I've always been intrigued by fate. One decision at one moment based entirely on, what seems like, free will can alter an entire future. Wrestling is no different. To get to where the business is today required many events to take place. One change in plans could have changed everything. It could have altered the entire business.
The list I have here doesn't include things like, "What if (blank) never died", but rather possible scenarios that could have gone either way at the time. We look at what could have been…and what it could have created. Such as:
What if Stunning Steve Austin had been given a brief run as WCW Champion?
Fans of today may be familiar with resident Redneck Islander Stone Cold Steve Austin. But some might not know that before he was stomping mud holes, he was miming a tiny antique movie camera in the face of his opponents.
If ya got a blonde ponytail, give me a hell's yeah!
Before he was Stunning opponents, he was Stunning himself and Stunning Steve was frustrated all the time. Despite his popularity both in singles and tag team wrestling (along with Brian Pillman), Austin was always kept down.
When he finally departed the company, the frustrated pretty boy immediately went to ECW. He made fun of WCW with the type of venom he had never been permitted to show before. The pissed off "Superstar" Steve was born. A pre-cursor to the "Stone Cold" waiting in the WWF, and a pre-pre cursor to CM Punk today.
But what if…they did it? What if WCW hadn't held Steve down, but rather let him rise to the top as "Stunning" Steve? Even if for a brief moment before being buried, what would have happened to one of wrestling's most memorable characters since, well, ever?
In many ways, the anger of "Stone Cold" was based on his mistreatment in WCW. It resembled nothing of the gimmick he had been playing because, following his WCW departure, he got to show how talented he could be when crazy. If his WCW gimmick had been pushed to the top, he'd have had no reason to change it and no frustration to base it on. It would have stayed for good, unless something major happened.
Think about it. A heel Stunning Steve as WCW Champion would have been a selling point - rather than something that can be repackaged. Had "Former WCW Champ Stunning Steve Austin" gone to ECW, that's how they would have used him. When WWF signed him, he'd be doing the tiny antique movie camera thing in their faces. The business would have lost out on one of wrestling's biggest stars. Even if people saw potential in his redeck ways, there would probably be little chance that he'd ever switch his gimmick from the popular Stunning one.
After all, you can't chance losing out on all the money from those souvenir tiny foam antique movie cameras.
What if Chris Benoit had been a long-term WWF Champion?
I was a big Chris Benoit fan - especially early in his career. The first time I saw him wrestle was in the NWA Tag Team Title Tournament at the WCW Clash of Champions. Benoit and Biff Wellington teamed up and I marveled at his talent. Everything he did was so fluid. It was just fun to watch him perform as he seemed to tear into his opponents with a fury few could match.
When the world wide web came out, I realized that lots of people liked Chris Benoit. It sort of became the mantra of the Internet Wrestling Community, if you will. We loved Chris Benoit. But the company he worked for didn't seem to. So we shouted.
Push Chris Benoit! WHY WON'T THE WWF GIVE HIM A CHANCE!?
Then, in 2004, they did. The Crippler was tossed the World Title in a forgettable Raw run. The entire duration of his reign was overshadowed by Triple H's feud with Eugene. Everyone was upset. It was a huge slap in the face to all wrestling's diehard fans (the ECW revival was still two years away).
Then in a twist no one could have imagined, Chris apparently murdered his family in 2007 before killing himself. It was the most tragic and insane story wrestling has ever seen. WWE decided to erase his name from their history. His match results were omitted from WrestleMania History magazines. The event that he won the World Title at was listed as "Shawn Michaels and Triple H fought in a Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Title".
Even if they eventually acknowledge him in history again, they've still spent five years keeping it erased. Given the short time span of his run, though, it's not hard to do.
But what if…they had listened? What if when we screamed for WWE to push Benoit...and they did? What if Chris Benoit was champion for six straight years, defeating everyone around him? And then the horror happened.
WWE would have to erase six years from its history. Entire events ignored? Could they do it? Would they do it?
