Georgia on my mind
I knew I was in trouble less than 30 minutes into the WWE DVD release THE RISE AND FALL OF WCW when this latest revisionist history lesson claims that Vince McMahon secured Jim Crockett’s longtime 6:05 ET timeslot on Ted Turner’s WTBS SuperStation—the infamous “Black Saturday” of July 14, 1984. Although several stars from his Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling territory often appeared on the World Championship Wrestling show in the early ’80s, Crockett, of course, did not own that WCW timeslot when McMahon took over.
I had been avoiding this DVD because I didn’t want to go through the inevitable frustration of once again hearing the McMahon machine’s corporate spin on how they kicked Turner’s butt and took over the sinking ship that was WCW in 2001. Surprisingly, though, the biggest annoyance isn’t an over-handed account of how McMahon outfoxed his competition, but rather, the lack of knowledge and research on the subject matter.
The early days of WCW are traced back to Georgia Championship Wrestling, which Jim Barnett took over in 1973 during the Peach State’s wrestling war between the NWA and “outlaw” promoter Ann Gunkel. After acquiring GCW stock, Barnett eventually bought out Gunkel for $200,000 to take complete control of Georgia TV wrestling. Barnett, fresh off a controversial-yet-money-making run in Australia, became one of the most powerful members of the Alliance, assuming the responsibility of booking the NWA’s World titlist as the career of St. Louis promoter Sam Muchnick came to an end.
Instead of Barnett, the godfather of WCW is portrayed on the DVD as being Jim Crockett Sr. (Big Jim). A brief history of Jim Crockett Promotions kicks off the documentary, including clips of a new interview with Jim Crockett Jr, who took over the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling territory following the death of Big Jim.
The Crockett history is fine and all; I just wish it had followed after at least an hour covering the heritage of Georgia Championship Wrestling, which planted the seeds for what would become WCW. (At a running time of 1 hour, 45 minutes, the documentary portion of the DVD release is shamefully short.) I was hoping for a detailed look at how Barnett and his stars like Mr. Wrestling II, the Freebirds, Austin Idol, Dusty Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, Masked Superstar, Roddy Piper, Ivan Koloff, Stan Hansen and booker Ole Anderson captured the imagination of wrestling fans nationwide on an expanding WTBS stage in the late ’70s and the early ’80s as this new technology called “cable TV” spread like “Wildfire” Tommy Rich across the country.
The first sign of national prominence for the Georgia promotion was following an angle in which Wrestling II failed to defeat Harley Race for the NWA World heavyweight title in 1980. Fans were encouraged to participate in a letter-writing campaign, which led to II being awarded the Champion of Champions Cup (pissing off Race and several members of the NWA board in the process). In addition to receiving thousands of cards and letters from Georgia and throughout the South, there also was a ton of correspondence from fans in Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.
The TV show was renamed World Championship Wrestling (though the official name of the company remained GCW), complete with a spiffy new global logo in the backdrop behind legendary announcer Gordon Solie, to shed the Southern image. By early 1981, the Saturday night broadcast was averaging a 6.4 rating, making the WCW show the most-watched program on cable TV.
As WTBS and WCW began penetrating more and more cable markets located in traditional NWA strongholds, a few of the more observant Alliance promoters began to get nervous—fears that were compounded when Barnett began to extend his house shows into towns like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Wheeling, WV. GCW had an amazing run for the rest of 1981, including three NWA World title changes in Georgia within a period of a little over three months (Race to Rich and back to Race in April and then to Dusty in June); WCW seemed to have a stranglehold over TV wrestling on an ever-increasing national stage.
Domination of the wrestling industry seemed destined for the NWA’s hands as GCW extended its house-show business north to Detroit (The Sheik Ed Farhat’s longtime territory, which was on its last legs) and in borderline WWF markets like Baltimore. Some NWA promoters like Crockett were savvy enough to realize the advantages of such exposure, sending his stars to make frequent appearances in Atlanta, most notably a young Flair, who would benefit when it came time for the NWA board to name a new World champion. Others, like Fritz Von Erich, couldn’t see the big picture and reportedly made it difficult whenever sons Kevin and David were contacted about coming in to appear on WCW.
By 1982, it was clear to almost anyone paying attention that whomever controlled cable TV would rule the business. And unlike a lot of longtime NWA promoters, young Vince McMahon Jr. was paying very close attention. (Not everyone in the NWA was blind—Terry Funk saw the effect that the WCW show was having on his local business, when fans of the thrilling two-hour cable broadcast began asking why Atlanta stars like Rich weren’t appearing in Amarillo. The Funks eventually sold the family’s Amarillo territory.
Of course, nothing lasts in the wrestling biz. GCW booker Ole disliked Barnett and accused him of stealing from the company in an effort to oust him, a power struggle Anderson would win. By the end of ’83, with Barnett forced out, WCW was a mess, a combination of bad booking, poor management and stale stars, most notably, Rich, who had started to go downhill fast because of his lifestyle. The Road Warriors pumped some life into the promotion, but there were inherent limitations in booking two inexperienced muscleheads whose gimmick was to eat up long-established stars like the Brisco Brothers and Mr. Wrestling I and II. Ole clearly demonstrated that he was in over his head booking a suddenly national promotion, pulling crap like the Brett and Buzz Sawyer defeating the Warriors for the National tag titles in several cities throughout the week…and then Hawk and Animal showing up on TV the following Saturday with the straps and no mention of a title change or reversed decision.
Yes, the real history of WCW is fascinating stuff. But none of this is mentioned on the DVD.
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