24th November 2020. Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire.
It’s impossible to watch three and a half years worth of shows and not come away with plenty of observations about what was going on in the WWF at the time. This would also include some things that run contrary to the usual WWF led narrative that they’ve mentioned for years. Here then are a few of the choice points that I learned along the way.
The WWF took ages to get fully behind Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Vince McMahon would love everybody to believe that Austin’s rise to the top of the entire wrestling industry began at King of the Ring 96. With his very utterance of ‘Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass” and the mass of t-shirt sales afterwards it would surely mean that The Texas Rattlesnake would be on a rocket the very next month? No, not at all.
Austin’s next match on a PPV card was against Marc Mero in a nothing match at International Incident. At Summerslam 96 he didn’t even make the main card, instead being involved in a dark match against Yokozuna. The Austin coronation speech is memorable but it didn’t get him anywhere. Austin perhaps owes a lot of gratitude to Bret Hart wanting to work with him. Their match at Survivor Series 96 is a highlight of that year whilst the ‘I Quit’ match between the two at Wrestlemania 13 is rightly lauded as an absolute classic. Those matches boosted Austin upwards towards The Rock for the Intercontinental title later in 97 and then his WWF Title match against Shawn Michaels in 1998. The WWF had no idea how to handle Austin due to him doing promos on his own terms and getting them over by himself.
The Hart Foundation had so much more to give.
Bret, Owen, Bulldog, Anvil and Brian Pillman are certainly the best heel faction in this entire run of shows. The clever part in it was the fact they were not anti American but far more pro Canadian. It was more than enough to wind up U.S audiences though and it’s a wonderful thing to watch. The Foundation had history, skill and family ties on their side but they only got six months out of it before Montreal came up. Imagine the milage they could have got out of The Hart Foundation versus Degeneration X.
The greatest missed opportunity was Owen versus Shawn Michaels.
Perhaps Shawn wouldn’t have gone for this idea though if his actions right after Survivor Series 97 were anything to go by. Having Owen defend the Hart Family name against Shawn after he sent Bret packing from the WWF was a mouth-watering prospect that never came to fruition. There was one segment on Raw when Owen jumped Shawn then absolutely nothing. Apparently Shawn, as champion at the time, shot the idea down and Owen had one match with Triple H instead. Oh what could have been.
Degeneration X didn’t actually stick around for that long.
Formed in mid 1997, altered by necessity in 1998, done by 1999. There’s no need to include the group’s final death throws when Mr Ass, Road Dogg and X-Pac were on then off again. DX had a main run lasting around eighteen months. The WWE would, even now, have you believe they were a complete mainstay throughout the latter half of the 90’s. Quite simply they were not. A further kick to the teeth was given to The New Age Outlaws and X-Pac when Triple H and Shawn Michaels reformed DX with just the two of them in 2006.
Nor did The Rock and Sock Connection.
Again, this period is held up as some integral part of The Rock’s career. It lasted two months and features only two PPV appearances. One of those isn’t even until 2004.
But Mick Foley deserves a medal.
I shall forever sing the praises of ‘Mrs Foley’s baby boy’ as long as I live. There are so many parts of this entire viewing project that he has a hand in. The first guy to wrestle Undertaker that wasn’t just ‘Big dude who can punch’? Mick Foley. Shawn Michaels’ best match defending the WWF title after Wrestlemania 12? Mick Foley. Having the most memorable Hell In A Cell match? Mick Foley. The first person to challenge Steve Austin post Wrestlemania 14 on behalf of Vince McMahon? Mick Foley. The guy who elevated The Rock and Triple H so that they could get to the main event of a Wrestlemania? Mick bloody Foley. Whilst he might not ever be ‘the guy’ in the company you certainly need him to make ‘the guy’.
The Undertaker versus Mankind Hell in a Cell is equally as good as Undertaker versus Shawn Michaels Hell In A Cell but for very different reasons.
If you have a friend who has never seen wrestling but really likes the idea then show them the Shawn versus Taker Cell match from Bad Blood 97. If they really mock the idea of wrestling and think it’s ‘just fake fighting’ then show them the Taker versus Mankind one. The former is a well laid out, story driven bout, the latter demonstrates what can go wrong and what skilled professionals do to fix it on the fly infront of a live audience.
Kane gets one of the greatest introductions in wrestling.
You spend weeks suggesting Undertaker has a long lost brother. Aforementioned brother then appears at the end of Bad Blood 97, tears a metal door off, smashes Undertaker and then leaves. It’s pitch perfect and, after years of playing a terrible version of Diesel and a demented dentist, Glen Jacobs must have been so relieved he had a gimmick that struck a chord.
Vince owes a whole lot to The Undertaker.
Almost everything in fact. As I write this it’s just two days removed from Survivor Series 2020 in which The Undertaker character walked off into the sunset at the end of a 30 year stay in the WWF/E. It’s a grand send off that sadly couldn’t be done in front of a crowd due to COVID reasons. Mark Calloway is a constant throughout this entire project. He carries entire sections of the company on his back in good and bad times. Whilst Shawn was a man behaving badly in 1997 The Undertaker was there holding down the fort. He wrestles Mankind in a Cell with a broken foot. He contributes to some of the most high profile storylines throughout his whole run. Put simply the WWF would have been looking at a very different future had they not had The Undertaker batting for them.
The WWF had no idea what to do with Paul ‘Big Show’ Wight when they signed him.
Paul Wight was probably the first major player to move from WCW to the WWF as the momentum was shifting back towards Stamford. He is booked to look like a complete buffoon on his debut as his error hands victory to Austin over Vince at St Valentine’s Day Massacre. A few weeks later and he’s turning on Vince. Then he’s with Undertaker talking about cutting his own snake skin boots before ending the year crying over his Father’s grave. Wrestling fans have a pop at Big Show for switching between heel and face on a regular basis now but I assure you this was happening right from the start. It seems like they only signed him in the first place so WCW couldn’t.
Triple H is the very definition of ‘right place, right time’.
I’m in no way suggesting that Triple H isn’t a skilled performer nor that he only married Stephanie so he could fast track to the upper levels of the WWF. I would however suggest it certainly helped him in the long run. His elevation in the second half of 1999 is rapid and arguably lays the foundation for all his behaviour around the early to mid 2000’s. His trashing of Booker T at Wrestlemania 19, inflating title reigns to catch up with Flair, making sure we all knew he finished that tag match with a torn ligament to having the drawn out matches that still take up chunks of a Wrestlemania to this day all start here. He’s only just abouting giving it back again by giving us NXT each week.
Thanks must go to some of the underrated performers.
Always there, always having solid matches on the undercard, never truly getting the limelight they deserve. Step forward Goldust and D’Lo Brown.
1999 isn’t the Attitude Era.
Or at least it wasn’t when the WWF was at it’s absolute best as some say. When Austin returns, The Rock is on fire, the tag team division is stacked, Jericho has bedded in properly and The Radicals have jumped from WCW to give us Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit in full flow is when the WWF reaches a pinnacle it has never quite been able to replicate. 2000 into 2001 is the true version of the Attitude Era and it leads to Wrestlemania 17 with is otherwise known as ‘the best one’.