Would they be so tied to him at that point that his actions would sink them? It's something I've thought about for years and it's pretty mind-blowing. Had they listened to what we all assumed to be common sense and pushed a talented star, WWE would have been screwed right now. By avoiding the rational business choice at the time, they narrowly avoided disaster. Wow. Never thought that would come in handy, eh Vince? Phew.
What if Marty Jannetty had been the one who turned heel on Shawn Michaels?
Eat your heart out, girls. Hands of the merchandise. The Boy Toy, the Show Stoppa, the Icon that can still go, the Degenerate Heartbreak Kid who's got two words for ya - Shawn Michaels has arrived along with, uh, Marty Jannetty.
The reason why Shawn has 150 nicknames and Marty has no nicknames is because ostentatious nicknames are for bad guys. Marty was the nice one. Shawn, he was the baddie.
Of course, we didn't know this for years. They both smiled and puffed their hair. But, over time, we saw the arrogance of Michaels shine through. He started wearing a leather jacket, which is wrestling code for heel turn. He started flirting with girls at ringside - again code. He kept hogging the spotlight and the codes were being dropped all over the place.
Finally, in an epic moment that shattered the hearts of their Rockettes, Shawn kicked his partner in the face and tossed him through Brutus Beefcake's window.
He didn't even pay for the window. That's how bad he is.
But what if…Jannetty had thrown Shawn through the window? What if Marty had been the one to splinter off as the group's villain while Shawn's picked barber glass from his mullet for weeks to come?
The angle was so hot at the time that whoever broke out had a great immediate shot at stardom. Would Jannetty have done as well as Michaels? Most would doubt it. Not because Marty isn't a good wrestler, but rather because he's a natural babyface. It's hard to picture him playing a role like HBK.
Whoever broke out of the Rockers as a heel shed the teeny bopper fanbase that the duo had become surrounded by. The rabid Rocker girls were crazy and were the big sisters of the rabid Hardy girls of the late 90s. They're the mothers of the rabid girl fans of today's…well, no one. We don't have tag teams like that anymore. That's a sad subject for another day.
But had Jannetty broken the window with Shawn's face, what would have happened to Michaels? How much time would have passed before he too turned heel? Could he have achieved the same level of success as a good guy?
Most likely Shawn would have done a mid-card run as a babyface before the evil tendencies started to come out. The only question then would be how he'd interact with heel Marty, provided he was still there.
The whole process, if it were to even happen at all, would have put Shawn's heel run off for at least a year or two. By then, the whole timeline of eventswould have been off. No Diesel in 1994, which means no N.W.O. in 1996. It's a long cycle of what the hell!
One decision the other way would have thrown off the whole space time continuum. We'd have ended up in a bizzaro world where something nuts happens like…
What if the XFL had been a huge success?
I remember the XFL birth vividly. The WWF teased a major announcement at their live-streaming press conference. Back in 2001, live streaming online was something saved for big deals, unlike today where it's saved for stealing pay per views and watching people play video games that haven't come out yet.
Everyone held their breath and waited for something wrestling related. With a story this big, it had to be something that would rock the wrestling world to its core. It had to be something major.
It had to be a black and red football.
Yeah. The sadness set in when fans around the world realized that Vince McMahon wasn't here to change our business, but he was here to try and change another. Dubbing the NFL the "No Fun League", Vince promised to turn football into what he turned wrestling into. Many of the football greats who passed away years earlier had no idea what was going on until wrestling's dead stars messaged them that the turning in their graves was completely normal when Vince stepped in.
The XFL was awful. There was something bizarre about watching WWE style of sports entertainment mixed with football. Most people don't want their football changed. Being hitched to a guy that most non-fans think is named, "Isn't that stuff fake?" didn't do it any favors either. No matter how many times you reassured them, people thought the games were pre-planned and the show itself was hokey.
