and got a little bit of a push before WCW decided to cool him off again. Going into 99 Hammer was pretty much a lower card guy who often tended to lose, but WCW decided to have another go at pushing him due to his impressive physique and repackaged him as a Heel with a mean streak who started picking up wins. Ric Flair and Roddy Piper were the authority figures at the time, and when Hammer asked them for a Title shot they decided to “reward” him with this match with Steiner. I’m surprised they didn’t also reward him by having him get run over by a truck.

Bash at the Beach – 11th July 1999
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Rick Steiner Vs Van Hammer

To ram home Hammer’s new heel gimmick they’ve given him Big Bubba’s old entrance music. This match has two major issues with it, the first being that the crowd doesn’t care because it’s two heels going at it in a thrown together match and the second being that Rick Steiner is having none of Hammer and is only interested in annihilating him, barely selling his offence and sometimes just outright not cooperating with him. I mean, Hammer is a scrub compared to Steiner of course, but there’s no need to be such a jerk about it, especially as it not only makes Hammer look like a chump but also makes the guys he beat to earn the Title shot look bad as well.

The big spot of the match is Steiner giving Hammer a DDT on the concrete outside the ring, but they treat it as a throwaway move at best, when it really should have been the big moment that preceded the finish. You don’t just burn a move on the concrete in a nothing bout that’s second on the card. We get two blatant low blows in front of the ref from Steiner, as well as a chair shot from Hammer at one stage, as it seems like the guys are going out of their way to make the ref look stupid. Steiner decides he’s had enough of this match and gets the second rope bulldog to finish Hammer off following the two previous shots to the groin area.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: RICK STEINER
RATING: DUD

This was miserable, as Steiner had zero interest in having a match here and was incredibly uncooperative. Plus, all the stuff in front of the ref without it being a DQ was simply inexcusable. I’ll give them a break for one spot like that, but there were about five moments in this match where it should have been a DQ and wasn’t, and that’s just taking the pish if you don’t mind me saying so!

As you may or may not be clear of dear reader, I do not count myself as a fan of Rick Steiner’s time with the TV Title. His matches often bored me and he did nothing to elevate any of his opponents, instead choosing to mostly demolish them all in lousy matches, which after a certain point didn’t even help him anymore. If you make your opponents look like they are nothing then you rarely gain anything from defeating them because you should have beaten them anyway if they’re such a bunch of goobers. Seeing the TV Title defended in these sorts of bouts did nothing for its prestige either, especially when you consider how great a job the likes of Rick Martel, Booker T and Chris Benoit had done in elevating the Title by having such good matches for it.

Speaking of Benoit, he was the man who was eventually chosen to take the Title from Steiner, with Steiner attacking Benoit when he was supposed to be having a match with Sting for the World Title, leading to Benoit picking up the win. Even against a great worker like Benoit who could have likely carried him to a fun outing, Steiner was still insistent on taking most of the match, but at least the belt was away from him for a while. Benoit should have been an excellent choice to hold the Title due to his high calibre of wrestling ability and his versatility which allowed him to have good matches with a variety of different opponents, but Benoit was never really given the time to have the sorts of matches he was truly capable of having as Champion. His reign only ended up lasting 41 days and it came at a time when the TV Title hit a roadblock by the name of Vince Russo, but we’ll go into more detail on that topic next time out.

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