In Defense Of… The Finger Poke of Doom
A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
This actually comes from a friend of mine. He loves the Finger Poke of Doom, and puts it over like the deadliest move of all time. If anyone ever says it was stupid, he’ll go through all of the ways the finger poke hit certain pressure points and shuts down the nervous system. Try arguing with him about why this isn’t a legitimate devastating move, I dare you!
Well, insane kayfabe aside, the Finger Poke of Doom is oft lamented as the prime example of what was wrong with WCW. My friend and I disagree. The Finger Poke of Doom actually made perfect sense from all perspectives, progressed storylines for a year, and — most of all — was good for business. Ready to find out why? I know I am!
On January 4, 1999, newly crowned President of WCW Ric Flair announced a rematch from Starrcade: New World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash vs. the man he defeated for the title: Goldberg. Seemingly unknowing, Nash won the match after Scott Hall hit Goldberg with a taser to finally end the undefeated streak. Not wanting to lose his Wolfpac love with the fans, Nash accepted the match, and everything was in place.
That same night, Hollywood Hogan was set to make a special guest appearance after being in semi-retirement for months and toying with the idea of running for President of the United States (just to stick it in Jesse Ventura’s face). Meanwhile, without his presence, the nWo Black and White had fallen into a disarray of B-stars and the Wolfpac was nothing more than a coddling piece of WCW, not the great machine the nWo used to be.
What had happened to the nWo of the past? They were a separate organization set to take over WCW, but those days were behind. They had become the establishment — as could be seen with co-branding — and were soon to lose everything, even then their own PPV Souled Out. The nWo was lost… or was it?
Behind the scenes, the best of the best got together. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Lex Lugar, Scott Steiner, and Buff Bagwell came up with a plan to get rid of Goldberg (who had truly driven Hogan away), turn the nWo back into a dominating force, and keep the rabble in the nWo busy so they would not hinder the real work being done.
The plan was set into motion before Starrcade, but this would be their shining moment.
Miss Elizabeth went to the Atlanta police and got Goldberg arrested for sexual misconduct towards her, as she feared for her safety. Everywhere she went, Goldberg was there! Of course, Goldberg countered that that’s because they travel around the country together. But Elizabeth said that even when she went to the gym at home Goldberg was there waiting for her. Goldberg said that was because he owned the gym. Oh well!
But this kept Goldberg busy enough. While away, Kevin Nash said Goldberg got screwed at Starrcade, and was getting screwed by Hogan now. He asked President Flair for a match against Hogan that night, and Flair gave the go ahead. Later, Hogan came out for a special interview to announce his VP candidate, but said the situation with Goldberg made him sick. What also made him sick was Kevin Nash thinking he was scared of him. Thus he decided to have “one last match” that he owed to his fans.
And everything was set.
The main event came. Steiner came out with Hogan. Nash came out alone, and then pointed to the back and Scott Hall followed. 40,000 fans in the Atlanta Dome were on their feet screaming. The tension could be cut with a knife. They stared each other down. Nash shoved Hogan. Hogan came back with a punch. He pulled it. And then he hit the most devastating move in wrestling:
THE FINGER POKE OF DOOM!!!
Hogan covered for the One-Two-Three and the championship!
And the plan was set in motion.
The Logic of Wrestling
People say, what was the logic of Nash dropping the title to Hogan after just winning it? Why would he do that?
Well, look at it from his character’s perspective. Through the nWo to the present, the Kevin Nash character has cared about one thing: making a lot of money. Remember when the nWo had a match for the entire gate of a live event? Or how they always pushed their t-shirts?
And that’s what Kevin Nash was noticing. Wolfpac sold decently but was reaching its saturation point. It was nothing like the nWo of the past. He didn’t have the clout anymore that he used to and was now really a part of WCW accepting their terms instead of dictating his own.
He needed to refocus and get back into a power position. He knew one man who could do that for him: Hulk Hogan.
But what could Hogan to gain from this? He was already rich beyond most and had nothing to prove in the sport. Wasn’t he going to run for President?
