SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, February 4, 2000

Another kick at the contract can

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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The week before last, I wrote a lengthy tirade about how unjust it was that "The Radicals", as they are now known, were able to strong-arm WCW into giving them their releases and how WCW wrestlers in general treat their contracts like vague promises of no actual value. The response from readers was clear and adamant -- I was wrong and the Fab Four were right to walk about.

I feel strongly enough about this that I've rallied the troops and am going to try again to make you see my point.

Firstly, let's not get too bogged in the details. Some folks wrote in noting that the Revolution was sent home. While that, in and of itself, is true, it hardly tells the whole story.

At that point, Eddy Guerrero, Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Chris Benoit, as well as others who never actually left, had already demanded their releases. Not only that, but they had even threatened to file a grievance about new booker team member Mike Graham's alleged threat of violence toward them.

When that's the situation, there's no way Bill Busch could ever have let them stay. They'd already declared their dislike for WCW and that they were walking, so letting them go out on television could potentially be suicide. They could make a mockery on live television, in front of a live audience, and buried their own company.

Also, if there had been a confrontation between them and Graham, then Busch would have been legally responsible for it since as soon as a threat of violence is made, the individual in question must be ejected from the work premises else the company be subject to damages resulting from such violence. Since he didn't send Graham home, he had to send Malenko and company.

Benoit, of course, was the champion at the time, so he was willing to bend the rules for him, and it was Benoit who said forget it, I'm going too.

I hope that diffuses the misconception that the Radicals were forced to leave against their will. Now we can get to the crux of the matter.

A contract is a contract.

There's just no getting around that fact. You sign your name on the dotted line, and you're responsible for keeping to whatever that contract says you've got to do. If you don't, then you can (and should) be sued.

Think about it. If a contract is a contract only until someone is dissatisfied with it, then there's no difference between a contract and an informal arrangement. There would be no point in even drawing them up at all.

I think that much is clear, and that what people seem to be having the most trouble getting past is that the Radicals supposedly had 'reason' to break their contracts. And as a footnote, before you attack me on this technicality either, the Radicals may have been granted releases, but only because they threatened to break their contracts. It was clear that they were not going to perform up to their standards and the standards by which the contracts were signed, so the releases were an after-thought, but it wasn't like WCW was a willing participant. They said "forget it, we won't work under him," and that's a threat to walk out. Whether they actually broke the contract or not is irrelevant, because everything that happened afterwards was the result of their threat to do so.

Now, let me say right off the bat that I, too, agree that Kevin Sullivan would make for a horrible booker in the year 2000. His ideas in the mid-90's, ideas I was subjected to at length, were frequently beyond stupid. To give you an idea, they were worse than what Vince McMahon was doing during the same period and later, when the WWF wasn't doing so well.

In addition, the guy's stated on the record that he thinks only the big, old guys should be pushed, and also that he'd bury the undercard. To boot, he's told each member of the so-called Radicals (save perhaps Guerrero, who was released for other reasons) on numerous occasions that they would never get a push under him.

I say tough luck.

I think it would suck to watch those guys -- some great talents -- get buried again under a new WCW regime. I love Chris Benoit and Saturn, and I suppose I can tolerate Dean Malenko, and Eddy Guerrero is a fantastic talent. But me wanting them to be in the WWF, where they can shine, doesn't make it right. And the same goes for you.

They had a contract. They benefited from that contract in that if they were to get injured, or if they didn't turn out to be quite as popular as originally thought, well, they were making some pretty nice guaranteed money. In return, the idea was, they had to perform whether they wanted to or not. A guarantee for both sides, so to speak. Well, at least for if both sides honour the document.

Tell me something. If Chris Benoit broke his leg, healed, but was never the same again, would he go to the offices in Atlanta and give them a cheque for what he feels is the portion of his salary he didn't earn? Of course not. He'd keep it, because that was the deal. And I'd totally agree with him.

And if Chris Benoit became the next Goldberg, held the entire company on his shoulders, and saved the federation, would he deserve more money? That would be up to WCW, but they certainly wouldn't have to pay him any more.

The same goes for the other three.

If this still isn't sinking in, let me try a simpler approach.

A contract is a contract. It's the law. If you break it, you're libel for damages. WCW, if they had any guts and didn't let their whole roster (read: Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Konnan, The Revolution, and still others) walk all over them, it would likely do what's right and sue the Fab Four instead of granting them their releases. Make them work. Make them finish their contracts.

Sure, maybe they wouldn't be as into it, and maybe they'd cause turmoil in the locker room, which Bill Busch clearly wants to avoid. But tell me what's worse -- some disgruntled workers in the locker room, or a whole bunch of disgruntled workers sitting at home because they know they can.

WCW took the path of least resistance. They let it happen, they let their workers go as they pleased. Look at them now.

And sure the Fab Four will be good for the WWF, and will certainly be better off than buried in a Sullivan undercard, but ultimately, I wouldn't hire them.

Would you?

Voici la mailbag:

Rashon Brooks, from rbrooks@MAIL.HARTFORD.EDU, writes:
"I was talking to a friend of mine about an hour before I read your article about WCW's title lineage. I may be mistaken, but didn't Bret Hart forfeit the belt the Nitro after Starrcade because of the screwjob finish and then beat Goldberg again for the vacant belt? I had the flu while that happened and I may have been hallucinating while watching the first hour of Nitro where Bret did an interview. With the exception of ECW titles, I have to say that for a while the top feds belts were worthless. At least the WWF has noticed that now and are starting to give champions longer reigns. Y2J has been IC champ (and co-IC champ) since November, the NAO have had the tag belts since November, and it seems like HHH may finally get a decent 3 month World title reign. WCW still doesn't get it. At least they are trying to fix the CW title."

It was only five or six months ago that people were complaining about the see-sawing WWF titles. But the fact about that is they used it as a tool to get new talent over - Triple H as champion, The Hardy Boyz as a tag team, and so on. And now it's the WWF that has the longest title runs in the game, and they're starting to build their significance. I think it would be a nice touch if no one lost their titles (and Val Venis and Test started defending theirs) until Wrestlemania. That would really be a special pay-per-view.

Blevins, from, writes:
"I really enjoyed this week's column of yours. It does seem like the titles are somewhat worthless, but I still think that the WCW has a better product than the WWF. Guess I am just old school, kayfabe runs through my blood I guess. I just miss wrestling as opposed to entertainment. I disagree with the cruiserweight division (of how it used to be entertaining). It was, about one year. Then it got boring with the same matches, same wrestlers. And I wish Benoit had not left. I feel that ones glory and championship is more important than your bimbo's ex-husband. Guess you should not mess with the boss's wife."

I may take heat for saying it, but I think Benoit deserved what he was to get for screwing around with Nancy Sullivan. It just sounds so unprofessional. And from what I know, the timing wasn't spectacular, either. At the very least, it wasn't a wise decision. [Editor's note: This was a number of years ago.]

You're free to prefer the WCW product. Personally, I enjoy their Saturday Night show, where everything's still about wrestling, and it isn't mixed with their Monday attempts to be more like the competition.

That's all for this week. I actually have a small favour to ask. I'm getting involved with various wrestling projects in the near-to-distant future, and I want to know if any readers out there want to lend a hand. I'm not sure what it entails, exactly, yet, but I get emails each week asking how to get a start in this quasi-business - this would be one way. Email me if you may be interested in contributing, and we'll work out the specifics following that. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, and have a super-terrific happy week!

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