Welcome to the “aftershow” edition of Rewriting The Book. Never done one of these before, so I hope the start isn’t awkward.
Before I get into comments and questions, I want to start off by saying thank you. Anybody who writes only for money will put out garbage product. Writing needs to be of the soul and the heart to be authentic, and any reader with half an eye open can tell the difference between writing done because of real passion and hack work churned out for a payday. RTB never started out to be a paying gig; I wanted to write, and I thought I had a cool idea that combined my desire to write and my passion for wrestling. That I get to give it to you, the readers, and occasionally get back praise is the cherry on top. And I love cherries. So, to anybody who took the time to write me an email or leave me a comment saying how much you enjoyed it, or somehow even inspired you (a concept that boggles my mind to no end), I thank you and thank you and thank you.
And to the few who were less complimentary … I also thank you. Nobody should go through life constantly hearing how awesome they are. Otherwise you’ll never know if you really are. I would never claim to have batted 1.000 during my decade of involvement with RTB (if you know me, you know which story I’m thinking of as my biggest failure), and I don’t expect every story to hit the mark with everybody. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands ever – OK Computer may be the most perfect album ever, in my humble opinion – but I can say without hesitation that Pablo Honey is downright toxic. And I am no Radiohead. So I say thank you to the critics as well.
Okay, now that we got the sappy stuff out of the way, let’s discuss the Goldberg/Starrcade RTB. And there’s no better segway than a question (the first of of his five) from a looooooooooongtime Crapper, Alexander The So-So: “1. The Goldberg story seems in many ways simply a “the more things change” sort of story, circling back to the same conclusion of WCW screwing itself out of business. This is different from your other shoot stories (DX invading Nitro or No Montreal), in that there wasn’t much of a massive Butterfly Effect that changed the wrestling industry forever. What was the point you were trying to make with this story? What were your motives in writing it?”
As I mentioned in the foreward of part I, this was an RTB with a bit of an op-ed flavor to it. As many of you surmised, the op-ed was that WCW would’ve been no better off if Goldberg had won at Starrcade ’98. Are the events of my story based on any kind of factual evidence? No, of course not. There’s never been any indication that Goldberg wasn’t jobbing at Starrcade, so the week-to-week events that unfold in my alternate reality are purely off the top of my head. RTB has always been an exploration of what could have happened in an alternate universe, not what would have happened. I leave “would” for the Meltzers and Kellers of the world (does Keller still do this? Shows you how old school I am.). “Could” leaves the door open to have a little fun. And that’s all these should ever be taken as: fun. A hypothetical diversion into a possible universe next door.
But with this one, I did want to dig a little deeper than an RTB normally goes. I wanted to use the framework of an alternate reality and tackle what I believe to be a fallacy that has perpetuated itself for 15 years: the idea that Goldberg’s streak was some sort of nail in WCW’s coffin.
Was it short-sighted? NO.
Was it poorly booked? NO.
Was it poorly timed? NO.
I know, a lot of you may be stunned by those answers. But the fact is, Goldberg’s first loss was heavily tainted. He didn’t get squashed, he didn’t get dominated; he got screwed by a weapon designed to incapacitate and render immobile. He didn’t get jackknifed and pinned; he got electrocuted. That’s hardly a weak loss. And I’m sure somebody’s thinking of leaving a comment questioning if I ate paint chips as a child. Keep reading. A comment from a reader goes right here and helps me illustrate more.
From Jason: “continuing the Streak might not have solved everything, Not reforming the nWo would have helped.”
I disagree. Granted, this can’t be proven without a Sliders-like slip into an alternate timeline, but I don’t think the reformed nWo was the millstone that dragged WCW down to the ocean floor. WCW’s greatest toe-stubbing at that time was their failure to follow up. The Fingerpoke of Doom, in retrospect, is unnerving and frustrating … but at the time, it was a clever swerve, and it should’ve been the launch pad for a long, long angle. Goldberg should’ve been primed to run through the nWo like a chainsaw through butter. Whether it was one member a week, or one per PPV, the storyline was right there for them: Goldberg runs the gauntlet, and with each member Hogan throws in front of them, Goldberg only gets nastier. Some of the members start questioning if the nWo is truly a vehicle to tear down the establishment of WCW, or a support system for yet another greedy old man. Finally, Goldberg gets Hogan, smears him like a bug on a windshield, and all is right with the world. It was right there, and WCW dropped the ball, let the air out and threw it in a wastebasket. And for no reason other than the obvious one: it was simply in WCW’s nature at that point to drop the ball. Everything they touched turned to crap, like some King Midas of the sewers. Baffling bureaucracy and suicidal business moves were their bread and butter, because the powers that be had been allowed to run unchecked. My RTB was a way to dispel the myth, to show that WCW, given the opportunity to keep Goldberg’s streak going, would’ve screwed that up too, because of one simple question:
When do you end it?
Because, really, for all the people who say “it ended too soon!”, not once, in 15 years, have I heard anybody make that complaint and then follow up with whatever magical point in time when it would’ve been okay. Another three months? Six? Nine? A year? Nobody ever says. At some point, the streak would’ve worn out its hospitality, and since WCW never did anything to define Goldberg as a character, well, then what? You’ve got a rose losing its bloom. And when luster wears off something in wrestling, we all know it goes away fast and rust takes it place even faster. I played up the buffoonery in management for dramatic effect (although it wasn’t entirely unbelievable, right?), but I think the basic thrust of my story is valid: if WCW didn’t kill it then, they would’ve dragged it out too long and basically milked the cow too dry. So, what’s better: end the streak at Starrcade ’98 and make people think you’ve cut him off at the knees, or drag it out until he’s a dead horse and you’re still beating it? There’s no right answer; it’s entirely subjective. The only truth is that, either way, WCW was going to find a way to screw it up. Self-sabotage had become hard-coded in their DNA by then.
