MY FIRST

WCW SHOW

Some backstory is probably necessary here.... throughout the 1980s, the NWA (later WCW) was not really that big a deal to most wrestling fans in the Toronto area. Sure, we knew about it, mainly through the Apter mags and such, but there was no television representation in the area (I've been told some Ontarians had access to Mid-Atlantic wrestling in the early part of the decade, but that was long before I'd become a fan). 

 

As a result of that (and the fact that the local promoters Frank and Jack Tunney later sold their territory to Vince McMahon) 95 percent of the wrestling we got was under the WWF umbrella. And before anyone corrects me, yes, I'm aware that we had on-again/off-again access to the AWA, Stampede, International and All-Star Wrestling through Toronto cable outlets - they just didn't seem nearly as big a deal as Hulk Hogan and company.

 

Finally, in the very late 1980's, the flagship program "WCW Worldwide" began airing on a Toronto network affiliate on Saturday nights beginning at midnight. The timeslot wasn't ideal and the show wasn't nearly as professional looking as, say, WWF Superstars, but who cared? This was a legitimate number two promotion, with stars like Ric Flair, Sting and The Steiners capturing our imagination.

 

In the spring of 1990, we first learned of WCW's intention to tour several Ontario cities that summer (I believe Niagara Falls and Brantford were also on the agenda). The card was announced and heavily promoted on the midnight showing of Worldwide through commercials and so-called "edit market promos" ("I can't wait to get to Toronto to kick Arn Anderson's butt!"). 

 

They also advertised the show weekly in our newspaper of record, the Toronto Star. However, I remember them constantly misspelling the tag team "Doom" as "Doonl". I understand how they could have made that mistake once, but every single week? Was no one paying attention?

Besides me, that is. I immediately bought tickets and made plans to attend with my brother, The Big Rybowski, and 2014 manager of the year Stu Stone.

The show took place at the Exhibition Place Coliseum Arena. The Exhibition (or CNE) is home to a huge state fair-type event every August and has tons of buildings, but this particular venue was used to show livestock year round, so it had an odor to it. This probably didn't help the promoters at WCW, who I imagine didn't want fans to equate their product with the smell of horseshit.

 

Ironically, the venue was renovated in 2005 and became the Ricoh Coliseum, where WWE holds its house shows to this day. But now, the arena no longer smells like the inside of a barn.

Once we entered the empty-ish coliseum (I'm thinking there were maybe 1,000 people at most, which covered about one quarter of the barn), we immediately checked out the merchandise. 

 

While The Road Warriors shirt I purchased for $15 was a bit cartoonish, it wasn't bad. But The Big Rybowski had return his "Sting: Fatal Encounter" tee -- the illustrated faces that Sting was fighting off were kind of scribbled in, and more than one of the opponents looked like Arn Anderson. 

 

Really, WCW's merchandise game was far off the WWF's until the nWo era began... but the stuff offered at this day in Toronto was kind of a joke.

Have you ever heard that expression "card subject to change"? Well, not only was this particular show the definition of that, but they also bait-and-switched the audience to exciting new levels.

 

For beginners, let's work our way up the card that you see at the top of the page. Johnny Ace vs. Bam Bam Bigelow not only didn't happen, but I couldn't tell you with any certainly that either guy was on the full-time roster at the time.

 

The Flyin' Brian vs. Mean Mark match didn't happen, either -- too bad, because that would have been kind of exciting. Instead, the show opened with Mean Mark against Nick DeCarlo. I think I speak for most fans when I say in reference to DeCarlo: "who?". He was a local wrestler who worked in Ontario and Quebec in the late 1970's and early 1980's, mostly in preliminary matches. This was a squash, but it was very interesting to see Mean Mark (who would debut in the WWF as Cain The Undertaker only a few months later) being managed by Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) given their recent competitive history.

 

I remember "Mean Mark" winning the match convincingly and before the match, Heyman ran down the local Toronto crowd as only he could do. Oh, and the theme song for Mean Mark was AC-DC's "Back in Black," kicking off an evening where music copyright laws were apparently being ignored.

