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Mr. Tito's PHAT 15 Year Anniversary Column - The Top 15 Wrestling Stories of the Last 15 Years
By Mr. Tito
Oct 26, 2013 - 12:20:35 AM
NOTE: This column has been written especially for my long-time fans or any newer readers that enjoy my columns. If you don't like me or my columns, then you can move on and click here to check out other columns.
NOTE #2: I want to dedicate this column to the owner and operator of Lordsofpain.net, Calvin Martin, who not only hired me but has retained me as a writer. Without him, there is no Mr. Tito. Thank you to all of my loyal readers as well.
The "Excellence in Pro Wrestling Column Writing" has returned and is here to celebrate the official 15th Anniversary date of Mr. Tito. That's right, kiddies, on October 26th, 1998, yours truly began writing columns for LordsofPain.net and here I am 15 years later. And what a ride with thousands of columns and blog entries written and posted. Since October 1998 to October 2013, many things in the pro industry have changed yet many things have remained the same. While many new faces have appeared, the same ideals as to what draws and grows the pro wrestling industry remain. All WWE Management, for example, has to do is review their vast video library to see what works.
15 years ago On This Day in Internet Wrestling Community History..., I posted my first column for LordsofPain.net called Mr. Tito's Phat Daily Column. Before I joined LoP, I was a big fan of the site. One of the main reasons I used the Internet was to obtain pro wrestling news. I would use Yahoo! as a search engine to look for the latest insider news on the Big 3 back then, World Wrestling Federation (WWF), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). My first taste of insider news was during 1997 when WCW signed Raven and Perry Saturn away from ECW and that Curt Hennig was making a comeback as a pro wrestler to also join WCW. Then, they appeared on WCW Nitro. I was SHOCKED and from then on, I was hooked. Before I obtained internet at my house (early 1998-ish), I would hang out at the city's library or at the local university for their internet access. Soon, I bought the infamous Compaq from HELL, the infamous piece of shit computer that crashed on me regularly as I wrote columns.
Using search engines to find more pro wrestling sites, I stumbled upon LordsofPain.net. What fascinated me about the website was that it had a massive newsboard that was loaded with insider news along with screenshots of RAW/Nitro and actual video clips of the event. WHAT A WEBSITE! It became one of my regular websites that I would check several times daily. Being an addict, I checked it hourly... And then, on one fateful October morning at the university, I saw the equivalent of a "Help Wanted" sign. The owner, then known as "Painlord" named Calvin Martin had an opening for a Daily Column. As a big fan of LoP and just full of creative energy at the time, I figured "why not"? I shot an email to Calvin's way and for whatever reason, he thought enough of that as a resume to write daily for his increasingly popular wrestling website. As a college freshman still 18 years old, I wrote my first Daily Column for LordsofPain.net that covered WCW Halloween Havoc 1998 entitled "Mr. Tito's Phat Daily Column". Chalk full of spelling errors that you'd expect from an 18 year old kid, it was posted and apparently I was allowed to keep posting... 15 years later, here I am.
The beauty of writing daily columns during the late 1990's and 2000 was that the timing couldn't be more perfect. We were still in the Monday Night Wars where WWF and WCW competed over wrestling supremacy on Monday nights with RAW and Nitro. By October 1998, WCW began falling apart at the seams. The first show I covered, Halloween Havoc 1998, was an epic disaster. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan vs. the Warrior was a complete letdown to fans while the timing of the show actually made many Cable systems cutoff Bill Goldberg vs. Diamond Dallas Page. WCW gave it away for free the following night... Basically, I was able to write for an increasingly popular wrestling website while WCW was falling apart but creating lots of news to follow while the WWE was expanding significantly during the biggest years of the Attitude Era with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin doing battle with the Rock and Vince McMahon, with a growing cast of characters that made the year 2000 the WWE's peak year in viewership. Timing couldn't have been better to write daily and for a popular website. I was blessed and lucky at the same time.
Where did the "Mr. Tito" come from? It's quite simple... I was watching the Jackson Family movie about the Jackson 5's rise to fame on Vh1 and I must have been amused that the Jacksons called one of their sons "Tito". Probably what stuck was when the actor portraying Joe Jackson, the Jackson 5's father, yelled "TITO, GET A SWITCH" after Tito Jackson broke on of his father's strings on a guitar. Yes, my name is derived from a kid getting beat with a tree branch... When I started using the Internet and joining chatrooms, I used "Tito" instead of my real name and it just stuck. Tito this and Tito that for everything online. Then, when I joined LordsofPain.net, I just added the "Mister" in front of it to look more professional, I suppose. Plus, I remember hearing about a wrestler named "Mr. Ito", so the name "Mr. Tito" seemed like it would work.
In real life, I'm highly opinionated... If you think I'm stubborn about pro wrestling topics, you should see me with friends and co-workers when it comes to politics, economics, sports, or movies/music. I just naturally gravitate towards debating. I'm very motivated and fully of energy. These personality traits made it easy to write pro wrestling columns for many rabid pro wrestling fans to read and provide feedback to. Lots of feedback... So many emails and back then, I read them all and actually responded even if was just to simply say "thank you" to loyal readers with nice comments. To be honest, I could use that feedback as easy fodder for my columns along with the early message boards of the day. When you wrote daily and were short on material, purposely antagonizing readers on certain topics became an easy column to write. I'm quite sure that I invented "trolling" and I continue to perfect it to this day.
