Lazarus (The Rise Of The WWF)

Lazarus: The Resurrection of the WWF 1996-98

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that

believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever

liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26

” You sit there and you thump your bible, and you say your prayers, and

it didn’t get you anywhere! Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16

… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass! … Steve Austin’s time

has come! And when I get the shot you’re lookin’ at the next WWF

champion, and that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so!”

– Steve Austin, King of the Ring 96.

Introduction

It wasn’t supposed to be him, according to most reliable sources on the

matter.

Steve Austin, savior of the WWF and initiator of the current wave of

popularity that the WWF (and to a lesser extent, WCW), was never

supposed to be anything more than a competent midcarder with a bad

haircut. And the WWF, home of the stupid gimmick and bloated steroid

freak as the rule of the day, certainly seemed like the least likely

outlet for his unique style and personality. And yet, in March of 1998,

with his first ascension to WWF champion as he was watched by one of the

largest audiences in PPV history, there was little denying that “Stone

Cold” Steve Austin had irreversably changed wrestling, maybe for the

better, maybe for the worst. Vince McMahon, however, didn’t care which

it was at that moment, because where once he was struggling to find a

champion to carry his promotion through the hardest period in it’s

reasonably long history, he was now struggling for the solution to an

even harder problem, but one he would gladly take.

Where would he spend all the money?

But of course, it wasn’t always wine and roses in the world of the WWF.

As we saw in the first part to this little series, the King Lear Rant,

the WWF was nearly driven into the ground from 1994-96 by bad

decision-making, bad timing, and trusting the wrong people. In fact,

rival WCW secured what seemed like an insurmountable ratings lead with

it’s Nitro program by running with the ultra-hot New World Order angle

for the better part of two years, leaving the WWF with little choice but

to completely reinvent the entire promotion…again.

Part One: The REAL New WWF Generation.

The first step for the WWF was to clear out all the deadwood that had

accumulated in the mid-to-uppercard ranks over the years, and the

housecleaning became very extensive, very quickly. Diesel, Razor Ramon,

Ted Dibiase, The 1-2-3 Kid, Jeff Jarrett, Mabel, Tatanka, Lex

Luger…all gone. Some choices were better than others, but the old

formula was obviously not working so the people associated with the “New

Generation” were given their ticket to Turner-land or the independent

circuit, as the case may be.

The next step was to sign a new crop of talent and start fresh. And so

from late 1995 until mid 1996, a rather huge group of fresh talent was

brought in to start over with: Vader, Mankind, Marc Mero, Faarooq,

Brian Pillman, Goldust, Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, Rocky Maivia and the

quaintly named Ringmaster all made their debuts in 1996. Of the bunch,

Vader was the only one expected to make any kind of significant impact

in the near future.

The period from Royal Rumble 96 until Summerslam 96 was what baseball

teams call the “rebuilding phase” – the stars from the New Generation

were phased out, and the next crop of stars was phased in.

Fans didn’t buy into it. Buyrates tanked. Wrestlemania XII, featuring

the long-awaited Shawn Michaels WWF title win, did a disappointing

buyrate given the buildup, thanks largely to the poor handling of Bret

Hart’s third title reign prior to the event. Bret was made to look like

a weak champion, needing interference from the Undertaker to save his

title against Diesel, while Shawn was given the monster babyface push,

getting clean wins over the opposition. The eventual Michaels win in

the main event of Wrestlemania was anti-climactic at best, although an

excellent match.

Vince had enough confidence to put the title on Shawn, thinking that he

would make a good enough champion while he rebuilt the WWF and found the

next Hulk Hogan, but no one could have foreseen the impossible outcome

of WCW’s “Outsiders” experiment on the other channel. For you see, for

the first time in WCW’s short, nasty and brutish history, they managed

to run a successful, money-drawing angle without screwing it up. When

Hulk Hogan emerged as the mysterious third man at Bash at the Beach 96,

the nail was pounded into the WWF’s coffin and suddenly Vince was left

with a small babyface holding his #1 title and a crop of relative

unknowns to build up as viable contenders for that title. In short, he

didn’t have a hope in hell.

“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb

four days.” – John 11:17

Oddly enough, fate played it’s hand and changed the course of the WWF in

a way that no one could have foreseen.

