EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, October 8, 1999
Russo was wrong, but it feels right
Vince Russo has not been a good boy.
Here's the timeline as I understand it. This is critically important, since in this case, it's the minute details which shape my beliefs:
* Friday, October 1, 1999: The WWF heads to England to run their UK-only Rebellion pay-per-view. (WWF.com)
* Friday, October 1, 1999: Vince Russo makes the first move, calling WCW to see if there's any interest in his services on their part (Vince Russo, in a phone chat with Mike Samuda)
* Saturday, October 2, 1999: The WWF runs it's successful Rebellion pay-per-view. (WWF.com)
* Saturday, October 2, 1999: WCW flies Russo and Ferrera out to Atlanta to discuss a possible contract. (Russo/Samuda)
* Sunday, October 3, 1999: The WWF returns from England to get ready for Monday Night Raw (WWF.com)
* Sunday, October 3, 1999: After staying the night in Atlanta, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara sign two-year deals with WCW. Later that day, Russo was to fly from Atlanta to Hartford via Philadelphia. Instead, while in Philadelphia, he makes a phone call to Vince McMahon, informing him that he'll (a) not be present at Monday Night Raw the following night, and (b) that he's signed a two-year contract with WCW, as had Ferrara.
You can draw any conclusions you want from this, but just in case you're interested, here are mine.
We're missing two important pieces of the puzzle here. The only thing is, they're missing in two very different ways. The first is a missing entry, something which may have happened but which we don't yet know of:
* Some day, some date, some year, probably 1999: Vince Russo is pissed off about something.
That entry is very important, because if it exists, and Russo had some kind of specific reason to quit the WWF so abruptly, then it makes his case a little stronger. If it isn't missing, though, then my opinions are pretty much completely based on the fact that this entry was missing:
* Early Sunday, October 3, 1999: Before signing his WCW contract, Vince Russo calls Vince McMahon and informs him that he's seriously contemplating his resignation. He informs McMahon of WCW's offer, and at the very least, allows McMahon one chance to match it -- not just in money, but perhaps in reduced work-load, as well.
You see, Russo's apparent reasons for quitting the federation which made him what he is today (and vice versa) are along the lines that he was working too hard, sacrificing his life for the WWF. He claims, even, that he told this to McMahon.
It's completely different, though, when you complain to your boss about something and when you actually tell him 'look, this is getting so bad I'm going to have to resign.' If that were the case, I'm sure McMahon would have looked at it differently. And even if he didn't, at least Russo would have given him a shot, and it would have been Vinnie Mac nailing in his own coffin, not Russo.
So if this is the case, and there's no extraneous factor that we just don't know about -- and I have to assume there isn't, since Russo seems to be completely open about everything that's happened and is actively trying to defend himself -- then I have to condemn Russo.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to. I love the poetic justice of Vince McMahon getting screwed in much the same way he dealt with Bret Hart's departure, but frankly, that doesn't make Russo's involvement in this right.
Vince Russo was wrong to do this, and he's lost my respect as a person.
As a writer, I still have to hand it to him. A lot of what he did for the WWF was golden. However, it wasn't like Russo just did it all himself. He had the assistance of many surrounding factors. Among them: a boss who gave him total control, workers who, for the most part, did what he said and jobbed accordingly, as well as pretty much no limit to his creativity -- or his lewdness.
In WCW, he'll have to have all the same givens in order for him to achieve the same success -- and this is doubtful -- and even then, who knows how it'll turn out? The fans are already very anti-WCW, and anything they try to do to be 'hip' may just backlash at them the way a bad pop band becomes unpopular once it's cool to dislike them.
Was it cool to like Stone Cold because the WWF was cool? I use that juvenile terminology because largely, that's how old their audience currently is. Will it be equally uncool to like WCW for the same reasons? That's important, since most of the fans WCW could hope to gain, at least with Russo, are the same young ones who loved the WWF.