In a particularly bad moment for Vince's league, a delayed game caused NBC to push back the start time of Saturday Night Live starring Jennifer Lopez. The broadcast didn't take place until close to midnight and everyone associated with the show was pissed. If South Park is to be believed, J-Lo isn't so understanding and you have to figure that angering NBC and an A-List celebrity didn't do anything for this struggling company.
Despite its rankings among the worst TV shows ever, younger fans might believe the XFL failure to be nothing more than hindsight critiques. Wrong. For an idea of how the league was viewed as it played out in real time, just look at the bulk of time Conan O'Brien devoted to mocking it on the eve of its "Million Dollar Game".
But what if... it didn't suck out loud? What if the XFL turned out to be everything that Vince hoped for and fans the world over flocked to his Xtremely Fun League? What if Payton Manning was giddy with excitement over meeting "He Hate Me"? What if?
Well, here's the funny thing - it might have actually helped wrestling. The universal argument about the downturn of the attitude era centers on the WCW buyout and Vince's XFL distraction. Had the group taken off, so would McMahon. While still owner of the WWF, Big Mac would have loved to leave the stigma of "rasslin' promoter" behind and embraced the title of football God.
So the wrestling wouldn't have just been ignored while Vinnie ran it - as it was in our 2001. Rather than trying to keep it afloat while nursing the dying football company, McMahon would have just outsourced it. The vendettas wouldn't have been such a big deal and the idea that WCW had to be buried might have been overlooked. With perhaps his children running the show, the on-air use of World Championship Wrestling could have been done correctly and actually been something we remember.
Vince would have no worries about his WWE falling while he tends to the super popular XFL. After all, he has an entire roster of world famous football players to work into crossovers. Imagine if WWE had Tom Brady, Tim Tebow, and others on speed dial? The storylines between the two groups would bring in tons of new eyes. It would be a crossover cash cow.
But alas, the XFL failed and WWE hit a few more speed bumps than they needed to. Luckily Triple H came along and the show just centered on him for a while. But you know what I wonder?
What if Triple H had stayed with Chyna?
When Hunter Hearst Helmsley debuted in the WWF, he was an American Blueblood. The aristocrat from Greenwich showed us his "type", if you will, through valets. We learned that Hunter had a thing for hot little models dressed in cocktail dresses. After all, he could afford it. Then something weird happened. We learned that his type included this guy:
Mr. Hughes became the pre-Game's bodyguard and we all went, "Uh. OK. Maybe he doesn't want to date Mr. Hughes. Maybe they're just friends."
But then along came Chyna - Hunter's newer bodyguard. She replaced Hughes and seemed to be romantically involved with Helmsley. Despite having no similarity to the earlier divas, Trips was infatuated with her strength and wanted her in his corner. It made you look back at the Mr. Hughes thing again and go, "Yeah. Hunter wanted to do him."
But that's neither here or there because the duo - together inside the ring and out - had an amazing run in the company. Through DeGeneration X, Chyna's new face, Chyna's new boobs, and all the rest, Team cHHHyna was something to see.
Then, a funny thing happened. Triple H began working a storyline marriage to Stephanie McMahon. The rest, as they say, is history. The McMahon-Helmsley era was born and Hunter went on to new heights while Chyna's life spiraled out of control.
But what if…Triple H actually made her Chyna Levesque? What if the Ninth Wonder of the World had stayed with him and the two got married? Where would they be now?
Now I know the standard response to a question like this is to analyze Triple H's position. But that's not the point. Hunter is a talented star who always had potential. He would have achieved success. Sure, not as high as the success he has now, but that success is ridiculous and usually reserved for someone in the McMahon family. In other words, if Stephanie had married Funaki instead, Triple H would still have been a top star in WWE. The only difference being that he'd have just jobbed to Funaki a bunch of times too.
The real story here is Chyna. I've always felt that she's one of wrestling's most tragic stories. The potential she had was insane and the push she got changed the business. She was the first female Intercontinental Champion. She was a Playboy cover girl. She broke down doors and inspired many girls to reach new heights.
