Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Fine Art of the Swerve

Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Fine Art of the Swerve

History


Swerves. Dictionary.com defines a swerve as “to turn aside abruptly in movement or direction; deviate suddenly from the straight or direct course.” In wrestling, it has another purpose. In wrestling, the swerve is that one moment that takes what you were expecting to happen and twists it ninety degrees into a direction you’d never expected.

Today we’re going to take a look at some swerves in the WWF(WWE) and WCW that worked and some that didn’t.

WWF Survivor Series 1998 – WWF, 1998

The WWF title was vacant following a double-pin of Steve Austin by both Kane and the Undertaker at Backlash. Vince McMahon set up a one-night tournament at Survivor Series, with the added bonus of Undertaker and Kane earning byes in the first round. Also, Mankind (the chosen champion) was set to face a mystery opponent, while the Rock was set to take on Triple H, who was out with a leg injury.

As was expected, Mankind and Rock fought their way through the tournament. Mankind’s path was easy, first defeating former WWF jobber Duane Gill, and then putting away Al Snow. The Rock’s road was rougher. First he defeated McMahon’s enforcer the Big Boss Man, who was replacing the injured Triple H. He then faced Corporate member Ken Shamrock, defeating him and again overcoming Boss Man’s interference. Mankind went on to defeat Steve Austin with a little help from referee Shane McMahon, and the Rock defeated the Undertaker after Kane interfered.

That brought us to the finals. Mankind and the Rock squared off, only for Rock to finally lock Mankind in a sharpshooter. McMahon immediately called for the bell, and the Rock, the new Corporate Champion, was announced the winner.

What Worked?

Almost everything. The fans were solidly behind Rock through the entire tournament and loved seeing him beat his corporate foes. Mankind, however, was coasting through the tournament thanks to McMahon’s machinations.

It was only after all was said and done that the logical truth came to light. Rock had been placed against Corporation member after Corporation member, all of whom took their orders from Vince McMahon. The only member who didn’t was Mankind, and McMahon was ringside to ensure that everything went as planned.

What Didn’t?

It was here that McMahon dragged the Montreal Double-Cross out of the mothballs for the first time. While at the time the fans were doubly-irate (for being fooled by the Rock and still being angry about Bret Hart’s treatment), over the years this aspect has faded, mainly due to McMahon’s (and to be fair, Vince Russo’s) recycling of the double-cross.

Shawn Michaels on the Barber Shop – WWF, 1991

As 1991 wound down, one of the WWF’s most popular tag teams, the Rockers, had begun having problems. It was evident to the fans that tensions were building between Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty. Things had reached a boiling point at the Survivor Series, where Michaels had actually walked out on his partner.

Finally Jannetty and Michaels met on the set of Brutus Beefcake’s Barber Shop talk segment. The two finally seemed to work out their problems and embraced. As Beefcake trumpeted that the Rockers were still together, Michaels superkicked Jannetty and threw him through the glass window at the back of the set.

What Worked?

This was the beginning of Shawn Michaels’s solo career, and it was a great beginning. By teasing the breakup and then reunion of the Rockers, the fans were set to cheer. When Michaels double-crossed Jannetty and pitched him through the window it launched his career as a heel. The fans now hated him because of his betrayal. Mission accomplished.

Jim Duggan, Proud Canadian – WCW, 2000

Going into the 2000 Fall Brawl, Jim Duggan had announced his retirement from the ring. He had also gone so far as to hand the torch he carried (his American flag) over to a man he viewed as his successor – General Rection of the MIA. Rection, at the time, was embroiled in a feud with proud Canadian Lance Storm. Their war had escalated when Storm won a Prisoner of War match and claimed Major Gunns as his prize.

At the show, Storm was defending his renamed Canadian Heavyweight title (originally US heavyweight) against Rection, with Duggan as the special outside enforcer. As Rection went for his moonsault to put Storm away, Duggan hopped up onto the apron and clocked him with his 2×4. Rection fell to the mat and Storm immediately locked on the Canadian Maple Leaf. As Gunns started crying, Duggan ripped off his referee shirt to reveal a shirt bearing the maple leaf underneath.

What Didn’t Work?

Fans weren’t buying this. The fan-favorite Duggan, who had always been All-American, suddenly jumping sides to ally with the Canadians? To be fair, the WWF had done this in 1991 with Sgt. Slaughter, but fans were still eager to welcome the Sarge back after the Iraqi angle ended.

