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Posted in: CPR Productions
ATTITUDE! Royal Rumble 98 (CPR Productions)
By Maz & Mav
Mar 27, 2014 - 6:27:32 PM

‘Sup, Lords of Pain? No time to chat today. It’s time to play ATTITUDE!






Maverick: If the Attitude Era was easily detectable in a throwaway “extended Raw” pay-per-view like D-Generation X: In Your House, it was always going to be even more evident in one of the “big four”. The Royal Rumble of 1998 was one of the most hotly anticipated Rumbles in history, chiefly due to the rise of a certain Mr Austin, and the card also happened to have the small matter of the conclusion to the programme between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, which would have unforeseen and devastating consequences...

Mazza: Above all else of course was the fact that it was the Rumble. It’s the one event I have never needed a reason to get excited for and that was definitely the case here. I had turned 18 a week before this PPV, I had recently got my driving licence and life was being lived. The Rumble was still top of the priority list however and the chance to see Stone Cold build toward his moment as well as the next installment of Michaels vs Taker made it highly anticipated.





The Event: Royal Rumble
The Date: 18 January 1998
The Place: San Jose Arena, San Jose, California



BACKGROUND AND BOOKING


The build to any Rumble match is bound to be an easy task for the company given the popularity and enduring appeal of the reverse battle royal concept. With 1998’s iteration, they had things even easier due to the meteoric rise through 1997 of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was very obviously being set up for a Wrestlemania title shot after memorably forfeiting the Intercontinental Title to The Rock by throwing it into a New Hampshire river. Austin’s booking wrote itself; he was the badass who marched to the beat of his own drum. He would be fighting thirty men on January 18 anyway, so he spent the entire month attacking the entire active roster, delivering stunner after stunner, until the announcers began to refer to a giant bullseye on the Rattlesnake’s back, meaning of course that he would be a marked man come the Rumble. Austin, for his part, welcomed the attention of the locker room, selling his own ability to come out on top in any kind of brawl. If Stone Cold was hot in 1997, he looked set to be even hotter through 1998, even with his neck problems. Truly, nothing has ever compared to the way an arena reacted when that glass broke. WWF truly played a blinder in building Austin up to the Rumble match. Meanwhile, all the hundreds (seemingly!) of stables running around at the time were entered into the match, adding intrigue as “gang warfare” looked likely to come to the reverse battle royal setting. As a final coup de grace, Vince McMahon had managed to make an arrangement for Mike Tyson to appear in a prominent celebrity role on the Road To Wrestlemania, and he would be watching the show from a skybox (Wade Barrett wasn’t the man to pioneer that after all, it seems).

The pay-per-view actually ended up being headlined by Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker for the third time in five pay-per-views. The way that their feud managed to be maintained over that period of time is actually something I miss in present day WWE; they managed to have ‘Taker face Bret and Shawn face Bulldog, Bret and Shamrock all while keeping the HBK/Deadman beef going at the same time. Nowadays, it’s all “PPV match, PPV match, PPV rubber match” but back in the 90s, the booking managed to be more cerebral. Kane’s arrival had put the Phenom out of commission at Badd Blood, but ‘Taker had come back to prominence at the December show and could then focus his attention on Shawn and DX. The return bout, this time for Michaels’ WWF title, would be under the Deadman’s signature Casket Match stipulation, and a lot of the work on Monday Night Raw to build the contest was based around ‘Taker’s success at that particularly match type. HBK, meanwhile, was in full on DX goofball mode and made countless jokes about the Phenom’s supernatural gimmick to show he wasn’t scared...until the man himself came roaring out of a casket to drag Shawn to hell. The build climaxed with DX attempting to woo Kane to their cause, but when the degenerates attacked Undertaker, his younger “brother” came to his rescue, setting up an intriguing title bout. Would Kane be there to even the odds against DX, or would Undertaker have to fight alone?

In the undercard, the transformation of Goldust into “The Artist Formally Known As Goldust” had solidified the heel turn that started when he abandoned Team USA at Survivor Series. The Bizarre One was now managed by Luna Vachon in what was quite clearly sold as an edgy dominatrix/submissive relationship. Since 1995, crowds had gradually become used to Goldie’s strangeness, to the extent that he was a very over babyface through 1997. The Artist Formerly Known As gimmick, referencing Prince’s way around his Warner Brothers contract, allowed the in-your-face transvestism to come back to the fore. We had already seen him do a live Doctor Seuss reading at D-Generation X: In Your House in a pink jumpsuit, pink wig and diamond codpiece while attached to Luna’s leash, and even stranger outfits were to come. I’ll give the character change this; it did get a lot of heat at the time. The new character’s first feud was against the man he had let down in November, the man they call Vader. On paper, you have to say that sounds like a damned solid undercard bout really, even though TAFKA Goldust matches were rarely as good as “normal” Goldust matches.

