By Jerry Chandler
To the victor go the spoils; not to mention the eventual writing of the histories. One of the things this leads to is everyone and their brother pointing to things that were “the beginning of the end” for the loser that weren’t seen as anything of the kind at the time and, frankly, may not have actually been anything of the kind. When it comes to WCW, the eventual postmortems on the company began to create narratives about many people and events; some of which have already easily been proven to be not wholly accurate.
Some of these are harder to definitively prove or disprove as there are no truly factual ways to do it. It’s all merely opinion claiming to be proof of cause and effect. But some of it might not quite be what the eventual post-WCW narratives and conventional wisdom has made them out to be. One such event is David Arquette becoming the WCW Champion.
Our story starts in the late 1990s. Pro wrestling was beyond white hot back in the late 1990s. This was the Attitude Era and the time of the Monday Night Wars. Magazines ranging from the various fitness and health magazines to things like Playboy and everything in between were scrambling to get wrestlers on their covers. Things like TV Guide were even cranking out multiple covers for single issues with each cover featuring a different wrestler. Wrestlers were popping up in hobby shops in the form of trading cards and comic books, and you could sit at home looking at those that evening while watching wrestlers appearing as guest stars on your favorite prime shows. A few wrestlers were even invading the movie business on both direct to DVD and theatrical releases.
Then someone somewhere in a movie studio decided that we were overdue for seeing another wrestling movie hitting the big screen. Showing that they weren’t completely out of their mind, they opted for a concept playing around in the real world of pro wrestling. They weren’t going to try to make a story set up as if the wrestling world was still hip deep in kayfabe, and they even worked out a deal to use WCW talent as most of the major wrestling stars in the film. Then they proved that cocaine is in fact a hell of a drug by deciding that David Arquette was the star they wanted as the face of their film. This film was, of course, Ready to Rumble.
If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. It was a box office bomb and hasn’t seen any sort of heavily promoted home video releases since it left the theaters. There was a DVD available a while back, but that’s out of print. If you want to know more about it, check out one of the older Pro Wrestling Roundtable episodes devoted to discussing the film. You can find it at THIS LINK.
Running up to the film’s release, the commentary crew on the WCW shows hyped the film every chance they could; sometimes calling the film the “WCW Movie” rather than using its name. It was a bit of heavy-handed branding that they may have regretted later. One of the ways they promoted the film’s then upcoming release was by having real life wrestling fan David Arquette appearing on the WCW programming. Arquette would play a role on TV similar to that of his movie role- a superfan who hooks up with a scrappy face wrestler (DDP) to help him out in his fight against the dastardly heels.
As things progressed with the WCW TV storyline, despite the movie being one of the biggest box office bombs of the season, Vince Russo decided that Arquette’s role on TV needed to be made bigger than anyone sane would have thought to make it. The call was made that a match would be set with for the WCW Championship between Jeff Jarrett and DDP- along with David Arquette on DDP’s side and Eric Bischoff on Double J’s side. The stipulation in the match made it clear that the champion did not have to be the one pinned in the match for the title to change hands and go to the winner of the match.
I will say that it was here that we have a defendable moment. I’ll elaborate on that shortly.
So, in Syracuse, NY on the April 26, 2000 episode of WCW Thunder the world watched as all four men were in the ring, two men had their shoulders on the mat, the referee made a three count, and the referee declared that David Arquette had pinned Eric Bischoff to win the WCW Championship title. I think I can safely say that everyone was more than a little shocked at the outcome of the match.
Now, here’s where I’ll say something that’s probably not very popular. I had no problem with the Arquette title win on Thunder. That title win in and of itself is actually a very defendable moment in wrestling. Where the concept of Arquette winning the title went horribly wrong was in the follow up on the next WCW Nitro.
WCW wanted something big to happen to get all eyes on them. They got it with the Arquette title win, and I don’t find fault in that act. For one thing, they didn’t have Arquette pin an actual wrestler. They had him pin Bischoff, and even then, only after Bischoff had been knocked around a bit before Arquette staggered back to the ring. At that point in time, and even after that match on Thunder, David Arquette had never pinned a WCW wrestler in a WCW match for the WCW title. No actual wrestler, certainly no WCW champion, was devalued by that match. Plus, more importantly, it did its job.
The next day, the news of this title win was everywhere. One of the things Vince Russo loves to point to as a defense of his booking and the entire angle as a whole was seeing David Arquette and the WCW Championship title on the front page of USA Today the next morning. It was, as Russo frequently points out, the thing that everyone was talking about pretty much everywhere the next day and for days to come. I hate to break it to Russo, but that doesn’t always translate to a positive. You can say much the same thing about Pearl Harbor, the Hindenburg disaster, and the sinking of the Titanic. That doesn’t mean people thought those were great things any more than many thought Arquette winning the gold on Thunder was a good thing. Where Russo failed was in the next steps taken after the publicity for WCW he wanted had exploded across the entertainment news media.