Because in May of 1996, the Clique engaged in one last group hug in the

middle of the ring in Madison Square Garden, in order to thumb their

collective nose at Vince McMahon and the WWF braintrust. Kevin Nash and

Scott Hall left for WCW soon after, and were thus unpunished for the

heinous breach of kayfabe. Shawn Michaels was the WWF champion, and

thus untouchable. That left the only available fall guy for the

incident: Hunter Hearst Helmsley.

Now, HHH was scheduled to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, and

would soon after get the Intercontinental title and possibly a big push.

But in order to make a point about wrestlers knowing their place and

doing their jobs properly, HHH was removed from the pay-per-view

entirely and replaced with a mid-carder of comparable stature: Stone

Cold Steve Austin.

Austin had been saddled with a bad gimmick in the Ringmaster, and a

manager to compensate for what the WWF felt was his lack of mic skills.

Since Ted Dibiase’s heat was mainly residual from the years when he

could actually be an effective heel in the ring, the result was

less-than-inspiring. In fact, Dibiase’s “Corporation” gimmick generally

resulted in slow and painful death for the heat of anyone involved with

it. The fact that WWF management failed to grasp that concept speaks

volumes of the problems which caused their downfall in the first place.

So Austin, in character and doing a partial shoot gimmick, took matters

into his own hands, cutting a promo after losing a match to Savio Vega

(where Dibiase had to leave the WWF because of the loss) insinuating

that he intentionally lost the match in order to rid himself of

Dibiase’s mismanagement. And thus was Stone Cold Steve Austin born.

The defining moment for the character came at King of the Ring 96, as he

defeated Jake Roberts in the finals to win the tournament, then

delivered his classic Austin 3:16 interview, winning over the entire

arena in the process. Suddenly the WWF had a very effective heel on

their hands. So they did the logical thing and had him issue a

challenge to one of their top babyfaces: Bret Hart.

Then something very weird happened.

Part Two: War is Heck.

“So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said,

“What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go

on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and

destroy both our holy place and our nation.” – John 11:47-48

Austin began building a reputation as a rattlesnake, a heartless beast

who would turn on anyone and had no friends. He forged an alliance with

best friend Brian Pillman against Bret Hart, then turned on him and

shattered his ankle, using a chair, in a move that has found a place in

wrestling terminology as “Pillmanizing” someone. Soon after, one of the

most controversial moments in the history of the Monday Night Wars

occurred, as Austin made a road trip to Pillman’s house, live on

national TV of course, threatening bodily harm the whole way. Once he

broke into the house, Pillman responded by pulling a loaded weapon on

Austin, with the camera cutting out as shots were fired.

The USA network wasn’t terribly impressed, especially since the show had

recently been moved to an earlier, more “family friendly” start time.

Meanwhile, Bret Hart, at home contemplating his future with the WWF and

wrestling in general, wasn’t around to respond to the constant threats

and challenges of Steve Austin, and after weeks and months of only

getting Austin’s side of the story, the fans began to see things his

way.

Finally, in a dramatic moment, Bret Hart returned to WWF TV in October

of 1996 and announced his signing with them for a long time to come,

and, by the way, he would accept Steve Austin’s challenge for a match at

Survivor Series 1996. That match proved to be the pivotal moment that

made the career of Steve Austin and forever destroyed the career of Bret

Hart.

The match itself was an instant classic, a superb technical exhibition

that saw Bret Hart go over cleanly after reversing a sleeper, after more

than 30 minutes of action. It should have signalled a renaissance for

Bret Hart and the end of the Steve Austin menace – but it didn’t. The

jaded New York fans in attendance now started cheering for the vicious

heel Austin and booing the virtuous babyface Hart, and Bret Hart had no

idea how to deal with that situation.

It got worse in the early part of 1997 for Bret, as Austin came into the

Royal Rumble early and plowed through the competition, getting bigger

babyface pops as the match wore on, and eliminated Bret Hart (after

chicanery on his part) to win the match. Bret Hart started whining

about “being screwed” on the RAW following and actually quit the WWF. A

“Final Four” match was set for the next PPV, with the winner getting the

vacant WWF title. The reason for the vacancy will be covered later.

Bret Hart won the match and the title, only to lose it to Sid the next

night…but that wasn’t the scheduled plan – it was supposed to be

Austin eliminating Bret to win the belt and losing it to Sid. An injury

to Austin’s knee changed the booking, and indeed the next night on RAW,

Austin smashed a well-timed chair into Bret’s head, giving Sycho Sid the

WWF title.

