Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

One year after the infamous “Montreal Incident” of 1997, Vince McMahon produced a show-long echo of the Michaels/Hart affair complete with screw jobs, swerve after swerve, evil henchmen, and unique storytelling. Survivor Series ‘98 wrapped all these elements into one of my favorite formats, the single-elimination tournament.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Survivor Series 1998

Not since WrestleMania IV in Atlantic City ten years earlier had the WWF title been declared vacant and then contested in a tournament, but when both Kane and the Undertaker simultaneously pinned champion Steve Austin in a triple-threat match at the Breakdown ppv in September, Vince McMahon was forced to vacate the title. The following month at Judgment Day, ‘Taker and Kane faced off for the title with Stone Cold as guest referee. The stipulation was that if Austin didn’t raise the hand of a new WWF Champion, he’d be fired. I’m sure you can guess what happened there. McMahon thought he couldn’t lose, but Austin gave him yet another finger of sorts, when he knocked out both combatants and declared himself the victor, just before being fired by McMahon for his actions.

Shane McMahon lashed out against his tyrant of a father for what he considered unfair treatment of the Rattlesnake. Shane was the one to kayfabe rehire Austin and sign him to a new 5-year deal, but paid the price by being busted down to the “lowly”, to quote Vince, position of referee. With the title vacant, McMahon planned and schemed to crown a handpicked champion and keep the title far out of the Austin’s reach. Vince’s unlikely choice was apparantly Mankind, whom Vince anointed the first ever “Hardcore Champion” and claimed was like a son to him after the true fruit of his loins had broken his heart. Old Mick got a makeover, including a shave, haircut, and the tuxedo he wore to the ring for all of his tournament matches.

Mankind’s path to the gold as Vince’s new corporate choice started out embarrassingly easy, as he knocked off first round mystery opponent and “perennial preliminary competitor” Duane Gill in short order. Gill’s build up as a returning legend was well executed by Vince and his band of yes-men. Obviously, McMahon wanted to set up his chosen one for success by starting him off with a less than challenging opponent.

One forgettable first round match featured future multi-time world champion Jeff Jarrett losing to Foley’s favorite target, Al Snow, setting up Mankind vs. Snow in the quarterfinals. Also in that round McMahon’s head of security, the late Big Boss Man, squared off against Austin, and from the get-go it was obvious his job was not to advance in the tournament himself, but to injure Stone Cold and “eliminate” him from the tournament at any cost. Of course, the best way to remove a competitor from a single-elimination tournament is to defeat him, but that’s pro wrestling logic for you. When a heel hurts a babyface to “take him out”, you just know the face will come back with a vengeance later in the show.

So Boss Man willingly gave up the match by DQ and instead chose to injure Austin with his vaunted nightstick, allowing the Rattlesnake to advance in the competition via disqualification, although McMahon and his cronies felt confident that the beating Austin suffered spelled the end of his title aspirations.

Lady luck was on Austin’s shoulder this night, however, as his would-be quarterfinals opponents X-Pac and William Regal both failed to advance due to a double count out, even though McMahon ordered Commissioner Slaughter to force the match into a 5-minute sudden death overtime to avoid that result. Because X-Pac’s neck injury meant he simply could not continue, the count-out stood. Clearly, McMahon and pals didn’t want Austin to waltz into the semifinals, and although Stone Cold was hurting, he indeed had a bye to sit out and recuperate before battling in the semifinal round.

In another first round contest, The Rock was scheduled to face HHH who had previously suffered from a severe knee injury and was unable to compete. Vince was not happy with the people, and was therefore unhappy with the People’s Champ, so rather than allow the Rock a bye, he reinserted the Big Boss Man into the tournament in HHH’s slot. McMahon’s stooges took great pride in making the announcement to the Rock, who was looking more and more like another victim of McMahon’s grand design to select his next champion. This was obviously another screw job waiting to happen, as McMahon attempted to clear Mankind’s path to the gold and micromanage ever aspect of the tournament.

But the Rock rolled up the Boss Man in a highly unlikely inside cradle less than four seconds into the match, for the surprisingly easy victory. How odd, it seemed, that the veteran Boss Man would be so quickly dispatched by one of McMahon’s enemies. Keep this in mind for later.

Because McMahon was displeased with Undertaker and Kane for what he perceived as several recent failures including Breakdown and Judgment Day, he ensured they faced each other in the first quarterfinal match by granting the Brothers of Destruction each a bye in the first round. JR surmised that McMahon hoped the two behemoths would destroy each other as punishment for their recent failures to both stop Austin and secure the WWF Championship. After a hard-hitting match, the Undertaker got a little help from manager Paul Bearer and scored the pinfall following a tombstone piledriver. The Dead Man was on his way to the semifinals.

Mankind faced Al Snow in the second quarterfinal match, still sporting the unlikely tuxedo. When Mankind realized his missing Mr. Socko was tied headband-style around Snow’s “friend” Head, the deranged one went ballistic (just as McMahon planned when he orchestrated the disappearance of Socko in the first place). Mankind used the Socko Claw to defeat Snow and advance to the semifinal round against none other than the aching Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Ken Shamrock, who forced Goldust to submit to the ankle lock in the first round, faced the Rock in a brutal quarterfinal battle. Vince once again tried to screw the Rock when he sent the Boss Man to interfere in the match. Boss Man tossed his nightstick into the ring for Shamrock to use against the People’s Champ, but the Rock was once again too crafty to be screwed and intercepted the weapon, used it on Shamrock, and advanced to the semifinals. The defiant Great One was putting a monkey wrench in McMahon’s plans at every turn, and the billionaire was none too pleased. The final four was set: the Undertaker versus the Rock in one semifinal showdown, and Mankind against the wounded Texas Rattlesnake in the other.

