Re-Writing The Book: Montreal, Pt. 2


February, WWF

For Vince McMahon, the business of the World Wrestling Federation couldn’t be any bleaker. It has been enough to give him ulcers the likes of which he has never felt. Preliminary buy-rates for the Royal Rumble aren’t bad–it is one of the big, one of the pay-per-views that always draws in extra people–but they certainly aren’t anywhere as good as they should be. And, in comparison to the buy-rates he hears Souled Out gets (a pay-per-view with a history of all of a year, and a bad year at that), he is even more perturbed; Souled Out doesn’t beat the Rumble, but comes damned close, closer than it should.

On top of that, letters and emails of complaint have deluged the Stamford, Connecticut headquarters, ranging from complaints about how Austin was screwed to hatred for the ECW invasion angle. The internet, home to the rabid ECW mutants and the snobbish idiot “journalists” like Dave Meltzer and Bob Ryder, are calling out Vince’s business arrangement with ECW, saying it isn’t for cross-promotion purposes (ECW’s next pay-per-view isn’t for another month), but the act of a desperate man trying anything he can to gain some kind of foothold on the competition.

And ratings for the Raw the night after (and ensuing Raws thereafter) are not just horrible, but downright embarrassing; the night after Royal Rumble sets the record for the lowest rating Raw has ever seen since its debut. The only bright spot is that, after that, ratings climb up a little, probably solely on word of mouth from diehard fans about what’s to come at No Way Out Of Texas (the “Of Texas” added at the last minute when some eagle-eyed junior writer noticed the initials of the PPV spelled out the name of WCW’s centerpiece heel stable).

Of course, behind the scenes, the pay-per-view is a mess, with Ahmed Johnson out on injury, and Shawn Michaels leaving the company. Those problems have resulted in the need to push many people who, up to now, were mired in the midcard. In a move of desperation, Terry Funk is brought in solely on name recognition and status as a long-term top tier player … ignoring the fact that the man is in his fifties, something the WWF had made fun of WCW for in years past.

Nevertheless, Vince plunges ahead and does his best to make No Way Out Of Texas the best he can under the circumstances, this time, with a minimum of the trickery and deceit that cost him so big at the last pay-per-view. The build-up is the best he can accomplish with the resources he has … the crowd is having a hard time buying Jeff Jarrett as main event caliber, let alone pushing Chainz, or anyone else. But right now, he has to take these risks, let his federation come to a standstill.

Terry Funk is brought in during a segment on Raw that sees Bradshaw being beaten down by ECW’s Dudley Boys, clearing the ring of the invaders. Funk challenges them to a tornado tag match fought under ECW rules (no count-outs, no DQs) for the pay-per-view. It is historical in its cross-promotional nature, but for Vince, it is also another calculated move: Funk is a former ECW Champion, and having him square off against ECW invaders seems to lend an air of credence to the dying-on-the-vine angle. And, in the second of two cross-promotional matches (albeit barely), a six-man tag is built around Lawler and his ECW traitors Sabu and Rob Van Dam, taking on ECW stalwart heroes Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman and Taz, also fought with ECW rules.

Beyond the furthering of the ECW angle, Vince works at pushing new talent as hard as he can to replace the vacancies left by others. Jarrett is pushed the hardest, for he needs the most work; he’s never been close to this level of the card before, and it takes the fans up until the pay-per-view itself before they can believe that he even stands a chance against Steve Austin, thanks to dirty victories and a series of Pearl Harbor-attacks with Jarrett’s guitar. Likewise, Chainz is pushed as best they can, but his heat isn’t as fast to catch on as Jarrett’s, and trying to get over the other two members of the D.O.A. by association gets little more than crickets chirping in the stands. Nevertheless, they are booked for a three-way Tag Title match with the Outlaws and Faarooq and D’Lo Brown of the Nation.