Also, at this time, WCW was building itself as throwing swerve after swerve at the fans. The fans were tired of it and wanted straight wrestling. In addition, the people wanted to cheer Duggan (who was a firm babyface before and had only gotten more popular with his inspirational speech after returning from battling cancer). Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Duggan to return to his pro- US roots and for this one to be forgotten.

Of course, WCW wasn’t the only company to utilize bad swerves:

”I did it for the Rock.” – WWF, 2000

At the 1999 Survivor Series, the WWF had a mystery begin to unfold. Someone tried to run down Steve Austin in the parking lot. Austin underwent neck surgery and was gone for nine months.

When Austin returned, he and Mick Foley began working together to discover who had been behind the wheel. Foley finally got Rikishi to admit that he had run down Austin, and he had done it for the Rock. Rikishi talked about how white champions like Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, and Bob Backlund had gone over Samoans such as High Chief Peter Miavia and Jimmy Snuka.

Austin immediately set his sights on Rikishi. Their feud culminated with Austin trying to run Rikishi down in the same parking lot only to be stopped when a police car pulled in front of him.

What Didn’t Work?

The fans had fallen in love with Rikishi when he started dancing with Too Cool. They weren’t buying that Rikishi had run over Austin, and, in fact, it made no sense. The two had scarcely crossed paths until this. In the end, heel Rikishi flopped and in just a few months he had returned to his familiar dancing ways.

Of course, we also need to remember that WCW didn’t always blow swerves:

Who is the third man? – WCW, 1996

During the summer of 1996, WCW had been invaded by Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The two Outsiders had made it clear that they were only there to take WCW over and promptly went to work shattering the fourth wall by performing incidents such as Hall looking for “Scheme Gene” and “Billionaire Ted” during his debut, and Kevin Nash powerbombing Eric Bischoff through the stage at the Great American Bash. Even more ominous was the fact that Hall and Nash had promised that they had a third man waiting in the wings.

The main event of Bash at the Beach would consist of Hall, Nash, and their partner taking on Randy Savage, Lex Luger, and Sting. However, only Hall and Nash came out. Gene Okerlund hurried up to them to demand who their partner was, and they replied that they had things handled and he’d be ready if they needed him.

Hall and Nash were right, as Luger was soon taken to the back due to injury. They easily dominated Sting until he tagged out to Savage. Finally Nash hit Savage below the belt. As he sagged to the ground, Hulk Hogan came running out of the back. Hogan tore his shirt off, jumped into the ring and hit Savage with two leg drops. The referee was tossed and the crowd became furious as they realized what had happened – their hero was the third man. Gene Okerlund headed into the ring to find out what was going on. Hogan talked about his jump from the WWF, then said that he was bored with WCW and that he, Hall, and Nash were the future of wrestling. As trash filled the ring, a disgusted Tony Schiavone closed the broadcast.

What Worked?

This time, the unexpectedness of the turn worked perfectly. The fans were preoccupied, thinking that one of the WCW representatives in the match would turn. Their suspicions zeroed in on Luger when he was carried out. When Hogan came out, he was obviously going to fight off the evil Hall and Nash and end the show triumphant.

Hogan would go on to rename himself Hollywood Hogan and would join forces with Hall and Nash as the core of the New World Order. The NWO would push WCW into the lead in the ratings war with the WWF for the first time.

So what is the effect of the swerve? When it’s used sparingly it can be extremely effective. Look at the Hogan turn. That was the impetus for WCW’s ratings peak.

The problem comes when they’re overdone. Eventually things stop making sense and the fans tune out.

As mentioned above, a swerve needs to make sense. While Hogan’s turn came out of left field, his explanation struck a chord with viewers. He had risen to the top of the WWF. He’d risen to the top of WCW. He’d made movies with Turner and even had his own TV series (Thunder in Paradise). Why shouldn’t he want more? Of course, it didn’t hurt that the WCW fans were tired of Hogan playing the same hero he had ever since 1984.

Rikishi’s turn just didn’t make any sense. Perhaps it could have been salvaged if we had seen Rikishi trying to ally himself with the Rock, or having problems with Austin leading up to the hit and run.

The fact is that the swerve should just be one tool in a booker’s toolbox. When a promotion starts relying on them too much or they don’t make sense, expect the storyline to suffer.

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