This entry will be first in a new series at the General Store. Each month on WWE pay-per-view weekends I will be taking a trip back in time to revisit wrestling pay-per-view events from the days of yore. Instead of just picking an event at random each time, I’ll be focusing on a PPV that happened in whatever the current month is. Hopefully, it will be a nice stroll down memory lane for those of you that are wrestling fans. Or maybe it will be a nice entry into the world of professional wrestling for those of you who have always been curious about how that world works. The focus won’t necessarily be on the the in-ring competition, but more on the background and the story being told.
By May of 2000, the writing was already smeared in blood all over the wall for World Championship Wrestling. Slamboree was not the beginning of the end, and the death rattle wasn’t quite audible just yet. But it was definitely during the darkest of days. And by the darkest of days, I really just mean it was the middle of the Vince Russo era.
The wrestling industry had undergone a popularity boom in the mid-to-late 1990’s thanks to some revolutionary programming from the top three promotions in the US; WCW and WWF (now WWE) and the growing insurgent, ECW. WCW had ushered in this boom starting in 1996 with the start of the legendary nWo angle. The WWF had pushed the popularity further with a change in direction from the cartoonish to the obscene during the branded Attitude Era. As the two companies battled it out for supremacy in TV ratings and PPV buy rates, the Atlanta-based WCW’s inability to change and adapt ultimately lead to its own demise.
In late 1999, the company hired away the WWF’s head writers Russo and Ed Ferrara in an effort to take their programming in a much needed different direction. Russo and Ferrara were credited, be it justly or not, with being the creative talent behind the sudden swing in the ratings that put WWF’s Monday Night RAW above WCW’s Monday Nitro.
The change at the top for WCW didn’t work. The envelope was pushed. The outlandish became the absurd became the downright insulting. Russo and his staff were sent home shortly after a huge company fallout in January, 2000 which saw a mass exodus of top young talent to the WWF.
However, the alternative failed to garner any success of its own. And in one of the final efforts to save the company, Russo and Eric Bischoff, the creative mastermind behind the nWo angle, were put back in control in April. This change included a complete overhaul of the on-screen product. Everything was to be rebooted, titles would be vacated, and the organization would be relaunched on the April 10th edition of Nitro. Slamboree would be the first legit PPV of the new era.1
The battle lines were drawn. On one side, Russo and Bischoff would lead their faction, The New Blood, a group of wrestlers who had been held down in some respects. On the other side, The Millionaire’s Club, a group of the biggest names WCW offered in the last decade. This was it, make or break time. Young vs. Old. Up-and-coming vs. Established.
The card for the PPV was, how do you say…not ideal. While it certainly wasn’t the worst PPV produced by WCW in 2000, it was the most disappointing simply because of how crucial it was that the event succeed. We don’t know if a single show could change the direction of the company given the state it was in, or if it could fix the vast array of problems in management. But WCW had the chance to test those waters, and they managed to epically fall flat on their face.
When the first match of the evening involves the crowd breaking into a very strong “You suck!” chant directed at everyone involved–from the talent in the ring to their ringside companions–you’re in for a bad time over the next three hours. It usually takes a couple matches into the card before you see fans become as disinterested as they were here. But that’s where WCW was at this point.
Candido, and wife Tammy (the infamous Sunny from her WWF days), had fallen on very bad times and had been dealing with a laundry list of personal issues for a couple of years prior to jumping to WCW from ECW in 1999. It’s unfortunate how evident their struggles are just from viewing this match. Candido was a hell of a talent before the demons took hold, and the same could definitely be said for Tammy. It’s depressing looking back and seeing how far the two had fallen just from a few years earlier in both the WWF and ECW.
On the other side of the ring was essentially the embodiment of WCW under Vince Russo. Prince Iaukea was one of those WCW legacy guys. He had been around since before the nWo boom and toiled away on WCW Saturday Night and the first hour of Nitro for years. Despite being regarded as a solid talent, he would never amount to much more than a short run as WCW Television Champion in 1997. And then came the gimmick change. Remember in the early 90’s when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and everyone called him The Artist Formerly Known As Prince? Yeah, that’s where we’re headed. Russo repackaged Iaukea as Prince. In 1999. See what he did there? It went over about as well as you would expect it to, despite Iaukea doing a near perfect take on The Artist.
The match itself was a total disaster. You’d probably have an easier time counting the spots2 that were made than the ones that were missed. There was a blown ending, blown chair shots, blown pin, blown everything. Watching this match I immediately had doubts about whether I was going to make it through this three hour trainwreck. Candido took the victory and retained the title, but I’m pretty sure anyone who witnessed this disaster was the real loser.
