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The story behind the "talent race", if we want to call it that, is pretty well understood. WCW, getting ready for the launch of "Monday Nitro", realised they needed to expand their talent roster. Not only that, but they also thought that the batting average of their current roster – ability wise – wouldn't be up to scratch. The bigger of this issue (i.e. how it got that bad in the first place) was conveniently overlooked, and is as good an indication of any of what would follow in the coming years, i.e. amazing wrestlers being used on television but rarely elevated.
ECW at the time was probably the biggest "independent" promotion in the United States, depending on the metric that you're using. As such they often had access to some of the best available unattached talent. In August 1994, during the NWA Title tournament where Shane Douglas threw down the belt, they debuted Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko. Both were guys with big pedigree's wrestling in Mexico, Canada and Japan – but came to a country where character could be just as big an attribute as technical ability was. Both were sorely lacking in the former.
Guerrero arrived in ECW in April 1995. Again, he was hardly an unknown when he arrived, being part of one of the best tag teams in Mexico alongside "Love Machine" Art Barr (who tragically had passed away six months earlier). In fact, it's said that Heyman initially wanted to bring them both in as a tag team. Guerrero, like the other two, had a massive wealth of experience all over the world. Even in his first match in ECW (against Too Cold Scorpio, where he would win the ECW Television Title), it was clear he was a cut above almost anybody working in North America at that time.
Sabu is a more curious case, and one who doesn't fit the WWE's version of history perhaps justifiably. Having "fired" Sabu in April 1995 (well, as much as you can fire someone who isn't under contract), he had returned to working Japan dates and other independent work in North America. Sabu, like Benoit, had held talks with the WWF (although, unlike Benoit, never got as far as having a try-out match) - but it seems both wanted to be able to combine dates with the WWF alongside their Japan commitments. The WWF were unwilling to offer this (although, they apparently were eventually willing to make an exception for Benoit, but it was too late), so neither joined.
The combined wrestling ability in the four that WCW would ultimately end up signing is quite frankly ridiculous. They were linked with about 60% of ECW's talent roster to one degree or another - and Too Cold Scorpio almost joined these four in joining in time for the debut of Nitro, but in going after the four they did they pretty much hoovered up four of the best in ring talents that were available. But the idea that this was a "raid" of talent is a line that doesn't hold up to most scrutiny. People believe WWE's story because the four names they signed were four of the best wrestlers in the world at the time. But they weren't signed *because* they were in ECW, they just happened to be in ECW, they also happened to work in Japan a lot. Believe it or not, Sabu first came to the attention of Eric Bischoff in January 1995 on a tour of Japan. Despite tearing it up in ECW for over a year by that stage, Bischoff simply hadn't seen him.
But while the "raid" part of the story doesn't hold up, WCW hardly comes out of this story as the good guys. First comes the story of Terry Taylor on WCW's Hotline. On reporting the rumours at the beginning of August (remember, WCW hadn't signed any of them by this stage) Taylor went off on a rant at how the four guys were batting way above their station asking for the kind of money they wanted. Taylor even went as far to say none of them had drawn any money in the States - which is bollocks anyway, Guerrero and Benoit were big parts of AAA's When World's Collide show held in Los Angeles, which while hardly a groundbreaking crowd would've been one of the better ones for WCW at the time.
The second half of this was that WCW needed a bitof help getting the names over the line. All of them were understandably quite protective of their gimmicks and how they might be used on television. They also wanted to ensure that their Japanese dates wouldn't be affected - so when it came to negotiations things weren't as easy as perhaps WCW were used to. It looked in early August like things may have fallen through, but there are unsubstantiated rumours WCW leant on New Japan Pro Wrestling to tell the guys if they turned down WCW their Japanese work would stop. While it probably isn't true, it's certainly a line that Paul Heyman and ECW were happy to run to the moon with once they had it.
But let's be honest, here. WCW's biggest crime was doing something that the WWF were either unwilling or unable to do. WWF wanted Benoit, WWF wanted Sabu - but were too strict to adapt to them. The idea that it was "a raid" overlooks the fact that (1) it wasn't and (2) it was no different to what Vince McMahon did during the expansion years in the 1980s. McMahon is (quite rightly) heralded for his efforts then. The line always was - "Well, if we didn't, someone else would have". Well, in 1995 - the WWF didn't, and WCW did. In Guerrero, Benoit, Malenko and Sabu they signed four guys who (if on the WWF roster) would've slotted in alongside Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels as their best talent. The fact that WCW could utilise the four is for another day.