It’s the biggest news development in wrestling this year. When it was unfolding it was the hot topic of discussion among wrestling fans. And seven months later, people are still talking it. Including Shane Douglas.
The landscape of the war between WCW and the WWF was elevated to an entirely new level back in January when The Radicals (Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero) asked WCW honcho Bill Busch for their contractual release and signed with the WWF.
Douglas was among the troop of wrestlers who approached Busch back in January about WCW’s decision to replace Vince Russo with Kevin Sullivan as booker. From a business perspective, they were concerned about the push they were going to get under Sullivan and they wanted to talk about their respective futures in the company. And Chris Benoit had personal issues with Sullivan.
“When it started becoming clear to us that Kevin was going to take over, and when he finally did, we went to Bill Busch,” Douglas told SLAM! Wrestling recently. “We had all met earlier that day: me, Billy Kidman, Konnan, Juventud, Perry, Eddie, Chris and Dean. We sat up in the stands in the Cincinnati Gardens (the site of WCW’s Souled Out pay-per-view) and we talked about what we were going to say in this meeting. My understanding before we went in there was we were going to tell Bill Busch what was going on, the heat with Kevin and just let him know that if we started getting misused he understood why.”
According to Douglas, they were all going to stick together and follow a simple game plan. When they had their meeting, Douglas contends Benoit and Saturn strayed from the playbook and called their own play.
“We had talked about that we had to be willing to walk away in order to back up (our position),” explained Douglas. “We went up into Bill’s office and sat down with Bill and everybody took their turn in talking and saying what their concern was. When it came time for me to talk, a couple of guys kept butting in and started talking. In the middle of this meeting, Perry Saturn said to Bill ‘You once told me Bill that you didn’t want anybody unhappy in your dressing room and you’d give anybody their release that wasn’t happy here. And Bill said ‘I don’t remember exactly saying those words.’ Perry said ‘No, no, that what’s you said. Don’t go back and your word and not be a man Bill.’ And Bill said ‘I said something similar to that so I’ll agree with that.’ And Perry said ‘okay fine, I want my release.'”
“Now that caught me completely off guard because although we had covered our asses on the ‘What If’ situation, I didn’t know we were going to go in there and tender any resignations. Chris Benoit then spoke up and said ‘that goes for me also.'”
After the meeting, Douglas says he went back to talk to Busch privately.
“After that meeting let out… I went back in. I said ‘Bill, the first thing I want to tell you is that I definitely do not want to leave the company’. He thanked me for saying that. I apologized for the meeting and told him I didn’t recognize that was where the meeting was going.”
“I didn’t get a chance to talk in that first meeting. I told him here’s my concern,” continued Douglas. “You guys are paying me over three years well into seven figures to be here. I don’t want to be a welfare case. I don’t want to be misused and unable to help your company and then in three years from now when it comes time to renegotiate you sit there and say ‘don’t sign him he’s a piece of s–t. He thanked me for being so candid with him, thanked me for clarifying my position from the other six guys and he said give him a week to come up with some sort of solution and he would meet with me in Atlanta.”
Douglas had thought everything would work out. The next night at Nitro in Columbus, Ohio, however, they had another meeting with Bill Busch, who asked what it would take to keep the fivesome in WCW. When they asked for the dismissal of booker Kevin Sullivan, Busch countered by saying that he would have Sullivan book Thunder, and that the group would not have to work that show. An hour later, having talked to his confidants backstage, Busch pulled the offer from the table.
“J.J. Dillon comes up and tells us ‘Bill would feel more comfortable if you guys weren’t around. He’d like you all to go home and he will contact you later,'” Douglas recalled. “So I said to J.J. ‘Is this a punitive measure?’ And he said no.”
Douglas argues that they were asked to leave because of backstage incident the previous night following their meeting with Busch.
“We walked out of all those meetings and Mike Graham came up to us,” recalled Douglas. “Chris and I were talking in the hallway and he pulled Chris across the hall and said ‘I here you guys went in there and tried to get me, J.J. and Kevin fired.’ And Chris said first of all, what we talked about in that office is none of your business but I will tell you this your name and J.J.’s never came up. And he said ‘well that’s not what I heard’ and he leaned up into Chris’s face. He said ‘when I find out which of you *&%$&* said it, I’m going to slice your *&%$&* throat and send you home in a body bag.'”
“Now we’re in a whole different ball game,” said Douglas. “A Time Warner management-level person making threats against you is not going to fly very well in a court of law. That’s the reason Bill Busch did not want us in the building (the next night at Nitro). He didn’t know what was going to happen if we ran into Mike in the back.”
They returned to their hotel where Douglas maintains they made a verbal agreement to stick together and to make their move collectively.
“We all went to the hotel, packed our bags, had dinner and we all swore we were going to stick together. My whole thing was I had worked with Vince (McMahon) on three different occasions. If there’s any weakness at all, he’ll find it and he’ll capitalize on it. In other words, if we stick together, we stand to make a hell of a lot more money than if we stand apart. We all shook on it, we all hugged on, we all drank a glass of wine on it and toasted to it. We said if anybody got a phone call that we would share the information from the phone call with each other. Throughout that whole week I did that. As I got a call from (WWF management personnel) Bruce Pritchard, I hung up and called the other guys and they did the same.”
