My name may be DC Matthews, friends, but I'll always be The Teacher.
It's been quite a long time since I've written something for this particular blog... Even longer since my good friend Doc Manson and I have written something together, which is really what brought me to the "writing about wrestling" dance in the first place.
You hear that, Doc? I'm calling you out. Let's do this.
Anywho, onto the column proper.
Ever since WWE Network became, in many ways, the key to my second (albeit unpaid) career, I've been fighting with the proper way to go about viewing the massive archive of content. Do I just hunt for the things I know I want to see? Do I throw it all into a spreadsheet, assign each piece a number then randomly pick a number, thereby deciding what I'm watching?
(Note: I've done that. Multiple times, in fact.)
Over the last couple months, I decided on a challenge that has, for the moment, given me purpose. I set out to watch the entirety of the WCW PPV catalog (including Clash of the Champions, which were "special events" and thereby, in my opinion, qualified).
At the moment I write this, I am currently in September of 1990, watching Clash of the Champions 12, aka "Fall Brawl '90". To be even more specific, Michael "PS" Hayes, with his Confederate Flag war-paint and all, has Tracey Smothers in a reverse chinlock. That is the image paused on my office television right now, one which, were my wife to see it, would almost certainly require her to roll her eyes and again ask me "Why do you watch these crazy men in diapers?"
As silly as we members of the #NAIWC (the New Age Insider Wrestling Community, in case you are not familiar with the latest lingo) may find that query, its really quite the good question.
Why do many of us feel the need to watch wrestling that may have occurred 20+ years ago, especially when there is so much current content to view?
I've seen a few episodes of Lucha Underground, but in no way am caught up, and I've never. . . EEEVVVEEERRR. . . seen a ROH TV episode, despite assurances that its right up my particular alley of wrestling fandom. I could be spending my time watching wrestling from 2015, yet here I am watching the Freebirds vs. The (Wild Eyed) Southern Boys. Why is that?
My answer, as you would expect if you're a fan of my work, is multi-faceted and likely long-winded. Such is life.
1. We are drawn to the wrestling we grew up with.
Now this specific answer doesn't work for my current quest, but it does explain why I'm only paying for WWE Network instead of New Japan Pro World or the Ring of Honor membership. As I've explained many times here on the Interwebz, I'm a child of the WWF, and more broadly, of the PPV era. I am the same age as Wrestlemania (though since they will no longer be divulging their ages, I guess I won't either) and was born just a few short months before the very first wrestling pay-per-view (that I am aware of), NWA's Starrcade 1983.
This is the world I know, the world I was raised in and the world I choose to remain a part of, at least until I can safely say I've seen everything. When I can safely say I've seen all the NWA / WCW, ECW and WWE content, then I might consider other sources of wrestling. Though by then, I hope there's AWA, UWF and other promotions for me to sink my teeth into.
Note: I'm not saying that I won't be watching other wrestling as it catches my interest, I just likely won't be paying for the privilege to do so. The $9.99 I fork over to Vince McMahon a month is all you'll get from me. Now, if someone else wants to pay for my subscriptions. . .
2. History offers myriad lessons for wrestling fans to learn.
There's a reason one of the many attempts I've had to document these Network journeys was called "Lessons from the Network" - I truly believe that the more wrestling you watch, especially the "old stuff", the deeper appreciation you'll have for the current content.
Case in point - Let's look at the WWE tag division. I think we can all safely agree that up to the point that Cesaro and Tyson Kidd started revolutionizing things again, tandem wrestling in WWE was abysmal for quite a while. There's only so many ways we can see the Usos wrestle the Dust Brothers, and I say this as an unabashed uber-fan of Goldust.
Without going too far off on this tangent, here are a couple things the NWA / WCW PPV's have taught me regarding tag team wrestling.
- The deeper the division, the better. For a long time in the late 80's, there were 2 tag team titles in the NWA. Yes, that's right, I said 2. There were the World Tag Team Champions and then you had the United States Champions. That means the roster was deep enough, duo wise, for there to be multiple contenders for 2 titles.