Also buffering Vince’s spirits is the rumor that World Championship Wrestling is close to firing Sean Waltman. While Waltman had been a pain in the ass the first time around, the publicity gained from hiring away a member of the New World Order is too good to pass up, and he sends out feelers to Waltman immediately. The feedback is good, and Vince’s spirits are up …

… until Shawn Michaels’ lawyer serve the World Wrestling Federation and Vince McMahon with a lawsuit, claiming the WWF broke their contract with Michaels, namely violating his creative control by forcing him to put over Owen Hart. The lawsuit asks for several million dollars in damages, but an offer is floated to Vince for quick resolution: release Shawn Michaels from his contract, and the lawsuit will be pulled. Either way, Vince knows he is on the losing end: if he tries to fight, he will spend millions defending himself, and he’ll stand to lose even more money if he loses the lawsuit (money he doesn’t have). But if he cancels the contract, Vince knows what happens next: Shawn runs down to Atlanta and joins WCW. Unfortunately, releasing Shawn from his contract is the only option that lets Vince get out of the situation without costing him any money, and, reluctantly, Vince agrees to do just that, days before No Way Out Of Texas.

The pay-per-view is, in comparison to the Rumble, a modest success, at least in terms of getting the federation back on track with cohesive storylines. The live gate is not nearly as strong as Vince hoped, but considering the disaster they are coming off of, it’s a wonder anyone shows up at all.

Chainz fails in his bid to unseat The Rock as the Intercontinental Champion, and is beat cleanly for it. Chainz’s lukewarm reception by the crowd is telltale that they just aren’t buying him at this level all of a sudden … which, coincidentally, fits in with Vince’s plans for WrestleMania just fine.

Also on the card, Owen gets a disqualification victory over Triple H for the European Title, thanks to Chyna and a chair. Commissioner Slaughter saves Owen from a two-on-one beating, and gets a measure of revenge on Chyna by putting her in the Sharpshooter until referees pull him off. The crowd loves the mean streak in Owen, and of course, loves seeing Chyna get her just desserts.

The New Age Outlaws also retain their Tag Titles in a three-way dance with Faarooq & Mark Henry of the Nation and Skull & 8-Ball of the D.O.A, thanks to a pulling of the tights on Skull by the Road Dogg. The match, by and large, is a boring slugfest that is called a “cigarette or snack break for fans” by the internet journalists. However, it is the actions of the Outlaws afterwards that grabs them some attention; after running to the back, the Outlaws steal the D.O.A.’s motorcycles. When the D.O.A. try to stop them, Triple H and Chyna ambush them and hogtie them to their own motorcycles; with the D.O.A. detained, the Outlaws drive out of the arena, with Skull & 8-Ball being dragged behind.

The two inter-promotional matches are featured high up on the card, above all but the main event, to the dismay of the angle’s detractors. The 6-man tag with Lawler, Sabu & RVD against The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer and Taz ends with Lawler using a length of cable to strangle Taz into unconsciousness, although the remaining combatants continue their brawl into the stands and out into the concourse. The other match, however, has a surprise for the fans: Terry Funk turns on Bradshaw and joins the Dudleys in beating Bradshaw to a bloody pulp. The crowd boos, but for the first time, it isn’t bad heat–it’s good heat. For Vince, it means hope.

No surprises with Steve Austin and Jeff Jarrett. It’s a short match, ends with a Stunner, and gives the crowd something to be happy about on a pay-per-view where, thus far, the heels have gotten most of the victories. And, like Austin’s match, the World Title match is predictable, with Vader winning a brutal slugfest to retain the WWF Title and go on to meet Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV.

Vince comes off the pay-per-view feeling pretty good; he has set things up nicely for WrestleMania, especially with all the obstacles he’s encountered. He has good feelings for WrestleMania, the most positive he’s felt in a long time.

Meanwhile, in WCW

Eric Bischoff almost feels guilty … the business has become akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Eric can do no wrong lately, and every time Vince tries to do something right, he pays for it.

