MR. TITO: 1998 = Peak of Wrestling and American Politics Submitted by Mr. Tito on 10/28/2020 at 03:40 PM
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We are less than 1 week away from the 2020 Elections in which voters will get to choose who becomes President of the United States, along with all House of Representative seats and several Senator spots, for the next few years. Now, don't worry, this is NOT going to be a political column that tells you who to vote for... Frankly, I'm not heavily invested in either guy and have genuine worries about both directions presented. I'll walk into that booth and vote the "lesser of 2 evils" at that moment. It makes me wonder how we have 330 million people in the United States and this is the best that we can do to lead our country?
Which brings me up to my latest topic today... During early 2017, I tweeted the following: I think that history will point to 1998 as the peak of American politics... Congress and the Presidents became corrupt and inept after that. For example, our overall DEBT owed as a nation was $5.6 Trillion during 12/31/1998. By comparison, our DEBT as of 10/26/2020 is $27.1 Trillion.
But I'm also convinced that something else may have peaked during 1998 as well... Pro Wrestling.
Yes, the years 1999 and part of 2000 good financial years for the WWE... But the seeds of that company's popularity downfall were planted throughout 1999 and came to fruition during 2000 when fans realized that they were watching the "Triple H & Stephanie Show" instead of their beloved "Steve Austin Show" that they watched from 1997-1998. 1999 was the year that WCW and ECW's full downfalls began, as both would never make money again until their closures during 2001.
Both the United States political systems and Pro Wrestling have not been the same since 1998 and that is what I'll attempt to easily argue today.
Why do I pick 1998? Well for one, that was the year that the United States Federal Government actually had its first Budget Surplus in many decades. In other words, the Tax Revenue coming into the Treasury exceeded the Government Expenditures going out. During the 1994 elections, the Republican Party finally won the House of Representatives for the first time since the Great Depression era 1930s. As you may know, majority of bills start in the House and the annual budget for the U.S. Government is prepared there as well. From 1995 through 1997, believe it or not, Congress and President Bill Clinton worked well together (besides Whitewater investigations, which predates 1994) to reform and modernize various programs and working with Budget Chairman John Kasich, budgets were streamlined and various cuts were made. The fruits of their labor together was seen during 1998 when the first Budget Surplus was seen and 1999, 2000, 2001 would also see budget surpluses as well.
But then 1998 had a big scandal and it caused a major political divide, more than ever, and it was never repaired... Things were stirring in the background for Bill Clinton throughout his presidency regarding a sexual harassment lawsuit with Paula Jones. Paula's attorneys were trying to plead their case that Bill had a "pattern of behavior" with other women that would support Ms. Jones's case. During late 1997, two White House employees, Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky became friends and started to chat about their personal lives. Monica confided in Linda that she was sexually involved with the President! Linda took that information (she made secret recordings) to Paula Jones's lawyers and prompted Bill Clinton to be forced to testify within the Paula Jones lawsuit to answer questions about Monica Lewinsky. Linda Tripp also took the information with the Justice Department and hence how prosecuting attorney Kenneth Starr became involved.
Kenneth Starr spent about $70 Million and from his investigations, he came up with the Starr Report that debuted on September 9th, 1998. Following that, the House voted to potentially impeach on October 8th, 1998 and filed 3 Articles of Impeachment on December 11th, 1998 and then filed a 4th one on December 12th, 1998 for 2 counts of perjury, 1 count of obstruction of justice, and 1 count of abuse of power. Upon the December 19th, 1998 votes by the House, only 2 of the counts passed (1 Perjury, Obstruction of Justice) and they were sent to the United States Senate for an impeachment trial. The Senate Trial became on January 1999 and would need 67 votes to remove the President from office. Perjury lost 45-55 and Obstruction tied at 50-50.
