Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: January 4 1999

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I want to talk about two events that are so important to me as part of the sports entertainment world. They have been talked about elsewhere but I wanted to put them on the record here because I am fascinated by them and one of them is burned into my memory forever. On January 4, 1999, the Monday Night Wars were going strong between the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. The WWF was now deep into the Attitude Era while WCW was in the middle of their New World Order Era. As I’ve stated before, I was a huge fan of the WWF and rarely watched WCW even if either was preempted. It was the days of brand loyalty before the existence of DVR or internet streaming. Still, I was kind of aware of what was going on over there.

The Attitude Era of the World Wrestling Federation was when I became a big fan of professional wrestling. I had been a fairly big fan during the mid-nineties but I mainly remember watching over at a friend’s house on Saturday mornings. When Raw premiered my interest heightened but I was still a bit young at age eleven to stay up and watch the show. When I got to middle school and high school, sports entertainment had become
extremely popular and fewer people sneered at it. It was during this period that I would stay up on Monday to make sure I watched Raw all the way through. It was worth it to be a little sleepier on Tuesday mornings in order to watch the twists and turns every Monday night.

Mick Foley had been one of my favorites since he popped up on my radar when he debuted on Raw. I heard about Mankind second hand but as I watched his career, I definitely got more and more interested. I was unaware of his earlier career but I knew how devoted he was when he was thrown twice off of the Hell in a Cell structure. Later that year, his character started to become more comedic and I loved him even more. Somehow it was easier to see the amount of thought he put into the character and I loved his feud with The Rock and the McMahons. In a lot of ways it complemented the story they were telling with Stone Cold and told it in a more humorous way.

Prior to the night in question, Mick Foley (as Mankind) had fought hard to face The Rock for the title and had knocked his opponent out. The title was not awarded to him because The Rock had never submitted and had simply passed out. On the January 4, Mankind used a real wrestling move to incapacitate Shane McMahon and ransomed the younger McMahon so that Vince would let Mankind have a rematch. They had their impromptu rematch and all Hell broke loose. While Rock and Mankind clashed in the ring, Degeneration X and The Corporation fought outside of it. The match was back and forth with The Rock doing everything in his power to keep his title belt and Foley refusing to give up. Finally, with an assist from Stone Cold, Mick Foley covered The Rock for the win. I had been laying on my belly as I watched by I jumped to my feet in quiet celebration since everybody else was asleep.

Meanwhile, things on WCW Nitro were busy failing completely as the company did its best impression of the RMS Titanic. I have since read about and watched some of the footage from this era so I am more aware of what was going on. The New World Order was initially a fresh idea but it had become diluted and WCW was having trouble getting anything to catch fire. Hogan, Nash and their cronies put out progressively worse main events and killed off any promising talent as fast as it could be generated. While the ship sank, the cruiserweight division were the musicians playing on the deck and kept their ratings from becoming a mass exodus. One of their remaining draws was Bill Goldberg who was a decent performer who the crowd loved because he looked unstoppable and had a huge win streak. Of course, WCW’s job near the end was to make chicken shit out of chicken salad.

Hulk Hogan had seen the writing on the wall which said “Fans Are Sick of You” and left active duty. Eventually, he went on live television and, with a straight face, announced that he was running for President of the United States. This was a much more laughable prospect than it is today but Hogan had to get his spotlight from somewhere. Meanwhile, Kevin Nash (formerly Diesel) held the heavyweight title and destroyed all challengers by hook or by crook. Enter Goldberg who showed up as a legitimate and believable threat to Nash’s title reign. The match was set for January 4 and I am sure that a buzz went through the WCW fandom that perhaps a new era was on its way.

On January 4, Goldberg made it to the arena but there was a problem. A ring valet by the name of Miss Elizabeth made an accusation against Goldberg. She said that Goldberg had made inappropriate advances toward her and Goldberg was arrested for “aggravated stalking”. Keep in mind that this was the nineties so having Goldberg get fake arrested by fake cops on a fake almost rape charge was not viewed as politically incorrect. It did not stop it from being a bad storyline even back then. So would Goldberg be able to beat the charges and make it back in time for his title match? Well, Elizabeth changed her story and then eventually admitted she made the whole thing up. Somehow, Goldberg still did not make it back to the arena in time. I mean, an establishing shot showed that the police station was across the street but whatever.

Hulk Hogan, who had come to Nitro to talk about his totally for serious campaign, came out to the ring and accused Nash of orchestrating the whole thing. Nash came out and refuted the claim with extreme indignance. Hogan pushed the issue and somehow Nash agreed to a match for the title to settle the issue and prove something or other. The match began and after a moment, Hogan poked Nash in the chest and Nash sold it like he had been shot with a cannon. Hogan pinned Nash easily and then the two of them got up and celebrated together revealing that they had pulled the wool over our eyes the whole time. Hogan was back and was once again king of the mountain, solving nothing from a business or creative standpoint.

These two events aired the same night and they are like night and day to me. Foley winning his first Heavyweight Championship was an award for his long service in the business and his loyalty to the WWF and the fans. It was an extremely positive moment and not only because a babyface won a championship. Hogan winning his umpteenth title belt was more of the same stuff we had seen before. It was a negative moment because fans had been cheated out of a good, bad or mediocre title match in favor for stupid shenanigans. For better or worse, both companies have the word “Wrestling” in their name and that should be the first order of business. I have not even mentioned that the Raw that night was pre-recorded and WCW announcer Tony Schiavone spoiled the Foley moment for WCW viewers. He sarcastically said that it “should put butts in seats” and it ended up causing a huge amount of viewers to switch over to Raw to watch Foley win.

Why is this night personal to me? Well, I mentioned that Monday Night Raw was pre-recorded. It actually took place on my birthday December 29th. The memory of a guy who would become my hero achieving his dream on my birthday is a strong and positive thing for me. Not only that but there were a lot of great performers attached to that moment who worked together to make everything work. It was chaotic, it was messy but it ended up beautiful. On the other side of things, WCW was taking shots at their former employee (Foley) while putting out some of the worst written and performed non-wrestling in the history of the business. The juxtaposition of the events has burned them both into my brain and yet it is the Finger Poke of Doom that has become industry shorthand. Hell, I am wearing a Finger Poke of Doom t-shirt right now. It just shows how interesting Pro-Wrestling is and why I love it.

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6 Responses to “Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: January 4 1999”

  1. Javy Dreamer Says:

    Reblogged this on Wrestling Dreams and commented:
    Some great memories! Nice post!

    Like

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