In only its second year, Souled Out actually beats the WWF’s Royal Rumble in buys. It is not only a major accomplishment for a relatively new pay-per-view, but it’s the first time that WCW has outsold one of the WWF’s “Big Five”.

And, just in time for Superbrawl, Eric gets even more good news. Shawn Michaels has, by way of threat of lawsuit, gotten out of his contract with the WWF. There is still a thirty-day no-compete clause, but that’s easy enough to deal with … Shawn doesn’t fit in his plans yet anyway. But starting negotiations now isn’t bad. It gets the legal nonsense out of the way, so they can concentrate on how to use Shawn (who, from the reports Eric is getting, is very disgruntled with Vince, and wants to bury him) to the best of their abilities.

The push to Superbrawl VIII seems to take a life of its own, almost hurtling towards itself; the crowd goes nuts every time there’s another segment to further the New World Order/Honor Guard war, almost in a way they never have; the audience was never this vocal about anything prior to this. The nWo became cool (much to the chagrin of Bischoff, who needed them to be heels, not anti-heels, for his overall plan to work … it made Hogan, Hall and Nash much too cocky, to boot) when it first came out. But all that changed with the advent of Bret Hart, and his crusade.

Superbrawl itself sells out at the gate before the event even occurs, a landmark moment for WCW. It’s another nail Eric gets to drive into the ever-closing coffin of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon, and he is sure that pay-per-view buys and critical reaction will be much better than Vince’s carnival of chaos (how he pities Vince for having to drag in the talentless lumps from Philadelphia and that twit Heyman to try and cause a stir and get ratings)

And, just like the past two events, Superbrawl delivers the goods. The luchadore and cruiserweight under-card matches light up the crowd with their fantastic aerial moves and technical prowess, giving the crowd a bit of dessert before the main course. The crowd also goes nuts for Chris Benoit, whose popularity is growing far faster than Bischoff expected, as he gets a victory over Raven when he passes out in a Crippler Crossface. Again, another link in the chain for his long term plan.

The women’s match between Kimberly and Miss Elizabeth is no Benoit/Raven by any means, but it gets the crowd riled up in a way that only two hot chicks rolling around on a mat can do. Elizabeth uses her hairspray to blind Kimberly and get a dirty pinfall, then proceeds to embarrass Kimberly by ripping off her shirt. The crowd, predictably, goes nuts for seeing one of the hottest women in wrestling stripped down to her bra, and, again, it is another link in the chain.

DDP ends up dropping the United States Title to Buff Bagwell, thanks to another attack by Miss Elizabeth and her trademark hairspray. Naturally, this draws in the irate Kimberly, who is restrained by DDP only after Kimberly manages to tear out a lock of Elizabeth’s hair, while Macho Man comes in to hold back his woman. More set-up for the future, done perfectly.

The night’s first real surprise comes during the Steiners attempt to take the Tag Titles from The Outsiders. Rick takes a lot of punishment during the match, and Scott seems to spend a lot of time trash-talking over the ring at Hall & Nash. Finally, after ten long minutes of abuse on Rick by The Outsiders, Rick gets a DDT out of nowhere on Hall and makes the tag. Scott comes in, picks up his brother, and throws Rick halfway across the ring with a belly-to-belly overhead suplex. The crowd is shocked, and match is thrown out, but the damage is already done; Nash ends up throwing Scott an nWo t-shirt, who puts it on and gives the familiar “4-life” hand sign.

The Stinger finally picks up his first pay-per-view win since his re-emergence from self-imposed exile, pinning Randy Savage in a wild brawl that spills out into the crowd and into the concourse after the referee is knocked out by accident during a Stinger Splash. In the end, he makes Savage submit to a Scorpion Deathlock; no sooner does the bell ring to end the match than Sting drops the hold, marches over to the ropes and demands a microphone.