The damage was done... The bipartisan work to reform various programs and balance the budget would never been seen again. The pressure of the impeachment hearings and losing a few seats during the 1998 elections caused Newt Gingrich to resign during early 1999 and many good members of Congress, including Budget Chairman John Kasich, who was the architect of the budget surpluses from 1998-2001, didn't run for Congress again before the 2000 elections. Speaking of those 2000 Elections, things became even more toxic for the Al Gore vs. George W. Bush Presidential election which was heavily contested regarding who won the state of Florida. If you'll recall, Bush won the state's vote by a slim 537 votes. Gore challenged that result and pushed it all the way to the Supreme Court. Court Ruled in Bush's favor but the divided damage was done. On top of that victory, Bush became the first President since 1888 to become the President via the Electoral College system yet lose the popular vote. That created friction during his first term, as it has for Donald Trump who became President despite not having the popular vote during 2016.
The events of 9/11 briefly united us and helped repair George W. Bush's brand... Most were good with authorizing force for Afghanistan and most were initially with Iraq... Soon, however, the military efforts in Iraq became heavily politicized and became a focal point of the 2004 Elections which won... But his 2005-2006 years were tough, as Hurricane Katrina swept in and he received heavy criticisms for the handling of Federal resources in response to that natural disaster. On top of that, Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, was being investigated for revealing a CIA officer to a media member. Libby was actually indicted... Come the 2006 elections, the Democratic Party swept both of Bush's majorities in the House and Senate and then come 2008, the economy tanks due to bad policy decisions regarding the banking sector during years prior. This made for any easy path for the first ever black President, Barack Obama, to win during 2008.
At the very beginning of Obama's run as President during 2009, a "Tea Party" was formed with various House members and media pundits regarding the growing Budget Deficits. Even though the Budget had only been balanced 4 years out of the previous 40 years, this concern over the budget decided to start early into Obama's term. While the Dems had a 60 vote Senate majority and maintained the House during 2009-2010, they lost the House of Representatives by a large margin during 2010 Election to create Congressional gridlock throughout Obama's remaining term. By 2014, Dems lost the Senate and that's when the Supreme Court standoff happened during 2016 when Obama had an judge opening but the Senate majority wouldn't even allow hearings "until after the 2016 elections". Fast forward to 2020, a Supreme Court justice spot opens up and within 2 weeks, they not only have hearings but vote to elect Amy Coney Barrett. In response, there are whispers that if the Democrats win the 2020 elections, they may "pack the courts" by adding more justices to offset the potential conservative bias in the court.
And then there is Donald Trump... I want to stress that I'm not here to discuss current politics or who to vote for during 2020. It is factual that Donald has always been a polarizing figure dating back to the 1980s when he was using his wealth and success in the real estate market to get himself over as a celebrity. If you go back to Wrestlemania 4 and Wrestlemania 5, Donald Trump hosted both events and he's front & center at both events. I believe that his involvement with WWE back then and close friendship developed with the McMahons helped him earn an appreciation for Pro Wrestling. Much of what you see from Donald's actions and speeches are very similar to what you'd see in pro wrestling. He knows how to generate heat whether it is to his benefit or stirs the pot to obtain attention for himself.
Trump was a harsh critic of Barack Obama, even claiming that he wasn't legitimately born in the United States. This all came to a head during the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner when Obama actually came out to Hulk Hogan's "Real American" theme song with his birth certificate flashing on the video. Donald Trump was actually in attendance at that event and with some roasting from Obama himself and later comedian Seth Meyers, that reportedly set off Trump and convinced him to run for President during 2016. Earning that spot was a fight, as Trump created real conflicts within the Republican Party as he eliminated each candidate one by one. Then, he took on Hillary Clinton in one of the most polarizing elections ever that caused many heated arguments at dinner tables and workplaces. The debates became very personal, as Hillary brought up a Miss America contestant issues during the first debate and following the infamous Access Hollywood video before the 2nd debate, Donald Trump brought up all of the Bill Clinton sexual harassment stuff throughout the 1990s.
