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Favorite Angles in Pro-Wrestling History | Ric Flair in the WWF 2001-2003 | Part One: The Man Comes Around

By no means was it a time of glory or riches in the world of professional wrestling. For the biggest company in the game, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, the Era of Hulkamania and Rock N’ Wrestling were all but over, and the looming threat of steroid investigations lingered on the horizon. After a failed run with the charismatic and unpredictable Ultimate Warrior on top, could an older, obviously smaller Hulk Hogan stave off the bleeding and keep the business afloat until a new superstar emerged to take his place?

Ric FlairMeanwhile, over in what was now officially known as Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, it was a time of transition. Jim Herd, Executive Vice President in charge of the company for Turner Sports, had witnessed his company hemorrhage money for years as aging has-been’s and young never-were’s performed before lackluster and sparse crowds even deep within the franchise’s homebase in the Deep South. Like his former tag-team partner up north, it was clear that Sting was not the draw that would lead WCW to the Golden Age, and the World Heavyweight Championship found itself back in the hands of the only true superstar the company had ever known, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Alas, though, even Flair’s act was getting old, and Herd and lead booker Dusty Rhodes (himself a longtime Flair rival) were desperate to find their next big stud, perhaps in the form of the current United States Heavyweight Champion and #1 contender, “Total Package” Lex Luger. So, while still on top in early 1991, Flair was asked to alter his character gimmick and undo all of the things that made Slick Ric who he was. Gone were the flowing golden locks up top. Also Sprach Zarathustra, the most recognizable ring entrance music in the game, was replaced with generic brass fanfare. All in preparation for turning Flair from the Dirtiest Player in the Game into … Spartacus, wise old gladiator of Rome? I know, I don’t get it either.

WCW World Heavyweight ChampionshipBut in the “what could have been’s?” of the world, we never fully got there. Herd greatly underestimated his perceived foe and lowballed the champion during contract negotiations that ran through the first half of 1991. Eventually, frustrated and unwilling to entertain legitimate negotiations with the biggest star his company had ever seen, Herd outright fired Flair in the days leading up to the champion’s title defense against Luger at the Great American Bash 1991. The results proved to be a complete abomination. Luger did indeed finally reach the top of the mountain, and turned heel alongside new manager (and legend in his own right) Harley Race while defeating Flair-substitute Barry Windham in a cage match for the WCW World Title. The match and overall supercard, though, are considered to be among the very worst of all time, as the crowd in Baltimore, MD reacted with disgust and outrage at the ouster of Flair and shat over the whole card, repeatedly calling out the former champion’s name in protest. To make matters worse, the vaunted Big Gold Belt that had long represented the National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling remained in the possession of the Nature Boy, who had put down a tidy deposit as security for its jeweled value and rightly requested that money be returned plus interest in exchange for the belt. With civil discourse all but impossible, Herd told Flair to figuratively fuck off, and Luger celebrated his big win by holding up a blurry and indistinct championship trophy that looked suspiciously like the old NWA World Tag Team Championship that someone stamped a new plate over top of.

As for Flair, the world was his oyster. Technically never defeated, he could still claim some air of legitimacy as being the true World’s Heavyweight Champion in professional wrestling. Heck, he even had the belt to prove it! He could tour the world on his own, taking on all comers and perhaps even establish a new brand and a new era in the world of traveling world champions. Or, he could firmly extend his middle finger towards his former employer and wind up in the arms of their greatest competitor.

In late August, 1991, we would learn the answer, as broadcast journalist Bobby “The Brain” Heenan closed out an otherwise routine episode of the syndicated WWF Wrestling Challenge program with a pretty blockbuster announcement.

Next: The Man makes his debut, and a First Challenge is set.

Full of Sound and Fury Signifying Absolutely Nothing

NEWSFLASH: the vast array of egomaniacal, group-thinking, elitist celebrities of Hollywood descended from their mansions amidst the canyons of Southern California to celebrate each other’s’ profound greatness and progressive worldviews this past Sunday at the Screen Actors Guild awards ceremony. And, like old times during other GOP-controlled eras, the actors and actresses who were chosen to speak bravely decided in unison to speak truth to power and champion their steadfast opposition to the current presidential administration.

Why these folks still think that anyone cares what the heck they have to say, or that they are entitled to a special platform to lecture and sneer at the middle-American masses that dared to vote differently then they all did in lockstep, one has no idea. Some speeches, of course, were more noteworthy for their insipid stupidity than others.