“Ya see that, Hollywood?” Sting yells. “I made your shadow quit. I want you at Uncensored, Hogan … but I don’t want to beat you. Beating is too good for you. I want you to scream, Hogan … I want you to plead for mercy, and beg me to let you walk out of the arena. And most of all, I want to hear you say two words, Hogan … no, I want the whole world to hear you scream two words, Hogan — I Quit! Are you listening, Hogan? I don’t care if you have the belt or not, Hogan. Next month … no DQ’s … no fast counts … just two men, no rules, and two words.” He retrieves his black ballbat from the ringside attendant, smiles a grim, predatory smile and adds; “Me and my boy here will see you at Uncensored, Hogan. You won’t see us coming, but we’ll see you just fine. And we’ll hear you, Hogan …

When Sting disappears into the crowd, Hogan comes out to no music or fanfare (save for the crowd booing his appearance), talking as he walks down the aisle; “I accept, Stinger, but make no mistake, brother, I don’t quit! You’ll never hear me say that, Sting, never.” By now, he is in the ring. He turns to face the entrance, his glare hard and determined … but not without a bit of fear, too. “Now get that piece of worthless Canadian scum out here!”

The crowd comes out of their seats before Bret Hart’s music starts, the moment that has been bubbling beneath the surface of WCW since Bret came to WCW … and, for the older fans, a moment they have been waiting for since 1993, since a Bret/Hogan match was supposed to happen in the WWF. By the time he comes out, the noise level is so deafening, the announce team can barely hear one another even with the earphones. His anti-American hatred is long behind him; his declarations of being screwed and being thought of as a whiner, also a distant memory. Now, there is only the proud uncrowned champion, the man of the people … the hero. Like the Bret of old, he gives his glasses away to a child. He is proud, he is ready, and the crowd can feel it … this is the moment that Hollywood Hogan will be knocked down off his perch.

“Wait a second, wait a second,” screams the voice of Eric Bischoff. “I have an announcement to make. The referee assigned to this match will be none other than Nick Patrick!”

The crowd’s elation deflates as the official New World Order referee makes his way down the aisle. Suddenly, the feeling of another fast one by the nWo is almost palpable; it is exactly how Eric wants the crowd to feel. To lose all hope. To feel the deck is stacked too high for even the mighty Bret Hart to surmount.

Nick Patrick’s counts are noticeably faster when Hogan attempts a pin then when Bret does, and, predictably, the rules seem a lot more lax for Hogan than Bret: holding onto the ropes by Hogan during an abdominal stretch is “unseen” by Patrick, but every Bret Hart strike is scrutinized for a closed fist. The crowd goes insane with every rule Hogan is allowed to break, and every handicapping Bret has to endure.

There is hope, however, when Bret manages to string together enough unchallenged offense (staying away from strikes) to weaken Hogan enough for a Sharpshooter. The crowd is on their feet, screaming as Hogan almost starts crying off the moment Bret sits back … but Patrick is on the other side of the ring, reclining in the corner, shaking his head behind Bret’s back.

When Bret drops the hold to investigate why the match isn’t being declared over, Patrick finally steps forth. Bret thumps Patrick in the chest with his finger, and Patrick threatens to disqualify Bret for assaulting the referee. Bret is astonished, and visibly crestfallen: there is literally no way he can win this match, not with Patrick refereeing.

Then, suddenly, Randy Anderson races down to ringside, steel chair in hand, like Patrick did three months ago to rob Sting of the WCW Title. And, like Anderson three months ago, Patrick never sees it coming; he is there, arguing with Bret one minute, the next he is unconscious on the mat. Bischoff comes out to try and stop the referee switch, but is caught by Sting, who lays out Bischoff with a right hand. He points the bat at Bret, smiles and mouths two words: “Do it.”

