I hope ESPN doesn’t sue me for this.
For those of you that remember, ESPN had a show called “The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame” in-which they’d look at an infamous moment in sports history and defend those who were blamed for it. They covered subjects from Bill Buckner to Steve Bartman or the BCS for not having a playoff. It was a great show that I wish was still on the air, because it’s sure as shit better than watching Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless “debating”. It was also hosted by the eternally awesome Brain Kenny, who once again is much, much better than Bayless or Smith.
In 1995, the WWE was beginning to hype a “New Generation” marketing campaign, a fresh start for the company. Vince McMahon had just finished a lengthy battle with the federal government and the stars of the Hulkamania days were gone. Vince was hoping that Kevin Nash, a 6’11 monster of a man to lead the company through what could be a potentially painful transition period. McMahon had already pushed Nash in a big way having him defeat Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden in eight seconds just days after Backlund won it. McMahon was hoping that Diesel demolishing Backlund with ease would set off fervor not seen since Hogan dropped the leg on The Iron Sheik in the same building.
Before we start, I’m going to break down one of the biggest myths of Nash’s run and that is the concept that Nash was the lowest drawing champion of the modern era. Many cite the 3,039 average attendance number as the lowest but it was actually up from the previous number of 2,880 average attendance number. In-fact, the WWE still beat WCW that year in terms of attendance numbers as WCW’s average attendance number was 2,189. When it came to PPV buys, the company only dipped below 200k and this was with the start of the In Your House events (In Your House 4 and Survivor Series 1995) near the end of Diesel’s reign. WCW only managed to hit the 200k number twice (Superbrawl V and Uncensored 1995). In-fact, when the Monday Night War started, Diesel went 5-5-1 as champion. The company even made a $3,319,000 profit which was up from the four million dollar loss from 1994 and the company losing six million dollars in 1996. So yeah, take that.
Before we start, we’re going to look at two reasons that you can actually blame Nash, followed by the actual reasons why you can’t blame Kevin Nash for the WWE falling apart in 1995.
1. The Kliq: Undoubtedly the biggest factor against Nash, the Kliq ran wild in 1995. Nash was the top guy with the belt, Michaels was the apple of Vince’s eye; Ramon was in the upper mid card as a popular face, Kid had a secure spot as one of the better workers in the company, and Hunter had the protection of Nash and Michaels. The Kliq was able to maneuver Michaels being the number two face in the company, forcing Bret Hart and The Undertaker into mid-level feuds. Hart started out with Diesel and then slide down working feuds with Backlund(Ice cold after losing the belt), Lawler (Pretty good), Hakushi (Still good), Isaac Yankem (Not good) and finally an evil pirate who stole his coat. Hart is pretty much the MVP of the company in 1995, taking WrestleCrap and making it work somehow. Undertaker was stuck in an uninteresting feud with Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation and then had his face smashed in by Mabel and starting that feud. In an interesting note, both Hart and Taker had their own cliques, but more in a way of countering the rise of the Kliq. Hart ran with Owen, Davey Boy, Neidhart (When he was around, he left after the Rumble), Hakushi and Jeff Jarrett. Undertaker had his Bone Street Krew which consisted of himself, Yoko, Bearer, The Godwins, and most of the Million Dollar Corporation. The groups were willing to place nice with each other for the good of the company. The Kliq would infamously threaten to strike, refusing to leave their Indianapolis hotel room when the company was working a show in Columbus that night. The group more or less forced Vince’s hand going over the talent that they did or did not want to work with. Yes, they actually made Vince and Patterson fly from Columbus to Indianapolis. They hammered everything out over a meal at Chillis. I’m 100% serious folks. It would set forth for a showdown between the group and the roster that would accumulate with The Montreal Screwjob.
2. Nash, the worker: As a worker, Nash was not the greatest but he did work well with a certain type of worker. He worked well with smaller guys that could pinball around the ring and make Nash look very well. Nash had good bouts as champion against Michaels, Hart, and Jarrett, which doesn’t help as Vince is still pushing the monsters. The most notable example was the title defense against The British Bulldog at In Your House 4. Many people expected a decent bout, this was before Bulldog went through a knee injury and people were expecting Nash and Bulldog to throw each other around in a power vs power match. Instead, we got a rather boring match with Bulldog working the leg much to the crowd’s boredom. After a DQ finish, McMahon threw his headset down and verbally assaulted Diesel for putting on such a porous match, in-front of the live crowd. It was the beginning of the end for Diesel’s reign. I would recommend that you check out the Diesel/Bigelow match from the April 24th, 1995 Raw. It is one of the better examples of Diesel vs big guy matches that I can think of.
Now, onto the top five reasons as to why you can’t blame Kevin Nash for the fall of the WWE in 1995.
5. The Wrestling Depression
From about 1993-1996, the wrestling industry was at a low point coming off the Hulkamania Era. Vince was in the middle of a steroid controversy and dealing with a roster that had been purged because of it. WCW was still trying to find its footing and falling flat on its face from time to time. The steroid trial had done some major damage to pro wrestling, sponsors weren’t willing give their money to companies that endorsed putting chemicals into their body to make themselves look good. Parents didn’t want their kids watching after Hogan was exposed as a liar (True story) and profits from television/live events/PPV were down. You have to remember that the WWE went from having a toy deal with Hasbro to doing these awful BendEm figures that you couldn’t find at most stores. I got a good majority of mine at a dollar store. Wrestling when from being in to being out faster than you can say WHATTAMANUEVER. Even WCW felt the brunt of this after they signed up Hogan then Savage, but even those two didn’t move the needle as much as WCW hoped for.