Trump becomes President and continues being Trump by using Twitter to his advantage to get his word out freely. The contentious nature caused Democrats to rally to win the House of Representative during the 2018 elections but not the Senate. Throughout his first few years, Trump was investigated for an alleged connection with Russia and the Mueller Report was released during April 18th, 2019. House Democrats thought about articles of impeachment but held off... Then, allegations of withholding financial aid from Ukraine in exchange for information regarding information about Joe Biden's son's activities in that country came about. House files 2 articles of impeachment during December 18th, 2019 (Abuse of Power, Obstruction of Justice) and votes to impeach Trump on January 15th, 2020. On February 5th, 2020, the Senate voted to acquit Trump on votes of party lines (GOP has majority there).
For 2020, a deadly pandemic COVID-19 hits the United States and the rest of the world... The response to this virus has been heavily politicized and the forced quarantines + fear of infections caused a massive slowdown of the economy. On top of that, various incidents involving police shootings caused debates over law enforcement and lots of protesting, some peaceful but also incorporated looting, rioting, and burning property. These events fed right into the 2020 Presidential Election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden that we're still enduring to this day.
My argument is this... 1998 was the first year of BALANCED Budgets that we've seen in decade. Through that point, we actually had Presidents and Congress who tried to work together. Success speaks for itself as 1998 began the first of 4 years with surpluses. However, since late 1998, we went from having $5.6 Trillion in total country DEBT to $27.1 Trillion through October 26th, 2020. That is ridiculous and a sign of total dysfunction between our Presidents and Congress. We've endured many military actions, turning a blind eye towards the growing deficits within Social Security & Medicare, turning a blind eye to growing economic concerns and then reacting heavily with large spending policies during recessions... It's all been chaos thanks to 50+ year old Men and Women being completely unable to work together for the greater good. Regardless of who wins 2020's elections, they have 2 decades of damage to attempt to undo.
And then there is the Pro Wrestling industry...
1998 was the peak year as a combined industry. YES, WWE would have a very successful 1999 year, but World Championship Wrestling (WCW) sure as hell didn't and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) began running out of steam too.
Here is a FACT for you... The combined rating for the 12/28/1998 RAW & Nitro was 9.5... The 12/27/1999 combined rating was 8.7. You'll suggest "that's only 0.8 down" but I'll remind you that year over year, WCW lost 37% of its audience! RAW helped carry that 1999 number by growing 18%.
Let's be honest about WWE during 1999... Following Wrestlemania 15's success of Rock vs. Austin, they were running on fumes. We kept rehashing the Austin vs. McMahon stuff, the Corporate Ministry, the Higher Power stuff... Here's a statistic that I always quote... Take a look at the Intercontinental Title from 1998 to 1999. During 1998, only 3 men held that title and that was Rock, Triple H, and Ken Shamrock. During 1999, however, there were 12 champions during that year. In other words, you had a different champion per month, on average, during 1999. 2000 continued that trend by having 13 total champions that year for the Intercontinental Title. I believe that the workload burned out the Attitude Era's creative genius, Vince Russo, and he became really worried when WWE was about to introduce Smackdown on UPN later that year. After Wrestlemania 15, the Creative wheels began to fall off and with Russo leaving the WWE during October 1998 to join WCW, this created the opening for nepotism to begin taking shape in the WWE. By late 2000, a 24 year old Stephanie McMahon, a communications major and was doing entry level Accounting work for WWE Corporate during 1999, became creative lead.
And it wasn't just Creative that fell apart... Off the heels of the early 1990s decline and 1994 indictments, WWE was shrinking and the roster was arguably the worst it has ever been. While HBK, Bret, Undertaker, Diesel, Razor, and 1-2-3 Kid were great, there were questions elsewhere. Many longtime greats either left the business before the 1994 indictments or bolted to WCW for a nice payday. During the Spring of 1996, WWE would lose Diesel (Kevin Nash) and Razor (Scott Hall) to WCW and 123 Kid (Sean Waltman) would soon follow. Bret Hart would take extensive time off during 1996, too. The talent roster became much thinner and WWE's 1996-1997 ratings reflected that as WCW began their 87 week dominance of the WWE during the Monday Night Wars.