Of note, Candido would be the first of the performers on this show that are no longer with us. While his life appeared to be spiralling out of control at the time in 2000, he would actually lose his life to a freak accident as the result of a post-surgery bloodclot in 2005.
OK. So, here’s the rub. I’ve been a pro wrestling fan for the majority of my life. Outside of a few years growing up, a couple years after the death of WCW, and the last few years, wrestling has always been a part of my life in varying degrees of importance. We’re talking twenty-plus years, give or take. Over that time I have seen more embarrassing things than I can even begin to recall. This match is in the top ten. It isn’t so much that it is bad, (It really, really is…) but that it is one of those things that if an outsider who knew nothing about wrestling were to stumble into the room while you were watching it, they would immediately remove themselves from your life without hesitation. Word would quickly spread among your social network and soon even your family would disown you. Your employers may even catch word of your questionable entertainment choices and be forced to sever all professional ties with you. You could end up broke, alone, and likely homeless simply because you cast your gaze upon this embodiment of everything wrong with the world of professional wrestling.
Terry Funk was 55 and a true living legend at the time this match took place. He was in his fourth decade of an amazing career in the ring. Norman Smiley was accomplished in his own right, having been trained by the legendary Malenko brothers in the mid-80’s. Ralphus was a truck driver for WCW. Yeah. Chris Jericho had brought him into the spotlight as his lackey in 1998, and the gimmick took on a life of its own. When Jericho left for the WWF, the legend of Ralphus continued to grow as he caught on with Smiley, who had taken on a joke gimmick3 of his own. When the two were paired together, it was actually very successful comedy. But like all good things in wrestling, it overstayed its welcome. Just like this match did.
All “hardcore” matches4 in both WCW and WWF at the time were just guys throwing a bunch of shit at each other backstage and trying to get a few cheap pops5 from the crowd thanks to the various props being used. When you are using things like cardboard boxes, as the trio was here, you not only embarrass the talent involved, but you belittle the intelligence of those paying their hard-earned money to be entertained. When you have two guys who are legitimately entertaining weakly hitting each other with fake weapons it is bad. When you add in a third wheel whose sole purpose in the entire match is to lose his pants in a ridiculous spot when the, um, “action” finally reaches the ring, things just approach terrorist levels of bad decision making.
I really wish I could say more to properly voice just how much this match made me feel equal parts dirty and dead inside.
Quick. What do you get when you mix a guy with no business being in a wrestling ring with a coked up legend who has no business being in a wrestling ring? Answer: Stasiak vs. Hennig, Slamboree 2000. Thanks to all who played. Your consolation prize may be picked up on your way out.
The premise here was Stasiak had taken claim to the “Perfect” moniker Hennig had built his career around a decade earlier. I gotta get me some of that, you are surely thinking. Hennig was one of the biggest names in the industry in the twenty years prior to this; Stasiak was barely a toddler in the industry, having made his WCW debut on the Nitro reset on April 10th. For how bad the first two matches of the pay-per-view were, this one was a bit of a palate cleanser simply because of how damn boring it was. It wasn’t bad like Candido/Iaukea (Although it was certainly bad) and it wasn’t embarrassing like the hardcore match (although it was certainly embarrassing) but god almighty was it boring. For those who had passed on the restroom break or that second soda during the first two matches of the evening, they had seven minutes to do whatever they wished, if only to prevent themselves from taking a hundred year nap induced by all the rest holds6. I’m fighting narcolepsy just trying to remember something, anything of note that happened.
Sadly, Hennig would bring our dead count to two here. He would pass away a little shy of three years later, after overdosing on a lethal concoction of cocaine, steroids, and painkillers. A combination wrestling fans had become all too familiar with.
“Hugh Morrus was a name given to me by Eric Bischoff to embarrass me… Well, from here on out, call me by my real name…Hugh G. Rection.”
Pro wrestling, folks. Go crazy. Go crazy.
Scott Steiner is probably one of the most talented wrestlers to ever grace the squared circle. That said, he is also one of the most insane. Given recent revelations about how Morrus (actual real name Bill DeMott) handled talent during his time as a trainer with WWE’s NXT promotion8, we now know he is pretty nuts himself.
The match itself was unremarkable in the fact that it was just another turd on the pile that is this event.
There is a very fine line wrestling promoters have walked for as long as the industry has been around, landing on the wrong side more times than not. It’s really quite simple: If the entertainment value is there, it doesn’t matter how bad the matches are because you’re still getting some redeeming qualities. And on the flipside, if the matches are entertaining, all the other dumb filler crap can be overlooked.
