EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, January 21, 2000
Disgruntled WCWers should get back to work
A contract should be a contract
Because that's just what it is, chaos.
We here at CANOE don't really report "news" the way most web-sites do, because only confirmed news -- as opposed to rumours and speculation -- appear as stories on this page. For those of you who don't keep up with our News and Rumours section, here's the skinny on what's gone down:
Forgive my ignorance of exact times and days, but I think I have the chronological order down pat.
Late last week, around Friday, WCW is hit with some bad news, the culmination of about two weeks' worth of injuries. Just prior to Souled Out, pay-per-view consisting of two main matches, the title fight between Goldberg and Bret Hart and the Triple Threat Theatre match between Chris Benoit and Jeff Jarrett, three of those four were listed as injured and unable to compete.
Goldberg's early replacement, Sid, now had no opponent to face. Imagine that, a replacement without a foe.
Chris Benoit's opponent, the only guy against whom this long series of matches would make any sense, was gone, too.
Ultimately, you know that they simply paired the two in the main event and that Benoit won the WCW World title. What you may not know is what transpired in between.
On Friday or Saturday, after the announcement of the injuries, WCW creative mind Vince Russo had a serious problem. His solution seemed, to many, atrocious.
His plan was to have the winners of the salvaged pay-per-view matches fight in a big battle royale at the end, and have Tank Abbott walk away the fluke winner after KOing someone.
Whether that was the last straw or the decision had been made prior is unknown, but around then, Russo had a meeting with WCW director Bill Busch. Now, Busch, you have to understand, is a numbers man. He hasn't lived and breathed wrestling for all these years, but as a numbers guy, he was put in charge of the company to save them some serious money -- thus all the layoffs early this year.
For whatever reasons, Busch had decided, at that point, that Russo as booker wasn't working, and that it was time to return to the older, committee format favoured by WCW. His choice of committee head, Kevin Sullivan, did not please Russo, who refused to participate.
In addition, several wrestlers -- as many as eleven -- refused to go on board with Sullivan at the helm either, because Sullivan is an old-school guy who has stated publicly many times that he would not push the mid-card talent. These wrestlers consisted of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddy Guerrero, Saturn, and Shane Douglas for certain, and also possibly Konnan, Kidman, Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera, and others. They demanded releases, for they would not work with Sullivan, who holds grudges against many of them.
Worst of all these cases is Benoit's, for he is currently living with Sullivan's ex-wife, who left him for Benoit after an angle where she, believe it or not, left Sullivan for Benoit. The problem here is that the plan was to give Benoit the title before this all happened, and there were few other choices to make champion on such short notice.
Also, it should be noted, Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Madusa, and many others have gone on record against Sullivan, too.
While all this was going on, WCW put on Souled Out, a miserably bad pay-per-view to those ignorant to this situation, but not the train wreck it could have been if you think about it.
But things became no less complicated this week, as web-site hits soared as people wanted to know the latest juicy detail in the WCW soap opera.
So far as I know, the main proponent wrestlers involved have been offered their full releases, but they haven't yet accepted them. Many of them won't find gainful employment in the Big Two, and more still will find their pay cheques halved or worse.
Only Benoit and perhaps Saturn are assured shots in the WWF, and who knows what Paul Heyman is thinking. Dean Malenko is well over forty years old, Eddy Guerrero is no spring chicken either, and Shane Douglas has had bad experiences in every federation.
So it's a crap shoot. The only thing for certain is that Benoit has been stripped as champion, the result of an ultimatum which saw him abandon Nitro as champion. Benoit, of course, is in the best situation of the lot of them, a recent WCW world champion.
There's another tidbit worth mentioning, and that's that Mike Graham, a former wrestler and low-profile booker in WCW who mostly is responsible for match finishes (much like Pat Patterson in the WWF), apparently threatened Benoit and others with physical violence, thinking they were trying to get him fired. Papers have been with Turner Inc., as WCW is part of a corporate company, with guidelines for this kind of thing.
And that's where I leave the realm of 'news' and head toward my own thoughts.
See, that's the whole thing that bothers me. WCW isn't some cracker-jack, flash in the pan, out-of-some-guy's house and some-other-guy's backyard wrestling federation. It's a huge enterprise, and it's part of a much bigger enterprise, which is now part of an even bigger company, thanks to AOL's purchase of Time Warner.
And I'm sure you'll agree with me when I draw on my somewhat limited corporate experience and proclaim, aloud, stuff doesn't work like this!
Now, I'm not saying the WWF and ECW aren't real companies -- that would be naive, they're both quite big -- but WCW generally functions as a corporate entity. It's even headed by a career accountant in Busch. So it just boggles my mind that the stuff that's allowed to go on there goes on.