Another comment, this one from Terrier Chad: “It’s an interesting spin on the RTB style with the historical documentary style look back. I’m still a little reserved over it though. Perhaps it is just me but my favourite RTB are the ones which veer further away from what actually happened in the end, something that gives a totally fresh perspective over what could have happened. I’ll be honest, I will probably be disappointed if it ends as just road to the same destination as reality. It is looking that way but I am expecting a good swerve. I have to say though kudos for the brave style of the piece.”
Normally, I do like to veer off at right angles from our reality. But the nature of the piece – exploring WCW’s systemic addiction to self-inflicted failure and how it wouldn’t have changed things – almost necessitated that I run a parallel track. Yes, I could’ve taken it to even more fantastic places by going off the rails, but the nature of the story wouldn’t have fit the agenda behind the scenes. Perhaps a more fantastical story would’ve been more fun, but it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
Also – and this is totally a personal preference – I love time travel stories where history resists being re-written. There’s something inherently cool to me about time itself being a conspirator against you. Synchronistically, a week or so after I started this opus, I started reading Stephen King’s excellent 11/22/63. For those who haven’t read it, it’s about a guy who goes back in time with the mission of stopping the JFK assassination. But the nature of the time travel forces him to start in 1958, so he has time to waste. As the time approaches and he stalks Lee Harvey Oswald, time keeps putting obstacles in front of him. I won’t spoil the details or how it ends; I just wanted to illustrate that, to me, these kinds of stories amuse me. The idea that, no matter what you do, no matter what path you take, time will always bring you back to the end-point it wants. Not that the book inspired the story, mind you; I had the outline done in full months before I started the story. It was just interesting how the story I wrote lined up in my own life with the story I was reading.
Okay, another comment, and this one got some feedback by another reader, and he was not happy with my column. He actually had some polite debate with another reader because of his feelings. I didn’t get involved, because I wanted to respond here, rather than turn the comments section into a column of its own. Now, before I get into it, I want to ask all of you something: I’m not mad at this guy. He has every right to his opinion. My replies to him are to either clear up possible misconceptions or illuminate my point of view. I’m not gonna bust his chops, so I ask of you to pay the same respect.
From Ingobert: “Disclaimer: I enjoy Wrestlecrap, and I appreciate each and every contribution. If it was not for you guys, I would have a hard time keeping up with wrestling in general. Also, I’ve always enjoyed “Rewriting the book” in general and your work in particular.”
“But this? This is godawful. Sorry to say that. Being a journalist, this is just disappointing, both in style and in execution.”
I’d be interested to know your journalist credits. Not trying to butt heads here, I’m really curious. The idea of a journalist reading me is intriguing. Although, I will say this: you can’t compare journalism to fiction writing and use the same grading curve. That’s like comparing a watermelon to an apple. Yes, they’re both fruit, but the commonalities end there. Journalism deals in facts. I deal in flights of fancy. If ever the t’wain met, somebody’s got problems.
As for your opinion, hey, everybody’s entitled. Judging from the other feedback, you seem to be on an island. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Just in a minority. Although, I might say, if your goal is to give constructive criticism, “godawful” is rather caustic and mean-spirited.
“First problem: “Rewriting the book” hinges upon the suspension of disbelief, hinges upon a narrative which gives you the feeling of being a part of alternate history. Your style of writing is that of a historian, complete with analysis of what went down how and why. That’s not what RWTB is all about. Of course it is interesting to see why an alternate booking decision would also lead to WCW’s demise. But told that way, it’s just plain annoying.”
You’re entitled to your opinion, but there is one thing I do need to correct you on: the notion of what RTB is “all about”. That’s defined by one person, namely me, since it’s my baby. And it’s about exploring alternate histories. It’s like when Slayer used dropped-D tuning for the Diabolus In Musica album; some hardcore fans called it a betrayal of what Slayer stood for. All the elements of Slayer were still there: lyrics about war and religion, pounding drums, screaming vocals … the only thing different was the key they played in. For my money, that’s still Slayer. And for my money, the change in narrative voice doesn’t render the column against what RTB is all about. I used this style for the DX/Nitro story, and that proved quite popular (possibly my most popular story, in fact). Neil Cathan did an excellent job finding a third narrative style with his story about Bruiser Brody surviving the stabbing in Puerto Rico, using the framework of a shoot interview. It was bold and challenging, and I adored it, because he dared to blaze a trail, and he made it work. Your tastes run counter to this edition’s concept, and that’s fine and dandy. No harm, no foul. But I’m not in any way betraying the column’s core concept. It’s no different than an author who uses first-person perspective in one book, than a character-specific third-person narrative in the next, than an omnipresent third-person in the next. Would you say he or she is betraying what their writing style is all about? Or are they just trying different voices, because sometimes, different stories require that?
“Second problem: WCW went down. We know that. Just writing about an alternate history with the same, inevitable outcome? That’s just plain boring. I know why you did it. I know you just wanted to illustrate that even if Turner execs would have demanded to push Goldberg to the moon, Bischoff’s buddies would have found a way to bury him nevertheless. But did anyone doubt that? Was it really necessary to write a RWTB about something that might have happened anyway? That RWTB is like “The death of WCW” without the bells and whistles. I did not need that.”