“Confirmation” actress Kerry Washington, who is nominated for best actress in a TV drama, used her moment to explain why Hollywood was taking a stand in this heated political climate.

“No matter what, actors are activists no matter what because we embody the humanity and worth of all people,” she told the camera.

Huh? What does that even mean? You memorize some lines of dialogue and robotically repeat it before a camera. You are but an empty, soulless vessel channeling the words and thoughts of some other writer, director, and producer. To say that most actors embody anything other than a vapid shell of nothing would be a strong conclusion to make, let alone that you are the living embodiment of all that is good and worthwhile of humanity. That…is a bit of an arrogant, egotistical, and self-righteous stretch, don’t you think?

“Hidden Figures” star Taraji P. Henson, whose film took home the award for outstanding cast in a motion picture, received a similar reaction to her tearful acceptance speech.

“This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and we come together as a human race,” she said. “We win. Love wins every time.”

Hey, actually I don’t disagree here. The world would be a vastly better place if we all stopped judging and separating ourselves for each other, and learned to love and accept ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors for who they are. However, I will question the timing of why this is being said today, in this venue. Instead of being perceived as brave for exercising your constitutional rights to free speech from a safe haven amidst the ivory towers of Hollywood, how about descending from your soapbox and proclaiming the same wisdom and lessons from the streets of Riyadh, or Kabul, or Aleppo? Make a real difference and help to stop the hate and bring peace to the angriest, most hostile part of the world. It might even save thousands or millions of lives and avert future wars. Truly, such an act would go down in the annals of history, and millions would give gratitude for your brave and selfless acts.

But man, I bet that afterparty with the million-dollar goodie-bag was just too much to turn down, right? Maybe next time.

Come On, Get Up and Fight!

I remain fascinated to this day by the video games of yore, especially the hallowed 8- and 16-bit eras, where programmers designed experiences to be brutal and random and never held your hand through an opening tutorial. You were instead catapulted immediately into the deep end of the pool, and only by your own intelligence, memory, twitchy response reflexes, and sheer luck and repetition did you survive or progress. But what a reward it was, to battle to the end of your quest and thrown down with the barrell-wielding monkey, fire-breathing dragon, or heavyweight champion of the world professional boxer and emerge victorious.

To that point, I must have spent countless hours playing and mastering the NES classic Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Part sports simulation, part racist cartoon stereotype that could never exist today, and part puzzle/strategy challenge, the key to facing each boxer as you climbed the ladder and rankings was to determine his secret “tell,” that moment when he would be particularly vulnerable to a surprise left-hook or well-timed counterpunch. Then, it was then a matter of rhythm. Look for the winking eye or blinking sprite and hit the correct button strokes in combination to exert maximum damage, while ducking or blocking to defend against your opponent’s other, less-important attacks. Over time, I had most guys down to a science, and could make it all the way through the game, on a good day, without even taking so much as a single hit. Yes, Punch-Out!! was definitely my game of choice when I wanted to display my mad gaming skillz to friends and family.

And apparently, I was not the only one. A whole cottage industry of speed runs and world-record chases exists in the video game industry today. It’s not enough to merely complete a quest, now a game must be so thoroughly mastered (or “hacked,” as the case might be), that it’s also finished in the least amount of time possible, down to the very millisecond. People spend days, weeks, years mastering this art, and when the perfect play-though comes around, it’s quite the thrill to witness.

Which brings us to this recent accomplishment, perhaps the greatest run-through of Punch-Out!! possible. Watch as the player establishes world record after world record on each individual boxer, while also going for the overall “beat everyone combined by X” time record as well. By the time he squares off against the formidable Mike Tyson, the dude has nearly a minute to spare in his back pocket, all but guaranteeing he can take his time with the World Champion and still come out on top.

Damn, and I thought I was good at this silly game. Massive kudos to “Summoning Salt” for one of the most impressive feats I’ve ever seen.

Don’t Ever Change, W.

The events of History, in the form of the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, forced him to play the role of a somber, wartime president, a role he was perhaps unsuited for but one in which he accepted and took up the challenge out of duty and love for his country. But the man that is George Walker Bush proves far more complex and nuanced with the shadow of the past behind us. Part everyman doofus capable of nearly choking to death on a pretzel, part renaissance man latter-day artiste, Bush seems like the kind of guy that would be a blast to hang out with and just shoot the shit. Funny, smart, and completely at ease in his own skin, it’s no wonder that, despite the questionable legacy his administration left behind, the man himself has grown in the public eye into someone people now grudgingly respect and perhaps even miss just a little bit.