Writing daily was a piece of cake. I had a great system... I slept horribly during my college years and I worked various Computer Lab jobs. Insomnia and working the easiest job in the world surrounded by computers granted me the free time to write many, many columns. Then, I moved away for college and had much more free time just hanging out in a dorm room all day and acting as a graduate assistant. That's right, you stupid professor! While you thought I was doing graduate research for you, I was writing wrasslin' columns! Insomnia was BAD during college... Getting to bed at 2am was early for me... Stayed up late studying and writing columns while attending class and working various part-time jobs during the day. All the while providing Daily Columns consistently for LordsofPain.net for more than 3 years. Then, when I was preparing my Master's Thesis, I had to step back... That's when I wrote several times a week instead of daily and by 2006, it became weekly as I wore thin. I renamed my column as the Wrath of Tito, named after Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan which is my all time favorite movie.
After I completed graduate school, I felt I wrote some of my best columns during 2005. I wrote several "Economics of Wrestling" columns in which I discussed various topics such as Labor Unions in wrestling and probably one of my most critically acclaimed columns, the "Winner's Curse" column about Spike TV paying too much for WWE programming during 2000. I thought 2005 was an overall entertaining year for the WWE. I was motivated... Then, Eddie Guerrero passed away. That deflated me as a wrestling... It was the wrestler death that had me worried that the sport was killing its own stars. By 2006, I was scraping columns together. That, and I was fully into career mode and I proposed to Mrs. Tito. Time to get my stuff together and by October 2006, I officially retired as Mr. Tito and didn't write regularly again about pro wrestling until early 2010 (with the exception of about 3 "special" columns that I posted in LoPForums.com that eventually made it to LordsofPain.net). I was even more retired when Chris Benoit's murders and suicide happened during June 2007. I actually stopped watching wrestling cold turkey right then and there and did not start watching wrestling until late 2009. Thus, when you wonder my I can't remember anything between June 2007 to late 2009, I legitimately didn't watch. I boycotted it.
By late 2009, I was completely bored on a Monday Night around 10pm and I flipped over to Monday Night RAW. I began watching regulary at 10pm on Monday Nights for something to watch and I was loosely following the product again. Meanwhile, on the LoPForums.com General Wrestling message board threads, I enjoyed talking about oldschool wrestling. Someone set up an "ASK TITO" thread that just kept growing and growing... It sparked my enthusiasm to write about pro wrestling again. During early 2010, Calvin Martin attempted to introduce non-wrestling BLOGS to LordsofPain.net. I joined for the heck of it and began writing about movies, economics, politics, and whatnot that bored the heck out of wrestling fans. Then, one night, I reviewed an episode of RAW and I was amazed at the reaction... A few weeks later, I wrote another RAW review. Then, I started writing on other wrestling topics. The demand kept growing... BLOG is TITO had arrived and damn was it successful. While the other columnists of LoP were forced to keep their columns in a single post, to the right of them could be up to 7 of my Blog is Tito posts at once. By 2011, I was writing daily again.
And that was dangerous. Writing daily with a big full time job, married with children, and a house to keep up was not a perfect mix. I stayed up LATE at night to ensure that my blogs were posted daily. But the blogs were incredibly successful. Putting on the Tito mask was intoxicating again... Things got worse after Money in the Bank 2011 when I was calling it early that CM Punk's push was getting derailed by WWE management. Being cranky and incredibly upset about how the WWE was destroying CM Punk's momentum did NOT mix well. Then, before Night of Champions 2011, I was so pissed off after a night of RAW that I just retired on the spot. I was over it... I was actually riding off to the sunset until what I had predicted came true at Night of Champions 2011: Triple H defeated CM Punk. Just as a middle finger to the Internet Wrestling Community who had doubted me about the sabotaging of CM Punk, I wrote the infamous Blog is Tito entitled I TOLD YOU SO - Triple H Just Buried CM Punk at Night of Champions on September 18th, 2011. Nice way to walk out the door and leave for good...
But then that Blog is Tito was highly read... 25,000+ viewers to be exact and fellow LoP Columnist was about to actually get THE CM Punk to respond to my blog via TWITTER: “@MazzaLOP: @ZackRyder If @CMPunk ends up on your "show", Tito may be right, he is being buried” Buried in money? I've got a snorkel. And that's all it took to end that retirement. Intoxicated as Tito, once again... For the next few months, I pulled no punches on my utter disgust of WWE management's poor handling of CM Punk's momentum from Money in the Bank 2011. I was in bad shape through late 2011 and needed to slowdown. Some internal fighting led to the Blogs being removed from LoP. Certainly, I was pissed off at the time at those involved, but in hindsight, I needed to pull back. After a few weeks of thoughts and consideration, an idiotic idea came to mind: MrTito.com subsite of LoP. Just added more stuff to burn me out, as I tried to faithfully make 2-3 posts a night there. I couldn't do it... I needed a break from writing DAILY columns. So I "retired" again during early 2012.
My longtime boss of LordsofPain.net, Calvin Martin, kept my LoP.net access open for whenever I wanted to write wrestling columns. He's a cool guy. He has always had my back and always gave me creative freedom to write whatever and whenever. Without him, there is no Mr. Tito still posting on LordsofPain.net today. With that access still in place, I began posting On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... columns for fun, as they were inspired by a regular YouTube show called "On this Day in Video Game History". I wrote those on occasion and had a lot of fun with them. It convinced me that it was (a) OK to be Mr. Tito and write wrestling columns and that it could be (b) equally as fun to write on occasion than it was daily. Now, I write, at most, twice a week. Mostly once a week and that's easy to manage. I feel pretty damn good right now and hope to continue to write about pro wrestling.
