Ringside Shadows #99: Seven to the Fore
What a weekend.. between Russo's apparent departure and the assignment of a new booking committee, the injuries and alterations that have plagued the now-past Souled Out card, or the threat of 7 important talents' pilgrimage to another promotion, things will most certainly never be the same again.
That's right, I said 7 workers have threatened to leave the promotion. According to varied reports across the net, Eddie Guerrero, Billy Kidman, Konnan, Perry Saturn, Shane Douglas, Dean Malenko and newly-crowned champion Chris Benoit have asked for their immediate release unless Kevin Sullivan is removed from the company. A move of this magnitude could well knock WCW out of any future contention in any way, shape, or form and don't think the higher-ups are taking this lightly. This is huge news, and may well shape the future of the industry as we know it. The WWF would certainly have interest in all men with the exclusion of Douglas and Konnan and given ECW's recent resurgance, any one of these men could completely blow the company through the roof.. literally.
Personally, I don't know what to say. I'm still reeling from the 1-2 punch of Russo's elimination and Benoit's sudden championship reign. However, these developments have given me plenty of food for thought. What position would I most like to see these guys in, given the potential jump to one of the other big 3 actually takes place? The possibilities would be endless... Jeff Hardy v. Kidman, Benoit against Yoshihiro Tajiri, Malenko meeting Little Guido, Guerrero flying with D'Lo. A lot of dreams would come true, but if I had to choose just one.. what would it be? In the following paragraphs, I plan to take a close look at what makes each of these guys desirable or repulsive to the WWF and ECW, and run through one feud in either promotion that I would love to see. Not only that, but I'll go one step further.. I'll tell them how to book it. Hell yea, kids. Drq's in control, and he's got the tools to make the rules.
And so, without further ado, let's get into this;
Current WCW World Heavyweight Champion, former WCW US champion (2), former WCW TV champion (5), former WCW tag team champion (2), former ECW tag team champion, 1994 Super J Cup Winner.
Chris Benoit is becoming a cult icon on the internet, and not without good reason. His brawling is superb, he's a firm grasp of psychology, he can work nearly any style in the world, he's got 'the look'. The only thing he lacks, seemlingly, is mic skills. Sad that in an industry that once thrived on it's physical aspect, a man so perfectly suited struggles due to a lacking vocal presence. Regardless, Benoit has finally come into his own and has carried each of WCW's 4 heavyweight belts in less than a 6 month timespan. With somebody on a tear like Benoit's, you'd be insane not to insert him right into the world title or upper-main event scene.
In the WWF's Book:
Break Benoit out in the role originally reserved for Dr. Death, Steve Williams. That's right, he's coming directly after Austin himself. Hold his debut off until Stone Cold makes his long-awaited return from neck surgery, and open up his first Raw back with a pause that's interrupted moments later by the familiar breaking glass. As Austin comes to the ring with a full 6-pack, he grabs a mic and starts to rant about "it's great to be back", "ass", and the like. As the audience eats out of his hands, Benoit comes silently down the entryway nearly unnoticed until he's directly next to the ring apron, never breaking eye contact with the Rattlesnake. Austin finally notices the newcomer's presence, and asks him if he needs any help in the distinctive fashion only he can. Benoit swears there's no problem, but Austin ain't buying that and invites him into the ring. As Benoit steps in, Austin berates him until he's right in Benoit's face. Neither man flinches until Austin breaks open a beer, sprays it over the wolverine and starts to turn away. Benoit, also turned from the surprise, spins around and delivers 3 solid chops that reverberate through the arena and send Austin nearly off his feet. The staredown continues, until security pulls the 2 men apart. Austin breaks free and delivers a stunner, which the crowd explodes for.. but Benoit gets back up and stares right back at Austin, face to face. Cut to commercial as Austin glares bewildered at his new rival..
Why not ECW?:
Honestly, I'd love to see it. A rejuvinated feud with Malenko on ECW time would top any of their WCW efforts in an instant. A match with Mike Awesome would be nearly to the death in its sheer bump-taking and intensity. A series with Jerry Lynn would be just unbelievable. It's every true wrestling fanatic's dream come true, but it's not the best choice of the two. Not for Benoit anyway. Where a Malenko or Saturn might have trouble getting over in the WWF because of their lack of charisma, Benoit makes up for his mic difficulties with a ring presence second to none. If handled properly, Benoit could skip right over the bonafied stinkers in the Godfather, Mideon, or even the New Age Outlaws and break into worthwhile feuds with Steve Austin, Mick Foley and an upper-card Chris Jericho. While Vince might look to the expertise of Paul Heyman in developing proven personalities with an Eddie Guerrero, Benoit's ready to go now. Aside from all that, many would see a jump to ECW as a step down for the champion. After climbing the ladder so many years, Benoit is finally near the top. Why risk the trouble of dropping out of the spotlight in ECW (still considered a minor league to the general population) when he can land with a prime slot in the WWF? Instead of a dive, his popularity and recognition would instead skyrocket, with the McMahon publicity machine behind him all the way.
