The most infamous championship reign in pro wrestling history belongs to David Arquette, who won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on the April 26, 2000 episode of WCW Thunder.
This championship win and reign by Arquette—widely accepted as the brainchild of Vince Russo—also has the dubious honor of serving as the signature exhibit in the Internet Wrestling Community's Pro-Wrestling Hall of Failures.
As a matter of fact, this debacle is also widely touted as being the proverbial and literal “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Arquette’s run with the strap is seen by at least 90 percent of wrestling fans, pundits, and even detractors as the single event that destroyed WCW.
If this is the case, if this angle was and is as dastardly as we have all made it out to be at some point in our lives as fans, then one question remains for us all to ponder and respond to:
Why are we still talking about it eleven years later?
If Arquette’s reign was that unbearable, then it would have been stricken from the record books like anything and everything done by Chris Benoit. If placing the strap on Arquette served as the single, solitary event that shut WCW down, then there would be no need to reference other equally disastrous angles (Bash at the Beach 2000; the “Finger Poke of Doom”) as key factors that led to the eventual destruction of the company.
Let’s take it one step further: if Vince Russo is the “genius” behind this entire plan, serving as the head of a team of writers and/or bookers in WCW at the time, shouldn’t his peers be held just as responsible for the angle if they didn’t unanimously pan the idea?
The truth of the matter is that pro-wrestling has, and always will, reach far beyond its rabid fan base that only represents a small percentage of the population in this country and of people around the world. If there are 300 million people in the United States, between four and seven million of them watch pro wrestling weekly.
The product will always involve individuals outside of the business in order to make it attractive to new viewers and sponsors. David Arquette’s win and reign as WCW Champion, no matter who decided to push it, was perhaps the gutsiest move to spark the interest of individuals outside of pro-wrestling fandom.
This is why Floyd Mayweather, Pete Rose, Donald Trump, and Mickey Rourke (among others) have worked WrestleMania events with the WWE. This is also why Playboy model Reby Sky worked with DragonGate USA.
This even explains why officials at TNA had the balls to put Survivor star Jenna Morasco in a PPV match against Sharmell Huffman (Booker T’s wife).
The growth of any pro wrestling company’s product depends on its ability to expand its fan base beyond the diehard fans. The casual fan must be reached occasionally, bringing them to the table and enticing them to turn from indifference to religious.
Vince McMahon has always had this goal in mind with his product, which is why the WWE has cut its ties with anything involving the word “wrestling.” The World Wrestling Federation and World Wrestling Entertainment died unceremoniously to make way for the WWE, the brash new kid on the block destined to take the entertainment world by storm.
A mere few months after that, TNA also transformed its product from Impact to Impact Wrestling, taking on the tag line “Wrestling Matters” in order to entice disenfranchised WWE fans.
While the top two pro wrestling companies in the United States have adopted new and fresh ways to reach out to casual or neglected fans, both companies have actually done very little to change the lackluster and flaccid product they attempt to pander to anyone weekly. If anything, these changes amount to nothing more than cosmetic facelifts designed solely to hide the cracks and tears of the crumbling foundation of their respective products.
Simply put, it’s all the same crap with a new name.
Why is it important for us to now reconsider the impact former WCW Heavyweight Champion David Arquette had on pro-wrestling? WCW was already dying a slow and painful death long before it was decided to put the strap on Arquette.
If it had not been for the already gloomy climate in WCW, David Arquette’s reign would have probably accomplished the exact opposite and pushed WCW only slightly towards derailment. Very few people today talk about the butt loads of free press and publicity his win received, let alone even consider it noteworthy to mention that people still discuss it today (as opposed to tons of easily forgettable championship reigns of “established” stars and actual pro wrestlers).
Arquette’s win and reign was not indicative of how bad WCW’s product had gotten, but really indicative of the testicular fortitude of the writing and booking team in the company. As crazy as it was for Russo to move forward with the plan, it was also a risky calculation that is necessary, if not vital, for the survival of the business.
After all, there is no reward without some sort of risk.
If you look at the WWE’s change in name and direction, as well as consider TNA’s “Wrestling Matters” campaign, you’ll see that both of these face lifts are not the gutsy, risky moves that change the pro wrestling landscape for good or for bad.
They are “playing it safe” strategies that do not solve the main issues facing pro wrestling today, but rather tiptoe carefully and casually around those same issues and promote the product as something great and fantastic to fans that could not stand to care anymore than they already do.
Because both companies are “playing it safe,” both produce weekly the same tired, lifeless, and snore-inducing product that maintains their diehard fans at comfortable levels ONLY because they’ve supported the companies for so long.
If anything, we should now be praying to the pro-wrestling gods for another Arquette championship run. If this were to happen, at least it would give fans reason to flock in droves to one company over the other, reigniting the same spirit of competition that made the Monday Night Wars and Attitude Era so financially lucrative for all parties involved.
As it stands right now neither company has a David Arquette, the gumption to create or crown a David Arquette-like star, the chutzpah to think outside of the box, and have resorted to prancing around daintily waving their product like big bouquets of pretty pink pansies, baby’s breath, and morning glories.
“Playing it safe” has done little placate the diehard fans. Without an event or superstar as polarizing as Arquette, the business has suffered and the piss poor ratings are proof of this stone cold fact.
Take the WWE for example: regardless of whether you love or hate the man, John Cena is the company’s cash cow. For all his strengths and weaknesses, Cena is the epitome of a company man and is perhaps two minutes away from surpassing Hulk Hogan as the face of pro-wrestling on the whole.
The problem is that as long as the WWE relies on Cena to carry the company and the business, then they will perennially “play it safe,” as Cena’s name in the marquee will guarantee butts in the seats and merchandise flying off the shelves.