His previous stints with the WWF, including his days as Dean Douglas, did not go well for Douglas. He left on bad terms and had been characterized by some as disruptive in the locker room. He asked for his release from the WWF, received it, and went back to ECW.
After the incident in Columbus, Douglas returned home to Pittsburgh. A few days later he received a call from Vince Russo.
“He asked me where I was and I told him I was in Pittsburgh. He said are you about that and I said ‘Well, why would I lie to you about that Vince.’ He said a friend of his just called from New York, and told him ‘his boys’ were in Stamford negotiating with Vince. He didn’t know which guys though. He asked me if I knew where the other guys are and I said I hadn’t spoken with them for a couple of days. He said well you better call and find out.”
“I called Dean and asked him where he was,” remembered Douglas. “He said (he was at his) brother’s beach house in Florida. I said are you sure, let me tell you what I’ve heard. He said ‘Shane, I would never f–k you over like that, if we did that I’d be the first guy to have called and told you. You have my word as a friend I’m at my brother’s beach house in Florida.'”
“I called Vince back and told him and don’t buy it. Dean is in Florida. He said ‘Shane, I don’t want to call anybody a liar, but I know for a fact they’re up there.’ On Vince’s suggestion I called the hotel and asked for those four guys and the guy at the front desk told me all four had checked in.”
Douglas insists that he isn’t upset that they decided to go to the WWF without him — he knew that Vince McMahon wasn’t really interested in his services, that his body would not stand up to the WWF schedule and that he was in the weakest bargaining position of the bunch. His real problem was that they didn’t tell him themselves that they were going to jump.
“Anybody who puts pride above a paycheque is a mark.”
“Everybody has the prerogative for their own career in this business and I firmly believe that to this day. But if you and I give each other our word, call me corny, I think you have an obligation to uphold that,” opined Douglas. “If you wanted to go, you have every right to do that, but you also have an obligation because of you putting your word on the line, to call me and tell me beforehand. The point of contention to me was… I know this sounds corny, but if I give you my word I am going to do something, you can take it to the bank. Whether that means if my giving my word puts me in a detrimental position I’m still going to follow through on my word and I’ll let the pieces fall where they may.”
Since the split Shane has been able to patch up his friendship with Chris Benoit.
“Chris is a true gentleman. He has gone out of is way to try and say he’s sorry through actions. He calls periodically just to check in, small talk, how’s thing going, ‘saw your match, helluva match’ that sort of stuff. As far as Eddie goes, I never really knew Eddie all that well. I was friends with him enough to say hello and that kind of thing but never enough to travel with or was close friends with him.”
Douglas has less the complimentary words for Saturn and Malenko.
“Perry didn’t surprise me because even when we were best of friends or thought we were best of friends, I’ve always thought Perry’s the type of guy who would sell out his mother for a dollar. But Dean surprised me. When I first went to WCW, it was common knowledge we were friends and a lot of people in the dressing room came up to me and said ‘be careful of Dean because he has a lot of heat in the dressing room’. I went to my wife and said ‘I don’t see it, Dean isn’t the kind of guy that would have heat’. Now looking back, I can clearly see what everybody was talking about.”
“Dean wrote me a letter one time after the incident had happened,” admitted Douglas, “and it said something along the lines of how sorry he was with what happened, how bad he felt, we’ve been friends for the past seven years and he didn’t want to lose that friendship. I took the step and called him and we talked very briefly and I haven’t heard from him since.”
Douglas says he isn’t surprised to hear unconfirmed reports of Saturn being in the outs already in the WWF.
“I knew Perry was going to get himself in the doghouse up there in a short time anyway because Perry can’t keep in his mouth shut. Perry wants to bitch and complain about everything and that doesn’t flush in the WWF. Perry’s a technician in the ring, nothing more. Perry has no charisma in the ring, he has no mic skills, he has no presence in the ring. It’s like 1977.”
Douglas believes that the Radicals have climbed as high as they can go in the WWF.
“Benoit is getting a push but I think he’s been pushed as far as he can be pushed. You’ll always see him in matches with (HHH and The Rock) but I think you’ll never see him go over on them. Chris lacks the charisma and the mic skills that The Rock has and Vince is the land of all that. Historically Vince McMahon’s company has always bee where the Hulk Hogans get the push and the Paul Orndorffs and Jake Roberts does the pushing.”
“Chris is a modern day Jake Roberts, meaning he’s going to make a lot of money there but he’ll never be the top dog,” explained Douglas. “(He’ll be putting other people over) because he’s so damn good. He can get in the ring with a broomstick and make it look good. They’ll take a guy who knows three moves and tell Chris to get him over. I think Dean is on his last legs there. I think Perry is on his last legs and Eddie has a spot, a mid-card spot at best. I’ll be honest with you, coming out of this thing, I landed on my feet probably better than any of the seven people in that room. They all took big pay cuts.
Douglas thinks they should have waited to hear what compromise Bill Busch was going to come back with before going to the WWF. He feels that they were foolish to put their pride in their work before their financial affairs.
The Radicals were set to make a less money in the WWF on a downside guarantee than they were making in WCW. But with incentives, they had the chance to make much more.
“Right now, I think had they all stayed here they’d be on top right now. You can’t lose sight of what this business is; this business is a business for us to make money. It’s a way we make a living. That is the overriding factor. We don’t do this because the punches, body slams and suplexes feel good. Although the pride factor comes in, but anybody who puts pride above a paycheque is a mark.”