Monday Nitro introduced us to the new World Champion in all his goofy glory. Arquette came out and delivered a horrible a promo, hoisted the title in the air, and the show went on as per normal. During his short tenure as the WCW Champion, Arquette was mostly used for comedy value. He had two title defenses. One was a successful (with the help of DDP) defense against former UFC fighter Tank Abbott. The next was at the WCW PPV Slamboree where Arquette would defend the title in a triple cage match (designed to look like the one in the film he had originally been there to promote) in a three-way dance against DDP and Jeff Jarrett. During the match Arquette turned on DDP and helped Jarrett win the title.
This was followed by Arquette delivering heel promos on WCW television where he declared the entire thing- from his befriending DDP to winning the title to getting the belt on Jarrett -a gigantic swerve. This was followed by promos that ranged from low quality heel promos to poor man’s versions of the Andy Kaufman promos delivered during his Memphis feud with Jerry Lawler. He made his final appearance in August at that year’s WCW New Blood Rising PPV where he unsuccessfully intervened on Kanyon’s behalf when he faced Buff Bagwell in the infamous Judy Bagwell on a Forklift match.
All in all, roughly five calendar months was spent on an angle centering on Arquette being the champ or being the former champ now turned heel. Seven months later the WWF would buy WCW. As I stated in the Fingerpoke of Doom piece, the death of WCW at that time was due more to corporate mergers putting people in charge who had no desire to have their names or their brand associated with professional wrestling. But, let’s face it, the five moths spent on Arquette as champion and then heel did their ratings no favors. They captured the eyes of the wrestling and pop culture worlds with the April 26, 2000 episode of WCW Thunder. Then they threw their opportunity away.
I will never try to defend the follow-through by WCW after Arquette won the title. However, I’ve seen more than a few people say that Arquette should never have won the title at all, and that this act in and of itself was beyond the pale and destroyed WCW. On this I disagree.
As I mentioned before, the way in which he won the title protected the actual wrestlers involved. The stipulation involved allowed them to put the belt on a celebrity who was not a wrestler by having him pin a wrestling personality who was not a wrestler. This act got them a huge amount of publicity. That can be and could have been there an extremely good thing.
WCW still had talent pool that could go in the ring at that time. WCW still had the talent to put on one hell of a show if they could focus on quality matches and a worthy storyline goal. The Arquette title win should have been step one in proving that.
In a perfect world, Russo gets his publicity and then uses his brain a little better. What we should have gotten on the Nitro following his win was Arquette coming out at the start of the show and speaking as a fan. He should have spoken on the history and meaning of the belt he was holding in his hands and of the legacy it represented. Then, after talking about the great wrestlers who have worn that title, he should have placed the belt down in the ring and declared that he did not deserve to be the WCW Champion. He would then have left the ring with the vacated belt the last thing we saw before the cut to the commercial break.
Upon returning from the break, we should have seen WCW officials scrambling to figure out what was to be done. Before the program’s end, a title elimination tournament should have been announced. The next few weeks of Nitro and Thunder episodes would have been announced as featuring one or two matches each, the ultimate match to crown the new champion set for the next major PPV. One thing we absolutely should not have gotten mixed in with that would have been Arquette turning heel and doing bad promos. If they wanted to keep him around, then he could have been there to hand the new belt to the ultimate winner of the tournament.
Arquette winning the belt by a fluke in a match with odd stipulations and then vacating the title because he felt he was unworthy of such an honor doesn’t hurt the belt. In fact, it can be argued that it shows the WCW belt more respect than non-wrestler Vince McMahon winning the WWF title via shenanigans for his own ends. The publicity Vince Russo craved so much would have then been about focusing the attention on the legacy and grandeur of the title and then on the top contenders that WCW had to work in such a tournament.
In the desperate times that was WCW in early 2000, putting the belt on David Arquette in the way they did was actually a good idea. Unfortunately, that’s the last thing that Vince Russo plotted out in this angle that can be defended. Good idea, good immediate delivery on the idea, but horrible execution of a long-term game that sullied any possible payoff as the angle went completely off the rails on the Nitro following the title win with things only going downhill from there. Sadly, the perfect example of Vince Russo’s time and ideas in WCW in more ways than one. Instead of remembering what could have been a great tournament in WCW, we instead remember Vince Russo’s vision of a heel Arquette fumbling around the ring and making a joke of the WCW title throughout the middle of 2000.
Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found writing for Gruesome Magazine and his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the ESO Pro: The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast.