Corrigan’s Corner: Saturday Night’s Alright for Wrasslin’

Saturdays, not Mondays, are the best nights for pro wrestling. Although the business has never been hotter than during the “Monday Night Wars,” that time-frame lasted only six years....

Saturdays, not Mondays, are the best nights for pro wrestling.

Although the business has never been hotter than during the “Monday Night Wars,” that time-frame lasted only six years. Conversely, Saturdays have featured suplexes for several decades, from territory programs that aired locally like the early Wrestling at the Chase days to TNA iMPACT on Spike TV to even this past weekend, I stumbled upon Ring of Honor around 11 p.m. on Channel 21 on Comcast.

While being a wrasslin’ fan reduces the pain of enduring Mondays, the allure of the sport reeks of reckless, late night, weekend fun. After years of WWE blinding us with neon LED jumbotrons, it’s refreshing to go back and watch a dark arena with lights hovering only above the squared circle. That dimness throughout the audience allows fans to scream louder, a common product of anonymity, similar to Internet comments. And pro wrestling is at its finest when surrounded by a passionate, vulgar, raucous crowd.

6:05 on Saturday nights is a revered time for old school fans and historians as Georgia Championship Wrestling aired from 1971-1982 on the Superstation (TBS.) Hosted by Gordon Solie, universally referred to as the greatest commentator before J.R., the small studio show consisted of squash matches and interviews with Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, and plenty of NWA legends.

In 1982, network owner Ted Turner changed the show’s name to World Championship Wrestling, which obviously evolved into WWE’s greatest rival. Ten years later, it became WCW Saturday Night, filmed at the CNN Center with a helluva rotating crew of announcers: Jim Ross, Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, Dusty Rhodes, to name a few.

Meanwhile, Vince McMahon wouldn’t let the NWA rule Saturdays for long. Enter Saturday Night’s Main Event—the first wrasslin’ show to be shown on network television since the 1950s. Replacing Saturday Night Live reruns about five times a year, SNME cashed in on the height of Hulkamania and profiled the best of the Rock N Wrestling Era. In the midst of TV squash match marathons, SNME was the only time on TV you could watch Hogan in action, and he was squaring off against fellow greats like Harley Race and Terry Funk.

Fun fact: you can watch the entire SNME series on the WWE Network. (Avoid the 2006-2008 shows, btw.)

Then the 90s arrived and with it, ECW. HOLY SHIT. ECW Hardcore TV was unlike any wrestling show before and since, a precursor to Lucha Underground, if you will. Because it aired in syndication, each city had a different time and day to catch it. I remember discovering it on a Saturday night on Channel 48 after Street Sharks ended. This scary man with a towel masking his face snarled about beating him if you could, surviving if he’d let you. Then a montage of dives into the crowd, bloody faces, and a flaming table flashed on my screen. My 8-year-old mind was hooked.
Hardcore TV broke the format by showing a variety of matches from live events edited into highlights and lengthy promos spliced with profanity and real-life storytelling. It’s also available on the WWE Network and well worth your time.

Of course, as he did in the 80s, Vinnie Mac sought out the competition and attempted to surpass them with Shotgun Saturday Night. Sampling ECW’s chaotic nature, Shotgun emanated from various New York City locations like a nightclub and Penn Station. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Undertaker walk down the steps of a train station.

Unfortunately, the on-location experiment ended quickly and Shotgun became a precursor to Sunday Night Heat with mid-card and jobber matches taped before RAW. About a year later, Shotgun was shelved.

Perhaps the most forgotten show in sports-entertainment history, Excess lasted as long as a pregnancy, but gave birth to Jonathan Coachman’s ESPN career. (OK, that’s a stretch.) But the Coach co-hosted this RAW/Smackdown recap talk show with Trish Stratus and then Terri Runnels. As a kid too old to be in bed and too young to go out, this late-night treasure of classic matches, viewer call-ins, and special guest interviews was a life saver.

Excess was cancelled to make room for a combo: Velocity and Confidential.

Not just another weekend jobber show, Velocity provided fans with a first glimpse at future stars such as Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, and Frankie Kazarian. Velocity was a Smackdown-exclusive show so it gave a platform for cruiserweights and comedic characters like the FBI and Ernest “The Cat” Miller.

As soon as Velocity ended, “Mean” Gene Okerlund popped on the screen to host Confidential, an unprecedented behind-the-scenes Entertainment Weekly-style show. At most points during its run, Confidential was the most compelling show on WWE programming with features on Stone Cold’s walkout and Miss Elizabeth’s tragic death.

TNA iMPACT launched on Fox Sports (technically Sunday at 1 a.m.) in 2004, adding to the Saturday night lineup. The laser show type setting of the arena, timekeeping “Fox Box” at the bottom of the screen, and oh yes, a six-sided ring.

It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

That’s why I loved it.

All of these new characters, a stacked tag team division, Dusty Rhodes making matches in the back of his pickup truck. It was fresh, it was different, it was a much-needed alternative to WWE.

A few months after leaving Fox Sports, iMPACT jumped to Spike TV and kicked off a new era with Team 3-D exploding onto the scene and battling Planet Jarrett. While TNA has wavered over the years, and its future still remains uncertain, ten years ago it kept wrasslin’ unpredictable.

And made Saturday nights worth staying in for. assistant editor John Corrigan can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter at .

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John Corrigan

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One Comment
  • Corrigan’s Corner: Binge-Watch ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ | Wrestledelphia
    8 December 2015 at 8:13 AM
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    […] been documented that Saturdays are historically the best night to watch wrasslin’ and SNME certainly supports that. Premiering in May of 1985, SNME presented the best of the Rock […]

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