Ed.: Nicolas Seafort, frequent contributor to DDT Digest, had a great idea for a fiction piece. In the tradition of A Christmas Carol, what would happen if Eric Bischoff got a view of the future? Here is Nicolas' take on it. (This is a sequel to Chris Zavisa's column in an early 1996 Pro Wrestling Torch, which had the roles reversed.)
It was past 2:00 am in the sprawling office complex that was Fusient Sports. Apart from scattered security guards and Doug Dillenger, there were no signs of life in the main building.
Save one office, where the luminescent glow of a computer screen provided the only illumination. It was the office of Eric Tiberius Bischoff, the onetime Executive Vice President of World Championship Wrestling. He had spent the last several hours reading and re-reading the graphs and charts that were laid out on the screen before him. Each and every one showed the spiraling revenues of a wrestling promotion that like Atlas had once strode atop the world.
Pay-per-view rates had crashed to below UWF levels. House show attendance figures, which at one time attested to perpetual sellouts, could now be measured in double figures. The ratings that came in on Tuesdays were even less fun to look at than they had been three years ago, but for all of the wrong reasons. His "brand name stars" had burned out and were now black holes, sucking down the monies and vitality of the promotion that continued to feature them.
And now there was the news that had been broached on the Pro Wrestling Torch website, as well as in the mainstream media that the foundering empire that he had once controlled had now been sold to the one man that he hated the most. The name of the company, its library of tapes, and the contracts of two dozen lower-level wrestlers would now go into the pocket of Vincent K. McMahon.
Bischoff knew that despite his continual boasts in years past, McMahon knew what he was doing. The way that the WWF had acquired World Championship Wrestling had left it next to impossible for a new promotion to spring up in the future. The brand name would be gone, as would the history. All of the promising talent had been acquired, leaving any would-be competitor with only the injured, the malcontents, or the uninspired veterans that had helped to drive WCW to its doom.
The future seemed bleak. Eric opened his AOL window and looked again at the email. Its veracity had been verified by Fusient Security, which made it that much more galling.
Things are working quite well for us at WWFE. Paul, Shane and Stephanie have really hit it off and have revitalized our programming. Just so you know, it was always business with me, never personal. Then again, I never took your boasts seriously enough to be offended.
Nonetheless your frequent television appearances on WCW, or should I now say WWFE-owned programming showed that you too, like Jason Jett, Ying Yang, and Shawn Stasiak have potential. I am prepared to offer you a contract to be a World Wrestling Federation Superstar. Two years, $100,000. I need your answer tonight.
Bischoff shivered. The choice seemed clear. He could stay with Fusient Sports and file an antitrust suit against the World Wrestling Federation, one that his lawyers and Jason Hervey believed had little chance of success.
Or he could bite the bullet and sign the contract. Work for the man who he had worked so hard to drive out of business five years earlier. But at least he could still keep his name in the wrestling world. Bischoff reached out for another sip of the tenth can of Diet Coke he had consumed that night.
And suddenly the world went white as electricity surged through his body. His fatigue-addled mind had knocked over the soda, which in turn shorted out the computer and was now sending many, many volts through his already wired body.
The noise was deafening. Tens....no...hundreds of thousands of people were screaming and yelling. A familiar voice sounded in the background. Bischoff squinted. Was it Michael Buffer? No...it was that of the man that Eric had tried for years to acquire.
Howard Finkle boomed, "Welcome to WrestleMania 18!" The crowd of one hundred and three thousand people rose as one to its feet in the sold-out LA Coliseum.
Eric Bischoff opened his eyes to find himself amongst the teaming throng in Coliseum. The wrestling ring at the center of the stadium seemed tiny from the distance he was at. "He finally did it," Bischoff thought, "Why didn't I hold Starrcade '97 here when I had the opportunity?"
He shook his head, and then was startled as a beefy hand suddenly clasped itself to his shoulder. Bischoff looked up and nearly yelped at the unyielding white Styrofoam visage that stared back at him. It couldn't be. Could it?
Fred Ottman ripped off the crude Stormtrooper helmet and grinned. "How about Super Shockmaster? Or better yet, you can call me Uncle Freddie."
Still woozy from the accident and forgetting his circumstances, Eric looked over the towering form before him and thought out loud, "Uncle Freddie...nah, that won't do in today's business. It's not a brand name. Perhaps though we can capitalize on your WWF exposure. How about Tsunami? Or Ship Tender? I can offer you $750,000 guaranteed, with ten dates a month."
"Silence!" Shockmaster bellowed as he threw his arms up into the air...and then lost his balance and tumbled down thirty rows of stairs. He got up, hurried back up to Eric's row, and put his protective helmet back on.
"You forget that you are no longer CEO of World Championship Wrestling. You are no longer what some call ATM Eric. Your company has been sold to the World Wrestling Federation for less money than you just offered to me."
Shockmaster reached down and ripped out a sheet of paper from Bischoff's jacket pocket. He unfolded it and presented it to his former boss. Bischoff gasped as he read it, then looked back at the huge man before him.
"I signed up with the World Wrestling Federation? I really did it?"
"Relax," said Shockmaster, "This is the future. I am here to show you the ramifications of your potential decision."
He waved his powerful arm, and magically they were both transferred to two front-row seats just as the opening match was about to begin. It would be for the newly created World Light HeavyCruiserweight Championship belt and pitted Dean Malenko of the WWF versus "Sugar" Shane Helms of WCW. The match was a classic as both men put on an inspired performance. Jim Ross' assurances of a lightweight division aside, both were obviously hoping to keep their jobs. Malenko won with a rollup after seven minutes. Ohio Valley Wrestling security forces immediately appeared to drag a protesting Helms away.
The second match was a hardcore rules match featuring Raven & The Big Show of the WWF versus Bam Bam Bigelow & Shane Douglas of WCW. Raven sat back in one corner and laughed as the other three men in the ring blew up after only a few minutes. He then laid across a prone Shane Douglas for a pin. Bigelow left the ring with a disgusted look on his face. Douglas immediately got into his car and headed for the nearest medical school. Bischoff watched with astonishment as Jim Ross handed The Big Show his termination papers and sent him on his way.
"Why did he do that?" Bischoff exclaimed.
"Because his million dollar guaranteed salary was no longer justified," Shockmaster replied, "With no other promoter to go against, Vince knows that he can cut anyone he wants and re-sign them at a much lower price. Paul Wight is not the only one who will meet this fate."
Bischoff groaned and settled back into his collectible chair as the third match began. Actually, it was a special attraction, a six-man elimination match. Lex Luger, Madusa Micelli, and then Jeff Jarrett of WCW did not wrestle. Rather, each was put over a barrel and given lashes by the WWF's Chris Benoit, Jacqueline, and Eddie Guerrero. Fans chanted "ECW!" as the broken WCW wrestlers were taken away. For those keeping score, it was WWF three, WCW nothing.
Another match then took place as the WWF's William Regal took on WCW's Dallas Page, Kevin Nash and Rick Steiner in a handicap match. All three bumped like they hadn't in ten years, each knowing that this could be their last paycheck. The match ended when Regal put down all three of them - one behind another - and applied a sleeper to all of them.
As the card went on Eric Bischoff became more and more agitated. Vince McMahon was not cross-promoting as the press releases had promised. He was destroying everything that Bischoff had worked so hard to build up since taking power in 1993. He gripped the rubber crash barrier was in front of him and yelled at Ross and Heyman. Shockmaster gripped his arm.
"They can't hear you. You're not really here. You see, this is the future, and in fact your worst nightmare come to life. Remember what you planned to do to the WWF in 1996 if you could drive them out of business? Remember? You were prepared to lose 15 million dollars to become the sole promotion. You would buy the contracts of the WWF wrestlers you wanted and the rest would be unemployed. Your former WCW performers...your brand names...they are doing whatever it takes to keep their jobs. The dream that you created is over.
"Little do they realize that the WWF has already decided who they want to keep. Most of these wrestlers will never see the light of a major American promotion again. World Championship Wrestling as you built it is dead. This is its funeral."
The next match saw The Dudley Boyz of the WWF completely annihilate Chuck Palumbo and Sean O'Haire and unify the tag-team championship. It was painfully obvious that neither WCW wrestler cared. They lay in the ring for several minutes selling the effects of the Dudley Death Drop. WWF five, WCW zero.
Match Six saw Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho face Buff Bagwell, Bill Goldberg, and WCW US Champion Booker T in a handicap match. At least this the match was mildly competitive, and went over fifteen minutes. Booker T wrestled the majority of the match as a sulking Buff Bagwell just laid down in the middle of the ring and waited to be pinned. Goldberg refused to enter the ring and just glared at everyone...until he seemingly snapped and ran into the ring. His attempted spear went awry as Jericho deftly moved out of the way and Goldberg clobbered Buff instead. Both men lay prone atop the other.
"Why?" asked Bischoff. "Why is Goldberg of all people doing a job? He had the highest salary in the company. There's no way he would accept a buyout. He doesn't even like wrestling!"
"But he loves football", replied Shockmaster. "Bill will do anything to get back into football. Vince offered him a six year contract as a defensive tackle for the Birmingham Thunderbolts."
Bischoff shook his head and groaned as Goldberg allowed a laughing Chris Jericho to stack him atop the prone Bagwell. The match ended when Booker missed an axe kick and "Y2J" hit an Asai moonsault for the win. He threw Booker T atop Goldberg and Bagwell, then applied one finger for the pin.
Match Seven had WCW's Ric Flair facing the WWF's Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Hunter carried a sledgehammer into the ring...and was about to strike when he suddenly dropped the weapon and embraced the "Nature Boy". Flair tossled Helmsley's hair affectionately, then grabbed a microphone and said, "To hell with the politics. To hell with the backstabbing. Vince, thank you...thank you! Free at last...the Nature Boy has come home! Whoo!"
Bischoff tried to lower his head as Flair was escorted to a backstage victory party by Tori, Terri and Lita. But he had to watch. The main event was next.