Former WCW cruiserweight champion (2), former WCW tag team champion (2).
Kidman has also been an object of the internet's affection in the year past, and with good reason. One of the most amazing and innovative high fliers in a time dominated by the like, Kidman's unique blend of lucha and puro jr-style is a dream in the ring, and his plain ring attire is simple but effective, helping him to stand out from the masses. Another man with trouble behind a mic, a little direction can go a long way in his case.
In the WWF's Book:
Amidst no fanfare, no entrance music, and no pyrotechnics, Billy Kidman walks out on a live Raw and grabs the mic. Half those in attendance figure him to be some sort of deranged fan that got past security, while the other half recognizes him, but remains puzzled as to his arrival. Kidman prepares to speak, but is instantly cut off by the Y2J countdown. Past the fireworks and obnoxiously blaring music comes Chris Jericho, wearing an outfit identical in every way, shape and form to that of Kidman's. Y2J rattles off a list of insults in a way unique to the lionheart, taking him back into the sophomoric attitude that made his last years in WCW so memorable. He finishes his speech with "Little Billy, when I left Atlanta 6 months ago it was with a heavy heart. You see, I'd left WCW in shambles.. their pride and joy, their bread and butter, their cruiserweight division was a shell. Juventud? Unmasked. Rey rey? I took his knee! Chavo? Let's be blunt.. the man rode a toy horse! I was, without a doubt, one bad mama jama! )insert fanfare( But there was one little oversight, billy-bo.. one conflict that slipped through my fingers. I never... broke... you." By this point, Jericho's in the ring. Somewhere, a bell rings and Kidman takes the offensive. The two have a stellar match, though the audience dozes through it, and it ends with Kidman in the liontamer. Struggling, Kidman finds a way to shake Jericho's balance and turn the submission over into a pinning combination, earning a victory by the skin of his teeth. Jericho is furious, and throws the kind of tantrum that made him famous, and Raw cuts to commercial just as Jericho begins to take apart the announce table.
Why not ECW?:
For no reason other than his missed WCW feud with Jericho. I got a bit long-winded in my WWF assessment, and believe the workers could pull even my failed script out of the dirt and make it a believable feud. There's something about Kidman that translates relatively easy to the limelight of Titan productions. I see his debut running parallel to that of the 1-2-3 Kid, X-Pac.. accelerated greatly, of course. Once his feud with Jericho ends, the two would work a sort of mutual admiration deal (again, like Waltman and Razor Ramon), and Kidman would get the opportunity to jump into high flying feuds with Jeff Hardy, Brian Christopher and Taka Michinoku. If things go well, he could even become the next Shawn Michaels.. with a twist. This Michaels is just the guy next door. In ECW I'd be afriad Kidman would get too overtaken with sheer bump-taking and not hone his real craft, the high-flying style that's given him his recent recognition. His down-to-earth look would translate much easier to the fans of the WWF than the rabid, bloodthirsty ECW regulars.
Former ECW TV champion (2), former ECW tag team champion, former WCW cruiserweight champion (4), former WCW tag team champion, former WCW US champion.
Few nicknames in the industry have been more honest than that of Dean Malenko's "man of 1000 holds". The technical master of his time, Malenko's time in the sun was never recognized. Largely one of the more underrated and under-used men of his era, Dean's hidden one of the most believable dickhead personalities ever since leaving ECW. Any way you'd like to stretch him, Malenko's there to turn it around on you in an instant. While he's best kept silent, Dean Malenko could find a way to make any man alive tap out in frustration.
In ECW's Plans:
Joey Styles and Joel Gertner make their way out to start off this TNN taping just the same as they've started off every other. Just as Gertner gets to his obligatory middle name joke, a voice from the back blares across the speakers, screaming "This isn't right! This is not right.".. enter: Steve Corino. He makes the segue about Gertner's intro being a prime example of what's wrong with the industry today, and how any worker from the old time wouldn't stand for it. He points out Dean Malenko at ringside and starts to pick on him about his father, how Dean should be taking a stand for what his father was all about. Malenko enters the ring and things start to get heated between the two, ending in a screaming Corino getting right in the Iceman's face. Just as it seems Malenko's about to deck the annoying heel, he turns and takes out Gertner while Corino embraces him and celebrates. Styles backs off, while Malenko looks right into the cameras and solidifies his alignment as Corino's main event heel. Assaults continue throughout the night, as New Jack, Spike Dudley and Tommy Dreamer are taken out. We finally arrive at the main event, a Mike Awesome v. Sandman hardcore brawl, when Malenko and an ecstatic Corino make their way to the ringside area and take in the fight from close proximity. Even through the finish, Malenko stands at ringside, a stone of a man. When the Sandman raises his newly-won world title in the air and pops open a beer, the Iceman hits the ring. He wipes the floor with the already-winded new champion and immediately grabs the belt, polishing the spilled beer from it's golden surface.
