Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: WCW Timeline 1990 w/ Jim Cornette

Corny takes us through the booking disaster that was WCW under Ole Anderson and Jim Herd.

Hosted by Sean Oliver

Presented by Kayfabe Commentaries

Corny has records from his whole career including line ups, attendance and other such things. He will be using them to take us through the year 1990 in WCW.

As a part of the WCW creative team, Cornette was the only guy who was still watching the active territories. When Sid got injured, Jim knew of a big man in Memphis who could be a suitable replacement. Dutch Mantel gave Mark Calaway a good review and WCW signed him to be “Mean” Mark Callous.

Jim Herd told Terry Funk he was benching him after his November ’89 Clash war with Ric Flair. Funk was not consulted on this abrupt end to his in-ring career.

Ric Flair was still booking in early 1990.  Ric wanted to work with Bobby Eaton. Herd flipped out over Eaton getting such a high profile match on TV. Then, Flair booked a rematch out of spite. The pair of matches drew record ratings for the WCW Sunday night show. (1.6 million viewers.) Herd hated the Midnight Express and did not appreciate them being put into high profile spots.

Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson were ready to come back to WCW in late 1989. Blanchard then got in trouble with a drug test in the WWF and it opened up a opportunity for Herd to pull his contract offer. With Anderson now stuck in limbo, Herd pulled his offer too and low balled him by six-figures. This had the effect of causing the WWF talent to know not to trust Herd. This led to a lack of talent being willing to jump from the WWF to WCW until Herd left many months later.

Arn Anderson was one of the best talents Cornette had seen anywhere in the business. Anderson ended up quickly winning the TV title because WCW needed new stars and Anderson could draw and work.

The Rock and Roll Express returned in mid-January. They had previously drawn extremely well and ended up popping some good ratings during this run.

A TV taping had to be canceled in mid-January when the talent showed up to the Center Stage theater and the building was being remodeled.

For joining the booking committee, Jim received only $300 more a week. He didn’t complain, because the wrestlers were often given multiple TV spots if they had talent (interview segment host, commentator, etc.) and it was viewed as extra exposure and not a reason to expect a pay hike.

Kevin Sullivan taught Jim how to spice up his basic squash match TV layout. Herd then came in after the TV was done and changed things around to meet his own vision.

Herd hated live interview segments. He wanted wrestling in the ring and promo inserts played over the matches.

Jim Ross fine tuned Corny’s efforts when they did commentary together. Between this and working with Flair and Sullivan on the creative team, this era was a fine learning experience for Jim.

Long-time nemesis Kevin Dunn and Cornette walked by each other during Wrestlemania weekend this year. They did not exchange pleasantries.

Ole Anderson had a real world business and a nice nest egg of cash back at home, but he willingly came back to help WCW as they needed another Horsemen.

Doug Dillenger grabbed Sting and pulled him off a cage at the end of the February 6th Clash of the Champions. Sting landed poorly and wrecked his knee. Since he had a world title PPV match against Flair coming two weeks later, an emergency booking meeting was called. Ultimately it was decided Lex Luger would have to turn babyface to take Sting’s place. Flair was asked to lose the title to him, but Flair nixed that idea.  Dillinger was not trained to “work” and pulled Sting down with legit force, helping lead to the accident.

Norman the Lunatic is made fun of by Corny. Sullivan booked Norman to fight him in a match that ended up in the backstage bathroom. It was a finish full of bells and whistles to distract from the crappy gimmick Mike Shaw was saddled with. Somehow this “Lunatic” ended up getting a CDL license and becoming a trucker on TV.

Jim Barnett was still a power player backstage to some degree. Barnett had previously orchestrated many of the major events in past 3 decades of backstage political movements in wrestling, but now his role in WCW was as a “yes man” to Herd. Barnett knew that his time with the WWF from 1983-1987 had ended on a bad note – plus the territories were dead, so WCW was his last possible decent payday.

Barnett told Cornette that he wrote Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant $250,000 paychecks for Wrestlemania 3. Vince McMahon tore up the checks and added a half a million dollars to each man’s payoffs for their efforts that night.