Another significant midcard feud was between The New Age Outlaws and Legion of Doom over the tag belts. This was the first time that the Outlaws associated themselves with DX; after a match between LOD and Shawn and Hunter ended in DQ through Chyna interference, Billy and Road Dogg rushed the ring, and the five heels took it to LOD in an epic beatdown which ended with Animal being powerbombed through a table (Shield anyone?) and Hawk having one of his mohawks shaved off. I think everyone who was watching at the time remembers this feud incredibly fondly as it was just a brilliant way of using a veteran team with massive name value to get over a brash young pairing who were quite clearly the future of tag wrestling. After that beating, you just knew that Animal and Hawk would be back to take their revenge, and the championship match was thus booked for the Rumble.

The final significant midcard match was over the Intercontinental Title that Rocky had picked up after Austin decided to forfeit it rather than allow the Nation member a rematch after the December pay-per-view. Unfortunately for Rock, he would have to defend his title against a pissed off Ken Shamrock, but of course, the Nation of Domination were never far from Rock’s side and evened the odds somewhat. However, in the run up to the match, Shamrock owned every single member of the Nation in singles matches, adding to the tension between Farooq and his cocky young disciple. The character work Rocky was putting in at this time was absolutely stellar, and watching back episodes of Raw from the time, you can literally see The Rock you remember from the peak years growing in front of your eyes. The feud with Shamrock, as well as the Rumble match itself, which Rock was also entered in, would be key in getting this character over.

There was also a minis match refereed by Sunny, but the least said about that the better really...on paper it looked like a very decent supporting card, so let’s see what Maz made of...


THE UNDERCARD


The PPV starts and there is a big night feel to proceedings. JR and King build up the fact that everyone wants Austin whereas Mike Tyson watches on from a skybox and gets booed.


Vader defeated The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust (With Luna Vachon) in 7:51
Strangedust is wearing purple and green stripes and a green wig. The crowd is still hot for face Vader post-Border Wars but the Mastodon gets caught coming into the ring. He soon gets the upper hand however and throws TAFKAG into Luna on the outside. They work the crowd well on the outside until Luna helps Goldie get back in charge. It’s quite heavy hitting and Goldust fails with a couple of slam attempts. The big man gets a chance to get back in the match but a Vaderbomb attempts ends with a Luna distraction and a low blow. Vader takes control again and finally hits his finisher despite Luna being on his back. This was a fun little opener but that’s the least you’d expect with two great workers involved. The crowd were hot for it and the finish was a nice visual.
ATTITUDE! Rating: **½

Austin arrives at the arena and Cole tries to interview him but Stone Cold tells him to park his truck. The Godwinns come by looking for Austin.

Max Mini, Mosaic & Nova defeated Battalion, El Torito & Tarantula in 7:48
Sunny is the special ref here and looks tantalising in her zebra uniform. She pats the minis down before we start and that probably brings her numbers since she started in the company to triple figures. JR notes that “Sunny will have her hands full surrounded by six men”. Sounds like a regular day in the life of Tammy Sytch to me. I’ve learned that these matches are hard to follow but can be fun to watch the moves. The action is fast and Tyson seems to be enjoying it although the crowd are dead after the hot opener. Sunny gets involved helping Max clear house and hit a hurricanrana on Battalion who looks huge in comparison. Anyway, the action totally breaks down and they all end up jumping on each other before Max gets the win with some kinda crucifix roll up. Max was starting to build up quite a PPV record but this would be it for the minis.
ATTITUDE! Rating: *½


The Nation are backstage looking for Austin. Faarooq sends newest recruit Mark Henry into Stone Cold’s locker room as an initiation but there is nobody there.


The Rock defeated Ken Shamrock in 10:52 to retain the Intercontinental Championship
The Rock comes to the ring alone after tension has been played up between the Nation members all wanting to win the Rumble. The crowd chant “Rocky sucks” to which he responds by cutting a promo calling himself their champion and the best IC champ there ever was. Rock continues to play crowd in the early goings as they build the anticipation. Shamrock gets upper hand on an early encounter and Rock sells big which pops the crowd. The tide turns once more however and Rocky is deliberate, using good heel tactics. He comes close to victory with a DDT before Shamrock makes the explosive comeback. He lands a hurricanrana which brings the rest of the Nation to ringside. The Rock gets hold of some brass knucks and nails Shamrock before tucking them in the challenger’s tights. The World’s Most Dangerous Man kicks out at two however and hits a belly-to-belly suplex to pick up the victory… but wait. Rocky complains to the ref about and illegal punch and he checks Shamrock’s tights and finds the knucks. The crowd boo the house down as the decision is reversed. Shamrock loses it and belly-to-bellys the ref and puts him in the ankle lock. Very clever booking and great work from both men a couple of years before Eddie Guerrero would lie, cheat and steal his way into the company. Highly enjoyable.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***½


Los Boricuas look for Austin and take out a baldy but it is one of the Harris boys which carries on the gang warfare story for the millionth PPV in a row.


