In last week’s flashback, I focused on Steve Austin versus Bobby Eaton from 1991.
But with the magnitude of WCW’s potential in 1992, the only way I knew to represent it was through a short story. Have you heard the one where the ghost of WCW has one shot to go back in time and save itself?
Of course you haven’t. It’s never been told, until now.
By 2012, the ghost of WCW had long since buried itself in a cemetery somewhere. It tired of seeing the wrestling world like it was: One organization owned its likeness and could represent its history any way they chose and another organization, because it employed some of the WCW’s latter-day stars, thought itself to have some sort of kinship to WCW.
The ghost had no interest in any of this, but it gladly roused itself when it was told it could go back to one point in history to try to save itself. The ghost did not take this opportunity lightly. Would it go back to the day Vince Russo signed and say no thanks? Would it go back to 1996, when Hulk Hogan joined the nWo and stipulate once this group has one run, it can never have a second, or a third, or a fourth or a 10th run?
No, thought the ghost of WCW, these are too late in the game. Too many of the attitudes that killed us infected us earlier than that.
The ghost of WCW knew this was not just a chance to save itself. It was a chance to save wrestling in the south. It was a chance to save a true alternative to WWE. It was an opportunity to keep many, many more guys employed and active in the wrestling business. The ghost of WCW could not afford to get this wrong.
It had to go back—way back—to 1992.
I will save you the part where the ghost of WCW visits and convinces WCW 1992 that it truly is the ghost of WCW. You’ve seen movies. You know how that part works.
With WCW 1992 convinced, the ghost of WCW got straight to business.
“What you don’t understand,” began the ghost, “is you have everything it takes in your company right now to make sure you never have a true challenger.”
Did WCW 1992 roll its eyes or stare blankly? Whatever it did, the ghost knew well that 1992 did not believe this message.
The ghost continued, “You have guys like Shane Douglas and Cactus Jack; unfortunately, I don’t have time to tell you why you should value guys like that. My time is short and I must focus on the very key players you will take for granted. I must focus on the Dangerous Alliance.”
1992 said simply, “We let them wrestle Sting. What more could they ever want?”
“Yes, whatever more,” said the ghost to itself. “Look, there will be two companies that will rival you in the coming years: WWF and a company named ECW. Paul Heyman will be at the heart of ECW.”
1992 looked at the ghost like, You came to tell me this?
“I was going to try to convince you to keep Paul Heyman, but I realized that you’d probably never take advantage of his ambition and ability to think outside the box. Your biggest concern would probably be that cell phones will eventually get smaller—”
“AND HOW WILL WE MAKE THAT CONVINCING AS A WEAPON!?” shouted WCW 1992, feeling particularly smart now.
“Yes,” said the ghost, “You have proven my point. It is better to let Paul Heyman go anyway. You see, in ECW, he will put his finger on the pulse of the wrestling fan. You won’t have to; neither will WWF. He will establish themes, and styles and ideas, and you can later—”
“STEAL THEM!” shouted WCW 1992.
“Yes, you are in your pocket now,” responded the ghost. “Not only that, Paul Heyman and ECW will bring over all the guys who will be future stars. All you have to do is let him establish them; then, you can use Ted Turner’s money to—”
“STEAL THEM!” shouted 1992, beaming. “Are you sure I pass away? I’m sounding pretty awesome right now.”
“Yes, well, you could also push these guys after stealing them, but I don’t have time to win that argument, either. Let me get to the heart of the matter. Stunning Steve Austin…”
The ghost stopped speaking as WCW 1992 folded over in laughter.
WCW 1992: “Okay, stop! Please, stop! Where are the cameras?! This is some sort of show, right? I mean, it can’t be real. You are telling me you came back in time to talk to me about…”
WCW 1992 could not finish for the laughter.
“Listen,” said the ghost, a decade of death and anger behind its words, “All you have to do is keep him and push him. Make him a world champion and you likely will not die.”
“Oh, okay, ‘ghost of WCW,’” (Yes, 1992 was now doing air quotes around ghost of WCW.) “We’ve made him a TV champion for almost a year. I could see him being a U.S. Champion and Tag Team Champion. No doubt that will lead to a World Title. I mean, Sting can only face Vader so many times.”
“The thing is—and please brace yourself and be calm when I tell you this—but when you get Hulk Hogan—”
“WAIT! WHAT!? OH. MY. GOD. WE’RE GONNA GET HULK HOGAN!?”
