wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Didn’t WCW Sign Yokozuna?

September 22, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Yokozuna WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals to Ask 411 Wrestling, the column that is a middle-aged juggalo who just became self-aware and is asking what the hell he is doing with his life. I mean, seriously, who drinks Faygo?

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Just send your questions to [email protected]

Comment section poster Paul Orndorff (no, not that one) follows up on a question from two weeks ago about Yokozuna:

Why didn’t WCW go after Yoko? They brought back everybody that Hogan had faced and giving Hogan his win back against the guy who according to WWF drove him out of the company would be the sort of thing WCW would do, even if Yoko was too fat to put up a decent match.

There was interest, but it didn’t pan out, as was told in the issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter from the era. In 1996, towards the beginning of the Nitro era, WCW apparently made a big play to bring in not just Yokozuna but also several other members of the Anoa’i family. However, Vince McMahon got wind of it and promised both Yokozuna and Fatu big pushes in order to get them to stay. (This may have been the origin of the “Sultan” gimmick.) Of course, despite what he may have been promised, Yoko was eventually sidelined by the Fed in ’96 due to his incredible weight gain and resultant health problems.

In the Observers from 1997, there was at least one comment per month about the fact that Yokozuna was still under contract to the WWF and that they wanted him back on the road but only if he could get down under 400 pounds . . . which he consistently failed to do. In November of ’97, the WWF brought him in to work a show in New York, but the state still required wrestlers to get a license to perform, which included passing a physical. Yoko unfortunately failed his physical, and, because athletic commissions in twenty-one other states reciprocally enforced other states’ license denials, that prevented the former WWF Champion from being able to compete in almost half of the country.

By 1998, the big man had been cut loose from his WWF contract, and it was regularly reported that WCW and Hulk Hogan wanted to bring him in so that Hogan could avenge his WWF Title loss against Yoko from 1993, but it was also regularly mentioned that his inability to obtain a wrestler’s license in the State of New York would create a problem.

Finally, in Yokozuna’s Observer obituary, it was mentioned that there was a strong offer to have him run in on the main event of Superbrawl in 1999, but he did not accept it for unspecified reasons.

Also, though it’s not entirely clear where it falls on the timeline above, Konnan did claim on an old episode of MLW Radio that he and Scott Hall once had a conversation with Yokozuna about the pseudo-sumo jumping ship to WCW, but something about the way in which he was asked offended him, so he never signed on.

APinOz is squaring the circle:

I do have a question for you: At Wrestlemania 2, WWF ran the show from three separate locations; Nassau Coliseum, New York, Rosemont Horizon, Chicago and LA Sports Arena. For the Chicago portion of the show, the ring appears to be substantially different from the “standard” WWF ring of the time. It looks smaller, the ropes are different, and the turnbuckle attachments to the ring posts are exposed. It has always stuck in my mind as an anomaly for the brand-conscious WWF of the time. So, did they have some sort of issue with a regular ring? Did they have to “borrow” a ring at short notice because they were caught out by the logistics of having three consecutive shows?

This might be an answer that is lost to history because, try as I might, I could not find the exact details on this one.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that the WWF/WWE didn’t always build and travel with its own rings. It used to be that the WWF, like many other promotions, travelled from town-to-town and used whatever ring was available in the host city. Sometimes it would be a ring owned by a local promoter, and sometimes it would be a ring owned by the arena. It could very well be that any rings the Fed toured with were in use elsewhere and a favor had to be called in to get something from a Chicago-based promoter.

One bit of ring-related information you might be interested in is this article from WWE.com regarding how the company’s more recent rings are built.

Night Wolf the Wise wants to talk about secondary titles, women’s titles, and women’s secondary titles:

1. From 1963 to 1976 you had the WWWF United states Heavyweight Championship. From 1979 to 1981, you had the short lived WWWF North American Heavyweight Title. This title would be the precursor to the title we all know today: The Intercontinental Title. Can you give the backstory behind why they ultimately went with the Intercontinental Title as the ultimate secondary title?