And I mostly like the pro wrestling product. As much as I hammer WWE management, I like much of the talent that they've assembled. Some of you mistake sarcasm for being cynical, as I still enjoy watching pro wrestling on Monday nights and the occasional Pay Per View. I personally like the PG Era WWE, as the adult themes were getting over the top, and I'm satisfied with how the WWE has addressed the growing drug problem since June 2007 via Wellness Program. Seriously, they provide rehab services for ex-wrestlers in need. That's quite kind... I just wish TNA with improve and give me options as a wrestling fan. I speak highly of the late 1990's wrestling product but you had 3 good choices to enjoy, 2 of which competed hard on Monday Night.
So yeah, I'm here to stay...
As you noticed from above, I purposely left out Wrestling stories covered during my 15 years. I did that on purpose as I'm going to give you a special FINAL COUNTDOWN of the top 15 stories or topics that I covered during my "Wrath" as Mr. Tito between 1998 to 2013. Lots of great stories that took the Internet by storm at the time and I'll attempt to write most of it from memory. Enjoy!
TOP 15 PRO WRESTLING STORIES OF THE LAST 15 YEARS
15) Triple H's 2002 Return. Triple H tore his quadriceps during an incredible RAW Tag Team match during mid-2001 with Steve Austin/Triple H vs. Chris Jericho/Chris Benoit. It was the match to put Benoit and Jericho over huge, as Jericho/Benoit kept coming up short against the strong heel Main Event duo. However, Triple H tore his quad... This ended a remarkable 1 and a half year run from early 2000 through mid-2001 during this tag team match. Triple H lucked his way into a great storyline by "marrying" Stephanie McMahon at a Las Vegas chapel to spite Vince McMahon but Triple H was able to impress in the ring. HHH would go on to have incredible singles matches with Mick Foley, the Rock, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, and the Undertaker. An incredible portfolio of opponents but Triple H certainly brought it to the table as well. HHH sold moves and begged for mercy like a classic heel, clearly showing some Ric Flair influence. Hard to argue a better year and a half run out there...
HHH missed the entire WCW/ECW Invasion angle due to the quad injury (which could have been a good thing) and was set to return during early 2002. Fans were hyped and the WWE itself hyped the return as the next coming of Jesus Christ. Triple H would return and win the 2002 Royal Rumble. But something was different... Fans noticed a much thicker version of Triple H and he was clearly slowed by the repaired quad injury. The bumping machine that he proved to be during 2000-2001 seemed to be gone and replaced was a slower, duller wrestler. His immediate feud with Undisputed WWE Champion Chris Jericho was a letdown to many fans while HHH's WWE Title run was a letdown because he had to soon drop the WWE title to Hulk Hogan. But for the next 2 years, WWE fans were frustrated with the Game.
While Triple H was quite generous to his returning friend, Shawn Michaels, fans were frustrated with Triple H's matches and effort against the likes of Kane, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Bill Goldberg, and Scott Steiner. Many were left wondering if Triple H had become complacent after dating Stephanie extensively and eventually marrying her during 2003. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he was attempting to push the likes of Randy Orton, his friend, to a World Championship early in Orton's career. To Triple H's credit, he did put over Chris Benoit for the World Title at Wrestlemania 20 and did good business with Batista and John Cena in the following years... But after seeing the 2000-2001 years, fans seemed to be letdown by the following 2002-2003 years of his career. For the 2002 return, however, fans were HYPED.
14) WCW/ECW Invasion FAILURE of 2001. Expectations were high for the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) "invading" the WWE during the Summer of 2001. Problem, up front, was that the WWE refused to buyout expensive AOL/Time Warner employee contracts to bring in the biggest WCW names like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Bill Goldberg, and Scott Steiner. Guys like Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page actually accepted buyouts from their contract to sign freely with the WWE. Good thing, too, as Booker T was the current WCW Champion. WWE signed much of the WCW midcard, announcers, and referees as well. The impression was given by the WWE that a WCW brand would be created and housed on Thursday nights in Smackdown's place (or vice versa, I've heard differently on which show would be what brand). In other words, the RAW/Smackdown brand extension that occurred a year later during 2002 was originally intended to create WWE and WCW brands instead during 2001.
But things quickly went wrong. For one, the WWE introductory Buff Bagwell vs. Booker T WCW match was an utter disaster. For WWE fans not familiar with WCW saw a horrible match and the internet feedback following the match was epic. The Buff/Booker T match was universally rejected by WWE fans and it convinced the McMahons that the WCW brand would not work. Buff Bagwell was soon gone from the WWE and the WCW brand was wiped out. Soon, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) stable of wrestlers surfaced and was merged with the WCW wrestlers on the roster. And it wasn't Paul Heyman that "owned" the ECW brand. With Vince owning the WWE and Shane owning WCW, guess who owned ECW? You guessed it correctly, Stephanie McMahon.
Just like that, the WCW invasion was pissed away. Soon after that, WCW and ECW brands, combined as the "Alliance", were pissed away as the WWE and Alliance rosters were mixed up and WCW/WWE titles were whored to about anybody on the roster. I remember attending a Smackdown taping in Pittsburgh, PA when Kurt Angle actually defeated Booker T to win the WCW World Title. It was mindblowing at the time but it made no sense for Angle to win that title so randomly. WWE tried to turn Steve Austin heel for the second time during the year to lead the Alliance against the WWE but that didn't work other than giving us great Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle match-ups. There were no dream matches to enjoy during 2001 especially with the way the 2 former WCW Champions, Booker T and DDP, were soon jobbed out regularly against WWE performers.
In my opinion, the WCW/ECW Invasion failure was a clear sign that the main bookers of the Attitude Era (Vince Russo during 1997-1999 and Chris Kreski during 1999-2000) were done and that less creative minds were now in charge. The trend would continue for the next 10+ years with nepotism running strong in the WWE Creative Team.
