In the professional wrestling history books, fans and historians alike will undoubtedly remember names like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock.
But in that group of wrestling titans belongs a trailblazing, hard-working wrestler from the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
His name is Shane Douglas.
Known to wrestling fans as “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, he has proven to be a defiant warrior in the sometimes seedy world of professional wrestling.
Douglas was born in New Brighton, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, one of six children. His father was a World War II veteran.
His love of the sport of wrestling developed at an early age in Pittsburgh, which was home to the legendary Bruno Sammartino.
“Bruno was a huge part of that,” Shane said. “Long before the Penguins started doing well, I used to say we have the Pirates, Steelers and Bruno Sammartino.”
Douglas wrestled in clubs in Warren, Ohio a kid and then when he went into eighth grade he started wrestling in a backyard ring.
Then eventually after raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a door to wrestling opened further for Douglas after discovering that a local Pittsburgh wrestling legend, Dominic DeNucci was just seven miles away from him.
“At first, I never wanted to become a wrestler,” he said. “I wanted to stay in shape and that’s how I started training with Dominic. He’s become a great friend.”
DeNucci never charged Douglas for training but would task Douglas with chores in the gym and opening and closing the facility. Among his responsibilities was welcoming another wrestling hopeful from upstate New York obscurely named “Mikey.”
“I pulled into the gym really early in the morning, in the dead of winter,” Shane said. “I saw parked car in the lot still running and walked up to it. I looked in the window and I couldn’t see anything but a big mass of something is in this car.”
“I knocked on the window and saw movement. Mikey was bundled up in a sleeping bag in his car.”
Mikey is also a well-known wrestler by the name of Mick Foley.
“And that was the first time I met Mick Foley.”
Before he pursued a wrestling career and training with DeNucci, the globetrotting legend had an ultimatum for the apprentice Douglas.
“He said he would rain me if I went to college,” he said. “I knew I was already going to school because no one in my family had ever been to college. My mom and dad talked with DeNucci about wrestling. And that was so outside of my dad’s paradigm. They were really concerned about me getting smitten with wrestling and it distracting me from my studies.”
“I trained my freshman year with Dominic and had a few matches but being a wrestler wasn’t the plan. To me, it was an impossible dream.”
Douglas graduated cum laude from Bethany College in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science.
“When I graduated we were in the middle of a recession and no jobs were immediately available,” Douglas recounted. “I amassed close to $77,000 in student debt.”
That’s why he got a call from promoter Bill Watts who wanted Douglas to come down to Texas to work.
“I though ok, I’ll do this for a few months and when the economy picks up and I’ll go back to my original plan which was to work in government,” he said. “And here I am, 30 years later, still wrestling.”
Douglas, born Troy Martin, begin in the Universal Wrestling Federation as a fan favorite.
He was then propositioned by wrestling legend “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert about taking on a stage name instead of his real name.
“I didn’t know what the difference was butyl Gilbert explained that fans can ring my hotel room, ask for Troy Martin and get through,” he said with a laugh. “I decided a stage name was the way to go.”
Gilbert threw out “Shane” and “Cody” as potential nom-de-guerres and Shane was eventually chosen.
Now, for the last name.
“We tried everything. Shane Martin. Troy Shane. Missi Hyatt (Gilbert’s then wife) had left the room to make lemonade. She came around the corner after about an hour or two of us kicking around names and brought up the name ‘Shane Douglas.’”
“I though it flowed off the tongue and that was how I got the name Shane Douglas”
Eventually, Douglas moved on to World Championship Wrestling where he entered a fan favorite tag team with John Laurinaitis (known as Johnny Ace). The team was called the Dynamic Dudes, a pair of skateboarding blondes.
The gimmick failed to go anywhere and eventually the team disbanded.
“When they put us together they told us we looked like the Midnight Express,” Shane said. “They expected us to be the same thing. We worked with the actual Midnight Express, Doom and so many more legends. We shared a locker room with so many legends. Guys like Ricky Steamboat, Rick Flair and Dick Murdoch. “
After leaving WCW, he joined the World Wrestling Federation, now WWE, briefly and then returned to WCW where he would tag with Steamboat.
The duo had a lengthy rivalry with the Hollywood Blondes, a pair comprised of Brian Pillman and WWE Hall-of-Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
However an incident occurred that led to Shane’s departure from WCW.
“I injured my shoulder in a match with Pillman and Austin,” he said. “I needed a few weeks to recover. I was in the grocery store one night at midnight and I kept running into this guy. Every time I passed him he looked like he’d seen a ghost.”
“He eventually said ‘Are you Shane Douglas?”
Douglas said Yes.
“Well, how is that possible? I just saw you get beat on a WCW pay-per-view.”
Douglas explained that WCW had replaced Douglas as Steamboat’s tag team partner.
“Ricky Steamboat and someone who was supposedly me were masked and lost,” Shane said. “That really left a bad taste in my mouth. The fact that they would go out of their way to make me look bad really upset me. I left wrestling after that.”
Enter Eddie Gilbert again.
“He called me about six or seven times about coming in to work for a new promotion called Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) and I wasn’t interested,” he said. “I told Eddie I was done with wrestling. He offered me a position as the company’s top heel. I had blonde hair and blue eyes. Those type of characters weren’t bad guys. The offer intrigued me, and I reluctantly agreed.”