Then, her boyfriend left her and married the boss's daughter. Let that sink in. Hunter and Chyna are in a business together. It's their careers. Their boss is pretty much the owner of the entire industry they work in. He left her and married that guy's daughter. Career over.
Sure she can pick up Indy dates here and there, but the end goal is gone. Your WWE aspirations are done forever. That one decision pretty much blackballed her from WWE for life.
But if it never happened, what could have been for Chyna? Would the musical chairs nature of World Titles eventually lead her to be the first female World Champion? It seems like it would have been a natural step.
Even stranger thought - would there be a "Tenth Wonder of the World"? Think about it. Andre the Giant was the "Eighth Wonder of the World." As homage to him, Chyna became the ninth. So a tenth Wonder would be seen as homage to Chyna - who is pretty much the opposite of Andre in terms of WWE reverence. Thus, no allusions to the Ninth World Wonder are ever made. It's gone and with it, no tenth has ever been named. She killed the cycle.
Oh, speaking of numbers…
What if the Undertaker would have lost one of his early WrestleMania matches?
The Undertaker is 20-0 at WrestleMania. He's buried opponents. He's put them six feet under. He's laid them to rest. He's done all the death puns to 'em.
But, as with most streaks, Taker's rise to 20-0 was built on some sort of accident. Like Crimson's recent streak in TNA, it begins without notice and only after someone in power realizes, does it then turn into "a thing". Taker's streak wasn't a thing for a while.
For starters, he wasn't even at WrestleMania X. Paul Bearer spoke about it during my ClubWWI interviews with him. He was in Japan during the big event.
That was four years into his undefeated streak. Weird to imagine a Mania without Taker, but WWE did it - and at a benchmark one like Mania 10.
Even crazier? He was booked for a tag team match at WrestleMania 19, which was actually 12 years into his streak. At the last minute, Nathan Jones was removed from the match, but came back to help Undertaker win a 2-on-1 against A-Train and Big Show.
We don't talk about that match much and it's the lone non-singles win in a streak that seems like it would have been tailor made for one-on-one wins.
It wasn't until around 2006 that we started to care about Taker's record. which means that at any point before then, he could have lost and thrown the whole thing off.
But what if…Taker lost, say WrestleMania 13 and Sid went over him in the main event to retain his title? What if the company let the faux-hairy Giant Gonzalez squash him at WrestleMania 9 in order to build up a rematch? What if, what if, what if…?
The real question is whether WWF, without UT's run, would have recognized the need to have a streak at WrestleMania at all.
Looking at the show's history each year, you have to think that someone would start remarking about undefeated stars. It's like calculating Royal Rumble times. People notice that stuff.
As we know, Edge was on an undefeated streak of his own. He had hit 5-0 by WrestleMania 23 when he lost a six man Money in the Bank match ladder match. It was nowhere near Undie's run and started much later in Mania's history. But he still bragged about never being pinned at the show and even used it to get over his match with Taker at WM24.
Most likely WWE would have started to keep track. While it seems like a daunting task, starting from scratch would be a long term game they could play out. I doubt they'd have the luck of finding someone they can rely on for a 20-0 record. It's a testament to Undertaker's loyalty and WWE's pure luck in finding someone they could have go for so long.
In short, there's little chance anyone would have been a 20-0 WrestleMania record holder. It's not impossible, but the sheer number of factors that had to come into alignment for the Undertaker run are hard to manufacture. You need a talented star, a strong gimmick, a reliable employee who will stay for two decades, no injuries during Mania times, and more. It seems like the odds for a parallel universe streak are small. It's amazing that it all came together and we're lucky we got to see it happen. Luckier than we even realize.
What if Ric Flair became Spartacus?
Of course luck is a big part of any major star. All the stars have to align in order to make a star who he truly is. Ric Flair is one such star.
And Jim Herd wanted to tinker with him.
Wait, that didn't come out right. He wanted to change his gimmick, I should say. Yikes. Take that visual with you through the day.