Enter Jim Ross... He joined the company during 1993 and by 1995, the WWE started to realize that he could do more than just announce. After Pat Patterson stepped down as Talent Relations manager and Bruce Prichard struggling with the job, the duties were given to Jim Ross who helped with similar operations under Bill Watts in Mid South and eventually with WCW. Ross treated talent acquisition differently than others, as his approach was more like a General Manager of a Pro Sports franchise. The signings of Free Agents had to be smart ones while Ross wanted to build a farm system of younger talents to be developed into future WWE superstars. Early on, his signings were of former WCW talents that were let go by Eric Bischoff due to either injury or perceived fit. Meanwhile, Ross had relationships with those talents... Bringing in Steve Austin and Mick Foley were HUGE for the company. Meanwhile, Ross worked with his old friend Jim Cornette to establish a pipeline of Smokey Mountain Wrestling performers to eventually join the WWE (Kane was one of them, though he had 2 bad gimmick stints in the WWE before that).
Ross's farm system, though, helped rebuild the WWE roster into a powerhouse slowly during 1998-1999 when the need for fresh faces was there. Edge, Christian, Test, Val Venis, the Hardy Boys, and Kurt Angle... Just guys who worked for others previously or in the case of Angle, was new to pro wrestling. Ross then expanded that farm system to Les Thatcher's Heartland territory and then Jim Ross/Rip Rogers/Danny Davis's Ohio Valley Wrestling promotion in Louisville. To this day, WWE has some sort of farm system in place that replenish their roster but the quality isn't there compared to what Ross recruited. WWE demoted Ross from his Talent Relations VP job during 2004 and the WWE roster has been weaker since. Today's WWE is still riding on the "Class of 2002" fumes that brought greats like Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, Randy Orton, and Batista to the roster and Randy Orton is the current WWE Champion!
However for Ross's system, he didn't have good Creative Teams for his developed wrestlers after 1999... Once Russo was gone, we had Chris Kreski for just 1 year (I thought he did a good job for WWE's 2000 Creative) and then it became Stephanie McMahon's world by late 2000. Stephanie implemented a team of former Hollywood writers to begin writing WWE shows and combine that with her boyfriend/fiance/husband Triple H mowing through any call-ups on the roster, there were struggles with any developmental guys to get over. Don't forget with Batista... He used to be called "Deacon Batista" upon his arrival while Randy Orton was overpushed on the RAW roster to become the youngest WWE champion ever during SummerSlam 2004 only to lose that title a month later. Meanwhile, the other OVW Class of 2002 wrestlers benefitted from Paul Heyman booking them (Lesnar, Cena, Hass & Benjamin) but that was short-lived when Heyman was demoted as Smackdown's creative lead during early 2004.
WWE's management staff during 1998 consisted of Vince McMahon, obviously, with Vince Russo as lead creative, Pat Patterson in charge of finishes for matches, Gerald Brisco as a relied upon agent along with a few other veterans, Jim Cornette was there backstage in an advisory role, and Jim Ross was in charge of Talent. By late 1999, Russo and Cornette were both gone... By 2004, Ross was demoted. Father time caught up to Patterson and he stepped away from duties throughout the 2000s. Gerald Brisco, by the early 2000s, began helping with recruiting of talent and was seen less backstage.
1998 was the last year that WCW saw a profit. 1996-1997 saw WCW growing by major leaps thanks to their RED HOT New World Order angle. Thanks to the huge success of 1997, 1998 was almost guaranteed to be a strong year. Overall, it was... That WCW roster from 1998 was STACKED with all time greats and then they developed a new superstar named Bill Goldberg. While WCW's dysfunction was growing internally thanks to Eric Bischoff wanting to get more over as an on-screen character rather than doing his job as WCW EVP and Time Warner's corporate interference, they were riding on the fumes of their 1997 success and were still loaded as a roster. However, WCW's problems of paying too much to older superstars while NOT developing younger wrestlers to eventually take their place began to slowly devour them starting in late 1998 and would eat them alive throughout 1999.