If that’s how you feel, again, more power to you. Not going to disabuse you of your feelings. I, however, do think it’s sad that, for you, the ending is all that matters. I find more excitement in the journey, not the destination. Again, to use Stephen King, he wrote my favorite book series of all time, The Dark Tower. The ending is a frustrating heartbreaker. But it doesn’t invalidate the 2500 pages that come before it. The journey is magical, and I love it more every time I read it. Put another way: is sex all about the orgasm, or is it about the intimacy, the touching, kissing, and everything that builds up to that final three seconds? As I mentioned before, the purpose of the story wasn’t to show a different ending; it was to expose the myth that Goldberg’s loss was some great nail in WCW’s coffin. And yes, it was necessary, because there are a great many people – even those who lived through it – who still believe his loss and/or the Fingerpoke Of Doom were not just Rubicons but the singular death blow (or blows, which makes it plural), and that’s just not true. WCW could’ve righted the ship in 1999 if they had the personnel – and if the personnel had the mindset – to do it. They not only chose not to, they dug in their heels about it. Too many people assume it was a singular moment in time, or even a collection of moments, like a six-pack of beer. They don’t see it was a cumulative effect, and that moments like Goldberg’s loss or the Fingerpoke or Vince Russo’s title victory were just symptoms of the disease.
“Third problem: It’s just not relevant. Like, not at all. WCW is dead. It is dead for a reason. You just show another path with the same outcome. That’s quite like if you describe the French Revolution and you alter the quote of Marie Antoinette from: “They don’t have bread? Why don’t they eat cake” to “They don’t have bread? Why don’t they eat Oreos?”
If you require relevancy in RTB, well, that is most definitely something RTB is not all about. RTB has never been about hitting hot topics fresh out of the oven. It’s about taking moments in time and twisting them and seeing where it leads. I’ve done editions that go back as far as 1987; others have done stories that go back even farther, such as the Freebirds/Von Erichs story by Simon. In fact, it’s always been a rule of mine that I don’t want to be on the bleeding edge of time; it’s hard to look at any moment or angle’s alternate history when the ramifications are still being felt. I got a request to do a story about the Nexus winning at that Summerslam with the huge 7-on-7 main event the day after Summerslam. That’s just not possible. You have to let some moss grow on the stone. So, I don’t get the complaint of relevancy.
As for the Antoinette comparison, hey, your opinion. I disagree. Again, is the outcome the most important factor, or the journey? Because while my story did end in a very similar place, the road that got them there had a lot more challenges to it.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’m an author myself. I take critisicm very seriously and I try to improve. I know you can do WAY better than that. Because this was really, really unnecessary and without a moral of the story. Sorry to say that. You can do so much better. Please do that.”
I also take criticism seriously. I welcome it and, when I view it as useful, I do my best to use it to hone my blade. But, in this case, I see less criticism and more of a unique, singular opinion that does not co-exist with mine. Other fans enjoyed it, and it’s been a successful narrative style before. I personally consider this one of my best, easily in my Top 5. I have no issue with you finding it unsatisfying, but I just don’t share the opinion. In my eyes, and in the eyes of most everybody else who read it, it wasn’t broke, so I don’t see anything to fix.
And as for a moral … not all stories need have one. In fact, if I look back on RTB, I doubt you’ll find a moral in more than a small handfull. Maybe Neil’s, because he used symbolism and metaphor in ways I can’t even touch. His Hassan story had a great moral regarding nationalism and using it as a mask to disguise prejudice. But mine? Goofy little diversions. Fun escapism. Yes, this one had a message to it, which I’ve mentioned a few times. If you find that message or moral insufficient? Obviously, we’re at an impasse, and I doubt it likely I’ll convince you otherwise. And as you’re entitled to your opinion, I wouldn’t try anyway. But I did feel the need to, at least, shed light on the other side.
Just to reiterate, though; no hard feelings. You have your opinion, I have mine. We’re right in our own personal monkey-spheres. Hope you remain a reader.
Time for another comment, this one from Mister Forth: “How far did you have to go into the mindset of guys like Bischoff.”
Sadly, it was surprisingly easy. It helps that I was there for it all. I read Scoops (Al Issacs, yo!), watched every PPV from both companies (and ECW starting in 1999), and probably developed ADD from flicking back and forth from Raw to Nitro. Seeing it all unfold, reading the dirt sheets, the way Bischoff operated was just right there for me to absorb. Believe it or not, Russo is just as easy to imitate. But, yeah, didn’t have to dig deep. I had way too much case history in front of me not to be able to imitate it. Really – and this sounds so much like stereotyping or a bad joke, but it’s the truth – it all amounted to thinking: “What’s the smart business decision? Okay, do the opposite of that, then make it 50% worse.”
Another comment, this from Alexandru: “Actually I was not against Goldberg losing he just lost to the wrong guy he should have lost to DDP at Halloween Havoc as DDP was red hot and over as he could be (look at the pop he got when he nailed Goldberg with the Diamond Cutter), it would have made DDP a true, legit Main-Eventer. By the time DDP won the title his heat had died down considerably, I honestly don’t think it would have hurt Goldberg’s credibility in the slightest.”
While I can’t argue that DDP was at his hottest at that point, Goldberg was hotter. And he was fresh. DDP’s pop wasn’t nearly as big as Goldberg’s. He’d only had the belt three months. It just wasn’t the time.
And, from Tempest Fennac: “I enjoyed this story. Sadly I can imagine this actually happening if Goldberg had been forbidden from losing. The part about Sullivan and Dillon starting to push mid-carders was interesting considering happened in real life when Sullivan was put in charge because I remember him claiming in one Power Slam magazine interview that he had big plans for the group who would end up as The Radicals when they left.”