I'm not saying that's something WWE should do - far from it. But it pays to have decent depth. Sorry, Los Matadores, but you don't count.
- High quality, well-thought out tag team wrestling is a thing of beauty. Whether it was the Minnesota Wrecking Crew (Arn and Ole Anderson), the aforementioned Freebirds or my good friend MagnumNAI's favorite the Midnight Express, there's nothing quite like watching a well-oiled (don't make it dirty, folks) pair in the ring.
Tag team wrestling can be formulaic at times, but it sure is fun. Cutting the ring in half so the opponent can't tag their partner, the huge variety of double team moves possible, both legally and illegally, the hot (or sometimes lukewarm) tag to the fresh man on the face team... When all four men know what they're doing between the ropes, its a sight to see as a wrestling fan.
- Too much of anything is no good. I've written about BattleBowl before and won't do so again, other than this. . . We might resent WWE for its lack of tag team development, but at least we're not seeing it shoved down our throats. Any more than 3 tag matches in a card and I start getting bored, no matter how good the talents are.
Speaking of talents, lets get back to the list.
3. Discovering (or re-discovering) the talented. . . And the un-talented.
Again, let's use an example from my journey; more specifically, let's look at some of the last cards I've watched, stretching through the summer of 1990.
Tracey Smothers (that guy in the reverse chinlock on my TV screen) is probably best known by. . . Actually, I can't even say that. I imagine he's essentially unknown to the majority of wrestling fans. Maybe some guys will remember him as Freddie Joe Floyd from the "Horrible Gimmick Era" of WWF in the early-to-mid 90's, and the ECW faithful will remember him as a Full Blooded Italian for some reason, but Smothers, I've discovered, was an incredibly good wrestling talent. He and his partner Steve Armstrong, those Southern Boys, have been one of the more exciting teams (or talents, really), I've seen during this expedition. Armstrong could flat-out fly (I don't know if I've seen a flying bodypress get quite THAT high in the air) and Smothers pretty much had it all. Seriously, he's a guy that could have been a singles champion in either WCW or WWF, if the gimmick and the stars were aligned just right.
Moving to the other side of the spectrum, let's look at El Gigante, better known as the half-naked Bigfoot, Giant Gonzalez. I was pleasantly surprised to see how charismatic he was, especially since he seemingly didn't speak English in the few WCW days I've seen, and because his gimmick in WWF was so blatantly terrible. Now look, he still can't wrestle. . . I mean he REALLY can't wrestle. . . But seeing him smiling and interacting with fans was fun to see.
Brian Pillman in his "Flying Brian" days. . . 'The Z-Man' Tom Zenk. . .Even just enjoying Barry Windham and Tully Blanchard in their primes is worth going back through the archives. Most of us know the Triple H high knee that is often attributed to Harley Race - You can watch the Great American Bash from 1990 and see a 47 year old Harley Race hit it, and it looks just as good (if not better) than Triple H did in his prime. Awesome stuff.
OK, last one. . .
4. Seeing the stars before they were stars.
There was a Clash of Champions. . .Probably number 10. . . That featured the PPV debut of both Cactus Jack and "Mean" Mark Callous, soon to be known as the Undertaker. 25 years ago, yet I still marked out. I just know Steve Austin is going to show up one of these days, and I've been told that this Clash I'm watching will feature the Master Blasters, which will be the debut of Kevin Nash. I'm literally giddy with anticipation.
Don't even get me started on when Vinnie Vegas shows up.
OK, so maybe you need to have a certain level of wrestling nerd-dom in order to properly appreciate the WWE Network archive, but I don't care. If you really and truly are a wrestling fan, there is something for you in the previous PPV's and video vault.
Just explore; you don't have to be as OCD as I am and have a specific mission in mind. Just close your eyes and click on something - I guarantee something in that show you randomly watch will catch your eye.