The original WWWF United States Title wasn’t necessarily a “secondary title” in the manner that we think of them today. Sure, it was a singles championship and was less important than the WWWF Championship, so it was a secondary title in that regard. However, it wasn’t a regular, consistently defended part of the promotion. For the most part, it was a prop used to help get Bobo Brazil over. If there was a city in which Brazil was appearing and they wanted him to look more important or if there was some other benefit to him being perceived as a champion, they would announce him as being the WWWF United States Champion. (Per some reports, he often wouldn’t even have a championship belt with him.) In fact, according to some sources, there were cities that the WWWF ran in regularly in which Brazil was never recognized as holding the title. This is backed up when you look at the championship’s history, because Bobo would hold it for years and years at a time while only sporadically defending it, and, though he would occasionally lose it, his opponents’ reigns with the championship were all relatively short by comparison. (Of the roughly eight year period during which the title existed, Brazil held it 86% of the time.) Plus, when Bobo took a hiatus from being a WWWF regular in the late 1970s, the championship vanished with him.

As to the WWF North American Title, Ted DiBiase just showed up in the company being billed as the champion in 1979, likely just as a means of helping him seem to be a bigger deal upon his arrival. There were really only ever two feuds over the North American Title, as DiBiase first had a series of matches against the Valiant brothers for the belt and then transitioned to Pat Patterson. Patterson defeated DiBiase for the North American Title in June 1979 and then started getting billed as the Intercontinental Title in September of the same year. As most people know, in storyline terms the change was made as a result of Patterson allegedly unifying the North American and South American Titles in a tournament held in Rio de Janeiro.

I have never read and in doing research for this column could not find a good explanation as to why the North American Title was essentially renamed to the Intercontinental Title, but the only thing that I can think of was that it was an effort to make Pat Patterson seem like a more decorated wrestler and/or to make the WWF seem like a more global promotion than it really was, given the “international” flavor of the title’s new name.

In an odd epilogue to all of this, Patterson, who was still Intercontinental Champion at the time, appeared on a November 8, 1979 New Japan show (due to the then-existent WWF/NJPW working agreement) and lost a singles match to Seiji Sakaguchi, with Sakaguchi becoming the WWF North American Champion in the process. I don’t know how you lose a title when that title has been unified into a second title that you continue to hold, but that’s neither here nor there. Sakaguchi had a handful of North American Title defenses in Japan before the whole thing was just forgotten about, and he did appear for the WWF in the United States in between those defenses. However, he was not acknowledged as a WWF titleholder on the WWF’s own shows. Most likely, this was a move to give Sakaguchi more credibility in his home country by portraying him as the champion of a foreign promotion.

I think that all of this discussion of the histories of the WWWF/WWF United States and North American Championships highlights an important difference between how secondary titles are viewed today and how they were viewed before national and international wrestling promotions were a thing. Nowadays, with over five hours of first-run television every week, the secondary titles are featured on a regular basis and part of the week-to-week narrative of the promotion. If they just vanished or changed names suddenly without much explanation, you’d notice it. Forty or so years ago, that wasn’t the case. Wrestling fans were seeing maybe one or two live shows a month, with maybe an hour of television a week. This allowed titles to come and go much more easily without questioning, which in turn allowed then to pop up only when convenient.

2. The WWE has talked on and off again about doing a women’s tag team division and having WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles made. A lot of people (including myself) are skeptical of having a women’s tag division because of how they currently book the women’s division on Raw and Smackdown. What a lot of people don’t know is that the WWE actually had Women’s Tag Team Titles before. If you go back to pre-WWE, the NWA had Women’s Tag Team Titles starting before 1952. The first holders were Ella Waldek and Mae Young. In 1983, the holders were Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria. They were the last NWA Women’s Tag Team Champions and became the first WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions. The titles were ultimately abandoned in 1989. Is there a story behind why the WWE abandoned those titles after nearly 4 decades? If the WWE were to introduce Women’s Tag Team Titles, How would you book the Division to make it successful and convincing like the Women’s Tag Team Titles of the past?

I think that you’re overrating the importance and consistency of the World Women’s Tag Team Titles a.k.a. the NWA Women’s Tag Team Titles, a.k.a. the WWF Women’s Tag Team Titles.