Well, Hogan had decided that he needed more time before that happened and realized that he only had so much time left in the business. He wanted one last shot at the top, but feared one thing: Goldberg. How could he get the title off of Goldberg yet never have to face him? That’s where this plan turns genius.
You see, when a champion loses his title, he generally has an automatic rematch clause in his contact against the person that beat him. Well, that meant that when Nash beat Goldberg, Goldberg had the right to ask for the rematch on Nitro. But since he was unable to make it, Hogan got the match. When Hogan won and became the new champion, Nash became the defacto number one contender. Now he was the former champion who could exercise a rematch clause whenever he wanted! Except, being in a team, he never would! So now Hall and Nash could keep Goldberg busy for months to come, while Hogan was off celebrating with the gold.
Meanwhile, the nWo got to reform into a powerhouse unit, but things were just getting underway.
The Rash Decision
Despite the starkness of the devious plan, members of the IWC still believe that this was an on-the-fly booking decision; that all of the events leading up to the Finger Poke and afterwards were just out of the booking committee’s backside that day. Look, though, at the long-term focus WCW was trying to put in:
Refocus the forces
WCW had split into a ridiculous number of factions, all filled with people no one cared about. The first step was to set up the elite nWo, then start to dismantle the rabble in the black and white. At the same time, they had President Flair get rid of the lWo so that there would be certainties about who was on what team and how the storylines were going. Keeping everything fractured into groups that people could not get behind was not helping anyone, and this was the start of the new direction of WCW.
Drawing out the point
At this point in time, WCW began to set the pace for where things were going for months. For instance, the antics of Hall, Nash, Hogan, and the rest of nWo led to Flair’s eventual insanity and the heel turn for the Horsemen. Looking back, the seeds were built for everything, and the storylines all began to intertwine again into something special.
As time went on, WCW did not try to bury the Finger Poke or pretend it never happened. It came up again, especially when Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan started feuding. A lot of it began with Hogan implying the Finger Poke was real, and he had totally devastated Nash. Torrie Wilson, of all people, was speeding along the process and using the Finger Poke to ebb Nash into turning on Hogan. WCW did not just try to make things happen for no reason at this point; they wanted the long story to continue.
GOLD! And Newbies!
And let us not forget about the gold. The World Heavyweight Championship obviously took a lot of emphasis and good stories evolved surrounding the title leading up to Hogan’s loss to Flair at SuperBrawl. At the same time, there was an excellent Tag Team tournament, with Hall and Nash trying to remind everyone how good they were. The Television title got a lot of shine from Steiner now being in the top of the nWo. Also, just coincidently, the cruiserweights were getting a lot of air-time and were often getting beat up by nWo members. This actually led to the nWo being used to elevate new stars, most notably Rey Mysterio and Konnan. Both were treated as legitimate threats to the nWo and were given the proper ball to run with. Of course, let us not forget that within the nWo that said Steiner was on the rise, and was soon to take a Booker T with him.
The Finger Poke of Doom did not lead directly to all of this, but it was the forefather for things to come. It was the necessary step to set WCW’s direction in the coming months, and those months were planned to some detail. There was no rashness to this choice; it was all played out exactly as it was meant to.
You remember my good friends, the Numbers?
How did this new direction and focus affect WCW? Well, since this is a corporation we are talking about, let’s look at things in quarters (3 months/12 weeks). Let’s start out with the Nitro ratings:
Well OK then. For the entire quarter, WCW averaged a 4.6 rating. And look at the ratings right around the Finger Poke of Doom. People were not turned off by it as the IWC would have you believe. All of these old stereotypes for what is a good and bad rating from the past have stopped us from seeing what is plain in numbers: people were entertained and tuned back in. They wanted to see what would happen next.
Over the next several months, the WWF picked up a lot more steam and WCW started to stall again. But that does not mean the Finger Poke of Doom drove away the fans. Quite the contrary, looking at the immediate numbers the following week, we can see they were acutely interested in what was going on.
Taking an interesting turn, we can also check the Thunder ratings. And wouldn’t you know it: The January 7, 1999 edition of Thunder immediately following the Finger Poke of Doom was the highest rated Thunder EVER with a 4.3. This followed up with a 3.9 and two weeks at 4.2’s. So for a month within the Finger Poke of Doom, the average WCW rating for its two main shows was a 4.5. I would say that that meant people were not turned off at all, and that the Finger Poke of Doom did not just increase interest in Nitro, but in WCW overall.