I’ll admit, the Sullivan/Dillon regime actually being good was way out of left field. If you look at how they did from the time Russo got sent home till the Russo/Bischoff era, their booking was, at best, a treadmill of mediocrity. Hogan vs. Wall. Need I say more? So, I doubt highly their talk of “big plans” for the Radicalz was anything but hot air. Hell, if you need further proof, don’t forget that there were almost eight people who walked out after Souled Out 2000: Billy Kidman, Rey Mysterio, Shane Douglas and a fourth who I can’t remember (Konnan, I think), all were on the verge of bolting, until they all considered their chances of getting in with the Fed and played it safe. Taking that into consideration, think about how their careers went the following three months.
Yeah, Sullivan’s rhetoric sounds awful hinky, doesn’t it.
Truth be known, I did the Sullivan/Dillon part as almost a throwback to one of WCW’s brighter periods, the K. Allen Frey era. Like his all-too-brief tenure, morale rose, matches became better, booking became more solid. And then he split. Same deal; I wanted, after nine months of WCW kicking itself in the balls, to have this brief moment of relief, as if they’re turned a corner, only for management to start the self-destructive cycle anew. Really, doesn’t that seem so WCW?
A couple questions now, from White_Rhino: “Always been a fan of these…and this is no exception. I’ve tried several times to come up with some RTB stories of my own but find it to be very time-consuming. How much research goes into these? Do you try to mirror the actual timeline with obvious variations or do you just act like the “booker” and do what you need to do to get from point A to point B? Love to hear from you soon and thanks for all your hard work.”
And Alexander The So-So asks a similar question, so I’ll lump it all together: “2. How do you research for RTB stories? Do you draw from your own memories as an RTB fan? If you’re writing about something you didn’t grow up watching, how do you gather enough info to make it seem so authentic?”
RTB can be ridiculously time-consuming. It’s why I had to pull back and let others take up the cause; three kids and a wife is a lot of balls to juggle. The Invasion, from the first day of research to typing the words “the end” took three months, writing three or four days a week. So, kudos for even trying.
First question, regarding research: it depends on the era of the story, and my familiarity with the promotion. If it’s, say, set in Attitude-era WWE, or nWo-era WCW, those are my strongest suits, being a teenager at the time. My research, therefore, will be minimal: dates and names of events, perhaps some light double-checking to make sure when [person] started working for [promotion]. For instance, on this Goldberg story, the setting was familiar, and I knew the key players. Mostly, what I needed as far as research went were dates of the PPV’s, and time frames on when certain events happened that I wanted to parallel, like Chris Jericho’s departure from WCW, or Jeff Jarrett’s return, or the day Eric Bischoff got “sent home”. What took more time on this particular edition was the outline. That took a lot of fine-tuning and tweaking, and even as I wrote it, it became a moving target. The Revolution/nWo merger was not in the original plans. In fact, the original original plans (on which the first three months of the story are based) were lost, so I had to re-write the last nine months of the outline from scratch.
But then you get a story, for instance, like the one where DiBiase buys the belt from Hogan. Yeah, I lived through it. I’m very familiar with it (that moment, that half a second of pause Hogan put in before yelling “HELL NO!” is what inspired RTB in the first place). But I couldn’t remember if Superstars was on the air and if it was called that or Superstars Of Wrestling, or dates of major events like The Main Event and Wrestlemania IV.
And then you’ve got stories like the one where Tully Blanchard returns to NWA and turns on Ric Flair, forming the Slaughterhouse 5 (an awesome name for a stable if I ever heard one). I was not an NWA viewer at the time. It just wasn’t in my area. So I knew nothing. I had to research everything you can think of. Had to even watch some videos to get the promo style of certain guys.
And then there’s another couple of factors: complexity of the storyline, and how close I want to mirror reality. For instance, the Invasion story, the “who ran over Austin?” story, and the ROH/WWE cross-over story were all very complex, with huge casts, side-stories that either were part of the main but not the driving force, or something that would weave back into the main story later on. A lot of moving parts, basically. The Austin story also “suffered” from an outline that kept changing as I wrote it, because the story just kept growing in scope. That necessitated research on the fly to see if I could pull of the twists that the story kept throwing at me. For the Invasion, I think I researched and plotted for a solid month.
Now, the mirroring aspect is something else, and it affects research to some extent. There are certain immutable moments in time that I feel are inappropriate to change. Example: in the Goldberg story, I included the death of Owen Hart. Or, in the Invasion story, I mention the September 11th terrorist attacks. These are things that just can’t be white-washed over (although I do have an Owen question coming up …). So, for moments like that, yeah, reality rules and I run parallel. But apart from those moments? The story itself dictates how close I tow the line. I do feel it necessary to have some touchstones to our world. I find it gives the story a certain authenticity to the story. It’s a lot easier to absorb yourself in it if there’s a moment where you can go “hey, I remember that!”. And it doesn’t have to be an exact duplicate; the Higher Power story ended with Vince being banished from WWE television, just like in real life, but through entirely different circumstances. The story where Randy Savage beats Ultimate Warrior has Ric Flair coming in as the “real world’s champ” … just managed by Miss Elizabeth instead of Bobby Heenan.
