The Killing of the King
Posted on 03.21.2015 by FWrestling.com
Editor’s Note: Originally posted on the old FWrestling.com site in six parts, this article put a spotlight on the years-long feud between Troy Windham and Eli Flair that ran across promotions like the CSWA and NFW. It is presented here in its entirety.
“Eli Flair? He’s the Epitome’s footnote. He’s the also – ran to my name in lights. Don’t think I’m trippin’ – we fought wars in the ring, we changed the business more times than I own property. He’s a legend, he’s just not Troy. But is it really that bad, being second best to Mr. CSWA?” – Troy Windham
“I think there’s a Troy Windham somewhere in every walk of life – a ridiculously talented individual who makes it to the pinnacle without a shred of respect for the people who paved the way. Troy’s deserved every bit of fame he’s gotten, I just wish he could’ve realized that he didn’t do it all on his own.” – Eli Flair
They headlined only one show in professional wrestling history against each other, and were constantly overshadowed by other matches and feuds of the day. However, there was perhaps no other instance in the history of this sport where two men not only brutalized each other with this much intensity, but were so eager to step in the ring against each other one more time.
With CSWA GOLD RUSH officially in the books, the war that waged between ‘The Epitome’ Troy Windham and ‘Total Elimination’ Eli Flair has officially come to an end as Flair has retired from the sport. But this was no ordinary feud. This feud crossed promotional lines, like many others. This feud involved championships, like many others. This feud involved personal slights, backstabs and sneak attacks, like many others. This feud changed both men forever and scarred innocent bystanders forever, like many others.
And yet, this feud was unlike anything else professional wrestling has ever seen, and potentially will ever see. This feud was between two of the most evenly matched wrestlers in the history of the sport.
THE KILLING OF THE KING
EXTREME VS SLACKER
ELI FLAIR VS TROY WINDHAM
Individually, Eli Flair and Troy Windham are two of the greatest wrestlers that the world has ever seen. They are both World Champions many times over. Both could cut a promo to cut right through anyone unfortunate enough to be their next opponent. Both could both dish out and take incredible amounts of punishment in any type of match, and both were revered at one time or another as the absolute best the business had to offer.
In a way, these two men were as similar as they were different. A staredown between them was like staring into a broken mirror.
First there was Troy…
Troy Windham started his career first, a skinny, nineteen year old rookie who was just the latest Windham to enter the sport of professional wrestling. The year was 1993, and Troy joined two men he knew of as his cousins in Greensboro’s finest export. He had a rough go of it at first, because, while he had all the skills necessary to prove he belonged in the CSWA, he was still considered a Windham, employed solely because of Mark Windham. By that time, Mark Windham was both a four – time CSWA United States Champion and former National Champion, and was part of America’s Team, at that time the most visible partnership in the company.
If there was any quit in Troy’s being, it would have manifested during that first year. He dealt with opponents who did what they could to bury him, fans that compared everything he did to his cousin Mark and, later, ‘The Muppet Kid’ Timmy Windham who would shock the world by defeating Mike Randalls for the Enterprise World Championship. He dealt with rumors of nepotism and favoritism and enjoyed almost zero respect from the rest of the company during this space of time.
All the while, he continued to wrestle as often as possible against as many unforgiving opponents as he could. The seeds for what would one day define Troy Windham were sown in that first year. Troy learned that the business was a cold, cruel place, and that any recognition he was to gain, he would have to fight for. So precious was that small bit of respect that, once he had won his first title a year later with his Greensboro Championship victory against Bonecrusher, he had already vowed to himself to never share that respect with anyone else.
Unfortunately, the man who was, very soon, to be known as the King of the Slackers, was once again overshadowed by the wars fought between and among Hornet, Mike Randalls, and his own cousin Mark. Troy would lose the Greensboro title to ‘Nine Inch Nail’ Kevin Dunlap, and ultimately find himself mired in the same limbo all competent, capable wrestlers find themselves when the company doesn’t know what to do with them: mired in tag teams. He would team with Junior Hornet in Crazy Like a Slacker, as well as ‘Showtime’ Shawn Matthews in Generation X-Press. It was in this second team that he would finally find his traction in the CSWA, as Generation X-Press found themselves the EN World Tag Team Champions headed into the biggest event in professional wrestling history, CSWA Fish Fund XI: End of an Era.
