The toughest place in wrestling isn't the ring, it's the court.


Published November 5, 1996 11:18AM (EST)

i'll cop to it. When I beg out of plans on Monday nights, I'm going home to watch athletic competition on television. But it's not ESPN that's on my mind. It's pro wrestling. I'm not a mouth-breather or a slack-jawed yokel. I just love the sheer absurdity of it, the larger-than-life, violent soap opera. It's like Monday Night Football and Melrose Place collided on the dial.

That's why I was so excited to order my first-ever pay-per-view wrestling program, "Halloween Havoc," on October 26th. The main event was a battle reminiscent of the glory days of professional wrestling Q the two best-known names in the sport squaring off in Las Vegas for the world heavyweight title. Hulk Hogan, the biggest star in the sport's history, waged war against Slim Jim pitchman Randy "Macho Man" Savage in front of the huge MGM Grand crowd Q and the thousands more like me who paid $27.95 a pop to see the spectacle on the small screen.
It was a flashback to the mid '80s, when the World Wrestling Federation brought pro wrestling from underground status to nationwide prominence, making millions on a strange mixture of rock and roll, body slams, and personalities like Hogan and Savage. Now, however, Hogan and Savage were wrestling not for the WWF title, but for the title of a rival organization, World Championship Wrestling.
The defection of Hogan and Savage to Ted Turner's WCW in 1994 was the first battle in an all-out war that is now raging between the two organizations, a fight that has spilled out of the ring and onto the country's cable systems and into Federal court.
Turner bought the struggling National Wrestling Association in 1988 (the name was changed in 1990), but the WWF continued to dominate the "sport." Then, in late 1995, Turner opened a new outlet for his wrestlers when his TNT network began broadcasting the WCW show "Monday Nitro." "Nitro" was put head-to-head with the WWF's flagship cable show, "Monday Night Raw," which appears on the USA network.

Now, just over a year later, "Nitro" is the highest rated non-children's series on cable (and a fixture in my weekly television schedule), and WCW is threatening to break the WWF's sleeper hold on the $100 million a year pro wrestling industry. As the competition has increased, the WWF has looked to the courts for help.

On June 24th, the WWF filed a suit in Federal court alleging that WCW was infringing on the WWF's trademarks. The suit followed a story line in the WCW involving Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, two wrestlers who had been stars in the WWF under the names of Razor Ramon and Diesel. The two appeared on WCW wrestling under their own names, but calling themselves "The Outsiders" and speaking of their desire to make a hostile takeover of WCW, playing on their established fan recognition from the WWF.
"When a giant competitor uses your very creations to dupe and confuse the public, then the playing field isn't level, and you are forced to fight in a different arena," said WWF owner Vince McMahon at the time. WCW claimed that the names of their WWF characters weren't used, and that the name of the WWF was never used in conjunction with Hall and Nash.
The WWF suit languished while several WCW pay-per-view events featuring Nash and Hall took place. Finally, in August, the two parties entered into a joint agreement concerning the future use of WWF trademarks, but leaving unsettled the WWF's request for profits from those pay-per-views.
Hall and Nash were at Halloween Havoc, and they won the WCW tag-team titles in a typically disputed manner. And Hogan beat Savage after a questionable call by a referee led to argument and chaos, the sort of narrative frustration that the wrestling fan quickly learns to live with. The WCW has placed these three former WWF stars at the top of the heap.
The real loser that night may just have been the WWF. At the end of the broadcast, another WWF star, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper appeared, revealing himself as the most recent high-profile defector to the WCW. When I heard his distinctive bagpipe theme music, I swear, my heart beat faster in recognition. Piper and Hogan had a long-running grudge in the WWF, and it appears that, once again, WCW will reenact it in front of large cable and pay-per-view crowds.

But the matches in the ring may still take a backseat to those outside of it. While most industry observers view the WWF as a better-run company, it is facing an opponent that has the greatest submission move of them all Q the financial ability to poach talent in a business driven by personalities, turning the WWF's own success and stars against it. But as I know from all my Monday nights of watching, just when you think the underdog is down and pinned but good, there may yet be a few surprises in the fight. And with WCW vs. WWF as the mother grudge match, I'll keep watching.



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