But I don’t tend to adhere to reality’s path too close. Apart from this most recent story, RTB usually runs off at a right angle from reality. Other than event names and dates, I tend to use reality for the occasional suggestion, but never the bedrock. And, in some cases, I don’t even go that far. The DX/Nitro story is a prime example. This story was done with, and I’m not joking, zero research. I got the opening chapter in my head like a bolt of lightning one day while at work. This was on a Monday. I finished it on Friday. Really. Four days of feverish writing, never once looking using any online research materials. All of it was off the top of my head, and when the story took a turn, I was as surprised as anybody else.
Now, as for Alexander’s questions, if by how I do it is the actual mechanics of it? Well, if I just need dates and locations, Wikipedia is the easiest source. If I need finer detail, that’s where Google comes into play. For Attitude-era stories, CRZ’s old website is still up, and the Raw/Nitro recaps he did are remarkable; he transcribed every word of every promo. Makes getting a wrester’s tone and style easy, and it can be a nice source of quotes. Those are my chief resources. Typically, the initial concepts are stuff drawn from memory; angles I particularly remember, matches that stand out as having that extra something special to their feel. For stories that went to promotions or time periods I didn’t watch, as I mentioned, those take a lot of research. There isn’t nearly as much anal-retentive documentation of shows and promos as there is for the Attitude era to current, so, it’s more of a challenge, especially if the wrestler(s) involved aren’t somebody who’s had DVD’s dedicated to them. For instance, as I mentioned, I couldn’t watch 80’s NWA and WCW up to 1995, due to where I lived not carrying it, so a story set in that era is tricky … unless it’s centered around somebody like Ric Flair or Sting, who’s all over the damned place on DVD’s and the internet. Getting the booking style down is harder; I have to find TV results, study them, and recognize the patterns. NWA had strong matches on free TV, and the promos were almost always done in that goofy studio with Tony Schiavone and his frightening mustache. WWF was jobber squash after jobber squash. Takes a little more time to find all those results and information, but it’s worth it.
Onto the next question! From Mathew Sforcina (of 411Wrestling!) via Twitter: “If suits were so gung-ho on keeping Goldberg strong, why would they agree to the heel turn?” and “What question do you want someone to submit?”
See, Mathew and I go back a ways, so I can say this and he knows I don’t mean a syllable of it: I hate you, Sforcina, you Vegemite-sucking, kangaroo-humping continuity nerd.
I suppose I could be lazy and point out that the suits never said how to book Goldberg, other than to book him strong and keep the streak alive. But that would be lazy, which is … actually quite like me. But instead, I’ll try to give some rationale. Whether you like it or not, hey, your call.
By the time the heel turn was nearing, Goldberg was obviously cooling off. Yes, because of bad booking, but he was still cooling. The suits were stuck on the concept that Goldberg was a panacea. These aren’t real wrestling experts, remember; just higher-ups, looking at a division of the company that went from farting out dollar bills at will to pissing them away uncontrollably. All they see is their (presumed) golden ticket starting to tarnish. Here comes the wrestling “expert” (Bischoff) saying that if they turn him heel, they can book him like a monster, and people will line up to hope to see him lose. If you know nothing about wrestling, and just count beans for a living … doesn’t seem like so bad an idea, does it?
I know, not a terribly strong reason. Stop finding plot holes!
Okay, second question … bet you thought I wouldn’t answer this, eh? Well, I thought about it, and I came up with a fun question: if I could pick anybody from the IWC, who would I like to see write an RTB?
And I have three answers. Now, for the purpose of this exercise, I’m assuming the ability to write non-fiction translates into being able to write fiction, which flies in the face of an earlier comment. Hey, I’m playing with house money here, might as well go all-in, eh? So, with that said, one would be the man around here, RD Reynolds. Sure, it’d probably veer more humor-based, but I think it’d be fun to see what he could come up with. #2 would be Brandon Stroud, the writer of The Best And Worst Of Raw over at Uproxx’s With Leather sports blog. Just a fantastic weekly column that I look forward to every week. Dude has a way with words I haven’t seen since … well … since this my last choice roamed the IWC and terrorized Tony Schiavone: Hyatte. Sure, he was a bit mercurial, prone to taking large sabbaitcals (just like me!), but dammit, he was a great writer. His “Taking Of Triple H” story was solid gold. Well worth tracking down online and reading it. Its subject matter sort of renders it anachronistic, but it’s written well enough so that you won’t care.
Okay, now onto some other questions I didn’t write myself. How about a pair from Sean: “Have you thought about this for RTB?: What if…Owen Hart’s Title victory in 94 was not overturned?
Admittedly my other idea was What if…Owen hart didn’t fall from the rafters but that’d probably be a WEE BIT…controversial…“
I’m having trouble even remembering the title victory that got overturned, to be honest. That alone sorta answers the question, doesn’t it? But even if I did remember it, I have a rule about RTB. Several in fact, but I’m only quoting one here: not all title matches are worth exploring in an RTB. Because, realistically, you could make an RTB about any title match. That’s just too many doors, so I decided long ago that the title matches that get considered are the ones that feel like they had more than just a title hanging in the balance. Owen wins the belt? The Hart feud lives on. Not exactly shattering worlds. Undertaker retains at Summerslam ’97? Okay, now we have something, because Bret’s now forbidden from wrestling in the United States ever again, and the Undertaker/Shawn feud may not happen, which means Hell In A Cell may not happen, and so on and so forth.
Now your other idea, yeah, controversial isn’t the word for it. I’ll admit, it’s been a consideration, but easily the dimmest of ideas in my pantheon. I think I’ve stayed away from it for a few reasons.
