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Jericho and ECW:
1999's Biggest News Day 

July 10, 2003

by Rick Scaia   
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


[NOTE FROM THE PRESENT DAY: Technically, I should have run this last Thursday, the Thursday closest to the 4 year anniversary of the big day in 1999 when we got to cover both Chris Jericho's jump to the WWF as well as the announcement of ECW's national cable deal with TNN.  It wound up being a historically significant day, as it marked the beginning of Jericho's WWF career, which has seen him blossom into a much bigger star than he ever was in WCW, and it also marked TNN/Viacom's first dabbling in the realm of pro wrestling.  It would be exactly one year later when TNN would successfully acquire rights to WWF programming, a move that unfortunately also meant the end of ECW's days on the network.

Looking back, this column I did was remarkably accurate in some predictions -- an idle reference to a "countdown" to the JerichoZone came well before the Millennium Countdown that wound up signaling Jericho's debut appeared on RAW, and my thought that Jericho hosting a Piper's Pit-like segment was only about 3 years and 9 months ahead of its time -- while totally off the mark in others -- ECW's deal with TNN being "set up to succeed"?  Pah!.  Looking back on those things is definitely more than half the fun of digging up these old columns.  Enjoy....]

Online Onslaught Daily Column 

Originally Published by WrestleLine.com on July 2, 1999


Somebody mark it down:  if all goes well, Wednesday, June 30, 1999, will be a day we look back on as a major watershed date.  It was the day ECW announced their deal with TNN and changed the face of the national "sports entertainment" battlefield.  And it was the day that the WWF stole a second of WCW's very thin roster of young, marketable performers:  Chris Jericho.

On Wednesday evening, the WWF announced on their website that they had signed Chris Jericho to a multi-year contract; later in the evening, WCW employee Mark Madden confirmed the story.

While terms of the contract are not known for certain, information alluded to by Madden included:  (1) mention that the difference between the two contracts, money-wise, was negligible, and (2) that Jericho would once again be a free agent at age 31.  From there, we can extrapolate that Jericho's WWF deal is for three years, and is probably worth about the same as the WCW he reportedly turned down late last week (which was for just over $800,000 per year).  Reportedly, the key to Jericho's decision was not contractual as much as it was creative:  WCW would only vaguely promise to include Jericho in the "young vs. old" storylines, while the WWF mapped out a 6 month program for Jericho's debut in the Fed (apparently to Chris' liking).

Jericho remains under contract to WCW until July 27, which raises the issue of how he could sign a WWF contract on June 30...  assuming, however, that Jericho isn't receiving his legal advice from a team of baboons, it's safe to guess that Jericho either had permission to negotiate with other parties (as Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were granted by the WWF in 1996), or simply signed a post-dated contract that won't go into effect until after his current WCW deal is up (as many seem to believe Paul Wight did).

Even if neither of the above situations is the case, most are in agreement that WCW wouldn't have a leg to stand on in court, or at least, would quickly be counter-sued by the WWF for placing one of Titan's CONTRACTED workers on WCW television (Rena Mero on the 6/14 Nitro).

The WWF announcing the acquisition has also raised some eyebrows, but the fact is, with the deal done, word would have leaked out by tomorrow morning anyway.  And really, this is no different than the WWF announcing that Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were leaving the company on the internet MONTHS before their last scheduled WWF matches.  Everything's out in the open, and now it's time to wait, watch, and start the countdown.

It's unclear whether Jericho would be legally able to appear at Monday Night RAW tapings in Columbus, OH, on July 27, or if he'd still be under WCW contract for that night.  But no matter what, we now know that SummerSlam '99 will be Chris' first PPV for Titan, and that come August, we'll be entering the "JerichoZone" every week on WWF RAW is JERICHO.  Or something like that.

I fully expected this to be considered big news, but I'm shocked by sheer amount of positive feedback I'm getting in e-mail and the entertaining and hopeful columns popping up here at WrestleLine and elsewhere.  A wicked case of Jerichoholism aside, we're getting all worked up over a former Cruiserweight and TV champ....  which seems a bit incongruous.

But then you step back and notice that ACROSS THE BOARD everybody who's writing about this is in agreement:  this isn't big because of who Jericho WAS in WCW.  This is big news because of what he always had the potential to be.  And the general assumption is that in the WWF, that potential will be realized.

Now, with that topic, we enter kind of an interesting area....  people are so excited to know that Jericho's entering the WWF in August, and many just assume that he's slated for instant greatness.  I hope that doesn't create outrageous expectations when the debut finally does come.

Because no matter how Jericho comes in, it's a situation where -- much like the Big Show -- Titan will build the new guy up slowly and from the ground up.  Some criticize how Titan has handled Paul Wight, but the fact is, they KNEW they could get the cheap pop just by having him come out and kick ass based on his rep from WCW.  But for Paul Wight to succeed down the line, they need to build up a back-story and a reputation that WWF fans will relate to.  So maybe you think the Big Show is "above" feuding with Bob Holly; but every time Wight pushes a car around, lifts up the ring, or yanks down the TitanTron, a new Big Show memory is implanted in your head, and once those memories reach critical mass, you'll have a bona fide mega-star who's success no longer depends on fans remembering him from his old employer.

So if Jericho comes in and feuds with the Brood or with X-Pac, instead of with the Rock and Steve Austin, don't get all pissy.  The fact is, the WWF would not have come anywhere near WCW's financial offer if they weren't serious about making Jericho a major player.  But even after the WWF turned Shawn Michaels into a singles heel, it took him about a year to grab the IC belt, and about 3 years to jump into the World Title picture.  And most people are comparing Jericho to Michaels (both are guys who were thought to be "too small," but had the total package of in-ring and on-camera skills to overcome the odds).

