Ringside Shadows #187: The New Radicals
Well, I suppose now's as good a time as any to rust off these old chops and try my damndest to punch out a new run of columns. What with the new Oratory sitting on our doorsteps and a renewed excitement surrounding the potential of elevation in the WWE, one can almost forget the ass-tastic booking we were seeing less than three weeks ago and dive headfirst into the writing pool once again. On my plate for this week? A modified trip down memory lane.
Hard to believe it's been nearly two and a half years since Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko made headlines by leaving their old stomping grounds in the dust. But alas, time flies... even if many of the members of this ragged, "who woulda thunk it" group of shooters aren't exactly having fun.
It's taken a year for the group's most high profile member, Chris Benoit, to recover from neck surgery. Perhaps even more devestating than the time away from the ring was the timing. Benoit finally seemed poised for a successful run at the top of the fed, after an unbelievable month leading up to the 2001 King of the Ring, when the neck injury sidelined him. And, while it's great to see the Crippler back in action once again, it's a tough pill to swallow that we'll likely have to wait some time before such an opportunity presents itself for a second time.
Eddy Guerrero, likewise, has been through the wringer over the last year. In the midst of a potentially huge storyline of his own with the Hardys, Guerrero was suddenly taken off television the day before he was scheduled for a KOTR qualifying match against Matt. While "Latino Heat" endured rehab for an addiction to pain killers, the Hardys went on without him and the storyline fell by the wayside. Months later, Guerrero appeared ready for a big return to the federation when a DUI charge led to his complete release from the WWE. Now back with the federation, Guerrero's had a fire lit underneath him, cutting some of the best promos in the business and taking part in the best matches of his life, bar none. Perhaps he's making up for lost time.
Finally, both Malenko and Saturn haven't been seen on television in months... something I'd actually predicted to happen much sooner on the eve of their arrival those thirty months ago. Both were sound technicians, a skill that still had value during their tenure in WCW, but were sorely lacking in personality. To their credit, WWE tried to get these guys over, but their hearts weren't into it and before long Malenko was jobbing to Lita, while Saturn was carrying out a romance with a poor imitation of "Wilson" from the film Castaway.
So there's the rest of the story. On one hand you had the future of WCW, the heart and soul of the association's superb midcard roster, leaving as one for the competition. On the other, you had four men who were wrestlers first and sports entertainers second, leaving for a company where (and I'll quote Paul Heyman here) "wrestling is a dirty word." It was an angle with legs, a group of men betrayed by the company they'd stood by for years, doing everything in their power to tear it down. And, again to their credit, the Federation ran with it for quite some time. Hey, they even gave us a short-lived reunion, but by that time the four had all but gone their separate ways, finding their own unique niches on the card. In short, the Radicals had merged with the collective. Their goals were the same as those of the rest of World Wrestling Entertainment.
The entire concept of Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn and Malenko as Radicals, men who weren't meant to be seen on McMahon airwaves, was no longer applicable. Especially since the demise of WCW, there's no way to logically further their part of the story. However, the concept itself of a radical, someone "favoring or effecting revolutionary changes in current practices or institutions" (thanks, dictionary.com!) has never been more appropriate.
The current WWE is certainly something in dire need of change. As a monopoly of the wrestling scene in every possible meaning of the word, Vince McMahon's baby has all the power in the world. If you want to work in North America, you've got to bow before the mighty Titan Towers. You must become a card carrying member of the "Vince McMahon Kiss My Ass Club." And you've got to love every minute of it.
It's a sad state of affairs, surely, and if the federation wasn't so big headed as to overlook its own flaws, they'd see the opportunity for a tremendous angle therein. They need the Radicals now, more than they've ever needed them, but a reunion of the former WCW-ites isn't what I'm talking about. What they need is a new force to be reckoned with, the kind of fear the nWo by all means should have inspired. A new set of Radicals, someone to take the mantle crafted by the first four and twist it into something uniquely their own. Sure, the four would logically and legally have to be on WWE's payroll to portray such a role, but the magic would come in convincing the fans otherwise.
So who's important enough to make this thing convincing? Who's controversial enough to keep people talking? Who's sound enough to make the payoff matches exciting? Well, I've got a couple ideas.
Yeah, you heard right. The guy who tore his clothes off in Australia and was unceremoniously dumped from WCW. The guy who fearlessly instigated a bitter on-air, cross-promotional verbal war with none other than the Great One, Rocky Maivia. One of the greatest cruiserweight champions you will ever see. And, most importantly, the most charismatic son of a bitch in the world. See where I'm going with this? Despite his small frame, Guerrera would be something of the centerpiece of this stable. His "never say die" attitude and willingness to speak his mind in any instance, even if the contents aren't pretty, is the sort of thing whole federations could be built around, let alone successful angles.
Plain as day, Guerrera is inspirational. He could lead people headfirst into a meat grinder if he honestly believed it would aid their cause. While you'd need a larger man to convincingly take the role of the leader, Guerrera would be always behind the scenes pulling at strings. His sharp tongue would get them neck deep in the kind of issues the new Radicals would need to be confronting, and the team's well rounded roster would in turn plow their way through the opposition.