1) What really was going to happen has been pretty well publicized (he wins the IC belt as the Blue Blazer, does the split identity thing for a while, and I believe a face turn was down the line after warring with Jarrett over his treatment of Debra). So, it’d be hard not to be beholden to that.
2) I’ve always felt a little odd about it. Yeah, Neil did a fine job with the Brody story, and he did ask my blessing to do it. But I think Brody was a little easier to swallow because Brody didn’t have the cultural penetration Owen did. Brody was wrestling in Puerto Rico at the time, and hadn’t been a fixture on TV … well, hardly ever. Not in the way a Ric Flair or a Randy Savage was. Owen was on TV every week, thanks to Superstars and then Raw, and he was front and center during the Monday Night Wars. Whether you were 8 or 18 during the wars, you grew up watching Owen to some extent. He was part of our television family. When he died, it hit home for a lot of us. I know I shed a tear that next night when I saw Jeff Jarrett bawling his eyes out (and many more times that night). I just don’t know that I could cross the line in my mind to remove myself from the emotions I felt that day and write a story where he lived. Ditto Brian Pillman, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. These were television family members. It’s not disrespect so much as discomfort.
And 3) RD. Other than asking not to use the more R-rated profanities, he hasn’t taken any action with the RTB’s since I came to Wrestlecrap. But I don’t presume to know how he would’ve felt if I’d come to him and said “hey, you mind me doing a story on Owen not dying?”. We’ve never talked about it, because I’ve never been comfortable enough to approach it myself. But even if I was, I’d feel compelled to ask him, out of respect to him and Wrestlecrap, because the concept itself could make a lot of people very upset. Maybe he himself is a huge Owen fan. I don’t know. But it’ll never get that far.
From Carol Belles via Twitter, a trio of questions: “Which rewriting the book that you have done are you most proud of sir?”, “What is the hardest part of doing rtb?”, and “What would you do if a zombie outbreak ever took place?”
That’s a tough question, because of the word “pride”. You’re not asking about my favorite, you’re asking which am I most personally proud of. So, as much as stories like DiBiase buying the title (very personal for me) or Orndorff landing first (also personal) or DX/Nitro (very fun to write and a singular experience) all rank high as favorites, they’re not the one I’m most proud of. For that, I have to look at the scope of the story, the accomplishment of it, how well I pulled off the central conceit, all of it.
Given that criteria, I have to go with “What if it wasn’t Rikishi who ran over Steve Austin?”. There were a lot of plot threads running in that … some that weren’t in the original design, but came up as I wrote the piece, and I found I was able to tie them back to the main plot (the Triple H/Right To Censor feud, for instance, was meant to be a time-killer, not integral to the main plot). I’m not trying to pat myself on the back for juggling all those balls. In fact, I’m flat-out gobsmacked I was able to do it and make it look good. That, I think, is why I’m proud of it; I out-did not only my expectations, but what I thought were my limits. It was, after a year away from the game, a triumphant return to form.
Now, your second question has two answers. One is very easy, and one requires explanation. The first is time. Even the shortest take up so much time. Then you get to multi-part epics like the Austin story, or the ROH/WWE cross-over, or this one … I do this, as I said, because I enjoy writing. But it’s a very solitary, exclusionary exercise. I have to find free time to do it. I have two 7 year old twins and a toddler. They want to play and need parenting, and occasionally a referee … the toddler needs his diaper changed, a bottle made, all that. And then there’s the wife. Nothing says whatever the opposite of romance and tenderness and togetherness is like sitting in my jammies with the laptop open, click-clacking away. So, yeah, time. Time’s a pain in the ass.
But the other hard thing about RTB? My own expectations. Over ten years, I seem to have built quite the fanbase, who read the columns voraciously, like a thirsty man in the desert finding an oasis. And then there’s the fanmail, like the email I got from an American soldier doing midnight MP duty in Germany, who said my columns help him pass the time. Or being told I’ve inspired someone to become a writer. That kind of stuff is what Tom Clancy or JK Rowling should be hearing, not me. I write goofy alternate universe wrestling stories, not John Dies At The End or 1984. And here I am, giving people inspiration? Improving the life, if only for an hour, of a lonely, bored soldier doing his solemn duty? Even the “great work, keep it up” praise can go to a man’s head. Inspiring someone to write is a heavy thing to hear. After ten years of this, it’s been engrained in my brain that there’s an expectation for the quality of this column. And that means that every time I put virtual pen to virtual paper, I need to hit that bar, just so I can feel like I did my job right by you guys. I’m not complaining, mind you; I cherish each piece of fanmail I get. It still blows me away that people like my writing, as I’m highly critical of it. But I must be doing something right … the challenge is to keep finding that right thing. And with each successful column, it feels like that bar inches a little higher. I’ll tell you, right now, that’s one major thing blocking me from following up this one quickly: the idea that’s closest to the surface right now, I don’t have the voice for. And I can’t fake it. That’d cheat you guys. You deserve the best.
Last of the three questions, and wow, that’s out of left field. Realistic answer? I’m out of shape and overweight, so most likely, I’d end up in a zombie’s belly, and quickly. In my fantasies, though, I’d get armed, take my family and try to find someplace to fortify against the zombie horse. Like Woodbury, only without the psychotic despot in an eyepatch.