Neither of those things were happening on this night.
This match lead me to probably the most depressing moment of the evening. That’s not because it was the best match of the evening until the finish came. It’s depressing because these two bring our count of deceased talent to four, with both barely in their forties at the time of their passing.
Kanyon was barely 30 when this match aired. Awesome was slightly older at 35. Kanyon was fairly new in the profession in 2000, having only been a pro for five years. But in that time he had more than proven himself as one of the most innovative performers the business had ever seen. Awesome had already made a huge name for himself in Japan, and had established himself as an innovator in his own right before landing an on-and-off relationship with ECW in the late 90’s.
Kanyon was finally coming into his own with the directional swing in WCW. He had played a huge part in the development of the WCW produced film Ready To Rumble, serving as an adviser, stunt coordinator, and the lead’s stunt double. With this now on his résumé, he was able to turn the Hollywood lifestyle into a new gimmick, the luxurious Chris Champagne Kanyon.
Awesome, on the other hand, was fresh off a run as ECW World Champion, a title he still held when he made his WCW debut on the April 10th Nitro. It was a huge coup for WCW, as Awesome was one of the most versatile talents in the industry at the time. He had the power to be a dominant big man, but also possessed the athleticism to fly around the ring like wrestlers half his size.
These guys were two of my favorite performers at the time. Each was amazing to watch in their own special way. But there were demons waiting down the road for each. Kanyon would have a very difficult time coming to grips with his own sexuality after his stardom wore off later in his career, and would struggle with bipolar disorder. Awesome would bow out while still near the top of his game in 2006, opting instead to spend time with his family, but he had trouble adjusting away from the sport.
The hardest bit for me about both Kanyon and Awesome was how they passed. Unlike many wrestlers who have passed away in the last twenty years, both of these performers would end up taking their own lives. Many suffered from heart conditions, or overdosed on prescription painkillers. But with Kanyon and Awesome it’s more personal for me. Both because of my adoration for each, and because they died by suicide.
If not for the first three matches of the evening, this horrible experience would take the cake.
I’ve always held a deep-rooted dislike for Luger. He has always been the thorn in the side of my wrestling fandom. Whenever there are good things happening, Luger is always looming right around the corner to do his best to ruin it. I don’t think I’ve ever quite voiced just how much disdain I have for Luger. Every pro wrestling fan has a guy they just irrationally hate, regardless of success, talent, gimmick, whatever. Luger is my guy.
Bagwell, however, was a guy I really liked when he burst onto the scene in the early 90’s. He was in his early twenties, still very green in the ring, but you could tell he was going places just because of the charisma he had. It took a run as a tag-team wrestler, and being carried by more talented performers, but he would eventually hit his stride. Unfortunately, the more his persona got fleshed out, the more his talent in the ring regressed. He was never a guy who was going to work a top-tier match, but he had the talent to work effectively with the right pairing.
This Slamboree match was the complete opposite of the right pairing. This was nothing more than a bodybuilding pose-down masquerading as a wrestling match. Weak move. Pose. Rest hold. Pose. Weak move. Pose. Lather. Pose. Rinse. Pose. Repeat. Pose. I think you get the picture.
One of the main premises of this match was Russo had taken over control of Luger’s valet at the time, the infamous Liz. He ran the company, she was a controllable asset, something something something. It made about as much sense re-watching fifteen years later as it did happening live. The whole thing just played out so horribly.
Liz’s involvement also, unfortunately, brought our dead talent count to a total of five. Almost three years after Slamboree 2000 aired, Liz would pass away from a deadly mixture of painkillers and vodka in the home she shared with Luger.
Another of the chief complaints of the Russo era was the blurred line between fiction and reality. It was the crux of the entire New Blood vs. Millionaire’s Club build. The young kids were tired of the old guys never letting them have their chance at stardom. The established legends weren’t willing to let go of their time at the top of the card. And thus, no one would ever get a chance at moving up within the promotion. It was the company’s new direction framed around a large chunk of reality. But it was something that anyone who was a fan could see and understand. The same names had been at the top for almost a decade. Younger, fresher talent ready and willing to take over the main event matches weren’t able to because the old guys still made money. It was a simple, easy angle to sell.