It would be a tag-team encounter of sorts, seeing WCW's World Champion Scott Steiner and Sting face WWF World Champion The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in a match where whoever scored the pin would win both titles. Before the match could even get under way a helicopter descended from out of the sky and lowered a repelling rope. A grateful Sting grabbed hold and was whisked away, never to be seen in wrestling again. The match became a handicap bout as both Rock and Austin pounded on Scott Steiner. "Stone Cold" scored the pinfall when the WCW Champion picked him up and tried to clothesline him onto the top rope, only to have his back give out on him. The crowd cheered as Steve Austin mounted the top rope and threw the WCW Title to the crowd, where it was torn apart by rabid Raiders fans. He then consumed twenty-three beers.
If there were any WCW fans in the crowd, they had long disposed of their aging nWo t-shirts and replaced them with WWF apparel. Or the rabid McMahon fans did it for them. World Championship Wrestling was the loser and everyone knew it. Confetti rained down from the sky as all celebrated the victory of Vince McMahon.
And then Howard Finkle came into the ring and announced a special added attraction, a Hell In the Cell encounter. Four Army Blackhawk helicopters descended from the sky and deposited the monstrous steel structure over the ring. The two combatants entered the ring.
Eric Bischoff watched in horror as he realized who they were. Vince McMahon and a future version of himself. The future Bischoff looked visibly gray, and even worse, defeated. The fight had been taken out of him.
Vince McMahon removed his sports jacket, revealing a body rippling with muscles and oil. He grabbed a microphone and walked up to the future Bischoff. "Eric, I'm all about giving the fans what they want. And what they wanted to see was a royal thrashing of your company for all of the insipid angles, the dropped storylines, the endless run-ins and screwjobs. However..."
"But Vince," countered the future Bischoff, "What about the -"
"DON'T INTERRUPT ME!" Vince screamed, veins bulging on his neck. The future Bischoff flinched. As did Bob Costas, several rows back in the crowd.
The real Bischoff cringed as well. He knew McMahon was wrong. What about the Monday Night Wars, which had driven both promotions and wrestling as a whole to new heights? What about the cruiserweights? The young talent that had been ignored by other the WWF as being too small? All had been Bischoff's doing...and all had been undermined by the one man that Eric had to please if he were to keep the executives at Turner happy. Bischoff shuddered at the thought of the red and the yellow.
"Now as I was going to say," Vince continued, "I think that maybe you have learned your lesson. I'm going to give you what I call an opportunity. If you can beat me tonight in this Hell in the Cell match I'll sell you back your worthless company. For free!"
The future Bischoff perked up at that and the match was on. Despite his Herculean physique McMahon should have been no match for the street-fight trained, twenty-three level black belted former WCW VP. Yet every punch, every kick, every blow found nothing but air. Vince moved with the speed of a fighter in "The Matrix". After several minutes the future Eric was exhausted, and at that point McMahon struck. He grabbed Eric by the throat and with one hand threw him through the side of the cage and onto the Spanish announcers' table. Mick Foley suddenly appeared out of nowhere and delivered an elbow-drop off the top of the cage onto the prone Bischoff. "Let's see who's putting butts in the seats now!" he hissed through undeniable pain, and then threw Eric back into the ring.
Vince delivered a Stone-Cold stunner to the future Bischoff and then sat on his chest. Earl Hepner slid by and counted. One...two.... The real Bischoff closed his eyes and screamed, "No!"
When he opened his eyes Eric Bischoff was back in his office at Fusient Sports. The crowd, Shockmaster...all of it was gone. And strangely enough the Diet Coke was still upright. It was as if nothing had happened.
Bischoff sat back in his chair, rubbed his eyes, and thought. He still had the chance to change the future. Nothing was set in stone. There was still the option of filing the antitrust suit. Perhaps he could tie up the WWF's purchase in court for so long that McMahon would abandon his drive for dominance. Perhaps Fusient Sports would reconsider and bid anew. Perhaps FOX could still be persuaded to air WCW programming. All was not lost. After all, he had taken a promotion that was near bankruptcy once before and lead it to the top of the wrestling world in four years. If it could happen once, could it not again?
How long he considered the options he did not know.
But at last he made his decision. Bischoff turned and pulled the cover off of a bright red phone, an emergency hotline that had previously been at his WCW office in Atlanta. It had never been used before. Until now.
Bischoff picked up the line and almost immediately a gravelly voice on the other side answered, "Yes?"
"Mr. McMahon, it's me. I accept."
It was April 1st, and Eric Bischoff stood in the office of Vince McMahon backstage at the Houston AstroDome. His look was puzzled as the WWF CEO walked up to him and put a fatherly arm around him. "You'll do fine, Eric. I want your WWF debut to be as memorable as possible."
"But Vince, I can't wrestle in the Gimmick Battle Royal. I never had a gimmick."
"You do now," McMahon replied. He clicked his fingers, and instantly an aide handed Bischoff a bag. Eric looked down at the brightly colored clothing, the red and the green, and gulped.
"What is this?" he asked. A single tear rolled down his cheek.
"Oh, Ray Apollo decided to pull out. Congratulations, Eric! You're the new Doink."