Okay, now from BrendanJNewton: “Actually, here’s a question for the Aftershow Edition: Did the current WWE product influence any of this story, or did you have it in your mind while you were writing it? Obviously WWE’s not in WCW’s state right now, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a coincidence that the above story, which featured a PPV that was booed out of the building, was posted just one day after Royal Rumble 2014. Do you think there are parallels between today’s WWE and 1999′s WCW, be it the real one or the fantasy one in this story? If so do you think WWE could learn from WCW’s mistakes?“
I wish I could say yes and sound like the smartest guy in the room, but no, and it’s for a very simple reason: I finished the story a week or two before the first chapter went up, which was a couple weeks before the Royal Rumble and the proverbial fit hitting the shan in Stamford. And even before then, when Bryan fell out of the title picture and into the feud with the Wyatts, it didn’t play a role, because I don’t see his position as a “demotion” or that he’s being “buried”. He was in high-profile angles, often main-eventing Raw. When he won, he looked like a boss doing it. When he lost, they usually had to send three, four, five guys to do it. So, I haven’t felt like Bryan’s been in a bad situation to begin with. But I can see where some people would be upset. But no, their product didn’t come into play.
Parallels? Well, sort of. You know how if you stand on a set of train tracks and look down them, it looks like they run on sort of parallel diagonals until they converge at the horizon, even though you know good and well they never intersect? If you could see that backwards – i.e. standing at the mythical convergence point and watch the optical illusion of separation – that kind of parallel I can get behind. Reason I say that is this: WWE has a genuine star in Bryan, and they know at any time they can slot him at the top. Punk (if he comes back) is a made man already, and this walk-out will only entrench him as a real “voice of the voiceless”. WWE has other options in the main event slot, and several more just beneath that need only a nudge. The problem WWE seems to be having, in my opinion, is that they’re locked on a course, and the course is in a tunnel. A very long, very dark tunnel. You could rehabilitate Cena with the crowd in a few months: just have him stop looking like Superman and have the losses bother him. Orton, too, can be fixed; either make him the IED psychopath from five years ago, or make him a total coward who needs propping up, but not both. And stop with the “you’re not really the face of the company until you beat …” nonsense. The Authority needs to pick a side and stick with it. WWE has basically booked themselves into corners, and rather than listening to somebody tell them how to get out, they’re trying to climb the wall and blame the paint.
WCW’s problem looks similar on the surface, being they had an audience that no longer wanted what they were offering, and a stagnant main event. But the realities behind the situations are different. WCW only had a small pool of real main event talent. As much as we all liked Jericho and Benoit and Raven and whoever else, they were not proven draws. By 1999, they’d been so misused, shunted down, jerked around and cut off, they had no marquee value in WCW. You couldn’t run Hogan/Raven or Nash/Benoit or DDP/Jericho as a main event and drawn a house, and anybody who says otherwise is living in a fantasy world. WCW’s main eventers were too rooted, and people weren’t just tired of their current act. They were tired of their existence. Hogan could do no right by the fans by 1999. Nash was played out. Sting was screwed over by politics, so even he’d lost luster. Don’t get me started on Luger. WCW had nobody to take their spot in a pinch, and they’d tacitly told the audience “don’t care about anybody else”. And not only did you have management screwing the pooch, you had talent conspiring with them to do it. WWE doesn’t have that.
So, I guess it boils down to that yes, there are similarities, when viewed from a certain angle. WCW didn’t listen to its fans. WCW hung on to the wrong people and booked them the wrong way. WCW didn’t replace old and tired stars with new ones. WWE’s doing all this, but the way they’re doing it isn’t quite the same. They can correct it. If they want to.
Big word, if.
As for learning from the mistakes? No. Not a chance. Because WWE doesn’t learn from their own mistakes. How often has WWF squandered a potential star because they didn’t build him when they had a chance, or didn’t push the current hotness a rung down the ladder so the new one could shine? It’s what killed The Ultimate Warrior. It’s what helped kill The Miz. It’s why Dolph Ziggler is like Lex Luger 2.0. Expecting, even wishing, they’d learn from the mistakes of another promotion? Why start now? Hell, Bischoff had a bird’s eye view of a promoter who refused to adapt or build new stars when he worked for the AWA … didn’t help him any. Few wrestling promoters avoid the classic mistakes: building new stars to replace the current hot star while he’s still hot, don’t wear out a star’s welcome, listen to the audience, etc. Even the most sacred cows of recent – Quackenbush and Sapolsky, for instance – have stepped in it. Quack with the disjointed and unsatisfying “Chikara shuts down” storyline, and Sapolsky with most everything he’s done since the Stable Wars angle. WCW’s mistakes should be front and center in the minds of any promoter, because they are a perfect textbook on how to not run a promotion. But Vince McMahon operates on a different wavelength, one where he takes the mistakes he’s made and either twists or erases them via some weird Orwellian ret-conning. Look at the recent backlash against Batista’s return and rocket-up-the-ass push; the dirt sheets reported that the failure was just a rambunctious crowd in one city, not true audience dissatisfaction. Vince doesn’t see Batista’s position as a mistake; he thinks you’re wrong for not liking what he’s giving you. He knows better! Batista is important! If you’d just cooperate and clap when we tell you, everything would be fine! Now, could they learn from WCW’s mistakes is another story, and that answer is unarguably yes. Any promotion can, and should, look at WCW (and AWA before it) as templates of what not to do. But while the lessons seem obvious, they’re so damned hard to put into practice. Which is why you keep seeing the mistakes repeated. Very few high-level promotions seem ready, willing and able to learn from those mistakes and put lesson into practice; indies can, because of their more transitory nature and lower profile. They don’t have TV contracts, sponsors and PPV buyrates to worry about. When all that enters the equation, the game changes.
