SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, May 21, 1998

Re-visiting The Clique

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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I get a lot of email from the readers who make up a part of a new demographic in wrestling fans - those who really got into the 'sport' only in this recent resurgence of popularity and, for some, through the internet.

This particular group of fans only really started to follow wrestling in the mid-1990's, which means that they missed a whole lot of history. Not just the old stuff with those guys that neither you nor I have really ever heard of, but even recent history, like Hogan v. Warrior at Wrestlemania number whatever or the 'classic' six-star match between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat.

Now, aside from being chided by more senior or, frankly, older fans about their lack of knowledge about the sport, these fans have a problem. A lot of the 'shoot' stuff that goes on today in the Big Two is a direct result of things that transpired before these people became fans.

What this means is that a lot of this kind of stuff is lost on a fan so devoted he surfs the net for news and such. But this is the very stuff that interests said online fan. So that's where I come in. I get a lot of mail from people who don't understand a few things about what's going on in the sport. Most of it has to do with the 'Dark Ages' which followed Hogan and Savage's depart from the WWF but preceded Nash and Hall's entry in WCW. Everything in between is a sort of haze which few people can or want to remember.

Truthfully, I wasn't much of a fan during those days. I still went to the live shows when they came to town, but I didn't really follow it, to the point where I didn't even understand some of the feuds between guys who would fight live at the Forum. However, as I - like you - caught onto this whole internet scene and it renewed my interest in professional wrestling as a whole, I also did my own research and made it my business to find out just what went down in the Dark Ages.

And thus do I begin the first in a series of new columns: Benner Bios, I call them. I have to give them a specific name like that because calling them simply biographies would not suffice. They'll be as full of my own thoughts and sentiments as any other column I write, and they'll probably be a little bit short on the facts. But for the average fan, they should suffice to fill in those gaps in wrestling history or trivia.

This, the first in the series, concerns the basics of what I outlined above. Specifically, it covers what exactly happened during that void period, and in response to many emails requesting it, an emphasis on The Clique.

First, a little about Vince McMahon. Mr. McMahon is a shrewd and savvy businessman, as anyone who pays attention already knows. To him, wrestling, albeit his life, is a business, and he treats it as such.

As I understand it, the simple fact is that Hogan grew too big for his britches and was run out of Dodge. McMahon had the problem that WCW faces countlessly: a champ who refuses to job. When he put up with it, the result was confusing main events, for example, saw Bret Hart take the strap into the night to face off against Yokozuna, only for Hogan to leave with it. Huh? Yeah, that's what Bret said, too.

McMahon, though, didn't put up with it for long, and decided he could run his organization without the help of Hogan. This has been his attitude ever since, as he displayed faced with the Hart situation, and it's one which has been bred into him. A family can only pass down a wrestling organization so many times before they realize that the wrestlers come and go, but the company stays. And that's what happened.

Of course, it's not like the WWF is unlike every other organization in the same basic ways. There will always be a top dog, this is certain, and McMahon knows this. It's just a matter of whom. It's not like Hogan leaving meant smooth sailing forever, only for a few years.

And poor years, they were. Although wrestling was probably progressing relatively well in terms of building itself a niche for the future, the present looked grim. With Lex Luger and the British Bulldog and Yokozuna as frequent main eventers, it appeared that no real stars would emerge for the next little while.

That is, until Shawn Michaels decided he needed a bodyguard, so he brought in his friend, a man named Nash. The story from there is simple. Kevin Nash became a mega-success, and Michaels' popularity soared as well. Together, they sat atop the WWF ladder, and ruled. And this posed a problem for Vince McMahon, because he didn't want to see another Hogan. Only this wouldn't be another Hogan situation, since they were far worse - far more vindictive, far more selfish. Far more cliquish. The name is fitting.

