Day 323: Souled Out ’97 Was A Surrealist Nightmare [Wrasslin’ For Lunch]

In many adventure stories, there’s a part near the end where it appears the bad guy had won. Suddenly, the world has bowed down to their bidding and the heroes are stuck in an alternate dystopian universe. A good example of this would be in Back To The Future Part 2, where Marty goes to the alternate timeline where Biff got rich off of gambling and took over Hill Valley. Things aren’t exactly better or worse or futuristic: they’re just…off. Another prime example of this would be the entirety of NWO’s first [and hopefully only? Probably not? I haven’t looked it up?] Pay-Per-View, Souled Out. The whole thing was a surrealist glimpse into what the world would look like if the bad guys won. Even though it was a wrestling show, they did everything they could to NWO-ify it and the result is…uhh…just kind of off.

We start off with a grainy film sequence of the NWO riding on garbage trucks, in a police motorcade, through the snow, and it goes on for over 5 minutes. Just garbage trucks, police sirens and dudes hollering. The aural hellscape really sets the tone for what the next 3 hours are going to be like. And then we’re introduced to the set. Oh god, it’s a set. Just try to imagine the ultimate 90’s villain liar. It’s industrial, tons of randomly placed branding, video screens, bright random lights, the works. And they designed that motif to a tee.

Suffice to say, I’ve never seen an entrance ramp like this. The wrestlers have to go down 20 feet of metal stairs. There’s an over-sized Lite Brite that horribly spells out text. The path to the ring is surrounded by girls on motorcycles, who I will discuss later. Any WCW wrestler that makes his way to the ring will definitely get the sense that they’re invading an extravagant 90’s villain hideout. Shredder would feel very comfortable here. And instead of a commentary desk or booth, Eric Bischoff and Ted DiBiase sit on a sound mixer and nondescript metal crate, respectively. It doesn’t look cool. It just looks awkward. Just look at them, pretending to act natural:

From the first match, you can tell what the whole show is going to be like. NWO stooge, Nick Patrick, is the ref for every match. So obviously, the deck will never be stacked in WCW’s favor. The whole PPV is a series of screwjobs perpetrated by a biased ref. While this only makes sense for an “NWO Show”, you gotta feel bad for the people that paid money to see it. 170,000 households bought it on Pay-Per-View on top of the 5,120 people in attendance just to watch a bunch bullshit matches. There were 3 matches where WCW won: Mongo forced Nick Patrick to count for Jeff Jarret to win, Eddie Guerrero won an un-riggable ladder match and the Steiner Brothers won the tag titles after a knocked out Nick Patrick was replaced by a WCW ref in attendance [the ref was “fired” and the titles were stripped the following night]. At large, I guess it’s not that bad, but people paid a lot of money to watch a bunch of unfair shenanigans.

The overall presentation was just as weird as the action. There’s many instances where boom mics are visible. None of the WCW wrestlers have entrance music [because Ted DiBiase “forgot” the CD]. The ring announcer is the same creepy old man voice that does all the NWO promo bumpers. But then towards the end, the announcer kind of broke. It became obvious that they were using a Yak Bak-esque device, as if would just randomly spurt out phrases during matches. All instant replays come straight from the VTR. It almost feels like an authentic NWO experience. It’s as if they took over all aspects of the operation, but had no idea how to actually run a broadcast. I also found it to be a nice touch that the WCW wrestlers had to buy their own tickets and mingle with the fans. That must’ve been so cool to be a wide-eyed kid from Iowa, suddenly sitting next to The Nasty Boys. On the other hand…eh…maybe not.

And then, good fucking god, there was the Ms NWO contest. This awkward mess was the centerpiece of the whole show. They had women send them pics in the mail and they broadcasted some of them on-air as Eric and Ted creepily ogled them. What made it worse was that most of the girls in the pictures looked like high schoolers. In particular, I feel bad for the girl that sent a topless pic with a puppy covering her chest. There’s just no fucking way she didn’t regret it. They had the “finalists” surround the entrance ramp for the whole show, but their criteria for finalists was a little skewed. They needed to own their own motorcycle and pay for all their expenses and travel. So in other words, it was Cedar Rapid’s finest. And the finest were…umm…well, they were women with motorcycles. They ranged from young blondes to grandmas that smoke a pack of Basics with every meal. And throughout the show, they were asked questions. But they weren’t good questions.

What would you do to become Ms NWO?

Whatever it takes!

What would you do to be in one of Hollywood Hogan’s movies?

Umm…whatever it takes!

So essentially, all of these women were asked if they would give the NWO sexual favors. Most uncomfortably said sure and some didn’t answer at all. I realize it was a different time, but this shit was downright rapey. You sometimes forget how toxic the late-90s were. When Eric did the actual selection towards the end, they highlighted each woman’s specialties and hobbies. One of them was a nurse that specialized in treating hangovers, who gets turned on by men in bowling shirts. One was semi-retired and details pickups. There was a grain inspector that literally didn’t know how to wave. There was a shipping clerk whose hobby is playing the lottery. The winner was a homemaker that specializes in cooking bratwurst. She only won because she made out with Eric, which was just entirely fucking awkward. Just look at the happy couple together:

She straight up looks like she’s about to puke. She made her way around the ring, waving to the bored fans and then took a seat on her throne, which happened to be an oversized toilet, while the other girls hugged her and thanked the heavens that they didn’t have to make out with Eric Bischoff.

The main event featured a newly-defected Giant challenging Hollywood Hogan for the NWO Title. How did it end? The way you expected it to. Giant squashed Hogan, but Nick Patrick refused to count. So he chokeslammed the whole NWO until Hogan hit him with a guitar filled with sand and nearly stripped him nude. You know, because that’s exactly what the fans wanted.

I get that the NWO was one of the strongest heel factions of all time. I do. I get it. But letting them just run wild and do whatever they want seems risky. I don’t know how it didn’t alienate all the fans. They somehow sustained for such a long period of time without ever showing the faces win. It doesn’t seem sustainable, but somehow, it chauffeured in an era where wrestling was more popular than ever. Maybe knowing how everything ends makes me look at it with a different lens. Maybe the random brief appearances of Sting was enough to get people tuning in every week.

The whole show is a fucked up time capsule of an era we still don’t quite understand. And it was done at a weird time where there was no actual strong face to challenge the bad guys. But either way, Souled Out was a strange, unique and surreal experiment in letting the villains take over. And for that, I would say it was a huge success. Whatever that’s worth.

Other Random Notes:

  • Big Bubba Boss Man Whatever beat Hugh Morrus via countout after he ran him over with a motorcycle. That finish fit the vibe perfectly.
  • During the opening match, the crowd made fervent USA chants. Masahiro Chono is Japanese and Chris Jericho is Canadian. But I guess they were both born in America?
  • At one point, Eric Bischoff urged a wrestler to, “Do it for Alice In Chains”, which made no sense whatsoever.
  • When the Steiners won, there were NWO plants in the audience to throw cups at them.
  • There was a live band next to the entrance ramp, but they were clearly not playing any music.
  • I still can’t get over the fact that people ordered this on Pay-Per-View

– TeeCoZee