The Death of WCW
Yet we hear all the time how the Finger Poke killed WCW. During my research, I often found people who said the Finger Poke of Doom brought WCW to its end, and several people wrote in with the same comments every time I brought it up. It seems that to these people, the finger poke happened, everyone ran to WWF the next week, and WCW was immediately out of business.
Let’s clear the air. WCW died on March 26, 2001, a full two years and nearly three months after the Finger Poke of Doom. As a matter of fact, by that point in time, neither Kevin Nash, Hulk Hogan, nor Eric Bischoff was really involved with WCW anymore (although Bischoff was trying to purchase it before AOL-TW pulled the plug on an actual show!). There seems to be this magical gap in memory that life went on for a long, long time, and WCW was profitable for quite a while after this event, too.
But as we just saw with the ratings, the Finger Poke did not only NOT drive away the fans, it led to some of the highest rated Nitros and Thunders on record. Those involved saw that what they had done was good for business, was good for WCW, and that meant it was the right thing to do all along.
One More to the Pin
With a simple push to the chest, wrestling history was changed in one night. The Finger Poke of Doom was the culmination of a plan to change the direction of WCW and accomplished so much in one little touch. Some would have you believe that this was a horrible mistake that immediately caused the end of WCW, but the numbers show the opposite as fan interest rose across the board in WCW with the Finger Poke of Doom. It was talked about, it was watched, and it made money in the long run.
The Finger Poke of Doom rarely has had anyone talk about all of the positives it has done. Instead, simple idle lines about it have tarnished reasonable thought for too long. Step back and look: The Finger Poke of Doom was amazing. It wasn’t the horror that the IWC has claimed for so long, but was an enjoyable and shocking moment in wrestling history; a moment that will be remembered for a long time to come. So instead of wallowing in some supposed tragedy that never happened, let us remember how to enjoy the moment as it was.
The defense rests.
After the Trial
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS THE FINGER POKE OF DOOM, THE FINGER POKE HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF CAUSING THE DEATH OF WCW, DESTROYING ENJOYMENT IN WRESTLING, AND BEING ONE OF THE WORST SWERVES IN WRESTLING HISTORY THAT SENT THE FANS AWAY IN DROVES.
With 64% of the Finger Poke of Doom was found:
Whew, that was a close one! Every vote counted up until the last minute! Most people who voted guilty had legitimate reasons and expressed them to me, and I appreciate that. Some people, though — well, you know how message boards are. At least if you are going to accuse me of anything or lambaste my choice of topics, have some evidence to back it up!
Although I dominated in the prior case, I knew this one was going to be an uphill battle:
I’ve read all your columns and certainly they’re interesting, though I think you’re sometimes too ‘fanatic’ about things. But you did convince me that Kevin Nash isn’t an overpushed immobile heap of muscles, which IWC seems to imply quite often.
However, I do not agree with the defense of Fingerpoke of Doom. You’ve got some valid points and some less valid (I don’t think that ratings have too much to do with FoD. People might have watched WCW because they always watched it and even horrible things couldn’t steer them away from TV. And, as Diva Search II proves, horrible things can draw ratings, but they’re still horrible), but there is more to this.
It was [the] WCW World Title. The straightest descendant of the first ever World Heavyweight Title. The Belt held by legends like Flair, Thesz, Lewis. You don’t give up the *fucking* most prized title in wrestling business. You don’t fucking do this. This is where WCW failed. They presented the political power of [the] nWo as more important than anything else. Not even the big belt. Evil prevailed. People don’t want to see things like that. Vince understood this. Despite all his on-screen power, he couldn’t take the WWF belt from Austin — Austin could fight. And even when Vince was this close to winning, often his own troops fought among themselves to claim the belt, allowing Austin to sneak away in [the] chaos. Screwjobs are fine, political games are not. The most important championship belt shouldn’t be subject to politics, or else it’s worthless…man, I got carried away.
To sum up, Fingerpoke is GUILTY!!