Mil Mascaras was the biggest Mexican star of the 70’s, so Barnett booked him to work the Clash in February of 1990 because they were running Texas and he wanted to draw the Latinos. The fact that Mil had not been relevant for years did not seem to enter Barnett’s line of thinking.

Cactus Jack being pushed was a pet project of Sullivan and Corny, so he was put in with Mascaras at the Clash event so he could do his “Nestea plunge” flat back bump onto the cement. This served as a memorable moment that the fans could focus on, rather than the fact that Jack lost a match. Jack ended up leaving shortly afterwards because he wanted to go get over elsewhere rather than stick around WCW doing jobs.

Flair booked himself on TV against Brian Pillman and drew the highest WCW Saturday Night rating since 1987. Flair then booked himself and Arn to face the Rock and Roll Express on the Sunday night show. That drew over 5 million viewers and this marked the highest rating for the show since 1985.

Ratings under Flair jumped up huge numbers. Shows went from 1.0’s to 4.0’s over the course of a few months. Despite that, Herd continued to meddle in the creative plans and Flair finally quit the booking team out of sheer frustration.

WCW had no office competence and the wrestlers knew it. They booked a huge arena for an afternoon show on Easter Sunday in a heavily Catholic town. They drew 500 fans.

Tom Zenk was making 5000 bucks a week. Herd paid him well for his looks. That was almost a thousand more a week than Eaton and Stan Lane were pulling in.

The Midnight Express were desperate to prove to Herd that they deserved a push instead of being ignored.

The house shows were doing horrible business. The Express were getting between 2-300 dollars a night while on tour. Houses were down a third in the Carolinas from what JCP was drawing a few years earlier.

Ole Anderson had to step in and talk to the Skyscrapers about selling and working with other guys because they were wrecking babyfaces by eating them up.

Sid looked amazing physically, but Dan Spivey was shitty in the ring, looked a bit flabby and was slowed by injuries.

Since Brian Pillman was being groomed for stardom, Corny put him and Tom Zenk in a tag team feud with the Midnight Express in order to have the Express have great matches with him. They kicked things off by having the Express jam Cornette’s racquet in Pillman’s throat. A horde of babyfaces ran in to save him. Promos were taped afterwards where Pillman could not talk but they never aired because Jim Barnett decreed “it would make Pillman look weak”. It was then implied that the Express were not big enough stars to be involved in such a high profile angle. They aired the injury angle, but not the follow up. The original plan was going to build to a Pillman handicap match where he would beat both Lane and Eaton, then Pillman would be hot and ready for a run with Flair.

Herd sent a camera crew to a house show to tape Lex Luger beating Flair for the World title. He never bothered to ask or tell Flair, so Ric refused to lose the title unless he was released from his contract.

The AWA World tag champions Mike Enos and Wayne Bloom were brought in under masks to work a feud with the Steiners.

Jim Ross brought Abdullah the Butcher in as a babyface for a short run. It was done to spice up things for a bit as Abby went after Sullivan, Cactus Jack and others.

The Midnight Express and Corny’s contract came up. Cornette came in with facts and numbers to back up their worth. Jim Herd’s counter offer was to cut Eaton’s pay, put Lane on a pay per appearance deal and put Cornette in the commentary booth.

Flair got involved in the contract talks. Flair agreed to put Eaton and Lane into the Horsemen to rebuild the Horsemen allure (Corny would leave them and become a commentator.) A few weeks after the plan was approved, Herd then reneged on the deal. Corny quit the booking committee in protest.

The Express planned to quit when their contract came up a few weeks later, but Wahoo McDaniel and the other bookers all told Herd to sign the Express for another year. Lane and Corny were pissed. Eventually, the hope became that the Express could hold out for another year and wait out Herd being fired for incompetence.

A show in Knoxville popped a house and triggered an idea in Jim’s head about possibly running a territory based out of that area. Hmmmm….

Cornette had gotten his spot on the booking committee after Eddie Gilbert lost his spot for changing a finish in Memphis and putting himself over Ron Simmons. Gilbert was a Memphis wrestling star, but Flair did not give two shits about that when it came to WCW plans.