First up in the semifinal round was Mankind versus Austin. As Mankind made his way to the ring, JR and the King explained what they could clearly see as McMahon’s plan to handpick Foley as his next champion. Obviously Vince had already displayed the ability to manipulate Foley and bend him to his corporate will. Mick seemed like a naïve victim who McMahon played like a fiddle. The Rattlesnake struck early, clearly favoring his injured ribs. Backed into a corner, Austin did what he was known for. He went on the offensive and began tearing off the custom tuxedo from Mankind’s battered body. This led to the look that Mankind would sport in matches for a long time afterwards consisting of a ripped dress shirt, tie, and his brown tights and boots.

The two brawlers fought it out in a wild donnybrook until Austin managed to hit a Stunner and cover Mick for the pinfall. But just before the referee could pound the mat for the third and final time, Mr. McMahon “miraculously” dove from his wheelchair to grab the ref’s legs and drag him out of the ring. He leveled the ref for having the audacity to attempt to count a fall on his chosen one. Then, it happened.

Austin hit another Stunner, and with the assigned ref now knocked out, “lowly referee” Shane McMahon came flying into the ring to count the fall and assist the man he rehired. One, two, and nothing. Shane-O Mac flipped Austin his own double birds, revealing the entirety of the McMahon plot, or so it would seem. The firing and hiring of Austin, the rift between Vince and Shane, the plan to beat Austin down and eliminate him from the tournament. It was all a grand design by the master manipulator, Vince McMahon. Austin never had a chance of succeeding on this November night. Obviously, rather than firing Austin, Vince, Shane and company brought him back for five more years of fun at his expense.

The ending of the match was academic, as stooges Brisco and Slaughter attacked Stone Cold with a chair followed by Mankind covering and Shane McMahon counting him down and out. Austin was completely screwed, as the last ally in the company he thought had turned on him, and Mankind advanced to the finals and the championship match. With all this now revealed, amazingly, Vince had one more ace up his sleeve, but we’ll get to that shortly. For now his handpicked choice for corporate puppet was in the last match, right where Vince wanted him to be. The co-conspirators, including the now-walking Vince, gaily ran out of the building, smiling and practically skipping with joy. Austin just missed catching the limo as it screeched away, but he stole an SUV and gave chase. Unfortunately his efforts would be far too little, too late.

After that debacle, there were still two big matches to go. Out came the demonic Phenom, followed by the People’s Champ. As the Rock strutted to the ring, JR described him as another man like Austin, whom Vince would never want to see as his company’s champion.

At a critical moment in the contest, the Boss Man made one more appearance. It seemed obvious he was there to prevent the Rock from advancing when Boss Man grabbed Rock’s leg in mid-People’s Elbow, preventing execution of the most electrifying move in sports entertainment. Then Kane showed up and hit the Rock with a choke slam, and the Great One was awarded the victory via disqualification. Although he didn’t defeat the Dead Man, the Rock had sidestepped the Undertaker and was on his way to the championship match against McMahon’s very own pick, the deranged Mankind.

After the long night both Mick and Rock had already endured, it came as no surprise that the two plodded through a slow, listless brawl that lacked a certain zip the two would display in future matches, while JR spoke of “Montreal revisited” and practically cheered the “underdog” Rock.

Finally, the last twist of the night was revealed. There was nothing subtle about the Rock raising his eyebrow as a signal to the McMahons before trapping Mankind in Bret Hart’s own Sharpshooter submission hold, the very same hold that ended the Montreal Incident one year earlier. Vince reenacted his performance from the previous year to perfection, hollering to the timekeeper to ring the bell to end the match, the rouse, and the title dreams for Mick Foley.

Everything then came out. Foley was not the corporate chosen one; that honor went to the former People’s Champ, who would now be known as the Corporate Champ. They had fooled the fans, the wrestlers, Stone Cold, and poor Mick Foley, just because McMahon likes screwing the people. That’s how much of a heel he is.

Sure, Austin made one last appearance, and even earned some degree of moral victory, leaving the new champion laying after a Stunner (of course he left Foley laying as well), but the facts were that Vince and his crew, including the Rock, had put one over on all of us.

The Boss Man had allowed the Rock to pin him quickly in the first round, and intentionally tossed the nightstick to the Great One in the quarterfinals. He also purposely tried to cause the disqualification in the semifinals so the Rock could make it past the Undertaker and to the final match of the night.

What a show. In addition to turning the Rock heel, reestablishing Shane McMahon as a heel, piling even more heel heat on Vince, and helping fans to see Mick Foley as a sympathetic character (and therefore a face), Survivor Series ‘98 begat Rock/Foley II at Rock Bottom, and forced Austin out of the immediate title picture, which led to Vince McMahon winning the 1999 Royal Rumble (eventually producing Rock/Austin at WrestleMania XV). The events of Survivor Series ‘98 set into motion some of the most interesting moments in WWF history, including the Foley/Rock empty arena Super Bowl halftime match, Mankind’s first world championship victory, the Big Show’s jump from WCW during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre ppv, and the culmination of HHH’s slow climb to the top of the card, where he’s remained ever since.

Survivor Series ‘98 permanently changed the landscape of the WWF.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and believe me, rich is better!” – Jerry The King Lawler, Survivor Series 1998