Wrestling fans know Vince Russo as the man who came up with potentially the most outlandish ideas for characters and storylines ever, and is considered one of the main factors behind the death of World Championship Wrestling (WCW). During his impressive career, he oversaw the characters and storylines for WWE from 1997-1999, WCW from 1999-2000, TNA from 2002-2004, and returned to TNA from 2006-2012.
Russo gets a lot of stick from wrestling fans for being a complete lunatic who should never be given control of the script for a pro wrestling show. While I agree to a certain extent that Russo has had some very outlandish ideas (which I will mention later), it doesn’t mean he didn’t also have some decent ones up his sleeve… BRO.
So, sit back and enjoy this trip back in time (thanks to the WWE Network) and review the periods of wrestling history which Russo creatively oversaw. Our first stop is Russo’s initial stint in WCW, from October 1999 to January 2000.
The positives: Curt ‘Mr Anti-establishment’ Hennig
During the first few weeks of Russo overseeing creative, Curt Hennig became a major part of WCW television. Hennig – an experienced veteran – was placed in a position where if he was pinned, he would be fired by the ‘powers that be’ (Russo’s on-screen commissioner character). The storyline was based around the company authorities wanting to flush out the older talent in favour of the younger stars. Throughout the Nitro episodes, Hennig would aggressively beat down the younger talent and state he would retire only when he chose to do so. While he was a shadow of his Mr Perfect character, this was a great way to utilise Hennig who was an older talent at the time, and done right could’ve been a great way to rocket him to his first world title – something that eluded him his entire career.
The Wolverine vs The Iceman
Disregarding the tragedy that would happen many years later for just a brief moment, the ‘Wolverine’ Chris Benoit was a phenomenal wrestler, and so was the ‘Iceman’ Dean Malenko. The feud took off when Malenko turned on his then tag team partner Benoit, and costing him the Television title. Malenko turned on Benoit because Malenko wanted to remain a member of the Revolution faction (which also included Saturn and Shane Douglas), while Benoit wanted out. From then on, the two would fight backstage and have a series of matches on Nitro which included a steel cage, and Last Man Standing match, where the two beat the hell out of each other. Benoit and Malenko feuding was great to watch, however the feud was rushed.
Instead of letting the candle burn slowly, it was snuffed out straight away. The two had already fought each other on numerous occasions in major gimmick matches within the first two weeks of feuding. If this feud was given little longer, it could’ve been a major feud leading into WCW’s Wrestlemania, known as Starrcade.
One thing the internet will tell you is that Russo is the master of ‘Crash TV’, meaning there Is a constant storyline including multiple characters, delivered at an accelerated pace. While the quick transition from vignette to vignette is hard to follow sometimes, the great positive of this style is that there is constantly something happening. Whilst watching through the Nitros, I felt like I couldn’t even pop to the loo without missing a new feud being born or some poor soul getting beaten up backstage.
Another thing Russo needs to be given credit for is his use of midcard and undercard talent. Every wrestler on the roster is involved in a storyline, and every wrestler has a distinct character. Brian Armstrong (Road Dogg’s brother), for example, even had a feud during the later stages of 1999 which involved him being criticised by the ‘powers that be’ because he didn’t have as much personality as his brother. I didn’t even know who Brian Armstrong was until this point because he’d rarely appeared on Nitro prior to this. Still, he was given a decent storyline and a character to allow him to stand out – even in the undercard.
You’d think after killing people in pretty much every Nitro I have watched to this point that I’d be sick of seeing Goldberg just spear the hell out of everyone? Wrong. Since Russo’s first episode, Goldberg has been booked as an absolute machine – winning the US title and world title in the same night (as he did in 1998), and having a semi-interesting feud with the ‘Outsiders’ and Sid.
Goldberg is a huge attraction, and when used in the correct way can be a really interesting on screen character.
Hart & Benoit tag team
On one of the Nitros from ’99, Hart comes to the aid of Benoit and stood in his corner during his match against Scott Hall. The two continued to team for a few weeks but nothing really came of the pairing due to Bret suffering his career-ending injury at Starrcade. Just imagine how awesome it would have been if Benoit & Hart had the chance to form a proper team and go after the tag titles…
Negatives BRO: The Heel and Face Problem
One key drawback of Russo’s particular brand of creative is the noticeable lack of traditional babyfaces and heels. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with badass babyfaces like Ken Shamrock or Steve Austin, but I honestly had no idea who was I was mean to cheering and booing in 1999. Instead, audiences viewing the product were blinded by this ‘shade of grey’ narrative, which was perhaps too grey to understand.
The Outsiders face two women in a tag match which involves no wrestling at all. No comment.
Piñata on a Pole
Russo decided that sticking a piñata on a pole and having a bunch of luchadores fight for 10,000 dollars would draw ratings. This was a pointless match with no storyline, character development, and was disrespectful to the luchadores in my opinion – boarding on the racist. I thought the cruiserweight division today was booked badly, I guess 1999 was even worse.
Ed Ferrara – Russo’s writing partner behind the scenes – started portraying an on-screen character called Oklahoma. The Oklahoma character was a blatant rip-off of beloved commentary legend, Jim Ross. Whilst the character could have provided some light-hearted comedy relief, things were taken too far when Ferrara started scrunching up his face and mocking the fact Jim Ross had suffered from a Bell’s palsy attack. It was cruel and lowered the tone of wrestling as a whole. I hope I never see anything like this again.
That wraps up part one of the Russo Review. If you have an opinion on anything I’ve pointed out, or think there were other characters or storylines I could have included, let us know! Otherwise stay tuned as next time I will travel to April 2000, and review WCW’s reboot which was initiated by the creative mind of Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff.