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

Welcome back to what may be the Final Part of our journey down wrestling memory lane, as we once again dive into the history of the WCW World Television Title. Sadly we are going to cover the period of history that ultimately led to the demise of the TV Title, as two changes in WCW management led to the belt eventually being killed off, never to return. However, when we last left things Chris Benoit was enjoying his first official run with the belt. Those of you who have read previous parts of this feature will remember that Benoit had won the belt a handful of times on House Show events in the Spring of 1998, but WCW had never officially acknowledged those runs and unless you had access to the internet at the time you probably didn’t even know that they had happened.

In the latter half of 1999 though Benoit had started to get a bit of a push, with him firstly holding the United States Title for a bit and then getting a run with the TV Title almost straight after. Benoit had originally been slated to face World Champion Sting for his belt on an episode of Monday Nitro, but TV Champ Rick Steiner ended up attacking Benoit instead and Benoit ended up defeating him for the belt in one of the many examples of nonsensical booking that WCW did at the time. In theory Benoit was tailor-made to be TV Champ, as his versatility as a performer should have ensured that he was able to have a number of great matches with a variety of opponents. Benoit would only be allowed 4 successful Title defences before having to drop the Title back to Steiner however, with one of them coming on an edition of WCW’s Thunder show.

WCW Thunder – 30th September 1999 (Aired on 7th October 1999)
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Chris Benoit Vs Brian Knobbs w/ Jimmy Hart

Knobbs was normally known for tag team action, but with regular partner Jerry Saggs out with a long-term injury, Knobbs moved into the singles realm with more regularity, with it eventually leading to multiple reigns in the WCW Hardcore Title division. Knobbs could have fun brawls but wasn’t much of a technician in the ring, so he presented a good challenge for Benoit when it came to having a good match. You can tell that this match has been taped on a prior date because they have dubbed in all kinds of fake crowd noise over the top of it, with it giving me bad memories of the Backstreet Boys Reunion Tour era of Pro-Wrestling that we’ve just lived through.

Benoit’s versatility helps him out here, as he amends his style in order to have the sort of brawl and power match that would cater to Knobbs’ skills, and the match is entertaining as a result. I can’t deny that it would have been amusing to see Knobbs try and trade holds with Chris Benoit, but it probably wouldn’t have been a good match whilst what they are doing here works well, with them eventually fighting into the crowd for some brawling out there. Benoit’s ability to seemingly roll out of bed and wrestle whatever match he needed to that evening will always impress me.

Hart interferes by shoving Benoit down off the top at one stage when both men get back inside, which allows Knobbs to get a near fall and then work some heat, with Benoit selling it all well. Knobbs heads up to the second rope for a splash, but Benoit gets his foot up to block and then tries to muscle Knobbs over for some German Suplexes, only for Knobbs to block it and then cut him off again. This is probably the best singles match I’ve ever seen Brian Knobbs in, as they’ve structured it well and the action itself has been fun.

Benoit does finally manage to catch Knobbs with a pair of German Suplexes, but Hart interferes again and the referee gets bumped in the process. Hart tries to hit Benoit with his trademark megaphone, but Benoit dodges that and Knobbs ends up taking it instead, which leads to Benoit getting rid of Hart and then heading to the top for a big head butt, which is enough for the three count to retain the belt.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: CHRIS BENOIT
RATING: ***

This was an entertaining fight, as Benoit knew exactly how to structure the match in order to get the best out of Knobbs and Knobbs really put the effort in, to the point that he was drenched in sweat by the bouts end. If he’d been wearing Big Boss Man’s outfit from the 80’s then his buttons would have definitely been undone by the end there

Benoit’s other Title defences came against Ernest Miller on an episode of Nitro and then two defences on WCW’s weekend Saturday Night show against Lash Leroux and Bobby Blaze. Probably the best match Benoit had during his run as Champion wasn’t even for the Title, as he took on Bret Hart on an episode of Nitro in October, with the match being a tribute to Bret’s departed brother Owen. The match remains one of the best in Nitro history, as both men went out there for close to thirty minutes and had a tremendous technical battle. Of course, the way Benoit’s life ended has certainly sullied his career to an extent, but there’s no denying that he was supremely talented as an in-ring performer and it would be churlish to pretend otherwise.

