By Goose Mahler, Columnist
One thing I admit I love about having the WWE Network, is watching old Nitro and WCW Pay Per View shows. Going back to the 90’s to see some of the talent shine such as Eddie Guererro, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio to name a few.
God what could’ve… should’ve… and might have been.
Towards the end of the WCW run, they had quite possibly one of the best young factions to ever be assembled in the Natural Born Thrillers. The group consisted of Mike Sanders, Shawn Stasiak, Chuck Palumbo, Sean O’Haire, Mark Jindrak, Johnny the Bull, and Reno.
These young studs were chiseled out of granite, athletic as hell, had great looks, could cut promos, and had some solid chemistry in the ring. They were straight out of the WCW Power Plant, where they were trained by Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff.
Mike Sanders was the mouthpiece of the group. Give this kid a mic, and he would tear it down. ‘Above Average’ Mike Sanders was a thing of the past when he joined with the Thrillers turning on Rey Misterio and Juventud Guererra. Mike had this charisma that shined through when he was on the mic. But his in ring skills should not be overlooked, as Mike did capture the WCW Cruiserweight belt by defeating Elix Skipper.
Mark Jindrak was a two-time Tag Team Champ with Sean O’Haire in the group. Jindrak also teamed with Palumbo and Stasiak and seemed to be multi-faceted. Jindrak seemed like he would be the Arn Anderson of the group as an intimidating enforcer. Mark had some great tools in the ring when given the chance to show them.
Sean O’Haire was a big strong athletic looking beast. He did a lot of things a guy his size is not supposed to be doing in the ring. He was a multiple time tag team champion with different partners. O’Haire was also recognized as Rookie of Year because of his impressive showings in the ring. This kid had star written all over himself.
Chuck Palumbo again was a young buck with tons of potential in the ring. Multiple time tag team champ in his career. Physique of a Greek God, and a ton of power and speed. Palumbo would gain a lot of different exposure with the Thrillers as he seemed to have a different “IT” factor than his brothers in arm.
Shawn Stasiak was a second-generation wrestler that came with an impressive pedigree. Shawn was a part of the New Blood angle beating Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig and becoming The Perfect Shawn. When he was paired with the Thrillers it was a natural fit. Shawn not only had a look, he was good on the mic, just as athletic as his partners. He seemed to be the one to be the breakout star of the group.
Johnny the Bull was one of the younger bucks of the group. Loads of talent with a great look. Johnny was more known for his stint with the Mamalukes in WCW where he teamed with Big Vito. He turned on Vito and joined the Thrillers to add more fire power to the faction.
The last member of the group was Reno. Another big body with a great physique. He assisted NBT in their attack of the Filthy Animals. Adapting a kickboxer type persona as an underground fighter Reno seemed to be a legitimate bad ass. While doing Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff’s bidding. Reno also would become a WCW Hardcore Champ with the help of Sanders.
The Thrillers were a collective group of young talent. Some critics might say they were green wrestlers with some experience mixed in between Mike Sanders and Shawn Stasiak.
Even as a “heel” faction, fans were buying into them. because of how exciting they could be in the ring. This was the group that might make fans forget the nWo was no longer around.
At times, it didn’t matter who tagged with who or when they tagged with each other. These Power Plant graduates were putting the wrestling world on notice. 6 times members of the Thrillers held the Tag Team Championships. The more they won the more people believed this was the faction that would replace the Horseman for the next generation.
Unfortunately, things unraveled for WCW and the Thrillers. WWF purchased WCW and only picked up certain wrestler’s contracts.
Vince and company kept Chuck, Sean. Shawn, Mark and Johnny. Mike Sanders and Reno were sent to Heartland Wrestling Associate (HWA) which was the WWF’s developmental territory at the time. The Thrillers were broken up without really getting a chance for the Invasion. This was the first big mistake of the WWF.
In the months that followed… Palumbo and O’Haire had the Tag Team titles, but eventually lost them after the Invasion PPV. Johnny was made a member of the Full-Blooded Italians, aka the FBI. Mark almost became a member of Evolution, but the role went to on Dave Bautista. Shawn Stasiak would get dumped on repeatedly with bad gimmicks. Mike and Reno were eventually released from HWA.
What happened to these men was un-explainable. Here was solid stable that had wrestling fans buzzing, less than a year before the WWF purchased WCW. And in the blink of an eye, they suddenly weren’t good enough for the WWF?
A lot of misfortune was caused, because of simple mistakes that the WWF over-magnified. What might have been the future of wrestling, quickly became another sad statistic.
From my point-of-view as a fan, this group of young men were a little green in WCW, but the WWF magnified there flaws by making them into whipping boys. Stasiak took the brunt of the abuse from creative, and it was barely watchable, because of how bad they made him look. This is not how a second-generation wrestler should be treated, but the WWF and Vince happily got away with it.
Chuck Palumbo was thrown into a weird storyline with Billy Gunn, and the pair were about to get married before being attacked by Three Minute Warning.
O’Haire would be re-packaged as the ‘Devil’s Advocate’, but fell out of favor in the WWF. Shawn was dubbed Planet Stasiak which was just as insulting as him having to crash and burn at every turn during the Alliance angle.
This was a blatant misuse of talent. Some Thrillers ended up retiring before the prime of their careers. Sean O’Haire passed away too young after dealing with his inner demons. Stasiak retired, and became a chiropractor and motivational speaker. Chuck had a decent run in the WWE and indies. Mark would become a big star CMLL under the name Marco Corleone. Mike Sanders would conquer stand-up comedy and do motivational speaking.
What could have been, and should have been, is disheartening. The Natural Born Thrillers – if used properly – might have gotten over with WWF fans, considering how as big they were in WCW. Instead, we get to turn on the WWE Network and wonder what if. Talk about some of the most misused and wasted talents of all time… This is the group that hits the mark.
Until next week, keep reaching for the stars.
Mark Mahler is a freelance writer and the former Editor-in-Chief of Absolute Wrestling. Follow him on Twitter @MGoose37
In Memory of Sean O’Haire [Feb 25, 1971 – Sept 8, 2014]