Okay, final set of questions, and they’re the last three from Alexander The So-So: “3. Do you think any recent events in the wrestling industry have RTB potential? You haven’t been as much of a fan of wrestling since 2001, but there are a few moments within the past few decades that seem like they have the potential to be explored. What If Paul Heyman had become the booker for TNA in 2010? What if the CM Punk Pipebomb Angle had been booked to its fullest potential? Have any events in recent times crossed your mind or lit even a bit of a spark?
4. How come you’re not on Facebook anymore?
5. How are the wife and kids?”
For question #3: oh, sure. Dozens, if I sat down and thought about it. I’m still a fan, I just don’t watch with religious fervor anymore. I think I’ve bought two PPV’s in the past 10 years. It just isn’t a priority anymore. But there’s definitely opportunities for RTB’s since 2001. Off the top of my head …
What if Kurt Angle had to forfeit the WWE World Title before Wrestlemania XIX?
What if Brock Lesner hadn’t quit WWE in 2004?
For that matter, what if Goldberg didn’t leave WWE in 2004?
What if The Nexus beat Team WWE?
What if Daniel Bryan didn’t get released after the tie-choking incident?
What if CM Punk stayed gone longer than 2 weeks?
What if Jeff Hardy didn’t show up in “no condition to work” at Victory Road?
What if Hogan and Bischoff didn’t go to TNA?
What if Shawn Michaels saved his career and ended The Streak at Wrestlemania XXVI?
That’s all just me riffing as I’m sitting at my keyboard. If I sat down, looked at old PPV cards and really thought about it, I’m sure I could find more (I know there’s an ROH story or two I’m overlooking, perhaps with the Chikara crossover that never went anywhere). But I can’t say any recent events have lit a fire in me. Since my lapse into semi-sorta-kinda retirement and bringing in of successors, the only ideas that crossed my mind were stories I’d started on during my active tenure and could never finish. I haven’t looked at The List (forum regulars know what I’m talking about here) in a long, long time. There’s been four ideas that got started and I could never keep up the fire for them, for whatever reason, and since that partial retirement, those are the only stories I’ve considered writing.
And for those who are saying “WHAT ARE THOSE FOUR?!?” … well, the Goldberg story was one of them. Call it my version of Toadies’ “Feeler” album (if anybody gets that reference, I’ll be stunned). The other three are right now languishing in purgatory, like Butthole Surfers’ “After The Astronaut” project album (more obscure 90’s music references!). They are:
What if Cactus Jack convinced Tommy Dreamer to join his anti-hardcore campaign?
What if Shane Douglas didn’t throw down the NWA World Title in 1994?
And my personal favorite, what if Bret Hart lost at Summerslam ’97?
The first and last have rough outlines and a small amount of narrative completed, but it’s been long and long since I’ve done anything with either. The Shane Douglas story, I just can’t find the beat for it. I know it’s a massive project, spanning all three promotions like the DX/Nitro story did … but bigger. And I just don’t know how big, or where the end-point is.
Question the fourth: lots of reasons. I’m incredibly adverse to politics, and I had far too many friends and family who thought constant posts about their side of the argument … I don’t know, won them points or something? I just got sick of “Democrats are evil because …” and “Republicans should die because …”. Another reason: too much drama. I’d post a pithy little something, and somebody would take it the wrong way, and we’re off to the races. For something that was supposed to be an easy platform to keep in touch with people, I was finding it a time-consuming nuisance with little reward that couldn’t be found elsewhere. And perhaps biggest of all is Facebook’s increasingly disturbing, patently evil and horribly intrusive policies that do away with any illusion of privacy of its users. Some of it was getting downright Orwellian in nature, and I found myself feeling like supporting Facebook was a tacit endorsement of truly disgusting invasions of policy we wouldn’t endure or endorse from the government, or the church, or even our neighbors … and yet, we were giving this software company unfettered access to everything. When I weighed all that against what I was getting out of it, the balance wasn’t there anymore.
And the last question … good. All good. Twins are almost eight now, which is mind-blowing. If you’re not a parent, you just can’t understand how frightening the passage of time can be until you find yourself saying “Holy @#$%, I’m the parent of an eight-year old!”. You’ll wonder where the time went, and all those pre-kid years will seem so very, very far away. The baby will be two in May; he’s chubby, he jabbers constantly, and he’ll dance to almost anything. From Prince to Iron Maiden, if it has a beat, he’ll dance to it. Wife is also well; she’s starting a crochet business, making hats and scarves and whatnot. For Christmas, she made me a scarf that looks like a strip of bacon. That officially makes her the greatest woman in the history of our sport. Now if I could just convince her to do a tandem geek Halloween costume … I’ve been trying for Chuck and Sarah, but she won’t bite. Or maybe House and Thirteen …
And with that, I think it’s a good time to outro this puppy. Once again, I wanna thank you for your support and constant readership of RTB, whether it was my work or any of the other guys. I don’t know how far along CG or Simon or Shane are in their next stories … you may wanna email them and bug them. Mathew Sforcina from 411 also says he’s gonna write one … he’s procrastinated something fierce, though … so this is me calling him out. WRITE THE DAMNED THING ALREADY!!!
As for me … I’m not sure if/when I’ll jump back on the RTB horse. Those three ideas are still out there and I’d like to complete them, but they have to speak to me … and right now, they’re pretty quiet. Moreover, I’m endeavoring on a new writing venture that I can’t divulge further details about just yet … when I have more to tell, you all will be filled in.
With that, I’m gonna Z-out the register and close up shop. Thanks again, thank you for all the questions and comments (I’m sure this will generate a few in and of itself, and I’ll try to reply to everything I can), and we’ll talk soon. Peace, y’all.