The type of angles that were the issue were ones that lead to matches like this one between Douglas and Flair. The casual fan knew nothing about the beef between these two. It dated back nearly a decade at this point; back to the first stint Douglas had in WCW in the early 90’s when Flair was running things. Douglas blamed his lack of success with the company primarily on Flair’s bias towards those around him and on the inability of the established stars to reach out to those working their way up the ranks. By the time Douglas had established himself as “The Franchise” of ECW in the mid-90’s, a major part of his character was built around calling out Flair for his many misdeeds and issuing empty challenges.
I can’t stress enough that this was all stuff the fans who dedicated only a couple hours to watching per week cared nothing about. So while Flair and Douglas may have had legitimate heat with each other as this feud started (and silently ended) the majority of the fans were left completely apathetic. Even for those in the know, both superstars were well past their prime at this point and the appeal of the two finally matching up inside a ring had lost most of its luster.
What the Slamboree booking was left with at that point was a feud and match only a handful of people in attendance cared about.
Did I mention the underlying angle here was that if Douglas won, then Vince Russo would get five minutes alone in the ring with Flair? Yeah, the fans were just as bored as you expected them to be by that. The big swerve here was Flair’s own son, David, was a key culprit in Russo getting that time in the ring with the Nature Boy. And, again, no one cared. It was that kind of night. Rather, it was that kind of year.
I’m lumping these two matches together because I have literally no recollection of what lead to them, and have even less interest in backtracking to figure out than I did in watching the actual matches.
Vampiro, a wrestler who had almost no appeal to American fans, somehow ended up in a top of the card feud with one of the biggest names in the history of the sport. And I’m pretty sure they ended up having another two PPV matches after this one. And it was all very bad. Somehow the feud continued on after Sting scored a rather decisive finish that ultimately saw him squash Vampiro with a succession of finishers.
Kidman and Hogan are probably the worst paired duo that I can remember ever watching. Remember how massive Hogan’s arms were? Those legendary 24 inch pythons. Remember? Well, that is roughly how big Billy Kidman was. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Kidman. He was incredible when he was working with wrestlers his own size. But an old orange leather bag of loose skin with horseshoe hair and a Fu Manchu? Not so much.
This was classic Hogan. No, not the classic WrestleMania headliner. Or even the legendary head of the nWo. This was classic Hogan in the sense that he would never put over9 anyone he felt was out of his league. Sure, Hogan took a beating. Sure, he actually bled for Kidman. But the end result was Hogan throwing Kidman around the ring and eventually scoring the pin thanks to a dumb ref bump10. Somehow Kidman managed to come out looking even worse than he did when the match started. Friends shouldn’t let friends get embarrassed by roided-up geezers with a spray-on tan.
Oh, did I forget to mention in all this that David Arquette11 was the WCW World Heavyweight Champion? A mere oversight on my behalf, I’m sure. Then again, even the company was trying to bury it. The backlash was so intense over the two weeks between Arquette’s title win on the April 26th episode of Thunder, WCW couldn’t distance themselves any further from it. Sure, they played it up in the following two weeks, but the focus still came down to the other two combatants in the cage match: Page and Jarrett.
You see, if there was one thing Russo had his mind set on when he jumped to WCW, it was destroying the legacy of the company’s top championship belt. When the title was vacated after Chris Benoit won it at Souled Out in January and was forfeited a day later when he left for the WWF, Russo had one person in mind for champion: legit MMA badass Tank Abbott. Abbott was brought in to WCW in 1999 with hopes of making him a legit opponent for the company’s top dog Goldberg. The problem was that Abbott was horrible, and it never developed. So when Russo and his writing team wanted to put the belt on Abbott, upper management decided that they’d had enough and Team Russo was shown the door for the first time.
And yet, here we were, not five months later, and Russo had managed to find a way to not only put the world title on an actor, but he’d worked said actor into a three-tiered cage match with two of the company’s top performers. It’s worth noting that to this day Russo does not back down from the decision. Arquette, on the other hand, was adamant the idea would cause huge backlash. While people still argue the stunt drew considerable press and media coverage for the company, the fact remains WCW saw no boost from the decision. Legend has it, when Arquette was added to the main event match at Slamboree the ticket sales halted and never picked back up in the week before the event. Fans also boycotted the event to the extent the PPV buy rate was so low that WCW would never divulge the actual number.
What about the actual match? Well, the cage itself was rather imposing. Think WWF’s Hell In A Cell cage, with a regular size cage on top of it, another much smaller cage on top of that, and the championship belt suspended above all of it; ladder-match style. A bit much to waste on a match containing a C-list actor, no? Also of note, all of this was inspired by the aforementioned film Ready To Rumble. Did I mention yet that David Arquette was the star of the movie and that it was released two weeks before his heavyweight title win? Can’t believe I keep forgetting to mention these little tidbits. And the focal point of the climax of the movie? A three-tiered cage match. It’s all coming full circle. Make it stop!