Then there was Eli…
The man who would come to be known as the Original Nobody had a slightly different path to the feud that would ultimately define him. Eli Flair began his career in less mainstream surroundings: a gym in the Bronx. He started in the winter of 1994 in the independent promotion headquartered two blocks from his meager apartment, and slowly worked his way to success in a string of regional promotions that dovetailed from New York to Arizona, with a few notable stops along the way. It was the Arizona based PYBA company that he first tasted gold, as the company’s United States champion for the final four months of its existence. While he managed to make a name for himself in the underground rumor mill as a consummate professional, Eli’s big break would come with the announcement of the 1995 ULTRATITLE tournament.
A far cry from New Frontier Wrestling’s innovative, groundbreaking Seasons format of the past few years, the 1995 ULTRATITLE was a two hundred and fifty six wrestler single elimination tournament, with the ultimate prize; aside from the Ultratitle itself; being a shot at the Unified World Championship that, at the time, was held by Hornet.
Yes, that Hornet.
At the time, the Unified Title was a championship recognized across promotional boundaries. The Unified Title was a belt that was even more revered than the most successful promotion’s World Championship. After all, a World Title meant you were the absolute best that that promotion had to offer at that time, but the Unified Title meant that you were the best over a span of wrestling companies. Hornet had built the title himself over the course of the CSWA’s rise from Greensboro’s best kept secret to the most successful wrestling company in recorded history, and was the most visible icon that the company had had through the course of its seven year history to date.
The man who would one day be known as the King of Extreme fought his way to the Sweet Sixteen, where he was eliminated by former five – time PYBA World Heavyweight Champion, and future Unified World Champion JT Tyler. But it was enough for him to get his foot in the door.
Eli, then known simply as The Eliminator, had a decent enough showing during the 1995 Ultratitle to be offered a CSWA contract which he snapped up in a hurry. He spent his first few months showing off his skills, until the CSWA decided to resurrect a defunct championship at ELVIS LIVES CELEBRATION IX: Disney Days.
His first taste of gold would nearly bring him to the history books in and of itself, as Eli would hold the CSWA IntraContinental championship for a near – record – setting eight months. Eli defended his belt against all comers in any type of match from the moment he won the belt through CSWA Anniversary 1996, where he voluntarily vacated the belt three weeks shy of Joey Melton’s record in hopes of moving up the card.
He would do so following that spring’s CSWA Battle of the Belts XIV, where he took the CSWA Presidential Championship from perennial top contender Jack ‘Summer’ Samson. With the not – yet – legendary Poison Ivy in his corner, The Eliminator looked to be unstoppable as he entered the fall of 1996 with his sights set on Fish Fund Park Arena, and old rival ATTAXX.
This is the end… my only friend, the end.
Most professional wrestling historians acknowledge FISH FUND XI: End of an Era as the biggest event in the history of the sport. Hornet would lose the Career Match to GUNS in the second night’s main event, but numerous wrestlers would cite that night as the night their careers took a sharp turn.
Certainly, Troy Windham would never be the same again.
Set to unify the EN World Tag Team Championship with the Unified Tag Team Championship, Generation X-Press, Troy Windham and his partner Shawn Matthews were set to square off against Japanese Assault, the Shotgun Shogun and the Kamikaze Kid.
There was just one problem: Shawn Matthews had quit the CSWA mere days before the event, tossing the EN World Tag Team title belts in the trash on live television. Nonplussed, Troy went to the ring, determined to defend the EN World Tag Team Championship all by himself. Truth be told, he nearly became Unified Tag Team Champion without a partner. In contrast, Eli would find more success at Fish Fund XI, retaining the Presidential Championship against ATTAXX.
The months that followed would show that, much as FISH FUND XI was the end of an era, it was also the beginning of the Troy Windham story. The King of the Slackers took the notoriety that his attack on his former tag team partner had given him and used it to build a stable around himself. This precursor to the Frat would see Troy become one of the most outspoken wrestlers on the CSWA’s roster, and, while he was still not considered one of the ‘money wrestlers’ by the major players in the sport, he was regarded highly enough to earn a shot at Eli’s CSWA Presidential Championship belt in January 1997.
The match would be the only time in history that Eli and Troy would wrestle each other with a championship on the line.
Troy came out on top in a heavy battle that saw multiple cases of interference – both on the side of the Frat and from Poison Ivy. The after – effects of the match saw the Frat lay Eli out on a table, stack another table on top of him, and drive him through both. This would put him out of action for more than a year, during which time everything that had not changed at FISH FUND XI would do so, rapidly.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the moment Eli went through the tables, war was declared.
Take my picture by the pool cause I’m the next big thing!