Why not the WWF?:
Personality. While Malenko could really tear it up in the ring, that's not what the WWF's fans care about unless you're throwing yourself off an 8 story building into a bed of nails. Malenko's not that hardcore, so he won't be able to rely on that in the way that Jeff Hardy can while he hones his personality. Were Dean to head to Titan, it would be as a jobber. Vince would take this great technician and completely smear him across the television almost as a personal jab at the shell of WCW. That, or he'd stick him with a terrible gimmick and wait for the imminent death. He'd have potential gems with Jericho, X-Pac or Too Cool, but nobody would be paying attention to that and he'd be subsequently ignored and/or booed out of the arena, and that's not something I'd look forward to seeing. Sure, the audience could pull a complete 180 and surprise the fuck out of my by accepting him for what he is and actually enjoying it, but that's not bloody likely. I'll take the safe bet and give him his just dues and a world title in ECW, where the crowds seems to know what makes a good match.
Former WCW tag team champion (2), former WCW TV champion.
One of the toughest-looking men in the industry, Saturn both looks and acts the part of a man that would just as soon step on your face as look at it. For a man of his stature, he flies like a bird and more often than not lands like a rock. Toting some of the more realistic offense in the game, Saturn's offense is just brutal, plain and simple. He, too, brings along an extensive grasp of the game itself and his style lends itself well to nearly any opponent he may find himself up against.
In ECW's Plans:
In such a strict contrast to his appearance, Saturn would become something of an fool's intellectual. He'd deliver a look at culture through the eyes of the common man, which isn't too far of a stretch from his current role as the dunce of the Revolution. Every rambling madman eventually has a point, and it's about time we understood Saturn's. He'd stand up against Steve Corino's "old school crew" (now including Malenko), but wouldn't really know why. He'd take offense to their berating of things he likes to do, but will stumble over the words, and Corino won't let him forget it. Finally, with the pity of every fan in the building, he'll make his stand and fight back..
Why not the WWF?:
Saturn's finally hit it big with a personality that works (his 'idiot' character), and I can actually see his subtle prods at pop culture in that forum eventually being recognized and appreciated by the WWF's moody fan base. His main problem is the lack of refinement at this moment, and if anybody can help him nail this gimmick it's Paul Heyman. Given 6 months of heavy promotion in his old stomping grounds, Saturn would have the 'idiot' down pat, and he'd be ready to move on to the big leagues of the WWF. Physically, he can go no matter where he is.. once he completes the package with a great character, the sky's the limit.
Current Stats:Former ECW TV champion (2), former WCW cruiserweight champion (2), former WCW US champion.
The supreme heel. Eddie is one of the few men alive to have such a remarkable aura as to have been labeled as an 'instant heel'. Much in the way that Rey Misterio Jr. will never be booed, Eddie will never be cheered. With that said, he's progressed into one of the best in the world at what he does. Backing up some tough words with even tougher actions. There are maybe a handful of men in the world that can keep up with Guerrero when he's on, and lately.. he's been on. His frog splash is a thing of beauty and he adds one of the most dominant Lucha libre/North American technical styles in all the world to our group.
In ECW's Plans:
Cut to ECW on TNN, a week from this Friday night. Rob Van Dam and Sabu are having a rematch over the previously-contested TV championship, and actually manage to put on a tremendous match that wears both men to the point of exhaustion. In the end, Van Dam squeaks out a close 3 count, hanging onto his coveted belt once more by the skin of his teeth. Both men slowly get to their feet and shake hands in a sign of unity rarely seen these days. As the audience applauds their approval, out steps a lone figure from behind the curtains. A disenfranchised Eddie Guerrero is slowly making his way down the ramp and the audience roars upon recognition of the star come home. Sabu steps out, but Van Dam remains in the ring and even opens the ropes for the still-blank faced Guerrero, who ignores the courtesy and enters on the other end of the ring. The winded tv champion speaks as Eddie glances into the stands, proclaiming his respect for the ECW alumn.. a move which seems to snap Guerrero back to the present. Eddie gets right in Van Dam's face, grilling him with questions about his 'respect'. Guerrero brings up Van Dam's drug habit, among other things and Van Dam backpedals. When the verbal assault subsides, Van Dam is dumbfounded and asks "what is it you want, man?". Guerrero points at the TV title.. "I want my belt back". He then drops the mic and exits the ring, leaving Van Dam at a complete loss.
