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Cook’s Top 5: 1998 Wrestling Memories

Steve Cook hits one of wrestling fans’ favorite years, 1998! See if what stood out to Cook is what stood out to you…

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Undertaker Mankind Mick Foley WWE Hell In A Cell WWF Chairshot Edit

Steve Cook hits one of wrestling fans’ favorite years, 1998! See if what stood out to Cook is what stood out to you…

1998 was a pretty great time to be a wrestling fan.

The Monday Night War was in full bloom. Some of wrestling’s biggest stars ever were leading the charge for the WWF & WCW. They were throwing their best out there every single night. As for me, I was 14 years old. I was in the target demographic for all this stuff. I hadn’t gotten jaded quite yet. These were the days you look back on fondly.

We continue my Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration by looking back at the most memorable moments of 1998.

5. That’s Pete Rose!

Up to this point, WrestleMania had always been equally as much about celebrity appearances as it was about great pro wrestling. WrestleMania XIV was no different, featuring one of the legends of my favorite baseball team in a guest star role. It didn’t end too well for ol’ Pete, as he wound up eating a Tombstone from Kane. Rose would return the next two WrestleManias attempting to get revenge on Kane, but had no luck.

Watching this clip takes one back to a different time. You sure can’t joke about the Red Sox not being able to win a World Series now.

4. Goldberg Beats Hogan

WWE has shaped the narrative on this moment through the years to paint WCW in a bad light. There’s little doubt that Goldberg beating Hollywood Hogan in the Georgia Dome could have been even bigger if they built it for more than four days. It could have gotten a huge PPV buyrate. There was also a distraction finish, set up awkwardly by Curt Hennig walking out for no reason other than for Karl Malone to sneak up and give him a Diamondcutter.

I didn’t really care about any of that as a fan. When you watch that moment now, it’s hard to imagine any crowd going that crazy about anything. Maybe it wasn’t on PPV, and maybe they could have jammed more people in that arena, but Goldberg’s win definitely took place at the right time at the right place. Besides, there was a Ratings War to take account of, and we need big title changes to boost that number a decimal point or two.

3. Ric Flair Returns

I wasn’t fully abreast of the developments surrounding Ric Flair and why he was absent from WCW programming for several months during 1998. He was certainly conspicuous by his absence though, and his return to Nitro in Greenville was an amazing moment. It was one of the few moments in 1998 where I managed to stay on the same channel for over ten minutes. It was the culmination of Arn Anderson reuniting the Four Horsemen, this version including Chris Benoit, Steve “Mongo” McMichael & Dean Malenko. James J. Dillon was also there in his role as WCW’s Commissioner.

The highlight, of course, was Flair’s diatribe. He ranted about the greatness of the Horsemen and went off on Eric Bischoff. “FIRE ME! I’M ALREADY FIRED! FIRE ME! I’M ALREADY FIRED!” It was a cathartic moment for people who remembered WCW the way it was back in the day. It was probably Flair’s best promo that didn’t discuss his sexual prowess.

2. Austin vs. McMahon

1998 was the year that Steve Austin officially became the man. His coronation at WrestleMania XIV was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Afterwards, he launched into a full-blown war with the now 100% verified evil Mr. McMahon. We’ve seen the evil owner vs. employee dynamic replicated countless of times since the WWF used Austin vs. McMahon to attain ratings dominance. Every single one has paled in comparison. Austin was perfect as the pissed off employee that wouldn’t take shit from anybody. Vince was at his absolute best during this time period. It was a perfect storm.

1. Hell in a Cell

I’ve seen more brutal moments since. The deathmatch wrestling scene has done all it could to try & out-do anything ever seen on television, and in a lot of ways it has. WWE has had people fall off of higher places. They had Cactus Jack replicate the spots in 2000. But for my money, I’ve still never seen anything quite like Hell in the Cell at the 1998 King of the Ring.

It was one of many moments that helped make Mick Foley’s career. It also set this period of the WWF apart from anything they had produced before, or after. You damn sure never saw Hulk Hogan climbing on top of a Cell, and you won’t see anybody flying off the top or going through it today. It was something that could have only happened in this era. Is that for the best? Probably, but it was certainly memorable.


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Opinion

NXT Minus 6: A Tale of Two Champions

Bradley Jay is here with the WWE NXT Minus 6, and we have new champions. Two very, very different new champions.

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Bradley Jay is here with the WWE NXT Minus 6, and we have new champions. Two very, very different new champions.

Our two new champions could not be more different…

Karrion Kross return vignette airs during NXT TakeOver: WarGames

6. Doomsday Saito comes to the ring and gives a painful, cliched promo. Any wrestler in the back could have said those exact words. Train harder and beat people up. He’s angry. We get it. The only thing Saito could do that would interest me is move to RawDown. On the other hand…

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Not gonna lie, that promo was wasn’t even hot garbage. It was cold garbage.]

Raquel Gonzalez & Rhea Ripley And Bianca Belair Celebrate | Franky Monet Debut | WWE NXT Highlights - YouTube

5. Raquel Gonzalez delivers a genuine, heartfelt promo that only she could give. Tears of joy. It told her story, and it’s exactly why she got the pop and the chant she deserved. The addition of Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair, complete with throwback pic, was icing on the cake. I’m excited for whatever Gonzalez does next. Speaking of…

WWE: Dakota Kai on what she misses about New Zealand and her quest to be NXT champion | Newshub

4. Fantasy booking alert!!! Two weeks ago, Raquel Gonzelez told the world I was the one who believed in her. I was the one who made her a champion. Then Rhea Ripley shows up, and Bianca Belair shows up, and I’m the one sent to the back. How quickly you forget who your real friends are. I was the one who took you to the top, and chicka, I am the one who is going to drag you to the bottom. I used you to get to the top and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I am Dakota Kai.

Santos Escobar loses the Cruise Championship to Kushida | Superfights

3. No more Santa Claus Ice Cream Bar. Santos Escobar has earned his name back. His match with KUSHIDA is everything great about NXT. Say it with me. Good things happen when you let wrestlers wrestle! Fast paced. Great action. Surprise ending. I’m going 4.5 stars. Give me a match that good every Tuesday and I’m a happy camper. 

WWE NXT results – 13/04/2021 (Raw and Smackdown Champions appear, Franky Monet debuts) » FirstSportz2. Right now, I don’t know if any two wrestlers have better chemistry than Swerve Scott and Leon Ruff. Every time they get together, it’s electric, and this week was no different. This is quickly climbing into Rivalry of the Year territory. I thought I was happy to see Swerve pick up the victory and move on. Then Ruff goes insane in the membrane and now I’m excited to watch them fight forever.

WWE News: Roderick Strong 'Resigns' From NXT, Video of Karrion Kross' NXT Promo | 411MANIA

1. This week’s That’s Why I Love Wrestling goes to…Roderick Strong. Kayfabe. Work. Shoot. I don’t care. Strong deserved a better goodbye than what he got. He is the Perfection of Performance (shout out to the Hitman). He and Kyle O’Reilly were the best version of the Undisputed Era tag team champions. I always got excited for a Strong match because I knew he’d deliver. Roderick Strong is exactly the kind of wrestler that makes me love wrestling. Until he returns, he will be sorely missed.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021

It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…

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It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.

It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!

5. Samoa Joe

I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.

In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!

4. Kris Statlander

AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.

Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.

Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.

Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.

3. Tay Conti

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.

Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.

This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.

2. Bianca Belair

We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.

You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.

Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.

Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.

1. Darby Allin

Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.

The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.

What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.


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