All we can really assume is that in the hands of a good writer, the product will improve, and I think that's great. Don't forget, though, we still have a lot of great minds working for the WWF -- Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, the McMahons, and I presume they had other writers.
No, this doesn't spell doom for anyone -- anyone except Vince Russo, if he doesn't become WCW's saviour. If he's opposed by the talent there, and it turns out that he isn't doubling their ratings by the end of the year, there may be pressure to fire him, as he's making a lot of enemies just by taking the job. I hope the Turner brass have the good sense to hang onto him, but if they don't, then whether you want to call Russo good guy or bad guy, he's certainly burned his bridge in the WWF. That much, you have to admit.
Here's the mailbag:
Nic Izzi, from email@example.com, writes:
"Hey Benner boy, who's your fav WWF wrestler, WCW wrestler, EC-dub wrestler? outta those three who's the best in the biz, and why? what makes them good?"
Nic, that's a pretty tough question. In the WWF, it doesn't get any better than The Rock. I loved him as the leader of the Nation and he's only improved since then. Chris Jericho's a good talent, but he really hasn't come into his own yet. Over in WCW, I'd say Bret Hart, but I don't even know if he's really a wrestler anymore. I think I miss him more than I like him now. I get a lot of flack for this, but right now, Saturn's my favourite guy to watch. Everything about him is cool - he's short, yet he comes off as really tough. He's a great wrestler. He's strong enough on the mic that I don't dislike him for it. I guess he's just cool, all around. Finally, in ECW, my personal favourite - when he's healthy - is Raven. If he were in WCW, I'd probably pick him there, too. I think he's a really talented athlete and performer. If we discount him because he's mostly useless right now, I think I'd go with Jerry Lynn. A few more high-profiled angles, maybe making him more vocal, and he's a shoe-in for the television title once Rob Van Dam moves on.
What makes them good? They entertain me. It's that simple. I could lie to you and tell you that Tom Hanks is my favourite actress because he's won thirty four consecutive Oscars, but he isn't. I prefer Steve Buschemi any day. The same goes for wrestlers. I don't judge them on criteria - I either enjoy them or I don't.
Iain Burnside, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Just wanted to write and say you're doing a great job with your articles for the SLAM! Wrestling site. You are truly the Dr Pepper of internet wrestling writers - To Try It Is To Love It! And yes, that was a rather lame take on Dr Evil. But so what, the guy is hilarious. Dr Pepper hilarious. Dammit!!! So anyway, I guess what I really want to know is you opinion on decent wrestling videos to buy? Here in the UK we get dozens of WWF tapes for sale, but nothing else, and I'm getting fed up with them anyway. So any WCW/ECW or Japanese stuff you would recommend? Cheers, Iain."
I think the WWF tapes are solid, mostly because they have a terrific editing staff. If you want better action, though, or have seen enough of the WWF pay-per-views, I'd recommend mostly WCW stuff. I wouldn't go with any ECW or Japanese stuff unless you know you like it. If you want to buy a WCW tape, my personal favourites are Superbrawl 1992, Spring Stampede or Slamboree 1994, Great American Bash and Bash at the Beach 1996 (beginnings of the NOW). That's mostly it for me. There's more good stuff out there, though. If you want ECW or Japanese stuff, ask someone who knows, like Chris Gramlich or John Molinaro, respectively.
Oh, and I almost forgot to ask this - can any of you UK readers tell me why all UK email addresses or internet sites end in co.uk instead of just .uk? I'm more than a little bit ignorant, in that regard. Clue me in?
Thanks for writing, thanks for reading, and have a great week everyone. A lot of people have asked why I don't write "see you in seven" anymore, and to be honest, I try to stay away from anything that makes it sound like I have a 'gimmick.' I'm not a wrestler, just some guy who writes about it. I don't even like having a column name. I'd like to hear what people think about that, though -- should columnists have their own stupid catch-phrases and take themselves all seriously (it's in good fun, after all), or should we just write the column and leave it at that. Register one vote for the latter, what's yours? Ciao.
Send email to email@example.com.