13) Deaths in Pro Wrestling Just a brief discussion on wrestler deaths... We lost many great performers during the first half of my tenure writing columns. It seemed like many of the late 1980's performers who partied hard or may have taken substances were dropping like flies during their 40's. Way too young to go... But then many of the 1990's wrestlers started passing. Seemed like the typical death was either induced by a heart condition or a lethal mix of prescription drugs.
It was wearing me thin as a wrestling fan and it became difficult to write about as Mr. Tito. Eddie Guerrero's death bothered me the most and was like a "last straw" for me as a wrestling fan. My interest in pro wrestling soon declined when Eddie passed during late 2005 and I was more than happy to retire during October 2006. Just too many of my favorite wrestlers died early. If there is a silver lining, it's that wrestlers today are more protected by the business due to the excessive deaths that occurred through 2005 that helped prompt the WWE to create their Wellness Policy.
12) Shawn Michaels/Hulk Hogan feud from SummerSlam 2005. Very strange "dream match" scenario that flared up backstage between Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels. The original booking for 2005 was to have 2 matches with the first won by Hogan and the second match won by Shawn Michaels. Hulk Hogan, however, nixed the second match and refused to change the finish of the first booked match at SummerSlam 2005. This turned Shawn Michaels nuclear because he was a full-time wrestler fresh off "Match of the Year" candidates against Kurt Angle and yet he has to lose to Hulk Hogan at SummerSlam 2005. Hogan wouldn't budge.
The end result was Michaels pouting backstage about Hogan being stubborn and got to the point where he was openly mocking Hogan in media interviews, WWE promos, and even in the SummerSlam 2005 match. We saw a taste of the 1990's Shawn Michaels both as a heelish character and with backstage complaints. While it could be argued that the tables finally turned on Michaels for his 1990's behavior, he should have beat Hogan. Booking wise, HBK was coming off of incredible matches with Kurt Angle and yet he had to lose to a broken down older wrestler. Psychology just wasn't there, just as it wasn't 1 year later at SummerSlam 2006 when Randy Orton had the honor of jobbing to Hogan.
11) The Return of ECW during 2006. During the mid-2000's, there existed some demand for Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW)'s material. Videos were being released, Rob Van Dam was popular in the WWE, and I think many loyal ECW fans were seeking some reason to remain a pro wrestling fan with just WWE and a start-up TNA promotion as their choices. WWE flirted with an ECW return during 2005 with the One Night Stand Pay Per View which was highly successful with 325,000 households purchasing the event and the show was critically acclaimed as being a quality ECW show. The WWE attempted to strike gold the following year with One Night Stand 2006 that featured the Rob Van Dam's cashing in of the Money in the Bank 2006 award for a WWE Title shot with homecourt advantage. The One Night Stand show for 2006 was awesome overall but to see hardcore ECW fans rooting on RVD strong and John Cena against a very hostile crowd was a unique sight to see. Why WWE doesn't try to stimulate this type of homecourt atmosphere more often (only with Punk in Chicago and Cena in Boston), I'll never know.
WWE, however, had additional ECW plans in the works. During 2006, WWE intended to make ECW the third brand extension along with RAW and Smackdown. Paul Heyman was to be in charge of the booking as well. What could go wrong? Everything. Heyman's creative control was repeatedly overruled by the McMahons. Who could forget the bizarre company tie-ins with the Science Fiction Channel (Sci-Fi or SyFy now) that gave us characters like the Zombie? The ECW brand was quickly morphed into yet another McMahon controlled show. Matters weren't helped when Rob Van Dam and Sabu were pulled over after a show. Rob Van Dam quickly lost both his WWE and newly created ECW titles and Sabu only lasted a year in the WWE.
10) Steve Austin's walkouts during 2002. 2002 was an interesting year for the WWE. We were out of the WCW/ECW Invasion and the storylines were much more calm and consistent. Furthermore, several key WCW wrestlers were finally out of their AOL/Time Warner contracts to officially join the WWE. Ric Flair joined the WWE after Survivor Series 2001 while the original 3 members of the New World Order (NWO), Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall joined the WWE during early 2002. Many were excited to see their WWE returns as Hogan last wrestled in a WWE ring during 1993 while Hall/Nash were last seen during 1996 before joining WCW. However, one person not excited to see their returns, in particular Hulk Hogan's, was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Austin had issues with Hulk Hogan due to Hogan's arrival and then meddling with Austin's career. Austin was WCW's United States Champion at the time and reportedly in line for a Main Event push later in the year. Then, WCW signed Hulk Hogan and many of Hogan's old WWF buddies. Given the pricetag of Hogan and the creative control offered to him in his contract, Hogan conveyed influence to Eric Bischoff for the entire creative direction of WCW. When Austin was jobbing to "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan for the US Title and Austin was then released by WCW during early 1995, it was personal. Austin joined ECW and cut multiple promos on Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff out of pure anger. Through late 2001 and early 2002, Austin was growing again as a babyface after the WCW/ECW Invasion fiasco was over. The plan for Wrestlemania 18 was to have a babyface Steve Austin versus the heel NWO leader, Hulk Hogan. However, Austin and Hogan argued over the finish and the WWE opted for Rock vs. Hogan instead. Oddly enough, Hogan lost cleanly to the Rock which makes one wonder if Wrestlemania 18 booked Hogan to BEAT Austin.
After Wrestlemania 18, in which Steve Austin wrestled a match against Scott Hall that clearly disgusted him, Austin went home instead of appearing on the RAW after Wrestlemania citing exhaustion. Austin would return weeks later but then actually walk out again later during 2002 when the WWE Creative Team randomly booked Austin to lose against Brock Lesnar on an edition of Monday Night RAW. Austin was furious at the booking decision, citing the timing and the lack of hype for such a big match (and result), and opted to walk out instead. Austin cited a dislike for the changed Creative Team since his 2000 WWE return from neck surgery as well as the increased influence of Triple H as lead writer Stephanie McMahon's boyfriend and later husband. Austin also had personal issues bubbling at the time that would surface.
Austin was never the same after Hogan returned to the WWE during 2002. He's been a WWE lost soul ever since with only a few appearances here and there since 2004 when he left after Wrestlemania 20. Austin's neck, which he might have aggravated again sometime during 2001-2002, is fully healed and speculation remains to this day if he'll wrestle just one more match. However, the wounds run deep with Steve Austin and the WWE from 2002 and beyond.
9) The Radicalz join WWE. When Vince Russo was relieved of his booking duties during early 2000 and backstage agent Kevin Sullivan was given the lead booking role, Chris Benoit and his close friends revolted. Benoit was paranoid that Kevin Sullivan would seek revenge on Chris Benoit for stealing his wife, Nancy Sullivan, during the mid 1990's. Chris Benoit feared that his main event push from Vince Russo would cease with Sullivan and that his friends would also be punished. Reportedly, Chris Benoit and a handful of WCW wrestlers went straight to WCW management and demanded their immediate releases. In addition to Chris Benoit, it was reported by insider wrestling sources that Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, Billy Kidman, Shane Douglas, and Konnan joined Benoit in asking for their releases. If I remember correctly, Billy Kidman signed a new deal with WCW to stay while Douglas and Konnan opted to stay (both might not have been attempting to leave, too).
But Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn did ask for their WCW release and AOL/Time Warner actually granted it to them. Holy cow... All 4 were free to immediately join the WWE and it could be argued that Chris Benoit was still the WCW Champion due to the controversial finish at WCW Souled Out 2000 where Sid Vicious's feet were under the ropes as Chris Benoit had the Crippler Crossface slapped in to win the match. The referee didn't see the feet and the decision was reversed on Nitro on the following night. The "Radicalz" as they were called in the WWE soon joined the WWE and the promotion was STACKED in the upper midcard for the entire year. Just a few weeks ago, they worked for WCW but now, they could wrestle the likes of Triple H or the Rock. Losing all 4 wrestlers hurt WCW's depth chart and took the one thing away that they had going for them on an occasional edition of WCW Thunder (or Chunder): workrate. Those Chunder shows were brutal until the Benoit or Guerrero match came on.
8) Kurt Angle jumps to TNA. Kurt Angle's neck injury remained an ongoing problem between 2003-2006. Rather than getting the big surgery which has kept most wrestlers out for 1 year (Edge, Chris Benoit, Lita, and I think Rhyno), Kurt Angle kept opting for quick fix surgeries that would put him out 2-3 months and he could return for more action. The nagging neck injury problem induced Angle to take whatever he could to deal with the pain. By 2006, he could be described as a health trainwreck and WWE had worries. There was a rumor going around that many WWE wrestlers were worried about another wrestler passing soon following the death of Eddie Guerrero. Either they were taking Guerrero's death too hard or they were taking something that could put them on a death watch, some suspected that rumor was about Kurt Angle and not other suspects (Chris Benoit, Ric Flair at the time).
What happened during 2006 is disputed as to whether the WWE wanted to give Angle time off or was refusing to give Angle time off, but the 2 parties mutually agreed to a contractual release so that Angle could seek medical or other types of treatment. Angle was granted his release by the WWE during August 2006. By September 2006, however, Kurt Angle joined TNA Wrestling. The crap hit the internet fan! All of a sudden, TNA had its first true WWE steal and it resulted from Kurt Angle possibly fooling the WWE into releasing him. The expectations of Angle joining TNA were huge at the time and many expected that Angle would help lead TNA to become a legitimate competitor to the WWE. 7 years later, TNA is about 3 million people per show from competing with the WWE but at the very least, Kurt Angle remains a TNA employee.
7) Vince Russo Joins WCW. Vince Russo became the lead WWE writer during early 1997, I believe, and the WWE dynamically changed. Gone were stupid gimmicks and 1980's goofy storylines but present were adult themed storylines. Vince Russo took what ECW was doing in bingo halls and took it to the mainstream. Better for Vince Russo, he had hungry talent on the WWE roster that were ready to assist him. Russo was able to book Steve Austin, the Rock, and Mick Foley just as they were all peaking. Particularly with Steve Austin, Russo could push the beer drinking, middle finger flipping wrestler who was going up against THE MAN, Vince McMahon. Steve Austin was perfect for the new adult themed WWE and Russo could use Steve Austin's success to push many crazy storylines and new character changes on the midcard.
The beauty of Vince Russo in the WWE was that Vince McMahon filtered out all of his bad ideas. Some bad ideas did surface, such as Mae Young giving birth to Mark Henry's hand... But Russo was at his peak of character development during 1998 through early 1999. In my opinion, Wrestlemania 15 is Vince Russo's proudest moment. While that show might not be known for its awesome workrate, the booking of the show is tremendous. It's the blowoff match for Austin vs. Rock but it completed an effective double turn for Triple H/Chyna as heels. It seemed that Russo became burned out after that show as we kept rehashing Austin vs. Vince, over and over and over again. Then, the addition of WWE Smackdown forced Russo to book 2 high end shows per week. Without much appreciation given to him for his work and now extra work added, Vince Russo saw an opportunity to jump ship to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) to "fix" that promotion that was on a downslide in ratings at the time.