At the time of his Title run Benoit was a member of a faction known as “The Revolution”, which was a group consisting of Benoit, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko and Shane Douglas. The idea behind the group was actually based somewhat in reality, as all four men had been held back at one time or another due to internal politics within WCW, so they aimed to take the spots of the other wrestlers by force by forming an alliance and watching one another’s backs. However, this being WCW, The Revolution ended up being a DUD, and by October they were already teasing that the group would be broken up. In the end it was just Benoit who left the group, with long-time ally Dean Malenko costing him the TV Title to Rick Steiner at the Halloween Havoc 1999 event.

Steiner’s previous reign had hardly been a non-stop thrill ride, as he’d mostly had boring matches where he gobbled up his opponents and essentially made every challenger look lesser by the time the match was over, which was a stark contrast to the likes of previous Champions such as Steven Regal and Booker T, who often shined up their opponents and made them look good before eventually defeating them. Steiner getting the belt again was hardly a positive sign, but things were due to get even worse for the TV Title. In October of 1999 the WCW hierarchy decided that they wanted to ring in some drastic changes to the way the show was written.

WCW Executive Vice President Eric Bischoff had been placed on gardening leave at the start of the autumn due to how badly WCW had been getting its derriere handed to it by the WWF. It was decided that Bischoff was no longer the man to take the company forward and Bill Busch was instilled in the position instead. Busch was considered to be a nice chap, but he was very much out of his depth when it came to running a wrestling company, and the downward spiral that WCW was on amazingly didn’t auto-correct once he was given the reigns.

However, whilst the WWF was enjoying tremendous success over on the other channel, head writer Vince Russo was unhappy at the amount of hours he was working and felt that he was under appreciated for the work he did. Russo and his writing partner Ed Ferrara had enjoyed great success as writers for the WWF, with the company’s Monday Night Raw show doing incredible ratings and fans flocking to buy tickets, merchandise and pay per views. However, one notable aspect was that WWF head honcho Vince McMahon always held the casting vote on whatever the two wrote, so if he didn’t like something he would either edit it or outright remove it. In this environment the three had found a pretty successful ecosystem in which to co-exist and the WWF was flying as a result.

Once WCW heard that Russo and Ferrara were unhappy (with Russo himself extending the olive branch) they quickly set up a meeting and soon had both men under contract, with the idea being that they would have the power to write and present the show however they pleased. Of course that didn’t quite happen due to things like Turner Standards and Practices forcing certain rules and regulations on them, but generally Russo and Ferrara were now free to write what they wanted without Vince McMahon looking over their shoulders. The results were pretty catastrophic. Yes, the ratings on Nitro increased slightly over what they had been before, but pay per view buy rates absolutely tanked and they were essential to the company making money.

Nitro and Thunder under the Russo and Ferrara banner were often difficult watches, with something happening in every segment and angles hardly ever having a chance to breathe. Traditional hero and villain roles were replaced with a shades of grey approach that left fans unsure of who to cheer or boo, and the show ultimately had a feel of being a diluted version of the WWF, which only made WCW as a company seem lesser. Despite how bad WCW had been (and under the Bischoff regime in 1999 the company had been pretty gosh darn bad at points) it still had its own identity and at least felt like an alternative product for those that didn’t like the WWF. With Russo and Ferrara trying to turn the company into WWF junior, that appeal was now gone and long-time fans were driven off.

Russo and Ferrara were obsessed with the ratings and little else, which made their open disdain for the TV Title all the stranger. You would think that in a company where the focus was on television that the belt specifically designed for television would be treated well by the writers, but in fact it was treated the exact opposite. Almost from the minute the Gruesome Twosome entered WCW they were trying to kill the TV Title off, just outright rewarding the belt to Hall at one point when Rick Steiner was injured rather than making him actually win it. Hall was already the United States Champion at the time and he didn’t really need another belt, which made the idea to just give him the TV Title as well an absolute head scratcher. Hall would then “defend” his newly awarded TV Title along with his US Title against former TV Champ Booker T at the Mayhem pay per view in Canada.

Mayhem – 21st November 1999
WCW World Television Title and United States Title
Champ: Scott Hall Vs Booker T

This was actually an open challenge from Hall, as Rick Steiner isn’t here, so Booker T steps up to the plate. WCW of course botches his music at first though. Booker is actually quite heavily booed by sections of the Canadian crowd here, as Scott Hall is a former WWF guy and pretty much every ex-WWF guy got cheered on this show at the expense of the home grown WCW guys. Hall of course plays up to this rather than actually trying to work like a Heel, which doesn’t really help Booker get over with the hostile crowd.

