wrestling / Columns

The Importance of…8.22.08: The Dungeon of Doom

August 22, 2008 | Posted by Mike Chin

Quick notes on the past week in wrestling

-I’m not sure what to make of the “championship scramble.” It’s a fairly novel concept, so maybe it’ll generate some buzz. And yet, it sounds suspiciously like a convoluted TNA gimmick match. That, and it sort of harkens back to the hardcore title battle royals of old. Even though the gauntlet element does make it a bit more interesting, I worry CM Punk is going to be booked much like Crash Holly in those scenarios, losing his title at least once, only to recovering the closing moments of the match. This isn’t necessarily bad or wrong—it just seems like the world heavyweight title deserves better.

-The ‘news’ broke this week that Stone Cold would appear at Cyber Sunday. If there are two concepts I’m over, they’re Cyber Sunday and special appearances by Stone Cold. Cyber Sunday is a fun idea, with the fan interaction and all, but the fact remains that the results are usually predictable, the options usually uninspired, and the shows generally insignificant.

As for Austin, no question he’s a legend—one of the greatest of all times, and one of the biggest draws of all time. But these random appearances to drink beer, stun someone and drop catch phrases do nothing to build his legacy, and don’t come off as anything more than what they are—a quick and easy way to pop a buy rate or TV ratings. It’s a shame that that’s what he’s been reduced to, but that’s the bottom line… ah, forget it.

On to our regular column…

The mid-1990s represented a transitional time for WCW. The promotion had, for quite some time, been the alternative to the WWF. There was an alternative set of stars, with guys like Ric Flair and the Horseman, Sting, Lex Luger and others leading the way. Over time, as is custom in wrestling, many faces bounced to WWF, and sometimes back again. And yet the mid-‘90s represented an interesting time, in that WCW began to take on a new identity. It was the arrival Hulk Hogan, and alongside him, a host of 1980s WWF stars, including Randy Savage, Jim Duggan, Brutus Beefcake, and others. While traditional WCW guys like Sting, Flair and Vader were still around, it was clear enough that the company had changed.

The problem was that what made the WWF a hit in the ‘80s had grown a bit stale. Hogan-Flair was relatively fresh, but Hogan-Vader was clearly an attempt to rehash the many Hogan versus big man contests, such as his battles with Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy and The Big Bossman. While Vader himself was a fresh opponent, the story was too familiar, and it was evident Vader wasn’t wild about jobbing out in such a fashion. The Hogan-Beefcake feud, while it was a new match-up, reeked of the many stories of Hogan’s friends turning on him in the past, from Paul Orndorf to Randy Savage to Sid Justice.

WCW could have tried something radically different at this point, but they made one last ditch effort to make the old school formula work. Rather than diverge from old WWF booking, they decided to take it to a new extreme, making the product more campy, more juvenile, and altogether less sensible. Introducing, The Dungeon of Doom.

See, Kevin Sullivan was an evil dude. How do we know he was evil? He hated Hulk Hogan. The guy didn’t even have money as a motivating factor, the way Bobby Heenan had before him, but rather just seemed committed to ruining the faces’ good time. The guy wasn’t big enough to take on Hogan himself, so he decided to start accumulating monsters to do the job for him. Enter Earthquake/Avalanche re-christened as The Shark. Enter Kamala, The Zodiac, The Yeti and more, each introduced in a dark, macabre backstage set, where Sullivan seemed to make the monsters appear out of thin air.

The monster thing was, ultimately, silly and redundant. Hogan had beat half of them before, and few of the others posed any legitimate threat. The crux of this stupidity came in a Tower of Doom match, wherein Hogan and the Macho Man battled through multiple cages of Dungeon goons, teamed up with Horsemen. While there was a certain novelty to the structure and the rules involved, it was, in the end, a pretty dumb concept because, there was little to no possibility of the heels going over—or if they did, it wouldn’t mean anything, because they had the faces so sorely outnumbered.

With all of the Dungeon’s shortcomings, it’s easy to dismiss the stable as wholly unimportant. This would not be fair, though, because the Dungeon of Doom did serve two very important functions.

First, the Dungeon of Doom served as the means to introduce Paul Wight to the mainstream wrestling scene. Initially billed as the son of Andre, The Giant was the one legitimate player to emerge from this group—a new face, physically huge, adequate on the mic, and not bad in the ring. It’s no surprise that he went to such a long, successful career as the Big Show, and is the only Dungeon member still active in the ring today. The Dungeon was, in many ways, designed for Wight—the perfect forum to introduce one of wrestling’s last legit monsters.

The other, and perhaps most important element of the Dungeon of Doom, was the way in which it marked a paradigm shift for WCW and, indeed, all of wrestling. This group proved that the cartoonish booking that worked in the 1980s wasn’t going to fly anymore. It was redundant, and the children of the ‘80s were looking for something far more cutting edge, realistic and cool. And so, out of the failure of the Dungeon and its war with top face Hulk Hogan, rose the idea for a new breed of bad guys. While I’ve never seen any documentation of a formal link between the Dungeon and what was to come in WCW, it seems to make perfect sense to me that the failure of this group linked to the formation of a faction that was everything the Dungeon was not. It was all about cool heels, new faces, truly shocking heel turns, and off the charts drama. I would argue that the Dungeon paved the way for the New World Order.

The NWO is certainly important enough to justify its own column. And that group is where we will pick up next week. That’s all for this time. See you in seven.

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Mike Chin