George Bush Poncho

I guess what I’m saying is, after watching W. struggle to figure out how to properly operate a poncho at the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, please don’t ever change man. Remain endlessly entertaining and true to yourself forever. You rock.

State of the Website 2017

2017Friends, family, colleagues, and total strangers one and all, what a crazy second half of 2016 it was.

A healthy, handsome, happy, smart, funny, and wonderful grandson was born, filling our hearts with joy and love. This amazing blessing allowed our family to persevere through otherwise what were troubled times, filled with wrecked automobiles, hurricanes, surgeries, eldercare issues, and financial woes. Truly, it was never a dull moment.

Making matters worse, my employer of the past five years saw fit to let me and 1,000 of my coworkers go right before the holidays. I honestly cannot say it was a surprise on any level–the Powers That Be had sought to marginalize my contributions for nearly a year, and the company over all has struggled mightily as management reshaped and reorganized operations and mission time and again while trying to desperately find a strategy that worked. So be it, that’s the way the world turns, it just sucks that we find ourselves in a new year fraught with great uncertainty.

So, with all of that going on, you will forgive your humble website owner if I failed to notice that the damn site was down for the better part of a month. Blame a wayward WordPress widget for its failure to render XML and do its WordPress-thing correctly. Blame GoDaddy for having no mechanism for alerting me to site issues and extended downtime. Or, just blame me for not even bothering to check out the site from time to time to see what’s up. Anyway, all issues have since been rectified, albeit at the cost of losing the content that was originally there. Which just means 2017 provides yet another opportunity for a fresh start, and new posts! Besides, I still have all/most of my archives, downloaded from the famed Internet Wayback Machine, so as I find time in my unemployment perhaps I’ll just slowly repost and republish my so-called Greatest Hits.

As to 2017, I’m filled with an amazing sense of optimism and hope despite my inner dread and anxiety. The economy has proven robust, and hopefully will continue to provide prosperity as our new president makes america great again. So, opportunities will be there to find a place where I can contribute to a team that leads digital transformation and strategy to disrupt a major industry, be it financial services or wherever. If that doesn’t work, I can always follow my heart and take those classes to be the Certified Financial Planner I’ve always wanted to be. Will we stay here in beautiful, warm, sunny Charleston, or will a new location bring new chances for a clean slate? Fate will serve as the ultimate arbiter.

But, most importantly, will the New York Mets win the 2017 World Series? If healthy, the pitching and lineup are there to make an historic run deep into the playoffs for the third-straight season.

It should all make for a fascinating journey. As to you, loyal reader, make sure you take the time to enjoy every step along the way, and cherish each memory for the values they hold near and dear to your heart.

Peace out, and talk again soon! Love you, whoever is reading this!

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Profound Dank Meme of the Day

Scary if it wasn’t so true. And yet, surreally and prophetically self-referential. It’s like the infinite recursion of dank memes.

Meme

Stolen shamelessly from “Unemployed Professors” on Instagram.

When I Knew We Were Going to Lose

Most political ads barely even earn a second glance. The positive messages are a mixture of the same, old, tired tropes involving the American Dream: faith, family, and freedom. The negative ones opt for outrageous factoids and often feature a narrator with an outrageous voice asking outrageous questions. The brilliant comedy The Campaign lambasted both with equal humor and aplomb.

But this actual, real commercial of the 2016 election cycle, from current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, hit me with such a raw punch in the gut that I knew the campaign was over as soon as I watched it.

Brutal. Visceral. Emotional. And indefensible. We all know the quotations from Donald Trump are taken out of context, and are often in retaliation for far-worse being said about him. Some lines were meant for comedy, a different time in a far different environment and media. It’s grossly unfair, but it hits the mark to the point that I can barely offer any resistance to it and just wince. Clinton, the megalomaniacal, win-at-any-costs sociopath, hit directly and hard with the dirtiest, most emotional ad since “Daisy” and the days of nuclear war. For her, this is total war, and no truth or narrative stone can be left unturned en route to victory. She won’t lose, and she cannot. No one will fact check her; the ad will run for the next month and Trump’s support with women will sink to record lows and all but ensure he has no path to the presidency.