Now the feud was getting downright personal. As the WWF was building to

an Undertaker-Sid main event for Wrestlemania 13, the real heat was

between Hart and Austin, as they engaged in an increasingly bitter and

nasty series of interviews and sneak attacks on each other, leading up

to a submission match at the biggest card of the year. And this was

supposed to be the match that would end the Austin threat, once and for

all. But Vince noticed the increasing babyface pops that Austin was

getting, and decided to try a little experiment. On the RAW before

Wrestlemania, Bret Hart challenged Sid for the WWF title in a cage

match, and was prevented from winning by the Undertaker. After the

loss, he snapped and attacked Vince McMahon, engaging in a

profanity-laced interview about the perceived injustices against him and

how scum like Austin was getting better treatment from the fans. The

fans didn’t care – they branded Hart a whiner, a label which has stuck

with him to this day.

The final breakdown of the Hitman character came in the match against

Austin, as they engaged in another brutal classic, with Austin literally

being so severely beaten that his blood was spilled all over the ring

and he passed out while in the climactic Sharpshooter. Bret, former

hero to millions, had become the very thing he hated the most – a

conniving, cheating, vicious heel with no regard for his opponent.

Austin left the ring to the cheers of the crowd, who were now chanting

his name and willing to follow him to the ends of the earth. A new hero

had been born on that night, and if you could meet with Vince McMahon

following the event, you could probably see the dollar signs in his

eyes, like a cartoon character.

Bret’s character was sacrificed for the good of building Austin, and the

fall from grace was swift and ugly. Following what he thought was the

end of the Austin feud, Bret was presented with being in the unenviable

position of now fighting the Austin juggernaut from the heel side. So

he reinvented himself, becoming an anti-American protester and

reassembling the famed Hart Foundation with his family members and

former Austin victim Brian Pillman. He became a greater Canadian hero

in the process, but a vilified heel in America, and the heat was

enormous. Austin and Hart battled on RAW almost every week, in almost

every possible situation, with both men getting their share of shots on

the other. In one memorable episode, Hart was viciously attacked by

Austin during a street fight, and when an ambulance came to pick him up,

Austin hijacked it and continued the assualt.

Austin’s heat continued to grow, as he received his first PPV title shot

at the Undertaker in May of 1997, and lost thanks to Hart Foundation

interference. The feud raged on, with Austin winning the

Intercontinental title from Owen Hart at Summerslam 97, but a mistimed

piledriver from Owen broke Austin’s neck, and the fear of Austin’s

career being over was very prevalent and very real. Meanwhile, Bret

rode the wave of his new heat to his fifth WWF title on that same show,

despite his fears of the newly resurgant Shawn Michaels costing him his

heat. Bret, the character and person, were becoming increasingly

paranoid that forces in the WWF were aligning to change wrestling again,

and he would be left behind when the next big change came.

He was, of course, completely correct. And no one could have foreseen

the shocking end to Bret’s WWF career, and the dawning of the next great

golden age of the WWF and wrestling in general: The Attitude era.

But let’s set things up, first, shall we?

Part Three: Lost: One Smile. If Found, Contact S. Michaels…

While the more pressing problems of how to stop the financial bleeding

of his company and what to do to counteract WCW’s ratings dominance

where beyond his reach as 1996 drew to a close, Vince McMahon could

directly control one factor: Monday Night RAW.

For the first three years of it’s existance, RAW was taped four shows at

a time in one-hour blocks, which tended to get stale after the second

week. WCW knew this and played it perfectly, throwing out a live show

every week and loudly advertising that it was live in order to show up

the WWF. By the end of 1996, RAW was losing viewers so rapidly that

their audience had eroded to ratings of 2.0 for an average show, while

Nitro was up to 3.5. Nitro’s 2 hour show didn’t help matters, either.

So Vince went to the USA network and asked for help, and he got it, to

the shock of many. USA authorized a 2 hour time slot for WWF RAW, and

agreed to finance 50% of the costs of going live every week.

The show was dramatically retooled, beginning with a 2 hour live show on

a Thursday called “Thursday RAW Thursday”, which was subtitled “Titan

Strikes Back” by those backstage and in the know. It didn’t make much of

a dent in the ratings, but the message was loud and clear: We are still

here and we are still fighting.

