What-If-Wednesday: The Dangerous Alliance and WCW

Name the greatest stable in professional wrestling history? The Four Horsemen are strong contenders. The original NWO might have had the biggest impact on the industry. Degeneration X really....uh....liked to point to their genitals?

But pound for pound, you'd be hard-pressed to think of a more talented stable that The Dangerous Alliance in WCW: Rick Rude, Arn Anderson, Larry Zybsko, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin, Medusa, and Paul Heyman.

That's a super-group of talented wrestlers and talkers.

And yettttttttt --- well, they were pretty good for about a year, and then The Dangerous Alliance fell apart for a variety of reasons.

So for this What-If-Wednesday, I'll try and figure out a different timeline for the Dangerous Alliance where management and the company deal with their issues with the group. In addition, I'll forecast the big ramifications that would have had on the world of professional wrestling.

The Actual Timeline:

Trying to detail the rise of The Dangerous Alliance in WCW is a bit complicated, but I'll give it a go. The original Dangerous Alliance (DA from now on) was in the AWA, and when Heyman came to WCW (still as Paul E. Dangerously) he brought the concept back after managing some other wrestlers, broadcasting, and getting "fired." After aligning himself with Rick Rude (who initially appeared as the "Halloween Phantom" -- the less you know about this, the better), Heyman got Medusa, Eaton, and Lex Luger to attack Sting prior to his match against Rude for the US Championship. The clip below is the introduction of all the members of the group on WCW television from Nov. 1991:

God, such awesomeness. Again, heels are always right. Faces suck.

Over the next few months, members of the DA would feud with everyone from Ricky Steamboat to Sting to Dustin Rhodes to Barry Windham to Ron Simmons, swapping tag titles and the other championships along the way. Their various rivalries culminated in perhaps the most famous WrestleWar Event in 1992 (which is on the WWE Network in its entirety). A clip of that event is below:

Look, I know wrestling is not "real," but damn that match is scary. The ring is a mess, everyone looks like they are near death, and I kinda want to curl up into the fetal position.

The end of this match -- where Zybsko tries to undo the metal ring hook to attack Sting but ends up hitting Eaton thus allowing Sting's squad to win -- is basically the apex of the group. Afterward, Zybsko is kicked out of the DA, and after feuding with their former partner, the group splinters into separate, often badly-constructed feuds with a number of opponents that to accurately chart those narrative arcs would take me far more time than I'm willing to dedicate.

But perhaps more importantly, in the middle of the reign of the DA, there was a management shift at WCW. K Allen Frey, who was apparently quite popular with the wrestlers for being hands-off and promoting bonuses, was replaced with Bill Watts. Watts implemented a series of reforms -- no moves off the top rope, preventing faces and heels from traveling together, getting rid of outside mats, pay cuts -- that enraged WCW's talent; in addition, Watts pushed his son and other outside hires (Steve Williams, Terry Gordy) other the established guys in the company.

I mention Watts because Heyman and he got into a bitter contract dispute and Paul E Dangerously soon left the company. Or was fired. There was a lawsuit filed by Heyman in any event. Watts would also later fire Bobby Eaton in a cost-cutting measure. As for the rest of stable: Austin would join up with Brain Pillman to form the Hollywood Blondes (yay!), Arn Anderson would soon rejoin the 4 Horsemen with Paul Roma (ho boy), and Rude would suffer a career-ending neck injury.

While it's tempting to blame Watts, a larger issue here is that WCW had this incredible collection of talent, and didn't really seem to know how to promote them. Arn Anderson has said, for instance, that one of the major problems of the organization on the whole was an inability to promote its stars in the same way that the WWE did, and it appears  the members of the DA were no exception. So in short, the DA was affected by both bad booking, issues with management, and WCW's long-standing issues with promoting its product.

So What If??

Unlike my Hulk Hogan in the AWA piece, I don't have a specific starting point for this timeline, but five different possible ways the timeline could be altered fairly significantly:

1) Watts is not hired by WCW
2) Watts is able to adapt his more old-school booking approach for the early 1990s
3) WCW does not fire Frey
4) management lets the group ride it out for -- at the very least -- a while longer
5) whoever is in charge at WCW promotes the living hell out of the Dangerous Alliance.

If any of these (or any combination of those) factors occur, you would have a stronger Alliance: heck, even the simplest possibility listed above would be to keep the group together long enough to eventually feud with Ric Flair (Rude actually did in 1993) or a reformed 4 Horsemen (maybe Arn Anderson returns to his first stable, or perhaps he fights against them). And you could have the group subtract and add other members -- wouldn't Brian Pillman be a great addition to the group? -- and reform and regroup over the span of a couple years.

However, the DA would not fight the Shockmaster.

This is not to say that I feel like the DA should become a stable that would last as long as the Horsemen or the NWO. I do think that WCW would have gotten more mileage out of the group because they were incredibly heelish characters who were hated by audiences, but that eventually fans would have grown tired of their act (or at least until new members came into the group). But for me, it's more important that the members of the group are given more exposure to audiences in whatever manner possible and not pushed aside, fired, or placed into situations that diminish their star power / potential.

So if we have performers who feel more secure in their positions within the company or who avoid getting into protracted arguments with management, then would they leave? 
The biggest possible outcome in this alternate timeline concerns Paul Heyman. If Heyman is given more leeway and a renewed contract by WCW, there's no reason for him to go to Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1993, and eventually transform the small promotion into Extreme Championship Wrestling. And consider those ramifications. Despite what one thinks of ECW, it's hard to discredit the impact the promotion had on wrestling during the 1990s, and it's even harder to contemplate how drastically different professional wrestling during the decade would have been. If Heyman never goes to Philly, would we have ever heard of Sabu, Raven, or Tommy Dreamer? Would Shane Douglas been just a guy who had a poor-run in WCW in the early 1990s? Without ECW, would I have gotten bored with wrestling in the mid-1990s, and eventually never co-founded this site?

Of course, a longer-running DA might have only benefited these performers in the short-term. With Eric Bischoff taking over WCW in 1994, the company began to purge a lot of its "grittiness" and more Southern-style wrestling in favor of more WWE-style entertainment. But what if Steve Austin was an even-bigger draw in 1995? Would Bischoff have still fired him? If so, with no ECW (as we know it), would Austin retire as the Ringmaster in WWE?

Food for thought! As a treat for reading this, here's the theme for the Dangerous Alliance (which is pretty good insofar as early 1990s WCW themes are concerned):

So that's this edition of What-If-Wednesday. I'm looking for suggestions for the next edition in two weeks, so if you have any ideas, email them to [email protected] or tweet us @wrestlingshame.

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