Add to that the latest resurgence in the WWE Light Heavyweight / Cruiserweight / Lightweight / Featherweight / Really Small Guys Who Like the Top Rope division, and you've suddenly got a perfect opportunity for the domineering heel Juvi. If this stable's going to work, you need a cruiserweight and you need a mouthpiece. Juventud fills both roles to perfection.
Talk about a man mired in personal controversy with Vince. Double J's ongoing saga reads like a bowl of spaghetti; lots of twists and turns, a few chunks and some sloppy bits. Everything in the world has been leading to a Jarrett / McMahon feud, no matter how unintentional. You had Jarrett doing the right thing on his way out of Titan, working the night after his contract expired to put over the new Intercontinental Champion. On the last night of WCW, you had Vince responding by cutting down his former employee with no possibility of retort. McMahon basically told the viewing public there would be no place for the former World Champ in the new World Wrestling Federation, even before Jarrett knew the facts himself. It's the perfect continuation of the "McMahon as evil tyrant" storyline, and the real base of this whole revolution. While Juventud is the fire, Jeff is the catalyst, the spark if you will.
And, as if the multiple title reigns in various federations didn't speak for themselves, Jarrett can more than keep up in the ring. Feuds with RVD, Matt Hardy, or even former Radical Chris Benoit would be godsends to the upper midcard. Jarrett can walk the walk, talk the talk and run with the big boys. His inclusion with the group would lend a touch of credibility and familiarity, though perhaps not quite as much as the next member. Of course... if you're taking the heart out of the NWA: TNA before it's even begun, you may as well take its champion...
Possibly lacking a bit in the controversy factor, Shamrock would here create his own. It's been years since we've seen the World's Most Dangerous Man in the Federation, and when he left we were led to believe he'd be back sooner rather than later. Now that he has returned to active contention in the squared circle, it's with Jarrett's own NWA: TNA, not within the familiar confines of WWE. You've gotta figure McMahon sees that as a slap in the face, though not nearly as stern a slap as the choice to join a stable directly opposing everything his federation currently stands for.
Shamrock, from what I recall, was sorely lacking on the mic. Instead of cutting long winded promos, Ken would allow his actions to speak for him. Rather than telling Vader all about how he would be turning random objects sideways and sticking them in unmentionable areas, Shamrock instead "snapped" and nearly crippled the Mastodon. While his unpredictability helped make him one of the WWF's most exciting stars, a little direction could turn him into a well oiled mechanism of destruction. Everything about his look, from his physique to that almost-blank stare, leads one to believe the former UFC champion would be easily led. I'd be counting on Guerrera and Jarrett to exploit that to the fullest. Imagine a berserk Ken Shamrock tearing into Brock Lesnar... while the former NCAA champ would find himself looking to Paul Heyman for advice and direction, Shamrock would only need to be pointed in the right direction and cut loose.
You knew it was coming. One of the most outspoken guys in wrestling, from his expletive-laced promos to his out of control behavior backstage to his wildly obvious steroid abuse. To be taken seriously, these four would need someone ready, willing and able to absolutely decapitate the WWE main event scene. For my money, you need look no further than Scott Steiner. While he's far from the worker he was in his prime, Steiner has finally stepped forward into the prime time role he's been groomed for time and time again. Now, over a year out of action, he's rested. Anticipation for his arrival is at an all time high. He's ripe for the picking, and all it would take to launch him into the stratosphere is one killer angle.
I'd keep him off the stick whenever possible, as the promos these guys are cutting need to be sharp and to the point, but in the ring there would be no questioning Steiner as the physical leader. The man is absolutely brutal. One short squash would forever establish the four as an undeniable force, whether he busts out the Steiner Screwdriver or not. Just like his teammates, Scotty embodies everything the term "Radical" is all about. Anti-authority, cutting edge and perhaps a bit too honest for their own good.
Finally, because of the sheer nature of this entire angle, there's one guy I deeply considered and feel more than a little obligated to mention. He's the first, most obvious choice you could make for any sort of direct assault against Vince McMahon. He's a legend in his own right, and if Hulk Hogan could find a way to come back to the federation, it's possible that he could as well. Of course, I'm talking about Bret Hart. He's one man who could single handedly take this angle and make it work, no matter if he was backed by Shamrock, Steiner, Jarrett and Guerrera or the Big Show, Kane, Bradshaw and Billy Gunn. In many ways, Hart is the original Radical, and I'd love to see him heading up something similar in Vince's league at any point in the future.
Certainly, there are more than a few things wrong with WWE as it is today. Whether the federation decides to tackle it backstage or in front of the cameras is still up in the air... but the fact remains that it does need to be tackled, and soon. Sooner or later, Vince is going to have to swallow his pride or have it forceably shoved down his throat. If it comes to that, it's my opinion that the men I've listed above are the right guys for the job.
until next time, i remain...