By now, Hogan has got up (albeit limping) and swings at Bret. Bret ducks the wild blow, does a picture perfect double-leg takedown, and locks in the Sharpshooter again. They are close enough to the ropes for Hogan to try and fight for them, and he does … but as he gets within a inch of sanctuary, Bret seems to sense it, stands up, pulls Hogan to the middle of the ring, and rears back even further. Hogan can take no more and submits. Randy Anderson rings the bell, and the arena is, somehow, even louder than when Bret came out. Fireworks go off and confetti drop from the roof. The locker room empties of the WCW loyalists, who congratulate Bret as he is presented the WCW World Championship. The last man to congratulate him is the man who tried, and failed, to upend Hogan’s tyrannical reign as champion, Sting. There is a pause, and a moment of perceived tension between them; two gladiators, who utilize the same finisher, both who desire the prize one of them now possesses. Both know they will lock horns down the line … but right now, Sting raises the hand of Bret in triumph. It is not the final defeat of the nWo (Eric has that planned out, too) … but for the crowd, it is, in the words of the nWo, too sweet.

March, WWF

Vince’s positive attitude about the future doesn’t last very long after No Way Out Of Texas. Sure, the critics like the event overall (although he couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the internet and their opinion), but for him, it’s the gate and buy-rate that says “good” or “bad”, and the buy-rate, especially in comparison to WCW’s Superbrawl, is nothing short of horrendous.

The only bright sides Vince can find in his business life lately are that the USA network has reaffirmed their commitment to Raw … provided ratings don’t dip any further than they already are (and, luckily, ratings seem to have hit a plateau). The other positive is slightly more subjective, but Vince finds it a silver lining nonetheless: Eric Bischoff has shot his wad when it comes to Bret, giving him their World Title not three months in the promotion. And he defeated their number-one heel, Hollywood Hogan, to do it. There’s a shortage of main event heels in WCW, and Bret will now have to deal with placeholder defenses until they can either build up more competitors, or job Bret back to Hogan. Vince derives a certain satisfaction from that; it means WrestleMania should be able to trounce Uncensored without hesitation.

Also, Playboy magazine has contacted Vince on having one of his valets pose nude. Sunny declines the offer (despite pressure from Vince, as she is the most popular woman on the roster), but Sable tentatively agrees (much to the chagrin of her husband). It will be good mainstream publicity for the WWF, putting their name in front of people who might not otherwise be watching … and, it can be used in a storyline, too.

And as the buildup for WrestleMania rolls on, it almost suggests a rebirth from the disaster of the past few months (at least to Vince it does). Not a single match on the card is promoted as if it weren’t the main event, but the marquee matches look (considering the short notice a lot of them were built around) to be something special. Deep down, Vince believes this might eclipse WrestleMania X as the best of all time.

The Undertaker finally accepts the challenge of his brother Kane, setting up a match that has been building since October of ’97 (probably the only remnant of what now seems like a different federation). It’s almost obvious that the ‘Taker will win it, but the crowd still wants it, so it’s pushed to the moon.

The “dragging” incident by the New Age Outlaws causes quite the stir, and from it, the D.O.A. challenge the hooligans to a match never before seen: a Dixieland Lynch Mob match. The rules for victory, the D.O.A. explain, are quite simple: there will be two gallows (gimmicked, of course) erected by the entrance. The first team to hang their opponents will be declared the winners. Other than that, there are no limitations, no rules.

The D.O.A./D-X war spills over to Triple H and Chainz, who tangle on the Raw after No Way Out because of the dragging incident. The following week, Goldust imitates Triple H during a match, complete with wig, tights and a European Title belt; Chainz pins him, and Sgt. Slaughter rules that the victory counts. Chainz is declared the new European Champion, and a rematch is set for ‘Mania, with Chyna handcuffed to Slaughter to keep her out of the way.

And, in what Vince thinks of as the co-headline match (although it isn’t billed as such), Cactus Jack decides to challenge his old friend, and old rival, Terry Funk to a match, for turning his back on the WWF. Funk agrees, but the crowd is lukewarm to the idea of seeing two hardcore icons tangle in a mere wrestling match. The solution is simple: Hell In A Cell. This is this first of five inter-promotional matches (all of which will be fought under ECW rules), and, with The Rock defending his IC Title against Owen Hart and the Vader/Austin World Title match, the card is a robust ten matches long.

