EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, February 11, 2000
WCW: Ain't that a shame
And oh yeah, before I get into it, I want to say that John Molinaro wrote a great editorial refuting my stance on contracts, wrestling, and the Fab Four. I don't want to bring up this same issue every week so I'll let it rest. Suffice it to say, though, that Mr. Molinaro had a distinct advantage in that he refuted my comments long after I'd made them and thus had the chance to argue against one paragraph of text at a time. I'd love to do a televised debate, but SLAM! TV is a long way away. I still stand by what I wrote.
Back to the topic at hand. If you can remember as far back as before Eric Bischoff got the sack, you may remember a few of the comments he'd always made whenever he'd do a chat on AOL or WCW.com or what have you. They'd usually go something along the lines of 'yeah, well if we were willing to show near-nudity and simulated sex on television, then we'd also be doing fives and sixes for ratings.' Basically, he defended his company's position on the WWF's adult-oriented content.
To a great extent, he was right. The WWF started cooking long after old stand-by Bret Hart left the federation, when he was replaced by new hero Stone Cold Steve Austin, who warded off the evil Degeneration-X's Shawn Michaels and Triple H. In the course of doing so, it just so happens, viewers were witness to an unparalleled amount of profanity, adult themes, middle fingers, and lewd comments. And it was a huge hit.
The WWF re-vitalized their show the same way ECW became a success -- by updating it to the modern era. Listen to the songs that top the Billboard hit list each week. When not sung by the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, or other manufactured talents, these songs often feature profanity and adult themes as well. Take a gander at any major motion picture not aimed at the pre-teen set. Their themes are also increasingly adult, with nudity -- full or partial -- becoming more and more a part of the norm.
Vince McMahon realized it, perhaps uncannily close to Paul Heyman's realization, and he changed the way he did business. He let Bret go from a big-money contract (a blatant breach there, too, and I backed Bret to the hilt when it happened!) in favour of less-proven draw Shawn Michaels. The gamble paid off.
The result is WWF Attitude. A new way of thinking which -- oh my! -- reflects society's way of thinking. Not everyone's, but a bigger portion.
So when Bischoff seemed to be loading up on second helping of excuse pie, he really was indeed right on the money. The WWF was becoming more popular off the back of vulgarity, and WCW's hands were tied, making them unable to compete on that level. Don't get me wrong, it was good booking and great talent that made the WWF such a huge hit in 1998 and 1999, but it was the swearing and near-naked female bodies that brought them the initial attention.
Back then, though, it was still a fight, even if it was somewhat uneven because of said adult-oriented WWF television. Eric Bischoff still had a few aces up his sleeve. He had most of the legends of the sport, proven commodities who had put butts in the seats for years. Clearly, that is no longer the case, as fewer and fewer people are interested in the unprofessional antics of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, or Hulk Hogan -- wherever he is.
But Bischoff had another ace, and that was his immense talent pool. At the time, when you were to name top WWF talents, the list included Austin, Michaels, perhaps Triple H, maybe Ken Shamrock, certainly The Undertaker, this new fellow Kane, and a few more -- but not many. Unheard of (as good talents) were the likes of Too Cool, Rikishi Phatu, The Hollys, The Hardyz, Edge and Christian and Gangrel, Val Venis, Kurt Angle, and all the other guys who've climbed the ladder since then.
Over in WCW, though, the list was too long to duplicate here. Goldberg, Sting, Chris Jericho, The Giant, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Vampiro, Kidman, Eddie Guerrero (honestly, that guy's first name seems to change every time I read it -- how does it go, John?), Saturn, Raven, The Steiners, Harlem Heat, Lodi ... the list went on and on.
Nowadays, you can chop off about half the list -- they've left the federation. Raven's gone to ECW, Shane Douglas and Konnan are in limbo, the Radicals (with Jericho and Wight) are in New York. A good chunk of the rest of them are injured, including Sting, Goldberg, and Rick Steiner. Meanwhile, the remainder are almost completely ignored or buried, with only a few exceptions.
No, the days of WCW and the WWF each having their respective advantages and disadvantages may be long gone. The WWF heads the list in talent pool, top stars, overall charisma, overall wrestling, Q-rating, marketability, gross profits, gross margins, income, net income, revenue, equity, and so on and so forth.
It's really a shame. It's like watching a hockey game between two teams, two teams which are traditionally rivals but one of which has recently improved; the other, deteriorated. Now imagine watching these two teams play a game that's been going on for years and may continue on for years. That is, until WCW finally gives up and says 'I Quit.'
The real shame of it all, though, is that they're not even at that point yet. They still have the talent and the creative minds to keep them competitive, but history and even recent trends show that they probably won't do anything of the sort.
