Instead of concentrating on his work in the ring he began to work on his out of the ring persona. He eschewed his traditional ring wear for jeans and wild-ass tshirts. He taunted fans and even goaded Bobby Heenan into, for the first time in the modern era, breaking character, saying the dreaded fword on live television, and almost losing his own job.
He was particularly contemptuous of management and let everyone know it. He appeared late for several WCW tapings. Eric Bischoff complained about his behavior on the air.
And, oddly enough, the booker kept booking him. He was a featured heel. The fans really began to hate him.
Somewhere along the way, that booker, Kevin Sullivan, must have realized he could work this odd situation to his advantage. He knew that he could both create an ECW-style angle and recreate the WWF’s most successful angle of the last year, one with startling similarities to the Pillman situation, the collapse of Shawn Michaels on Raw. Even Diesel’s tweener rebel turn, ruined by head suit Vince McMahon’s constant onair endorsements, has its parallels here.
So Sullivan, Pillman, and Bischoff began to plan out their work. They went to elaborate lengths to fool anybody and everybody they could find.
But any con has flaws if you know where to look and this was no exception.
Consider this. Since when does a wrestler out to leave or be fired get television time to get his own vision of his character over? Since when does a WCW announcer openly talk about behind the scenes personnel problems on the air? Why didn’t WCW do with Pillman what they did with Vader and just send him home, or worse make him team with Renegade or the like, if this was a shoot and they wanted to punish him? Why does every argument between Pillman and management occur in front of an audience of WCW employees?
And what about the two “shoots,” anyway? The truth of the matter is that Brian Pillman is one of the toughest guys in the WCW locker room with ten years on Kevin Sullivan. If he wanted to slip a choke on Sullivan, or just kick his ass, he certainly could.
Yet, during both incidents, Kevin Sullivan was the aggressor who never took a backward step. During Nitro he had to be pulled off of Pillman by Arn “No Kevin! Not the Eye” Anderson. And it was Sullivan who landed that stiff punch that all the wrestlers oohed and ahhed over while watching the monitors backstage.
Wrestling “wisdom” says the booker has to appear tough to stay over with the boys. Sullivan certainly did that.
Pillman backed down, just like his character the cowardly punk would.
And what about Pillman’s only supposed ally, his old Calgary friend, Chris Benoit? Benoit allied himself with Pillman both on and off the air, even walking out of the Ft. Lauderdale Arena with him. Why would Benoit jeopardize his brand new six-figure contract and more importantly his regular spot in the hottest promotion in the world, New Japan, just to stay with Pillman?
And as they always do, the WCW hotline screwed up. Hotline shill Mark Madden went on the air with the news of Pillman’s plans to sue WCW. Because Madden is somewhat of a loose cannon himself, WCW requires him to tape his segments a day early so they can review the content. WCW, for obvious reasons, has never allowed hotline correspondents to comment on ongoing lawsuits from plaintiffs like Missy Hyatt, Jake Roberts, and Paul Heyman. Why would they let Madden discuss Pillman’s lawsuit unless they wanted the news out themselves?
Speaking of Paul Heyman, he is neither part of the work nor being worked himself. Read the details of Pillman’s appearance at ECW Arena elsewhere in this issue. Heyman is being very careful not to expose ECW to possible damage from WCW. He could possibly use the subtle cooperation with WCW to win minor concessions like a promise of noninterference with his planned series of Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Juventud Guererra matches. Properly done, an appearance or two by Pillman is more of a boon to ECW than noncooperation with WCW, this time, would be.
So why would WCW go to so much trouble to get someone to sue them? Obviously everyone involved enjoys fooling fans, wrestlers, and journalists. But unless they’re all sociopaths, there would have to be more to the angle than that to justify the amount of company resources spent on it.
There is, in fact, more to the plan. After kicking up hell everywhere he can, Brian Pillman will “win” his lawsuit and “force” WCW to take him back. Pillman will then be a trouble-making pariah on the air. Everyone, heels and faces alike, including the Four Horsemen, will shun him. Pillman will then spend his time stirring up the storyline in creative ways.
Properly completed this could be one of the great angles of the modern era, because Brian Pillman has become a heel similar to the late Art Barr who fans hate because they can’t take their eyes off of him. He would have a modern look to a promotion that, despite the influx of new talent and some soap opera intrigue, still is choked with old men and older ideas.