At the end of the month, NXT will have its first Halloween Havoc special, and they haven’t shied away from the ways in which the event hearkens back to WCW’s signature PPV that went by the same name. That includes announcing the return of Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal.
WCW unveiled the Wheel for Halloween Havoc 1992, for a special gimmick match between Sting and Jake Roberts. The Wheel had different gimmick matches on it and—in kayfabe—randomly determined what kind of match they’d have. The concept carried forward the following year to Cactus Jack and Big Van Vader’s rivalry. WWE coopted the gimmick for Raw Roulette years down the road, and various smaller promotions have adopted variations on it since. All of these takes on Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal have underscored just how appealing and fun special match type can be, but also where it can come up short.
10 Great Gimmick: Unpredictability
Over the course of his 83 Weeks podcast, Eric Bischoff has driven point time and again that wrestling fans love to be surprised. Bischoff earned both credit and blame for his creative choices. Though the Wheel concept predated Bischoff’s time in control of the company, it makes sense that WCW would carry forward the Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal concept into his tenure on top.
The Wheel is all about mystery and elements of chance. There’s a certain appeal to fans not knowing if they might see a Bull Rope, First Blood, I Quit, or variety of other rare match types play out.
9 Fall Flat: Can’t Advertise A Good Gimmick Match
While Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal is a fun concept in its own right, making it the center of a high profile match precludes a promotion from properly promoting what sort of off-the-wall gimmick matches might actually get featured.
So, while a Boiler Room Brawl, for example, may draw nostalgic Attitude Era fans, the nature of the Wheel means NXT can’t advertise this match type they’ll end delivering for its Halloween Havoc. Could it be a Steel Cage match? Could it be a Street Fight? We won’t know what match it will be until the wheel is done spinning. Some fans may be excited to take their chances on what gimmick matches will come to fruition, but others may tune out for the lack of guarantees.
8 Great Gimmick: The Halloween Theme
There’s a lot of wrestling out there. Indeed, WCW was in the process of growing its PPV calendar when it gave Halloween Havoc more of an identity by introducing Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal. Nowadays, WWE not only has monthly PPVs and recurring TakeOver specials but no less than seven hours of featured television programming on a weekly basis.
Having a special feature to make a show legitimately different is important. While there are pros and cons to reviving Halloween Havoc, The Wheel gimmick lends itself well to this show for the trick or treat element of not knowing what sort of match will come up, and the potential horrors it might invite.
7 Fall Flat: Obvious Red Herrings
The 1993 edition of Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal infamously included a Cage Match as one of the options. WCW had already adopted the model of hanging a steel cage from the ceiling to lower it when such matches were going to happen, and so the absence of a cage felt like a dead give away this type of match wasn’t going to happen.
While it was technically possible that some variant on a Cage Match could happen—and WWE was still in the habit of manually erecting cages around the ring when they were called for—it felt like an obvious and borderline laughable red herring for WCW. Not so dissimilarly, the company steered away from blood and gore in that era, making a Barbed Wire Match feel far fetched. These red herrings made fans immediately question the legitimacy of the Wheel, underscoring that where it would land was predetermined.
6 Great Gimmick: The Texas Death Match
In 1993, the Wheel landed on a Texas Death Match. The brutality of the gimmick was a perfect fit for Big Van Vader, and set up one of Cactus Jack’s best matches. That’s not to mention that fans didn’t see many hardcore-style matches at that point in mainstream American wrestling, so a contest like this felt legitimately special.
A lot of the Wheel’s potential is knotted up in surprise, and all the more so delivering a surprise that actually satisfies the crowd. The Texas Death Match was a fine example of all of the pieces coming together.
5 Fall Flat: Raw Roulette Over-Exposing The Gimmick
A part of what made Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal feel so special originally was how sparsely used the gimmick was. Indeed, WCW only busted it out for one match, once a year, before doing away with the concept after only two iterations.
WWE is notorious for over-exposing gimmicks, like having two Hell in a Cell Matches in the same night, or the tendency for the TLC PPV to feature multiple Ladder or TLC Matches. When WWE did its own take on the Wheel with Raw Roulette (attached to Eric Bischoff as the kayfabe GM), the Wheel lost some luster for being used multiple times in the same night. There’s a risk of that dynamic only worsening with NXT. They’ll be using the Wheel with the promise of at least two matches in the night—the North American and Women’s Championship Matches—being determined via spin.
4 Great Gimmick: Offbeat Pre-Match Promos
It’s routine business for a talent to cut a pre-match promo shortly before coming to the ring. Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal offers a fun variation on that dynamic, though, with a wrestler not only threatening his or her opponent, but getting promo time with a purpose when they come out actually determine what kind of match they’re going to have.
So, the Wheel invites wrestlers to organically build anticipation, taking a spin and cutting a promo at one point in the show, only to pop the crowd again by actually having the match later in the night–in the past, blowing off one of WCW’s major rivalries.
3 Fall Flat: The Coal Miner’s Glove
WCW’s first Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal Match underscored how the concept can fall short of expectations. Indeed, off a Wheel littered with possibilities, Sting’s spin landed on about the most mundane match type out of the group, a Coal Miner’s Glove Match.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some good matches featuring objects on a pole, or even Coal Miner’s Glove Matches themselves in wrestling history. The gimmick simply doesn’t invite the same spectacle as a Cage Match, or brutality of a Russian Chain Match, and demonstrated that when a promoter hadn’t promised anything, there was every possibility they might deliver at the lowest level.
2 Great Gimmick: WCW Nostalgia
Though WCW’s war with WWE had great moments, in the end, WCW clearly and rightfully lost. The company’s issues on the corporate side, as well as its creative spelled disaster. For all of WCW’s shortcomings, though, the promotion’s defining stars, signature events, and key moments still get hardcore, longtime fans nostalgic.
Not unlike NXT revisiting War Games or The Great American Bash, going back to the Halloween Havoc concept, and all the more so Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal is a fun way of pulling out some of what was best about WCW in its quirky, offbeat creativity, and making it new again.
1 Fall Flat: A Limited History
While Halloween Havoc was an event with over a decade of history, the awkward truth about Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal is that WCW only ran it twice. Indeed, WCW grasped for identity in the early 1990s, including an infamously bad Chamber of Horrors Match in 1991. 1992 saw WCW innovate the Wheel, and 1993 saw them do better with the concept.
By 1994, Hulk Hogan had arrived, and WCW had changed. Hogan headlined that year’s Halloween Havoc in a Cage Match with Ric Flair. Though The Hulkster’s confrontation with The Giant the following year had campy elements, the company had nonetheless moved on from the Wheel, thus rendering it less an iconic piece of WCW history than a footnote.
Next: WWE’S 5 Greatest Gimmick Match Concepts (& 5 That Were Ridiculous)
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