Paraphraseth J.J. Dillon: "We won't resort to the antics of the WWF, even if we get trounced in the ratings week after week."
What antics, J.J.? Solid wrestling? Story-lines that captivate interest instead of insulting our intelligence? A good show? Full house-show cards? Making money? What antics, exactly, won't you resort to?
That's all. Mailbag. Great mail this week. I actually thought 'I have to print this one' whilst reading about twenty of them. Sucks that I can't, but rest assured none fell on deaf eyes ... or something.
John Petersen, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Eric, Just wanted to throw my opinion in on this subject. Let me start by saying that I agree with your view of contracts. Workers agree to terms, and they should be met, even when they don't like it.
I think the only person Bill Busch can blame in this situation is Bill Busch. From what I have read, Busch said when he came on board that he would offer anyone who was unhappy a release from their contract. He didn't want unhappy workers in WCW. That makes sense. Unfortunately, the danger is that people -- in this case, four -- just might take you up on it. I suppose what Busch said can be considered a verbal contract. Eric Bischoff ran into the same thing when Raven took him up on his offer a while ago.
As I remember, Bischoff was upset with workers who were running down the company publicly, like Raven on radio or Konnan in print. He had had enough. Busch probably thought he was doing his part to win the trust and respect of the workers, not knowing how badly his statement would come back to bite him. Both Bischoff and Busch gambled, and lost. They lost Raven, Benoit, Saturn, Guerrero and Malenko. At least Bischoff kept Raven out of Vince's clutches (for now). This sets a precedent for WCW. Who will leave next? Anyone from Lash LeRoux to Hulk Hogan can say they're unhappy and ask for their full release. And if WCW balks, they could probably take them to court. Why would it be okay for Chris Benoit and not Ric Flair?
I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if Busch could have reneged on his promise without getting in legal trouble. Like you say, it would have been an extremely tense locker room if the four had stayed. Would they have been buried? Would Sullivan and Benoit have mended fences? Who knows? To save face, Busch had to let them go. If he went back on his word, the workers would likely have turned on him, and he couldn't afford that either.
Was the whole situation a mess? Yes. Unprofessional? Somewhat, but as we know, the politics in professional wrestling are anything but. Bill Busch provided the rope, and the Radicals were more than happy to hang him with it. I'll be surprised if they're the last.
Best, John Petersen"
John, you make an important point that I think I didn't really get across in my comments on the matter. While I disagree with the way the Radicals handled things, and from what I heard and know there was the definite implications that without their releases they wouldn't exactly have stayed on and given a hundred percent, I too realize that WCW is to blame for this.
They were pushovers, most notably Bill Busch, and they're paying for it.
But I don't think what they did was wrong - just stupid.
Aaron Rogers, from email@example.com, writes:
"Kind sir, Before I begin, I enjoy your columns, and often agree with your points, but lately I found a huge error in your reasoning on 'The Radicals' situation. You stated that Kevin Sullivan had said that people like Benoit and so forth wouldn't be getting a push under him, and that bigger guys should be pushed instead. I'm sorry kind sir, but in the USofA, that's discrimination, a very serious infraction, and therefore Benoit and company would have a legitimate case to be released. If you are contracted to someone for labour, but your employer does something discriminating against you (pay raise to someone 'cause they are a different race, size, etc.), that contract has an option by the contractee to be void :)."
I don't think I can agree with you here. You're right -- discrimination is wrong and punishable by law. That much, I do know.
However, to suggest that pushing big men in the sport of wrestling is discrimination, I think, is to really stretch that definition. Wrestling has always been a sport for big men, and Kevin Sullivan was never reported to have said 'I won't you because you're small.' It was always more along the lines of 'I won't push you, you're not a draw.' It only makes sense to push those you think can draw a crowd, even if you're an idiot and can't tell who that is, and I doubt he could be slapped with a discrimination suit for doing so.
A lot of people seem to think that it's illegal, or wrong, for WCW not to push these guys adequately. I disagree with that. They signed on to wrestle. If I sign a contract with a consulting firm to do consulting, but they most have me sit at my desk because I'm not particularly good at what I do (for example), then I don't see that as either ethical or moral grounds for a breach.
Anyway, I'm running long this week, so it's time to bid you adieu. Two small notes. Firstly, you guys are absolutely the best reader audience on the internet -- I've been just about everywhere, and the difference is clear. SLAM! readers are as intelligent, coherent, and polite as they come and that's really nice. Second, I'll be getting back to everyone who offered their services last week very shortly. A few details must be organized first. Thanks for your patience.
Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, have a terrific week.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.