Shortly after Troy became the CSWA Presidential Champion, Co-Commissioners Chad Merritt and Stephen Thomas vacated every title and brought back the CSWA World Heavyweight Championship (previously supplanted by the Enterprise World Championship), and immediately began a single elimination tournament to crown the first Champion of the new era. While Troy would ultimately fall to GUNS in the semi – final round at ANNIVERSARY 1997, the King of the Slackers had taken the wrestling world by storm, not only ultimately taking the CSWA World Championship from GUNS in July of 1997, but becoming the biggest name in the UWA without wrestling a single match. Even as the CSWA shut down under the weight of the Red Midget’s apparent murder and Commissioner Merritt’s overbearing pride, Troy Windham remained in the spotlight, parlaying his status as the King of the Slackers into mainstream media exposure – one could approach the term overexposure – that turned him from a token ‘cool’ professional wrestler into a household name.
Even after the CSWA’s return in April 1998, Troy remained at the forefront of the Greensboro assault, first by defeating Mark Windham at ANNIVERSARY with the help of the newly re – formed Frat, then by insinuating himself in the World Title picture – a title he was never defeated for – by interfering in the Hornet/GUNS match designed to fill the vacancy, then by teaming with Mark in an unorthodox tag team match for the belt before a tournament was declared to settle the issue once and for all.
Unfortunately, Troy Windham’s personal demons and party habits would force him out of the CSWA as the weather started to heat up, and he would not be seen from again for nearly a year.
Or perhaps fortunately, all things considered.
I got my fist, I got my brain, I got survivalism.
Eli Flair made his return to the CSWA without a press conference, without a high profile match, and without a contract. In his absence, another wrestler had been hired under the name ‘The Eliminator,’ and Eli simply interrupted a match. In a move that would become something of a trademark, there was no fuss and no pageantry; just a course of action. Rapidly re-signed, Eli made no secret of the fact that he had returned to the CSWA for Troy Windham, though Troy’s departure and growing frustration with both the Eliminator and his trio of allies would cause the King of Extreme to radically realign his goals.
It wasn’t long before those goals found him across the ring from not only The Eliminator, but newcomer ‘Good God’ Kevin Powers, in a triangle match for the CSWA United States Championship at ELVIS LIVES XI. Eli and Powers had managed to start a relationship that wavered between enemies and rivals so closely that the only thing they hated more than each other was The Eliminator himself. Flair would come out on top in what would ultimately be the final pay per view that the Eliminator would wrestle on, with what seemed like a new set of enemies in Kevin Powers, former World Champion ‘Hurricane’ Eddy Love, and ‘Iceman’ Steve Radder, better known by the initials “PLR.”
He would soon be distracted, however, by a bigger name than he ever thought. As CSWA Anniversary 1999 approached, Eli Flair would gain access to a truly exclusive club – and he would get his hands on Hornet. In the closing moments of the final match of the IRONMAN of CHAMPIONS tournament, Eli, with a small assist from Poison Ivy, would defeat the former UNIFIED World Champion to become CSWA World Heavyweight Champion himself.
CSWA Anniversary 1999 also saw the return of Troy Windham.
If I’d listened to everything that they’d said to me I wouldn’t be here.
It should be noted that both Troy Windham and Eli Flair consistently reached the pinnacle of the sport when the other was not an active participant in whatever promotion they were in. Troy Windham won his first CSWA World Title while Eli was out with injury, and likewise, Eli’s road to the title took place while Troy was dealing with personal problems. Troy’s return at Anniversary 1999 was motivated by the escalating feud between his cousins Mark and Timmy, and the subsequent revelation that Timmy was not a Windham at all, and that Mark and Troy were actually brothers.
During the four year stretch between their most brutal matches and their final match, while Eli became a household name and multi – time World Champion in a number of promotions of varying status and global reach, and Troy cemented his status as perhaps the greatest overall wrestler to ever step into the CSWA, the silence stretched through the wrestling world and proved to even the most jaded fan that, when both men were under the same roof, other people held World Titles because they allowed it, and both men thrived on it. Even Troy’s massive ego could not cover the fact that he knew he was never as good as when Eli Flair was across the ring from him, and Eli knew, even with his reputation as one of the hardest workers in the ring, nobody was a harder fight than a man ironically nicknamed the King of the Slackers.
Fans the world over have debated endlessly over how far Eli and Troy could have gotten if they had focused the energy they used against each other on defeating World Champions, or, more unbelievably, if they had actually joined forces.
For the sake of the men and women who held championships during their greatest battles, it’s a good thing they didn’t.
Fortunately for Eli’s title reign, Troy’s return did not immediately send them against each other. The King of the Slackers insinuated himself into the breakup of tag team champions Eddy Love and Kevin Powers, forming the Playboys with Love, to combat Powers and Gabriel Poe, a team that would come to be known as the Dark Carnival. Love and Troy seemed a perfect fit, with their arrogance outmatched only by their ability. Added to the mix was Love’s manager and life partner ‘Sweet’ Melissa, and they would eventually round out with personal aide – turned – wrestler JJ DeVille, still a CSWA wrestler to this day.
But the war would find itself the night Eli defended his World Title against Eddy Love.
You got some nerve to come back here, you’re not the only one who can smell fear.
The match itself was a back – and – forth contest between two wrestlers at the absolute peak of their ability, but their respective seconds and associated partners were destined to interfere. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, Eli officially won the match via disqualification, but the image that remained in the minds of the people watching was Bandit and Junior Hornet holding Eli back while Troy strapped the World Title belt around his own waist.
As previously stated, title belts were almost never a part of the feud between Eli Flair and Troy Windham. Eli quickly showed why, as he practically demanded a match with Troy at the upcoming THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SPECTACULAR two – day event, despite the fact that he had a World Title defense on Night One against the seven foot tall Deacon, and was to lead his team in WAR GAMES in the main event of Night Two against The UnHoly. His fight with Troy, sandwiched in as the opener of the second night, would fall short, as he lost the championship to Deacon.
Still, in their match; the second and last that they would have in the old millennium, Eli managed to score the pinfall victory with a reversal of a submission hold; the last wrestling move between these two men for nearly seven years. Following the WAR GAMES main event, Eli would also not wrestle for several months, citing injuries and general fatigue, and was looking forward to an open – ended break.
His return would mark the night that he Staked a Claim on the CSWA.
The World Needs a Hero
CSWA Anniversary 2000 featured a main event that most of the professional wrestling world had been hoping for and anticipating for over two years. Ever since he made his CSWA debut, The Deacon had been a silent, efficient Hero, walking the line with dignity and poise. From a marketing standpoint, he was everything that the CSWA could have hoped for – his clean cut image was a throwback to the days when the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black, every time, but despite the nature of the ‘character’ he was never the type to lecture or bore the people. From a wrestling standpoint, he was a heavyweight that could move like a cruiserweight, and his ability kept the fans coming back night after night.
The match that was a pipe dream quickly became a possibility following the Thanksgiving Weekend Spectacular 1999, as ‘Devastating’ Mike Randalls made his return to the CSWA. For the man formerly known as the King of Darkness to square off with The Deacon, at CSWA Anniversary 2000, the World Title was almost an afterthought. Indeed, the two men wrestled one of the most memorable matches in Anniversary history for more than sixty minutes, until the unthinkable happened.
Eli Flair, Poison Ivy, and Hornet joined forces with Mike Randalls, with their intent to ‘Stake a Claim’ on the CSWA. To this day there is little information on how much of their subsequent promo was part of the show and how much of it was an attempt at a power play, but the immediate after effect was that Eli Flair, Hornet, and Mike Randalls, dubbed the ‘ClaimStakers,’ were the new villains on the block. Further complicating things was the fact that the only real ‘Hero’ in the CSWA, Deacon, was forced to vacate the championship and leave the company due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. The CSWA needed a trio of fearless heroes to combat this new threat, and the only men who stepped up were, ironically, The Playboys, Troy Windham and Eddy Love.
They would be joined for a spell by Cardigo Mysterian, who would prove the deciding factor in the first official meeting between the men as part of their respective stables. Mobile, Alabama would see a Sixty Minute Marathon match between Hornet and Eli of the ClaimStakers, and the Playboys, Troy and Eddy. Two sights dominated the night: first, as the time limit ran out and the teams were tied at four falls apiece, Cardigo Mysterian emerged from the crowd to tip the scales in favor of the Playboys in sudden death overtime. Second, more hauntingly, Eli Flair dragged Eddy Love’s valet Sweet Melissa from the floor to the ring apron, and viciously powerbombed her through a table on the outside. This action would have severe consequences for the King of Extreme in the months to come.
In a move just as polarizing as the formation of the ClaimStakers itself, CSWA Commissioner Chad Merritt pointedly included Mike Randalls in the Round Robin tournament, and discluded both Hornet and Eli Flair, despite the fact that the only other former champions included in the field were Randalls himself, and Eddy Love.
