* 23 years ago in 1992, WCW held a TV taping to shoot matches for most of their shows in the company’s long-time best venue and town, the Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.A relatively (for the era) healthy crowd of 8,000 (half of that paid, as two kids could get in free with each paid adult) saw an elaborately booked angle that ended with Ron Simmons winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from Vader.
Bill Watts was in charge of the company at the time as the Vice President of Wrestling Operations and heavily involved in the creative direction, just like he was when he was the promoter of Mid-South Wrestling. Whatever his personal beliefs were as they pertained to race relations in real life, he was historically a big proponent of pushing black wrestlers going back to the success he had with the Junkyard Dog in New Orleans. Not only was he trying to draw black fans, but he flt it hurt the credibility of the idea of pro wrestling as a major sport if it mysteriously lacked black wrestlers on top.
On this night in Baltimore, the advertised main event was Sting getting his rematch to win back the world title after losing it to Vader at the Great American Bash pay-per-view. But first, Rick Rude was defending the United States Title against Nikita Koloff. Cactus Jack ran in, Sting ran in to stop him, and then Jake Roberts made his surprise debut by running in from the crowd to give Sting two DDTs on a chair. Sting was injured, so Watts held a drawing of the top contenders and Simmons got the shot that night.
As an angle, an episode of television, and a great moment, it was perfectly constructed. Simmons got to win the title by slaying a monster in front of a big, hot crowd (WCW’s largest TV taping crowd in a long time, if not ever) in WCW’s best city, which also happened to have a large black population. The crowd went completely insane for the title change (especially the one guy in the blue shirt jumping up and down) and all was well in the world. Simmons even got a press conference at CNN Center celebrating “pro wrestling’s first black world heavyweight champion” that week, and it felt like a suitably big deal.
The follow-up was not great. Simmons was booked as an afterthought with less than adequate challengers (his first PPV opponent was The Barbarian, who had no credibility even if he was an incredibly underrated worker) and he just didn’t feel like the focus of the company. Plus, he was very good, but he was not world champion caliber when it came to work, promos, or charisma.The experiment just didn’t work, and Vader got the title back in December, also in Baltimore.
* 19 years ago in 1996, NJPW’s sixth annual G1 Climax round robin tournament kicked off at the Ryogoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo. It’s one of the best remembered G1 tournaments for two reasons:
1. It was built around the legendary Riki Choshu trying to pick up his first tournament win in his last G1 before “retiring.”
2. On the undercards, they held the single elimination J-Crown tournament to unify eight different lighter weight titles from around the world (including NJPW’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title) and determine the ultimate world junior heavyweight champion.
In the main event, Choshu defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinya Hashimoto in a tournament match, which was a huge win to kick things off. The big story here was that he badly injured Hashimoto’s knee, which made him vulnerable for the rest of the tournament. It was a highly emotional match with Choshu hitting lariat after lariat while Hashimoto refused to go down until he finally collapsed and Choshu pinned him.
The first J-Crown match saw IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion The Great Sasuke (representing his Michinoku Pro group but holding a NJPW title) defeating NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion Masayoshi Motegi (representing his Wrestle Dream Factory promotion) to become the first double champion. Sasuke was at the peak of his powers, but Motegi was, as always, playing the role of a guy there to fill out a tournament, so this was one of the most underwhelming matches of the week.
The other J-Crown match that day was arguably the biggest of the first round, as WAR International Junior Heavyweight Champion Ultimo Dragon (representing WAR) defeated British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Champion Jushin Thunder Liger (representing NJPW) in just 2:38. With the finish coming quick, they cut a super fast pace and had one of the better matches of this length you’ll ever see. The finish played off their last match, which took place in December at the Super J-Cup: In that match, Dragon went for La Magistral, but Liger blocked it in the middle for the pin. Here, Liger blocked it again, but Dragon rolled through again to get the upset. Liger’s body language in getting over the upset was incredible, as if you could see his facial expressions. For the rest of the week, La Magistral itself and early false finishes were over huge.
Four days later on finals day, the world got a better idea of why the match was so short: Liger had a brain tumor and had yet to get a biopsy. It turned out that the tumor was benign and he made a ridiculously fast recovery. He continued to change his style, which had become more grounded after breaking his ankle in 1994, but he actually became a better, more well rounded worker out of all this.
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