This, however, does not sound like a decision characteristic of a CEO who reportedly has testicles the size of grapefruits. The man who once pulled his behind out on live television weekly for his employees to “kiss” is now too timid to throw his weight behind superstars other than guaranteed money?
Then again, this is the same man who pulled a character off of TV and fired him because an unexpected terrorist attack happened the same day his taped show aired on television. I guess corporate sponsors will always trump guts and glory.
This does not fare well for a company that hasn’t seen above average ratings in years. 3.0’s in ratings from a company that, in its heyday, averaged in the 7.0’s is so far beyond laughable that it’s amazing more individuals haven’t been canned by now.
The WWE is treading water and seems hell bent on perfecting this level of mediocrity that it’s baffling.
Again, despite how we feel about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his involvement with WrestleMania 27 and John Cena, and their upcoming match at WrestleMania 28, the ratings spiked hard not just because of his presence but because it was different and polarizing.
Now, only two months after Rock’s arrival and departure from the company, the WWE has shifted back into coasting along the way until they can figure out the next one-shot moment to provide another spike in the ratings.
In the meantime, their product is still as bland as dry toast, Cena still remains virtually immaculate and unbeatable, and there seems to literally be no one positioned to become the company’s next biggest thing. Who has the company given to John Cena to push to that next level?
I dare anyone to look at the David Arquette situation and show proof of anything the WWE has done recently that has provided that same level of attention for their product.
TNA is no better in that regards, either. Since the arrival of Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan, TNA has spent scores of money and time investing in “sure bets,” individuals and storylines that were guaranteed to maintain their spot as the number two wrestling company in the United States.
Prior to their arrival, the X-Division was the preeminent division in the company, arguably the main reason why most fans tuned in to the product in the first place. It is a well-known FACT (and I’ve said this many times before) that Eric Bischoff’s preference is for established stars to attract fans to the product.
This is the reason why the Heavyweight Division in TNA is/was dominated by stars the likes of Rob Van Dam, Ken Anderson, Sting, and Jeff Hardy.
One year later, with ratings that look no better than what they were before Bischoff and Hogan came to the company, TNA had now decided to focus some of their energy towards revitalizing the X-Division through a handful of stars: Brian Kendrick, Max and Jeremy Buck, and Amazing Red.
Please don’t let the smooth taste fool you; TNA has already sipped the sugary sweet Kool-Aid of “playing it safe,” and have no real intention of restoring the division to its former glory because it would involve them taking a risk that was just as huge as putting the strap on Arquette.
Think about it: the three things that made the X-Division so electrifying is that it was (a) innovative, (b) fast paced, and (c) unpredictable. X-Division matches were filled with “spots” that didn’t necessarily tell a straight forward story.
Instead, the best X-Division matches operated at break neck speed and built up to a fevered pitched, finishing with one huge maneuver that left the fans spent and exhausted.
X-Division matches nowadays tell that same formulaic, cookie-cutter story that is characteristic of most of the other matches, devoid of energizing spots and the break neck speed that once dominated the division. Some fans even regard the X-Division as a group of no name, vanilla midget spot monkeys that couldn’t draw a crowd if they had a pencil and a sheet of butcher paper.
Can you really blame them for thinking such things when the stars have been buried under the impressive resumes and shadows of the stars in the Heavyweight Division?
Why has it become all so important now for some focus to be placed back on the X-Division, when everything else obviously points to the same crap we’ve seen from this division since January 4, 2010?
TNA wants to make their product seem more appealing to fans, so they’ve picked up the lifeless body of the X-Division, and in true Weekend at Bernie’s fashion are flailing it about in an attempt to show that “it’s just as action packed as ever!”
Behind this façade rests the same booking that led to the decimation of the X-Division’s roster. This new storyline with the X-Division’s five or six stars will attract people all the way up until the Destination X pay per view.
At the conclusion of the show, TNA will take that momentum and allow it to wither into wasted potential energy, the X-Division stars once again taking a backseat to the next big feud involving Sting, RVD, Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, or (if we’re lucky) Robert Roode.
While one assumes that promoting and pushing the X-Division would be the Arquette-like thing to do, it is very much like bringing The Rock back to television. There is no way a group of stars viewed as “vanilla midget spot monkeys” could be marketed as something that would inevitably attract new viewers.
An invigorated emphasis on the X-Division caters specifically to fans already familiar with the division, or perhaps keeps current fans from changing the channel. As far as attracting new fans is concerned, these efforts will fall flat because TNA has done very little in the past year and five months to make the division worth writing home about.
In other words, TNA is also playing it safe.
So what would it take for either the WWE or TNA to do something as memorable as crowning David Arquette the World Heavyweight Champion?
We can speculate on the answer to that rhetorical question for years to come, but the bottom line is this: sports entertainment is missing the important elements of surprise, excitement, and exhilaration that keep us emotionally and financially invested in the product.
While David Arquette’s championship win and reign may not have been the best decision for WCW at the time, it was a risky decision that at least showed the fans that somebody somewhere was thinking of ways to make their product must-see television.
We have seen too many pay-per-views from both companies recently that feel and play out like expensive episodes of their weekly broadcasts. If either company is content to coast on the fumes of our growing discontent, then they shouldn’t be surprised each quarter when their revenue drops by several million dollars.
And if you think I’m blowing smoke about the greatness of David Arquette’s reign, don’t forget that TNA crowned Adam “Pac-Man” Jones a World Tag Team Champion when he didn’t even physically wrestle in the match, and that Chyna defeated Jeff Jarrett to become the first and only woman to hold the WWE’s Intercontinental Title.
They may have not been the best decision, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t get us talking; and given the current state of the product offered by both companies, complaining from the fans is a lot better than the deafening silence that gets louder with each passing television show and pay per view.