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While I do try and focus this website and podcast on stuff that *actually happened* in wrestling two decades ago, it is sometimes fun to speculate on what might happened had one event been changed ever so slightly. Previously, we have looked at what could have been had Sid not got into a fight with Vader in 1993 and derailed his WCW title win. Also, I have speculated over whether The Undertaker even has a Wrestlemania "streak" if Diesel hadn't have handed in his notice three weeks prior to their match. In this piece, I ask what might have happened if the WWF's big hope in the mid-90s – Shawn Michaels – had have upped sticks and joined WCW.
I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that Shawn was WWF's big card in 1995-1996. With Diesel flopping hard as champion, Lex Luger's express firmly broken down and Bret Hart being good but never quite at *that* level, Vince McMahon in the middle of 1995 was left with really only one card to play. If this had have been 2015 it's unimaginable to think he would've left it nine months before crowning Shawn as king; but when the time finally came in March 1996 at Wrestlemania XII, Shawn Michaels was *the* guy.
It was around this time that WCW were, seemingly, making moves for just about everyone in wrestling. Signing the three hottest "free agents" in mid-1995 in Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko, along with prising an out of contract Lex Luger away from the WWF. It would be wrong to think WCW had an endless pot of cash at this stage – name arrivals were often balanced out by name departures to balance the books. The Luger deal only happened when New Japan were able to guarantee Luger some dates enabling him to take a lower offer from WCW. The deals for Guerrero, Benoit and Malenko were in part paid for by the departure of Steve Austin, who would find his way to ECW before joining the WWF at the end of 1995.
When attentions in 1996 turned towards names like Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, again it was a matter of shuffling the deck to find the money. Vader's departure at the end of the year created a sizeable hole, as did clearing the decks of the likes of Bunkhouse Buck, the soon to be retired Paul Orndorff and many others. As they considered the idea of moving Nitro to two hours in the early half of 1996, so did the thought of generating extra rights revenues and being able to add a couple of big names to their books.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash both handed in their notice within two weeks of each other in February and March of 1996. What followed would be the start of a storyline that would not only launch WCW to an unimaginable height but would also be the catalyst for the biggest boom period in North American wrestling history. The two men played invading forces, being pitched as representing the WWF (even if not in name). How would that have translated if Shawn had have moved across too?
On Jim Ross’ podcast, Michaels talked about the very topic – saying that it was very much under consideration at one stage, although the timeline seems to place these thoughts at much later than when Hall and Nash moved over (Shawn talked about wanting to be with his friends) – it seems like these comments were in relation to the end of 1997 and early 1998.
Some of the drawbacks Shawn talks about being talked to about by Vince were certainly very true. Shawn, certainly in 1996 onwards, enjoyed a lot of freedom to be the #1 guy, and got the perks that came with that. It’s also true that Shawn was almost universally viewed a dickhead, a status that only stood in part because of the power-base the Kliq had gathered and then when Shawn was champion after Hall and Nash departed. Reacting to Shawn’s antics just wasn’t worth it for anyone that wanted to remain employed.
Shawn joining WCW, be it in 1996 or 1997 would’ve jumped across into a sea of sharks. How well Hall and Nash would’ve been able to protect him is questionable, but only his likely high pay cheque would’ve given him some protection about falling too far down the card. It is, however, unquestionable that Shawn would’ve butted heads with some of the establishment (certainly with Hogan – who he clashed with in 2005), but likely other members of WCW’s old guard who wanted to protect the status quo. This all assumes Shawn doesn’t come into the WCW locker-room and immediately rub people up the wrong way, something that in the mid to late nineties would’ve been a very solid bet.
From an on-screen perspective, it’s hard to imagine how well a Shawn Michaels character would’ve fit in amongst the NWO. Given the “reality” behind the NWO storyline would Shawn have been an inevitable fit in the group? Decking Shawn out in black and white, and sticking him in part of an increasingly swelling group of talent seems arguably the worst use of him.
The other thing Shawn had going against him was his size. He’s not as short as people might think, but in comparison to some of the behemoths in WCW at the time (both in terms of height and muscle mass) Shawn may have really struggled to gain credibility amongst a new audience base – particularly around a time where Goldberg was on the rise.
It also bears saying that if Shawn Michaels joins WCW mid-to-late 1996, that might have been it for the WWF. While there were certainly new stars emerging, it cannot be understated how much of the WWF's business around that time rested on Shawn Michaels' shoulders. When house show business rebounded at the end of 1995 and into early 1996, the only real change was the return and rise of Michaels - now firmly a main eventer. How the WWF would've fared withouth Michaels in mid-1996 (not to mention the momentum of Michaels on Nitro with everyone else) is anybody's guess, but the answer could've been very bad.
As it was, Shawn never moved. He even talks about the idea of WCW wanting to bring him in after his back injury (late 1998 was probably around the start where WCW started pissing money for the sake of it). By that time it likely would’ve been too late, not only for Shawn to play any major in ring role, but being on the role may have prevented Shawn from going through his transformation away from the ring. A fork in the road not worth thinking about.