Ringside Shadows #155: Seven From the Fore
With the end of the year rapidly approaching, dragging with it my colleagues' own individual "best of" lists, I find myself looking back over the century past and recalling the good along with the bad. The final curtain was drawn for both Bret Hart and Mick Foley, while the play has only just begun for HHH and Lance Storm. Yet, despite what's likely to be remembered as the year that spawned both Helmsley and Angle, I just can't stop thinking about what remains the most significant event of the new century in my own eyes.
In the early evening of January 17th, I climbed aboard my Pentium 486 with a purpose. The gears of time were churning, nearly loud enough to shake the room, and it was all I could do to keep the speed my fingers were typing somewhere near the speed my thoughts were processing. Vince Russo had been removed from his seat atop WCW. In his place stood Kevin Sullivan, and in his wake came the story of 2000; the pilgrimage of the Radicals.
When I posted Ringside Shadows #99, things were still speculative. Alongside Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko stood Billy Kidman, Shane Douglas and Konnan. While the WWF was certainly the promised land, the name of ECW was also in the mix. Though I'm rarely one to embrace a rumor when it first presents itself, this one was too good to pass by. It was more than just food for thought, providing me with the shot in the arm I'd needed for a good six months. Even if nothing came of this rumored leap in the real world, I'd have made my speculation regardless. It was truly too good to be true, something everyone had crossed off their lists but still imagined in the back of their mind. Jeff Hardy vs. Billy Kidman? Chris Benoit vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri? Eddy Guerrero vs. D'Lo Brown? The possibilities were now endless, and it hadn't taken me long to spread my feelings across the waves of the internet ocean.
In "Seven to the Fore" (Ringside Shadows #99), I took a closer look at each of the seven men involved with this opportunity and put in my two cents. I theorized whether they'd be a better acquisition for the WWF or ECW, stated their strengths and weaknesses, listed their career accomplishments and even set them off on the right foot, booking the introduction for their first feud in the new federation. To this day, I consider it one of my greatest works and find myself glancing back at it more often than any other column.
Now that we're nearly a year beyond the shift that shook the wrestling world, I think it's time to take another look at these seven, as well as my own predictions for where the move would have landed them in the end. In some instances, my guesses were about a mile and a half from the truth, while in others I was a bit too close for comfort. The steel's come back from the fore, and not all of it came out in one piece.
With Benoit, I found myself booking big. Honestly, who could blame me? The man was now a former WCW World Champion, stripped of his title in absence and ready to play in the big leagues. He was the key player in this power move, without whom none of the undeniable impact would have been present. So I threw him into a feud with Steve Austin. Coming off a high profile play like this would net Benoit instant notoriety with the audience, his name still fresh from that World Title victory over Sid. In his feud with Austin, I molded Benoit into what Stone Cold had been missing for much of his Main Event career: somebody that could beat him any day of the week without missing a beat. I sent him to the ring in the middle of an Austin interview, backed by no pyro, no entryway music and no elaborate ring attire. Amidst little fanfare would appear this stoic figure, quietly strolling his way to the ring. When Austin notices him and calls him up to the apron, the Crippler maintains his composure all the way to their unavoidable staredown. Playing the role he was born to, Austin cracks a beer and sprays the wolverine down, only to find himself nearly knocked off his feet by a couple of Benoit's vicious trademark chops. Left with little alternative, Austin would land a stunner, which Benoit would ride all the way down and reverse into a crossface at the last moment.
I didn't send Benoit to ECW, because it wouldn't do his newfound image any justice. To jump from the WCW World Title to ECW wouldn't have meant anything... if nothing else, the audience would have seen it as a step down. What Benoit needed was a bit of a tweak in his image and mic skills, something Vince McMahon knows like second nature. With the Titan publicity machine churning by his side, Benoit's a surefire future World Champ. With Paul Heyman's distant third place promotion, he'd become a "could've been."
So, did I choose correctly? To an extent. The WWF didn't see the instant main event power I did in Benoit, but began the building process for a run at the top almost immediately. They established him as the leader of the Radicals, without question, and proved he was a force to be reckoned with by giving him a great, competitive match with HHH to begin his WWF career. He's challenged the Rock in the main event of several Pay Per Views, held the IC gold for an elongated run, and introduced a sort of technical renaissance to the mix lately, influencing Steve Austin noticeably. While he hasn't yet paid his dues long enough for a slot at the very top, the sky is certainly the limit for the Crippler within another six months. More importantly, though, he's rediscovered his love for the sport. For that reason alone, Benoit's much better off in the WWF. He made the right choice in heading North.