Booker looks decent here, but Hall seems really off the pace, which was a common theme during this period of his career. The crowd cheers for basically everything Hall does, and even chants “Rocky” at certain points in order to mock Booker T, I guess because they saw him as WCW’s version of The Rock and felt that would insult him? There appears to be a fight in the crowd at one stage, as everyone turns to look off screen whilst Hall puts Booker in a sleeper hold whilst it blows over.

Jeff Jarrett and The Harris Brothers join us just as Booker starts making a comeback, and the crowd still doesn’t like him. Jarrett distracts the ref whilst The Harris’ come in, but Booker fights them off. This allows Hall to give a distracted Booker an Outsider’s Edge though and that’s enough for three.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: SCOTT HALL
RATING: *1/2

Not much of a match really and kind of a waste of Booker

At one stage in his career Scott Hall might have been a decent choice to hold the TV Title. Hall was a talented in-ring performer when he could be bothered to actually put the effort in and wasn’t completely zamo’d from a cocktail of booze and pills. Sadly by 1999 those days were few and far between for the most part, and Hall’s general “too cool for school” demeanour often made any match or storyline he was involved in seem lesser, because if the guy involved can’t be arsed then why should you be as a viewer?

Hall’s character (and possibly even Hall himself in real life) treated the TV Title with absolute disdain, to the point that he treated the fact he was forced to be Champion almost as an inconvenience. This all did wonders for the prestige of the belt of course, because if you want to make a Title seem important or valuable then the very first thing you should always do is make it clear that the Champion doesn’t even want it. Hall tried pawning the Title off to his friend Kevin Nash, but Nash didn’t even want it either, so Hall just lobbed in a dust bin and continued to defend his United States Title instead, because at least he actually wanted that one.

And with that the TV Title was essentially dead and wasn’t even referred to for the rest of Russo and Ferrara’s first run in the company. A near decade of history was quite literally thrown in the garbage because having to book the TV Title competently was too much for the puny brains of the Russ-Ara tandem to handle. A belt that could have been used as a selling point to try and elevate up and coming wrestlers was cast aside like an out of date pack of Jammy Dodgers. The fact the TV Title was seen as more of a “worker” belt probably didn’t help it’s cause, as the actual wrestling going on the ring was usually the least important part of the show when Russo and Ferrara were around, but regardless of the reasons, it was gone, and it seemed to be gone for good.

However, the belt did have a brief resurgence in 2000 whilst Russo was momentarily away from WCW. Russo had ended up having his autonomy blunted at the beginning of 2000 when Busch decided that he would need to work in a committee going forwards due to just how bizarre his ideas were getting, including an instance where he wanted to book Tank Abbot to win the WCW World Title, even though he’d only been a proper wrestler in the company for a couple of months and wasn’t even remotely over enough to justify holding the top belt. Russo decided that working on a committee wasn’t what he signed up for, so he headed home and a committee was put together headed by Kevin Sullivan in order to write the shows.

It was decided however that the committee wouldn’t bother with booking the Saturday Night show, mainly because it was usually a C Level production every week that was pretty toned down and mostly focused on basic angles. Jimmy Hart was given the position of booker for the Saturday Night show, and he decided that bringing the TV Title back to be defended on Saturday Night made sense seeing as the show had its own contained continuity and having a belt that was mostly just defended on Saturday Night shows would give it a nice unique little selling point. The wrestler chosen to hold the TV Title going forward was “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, with the reason being that he had been bumped down to being a janitor during the Russ-Ara era, so he just one day found the belt in the rubbish whilst cleaning up and decided that he’d be the Champion from now on.

Amazingly WCW seemed okay with this, and thus Duggan was the TV Champion. How that specific bin happened to have teleported to the arena WCW just happened to be filming at that day wasn’t ever really explained, but by WCW’s meagre standards this was a somewhat reasonable example of storyline continuity for once. Duggan had been a huge star in Mid-South Wrestling in the 80’s, having a famous bloody brawl with Ted Dibiase whilst both men were decked out in tuxedos. Duggan then entered the WWF later in the decade and was a fixture in the mid-card up until 1993, feuding with the likes of Andre The Giant, Dino Bravo and others.