Personally, if the goal is to get the most out of the potential he's got, I'm a huge fan of the idea of Jericho hosting a heel "talk show" segment, like the Piper's Pit or Body Shop segments of old.  It's the sort of thing where Jericho could shine either by putting himself over, or by helping fellow heels get over.  Plus, there hasn't really been one of these segments on TV since Shawn Michaels' "Heartbreak Hotel" folded about 4 years ago.  Not only is Jericho the perfect talent to pull it off, but doing an interview segment would reduce the import that fans place on how quickly Jericho is moving up the ranks of the company.

Something to think about:  by signing Paul Wight AND Jericho in the same year, the WWF has severely impacted WCW's roster of YOUNG and marketable guys.  Wight and Jericho could have been the company's future, but both are now working for the competition.  WCW is left with the old guard (your over-45s like Hogan, Savage, Flair, Piper) and the slightly-less-old-guard (the 40-ish crew of Hart, Luger, DDP, Nash, Hall, Sting, and Sid).  Goldberg stands alone as a major WCW performer with 10 credible years left in him. Wight and Jericho both have 15 or more years left, if they want them.

I know that they way the business works, WCW might just be hoping to load up on the next round of Vince's cast-offs....  and that just might work.  But it still seems awfully short-sighted for WCW to think of Wight and Jericho as disposable while they claim a victory because they've still got their "Franchise" player in Sting.  Sting's big now, and will continue to be... at least for the next 5 years or so.  With a little hard work and creativity, Wight and Jericho could have been Franchises for the 21st Century.

By the by:  a lot of people have e-mailed in saying that now that the WWF has announced the signing, WCW should force Jericho to go on TV and lose to everybody on the roster.  I couldn't disagree more.  If Jericho's future were still "uncertain," then putting Jericho on TV to do jobs would be accepted by fans as "WCW protecting themselves."  By the way fans' perceptions work, if WCW did that now, it would only ENHANCE Jericho's marketability for the WWF; they'd see this as a petty move designed not to help WCW, but to hurt the WWF's new piece of talent.

Plus, just by putting Jericho on TV, WCW reminds all their fans about the guy and increases his profile in the weeks before he's legally able to jump ship.  WCW ain't that stupid:  remember, they took Paul Wight off TV about a month before he jumped to the WWF.  It's probably just as well they let him hang in the shadows.

So....  add me to the list of guys doing a "Jericho Thoughts" column.  I can't help myself:  I think that in time, this'll be one of the bigger talent acquisitions in the history of the Monday Night Wars.  I can only assume Jericho did the right thing for himself; but as a fan who awaits his return to my TV, I KNOW he did a good thing.  No more sifting through Ernest Miller or Konnan to watch Chris Jericho for me!


And on top of the Jericho news, we got word on Wednesday that ECW is signed, sealed, and delivered to start on the Nashville Network on August 27 (with perhaps one or two taped "history" shows on the preceding Fridays).

And this genuinely seems like a deal that is set up to succeed.  TNN is supplying a quality producer in Will Byrd, who put together many a WCW show between 1993 and 1997, and stands to share in ECW profits if the company does well on PPV.  In short, it's a deal where everybody is working towards a shared goal, instead of one where everybody's looking out for their own interests.

The weekly TNN show will be a major step up in terms of production values, though it's not likely that those production value improvements will translate into any changes in the ECW syndicated show.  But on the flip side, while the TNN show will be more closely monitored in respect to violence and language, the syndicated show will still feature the same levels of both.

I actually see this as a plus for ECW:  TNN may not be handcuffing ECW in terms of content, but there's no way they can put on the kind of show they put on now, and air it on free cable at 8pm on a Friday night.  So whatever (reasonable) restrictions are placed on ECW, it sets up a situation where fans can be encouraged to watch the syndicated show or campaign for the syndie to be picked up by a TV station in their area.  And of course, all restrictions are off once you're on pay-per-view.

So basically, ECW can say "If you think THIS is good, then you ought to check us out live, or on PPV, or on our syndicated show."  Could be an interesting selling point.

But mostly, thinking about this deal, I'm just stoked for the company to become that legitimate "Big Third."  Even as a huge ECW fan, I still think of the national wrestling scene as the "Big Two and a Half."  But a national cable show that draws a 2.0 rating would most definitely legitimize ECW as a major force.  They could run more live shows and in any market they wanted, they will see a bump in PPV buyrates, and they will be able to sell more merchandise, which in turn generates revenue, which in  turn can be spent on talent acquisition.  It's an exciting time to be an ECW fan; probably even more exciting to be working for them.

Just my own little idea on how to kick of the very first ECW show on TNN: the show opens with Steve Corino in the ring blabbering on about how it's about time somebody put good, old school wrestling back on TV, and how he thinks it's only appropriate that it's the Nashville Network that is going to air that old school southern style product.  He can rally against the chairs, the language, the women, and the blood... and just as he's reaching the climax of his impassioned little speech, you cue Taz's music and begin a 2 minute stomp-down of epic proportions.  Roll the opening credits, cut to Joey (who'll reiterate that there ain't nothing old school about ECW), and start the show.  What better way to set the tone for the new show?

About TNN:  a friend of mine pointed out that the "T" stands for "The," which is pretty stupid if you think about it.  So all this time we were watching RAW on the USA Network, we were really watching TUSA (or maybe even TUSAN)?


Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

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