Also on my flight to Titan, I booked Kidman into a feud that eluded us during the WCW run of another superstar gone to Titan: Chris Jericho. I cast Y2J in the role of Razor Ramon and Kidman as the 1-2-3 Kid in a reenactment of the match that brought Shawn "X-Pac" Waltman to the WWF for his first run. Passed off by many in the WWF audience as a jobber, the voices of those who did recognize him would have been drowned out by Jericho's blaring Y2J countdown. Playing the role of the heel he perfected in WCW, Jericho would poke fun at everything from Kidman's haircut to the way he wears his clothes. He'd make note of the time both had in Atlanta, mentioning how he'd torn through everyone in the cruiserweight division except little Billy Kidman. With Kidman putting up more than a little fight for his first match, I had Jericho locking in the Walls after about seven minutes. Desperate, I called for Kidman to shake his opponent's balance enough to roll him up into a pinning combination. Afterwards, I had Jericho throwing one of the tantrums he made legendary at the very start of his run as a cruiserweight champ.
I had little reason for not sending Kidman to ECW, aside from this feud. Though he hasn't proven himself when push comes to shove in WCW, I think the bright lights of the WWF could bring out something that would be missing in the lower-tier ECW; a desire to succeed. Kidman has the skills, but hasn't been given reason enough to break them out. In the right situation, along with a little luck, Kidman could be the next Shawn Michaels. In ECW, he'd be just another talented guy that won't make it to the big leagues.
It's pretty obvious that of the three decisions Kidman could have made at the crossroads last year, he made the wrong one. Though he was promised the sun and the moon for his loyalty, nothing has come of his career over the last eleven months. In addition to that, the backstage depression that's poisoning Turner's brand of wrestling has infected this rising star as well. Much like his WCW comrades, it's beginning to seem as if Kidman just doesn't care anymore. He's lost the cutting edge enthusiasm that made him such a joy to watch, and doesn't seem to be the same man because of it. In staying with WCW, Kidman made a poor decision.
As a man without any solidified personality but plenty of ferocity in the ring, I sent Saturn off to ECW, for the talents of one Paul Heyman to groom into a complete package. His gimmick at the moment was the dunce of the Revolution, missing the point of many Shane Douglas tirades and playing the gimmick for all it was worth, obviously having fun along the way. Though the gimmick had shown flashes of brilliance, Saturn hadn't quite nailed it yet and would've been eaten alive if he'd tried it in the WWF. Therefore, I had Heyman work his magic in E C dub for a while until Perry had the whole schtick down pat. Then it would only be a matter of time before the WWF came knockin' with a contract ready to be signed.
Since then he's abandoned the gimmick completely and become what I'd hoped against hope he wouldn't; a big, talented guy with little to no personality. As a result, the fans haven't backed him and he's floundering in the lower mid card. I still maintain that Saturn could be a player in the near future, but it's going to require a strong personality or gimmick, a few lucky breaks and a feud that really clicks. He's still got what it takes in the ring, but needs a solid direction. With the roster as full as it is right now, Saturn's finding himself more and more lost amongst the deserving workers that are being forgotten amidst the shuffle. In ECW, he could have built a lot of momentum before jumping into the big pond. Though he's experienced some moderate success as a European champion, I think Saturn could've made something more of himself with a little time in Extreme, which is why I'm calling his move to the WWF the wrong one.
A shorter synopsis of my ECW booking plans for Guerrero wouldn't really do myself justice, so I'm opting for a direct quote here; "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 three 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."
I wasn't sure about my decision to stick him in the world of Extreme when I made it, and Guerrero's proven why. In the end I stuck with ECW because of the history he's got there and the absolutely wonderful, deep, strong stories that could be told with it. He's a completely different man than he was during his first run with the company, and I think his presence could have catapulted ECW to new heights much like the Raven / Tommy Dreamer feud did earlier in its history. While he's still working something of a joke gimmick in the WWF, he could have been all business in ECW and built himself as even more of a legitimate package with their World Title around his waist.
Still, Guerrero's success hasn't been missing in the WWF either. Though I wasn't the biggest fan of his "Latino Heat" run, I will recognize that it's what made fans care about him as a character, a step Saturn and Malenko never made. Thus, when he finally made the heel turn I was dying for, it was accompanied by amplified boos and a great atmosphere. Guerrero's good enough to do well for himself wherever he goes, but the WWF is slowly becoming the only name in town. For that reason alone, Guerrero made the right decision.