But it would be at Elvis Lives XII where, not only did the IRONMAN come to a close with Randalls and Love wrestling the deciding match, but the war between Eli and Troy would escalate in such a way that nobody would ever be the same.
You will know me from scars I bear! You will know me by the hate I swear!
As the ClaimStakers/Playboys feud continued to escalate, the Playboys shifted out Cardigo Mysterian as their unaffiliated third party and replaced him with ‘The English Gent’ Lawrence Stanley, and gradually broke down to their individual parts. Randalls and Love would meet in the final match of the IRONMAN, Hornet and Stanley would feud over Teri Melton, of all people, and Eli and Troy would reignite the hatred and ill will they had towards each other the previous year. The only difference between the three matches was the fact that Eli and Troy were to settle their differences – indeed, they had each won one of their two prior matches – inside a roofed steel cage.
Or so the plan was to go.
In reality, the moment the bell rang, the moment the cage began to lower around the ring, Eli tackled Troy and both men collapsed to the outside. For the next thirty minutes, there was no wrestling to be had at Elvis Lives XII. For the next thirty minutes, Eli and Troy beat each other to shreds with their fists, with chairs, with walls, with concrete floors and steel guardrails, and with the meaty goodness, boiling water, and warm broken glass of a hot dog vendor.
It was clear at that point that the original sins of Troy putting Eli out for a year, and Eli considering himself on the same level as Troy were far forgotten in the heat of the intense ultraviolence that the two men were inflicting on each other. Even after Troy dropped Eli from the lower tier to the floor, by way of the hot dog vendor, the King of Extreme refused to take the slightest back step.
When the two men finally returned to ringside, and there was no way for them to get back into the ring, Troy simply improvised. He climbed the side of the cage and dropped himself on Eli. Then he did it again.
But Eli was not to be outdone, and when Troy went up for a third go, Eli met him halfway up.
They struggled, they traded blows, and when Troy kicked him in the jaw, Eli fell twelve feet, square on his back.
Troy climbed to the top of the cage to survey the damage, and he saw something that would be forever burned into the psyche of every CSWA fan in attendance: he saw Eli Flair, mere seconds after taking the Nestea Plunge, pull himself to his feet. Unbelievably, as Troy attempted to climb even higher in order to deliver a more permanent finishing blow, Eli caught his ankle three quarters of the way up the cage, and held on tightly. Troy did his best to kick the King of Extreme away, but Eli held onto the cage, if not Troy’s ankle.
It left nowhere for Troy to go but the top of the cage. And in a moment that would both signal the moment of escalation for this feud, and the tremendous resilience of both men, Eli ducked Troy’s initial assault and drove the King of the Slackers to the mesh ceiling with a Slacknife of his very own, causing the top of the cage to break, and both men to fall to the ring below. This would have been Eli’s moment of triumph, if not for the fact that Troy was able to get a hand on his chest, and take home the pinfall victory.
Afterwards, as both men struggled to their feet and ignored the cheers of the fans, Eli Flair dropped Troy Windham with a right hand and a chokeslam before walking out to a stunned silence. Not only did this act mean the war would continue, but it was a clear sign to the masses that not even a mere fall through a cage would sate their lust for each others’ blood. Something had to – and would – give.
END PART THREE
You want me? F***ing well come and find me, I’ll be waiting.
As the falling out between the ClaimStakers continued, and Eli and Hornet would wage a vicious war of words all through 2001, ultimately coming to fruition as Merritt exacted his revenge on each member as CSWA Anniversary 2001 came to pass. Before this revenge, however, Eli and Troy would meet one more time – with stakes so high it was impossible to predict that they would meet again – or even wrestle again.
CSWA Anniversary 2001 would see the RAGE in the CAGE.
Eli Flair entered the cage with a badly injured knee from Elvis Lives, and Troy Windham’s neck was sufficiently damaged enough that he was refused medical clearance that evening, only making his appearance after signing a waiver. The rules were simple: no pinfalls, no submissions in the classic sense, no countouts, no disqualifications. The only way to win was for one man to make the other say the words “I QUIT.”
It was apparent to everyone in the arena that night, and moreso, to the two men who entered the cage, that there was very little chance of a happy ending.
They were right.
As predicted, the cage was not able to contain the rage that these two men carried inside. Inevitably, the action spilled to the floor, with both men showing their strength. Troy’s already damaged neck was taking enough of a pounding for him to be the first to escape, but in doing so he not only drew first blood by slamming the cage door on Eli’s head, but did not return to the ring until he retrieved a heavy wrench from underneath.
The wrench traded hands several times, but so did wristlocks, takedowns, and leg dives. Eli Flair and Troy Windham effortlessly combined full frontal brutality with very effective, very basic amateur wrestling.
Eventually, as the damage to both men was sufficient enough to grab the microphone, Troy decided to remove referee Patrick Young from the match. It was a move that gained a mixture of applause and disbelief from the crowd, and also gained him a look of respect from the King of Extreme.
This was their fight – this was their war. All of the other baggage that had accumulated with the ClaimStakers and the Playboys and their revolving door partners was insignificant at that point. This fight was between the King of the Slackers and the King of Extreme, and injuries were about to pile up.
After the referee went down, all hell broke loose. The two men once again took the fight to the floor, using everything from the cage to the guardrail to the concrete floor against each other, but neither man would stay down. The two men too the fight into the crowd, knocking chairs out of the way, slamming each other around, over, and on top of fans, and, in an image that is still visible in the CSWA’s opening credits to this day, they fought over a chair while sprawled out on the concrete floor, all the while, Troy had Eli cinched in a Figure Four leglock. Eli would win the tug of war and break the hold – and Troy’s hand – with a wild swing. Even after that, neither man would give. Eli grabbed Troy’s hand for a test of strength and Troy immediately clipped Eli’s knee.
But it was enough to swing the match back in Eli’s favor. He would sandwich Troy’s damaged hand in the guardrail and bring a chair crashing down on it, before he dragged Troy back towards the ring. One of the stipulations of the match, curiously enough, was that the words “I QUIT” could only end the match if uttered inside the cage. Ironically, while this stipulation was put in place to limit the scope of their carnage to the ring, it was turned around on itself, used to give both men free reign to shred each other without fear of the match coming to an end.
Eli’s face was a crimson mask, and his knee was swollen and bruised, and Troy’s neck was further damaged by a Slacknife on the steps – and his left hand was a purplish hue, definitely fractured somewhere. But as the other playboy, Eddy Love, approached the ring with a towel to wipe the blood from Troy’s face, the King of the Slackers ignored his plea to end it, ignored the fans’ calling for the bell, and ignored the pain that ran through his body. The King of the Slackers entered the ring, one – armed and dizzy, armed with a chair, and the King of the Slackers was the aggressor when both men stood in the ring across from each other again.
Perhaps Sammy Benson said it best in the moment. “Who’s the good guy supposed to be?”
Tragically, the fight would come to an end in a disturbing, unforeseeable way. When Eli ducked a swing of the chair, he finally got a decent grip on Troy’s glaring weak spot – his broken hand. He caught the broken limb with both his own massive hands, and forced the King of the Slackers to his knees. Then, in a move that would prove to be one of the most disturbing in wrestling history; to the point where former CSWA World Champion Evan Aho himself would later say he had to turn from the monitor, Eli stood on Troy’s broken hand and threatened him with further injury if he didn’t quit.
Troy didn’t quit. Eli broke three of his fingers. He grabbed them, one at a time, and snapped them straight back.
It was that moment that Eddy Love tossed the bloody towel he held into the ring. Referee Patrick Young made a judgment call, and ended the match on the towel. Officially, he gave the victory to Eli Flair, but the subsequent attack on Young, and the off – the – cuff interview he gave to Rudy Seitzer after the fact confirmed his state of mind – since Troy never quit, he didn’t deserve to have his hand raised.
No sooner did Rudy let him pass, than Eli was blindsided by Sweet Melissa, a purse full of bricks, and a thirst for vengeance.
It ain’t braggin, motherfucker, if you back it up.
The fallout from the Rage in the Cage was immediate and intense. No two wrestlers from that point forward would ever take a fight to each other in such a fashion. There were extreme matches between wrestlers who didn’t know how to do anything else, to be sure, but none would come anywhere close to matching the Rage. One critic commented that the match was violent even when it wasn’t violent, which is a testament to the deep hatred they shared to that point.
It was also a testament to the fact that both men continued to wrestle a full time schedule for the next six years. They both took time off in order to heal – Eli had stitches in his face and had yet another surgery on his knee, and Troy had both hands in casts and a second, and then a third operation on his neck before he was to make a full time return to the ring.