Vince feels so good about WrestleMania, he eschews the normal weekend festivities (and, truth be known, he can barely afford them; while the content seems to be stabilizing, revenue is still much lower than it should be, and needs to turn around quickly). The arena is sold out well in advance anyway, and that’s what is important. That and buy-rates, which always go up for WrestleMania.

The event starts off with three of the inter-promotional matches; the first is a three-way tag dance, pitting Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman against Marc Mero and Jeff Jarrett and ECW turncoats Rob Van Dam and Sabu (who are added at the last minute at Paul Heyman’s request, so as to push the ongoing RVD/Dreamer and Sabu/Sandman feuds in ECW). The pairing of two heels to represent the company against two outsiders being pushed as heels is an auspicious way to start off the event, and the style clash of the wrestlers makes the proceedings go all the worse. The only upside is that is was never slated to go very long, and after eight long minutes of badly choreographed brawling, Jarrett pins The Sandman after a guitar shot. The crowd mostly sits on their hands for the match, and the smattering of applause is more for the match being over.

Next up is another six-man tag, with The Dudley Boys and Bam Bam Bigelow facing Bradshaw and a surprise: the Legion of Doom, repackaged with more futuristic outfits, a new lighting scheme, a valet in Sunny, and the new name of LOD 2000. The WWF contingent win the match thanks to a Doomsday Device on D-Von Dudley, but the heat of the match is barely noticeable (aside from hoots and hollers for Sunny’s skimpy outfit).

The hoots and hollers only grow for the next match, an evening gown match between the WWF’s Sable and ECW’s Beulah. Aside from the WWF/ECW bad blood, the Playboy layout is used as a catalyst for the feud (although the hardcore fans know Beulah has posed nude in other publications). The match is short–no need to drag out a match being booked for titillation–and ends with Sable stripped to her bra and panties (as Vince sees it, an advertisement for the upcoming layout). However, the catfighting continues, and the second major surprise of the night happens when Beulah rips off Sable’s bra. Sable covers herself and runs to the back, but not before the whole arena has seen her bare breasts on the Titantron (and, by the end of the night, stills are on the internet). Sable is furious at what happened, especially when she finds out it was planned and decided on without her knowledge. Like Shawn Michaels, she dresses, grabs her gear and leaves the arena.

Triple H regains his European Title in the first WWF match of the evening. The crowd neither likes Triple H coming out on top, nor the match itself, as he and Chainz styles clash badly, and voice it with a loud chorus of booing. The victory is tainted, with Chyna using powder to blind Commissioner Slaughter and a low blow to fell Chainz; it is supposed to continue the next month. After seeing the debacle, Vince reconsiders extending the program to Unforgiven next month.

Next up is Jerry Lawler, in the final ECW/WWF match of the evening, against ECW’s Taz. Again, it is a clash of styles, but it is covered up with the lack of DQ’s and count-outs. The crowd gives a mild approval of Lawler pinning Taz after three piledrivers on a steel chair. The program will be finished off at the next ECW pay-per-view (in May), which is a sigh of relief for Vince; nothing he has done to date has injected any life into what should have been a red-hot super-angle, and he is glad to be almost done with it. Only the Funk/Cactus match remains, and even then, Funk is sticking around after the angle runs out, so it’s not a real cross-promotional match.

The decision about continuing the Chainz/Triple H program is further complicated by the fact that Vince forgets the entire D.O.A. gang is scheduled feud with D-X for an extended period. And, in the other meeting between the two stables, the D.O.A. defeat the New Age Outlaws in a bloody, violent encounter that is, thus far, the best match of the night, if not the most memorable moment, behind Sable’s breasts. However, the gallows are broken during the match, and the D.O.A. are forced to improvise: they tie the Outlaws to the backs of their bikes, drag them out into the street, and hang the Tag Champions from trees on the sidewalk outside the arena.