 

Next up was Flyin' Brian vs. "Dirty" Dutch Mantel. I know what you're thinking... why not keep the Flyin' Brian-Mean Mark match and book an additional match of Nick DeCarlo vs. "Dirty" Dutch Mantel? No clue. It made sense to me. In any event, I don't remember much of this match, other than Pillman (obviously) going over.

Up next were U.S. Tag Team Champions The Midnight Express (Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton) against The Southern Boys (Steve Armstrong and Tracy Armstrong).

 

Although the video to the left isn't the match from Toronto, it shows that both teams had phenomenal chemistry together and promised a great match.

Unfortunately, what we weren't promised was a title change. You see, after The Southern Boys won the match, ring announcer Gary Michael Capetta mentioned that this was a non-title match. The hell?

 

Believe it or not, this wasn't the only gaffe from Gary Michael that night. At one stage, he encouraged the crowd to check out World Championship Wrestling, each and every week on TBS. Unfortunately, TBS wasn't part of any Canadian cable package at the time (it would be another two or three years before we had the possibility of legally watching TBS and a few other U.S.  superstations). So the fans told him so and Capetta asked if the Toronto crowd got another station - which we didn't. Someone finally clued him as to where we Canucks could get us some Dubya See Dubya, and damned if that information wasn't displayed prominently the next time WCW came to town.

The next match featured The Junkyard Dog (who came to the ring to his ancient WWF theme song "Another One Bites The Dust" instead of his generic WCW theme) against Television Champion Arn Anderson. The match itself was nothing spectacular - JYD was clearly on the down side of his career at this point - and saw Anderson losing to Junkyard's powerslam. Unfortunately, the title wasn't on the line, a fact that would have been useful when they were promoting this card for months on end beforehand!

 

The next match featured World Tag Team Champions Doom (or, if you prefer - Doonl) against Rick and Scott Steiner. I remember Butch Reed and Ron Simmons coming to the ring to M.C. Hammer's "You Can't Touch This", which had absolutely no bearing on the team's usual music whatsoever. Also, Doom's manager Teddy Long ("Holla, playa!") requested beforehand that the fans not refer to him as "Peanut Head". Of course, had Long not made that request in the first place, most of the audience wouldn't have known about the nickname!

And yes, this was a non-title match again... but it was also the best match on the show, with both teams looking quite "WWF-worthy" in the eyes of the audience. The Steiner Brothers were victorious against the champions, but only by disqualification when Long interfered. Wonder why he was so against outside interference during his run as SmackDown General Manager?

 

The main event of the evening featured United States Champion Lex Luger against NWA World Champion Ric Flair.... only, instead of both titles being on the line, this match had no titles on the line. Seriously?? Was this a house show or a taping of Saturday Night? Why couldn't Flair put the gold belt on the line here?

 

This wasn't a bad match, as Flair had been painted in the Apter Mags as the second coming of Jesus, and Luger appeared (at least physique-wise) to have the most overall star power of the whole bunch on tour in Toronto. Flair continually sold Luger's offense, while Luger no-sold most of what Flair threw at him (in hindsight, it's pretty much like any other Luger-Flair match you've ever seen on PPV from that era).

 

While we were waiting for outside interference from Sid Vicious, Ole Anderson, Barry Windham or even Arn Anderson who was actually in the building (!), none of The Four Horsemen provided a distraction of any kind. And Sting, who was like two weeks away from winning his first NWA World Title at The Great American Bash, didn't bother to show up either. So all this to say, Luger pinned Flair, clean in the middle of the ring, and it meant absoluytely nothing because it was (say it altogether now) a non-title match.

 

Overall, this actually wasn't a terrible show. Sure, it could have used some more star power, an actual title match (given all of their champions were actually on the card) and I don't know, a venue that smelled less like cow dung. But I went to see four more WCW shows over the next decade, so they must have done something right.

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Wrestling Historian Mike Rickard