Just within a few weeks, you could see Vince Russo struggling as he was completely unfiltered. Many strange gimmick ideas were tried while Russo tried to recycle WWE gimmicks for WCW wrestlers. Russo began incorporating shorter midcard matches and inflating WWE title reigns during 1999 and that disregard for match time and titles got worse when he was unfiltered in WCW. I remember ripping Russo HARD when he reformed the New World Order (NWO) and predicted that he'd be fired soon after that. Bunch of loyal Russo marks attacked me for it and just 1 month later, he was relieved of his duties before WCW Souled Out 2000. The expectations of Vince Russo joining WCW were overhyped and Russo's unfiltered storylines just drove a few more nails in WCW's coffin.
6) Summer of Punk To be honest, I didn't know THAT much about CM Punk until he joined the RAW roster during late 2010. Remember, I was in the dark between June 2007 to late 2009 for my Benoit boycott of pro wrestling and Smackdown was on the MyNetworkTV channel that my cable company didn't carry. Honestly, I knew nothing of CM Punk... Then, I saw him immediately feuding with John Cena as the new Nexus leader and then I enjoyed his feud with Randy Orton that produced a few good matches. He seemed to have "it" to me and my BLOG is TITO daily entries were speaking highly of the guy. I was getting the hype I heard about the guy during the mid-2000's.
Then, the news about his contract expiring hit... It was thus expected that CM Punk would lose to John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 to allow John Cena to wrestle in the long planned Cena vs. Alberto Del Rio match at SummerSlam 2011. Then, for whatever reason, the WWE gave CM Punk full creative control on the spoken word. The infamous "Pipe Bomb" shoot promo happened and it shocked wrestling fans. It made CM Punk a sensation overnight and made it hard for the WWE to not re-sign him. Better yet, the WWE reversed their original booking of John Cena winning and had CM Punk beat John Cena cleanly (some John Laurinaitis interference but Cena chose to be distracted by it). The real life hype surrounding CM Punk's contract led to Money in the Bank 2011 becoming a big Pay Per View success.
It all went down after that... I'm quite convinced that CM Punk's shots at Triple H during the Pipe Bomb ("doofus son in law") and weeks later during the Vince McMahon contract signing ("The Chaperone 2") were taken personally. Everything that I've heard on Triple H is that he has rabbit ears and is very sensitive about anything said about himself or his wife Stephanie McMahon. With the way the WWE horribly booked storylines after Money in the Bank 2011 suggested to me that either WWE Creative was inept or they were out to sabotage CM Punk. Triple H returned to WWE television in a non-wrestling role as the "Chief Operating Officer" and seemed to throw a wet blanket over CM Punk's momentum. HHH injected himself as the special guest referee for the SummerSlam 2011 match against John Cena and the finish of that match was ridiculous. Freakin' Kevin Nash attacks CM Punk and Nash's attack still hasn't been explained to this day.
I saw the sabotage of CM Punk coming and I wrote daily about it. I put myself at odds with many other columnists and others on the internet. Looking back in hindsight, especially with the lack of Pay Per View Main Event matches for his WWE title reign during the 1 year+ reign, I have to definitively say that I WAS RIGHT on CM Punk being "buried" during 2011. Any of you haters who tried to attack me for that call during 2011 can, and I'm quoting X-Pac after Wrestlemania 14, put that in your pipe and smoke it!
5) Chris Benoit's Passing. I was actually retired as a writer during June 2007 so I was thus not writing about the murders and suicide of Chris Benoit (hence, why it's not #1). I was sad when I heard about Chris Benoit's passing, as he was one of my personal favorite wrestlers. Seeing the RAW tribute to Benoit was sad but I was glad to see so many WWE wrestlers speaking out about how much they respected Chris Benoit. Then, late breaking news arrived during the last hour of RAW about what Chris Benoit MAY have done to his family... Then, it was revealed what had actually happened.
I stopped watching pro wrestling cold turkey and didn't pick it back up until late 2009. The only match that I checked out during that period of time was the Wrestlemania 25 match between Shawn Michaels and Undertaker. Otherwise, I boycotted pro wrestling. I was tired of the industry, led by WWE, chewing up its employees and spitting them out. There should have been strong drug policies before Eddie Guerrero passed away during late 2005 and the Wellness Policy should have had teeth when it was implemented during early 2006. Additionally, WWE wasn't treating wrestlers carefully for concussions as they are today. With the right employee reviews and testing, Benoit could have received help years, if not months, before he lost his mind during June 2007 and did something horrific.
I watched other columnists and message board posters comment on the story and was shocked at how they were giving their favorite promotion, the WWE, a free pass. My anger of how the Internet Wrestling Community was assessing the Benoit Tragedy led me to write 2 special columns on the topic out of retirement which prompted a lot of response. While I certainly agree that Benoit performed the acts, he was a broken human being by the time June 2007 arrived because of how poorly the pro wrestling industry took care of him, other than fame.
By the time late 2009 arrived, I started casually watching the WWE again and looked into how well the Wellness Policy was working and concussion testing. Based on what I saw, I was impressed with how the WWE turned a corner. The mere fact that the WWE offers a rehab program for ex-WWE performers speaks volumes about changing their outlook on an industry that the WWE stained.
