‘The Franchise’ Shane Douglas as ECW World Champion.

Pro wrestling is Shakespearean in its very nature. Often times the plotting, scheming and manoeuvring of the principles back stage in the WWF and WCW make for intriguing drama with so many twists and turns that the Bard himself would be proud.

In essence, pro wrestling is a game of politics. The wrestlers, management, bookers, and scriptwriters… they’re all politicians trying to get ahead at someone else’s expense. Some are better than others (read: Kevin Nash, HHH). Some have the game down to a science, knowing exactly what to say and when to say so they can manipulate any situation or anybody. Some are hopelessly inept.

And then there’s Shane Douglas.

He’s not a politician. He doesn’t play the game. He speaks his mind freely. He’s blunt in his honesty, indifferent to the consequences his comments may have.

He pulls no punches especially when speaking about his past employers like he did last week in an explosive tirade against ECW owner Paul Heyman. But Douglas also isn’t afraid to speak out about his current employers, WCW.

“I think Vince (Russo) has made some mistakes,” Douglas told SLAM! Wrestling recently. “Vince doesn’t understand the wrestling business in this sense — sometimes it’s best not to wear your heart on your sleeve. In the wrestling industry it’s a weakness because then everybody knows what your Achilles heel is. Vince is beginning to realize that. The first time he came (to WCW) he trusted that snake Kevin Sullivan and saw where that got him. So, through time I think he’s realized what needs to be done.”

Even though Douglas has a good relationship with Russo, he isn’t afraid to point out what he feels Russo’s flaws are.

“There are some things I don’t agree with Vince. I don’t like the idea of five, six-minute matches. I think if you have ten matches on the card, make four of them five, six-minute matches, make three or four of them 10 or 12-minute matches and have two eighteen minute matches because you have the talented guys here that can do it.”

“I think he goes a little too far, a little to silly sometimes,” continued Douglas. “I think one of things we’ve done too much in the past is way too much backstage vignette s–t. Especially if you’re sitting in the building and the match is done, and everything is taking place on this screen. You have one vignette, then you go to another vignette and then a third vignette and then go to commercial and you come back and then there’s another one.”

Douglas is also quick to point out Russo’s strengths.

“He’s started to find the right places for everybody else. Like, The Wall for instance. I think Misfits In Action is a neat idea and it’s starting to get over in the buildings and starting to generate some interest. I think putting Torrie and I together was a good idea. I think with Lance (Storm) he’s done a tremendous job.”

In terms of his own future, Douglas sees his character developing into a major player in WCW.

“I think Vince sees the character the same way working with titles. I’m proud of the fact that every time I’ve held a title it’s always meant more when I dropped it then when I got it. I think right now around here belts don’t mean s–t. I think we have to make those belts worth something again. I see me working with the titles. Two years down the road I’d like to see the Franchise in a place where he’s over to the point that he can get in the ring with a Billy Kidman and put him over or go over on him and he’ll be elevated at the end. Right now, we’re still in the process of still getting myself elevated as we do this program.”

“By the time I’m 42 or 43, the Franchise will be done on a full-time basis in the ring,” admitted Douglas. “If they invested enough television time in me and the character is over enough, I’ll be happy at that point to come back for the periodic pay-per-view to help get someone over. I’ve always said I don’t wont to be 45 or 46 years old hanging on for one more pop. It’s sort of pathetic. I was a big mark for (Ric) Flair and that’s my big criticism of Ric: had he retired years ago, after that match in 1993 with Vader, I think his career would be fabled. The fans still hold high in high regard but the old fans know he’s not what he used to be.”

For years, it was an indignant Douglas who publicly criticized Flair for holding back Douglas’s career when he was in WCW and Flair was booker. Douglas was outspoken over how he felt Flair was hanging around too long and not passing the torch to the young crop of wrestlers coming up behind him. Many’s the time Douglas led an incensed ECW Arena crowd in chants of “Flair is Dead”.