Take a gander at the various things that have happened there over the past few months:
(1) Ric Flair has refused to work as commissioner. He's making more money this year, around three quarters of a million, than almost any of we regular folks are. He's under contract. Yet he decides not to come into work because he wants to be a 'full-time wrestling draw'.
(2) Same thing for Hollywood Hogan, except Hogan won't come back because he thinks he'll look bad and wants to wait until Nitro runs unopposed to appear.
(3) Same thing for Randy Savage.
(4) People, namely Sullivan and company, have been working against Russo behind the scenes, whispering constantly in Bill Busch's ear, trying to manipulate them into firing the relatively proven WWF commodity and replacing him with their over-the-hill proven-to-fail commodity.
(5) Busch crumbles to the pressure, and does what they suggest.
(6) Following this, several wrestlers, who are also under contract, refuse to work. I can understand their points of view to be sure, but this isn't how things work. You don't sign a contract and follow it until it's inconvenient. The whole idea behind a contract is that you guarantee your services and get guaranteed money. For those of you who sympathize with the wrestlers' plights and their decision to refuse to work while under contract, I got two words for ya:
But they're not the focus of my wrath here. WCW is, or maybe I should say Turner Entertainment. [Editor's note: Plus Yashin bashin' is old hat now.]
How can this go on? How can WCW or their bosses allow it to?
This isn't Shawn Michaels refusing to do the job. It's not even Bret Hart refusing to job in his own hometown. It's more along the lines of Prince Albert, the Dudley Boyz, and Steve Blackman all refusing to work, and just sitting at home. It's one thing -- maybe -- to please your champion, your star player, but to have such blatant defiance? This boggles my mind.
World Championship Wrestling is getting trampled on. The inmates, so to speak, are running the asylum. It's been going on for a long time now. From the beginning, when Hogan and Nash began to take control of long-gone Eric Bischoff's mind, things started to crumble.
WCW needs leadership, and they need it soon. Ultimately, given the very odd circumstances of his tenure, I think Busch is doing a good job. He's stuck to his guns, kept the bookers he chose in power (a mistake from all other angles, though), and he hasn't let the sulking wrestlers win.
If it were me, though, I'd say 'go ahead, sit out the contract. See you in court.' I'm sorry, I feel as bad for these guys as you do, but what's the worst that could happen -- they could be booked into bad angles? Lose their pushes? They're employees, they don't decide what happens to their pushes.
Imagine a player refusing to play for a bad team, and worse, demanding some specific course of action.
Nameless Buffalo Bills player 1: Coach, I refuse to play unless you put Flutie in.
Coach: What the #%^& are you talking about? Get in there!
Nameless Buffalo Bills player 1: No way, coach! We'll lose with this guy!
Coach: What the $%^&? Who do you think you are? Get in there!
Nameless Buffalo Bills player 1: Sorry, coach. No can do. I'm outta here.
Coach: Okay, you can have your full release, since you don't want to play.
Which of those lines seems out of character? I'll give you a hint, here's its most likely replacement:
Coach: Listen to me, you $%^&*-#$%^%$^ $%^&, you'll get out there now, and you'll play. And if you walk out, I'll have your $%^ in court so fast your head will spin. NOW GET IN THERE!!
It bothers me. It bothers me because my second-favourite wrestling organization is falling apart at the seams, and it's just so painful to watch!
Not half as painful as watching six months of Sullivan's work is going to be, though.
Go Varsity Club 2000!
WCW, put someone in freaking charge. Enforce your contracts. And whoever's in charge -- don't listen to people whispering in your ear. They're all just looking out for themselves. Bill Busch, don't be surprised when this all comes to a head and WCW is starting to do regularly worse than ECW on pay-per-view, that it's your head on the chopping block.
Only one letter this week, I'm already running long.
Philip Hu, from email@example.com, writes:
"Eric, Is it just me, or did WCW just screw Chris Benoit? I was elated to find that he finally got booked the championship, and then on the same show (Nitro), I find out that it's already over. Why not let him run with it? I've always thought, but now even more so, that Benoit should leave and go to either the WWF (he could be utilized better), or go back to Japan. Anywhere that will appreciate and reward his talent. WCW seems bent on keeping him down, despite their claims to the contrary. Phil"
WCW planned on making Benoit champ, and when he fled Nitro the night after he won the belt, they were forced to strip him of it, rendering the belt's credibility not-too-hot.
No, I'm inclined to say that WCW didn't screw Benoit. Benoit screwed Benoit.
That's all for this week. Enjoy this coming week's continued turmoil. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, and have a fantastic week.
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