I don't like Konnan. That much is obvious while reading my synopsis of where his career should have gone those fifty six issues ago. I sent him to both the WWF and ECW, where he was torn to pieces progressively. In the WWF, I gave him a big time entrance with fireworks, rap theme music and a new t-shirt. To the ring, he came, high as a kite. He hit his redundant catchphrases to a halfhearted response from the audience and was interrupted a moment later by the Acolytes. Verbally upset, Konnan broke kayfabe and asked the two what they were doing. Faarooq seized a mic and exclaimed "Son, you got a pantie on yo head," to which Konnan took offense. Attempting a bit of legit offense, he went for a moonsault from the apron to the floor, but landed a couple feet short. The Acolytes toyed with the corpse a bit before growing bored and moving on.
In ECW, I didn't even let him off the entryway. Peeking out from behind the curtain, I confronted him with Paul Heyman himself, who let us all know he didn't hire the guy. With Konnan on his knees begging for a job, I had Heyman powerbomb him through an armored car to a solid "E C DUB" chant. Nabbing a mic, Paul E. would've confirmed what Faarooq noted the Raw before, letting us all know that Konnan does indeed have a pantie on his head.
Konnan wasn't even that good when he cared about what he was doing. I would've loved to have seen my bookings come to life, (if just to see Faarooq deliver that line with a straight face) but realize it's got the chances of a snowball in hell. For that reason alone, I say Konnan made the right decision in staying on the sinking ship of WCW. He shouldn't be working.
Not going anywhere in WCW, Malenko needed a change and a jump to ECW could've been just what he was looking for. Landing at the same time as Steve Corino's "old school" gimmick, I sent the "man of 1000 holds" out to defend Joel Gertner from an attack by Corino himself (working a variation of the angle the RTC is using today in the WWF.) Berated and incited by Corino's excellent mic work, I'd teased Malenko's rage boiling over... right up to the moment he turned around and leveled Gernter with one quick, concise blow and embraced Corino. Since Corino was far from the World Title level he occupies today, Malenko would have been the main event man for his little stable, slaughtering all the top faces (New Jack, Spike Dudley and Tommy Dreamer) for destroying everything the gladiators of old had built. Booking The Sandman over Mike Awesome for the World Title in the main event, I sent Malenko out post match to assault the new champ from behind, polishing the spilled beer from the belt's surface and arriving as a force to be reckoned with.
Much like his Radicals teammate, Saturn, Dean Malenko is a brilliant worker without the personality to make it in the modern WWF. When the Radicals arrived on Raw that memorable Monday Night, it was Malenko that worried me the most. Barely achieving moderate success in WCW, where fans were more likely to watch a technical fight, I didn't give Malenko a chance in hell with the WWF. Unfortunately, I was right. Though his last Light Heavy match with Scotty Too Hotty on PPV was met with a great reaction from the crowd, the WWF showed their heart wasn't into it by pulling the belt's defenses from television and taking the federation in another direction. I placed him in ECW because the fans there are among the most educated in the world, and are about 75% more likely to enjoy his stuff than the more mainstream WWF audience. Now, almost a year later, I stand by my original decision. Malenko in the WWF is a puzzle with a mismatched piece.
A bit of a loudmouth, Douglas burned bridges both in the WWF and ECW, but as he was going nowhere in WCW found himself with a decision; he could swallow his pride and ask one of the men he'd scorned for another chance or stand by his guns and stick with the boat everybody was abandoning. For my decision, I went with ECW. It was here that the Franchise really proved himself, more so than he'd ever manage in the WWF, and it was here that he could rediscover just who he really was. I put him into a long term feud with Paul Heyman, which would be a ballsy thing for the company owner to agree to, since the two have a great deal of personal hatred between them. I'd handle the thing like the Austin / McMahon feud, though neither would be a face or a heel. The audience would be free to back whoever they wanted, and the thing would wrap up in no more than six months.
I didn't throw him into the WWF because of his age and ongoing personality problems behind the scenes. Though he still gets a great deal of credit for starting the revolution that became ECW, that alone isn't enough to risk the WWF's backstage harmony for.
As is, Shane Douglas hasn't made much out of himself anyway. Remaining in WCW, the Franchise has floated from one throwaway feud to the next with Torrie Wilson by his side. Though he didn't have many other options, remaining with the company that had proven they didn't know what to do with him wasn't the best choice on Douglas's part. Despite the fact I have no idea where he could have gone once released, I'd say Shane made the wrong decision by waiting things out.
And that, as they say it, is that. The sport is without question a much different place now that Benoit's challenging for WWF gold, and though a couple workers made the wrong decision when the dust began to settle, hindsight is always 20 / 20. At the very least they can say they were a part of the story of 2000... not a small feat by any means.
until next time, i remain