Jim Herd, who everyone hated because he used to work at Pizza Hut, was tasked with being WCW's Executive Vice President in 1991. He knew nothing about wrestling, but that didn't stop him. He threw his crazy ideas around like a crazy man having an idea sale. Hunchback tag teams! Ding Dongs! You name it. He was Vince Russo on crack with a pizza theme.
The biggest sin of all? He wanted to change Ric Flair into the Roman Gladiator "Spartacus". He wanted to change it all - the gimmick, music, and name. Of course Ric was totally cool with this because he's easy like a Sunday morning.
Yeah. No. Flair refused. The two butted heads and eventually Ric was let go. The funny part? They forgot to get his World Title belt first. The next thing we knew, the "Real World Title" was in Bobby Heenan's hands on WWF programming. WWF fans rejoiced. WCW were enraged, chanting "We Want Flair" at each event. The whole thing was a huge black eye on WCW and Jim heard. His candle burned out long before his silly ideas ever did.
But what if… Ric was cool with it? What if he was tired of being "Naitch" and let Jim change him into Spartacus? What would have happened?
This one is easy. It would have sucked. You know why? Because he's Ric Flair. You can't just change Ric Flair and expect people to accept it. Hell, you can't even change Albert and get people to accept it without screaming his old name at him.
AND THAT'S JUST ALBERT!
Of course, the WWF landscape would have changed without Ric's 1991 jump. Sid would probably have been given a title run in his absence. But that's neither here nor there; the real question is whether it would be weeks or months until WCW was forced to change Flair back.
Now check this out. And when I realized, it blew my mind and made me discover a wormhole to another dimension. Had Flair switched to the role of Spartacus, I can't help but think that angry WCW would have chanted "We Want Flair" at him.
You know, just like they did in our timeline when he left the company over the refusal. It seems like, for some reason, we were destined to have WCW "We Want Flair" chants in 1991. The Universe demanded it.
What if Goldberg never lost?
Bill Goldberg was the man from 1997 to 1998. His gimmick, although looking similar to Steve Austin, was that of a monster. He refused interviews but simply went to the ring, squashed top stars in mere moments, and went back to the locker room.
His rise to the top included running through U.S. Champion Raven and World Champion Hollywood Hogan. His victory over Hulk was one of the most memorable moments in WCW history. The guy was untouchable. He had the UFC fans in his corner before they even knew there was a UFC.
Then, after 173 straight wins, it was over. He lost to Kevin Nash. He lost because Scott Hall shocked him with a tazer. He lost because this business is kinda messed up.
With the loss of the streak came a spiral that, while still seeing a huge amount of popularity, cooled off the Goldberg aura. By the time his brief and ill fated heel turn of 2000 came around, the bloom was off the rose. He was the man, but he was a man who people could beat.
But what if... he wasn’t?
What if Bill Goldberg never lost? Ever.
Imagine he stayed with WCW for three years and beat everyone. He eventually retired as Champion and became the first and only undefeated pro wrestler in history. He comes back for challenge matches ever few years, but wins those too. He becomes the man.
Sure, the argument could be made that it wouldn't be right and how Bill should put someone over. I get that. But the money that could be made on Bill's long running undefeated streak each time he comes out retirement for a specialty match would be gangbusters. People would line up to see him beat the top stars of today. Those arguing that Goldberg would be expected to put over young talent in such a situation obviously missed this year's WrestleMania.
Yeah, it never would have happened. Without politics and backstage games, it could have happened. It would have involved creating someone who would never job for any of them, but make them a ton of money long term with each match. As we know, wrestling doesn't work that way.
But alas, it didn't happen and the tazer shocked the win out of him. I know a guy based on shock. You do too. You ever ask yourself…
What if Muhammad Hassan hadn't been dropped from WWE?
Everyone knows the story of Muhammad Hassan. You can't retell it enough. He was an American. He was Middle Eastern. He was discriminated against. He was mad.