When Hulk Hogan entered WCW in 1994 he decided that he needed to bring in some of his friends from the glory days of the Hulkamania Era, and Duggan was one of the lucky men to get the call, being brought in and quickly winning the United States Title. Duggan wasn’t renowned for being an especially good wrestler, but he did have a lot of charisma and the fans regularly got behind him thanks to his Pro-American Patriot character and his loud booming shouts of “Hoooooooo” whilst he wrestled. Duggan actually had a bout with cancer in the latter half of the 90’s, but he managed to fight through that and eventually returned to the ring as the decade came to a close.

WCW Saturday Night – 16th February 2000 (Aired on 26th February 2000)
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Jim Duggan Vs Steven Regal

This match came about because Regal was appalled that a Title he had held with such pride was now being besmirched by a wrestling janitor, thus he put his career on the line to get a shot at the belt. I don’t think it was ever explained why Duggan was still a janitor at this stage when Russo was left and his edict supposedly didn’t exist anymore.

This match is quite good actually, with Duggan bumping Regal around to start before Regal manages to take him down to the mat with an arm bar. It’s a bit of a styles clash, but it’s fun to see two so diametrically opposed characters going at it like this. Regal cheats every time Duggan tries to fight back, and Duggan does his usual big goofy facial expressions whilst Regal works him over.

Duggan makes a bit of a one armed comeback, with Regal selling and feeding for it well, and that leads to Duggan dropping a knee for the finish whilst Cuban Assassin Fidel Sierra looks on, as he’ll be Duggan’s next feud. This was legit the end for Regal I believe as well, as he spent some time in WWF developmental and then ended up on the main roster by the autumn, where he won the WWF European Title.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: JIM DUGGAN
RATING: **

This was a fun little TV match actually, with both men playing their roles well and the action being decent

WCW Thunder – 28th March 2000 (Aired 29th March 2000)
WCW World Television Title
Champ: Jim Duggan Vs The Barbarian

And here it is, the last ever televised bout where the WCW World Television Title was defended, and what an auspicious final match it is! The Barbarian was a legit tough guy who regularly tagged with Meng as “The Faces of Fear”, but at this stage he was mostly working singles. As you would expect with two big hefty blokes like this, technical wrestling is at a premium and it’s mostly a brawl, with the crowd at least being behind Duggan due to his Pro-USA stance.

Duggan with his big gurning facial expressions in his janitor jumpsuit kind of looks like the baddie from Men in Black actually. Barbarian mostly does basic things like stomps and chokes before clamping on a bear hug. Duggan manages to keep the fans behind him whilst in the hold and eventually bites his way out before making the comeback with the ten punches in the corner. Most of the offence in this match has been very hokey, but the crowd has enjoyed it at least.

Barbarian gets a near fall off a big boot, with Duggan doing an Inoki kick out by slowly raising his shoulder at the last moment. Duggan takes Barbarian down with a clothesline and then follows up with a big knee drop for the crowd pleasing three.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: JIM DUGGAN
RATING: *1/2

This was fine for a TV match, but as the conclusion to the lifespan of the TV Title it was pretty disappointing end. I would have much preferred someone like Arn Anderson, Booker T, Steven Regal or Steve Austin seeing the belt off into the sunset with a great match, but alas it was not to be

Duggan as the TV Champ on the Saturday Night shows was hardly tearing it up from a strictly in-ring perspective, but he actually wanted to be the Champion, which instantly made him a better choice to hold the belt than Hall was. However, Vince Russo returned to WCW in the April of 2000, and that sadly meant that the TV Title was banished to the nether realm once again, and this time it wouldn’t return. Had WCW survived past 2001 then maybe a future regime would have considered bringing the TV Title back, but sadly that day never came and the WCW TV Title officially died as of the Spring of 2000.

I do sometimes like to think that the TV Title lives on in spirit though in the form of All Elite Wrestling’s TNT Title, which operates in a somewhat similar function and has been treated with respect throughout its existence in that company. I’ve decided that we’ll do one more part next week where I look back and list my overall favourite WCW TV Champions, so I’ll hope you all join me then and if you’ve been following these from the start then thank you very much for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them!

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