In interviews, both men expressed their deep respect for the other. It was literally a case of that which does not kill only makes stronger, but they both respected the other for surviving what they had gone through. The old adage proved true again, that when these two men were not preoccupied with each other, the sky was the limit. Eli Flair branched out to other wrestling companies and gained worldwide success as both two – time fWo World Heavyweight Champion and the most unlikely Asylum Fighting champion of all time, while Troy Windham stayed in Greensboro, consolidated his fanbase, and became perhaps the greatest (certainly the most well – known) wrestler to ever step inside a CSWA ring. Eli Flair would marry and father a daughter, all the while headline the second – biggest show in professional wrestling history, fWo’s 2005 CYBERSLAM, against The Deacon for the World Title, and Troy Windham would make history by becoming the Unified World Champion in the beginning of the CSWA’s resurgence.
They seemed to be at peace with each other in a way that was unfathomable in the weeks leading up to the Rage in the Cage, but it was pure logistics. These two men had taken everything of the other and survived it. These two men had done everything in their power to each other and they both survived it. For four years, the silence between Eli Flair and Troy Windham would be a source of both relief from the rest of the professional wrestling world who feared what another round of broken bones and bloody towels would mean, and anticipation for what the next round would actually bring.
After all, nobody was convinced that the war was truly over. But it would take the most unlikely of circumstances and allies to lead to their final battles.
END PART FOUR
Kiss me, it’ll heal, but it won’t forget
At NFW Crashmas 2004, far from the lights and media of Greensboro, two mysteries were shockingly solved, as El Toro was unmasked to reveal the part – owner, the PROFESSIONAL, ‘Cocky’ Craig Miles, and the Highwayman unmasked himself to reveal Troy Windham. Conflict and strife that stretched as far back as 1992 were suddenly thrust to the forefront of the professional wrestling world as never before. Troy had apparently lost any sense of humility that he seemed to gain when he was wheeled out of the Cage, and he was as ready as ever to make yet another mark on the world of professional wrestling.
What he hadn’t counted on was the fact that, in the year prior, Craig Miles had renewed his friendship with ‘Poison’ Ivy McGinnis, and McGinnis had become one of his few confidants. Miles would invite McGinnis, Eli, and Eli’s wife, rock, goth, and blues singer Angel of Valerian’s Garden, to WRESTLEBOWL, the crowning night of the first Ultratitle season. It is still unknown what Miles hoped to achieve that night, but rumor is that he placed the responsibility for Troy’s actions on Eli’s head. Instead of teaching Troy humility, Miles would imply that the fact that Troy survived Eli’s onslaught had simply taught the Epitome that he could overcome anything, and he began to act accordingly.
Miles would lay an offer to Eli on the spot, against the advice of fellow legend Tom Adler and fellow former ClaimStaker Mike Randalls, to both be a part of NFW Ultratitle Season 2, and resolve the unfinished business with Troy. The details are still confidential, other than the brawl that took place in the ring just before the Ultratitle finals between Shane Southern and Michael Manson, and a single line that Ivy McGinnis spoke into her telephone during the backstage meeting.
“He knows what has to be done,” Ivy had said.
But Troy was distracted. His obligations as Unified World Champion left his time in the NFW Season 2 limited, and he was barely able to fulfill his part in the season. Indeed, the rapid build of the Wrestle Stock pay – per – view event that was scheduled to be headlined by “Eli vs. Troy, the Final Chapter” seemed lackluster until the final weeks.
Wrestle Stock was the NFW’s answer to the link other ‘Extreme’ sports had with nu – punk and speed metal. Miles’ intention was to have a full tour through California, with the crowning peak to be an outdoors pay – per – view event with a live band and the best wrestling anywhere in the world.
For music, Miles went to Valerian’s Garden. He knew the band through Eli and Ivy, and knew they could do what he wanted in the musical sense. Angel would later say that they were hired to play two dates, and ended up staying for a month, jamming on the beach at all hours of the day. Regardless, Wrestle Stock was all about the wrestling and the music, until the show before the pay – per – view. In the final moments of the main event that saw Eli Flair exact a measure of revenge on ‘Kodiak’ Vic Creed for Creed’s domination of their fWo World Championship match three years earlier, an explosion rocked the night sky.
Troy Windham had set the Valerian’s Garden bus on fire with two band members still inside.
It had been personal before, but now it was a family affair.
As if contrasted to the fire on the bus, the Wrestle Stock pay – per – view saw a torrential downpour that threatened the safety of the band and the wrestlers. Any other company would have cancelled, but NFW was always about pushing the envelope, and the show went off without a hitch.
In the main event, Eli Flair would finally gain the submission victory from Troy Windham that was denied him five years earlier, but it seemed a hollow victory, quickly overshadowed by Miles’ announcement regarding the Ultratitle playoffs. The match itself would quickly prove to mean nothing in the grand scheme of their feud, as Eli would reach the final match of the NFW West before losing another war to eventual Ultratitle 2.0 winner Nova, and Troy would return to the CSWA with his biggest challenge in his sights.