4) Brock Lesnar's WWE Exit at Wrestlemania 20. Writing at LordsofPain.net has its benefits, such as actual WWE/WCW/ECW employees actually emailing you regularly. I had a couple of good legitimate WWE sources during the first few years of the WWE brand split between 2002-2004 just as Brock Lesnar arrived and exited. Both a wrestler and a road agent told me regularly about how increasingly frustrated Brock Lesnar was becoming backstage. They sensed he was becoming burned out from the WWE road schedule and he was especially envious of Bill Goldberg's WWE deal. Reportedly, one of the ways that WWE management wanted to appease Brock was to give him a big win at Wrestlemania 20 over the departing Bill Goldberg. Goldberg wasn't working out as a WWE wrestler and his deal was set to expire after Wrestlemania 20.
But I'm told that Brock became extremely vocal about his contractual situation and how he was presently being used by the WWE. He was then pissed about (a) losing the WWE title to Eddie Guerrero just before Wrestlemania 20 and (b) wrestling the Undertaker after Wrestlemania 20. Those were considered as "last straws" by my sources at the time. Lesnar was quite vocal about WWE management and badmouthing certain people that he'd actually work closely with during 2012-2013 for several matches. At his younger age, Lesnar probably wondered if being a pro wrestler was his destiny and career in life. As you can see from his later UFC success, he was correct... Lesnar leaving the WWE was huge news heading into Wrestlemania 20 back then and put the finish of Goldberg/Lesnar into question. Actually put the whole Wrestlemania 20 show into question. New York City fans at Madison Square Garden ate up the news and showered Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg with awesome chants in their last WWE match.
Brock's announced exit created a bad omen for Wrestlemania 20. In addition to the show ending with Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero as World Champions, but the show saw Brock Lesnar, the Rock, Steve Austin, and Bill Goldberg all leaving at the same time. To this day, the WWE avoids boasting about the strong business that Wrestlemania 20 actually did because of the wrestlers on the card and the results of the matches. Brock leaving the WWE was beginning of the end for the Smackdown brand. Though John Bradshaw Layfield did a nice job when he joined the Main Event ranks, Brock Lesnar was a legitimate superstar that proved difficult for Smackdown to lose after Wrestlemania 20. Then, when the same JBL worked hard to put John Cena over as the WWE Champion, John Cena moved to RAW. Brock Lesnar would return to the WWE after Wrestlemania 28 just after he hit it big in UFC. WWE is paying royally (reportedly $5 million) for very limited appearances. It's ironic that the same thing Brock Lesnar desired during 2003-2004 he received and became during 2012-2013.
3) Edge & Lita, sitting in a tree... L-A-U-G-H-I-N-G at Matt Hardy. During the early 2000's, Matt Hardy and Lita were a legitimate couple. Meanwhile, Edge appeared to be a happily married man. It also appeared that Matt Hardy and Edge were friends given their many, many great battles between 1999 through 2001 that thrilled us all. Little did Hardy and Edge's wife know that an affair was brewing. When Matt Hardy found out, the dirty laundry was played out on the internet for all to see.
Several wrestling insiders began to allude that a backstage love triangle was revealed and it was the talk of backstage. Slowly but surely, the members of that triangle were revealed. Then, probably fueled by obvious anger, Matt Hardy began shooting through internet posts about the revealed affair. Matt Hardy made it public knowledge and he did it at a time when when his WWE contract was actually up. For weeks, there was discussions if Matt Hardy would join TNA wrestling because of this fiasco. Oddly enough, he had a bargaining chip and it led to the WWE possibly making an improved offer with Hardy possibly having leverage. Hardy did rejoin the WWE and immediately feuded with Edge who was now paired with Lita on-screen. WWE was actually going to play up the real life fiasco into WWE storylines.
What it resulted in is making Edge a Main Eventer while it forever kept Matt Hardy in the midcard. Edge became the "Rated R Superstar" and go on to be 11-time WWE World Champion. Oddly enough, it took infidelity and WWE Creative morphing that into a storyline to finally get Edge his much deserved Main Event push. Edge was on his way there during 2002 when Kurt Angle put him over huge but the neck injury slowed him down. But man, the gossip created backstage from Edge/Matt Hardy/Lita was crazy to watch daily on news sites and even posts from Matt Hardy.
2) Owen Hart Dies in the Ring. Owen Hart was a personal favorite wrestler of mine and his death marks the only time that I've openly cried about pro wrestling. I couldn't believe that he actually fell from the rafters and died. It was an attempt at a joke that went wrong (trying to mock WCW who had Sting drop down from the rafters) and wrestling lost one of its best guys. For the brief time that I wrote about Owen Hart between 1998-1999 in year 1 as Mr. Tito, I was quite fond of the guy and I remember speaking out about how he was being wasted as a tag team wrestler with Jeff Jarrett. Then, as the Blue Blazer. It seemed that the WWE trapped him in the midcard after his brother Bret Hart was "screwed" by the WWE during Survivor Series 1997.
The tribute show tore me up, particularly the opening video package. The wrestlers were openly weeping about his passing and didn't hestitate to break character to speak out about how much they loved Owen. The real shame is how Owen Hart missed the WWE in its prime. Could you imagine Owen wrestling Triple H in his prime, the Rock in his prime, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho? What a freakin' shame.
Many of you are requesting a WHAT IF column on Owen Hart... Not sure if I could do it... I'm quite convinced that the WWE was content keeping Owen in the midcard just so that he couldn't get big enough to jump ship elsewhere. Plus, I could see Owen retiring after his last WWE contract as he was a dedicated family man. His death remains the biggest shame in pro wrestling history.