The Rock retains his Intercontinental Title against Owen Hart, despite botched interference on the part of Nation of Domination leader Faarooq. This leads to an argument between the two, which turns into a shoving match. The rest of the Nation breaks up the fight, and Faarooq leaves in anger, yelling obscenities at The Rock as he leaves the ring. When the rest of the Nation follow Faarooq, leaving The Rock behind, Owen attacks and puts Rocky in the Sharpshooter and holds onto it until authorities pull him off. It is a mediocre match, a placeholder match for sure. For Vince, Owen exists in a kind of limbo: he feels guilty about Bret and almost wants to make amends by pushing Owen to the moon … but Owen lacks the raw charisma and presence of a champion that his older brother has, and Vince doesn’t want to waste his time on “the nugget” if it won’t pay off. Owen will face The Rock again the next month, probably with some stipulation, but it will also be a time-killer; the war for control of the Nation is on Rocky’s horizon (and he can get a lot more mileage out of Rocky and Ron Simmons than he can out of the bland-as-paste Owen, no matter how much guilt Vince has).

No surprises occur in the Undertaker/Kane match. The only thing that even comes close is that it takes multiple Tombstones to put away Kane, and even then, he gets up afterwards, and proceeds to beat his brother senseless. The crowd, which was sure this was the end of the novelty that was Kane, is silent; the program, and the ridiculous story about fires and funeral homes and scarred children will continue. It has been the plan all along, but nevertheless, it is a surprise … just not an intentional one.

The Hell In A Cell match outshines all other matches for the evening, providing a spectacular moment that will never be forgotten by those who see it: that of Cactus Jack, being thrown off the cell, crashing into the Spanish announce table. This happens during the first few minutes of the match, but amazingly, Cactus gets up and charges again. By the end of the match, they have used chairs, thumbtacks and two-by-four wrapped in barbed wire to mangle each other beyond recognition. Cactus gets the victory, although, with a broken collarbone, dislocated jaw, hundreds of puncture wounds and a gouge across his forehead that requires twenty-two stitches to close, hardly looks the victor.

Like the Undertaker/Kane match, Vader’s World Title defense to Steve Austin produces no surprises. It is an all-out brawl for twenty minutes, and ends when Austin low blows his way out of a Vader powerbomb and hits the Stunner for the second time in the match and pins Vader. It is by no means the event that would’ve occurred if negotiations with Mike Tyson had not fallen through or if Shawn Michaels hadn’t walked out … but, under the circumstances, it is the best Vince could do on short notice. As the show closes, Vince listens to Jim Ross go hoarse screaming about Austin’s victory, thinking about how much the company has changed since he let Bret walk away how he wanted, and what the future might hold in store for him. He still wonders if letting Bret walk away was the right thing to do … deep down, he will always wonder if he did the right thing for his company. When it comes to friendship, he knows he took the higher road … but he also knows that sometimes, the higher road hit a dead end.

Judging from how WrestleMania has come off, Vince isn’t entirely sure what kind of road he is on … many of the matches he thought would go over got shit on instead (fickle f*cking crowd). Like himself, the World Wrestling Federation is in a state of flux, and he has a feeling the flux isn’t over. It isn’t the first time he federation has hit hard times, times of thin rosters and a locker room in flux. But for the first time since a friend let his angry feelings be known on a Monday night several months ago, Vince has confidence. He will persevere, like he always has. He has stood up to bigger and badder challenges then an uncertain future; and, like the federal government, like Gagne and Crockett, he will look this challenge right in the eye and stand.