Shawn Michaels was another story altogether, however. Faced with the

mounting evidence that Shawn’s first title reign wasn’t working out to

the WWF’s satisfaction, Sid was given the title at Survivor Series 96

(the title was actually Vader’s for the taking, but an ankle injury

prevented him from being put in that slot and Sid got the nod instead)

and proceeded to tank the ratings and revenues even further. The title

was put back on Shawn to stop the bleeding at Royal Rumble 97, but

backstage politics started interjecting themselves at the worst time.

Faced with his best friends making millions and getting major airtime on

the competition’s TV show, and not wanting to lose the title he loved so

much back to Bret Hart (in return for the job Hart did at the previous

Wrestlemania), Shawn concocted a story about a knee injury and an

addiction to painkillers, and forfeited the WWF title on Thursday RAW

Thursday, giving the famous “Losing My Smile” speech in the process. He

took a few months off, during which time he was almost totally written

out of the storylines, which caused him to reconsider and return shortly

thereafter, his knee injury miraculously healed.

The fans were not so quick to welcome him back, however. The

increasingly “smart” fans who were now following the WWF had heard of

the debacle behind the forfeit in February, and also had heard about a

backstage fight between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, and branded

Michaels a whiner because of it. So when he made his return in the

summer of 97 after briefly coming back weeks earlier to win the WWF tag

titles with Steve Austin, the boos were evident. And the logical

extension was a heel turn, so in September of 1997, Shawn was teamed up

with fellow Clique member HHH, and they conspired to attack the

Undertaker during a tag match. An alliance was formed, and soon

D-Generation X was born, with Michaels and Helmsley becoming increasinly

obnoxious and hated by the fans as the weeks went on. Michaels and

Undertaker engaged in two show-stealing matches at the September and

October PPVs, the latter of which was the infamous Hell in a Cell match,

which won nearly unanimous praise as the Match of the Year for 1997.

Michaels was suddenly the #1 contender to the WWF title again and the

most hated heel in the WWF, and maybe in recent history. To use a

cliché, the town wasn’t big enough for both Bret and Shawn, and

something had to give.

INTERLUDE.

Backtracking a little bit, the newly named “RAW is WAR” set made it’s

debut on March 10, 1997, featuring a very dark set and the Titantron, it

had a grim theme and was something very different than the cartoonish

RAW sets of old. The effect was not immediately noticeable in the

ratings, but the stage was now set for bigger things. The ratings

stablized now with the live, 2 hour show, and actually began to increase

slowly as fans got into the long-running Austin v. Hart storyline. In

fact, the WWF seemed to be throwing a lot of storylines out at that

point: Ahmed Johnson’s fight against the Nation of Domination and the

Gang Wars which resulted, Marc Mero’s bitter split from manager/valet

Sable, Paul Bearer and his mysterious ramblings about Undertaker having

a younger brother who was still alive…all of these things slowly

started to take center stage, distracting attention further away from

the increasingly watered-down product being shown on Monday nights. It

was this situation that annoyed Bret Hart so much, and despite the

urgings of Vince’s son Shane and newly appointed head writer Vince

Russo, Bret Hart used his backstage clout to oppose the

storyline-oriented, “extreme” direction that the WWF was trying to take.

By the end of 1997, it was becoming a serious impedient to the WWF going

where Vince wanted it to go, and indeed where the increasingly

vocificerous group of fans wanted it to go.

So he did something about it. And nothing would ever be the same as a

result.

Part Four: The King is Screwed, Long Live the King.

By the end of 1997, a seemingly innocuous ad began running, featuring

WWF stars giving solemn lines about their athletic past and daring

nay-sayers to step into their boots. It ended with a single word:

“Attitude”, which would come to be the slogan by which the WWF lived.

The ratings battle was now, to quote Eric Bischoff, “boring”. WCW won

so easily that checking the ratings on Tuesday morning was hardly worth

anyone’s time. The WWF, faced with the possible long-term absense of

Steve Austin and no established draw to run with the World title, seemed

to be on the verge of total financial collapse, even as they were

hitting their creative peak. To use a baseball analogy, it was the

bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes, and Vince McMahon was about

to take a mighty home run swing at the pitch offered to him and hope he

made contact. If he struck out, if Shane McMahon was wrong, and a

total shift to the ubiquitous “sports entertainment” focus was NOT the

way to solve their problems, then the WWF would indeed be dead and no

one could resurrect them this time.

And so, with the empire crumbling, Vince took the biggest chance of his

life and basically released Bret Hart from his contract and allowed him

to negotiate with WCW, and that’s when the shit hit the fan for all

involved.