1) Downfall of WCW and ECW through 2001. No doubt in my mind, this was the #1 story that I covered. My very first column was reviewing World Championship Wrestling (WCW)'s Halloween Havoc 1998 and you could see the promotiong dying by that event. In my opinion, WCW screwed up with Starrcade 1997 by having the botched "fast count" finish between Sting vs. Hulk Hogan. It was one of the most hyped events ever and it was a complete letdown because it was "business as usual" with Hogan still dominating the product. Then, WCW failed to have any plans for Sting after he won the WCW Title. Complete disaster and WCW spent more than a year building up that match. Then, when Hulk Hogan took the WCW Title back later in the year, the Nitro following a Pay Per View when Macho Man defeated Sting, you could see the damage done. When WCW gave away Bill Goldberg vs. Hulk Hogan for FREE on Nitro later during 1998, that did damage as well because that was WCW's true last great moment. And like Sting before him, WCW had no real concrete plans for Bill Goldberg once he became champion.
I remember ripping WCW HARD for the "Fingerpoke of DOOM" (© Scott Keith) finish for the first WCW Nitro of 1999. I was more outraged by Kevin Nash laying down for Hulk Hogan than I was Tony Shiavone attempting to give away taped RAW spoilers away on air. I was embarrassed to watch that ending that saw Hulk Hogan as World Champion again and the New World Order (NWO) reformed. It was becoming easy to predict that WCW was doomed. Things were made much worse during 1999 when key pieces of talent jumped to the WWE (Big Show and Chris Jericho) and then an unfiltered Vince Russo joined WCW as lead writer. They were doomed especially with the WWE product getting stronger and stronger. WCW could never improve itself after 1999 as they tried to bring back Vince Russo a second time as well as Eric Bischoff. They could not reinvent the wheel even if they tried to reinvent their logo "wCw". Funny thing is that WCW actually got better by late 2000 when they were serious about Booker T as a main eventer and they had a legitimately good Cruiserweight Tag Team division. But the nails were driven in the coffin. Eric Bischoff tried, with several investors, to buy WCW from AOL/Time Warner but trouble came when AOL/Time Warner executives opted to CANCEL WCW programming from TNT and TBS. Game over and WWE bought them for under $5 million.
For Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), you could see it a mile away. I personally thought that the 1997 talent raids of Raven, Stevie Richards, and Perry Saturn did major damage to ECW. Certainly, it opened the door for the likes of Rob Van Dam to step into, but it proved that ECW was unable to keep its top stars. In attempt to do so, ECW began spending more money on wrestlers, promotion, and trying hard to make the Pay Per View model work. By late 1999, even with the TNN contract, they were running up debt and much of its best talent was already raided. They had some success during 1999-2000 with Mike Awesome on top of the promotion and then he upbruptly left for WCW (which cost AOL/Time Warner a ton of money to do so). With the roster being so thin, midcarder Justin Credible was pushed to the ECW Title. It just didn't work out and in my opinion, it's not Credible's fault. The promotion was on life support. ECW, like WCW, died during early 2001.
It was remarkable to me to see the FINAL edition of WCW Nitro and how much of it was simulcast on Monday Night RAW. Some of the WCW wrestlers that Vince McMahon didn't want (Jeff Jarrett, Lex Luger), he actively buried them during backstage segments. Then, to see the whole angle with Shane McMahon sneaking into the final WCW Nitro to announce that he "bought" WCW was amazing. Fans were so HYPED to see a legitimate WCW vs. WWE promotional crossover battle that their expectations were beyond lifted. Little did they know that WWE would barely sign any of WCW's top stars (Booker T and DDP) and that Vince McMahon had an agenda that he was going to drive additional nails into WCW's coffin himself.
To see a promotion that you grew up watching just die during 2001 just blew my mind. WCW, in its early form during 1988 after Ted Turner bought the company, is what made me a pro wrestling fan. Seeing the 45 minute draw between Sting vs. Ric Flair at Clash of the Champions 1 at my uncle's house blew my mind at the time and it left me hungry to watch more wrestling. I loosely followed the whole Hulkamania stuff from people talking about it from school but I wasn't a loyal fan. Nor was I tuning into TBS to watch NWA/WCW during the weekends. I didn't know what it was... I saw that Sting vs. Flair match and was instantly drawn to pro wrestling and it forever made me not only a fan of Ric Flair and Sting (in my all time top 5 or 10, easily), but of pro wrestling itself. To see the final edition of WCW Nitro actually end on a high note with Sting vs. Ric Flair is still emotional to me to this very day. Sting vs. Ric Flair was my first WCW match seen during 1988 and it was my last WCW match seen during 2001. Then, to see WWE just trash the WCW brand made it personal during 2001 as my many columns on the WCW/ECW Invasion would indicate.
LAST WORD: Well, that concludes the 15 year anniversary special edition Mr. Tito column. THANK YOU very much for reading not only this column, but any of my columns for the past 15 years. I've come to the conclusion that even in my older age, it's OK to portray Tito and to write about pro wrestling. I enjoy my Lordsofpain.net and I'm grateful to Calvin Martin for the opportunity.
Where do we go from here? I'll see if I can keep writing Tito columns with a few "What If", "Final Countdown", and "On This Day in Pro Wrestling History..." columns sprinkled in here and there. I just can't overdo it with work and family life or I'll get burned out quickly.
With the way that the Internet is evolving, I would like to try a new medium in the future besides written columns. My columns are still widely read and I'm proud of that, but more people are satisfied watching a video or listening to a podcast type of show via their Smartphones or Tablets. Maybe stream something... Who knows? But I always have creative energy flowing throw my veins and being Mr. Tito is a great way to vent. We'll see what options are out there although it's something that I'd have to create out of thin air and convince you, my loyal audience wanting written columns, to follow.
I appreciate all of my readers and I'm blessed to have each and every one of you, past or present, reading my stuff each week. THANK YOU.
Comments and debates are welcome on Twitter. Bring it on. @titowrestling
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