After years of ignoring Douglas’s jabs, Flair finally responded last year, calling Douglas a cry-baby and nothing more than a mid-carder.

Tensions were understandably high when WCW signed Douglas last year. Both men were now working in the same company and they became aware of Vince Russo’s plans to program them together in a feud. Miraculously, they came to an understanding with one another.

“I think we were both pretty professional. (When I was first hired by WCW) I was on vacation in Florida with my wife and WCW were in Jacksonville. So I popped in. I was standing with Mickey Whipwreck and a couple of other people, and I turned around and (Ric) was standing right behind me. He put his hand out and I put my hand out (to shake) and we said hello. He walked away and I stopped him. I told him I’d like to talk to him when he gets the chance.”

“I went down to his room and we talked for about 15 minutes and we basically put it all on the line,” continued Douglas. I told him ‘Ric, I’m not going to apologize about what I’ve said, here’s why I said them.’ He made his point and he went to apologize for what he had said I told him ‘You don’t need to apologize because I’m sure you had some legitimate reasons for saying what you said as well.’ We both came to a (agreement) for the benefit of the company, let’s put it behind us, let’s move out there and do the program if you want to.”

The feud culminated in their match at Slamboree back in May. Despite going over on Flair in the match, Douglas wasn’t happy with how the feud played out.

“If you look back and watch the build up for that program, I didn’t do one promo going into it,” explained Douglas. “There were a few vignettes and few pre-tapes but there were never any promos. Ric gave a masterful nine-minute promo a week or two before the match. Boy, how I could have responded from that and drawn more heat and made more interest to the match. Vince wouldn’t do it. I think part of what Vince was worried about, and he’s never told me this but I’ve sort of gathered this from things he’s said, he was very concerned that if I went back and shot and got too strong with the promos that Ric would have pulled back and be less willing to do the angle.”

He continued. “I don’t think Ric’s heart was in the program. Speaking on Ric’s behalf, if I can do that, he knew that with his shoulder as bad as it was, he was not going to be able to perform at the level that would have justified that angle. I don’t think he wanted to go into that right then because, first, on his egotistical side, he didn’t want to get outshined by the Franchise, which clearly would have been when he wasn’t healthy. Secondly, there was still some reservation about the program as a whole and just in general.”

Douglas insists that Flair was very professional in the way he dealt with their feud.

“Ric was very gracious in the way he worked the angle. The one thing that Ric surprised me with and it might be just because of all the comments that were made, he surprised me in how damn hard he fought in the ring. He really gave it everything he had in the ring that night. With his shoulder as bad as it was, he was going all out. He hit with chops harder than anybody, including Benoit, had ever done. I think he was making a statement that even though he was doing the job, he was going to show that he was still a tough character.”

Douglas feels that their feud could have really been something special.

“It’s a shame because what that angle could have meant if done the right way, and I made the statement at the time that if it was done right I guaranteed we would have swayed the ratings at least for the quarter hour. There’s no doubt in my mind that that would have been the case. If we go back and do it now, I won’t make that guarantee because I think its second best.”

“I’ve heard Vince say that they’re going to go back to it at some point down the road when Ric comes back. I’m not so sure I want to,” confessed Douglas. “I don’t want it to look like we’re going back to it because we have to or try to prostitute the angle because I think they lost the momentum when I first came in. Let’s face it, with all the response that we had of all the shoot comments back and forth, we co-existed pretty well. They never educated the fans en masse for those not familiar with what was said. If we go back into it now I think it’ll look like a wrestling angle.”

Douglas still feels that Flair should retire.

“I think Ric realizes against his own desire that father time has caught up with him. He realizes there is no future in him. You can’t sit down and put a whole bunch of money or stock in him because at his age, God knows, whenever the next major injury is… I think Ric realizes it someplace in the back of his mind (the sport has passed him by).”