END PART FIVE
I declare war on every government, war against all odds.
CSWA Gold Rush was conceived with two thoughts in mind from Commissioner Stephen Thomas: a punishment for Unified Champion Troy Windham for his refusal to face either his brother Mark Windham, or the former CSWA World Champion and perennial top contender Dan Ryan, and a way to bring the CSWA back to the forefront with a splash. In a nutshell, there would be five rings with battle – royal style matches happening simultaneously. Each outer ring would have a winner and a runner – up; the winner would win either one of the three secondary CSWA championships or an automatic Unified Title shot at any time, and the winner and runner – up would gain access to the center ring, where Troy would be defending the Unified Title itself against them.
To his continued credit, Troy dove into the Gold Rush with abandon, rapidly showing every other wrestler who was involved why he was called The Epitome. As an open challenge, wrestlers who would never have thought to have competed in the CSWA piled in against the Champion, in hopes of adding their names to the immortals who had worn the Unified World Championship.
Among the non – contracted wrestlers who threw their name in the ring, there was a man who last wrestled in the CSWA at CSWA17: Rebirth, the 2005 Anniversary celebration. ‘Total Elimination’ Eli Flair. When asked, Flair would say he didn’t think any of the other wrestlers in the contest knew what it was to go up against Troy Windham, and that he was entered solely to make sure Troy did not leave the Gold Rush event with the Unified Championship.
Both men appeared to take a wide berth of each other during the preliminary build up to the event, presumably because both knew, to take it to the level they had previously gone would have essentially negated both their presences in the Gold Rush. They barely interacted during the center ring itself, as Eli would be eliminated by the runner – up in the official match, Eron the Relentless, and Troy would defy all odds and fulfill his guarantee that he would attain victory in the Gold Rush.
Of course, mere moments after the Gold Rush ended, ‘Ego Buster’ Dan Ryan would cash in his title shot and fulfill Eli’s guarantee, that Troy would not leave CSWA18 with the Unified World Championship. Eli would subsequently walk out of the Merritt Auditorium, his CSWA career officially completed.
Epilogue: The cool remnant of a dream
It’s impossible to predict where each man’s career would have ended up if Troy had not defeated Eli for the CSWA Presidential Championship all the way back in 1997, or if Troy had not added insult to injury with his orchestrated Frat beatdown of the King of Extreme in the moments after the match. That incident and everything that spawned from it put a focus in Eli Flair that turned his never – say – die, shrug – off – all – injury tendancies to an obsession that propelled him to the top of the sport, and it gave Troy Windham the reputation as a man that could never be stopped.
It redefined what it meant for two wrestlers to be in a blood feud. Mike Randalls putting a wooden stake through GUNS’ knee, long the standard bearer for the farthest any man had gone to hurt another in the business, was almost universally shoved aside by the image of Eli standing on Troy’s broken hand, casually snapping his fingers one, two, three.
Professional wrestling, in general, and the CSWA in particular, had seen epic feuds and battles through its entire run – America’s Team, GUNS, Randalls, the Diamond Exchange, the Intruders, the CORPORATION, PLR, and every conceivable combination of opponents contained therein. In every other case, there was a hero and a villain and they were easily identified. Not here. In this case, the “hero” in the loosest possible terms, Eli Flair, inflicted the most grievous, most depraved acts of violence against his opponent, and the “villain” in the same loose terms, Troy Windham proved himself as one of the most resilient, stubborn, and talented men who had ever stepped between the ropes.
Both men were propelled into iconic status despite their best efforts. Troy’s pinup – good looks and Hollywood personality made him a natural spokesman for professional wrestling as legitimate entertainment, and remained on the elusive “A” list despite personal demons and public scandal. Eli, in contrast, was a loner, a private citizen, and an iconic anti – celebrity that made him a reluctant hero to the counterculture of society, the “cool factor in the music videos” that Sammy Benson coined, that gave any attempt at alternative entertainment the legitimacy it – often desperately – sought.
“Culture meets counterculture,” Ivy McGinnis was quoted as saying, in reference to Troy and Eli, “Wherever there’s culture there will be counterculture, and there will always be a natural friction between the two. Add in the professional wrestling – sized egos and it’s a recipe ripe for disaster.”
It’s impossible to measure exactly how this feud altered the course of professional wrestling in and of itself, but the sport, much like the two men involved, has been irrevocably changed from their presence.