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The Importance of…10.31.08: The Importance of the Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal Match

October 31, 2008 | Posted by Mike Chin

Chintegrated Mathematics
Quick notes on the past week in wrestling

-I was pleased to see CM Punk and Kofi Kingston win gold this past Monday. It keeps the two guys relevant, and the match itself was quite good for free TV. I’ve said it before, but Punk and Kingston show great chemistry for two thrown-together singles guys and, pushing my own skepticism to the back of my mind, I must admit that I’m hopeful these guys can do their part to reignite tag wrestling, specifically on the Raw brand.

With all of that being said, I’m not sure I agree with decision to give Punk and Kingston the straps already. When Punk vowed to take the tag titles from Simply Priceless, I was hopeful that it marked the start of an epic quest through which Punk would chase the champions, maybe even with different partners, before finally achieving his goal in a truly memorable moment. In winning on the first attempt, the victory just didn’t have the same dramatic effect it may have further down the road.

-Speaking (indirectly) of Cody Rhodes, I must say that I’m intrigued with the fact that his half brother Dustin is on working terms with WWE again. It seems unlikely, but I’d be really interested to see what happened if Dustin signed a short term deal, dropped the Goldust gimmick and we got some family interaction. Would Dustin, a second generation star himself, side with his brother? Or is he old school enough that he’d want to punk out the brat. I could see the E playing up this ‘tweener role for a few weeks before pulling the trigger on a brief program between the two. Cody going over Dustin wouldn’t be the most amazing of feats, but would be a nice feather in his cap, and might be just the trick to help elevate the kid to legit upper-mid-card status.

On to our regular column…

In wrestling, there is a long standing tradition of having certain matches fall at certain points in the calendar year. In WWE, Thanksgiving is the time for elimination tag team matches, and January is the time for the Royal Rumble. In TNA, April is the time for cage matches and June is the time for King of the Mountain. For two years, WCW did something really unique to celebrate Halloween. In the spirit of trick-or-treat, surprises, and the fear of the unknown, WCW introduced the Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal match.

The match was allegedly inspired by the film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, in which people who break deals are subject to the will of the wheel—a wheel of fortune like device which lists not prize money, but rather a list consequences, ranging from death to hard labor. It’s sort of a silly idea, and it seems all the sillier to convert the concept to wrestling. And yet, there was a certain appeal to the concept of feuding wrestlers spinning a wheel to identify a random gimmick match in which to compete—a concept that was important in introducing an element of surprise and intrigue that was foreign to mainstream wresting at the time.

Jake Roberts was a dark, mysterious new character in the WCW landscape in 1992, and wasted little time in gunning for the top face, in the man called Sting. A Halloween PPV was ideal for Roberts to have his shining moment, and it made sense for him to introduce the dark, mysterious concept of a Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal match.

Of course, given the time period, no WCW PPV would be complete without a campy vignette (think Vader and Sid bombing Sting, Davey Boy and a crew of orphaned children on an island leading up to Beach Blast ’93). The Roberts-Sting vignette featured a crew of bikers, midgets, pirates and Hannibal Lector chanting for Sting to spin the wheel. It’s about as bad as it sounds—I encourage you to YouTube it (I’ll leave out a link, for fear it will be removed).

The execution of the first STWMTD match left something to be desired. Rather than gimmicking the wheel so it would land on desirable spot—a cage match, or death match, the company allowed the wheel to truly spin at random. Consequently, the dramatic options on the wheel went untouched in favor of a remarkably anti-climatic Coal Miner’s Glove match. For those who aren’t familiar with the gimmick, it’s your basic weapon on a pole contest, and was about the flattest option available. In this epic failure, WCW demonstrated an important lesson it should have learned from the failure of the first Battle Bowl, with truly random tag team pairings. In professional wrestling, there’s no place for truly random outcomes. If you have the power to control the results, you should use that power to the greatest dramatic effect possible.

WCW kept the STWMTD concept alive in 1993, again submitting its hottest feud to the will of the wheel. This time around, the bookers learned their lesson and did rig the wheel, pitting Cactus Jack against Big Van Vader in a Texas Death Match. Where the first run of STWMTD action was a pretty epic failure, this one clicked on a cylinders, putting together a violent, epic match of the year candidate. This was a Last Man Standing match with serious teeth, pitting two of the craziest, stiffest, most violent men in the business in an environment where they could let their insanity run loose. While Harley Race’s interference marred the conclusion of the match a bit, it was still a fitting blow-off to an entertaining program, and the drama and violence around it made it the perfect fit for a Halloween-themed PPV. This match was, in and of itself, exceptionally important in introducing a brand of hardcore that really wasn’t seen in mainstream American wrestling at the time. Several Cactus Jack streetfights, specifically in the tag team setting, were to follow before WWF, too, picked up on the concept.

Strangely enough, just as the company figured out how to execute this concept match, it stopped using it. The following year’s Hogan-Flair showdown would have been a perfect fit for STWMTD, but the bookers instead settled for an up-front steel cage match, with Ric Flair’s career on the line—a stipulation that, of course, fell apart within months. In abandoning the wheel, WCW left behind one of its most unique gimmicks, and what should have been a defining piece of this annual show.

The STWMTD concept returned for a few brief instances in the form of Raw Roulette. Under the GM-ship of Eric Bischoff, the concept was meant to reflect Bischoff trying to recreate WCW. And to WWE’s credit, the concept was pretty entertaining. Rather than emphasizing the ‘trick or treat’ nature of the wheel, these later incarnations of the wheel emphasized the element of chance. The results of the three shows have been mixed—ranging from the novelty of a woman’s cage match, to a ludicrous “capture the midget” race between Rosey and the Hurricane, a highly entertaining free TV TLC match, to an interesting, if odd, Trading Places match that saw Carlito and Hardcore Holly each dress up like the other. As this summary would attest, the results have been uneven. Regardless, the concept has made for some fun shows, and a valuable opportunity to break away from the static norm of a typical Raw broadcast.

In the grand scheme of things, the wheel may not have a very pronounced place in wrestling history. And yet, the concept remains important, if not always for execution, then at least for the potential the gimmick holds. I expect that we have not seen the last of it, and look forward to the next incarnation. Until that time comes, be safe, and happy Halloween!

That’s all for this column. Next week, we start off with part one of a two part series on the importance of WCW. See you in seven.

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Mike Chin
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