Why not the WWF?:
That's a damn good question, and one I'm not at all confident in answering. Eddie rides the border in this one, I can easily see him arriving in both promotions with equal success. In the WWF, I can even see Guerrero taking off in a feud with the Rock. The two play such wonderful manipulating heelish personalities that they could have a field day with each other, and the audience would quickly embrace the Rock. I chose ECW only because of the history he's left behind there, and the fun I could have playing it all up.
Former WCW tag team champion (2), former WCW US champion, former WCW TV champion.
Over as hell with the pseudo-ghettos, and I haven't a clue why. Konnan caters to the lower denominator in this otherwise-strong grouping. One of the few to confidently work a mic, he's recently relied heavily on catch phrases and the same old schtick week-in and week-out. When he wants to come out and play, he's not an awful worker by any stretch of the imagination, but therein lies the trick.
In the WWF's Book:
Just as Raw hits its unopposed second hour, the audience is surprised as the former theme of WCW group the Filthy Animals is faintly broadcast across the speakers. Jerry Lawler comments on another production screw up, but eats his words as Konnan peeks his head out from behind the curtains. As he tries to hold his pants up down the entryway, the audience reacts with surprise and confusion. He gets to the ring, and spews the regular catch phrases to which the crowd gives a half hearted response. Midway through his promo, the Acolytes come down to ringside and interrupt his meanderings. Konnan breaks kayfabe, asking "what? I'm trying to cut a promo here, man" to which Faarooq replies "Son, you got a pantie on yo' head." Konnan takes offense and attempts a moonsault from the ring apron to the floor, which lands several feet short. The Acolytes think for a moment, and then toy with Konnan's corpse before putting it out of its misery. Konnan is never seen again in either the WWF or WCW.
In ECW's Plans:
Just as TNN Friday night hits it's unopposed second half hour, the same music blares into the ECW arena. Konnan steps out into the entryway, but is stopped midway by Paul Heyman himself. Words are exchanged, with the blunt point being "Konnan, I didn't hire you." Konnan gets on his knees and begins to beg, and Heyman has no choice but to powerbomb the shell of a worker through an armored truck or something just as ludicrous, which is met with a solid "E-C-DUB" chant from the rabid audience members. Heyman makes the observation that K-Dog does indeed have a panty on his head, and Konnan is never heard from again.
Former ECW World Heavyweight champion (4), former ECW TV champion (2), former WWF Intercontinental champion.
Finally, we come to "the Franchise", Shane Douglas. Formerly "dean" Douglas of the WWF, Shane never found a personality that stuck until he founded ECW and became an extension of himself. One of the best interviews in the business, Douglas found a way to make The Wall seem interesting. Though his ring skills have decayed heavily in the past year, Douglas can still get in and go when he's needed. He's best suited as the mouthpiece and leader of a stable, much like the role he plays now as a member of the Revolution.
In ECW's Plans:
They say there's no better angle than the truth, and I'd take that ball and run with it here. Shane Douglas would become involved in a battle of the minds with ECW owner Paul Heyman. Heyman himself has always played a hands-on role with the company both on and off air, so crowd recognition is a non-issue. Douglas' problems with Heyman have been well-documented, and I'd expect to see a lot of brutal honesty coming out along with the storylines (think Bret and HBK's "Sunny incident"). Eventually, things would encompass almost the whole of ECW with workers choosing sides and trading slots as needed. One thing that's plagued feuds like this in the past has been a neverending booking schedule. Every week in 1997 Nitro would end with the nWo and WCW "finally" meeting. This feud would be concise, streamlined, and believable. It wouldn't last more than a year, nor less than 4-6 months and when it was over Douglas would step out as champion, reconciling his differences with Heyman and leaving everybody with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
Why not the WWF?:
Simple politics. Much as is the case with ECW, Douglas has left behind a lot of enemies in the WWF and has burned a lot of bridges as well. Even if he could get out of his WCW contract (around which this entire column orbits), the WWF wouldn't be interested. In a federation that's been built upon it's young stars, Douglas would stick out like a sore thumb. His history with the promotion isn't exactly stellar, he most likely won't accept another gimmick idea (after the sad affair that was 'dean' douglas), and he's past his physical prime. That's reason enough for Vince to toss his proposal right out the window.
And for me, that's how it goes. Look for my big, bad 100th issue this coming Tuesday evening, which should be accompanied by a new banner and a paragraph or two reflecting on the last year's worth of strain I've placed on my wrists writing these things. But, as always..
until next time, i remain