The TV layouts were very basic as the bookers did not want any info on paper that might imply wrestling was fake. An hour show format only took up one page and contained the matches, breaks, promo spots, and dates to plug.

Kendall Windham was arrested for counterfeiting money in 1989. Cornette was forced to take him off upcoming house shows.  Jim Herd yelled at Cornette about altering cards, Corny snapped “The motherfucker is in jail! Do you want me to bake a cake with a file in it?!?!”

Stan Lane wigged out in May and briefly quit WCW. The Express were in the middle of a long run of house shows in Podunk towns. A host of guys were leaving the tour at this point.

When Herd handed Cornette and the Express their new contracts, he told them “I’m against this.” Lane and Corny were ready to kill him, but Eaton had 3 kids to take care of, so they went with it for his sake.

GLOW faced WCW on “Family Feud” in May. This tidbit gives Corny a chance to tear into the phony, hokey show that GLOW put on and how it hurt the business overall. “Fuck GLOW and fuck everything that looks like GLOW!”

Sid was put in the Horsemen. This leads to a side story about how Sid was making $400,000 a year to work in the WWF and yet he didn’t want to make dates. Sid was “forced” to make a Raw date against his desires (softball) and then left after the first segment, ignoring a planned promo spot he had later that night. McMahon ended up telling Sid his payoffs would no longer be coming unless he actually showed up for work. Sid was never booked again.

Ole Anderson was named head booker on May 14th. Corny’s idea was to use classic angles and booking tropes with new talent. Ole liked to use old ideas that worked, but he wanted to do them with the same talent he was using years earlier.

Robocop was brought in to take part in an angle. The suit made it so that the actor inside could not run, walk up stairs or even fall over. This led to WCW using gimmick bars in a tiny cage for Robocop to tear off since he couldn’t do anything physical.

The “blow off” of Zenk and Pillman beating the Midnight Express for months was the Express winning the US tag titles from them. Corny can’t fathom why this happened, other than maybe Ole Anderson felt bad for how the Express had been booked and wanted to give them a bit of a rub.

El Gigante was a nice guy, and Corny does hold it against him that he couldn’t wrestle or talk. It was WCW stupidity to sign a green giant and try and make him a headliner.

Road Warriors quit WCW in May despite making $10,500 a week each. They changed a planned finish in Memphis and put the Express over on their way out. Jim Herd was pissed and ordered them to win the next night in St. Louis.

Paul Heyman was resigned at this point. Corny did not mind since Jim was not getting a push anyway, so it’s not like he could lose his “spot”.

Cornette was punched by a fan in the face. Corny went nuts and smacked the man several times with his racquet. It turned out the fan was mentally handicapped. Jim had the eye witness support of the cops and others, but just to be safe, Cornette smacked his own nose several more times to induce bleeding and swelling so he could go to the doctor and have a substantial injury to show.

While in Mid-South, the Midnight Express and Corny were pulled over. The cops had their van compounded and the local police questioned them on their recent use of ether on the Rock and Roll Express. The sheriff told them he had a convict locked up for murder who thought he was pretty tough. Condrey dared him to bring him out to fight.

JYD was out of shape and past his prime. Ole pushed him to a headline slot with Flair at the June Clash of the Champions. It proved to be ratings death.

Ric Flair went to a fundraiser in June and was moved up to the head table to sit with President George Bush. This leads to Corny talking about how Flair should NOT have run for president and we get a mini anti-Dubya Bush and Trump rant.

Sting was not ready for his spot as World champ at this point. He can’t be blamed for the terrible houses he headlined, because the whole organization was a circus.

The Southern Boys and the Midnight Express had the Wrestling Observer “Match of the Year” at the Great American Bash. It was another case of the Express busting their ass to stick it to the office, and the Boys knew how to work. The Express never worried about stooging for their opponents because if the match got over, they got over.

Vader debuted at the Bash and smashed Tom Zenk. Vader ended up complaining a lot in the WWF and Vince McMahon never got his gimmick, thus his run was a failure.

Vader’s giant steam shooting mask was a pain to drag around.  Vader often had a handler to take care of it. The mask got it’s own seat on airplanes.