In fact, many-time ECW world champ Shane Douglas counts himself among their victims. Oh, did I forget to mention that Scott Hall and Sean Waltman (then 1-2-3 Kid) were a part of that boys' club as well? Well, they were. Scott Hall was working a program with Douglas, whom some may remember as The Professor (or something), feuding over the intercontinental title, and aside from the clique using their power to remain on top, a lot of the locker room talent didn't appreciate their alleged lack of sportsmanship.

"There's only three thousand people here tonight," Douglas claims Hall once told him before a match. "Let's take it easy, lots of rest-holds." Douglas was disgusted. Don't forget, he performed to a crowd of far less than that each and every night in ECW, and wasn't exactly known as a slacker.

Put simply, The Clique, as talented and popular as they were, were not doing any favors for the WWF or Vince McMahon. In the long run, they were of about the same value as Dennis Rodman when he decides he doesn't really need to perform. They were sinking, so McMahon cut them loose. Of course, they showed up soon after in WCW, where the whole nWo thing took place, and I think most of you probably know what happened from then on. Only Michaels stuck around in the WWF, where he continued to assert his influence - and influence McMahon had to allow since he was short on the main event talent.

Now, the situation may or may not be poised to repeat itself. Popular as they could possibly be, Steve Austin and Rocky Maivia are in a position to wield a lot of influence in the WWF today. In fact, it is rumored that Austin was part of the reason for Maivia's unpopular and drawn-out heel turn, since he didn't want the competition for face fans. Obviously, McMahon would never let them get that far again, but how far would he go to prevent it? WCW's pockets are deep, and so far, they've absorbed all of the WWF's problem-children, usually for their own gain, if a temporary one.

Personally, I think that this sort of problem will diminish in frequency in the WWF, where McMahon has likely already put barriers in place to prevent this from ever again occuring. So to speak, he probably already has the talent in their place. They saw what he did to Hogan, to The Clique, and to Hart. No one is invincible, no one is untouchable, and as Hart proved, no one has a guaranteed future with the competition. Not to mention, Bischoff (or Nash, or Turner, or whomever) may eventually get tired of McMahon's hand-me-downs.

Here's the mail:

Casagrande, from, writes:
*I've been out of the wrestling loop for some time now, and I'm begining to follow it again. What happened to the British Bulldog? I hear he is not at 100% health. Could you please give me some info?*

To say that David Smith is not at 100% health is an understatement. To my knowledge, he injured himself in a WCW match. What happened is that he was slammed - right onto the trap door from which the Warrior would enter and exit! Ouch! Anyway, he suffered some serious injuries to his back and there were some kind of medical complications, and as far as I know, Smith suffered great pains as a result. He is doing better now, though, and from what I hear, which frankly may not be true because I hear a lot of things, he is contemplating some kind of return to the WWF, having been fired via fax by WCW during his recovery. Check out the story links off the British Bulldog bio page for more info.

Adam Gallegos,, writes:
*I think the real reason the WWF is booming while WCW lags behind is simple: wrestling is an attraction, it is a soap opera, it is a television drama. Bearing this in mind, the WWF succeeds because they have characters, while WCW fails because they have wrestlers. The wrestling action in WCW is generally better than the WWF, but I rarely watch Nitro and always watch RAW because of the story. Often times, I get bored with the wrestling and want the story to continue. Your thoughts?*

I confess that sometimes - sometimes - I actually get bored watching very good wrestling. Depending on my mood, something lucha libre or solid mat work just doesn't cut it for me. The bottom line, it seems, is that storylines make for very good television, even if solid wrestling makes for a better live show. As a result, whichever organization discovers and executes a better combination of wrestling and story will stay on top for as long as they keep it.

That's all for this week. I'll be in Mexico all next week, so there may or may not be a column posted, but check by, just in case. My apologies if I can't come through. Anyway, have a great week. If you have any ideas for future Benner Bios, send them in. I get all my ideas from you, anyway. As always, thanks for reading, thanks for writing, see you in seven - or fourteen.

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