WCW lost money throughout 1999, as viewership and live attendance dropped hard and WCW just refused to evolve beyond the New World Order stable and pushing Hulk Hogan as their top guy. Then, some of their top younger talents (Giant/Big Show and Chris Jericho) joined WWE during 1999 and by early 2000, they lost more talents in Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko to WWE.
ECW, by 1999, could not remain profitable after years upon years of talent raids hitting up their rosters and also creative raids with both WWE and WCW stealing their adult themed ideas for characters and storylines. They had horribly negotiated deals with Pay Per View companies and TNN for television rights fees and Paul Heyman banked on those to offset his growing talent and production costs. Ultimately, he couldn't keep up and had mounting debt that couldn't be paid off... ECW declared bankruptcy during 2001, it was over.
And since 2001, we haven't seen a competitor like WCW with finances and actual ratings. Both TNA Impact and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) have the finances and have held major TV contracts, but their viewership numbers and reach isn't even close to the WWE. TNA saw about 1.5 million viewers on Spike TV during the mid to late 2000s and AEW would die for those numbers during 2020 with their under 900,000 numbers right now. Impact is on Cable TV channels that can't even break the top 50 on viewership while AEW may have peaked at their under 900,000 number. Excuse me, peaking at their under 400,000 18-49 Demographic number.
Pro wrestling has NEVER been as big as it was during 1998 when you had a WWE pushing Austin vs. McMahon and WCW riding on the NWO fumes with a loaded roster. ECW was still a force at that point and had a few decent selling Pay Per Views at that point, too.
By 1999... WCW was beginning to fall apart, ECW couldn't financially keep up, and WWE's Creative peaked at Wrestlemania 15 to be all downhill from there.
Wrestling hasn't been the same since... 1998-1999 could draw as low as 6 million viewers and could surge up to 9 million viewers if the Main Event was big.
Right now, Monday Night RAW is LUCKY to ever break 2 million viewers. For this past week, they did just under 1.9 million for their first hour and then it was all downhill after that with just under 1.8 million for hour 2 and under 1.6 million for hour 3. Seriously. They have LOST at least 4 million viewers in 20 years (could argue up to 7 million when factoring in peaks).
That's insane... WWE during 1998-2000 could sell out 10,000 to 20,000 seat arenas for houseshows and televised events in MINUTES. Now, they have to tarp off most of the arena and 5,000 paying fans is a freakin' miracle.
Nothing has been cool or has pushed merchandise like Austin 3:16, New World Order, or DX stuff did during 1997-1999. Not even close.
And why? Because the good people that you had in place were pushed out in favor of Vince and Stephanie McMahon enablers.
Just like our American political process... Good people in both houses of Congress have walked away from writing bills and attempting to balance budgets. Now, we have both houses of Congresses constantly flipping parties, battles over the Supreme Court, and very polarizing Presidents. There is serious fear that a CIVIL FREAKIN' WAR might break out in the United States based on what happens on Election Day, either way. Seriously, we are THAT divided.
We weren't so divided before 1998, however... And our Budgets haven't been as balanced since, however.
I believe that history books will show that 1998 was the PEAK of both Pro Wrestling and the United States of America's political system. Since 1998, it has been nothing but internal dysfunction since on both parts. Instead of taking the 1998 momentum and trying to build upon that, bad decisions were made that caused internal division and putting the wrong people in place.
I know, "stick to wrestling", you'll tell me... But I haven't endorsed any candidate in this column and I'd love to debate anyone on the facts of what I just posted.
Truth hurts. We peaked during 1998 and sadly, there are no long-term fixes being put in place to stop the bleeding for both our country's political system and pro wrestling.
So just chill... Until the next episode!
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