Then he was a terrorist, but that was later.
Yeah, the ballad of MuHa is nothing to laugh at. In 2004, the company tried to become 24-like and do a story about tensions with sleeper cells. It was based on our fears and Hassan was picked to get the Bible belt in a tizzy. It worked. His heat, while cheap, was abundant.
Then they pushed it. On the day of the tragic London subway bombings, the company was set to air an angle that some could view as offensive. It was seen as nothing more than a play on terrorism and, despite having ample time to edit the show, WWE went ahead with it.
It didn't go over too well. UPN demanded the character be banned from Smackdown. Despite his huge push lined up, WWE did away with him.
But what if... they didn't? What if WWE went ahead with him despite the pleas of the network?
Well, it wouldn't have ended well. That much we can be sure about. What makes the story of Hassan so interesting is that it's one of the few times where Vince McMahon had an outside force look at his show and go, "Dude. That's f**ked up. Don't do that."
Vince didn't really know the line that he could draw with this gimmick. It wasn't a foreign heel gimmick. Hassan wasn't foreign. He was from Detroit. It was a homegrown terrorist sympathizer gimmick. That's touchy.
Factor in that society had changed since the days of Iraqi Sgt. Slaughter. You could get away with that stuff then, but this was far more extreme and a completely different time. People are touchier and paying attention.
Had Muhammad Hassan been allowed to continue, he almost certainly would have won the World Title and held it until, well, they had him burn the American flag or pee on the White House or some other stupid thing that would have made UPN step in and say, "Dude. That's f**ked up!"
What I'm saying is that it would have happened eventually. It's just a question of how far would they have gone first. Something tells me the straw that would have broken the camel's back, so to speak, would have been more intense than the Undertaker beatdown. We can only imagine.
You know, like Eric Bischoff did on the next to last episode of Nitro.
What if Eric Bischoff bought WCW?
WCW should have been Eric Bischoff's. I'm sorry. I don't care what he did with it. He should have just gotten it. Even if Vince McMahon bought it, he should have just given it to him. It was his. Felt like his. Should have been his. If he doesn't have a Nitro tattoo somewhere on his body, I'd be surprised.
Hell, even Eric thought it was going to be his. Lost to the history of Vince McMahon's misuse of the company is how close Bisch actually came to owning the whole thing. Just weeks prior to the big finale, Easy E and his boys at Fusient had the deal sewn up. It was done. Press releases went out. Eric was in charge. The group had bought World Championship Wrestling and life would go on. To illustrate how sure they were, Uncle Eric called into the second to last Nitro. Among the things he discussed were future plans, the new WCW, and the number of chickens he had counted based on all the eggs in his fridge.
But it was the loss of television that was Eric's death knell. Turner exec Jamie Kellner took the WCW TV deal off the table and suddenly - poof - the purchase was off. You can't do anything with a national wrestling company without TV. The only reason to buy it is to bury it.
So Vince McMahon bought it. The rest, as they say, was a big waste of money.
But what if... Bischoff came through? What if ATM Eric hit the jackpot and actually owned the company he probably told hookers he already owned anyway? What would have happened?
Well, for starters - no TNA. If there was, it would be smaller than it is today by miles. With two major companies signing talent, the top stars that took a chance in Nashville would rather sign with the remaining big Two.
On top of that, Jeff Jarrett would be more apt for continuing his WCW run. Sadly, Jarrett's fate was sealed on the final Nitro with this…
Yeah. Vince freakin' hates that guy. After all, Double J famously help up VKM for money just prior to his final appearance in the company. It only makes sense that the door isn't open for a return. But with WCW gone, Jarrett had no choice but to start his own show. Where else was he going to go? Japan? They don't get Desperate Housewives in Japan.
TNA was his last resort and ended up working out quite well. Rather than being a top star in WCW, he was the main star in TNA. In the end, Jeff Jarrett may have been the person who benefited most from McMahon's WCW buyout. Ha ha. Ain't he great?