So here we have outside evidence working its way in, especially emotional evidence to a piece of hardware that meant so much to so many. However, this was hardly the only reasoning:
You made some good points with the Finger Point of Doom angle/storyline, but not enough to [convince] me. The angle still seems to me that a lot off bullshit by the same tired characters (Nash, Hogan, Hall and NWO in general) just to get the “oh my god” reaction that lasts for a few seconds, while the WWF was at the same time actually pulled off dramatic good matches and pushed new stars (Mankind, Rock) The latter stars went on to be some of the most successful stars in history while the former weren’t even around for Nitro’s final show.
Nitro had some very good ratings after, but as your chart shows they went down fast and never went back up. It’s the [epitome] of a hot shot angle (people watch to see if anything happens in the aftermath of a shocking angle, find out nothing of note happens and tune out)…
[Your] best points were the character motivations. You [obviously] are a much more sophisticated [viewer] than the average IWC and especially mark out there… The WCW needed to tell viewers (outright) that Nash was a greedy, money hungry guy, even reminding them about the t-shirt days and his old role in the NWO. Sometimes not being subtle is a way to drive angle home.
While I may not have been able to argue too much with someone’s personal attachment to this history of an object, at least this one I could respond reasonably to:
I believe, though, you missed your own connection. The reasons the ratings went down a few months later were for the reasons you listed: the rising stars of the WWF. The WWF was getting hot, and WCW stopped long-term planning. It was not the Finger Poke of Doom that led to those lower ratings, but the storylines in WCW not being attractive enough and the storylines and wrestling in the WWF being more interesting. It would still be another half-year after that before ratings really began to hurt for WCW, not the direct result of the poke.
These were the reasonable types. Others became increasingly agitable:
[G]reat booking strategy. [T]ake the title off of a popular champion to give it back to the desperate old man trying to cling to his spot. You must also understand that at that point wrestling was so huge even the [A.W.A.] could have drawn big business ([I] mean the A.W.A. with such stars as [M]aster [B]laster and [R]ocky [M]ountain [T]hunder.) [Y]our evidence is flimsy to say the least.
You make up ratings numbers, and your only defense is “the IWC is lying, the FOD did huge business” without any non-fabricated evidence to back it up.
Your case was a joke, at best.
I did give the respondent my original source and told him to tell the source that their data was wrong and to keep me in the loop. Strangely, I never received a follow-up.
On the other end were those who absolutely loved it and would have voted “Not Guilty” no matter what:
Thank you! I have been defending that match to my friends for years now. I think it was a brilliant swerve that worked for the characters and the storyline. I think the internet people were just upset because they got suckered in by a heel turn like they were normal marks.
NOT GUILTY! If only we had more worked shoot incidents like this today, wrestling would be much edgier. I wasn’t even alive when Lou Thesz was wrestling. Why am I supposed to uphold his legacy as the best???
To which I responded:
Well, I still love the history stuff, but I honestly do not believe this tarnished the World Title at all. And Lou Thesz had PLENTY of controversial finishes and screwjobs in his matches. People seem to have selective memories when it comes to information like that.
The real win, though, was on those I was able to turn:
Your points are well taken, I was one of those people that thought that The Finger Poke of Doom caused the demise of WCW, but you have made [me] see the error of my ways.
I went into the article, expecting to disagree with you, and vote guilty. I still hate the angle, and feel it could have been executed in a way less infuriating manner, while still accomplishing the goals of reuniting the NWO. But hindsight is 20/20, and the IWC is full of armchair bookers who are sure that they could have done a much better job. (Thankfully, I have Adam Ryland’s Total Extreme Warfare game to soothe my ego and show that I’m a great booker, hence why I don’t have a column somewhere on the internet, ranting about the WWE roster cuts, etc.)
Anyway, back on topic-I wanted to vote guilty, but quite frankly, facts are facts. You truly proved, via hard statistics that the fingerpoke didn’t kill WCW, and may have helped ratings in the short term.
I have no valid argument to any of the points you brought up, beyond my whole opinion of the angle, and it would serve no purpose to place an opinion against facts.
Not guilty, and by a large margin. This wasn’t even something I had to think about.