WCW’s Uncensored doesn’t beat WrestleMania for buys, but it puts up quite the fight. Bret’s first title defense against Scott Hall (taking his World Title shot from World War III) is an entertaining match, as is the final encounter between Sting and Hogan (which Sting wins). Shawn Michaels debuts at Uncensored, coming out after Bret puts away Scott Hall, and super-kicks Bret, then reveals a New World Order t-shirt under his HBK shirt. The next few months see a changing of the guard in the nWo, as Hogan is pushed to the side, and the focus is on Hall, Nash, Michaels and their running buddies. Eventually, Hollywood splinters off of the nWo and forms his own faction, nWo Hollywood, with Buff Bagwell, Scott Norton, Curt Hennig and Vincent. The group is fazed out in a few months, and Hogan elects to take some time off, which gives Bischoff time to push other stars, such as Raven and his Flock, and the rookie sensation Goldberg. Bischoff even goes so far as to program a pay-per-view, Road Wild, on a Saturday, the day before the WWF’s SummerSlam, and holds a Clash Of The Champions the following evening against the pay-per-view. The strategy is a cunning success, as fans are unwilling to spend sixty dollars in a single weekend for wrestling, and SummerSlam is all but drowned out.

WrestleMania’s fallout, both in and out of the ring, prove to be more surprising than the surprises booked for the event. Sable walks out of the federation, angry at being stripped naked on national TV (Vince doesn’t see a big deal in this, as she was going to be showing a hell of a lot more in Playboy, but to Sable, the deception is the issue). It forces the WWF to cancel Sable’s Playboy layout, and any chance at convincing Sunny to replace Sable is ruined when she is released for drug issues. Like Bret did after WrestleMania XII, Vader takes time off after his World Title loss … only, unlike Bret, Vader waits out his contract, then goes overseas to compete in All-Japan. The debut of Sean Waltman as X-Pac fails to gain any ground, as his neck injury is re-aggravated so badly in his first match, he is forced to retire or face paralysis. Jeff Jarrett also walks out on the federation two months after WrestleMania, as he sees his push reduced to European Title contention from number-one World Title contender not two months prior. The loss of so many high profile stars sends Vince into a tailspin, and he allows his head writer, Vince Russo, to take charge of the booking; under Russo, booking becomes erratic and hard to follow (in the worst example, Kane and the Undertaker feud through May, patch things up in June, are feuding again by August, have an uneasy alliance in September, and are feuding by October), and Russo’s hyper-violent, sexed-up product only succeeds in turning off USA Network executives and, more importantly, sponsors, who pull out in droves. Negotiations for a Thursday show on the UPN network are killed when they elect to air WCW’s new show, Thunder, instead. When major sponsors like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and AT&T threaten to pull all their advertising on the USA Network if the filth that is WWF programming isn’t dealt with, the network has no choice but to bow to the pressure and demand changes or threaten cancellation. However, by then, it is too late for the WWF; with lawsuits from Rena Mero and Playboy (over a contractual agreement to supply a WWF female performer to pose, which the WWF failed to do) looming overhead, and with lawsuits filed on their behalf against Vader and Jeff Jarrett (which are sinking in the water and soaking Vince for thousands of dollars a day), the end is nigh. Survivor Series ’98 is the last WWF pay-per-view ever broadcast; Raw does not air the next night, and four days later, Vince McMahon announces the sale of the World Wrestling Federation and all its assets (less liabilities) to Time-Warner for an undisclosed amount. Vince is offered a seat on the board of directors, but declines; to do so, for him, would be the final humiliation, and he will not allow himself such a thing. He vows he’d rather die than suck up to Ted Turner and Eric Bischoff, and vows that the world, and wrestling in specific, has not heard the last of Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

The end

I’d like to thank Widro for giving me the chance, and (to borrow a little of his British-ness) a tip of the hat to Ross Williams for picking me out of the bunch and signing on for this crazy idea of mine. Do yourself a favor and check out his column, eh? He’s quite the good writer. Also, thanks to my man Kurtis, my living wrestling encyclopedia. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated, as are story ideas; I already have quite a few in the pipeline, but if you send me a new idea and I use it, you’ll get the credit for the idea! Until next time …