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.