Prior to the WWF Women’s Title being reactivated during the Sable versus Jacqueline feud of 1998, it was very unusual for an American wrestling promotion to have a women’s division as a regular, full-time part of its product. (Obviously the WWF did try to build divisions around Wendi Richter and Madusa at times, but those were relatively short-lived and usually consisted of just one champion and one challenger at a time instead of being true divisions.)

Instead, women’s matches were added to men’s cards every so often as a special, one-off attraction, just like you might occasionally see matches featuring little people or bears used as a novelty to add variety to a show.

Rather than female wrestlers being signed to a particular promotion, there were usually separate touring troupes of women, and the troupes would make deals with a variety of different promotions to provide women here and there as the promotion saw fit. One of those troupes, which eventually became the largest and most prominent due to its affiliation with the World Wrestling Federation, was operated by the Fabulous Moolah.

The World Women’s Tag Team Titles that are the subject of this question were originally endorsed by the NWA but, by the 1970s, had really fallen into the control of Moolah and her stable. That’s why, if you look at the title history, it’s pretty spotty and has a lot of gaps. The titles will disappear for periods of months or years and, when they come back on to the scene, they may or may not be held by the team who had them before they vanished. The only time that the titles really had any prominence would be from 1987 to 1988 when the Jumping Bomb Angels and the Glamour Girls feuded over them, and that was over and done with in less than a year. Allegedly the championships were scrapped over a dispute over whether the WWF office authorized the title change between the two teams that occurred in Japan in ’88, but they were never really high on the company’s list of priorities to begin with.

Thus, when you say that you want a new proposed WWE Women’s Tag Team Title to be “successful and convincing” like past women’s tag team titles, the reality of the situation is that prior women’s tag team titles really HAVEN’T been all that successful or convincing. They’ve just been a blip on the radar . . . and that’s a criticism of the promotions that have booked them, not of any of the wrestlers that competed for them.

But, how do you make a new women’s tag title a success? Really, the answer is no different than making any other championship successful. You need to put together a solid division of wrestlers who are focused on that championship as their primary goal. I would identify ten to twelve women whose goal will be chasing the tag titles and chasing the tag titles alone as opposed to just mixing and matching women’s from the existing singles division. You need to book them in compelling storylines against each other, which appears to be a challenge for the current creative team. I would also recommend that, even though this will be a secondary championship (and may even be more fairly classified as a tertiary championship), it needs to be given some opportunities to shine as a featured attraction, whether that’s occasionally getting a main event slot on weekly television or being given sufficient time that it can steal the show on pay per view every now and again.

The main thing, though, would just be giving the titles time and attention, which is where most of the prior efforts to crown women’s tag champs have fallen apart.

Chris G. has a question about politics, but not the backstage variety:

With Kane’s election win, we probably won’t see him much anymore and that does make me sad, besides him and Jessy Ventura, what other former wrestlers have gone on to successful political careers? Are there any? And it also makes have to ask a question. Did Arnold Schwarzenegger ever appear in the WWE, WWF? Did Vince ever pursue him?

There have been many wrestlers who have attempted to get into politics, but you asked about *successful* careers, so I’ll ignore the guys who ran for something and lost or were just briefly on their local school board or something.

Really, the wrestlers who have had the most success in politics are probably the ones in Japan. Antonio Inoki has been a member of the House of Councilors, essentially the Japanese equivalent of the United States Senate, for over ten years now, and he still holds a seat. Hiroshi Hase and Atsushi Onita have also held congressional seats in Japan, though they have done so with varying degrees of success. Hase served for several years and was appointed to a cabinet position by prime minister Shinzo Abe in the last couple of years, whereas Onita was only in office for a relatively short time before he was forced to resign after being caught having a threesome with two women (one of whom was a porn star) in a hotel room that had been paid for by government funds.

No, seriously.

The Great Sasuke also had a brief political career, serving on the assembly of the Iwate Prefecture in the early 2000s. (In Japan, a “prefecture” is a unit of government that is similar to what a county might be in the United States.) He subsequently tried to become the prefecture’s mayor but failed in his bid.