First of all, Bret was still the WWF champion, and Vince feared a repeat

of the Medusa incident from 1995 when she showed up on Nitro and tossed

the Women’s title in a garbage can. Bret swore up and down that he

would never do something like that, but with the levels of paranoia

building up between Hart and McMahon, those promises meant nothing to

Vince.

Second, Bret had only two conditions for his leaving quietly: He would

not lose the title to Shawn Michaels, and he would not lose the title in

Canada. As it happened, his last match in the WWF happened to be a

heavily-hyped match against Michaels in Montreal. Bret agreed to drop

the title to anyone else, from the Undertaker down to the Brooklyn

Brawler, as long as it wasn’t in Canada to Shawn. What was going on in

both men’s minds is known only to them, but as the zero hour for

Survivor Series approached, it was rapidly turning into a Mexican

standoff of epic proportions, as neither man was willing to back down.

The damage control had already started weeks in advance, however,

casting suspicions Vince’s way for many people. Davey Boy Smith, who

had won the first ever European title months before and essentially

carried it around as a trophy for the benefit of his fans in England,

was shockingly booked to lose the title to Michaels on his home turf

during the WWF’s first ever UK PPV, One Night Only. Why would Michaels

need a title that was basically a vanity belt to begin with and a

distant #3 in the pecking order? Many felt that it was to send a

message to Bret, as well as make sure Smith didn’t have a title if worse

came to worse and he jumped ship with Bret. Ditto for Owen Hart, a

perfectly legitimate Intercontinental champion, who was booked to lose

his title to Steve Austin, who although tremendously over was, for all

intents and purposes, a walking cripple at that point.

However, at the last minute, Vince seemed to cave into Bret’s demands,

and agreed to book the main event as a “schmoz”, with various people

running in for a DQ finish, after 15 minutes of brawling to satisfy the

crowd’s need for Michaels to “get his”.

For once, Bret’s paranoia was justified. Friends backstage warned him

of a double-cross, but deep down Bret couldn’t believe Vince would do

that to him after 20 years of service. He was, of course, dead wrong.

In the most famous, debated-about, talked-about, argued-about, analyzed,

re-analyzed and memorable finish of the modern era, Shawn Michaels put

Bret Hart in his own Sharpshooter after a ref bump, and Vince McMahon,

taking a rare seat at ringside, ordered the timekeeper to ring the bell,

thus screwing Bret over in spectacular fashion and shocking the world.

Bret becomes irrelevant to the story at this point, so we’ll move on to

the fallout for the WWF.

The next night on RAW, morale was in the toilet. Many stars no-showed

in protest of the decision, the Canadian crowd was in a state of shock

all night and didn’t seem to want to believe what had happened, and the

matchups for the next PPV seemed less than exciting. Especially with

Steve Austin getting his first I-C title challenge from…Rocky Maivia?

People were predicting doom for the WWF with the Montreal Incident now

behind them. The ratings told a different story, however, jumping

nearly a full ratings point from the week before. That was declared a

fluke by naysayers, but the ratings remained up, to the shock of many.

The conclusion was obvious: When Bret Hart was the center of attention

for 1997, people watched Nitro. But now that it was clearly the Steve

Austin and D-X show, new fans, curious about the Bret Hart incident and

hooked by the storylines, kept watching.

There was, however, one last ingredient missing: A really good villain

to oppose Steve Austin. However, fate interceded with the Hart incident

and took care of that one, too…

Part Five: That’s MISTER McMahon To You…

Long criticized for his ridiculously bad announcing skills, Vince

McMahon began taking a step back from the on-camera aspect of his

product in 1997, slowly letting the audience know that he was actually

the man in charge of things in the WWF as the owner.

Meanwhile, Steve Austin, coming off his injury at Summerslam, stepped up

his opposition to authority figures a notch, stunning Jim Ross at Ground

Zero in September, then Commisioner Slaughter, then Jerry Lawler, plus

assorted referees and officials. By the time the WWF hit Madison Square

Garden for the heavily hyped RAW from there, it was obvious that only

one target remained, and he was the biggest of them all.

The setup was innocuous enough, but no one suspected where it would

lead. Austin, working with an injury, was a liability to himself and

the WWF, so Vince (still a neutral character at this point) offered him

a choice: Sign a waiver absolving the WWF of all responsibility, or

find work elsewhere. Austin signed the waiver, then stunned McMahon for

the first time.