Within the first month, Gilbert left the company and subsequently the promotions booker, Paul Heyman, approached Douglas about a new moniker for his character.
“The NFL had just began handing out “franchise tags” to players,” he said. “Paul came to me about “The Franchise” character and I thought it fit perfectly. I had a character I could focus on and hone and perfect.”
“The Franchise” character was instrumental in getting the fledgling ECW off the ground and gaining popularity.
Since its founding, ECW had been a member of the NWA or National Wrestling Alliance.
Douglas along with Heyman sent the promotion to new heights on August 27, 1994 when “The Franchise” defeated The Tazmaniac (Taz), Dean Malenko and 2 Cold Scorpio to become the new Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion.
Prior to that, Heyman devised a cunning plan. One that is still controversial to this day.
Upon winning the title, Douglas was to throw down the NWA title belt and state that he did not want to be champion of a “dead promotion”. Douglas would raise the ECW Heavyweight Championship belt and declare it to be a world championship belt, renaming it the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.”
“I was never a big fan of “Sports Entertainment,” said Douglas. “I went back and forth on the plan and I didn’t want to go out there and be overtly disrespectfully of the NWA.”
Douglas only decided to throw down the NWA belt after NWA president Dennis Coralluzzo made disparaging comments about Douglas on wrestling commentator Mike Tenay’s radio show.
“I had never even said a word to the guy, so he didn’t know me from Adam,” he said. “Dennis went on that show and said that I would take money and no-show. I have never done that. I was taught differently.”
Corralluzzo would hassle Douglas about signing an NWA contract.
“He followed me around the arena even in the men’s room,” Douglas said. “I had to tell Paul to get the guy away from me.”
Douglas won the world title tournament by beating great wrestlers in Taz, Malenko and Scorpio, despite the building being “114 degrees inside.”
“After the match I was exhausted, but I had to do that promo afterwards,” he said. “It ended up sounding so organic and we took a big chance by declaring the title the ECW Title. If it hadn’t worked, my career was over.”
ECW transitioned to Extreme Championship Wrestling three days later.
Douglas praised the ECW locker room for being a tight-knit group.
“I’ve been around a lot of dressing room, but if I had my choice, I’d take that early ECW dressing room,” Douglas explained. “We had an incredible gifted room. To be the mouthpiece for that was easy to brag about that because it was legitimate. Guys like Taz, Raven and Sabu were legitimate. It fit like a glove.”
Douglas left ECW for the first time in 1995 for the WWF, which he called “the worst move of his career.”
“I had been courted heavily by the WWF,” he said. “Back then, they would sign guys just to prevent them from going elsewhere. They really didn’t care about me.”
WWF legendary commentator, Jim Ross, was frequently contacting Douglas about jumping to the WWF, promising an opportunity.
“They flew me up there six times to talk,” he said. “Something didn’t feel right. I should’ve listened to my instincts.”
On the fifth meeting with Vince McMahon, Douglas received first-class treatment including a personal tour of the WWE headquarters.
Douglas’ ex-wife accompanied Shane on the trip and explained to McMahon that Douglas was concerned about the utilization of his talents.
“He gave us his word that he would make me a wealthy man,” he said. “I was in after that. He was going to use me as his lead heel. Their lavishness made me drop my guard.”
Douglas received Broadway tickets, first class accommodations and chocolate-covered strawberries among other things. Needless to say, things would not work out for Shane Douglas in the WWF.
“Worst move of my career,” he said. “In four-months work, I’d made a grand total of $7,800.”
Instead of “The Franchise” character, he was given the “Dean Douglas” character, a college dean who take notes on his opponents and grade them. He would usually present a “Report Card” in which he would degrade the performances of heroic wrestlers after their matches.
Douglas’ and McMahon’s vision of the character clashed and culminated in a disagreement where Douglas presented a different style of the character to which everyone in the room agreed was better than McMahon’s version.
McMahon returned after a brief absence during Douglas’ promo.
“He said I think I like my version better,” he said. “And when he asked everyone else what they thought, those people who said that my way was better, agreed with Vince.”
“I knew I had to get out of there as soon as possible.”
His very last day working in WWF was at Madison Square Garden where he was diagnosed with a severe muscle spasm in his back that if agitated could have paralyzed him. Despite doctors telling Vince it was a legitimate injury, Vince became angry at the news and tried to intimidate Shane into denying it and was explicitly told by Vince to leave the company. Vince however made him go out that evening and deliver a promo, in which he announced his injury.
“I cut that promo, came to the back, got my bags and left,” he said.
Douglas’ career lasted another decade plus with stops in ECW, WCW and TNA before returning to the independent circuit.
A hockey fan, Douglas is looking forward to returning to Johnstown where he wrestled numerous times.
“I’m so excited to come back,” he said. “Johnstown was a key stop for ECW, WCW and WWE. I’ve wrestled in Johnstown maybe 10 or 15 times at least. They have great wrestling fans.”
As a matter of fact, Johnstown had an influence on a famous ECW gimmick, the Dudley Boys.
“The Hanson Brothers with their glasses helped create the Dudley Boys,” he said. “We were in a show here in Johnstown and Paul must have seen photos of the Hanson’s and that’s where the Dudley Boys were created.”
Reflecting on a fruitful career, Douglas credits DeNucci for getting him started.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better trainer,” he said. “He trained us as wrestlers the exact same way. He taught us everything we needed to know in and outside the ring.”