Meanwhile in Finland (which is a segue that you don’t hear too often), Tony Halme a.k.a. Ludvig Borga was elected to parliament in his home country of Finland in 2003. He was part of the “True Finns” party, which, as you might guess based on the name, is an ethnic nationalist party that in many ways reads like the alt-right movement currently present in the U.S.A.

Of course, if you’re talking about people associated with wrestling who have gone into politics, you can’t not mention Linda McMahon, who is currently the head of the Small Business Administration in the United States, which is technically part of the president’s cabinet, albeit a fairly small part.

As to Arnold Schwarzenegger, I can’t say that the WWF ever made a play for him during his physical peak, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention his appearance on an early episode of Smackdown, during which he laid out our old friend Triple H:

Lev. wants to take us inside baseball:

I’m not sure how much appeal this question will have to the new generation of 411 readers, but I have been reading about wrestling reviews and columns on and off since the early 2000s. And it just got me curious about who exactly I am reading.

Where from and when did Larry Csonka emerge as the omnipresent force of wrestling news and reviews? Don’t remember him from the beginning but now I never miss his WWE recaps and he has made 411 the first stop for all wrestling content.

I know Matthew Sforcina did this column for ten years or so but you seem to be a columnist who has been around just as long. When did you start writing about wrestling?

I recall a split on the website in the early days and I remember old columnists I used to enjoy like Scott Keith, Chris Hyatte, Eric S. Whatever happened to all them?

If you’ve been reading about wrestling on the internet since the early 2000s, then you probably should have been seeing Csonka from the beginning, because he started writing about wrestling online in 2002 and made his debut writing for 411mania in 2004. He actually began as the guy who did TNA recaps for the site, making his debut just before the first incarnation of Impact made its debut on Fox Sports Net. (I presume that’s why he still reviews TNA to this day when pretty much everybody else has given up on it.) If you want to read his very first recap for this site, it’s still up in the archives here, and yes he does have to devote some space in it to explaining that he is not the former NFL player/American Gladiators commentator who goes by the same name.

From there, he emerged as one of the preeminent voices on 411 due, if nothing else, to hard and consistent work. The guy was up to review any show at any time, and he proved himself to be a reliable content-producer, so he kept moving up the ranks to the point that he is the number one person associated with this website. Meanwhile, if I had to watch even half the wrestling that I did, I would be shoving needles into my eyes like Oedipus.

Speaking of me, I don’t necessarily like talking about myself, but you asked. I started writing about wrestling online in the late 1990s, mostly for small sites that you’ve never heard of and that no longer exist. Probably the earliest example of my writing that is still online – which I cringe when I read – is this article about Buddy Landel, who I was able to interview due to a really weird series of events that I still don’t fully understand. (During the conversation, he actually complimented my writing and said one of the reasons he agreed to the interview was that he appreciated an obituary of Rhonda Singh that I wrote.) I wrote my first column for 411mania back in 2004 after the site had a “contest” to find new writers but essentially brought on everybody who submitted an entry that was even halfway decent. I’ve had some hiatuses from the site over the years and honestly thought that I was done permanently until I was asked to take the reins of this column after Jed Shaffer bit the dust.

The “split” that you referenced was a crew of 411 writers, under the leadership of former co-webmaster Jonathan Widro, defecting to from a new site called Inside Pulse. I believe that this also occurred in 2004, which was a busy year for this corner of the internet. Inside Pulse is actually still a going concern, and you can STILL find columns by Scott Keith there with additional content on his personal blog, rspwfaq.com.

Chris Hyatte, or at least somebody who says that he is Hyatte, is on Twitter and claims that he will never write for another website, for whatever reason. I don’t have independent way of knowing that this is Hyatte, but, if it’s not him, the imposter really does have his writing style down.

Eric Szulczewski (a.k.a. Eric S.) is the only name that you’ve mentioned who appears to have totally removed himself from the world of providing online rasslin’ commentary. His old stuff is still up at Inside Pulse, but there’s been nothing since 2008. If you do some googling, you can find a couple of social media profiles that I think might be him, but I’m not linking to anything here since he appears to have left this world behind.

And, with that navel-gazing having concluded, we will also conclude this week’s column. As always, feel free to shot your questions over to [email protected].