Ranger Ross wore a full body suit and briefly worked as “The Pearl”, basically a Muta knock off. Corny was checked out by this point and didn’t even watch the TV WCW produced. The Express were rarely on TV and Jim taped his brief interview segments and then left the building.

The Steiner Brothers were beating the Midnights night after night in non-title matches. The Steiners were then booked to win the titles on no notice. The Express were insulted by not being kept in the loop and the Steiners were annoyed because they didn’t want to have to drag the titles from town to town as extra luggage.

The Express asked out of their contracts. They said they would take 50 cents on the dollar as a payout and leave. Herd refused to set that precedent. A year or so later Jim Garvin was given 200 grand to go home and ignore the last two years of his contract.

Al Perez portrayed the Black Scorpion in September at the Clash of the Champions. Perez believed he should have been the NWA world champ in 1988 when he was being given a little push in JCP. Gary Hart had his head full of ideas of his greatness.

Randy Colley and Bill Irwin also portrayed the Scorpion at other times. Ole booked a top masked heel character and had no idea who was going to play the monster heel for the pay off.

Kevin Nash debuted in September as one of the “Master Blasters”. Nash’s first partner in the team was horrible and ended up botching a bunch of moves with Brad Armstrong. The guy freaked out in the middle of the match, and screamed at Nash in frustration. He left the arena and was never heard from again.

Cornette cut a TV promo that included a line about an inflatable girlfriend. He was ordered to take the line out and cut a new promo. He refused and the segment never aired.

A busty 16-year old fan serviced most of the locker room in one JCP hot spot in 1986. Flair was the only guy who missed out as he had other women he was banging.

WCW booked a show in the Bahamas. Stan Lane and Cornette “missed their flight” due to not wanting to deal with the crazy fans the islands were known for. They tried to convince Eaton to do the same. Eaton refused. Eaton later said the ring was dirty and the fans threw rocks and piss at the heels.

In another attempt to make WCW use them, Cornette volunteered to use the Express to get El Gigante over.

Corny blasted a fan with his racquet during a match with the Steiners. Blood spurted everywhere. The police in Altoona searched for the Express, even driving right past them at one point on the highway. The Express skipped out on their hotel, where the police searched for them soon after.

At Halloween Havoc, Barry Windham cut his hair, dressed up like Sting, ran in the ring and allowed Sid to pin him in order to “beat” Sting. Corny thought the whole thing was just overly convoluted for a finish to a major match.

Corny refused to have a pumpkin tossed on his head as part of the show because the Express were already losing and Jim didn’t want to look like a fool on top of it. He made sure the confederate outfit WCW rented for him was destroyed during the bout.

The next TV taping saw the Express booked four times – all losses. Jim stormed into Ole’s office and blew up on him. Anderson told him to quit if he didn’t like it. So Corny did. Stan Lane came with (after a brief goodbye and see ya soon with Bobby Eaton). Ole didn’t think they were serious.

December 12th AWA World champ Larry Zbyzko signed with WCW. Corny says the AWA had stopped paying guys for transportation, instead agreeing to use anyone willing to fly to where they were taping TV. Corny loved Larry’s stalling and heat drawing shtick.

Starrcade using real Russian wrestlers on the card gives Jim a chance to zing Trump on his Russian scandals.

Herd wanted Flair to cut his hair in order to look more modern. Jim wonders how looking cool can ever be considered old fashioned.

“My asshole wants to suck cock.”

I’m going to leave that quote here without context.

To sum up 1990 Jim says “I made a lot of money and was never more miserable.”

WCW sunk to new lows in 1990 and it wasn’t until 1997 that they actually turned a profit again. Herd killed the southern wrasslin’ style and turned WCW into the WWF circus-lite.

Jim planned on quitting WCW by getting some blanks for his gun, kicking in Herd’s office door and firing away. Eaton talked him out of it by noting Herd is hated enough that he probably has a loaded gun handy himself.

Final thoughts:  Cornette entertains here for nearly 3 and a half hours as his vitriol and gift of gab are gloriously showcased once again.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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