For an average voter with conservative tendencies like me, and someone who considers himself to be a gentleman, I’m now faced with the choice of voting for all that I have stood against my entire political lifetime in Clinton, or to back a misogynist, fat-shaming disgusting pig of a human being who is fast and free with the most awful, crippling insults towards women.

Today’s the first day I considered maybe just staying home.

What Is Your Personal DNA?

RETRO REPOST: I took this test originally back in 2006, and amazingly it’s still on the web today, in a greatly expanded form featuring mobile apps, social media widgets, and all of that good tech stuff.

Considerate Idealist

Here are the complete results. There aren’t any major surprises. I value my close friends, am quiet in larger social or professional settings. I have high confidence in my own abilities, but sometimes the world acts in ways counter to my progress. That seems fair.

What If? In 1993, Scott Steiner Stays in WCW and Turns Heel.

I’m an old-school fan of professional wrestling. I love the use of true in-ring psychology, such as working on a singular body part to wear down your opponent, and then having your opponent sell that injury for the duration of the match. For me, every match should begin with the standard collar-elbow tie-up, and move to the standing side headlock before pushing an opponent into the ropes to kick off the action. But that all being said, there’s nothing I love more than seeing some well-executed, old-fashioned power moves, like a tight, crisp suplex or power body slam. These high-risk, high-reward moves are visually appealing, tie back to classic amateur wrestling, and serve to differentiate the sport from its more striking-oriented cousins, boxing and mixed martial arts.

So, it’s no surprise that I love the work of Rick and Scott Steiner, from about 1989 through 1993. The two brothers, collegiate stars both at the University of Michigan, revolutionized tag team wrestling during the era and moved it away from the usual ranks of muscle-bound freaks and pretty-boy rockers. The Steiners were physical, and they were there to take your ass OUT with an array of high-impact throws. From the standard belly-to-belly suplex to the stiff and brutal Steinerline clothesline to the revolutionary at the time Frankensteiner flying vertical head scissions from a standing start, every move was fast, devastating, and utterly believable. When you got hit with the Frankensteiner, your were done and the match was over in decisive fashion.

Eventually, though, contracts expire, management sucks, and superstars bail to the competition. And so it was in 1993, when the Steiners would make their way from WCW to the World Wrestling Federation, in search of greater fame and fortune. While somewhat out of place in the more-cartoonish world of the WWF, the Steiners did earn their likely increased paychecks and standing, and you can consider their run there a moderate (if slightly disappointing) success.

But, what if WCW booker at the time Bill Watts had convinced the team to stay, or at least convinced Scott Steiner to break up the partnership and fly solo? We had a fleeting, tantalizing tease of this very possibility in early 1993. With Rick already on the way out, WCW continued to utilize the more-talented and less-doglike brother for the duration of his contract in a solo run that flashed heel tendencies. Scott’s matches became even more aggressive, and he tossed his opponents around with glee. Once, after suffering a loss in a tag team match, he turned on partner Marcus Alexander Bagwell and beat him to a bloody pulp. Finally, he dominated an absolute legend in Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat and convincingly beat him to win the WCW World Television Championship. Even the closing inside cradle looks stiff and like no opponent in the world would ever be able to kick out when Steiner locks it in, even a former World Heavyweight Champion like Steamboat! See the full match here, which occurred 23 years ago on this day:

Imagine if Scott had stayed and renewed his contract. Would he have gotten the next monster heel run after Big Van Vader, following a transitional but historic championship run by Ron Simmons? How would he have fit into the crowded ecosystem of top WCW heels, such as Ravishing Rick Rude, Stunning Steve Austin, Vader, Sid Vicious, and others? Remember, this was pre-Big Poppa Pump Steiner, but also after the point where he had shown enough promise to have already been considered for a world title run in 1990, allegedly. He was still at his absolute physical peak. Could his raw athleticism have propelled him to greatness years ahead of his world title run in late WCW of 2000? Could his anger and brutality overcome his relative inability to cut a decent promo? Imagine a run where Steiner was putting on world-class matches suplexing the shit out of Simmons, Sting, Ric Flair, Steamboat, and Cactus Jack. Could Steiner serve as a monster heel world champion to eventually be slayed by none other than Hulk Hogan one year later upon his debut? It seems unlikely, and perhaps it might have even devolved into a trainwreck, but those matchups prove a tantalizing missed opportunity lost to history.

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