“First,” said the ghost, “lower your voice. Second, yes, you will get Hulk Hogan.”
“OH. MY. GOD. WE. ARE. GOING. TO. MATTER. FOR. ONCE. DO TELL ME EVERYTHING!!”
“Not unless you can lower your voice.”
“YES! I mean…yes.”
“Good,” said the ghost. “You will get Hulk Hogan in 1994.”
“Wait, what? In two years!? I got so much planning to do. We need to throw him a parade, and get Ted Turner involved and squash whoever is world champion…”
“Don’t worry,” said the ghost, “you will do all those things and more. But remember, I’m here to save you.”
“Save me!?” scoffed 1992. “Oh yes! Please save me from Hulk-a-Mania! Ooooh, ooooh, you think he will bring his friends?”
“Yes, most of them. But here is a suggestion: Don’t make it all about them. For instance, you will have Ric Flair back by then.”
“Ugh,” said 1992.
“Why ‘ugh’?” asked the ghost.
“Because,” said 1992, “He’s so…NWA.”
“Yes,” said the ghost, “but you are so NWA.”
“Not come 1994!”
“But that is the problem…”
“What is the problem?”
“If you devalue NWA guys and WCW guys, you ultimately devalue yourself. And how do you…how did I…think I would make it if I constantly devalued myself? If I thought all my help had to come from outside, is it no wonder that same outside force would one day own me?”
“Wait,” said 1992, “I don’t want to be owned.”
“And you don’t have to be,” said the ghost, “but my time is short, so listen. When Hulk Hogan arrives, you will have an idea to let him trade the World Title with Ric Flair. You know, thus maximizing profit and illustrating that you have the best of both worlds in your company.”
“Sounds good!” said 1992.
“But you won’t do it. You will opt to have Hulk Hogan beat Ric Flair; then be hospitalized before his next match with Flair, only to lose by count-out. Instead of trading off the belt, by October, you will have Hulk Hogan retire Ric Flair, only to go to Starrcade to face…the Butcher.”
“Ooh, that does sound better than Hulk Hogan-Ric Flair!”
“No, it isn’t. It is the beginning of the end.”
The ghost of WCW decided not to even bring up the Alliance to End Hulk-a-Mania, but instead continued, “Because it is at this time that you will adopt the one attitude that never changes: Anything from WWF is better than anything from WCW. You will job Steve Austin to Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Randy Savage.”
“Shut up! Shut up and listen. Do not job Steve Austin. From there, you will fire Steve Austin over the phone. He will go to ECW with Paul Heyman and illustrate the kind of ability that will let him know he can overcome you and a Ringmaster gimmick.”
The ghost of WCW grabbed itself by the arms and looked 1992 in the eyes: “Steve Austin will rise through the ranks of the WWF, and he will put a dagger in your heart. He will defeat you and half of your WWF roster combined. You will embarrass yourself time and time again after that until it all ends. Don’t…let…that…happen. Don’t become me.”
Looking in its former eyes, the ghost of WCW knew it would never hear the message. It also understood why it buried itself in the cemetery. It wasn’t because of how WWE now represents it, nor was it about TNA. The ghost of WCW knew how much it blamed itself because, ultimately, no matter how loud the warning call, the ghost of WCW knew it would die by its own hands. And it heard these words reflected back to it from 1992, for even after giving the warning, all 1992 could say was:
“Wait! You said half the WWF roster!? Tell me, who will we get? Name all of them and go slow? Will my time with WWF wrestlers last long? Because…you know…it might be worth it to die, if I could live but once like the WWF…”
And with that the ghost faded from WCW 1992, from itself and from any thought it might ever be saved. Before returning to the cemetery, however, the ghost of WCW lingered in 1992 to watch a moment where so many of the stars were gathered under one roof.
The ghost of WCW watched Wrestle War’s 1992 War Games.
It marveled at the wrestlers that made up the lines: Madusa, Rick Rude, Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton and Paul E.; Sting, Nikita Koloff, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat and Dustin Rhodes. Jim Ross was on commentary.
The ghost bowed its head. It asked itself a question about young and talented stars: If they wrestle in an organization that doesn’t realize their true potential, were they ever really there? While watching the match, the ghost of WCW scribbled these words in the air, hoping someone who mattered somewhere might read them: Wrestling’s youth is wasted on the blindness of its bookers.