Following the Survivor Series, Vince gave his famous “Bret Screwed Bret”

speech, following his even more famous “Get it?” speech, where he

essentially denied that the WWF was even wrestling anymore, instead

getting behind the more vague “sports entertainment”, comparing the WWF

to soap operas like Melrose Place. Hardcore WWF fans were not buying

this line, however, and began openly booing McMahon, something that

longtime fans had been ready to do for years, given all McMahon did to

change the sport. Ever the businessman, Vince began adopting a more

heelish persona to go with this new image, and the heat increased.

And so, the night after the financially disastrous D-Generation X PPV,

where Steve Austin successfully defended against Rocky Maivia, Vince

ordered Austin to defend against Maivia again. The “smart” perspective

was that Maivia was “Vince’s boy” and Austin was the rebellious

loudmouth who Vince didn’t want as champion. Hey, sound familiar? At

any rate, Austin refused and Maivia was awarded the Intercontinental

title, and Austin beat Vince up, again.

Clearly, stronger measures would be needed to deal with Austin, thought

Vince, who was now asking to be referred to as “Mister McMahon”.

Austin won the Royal Rumble for the second year in a row, earning a shot

at WWF champion Shawn Michaels. Mike Tyson attended the show as a

special guest of McMahon. In what was perhaps a karmic fate, Shawn

seriously injured his back in a match with the Undertaker on that card

and was forced into retirement shortly after because of it, thus

becoming unable to reap the windfall of his enemy’s demise.

Then, soon after on RAW, in the moment that would turn the tide for

good, Mike Tyson was to be declared the special referee for the Michaels

v. Austin match at WrestleMania XIV, but Austin rushed the ring and got

in Tyson’s face, thus pissing off Mr. McMahon beyond all reasonable

recourse and earning huge media attention for the upcoming show.

The battle line was now drawn: On one side, Vince McMahon, on the

other, Steve Austin. Shawn Michaels stood in the middle playing them

off each other.

Meanwhile, over in WCW, Eric Bischoff thought that everything was going

great, and it was no big deal if he got rid of the often-injured Syxx,

because WCW was clearly untouchable anyway.

And that’s when it finally happened after 82 long weeks.

“When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come

out.’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and

his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let

him go.'” – John 11:43-44

Part Six: Four Point Six.

Things absolutely steamrolled leading up to and after Wrestlemania,

leaving WCW shellshocked in their wake.

Mike Tyson joined D-X in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania, drawing

more media attention. The show itself, which did the biggest buyrate in

wrestling history to that point, saw Austin finally ascend to the throne

and capture his first World title, retiring Shawn Michaels in the

process. Tyson then double-crossed D-X and cast his lot in with Austin.

The next night on RAW, Sean “Syxx” Waltman came out and joined the newly

retooled D-X, now calling himself X-Pac. Vince McMahon gave Steve

Austin a newly redesigned WWF title belt, and offered him a choice:

Either do things his way (the easy way) or Austin’s way (the hard way).

Austin chose the hard way and stunned McMahon again. The next week,

Austin reconsidered and tried the corporate look, but quickly changed

his mind and beat up McMahon yet again.

Finally, live in Philly, McMahon snapped and challenged Austin to a

match for the title, later in the night. The world watched with

anticipation…although the heel turned Mick Foley broke up the fight

before it could occur.

But the damage had been done, and the when the numbers were released the

next day, you could almost feel the shockwaves in Atlanta: RAW 4.6,

Nitro 4.2. The streak was finally over. It was all uphill from there

for the WWF, and straight down for WCW. Austin v. McMahon was now the

hottest feud in wrestling, and would remain that way for months to come.

“Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if any

one knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might

arrest him. ” – John 11:57

But that’s another rant.

Epilogue:

It seems rather ironic, and somehow rather fitting, that many of the

major names from this entire ugly period are either retired (Shawn

Michaels), semi-retired (Bret Hart and Vince McMahon) or indeed deceased

(Brian Pillman, Owen Hart). No war is without it’s casualties, and the

one between the WWF and WCW is no exception. In this case, the careers

of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, two of the best wrestlers of this

decade, were ultimately sacrificed to turn Steve Austin into the big

thing of the next decade. Was it worth it?

I’m sure Vince would give a resounding “Oh, Hell Yeah!”