4. The Booking Direction of the Company
In 1995, it was both companies trying to go back and use the tried and true formula of the Hulkamania days. Dominant face champion who happens to be big taking on all comers and usually winning, while WCW was beginning the Hogan vs Dungeon of Doom feud. The fans were sick of this and the only company that was trying to do something different was ECW. With both companies trying to push a formula that the fans didn’t want since they had seen it for such a long time. It wasn’t until the nWo angle that both companies realized that something new and different was needed. The WWE was trying to get over gimmicks of wrestling plumbers, race car drivers, mantaurs, workout enthusiasts, garbage men and supreme fighting machines. Yeah, those first few months of the Monday Night Wars were not the greatest time to watch wrestling on television. Watching Raw in this period consists of a good feature match followed by mostly unwatchable squash matches.
3. The Character Change
Nash had got over with the fans before he got the title by being a merciless ass kicker for most of 1994. He didn’t have much of a character; he was just a big guy who beat the crap out of you. So you’d think that they’d keep that part of the character when they gave him the belt. They didn’t, they sort took the edge of Diesel’s character, which was what got him over in the first place. In his Timeline interview, he brought up they had him put on a Santa hat and have him sing Christmas songs. They even sent him out to various events with the belt like The All Star game and had him pose for pictures with celebrities. You have the potential for a different type of face champion than what we’ve seen before. He’s not telling you to say your prayers, a psychedelic wildman cowboy or a nice Canadian; this is one big bad mudda fudda. I have serious concerns that when Roman Reigns get the belt, they’ll try and turn him into a Cena-lite. It didn’t work with Luger and Diesel by trying to turn them into Hogan and it won’t work with Reigns and Cena.
2. The Lack of Good Heel Opponents
A good babyface champion is only as good as his heel opponent and most of the heels they matched up against Diesel were not that good. Shawn Michaels was great, but the company made the rather weird decision to turn him face right after their first match. The problem is that the company lost out on potentially lucrative rematches on the house show circuit. The big WrestleMania rematch usually draws well for live events since you can it market it as “You saw them fight on PPV, now see them fight LIVE!” The match could also draw big numbers for the yearly visit overseas tour after WrestleMania. Instead, they got Diesel teaming with another face against Sid and another heel which doesn’t draw as well as Diesel vs Michaels II. You could have done a cage match gimmick to keep Sid out of interfering. After that, it was a steep downslide in-term of the quality of opponents. Jarrett played a good poor man’s version of Michaels (Their match on the 02/20 Raw is very good), Yoko could have been great but his weight gain made that a no go, Owen could only draw with Bret and Backlund was a bit of a styles clash. In-fact, Backlund was sliding down the similar path of other heel champions, doing jobs on the house show circuit. Waylon Mercy would have been an interesting feud, but Spivey was broken down by then. The less we say about the Mabel and that entire push, the better. Diesel might have been handed the worst deck of opponents in company history to work with. I always thought that Diesel as a monster heel champion with a good mouth piece would have worked, better opponents on the face side: Hart, Razor, Bulldog, Kid, eventual face Michaels and it all builds up to The Undertaker ascending from hell to end Diesel’s reign.
And the number one reason is….
1. Vince Kennedy McMahon
If you’ve noticed, the last three reasons could directly be attributed to the decisions of McMahon himself. So, he gets the number one spot for being the man behind these decisions. I also hold McMahon responsible since this is the year he decided to play it safe with the company. The free agent signings he did make were relatively inexpensive and while three of them (Goldust, Kane and Triple H) proved to be worthwhile; most of them were gone in a year or so. Think about it like this, Maxx Payne (Yes with two X’s) got signed over Mick Foley and was actually pushed for a bit. We’re still a year away from the signing class of 1996 (Foley, Austin, Rock) and WCW does the smart thing by raiding a good majority of the international talent that ECW started to book. He also played it safe by not doing something Nash’s run with the belt, either turning him heel midway through or possibly scrapping the run as a whole.
My other big problem with McMahon is that he let the power slide from himself to the Kliq. While Vince was willing to let certain talents have influence and power, this had never happened before. I can’t blame the group either, they knew that Vince couldn’t fire them or do anything like that, so take advantage of the old man when you can. Vince McMahon had been burned, he thought that Hulk and Savage were down for as draws and now they were helping to turn the tide in Atlanta. Vince needed to keep the Kliq around and did anything to appease them. The big problem would be it would implode on him once Nash and Hall left and Michaels was left to fend for himself.
And it worked.
You may agree or let’s be honest a lot of you will disagree with me, but for Nash to get most, if not all the blame isn’t fair. Yes, he didn’t help himself with the Kliq or the fact that he could only work with one type of guy, but I honestly don’t believe that anybody could draw well in this time period. The wrestling industry was in the middle of the Hulkamania Hangover and wouldn’t get out of it until Hulk dropped the leg a year later.
I’m Robert Goeman playing Brian Kenny but I’m actually Robert Goeman, have a good night.
Up next: The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Garguilo for Hiring Robert Goeman.
Robert Goeman has been writing for CamelClutchBlog since 2014 and has written for FiveOuncesofPain and What Culture. Follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertGoeman. After every article, Robert usually does “Talking Points” on twitter, bringin up points that didn’t make the article.