Oh, right. The match. To take place in such a unique environment, it was very bland and boring. Which sucks, since Page and Jarrett were one of the few things WCW had going for it at the time. In all honesty, the two could have probably traded title reigns back and forth for months and the company would have been no worse off than what they would end up being anyways. But the addition of Arquette to the title picture killed almost all heat between Jarrett and Page. There was really no bouncing back from the debacle.
Team Russo may have even been able to make this a fun main event, if they didn’t have to keep fumbling over themselves trying to work Arquette in every couple minutes to remind fans he was there. Something that was necessary because he would ultimately play into the finish. Jarrett and Page made the most with what they were dealt, working a typical cage match on the ground level, working in various foreign objects in the second tier, and teasing the crowd with a couple near-misses after leaving the second cage. Then everything went to hell in a handbasket when Mike Awesome somehow apparated onto the second level of the cage to run interference for Jarrett. Arquette then took the opportunity to ascend to the top level, under the guise of helping Page win the title before turning on him to assist Jarrett in the victory because reasons. It was as dumb as it sounds.
There is one final thing we need to discuss before I wrap this all up.
I haven’t mentioned this event took place in Kansas City at the Kemper Arena yet. Unlike all the joking about forgetting things, this holdout was on purpose.
Almost a year to the day before Slamboree took place at Kemper, the wrestling world suffered one of its worst tragedies at the same arena. At WWF’s Over The Edge pay-per-view in May 1999, an accident involving Owen Hart’s descent into the ring from the arena rafters resulted in his untimely death. As you can imagine, and likely remember, the accident shook the wrestling world and blew up throughout the mainstream media.
Slamboree was the first major event to take place at the arena since Over The Edge. WWF and WCW had both run television events over the ensuing year, but neither had returned to Kansas City for a PPV. Slamboree made it nearly three hours before any mentions or allusions to Hart were made. The main event had even wrapped up before one of the most tasteless things I have ever seen in my years watching wrestling happened.
After Jarrett claimed the WCW title, Awesome and Page continued to brawl atop the second cage. Just as Awesome had somehow magically appeared on the scene, Chris Kanyon managed to do the same. Continuing the fallout from their match earlier in the evening, the two turned their attention to one another. And then the unthinkable. Well, unthinkable in the sense that whoever signed off on the following bump was completely lacking brain activity.
Awesome flung Kanyon off the second cage, into a heap on the entrance ramp. For all intents and purposes, it looked really good, that I will give to the company. On TV, if you were unaware of the history of the city and the arena, I’m sure it came off looking really great. But that spot. In that arena. With likely a lot of the same fans who witnessed the death of Owen Hart. It was sickening.
As a lifelong WCW fan, my interest was gone after it happened. It wasn’t the horrible pay-per-view that did it. It wasn’t the horrible booking. It wasn’t all the stupid jokes and puns. It was an egregious lack of taste and forethought. Sure, I kept watching. And I may have even ordered a couple more PPV events produced by the company before they ultimately were bought out, but things were never the same.
Maybe I was wrong at the start of this write-up. Maybe it really was the beginning of the end.
- Spring Stampede aired six days after the Nitro reboot, but primarily served to repopulate the title belts and put into motion the feuds that would take place in the coming months.
- A spot is a planned move or a series of combined moves.
- Smiley went by the nickname “Screamin” and put on an exaggerated fear of being hit with any kind of weapon. He would wear football helmets and local sports team jerseys at matches. A lot of fans ate it up.
- In a hardcore match the typical rules for victory do not apply. Count outs, pins, and disqualifications are not in play so wrestlers can do essentially what they want to do. There are many forms and levels of hardcore matches, but that is the basic premise.
- A “Pop” is a sudden outburst of excitement from the crowd. A “Cheap Pop” is the term for when that outburst is achieved by something simple like saying the name of the host city.
- Rest holds are a sort of gentle hold that allows the wrestlers to take a break while still appearing to be fighting. They may also use the hold to plan spots.
- A video promo.
- “…several former WWE wrestlers claiming he propagated an atmosphere of abuse and harassment that included him freely using racist and homophobic slurs.” – Washington Post. Link
- To be “over” is to have the entire crowd cheering in your favor.
- A bump is a fall to the mat. A “ref bump” usually results in the ref becoming unconscious or taken out of the match by some other means.
- Yes, that David Arquette.