The Legion of Doom defeated The New Age Outlaws by Disqualification in 7:57 in a Match for the Tag Team Championship (Outlaws retain)
Great video package before we start out putting over LoD as legends and in turn putting the Outlaws over for threatening their legacy. He get a shouty Road Warrior promo and the customary huge pop as they come out. The Outlaws attack but soon try to hightail it before LoD bring them back. They control Road Dogg and bust him open from the mouth. They soon do a swap and it is Billy’s chance to feel just what a rush Hawk and Animal can bring. A reversal on the outside however sees Animal go into the steps and the tide turns. The match becomes a bit of a mess which suits the champs as they work Animal’s back before handcuffing Hawk to the ringpost. Animal dominates both Outlaws for a little bit. He powerslams Gunn coming off the top but Roadie nails Animal with a chair and the ref calls the DQ. They beat down on Animal until Hawk powers out of the handcuffs to a huge pop and clears house. Again the action wasn’t tip top but it was great fun seeing the Outlaws being put over huge once more. They had become excellent in their role as antagonists.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***


Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble Match in 55:25
Mike Tyson puts himself over as an Austin fan before the rumble gets underway as we get a recap of Stone Cold stunning the hell out of everyone in the build. We start the rumble out with recent tag partners Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk). They aren’t going to go easy on each other as we see them try and use a chair and chainsaw respectively. Foley and the chair win but like good children they have learnt to share so Funk give some chairshots back. Some dude called Tom Brandy comes out at 3 but he is quickly eliminated and they get back to it. The Rock is next and he takes it to both of them. It doesn’t work out to well for the IC champ as he gets a trash can over his head and the hardcore duo take turns nailing him with fists and a chair. Rock goes through the ropes to the outside as Mosh comes in at 5 and the frantic start seems to settle down. We get a nice moment as Charlie hits a moonsault as Phineas and 8 Ball enter the match. Chainsaw eliminates his best frenemy as Lawler spreads a rumour that Austin has been taken. Bradshaw comes in at 8 and Owen at 9 which gets a pop from Tyson but The Rocket is attacked by Jeff Jarrett and Jim Cornette in the entrance way.

Steve Blackman is next to join proceedings as King speculates that Shamrock may have got to Austin. D’Lo comes in at 11 and works with Rocky for a moment before they turn on each other. The giant Kurrgan is next and he takes out Mosh as Sable… I mean Marc Mero and Ken Shamrock are next to make their way through the curtain. Shamrock goes after Kurrgan and gets help to eliminate him. Thrasher comes in at 15 whilst Mick Foley makes his second appearance in the match, this time as Mankind and gains revenge on Chainsaw. He doesn’t hang about long though as TAFKAG comes out next and eliminates him. Jarrett makes his official entrance at 18 and is being heavily promoted as the NWA North America Heavyweight champion. Owen hits the ring to good reaction. It looks like JJ gets rid of him but Hart skins the cat as Jarrett struts his way to elimination. Honky Tonk Man is next to come out but he is followed by Triple H and Chyna. Rock throws out Shamrock whilst this is going down before Trips gets in Owen’s face. Hart blocks Chyna’s attempt to hit him with a crutch but HHH attacks and he is eliminated. Ahmed Johnson and Mark Henry are the next two out which leads to our quote of the day from JR who says that “Mark Henry is handling the big Johnson with those clubbing tree-like arms”. The Nation work together to eliminate Ahmed and Mizark then takes out Phineas.

We have a no-show at 22 and it is sold as if it was Austin (we later find out it was Skull after the Boricuas attack earlier in the night). Kama comes out at 23 before we hear the glass shatter at number 24 and the arena goes bananas. The action in the ring stops as everbody watches the entrance was by Austin sneaks in from behind. He quickly eliminates Mero and 8 Ball. Henry Godwinn comes in next and Savio Vega is at 26 and he brings Los Boricuas with him. Stone Cold fights them off before Faarooq comes in at 27. He goes after his stablemates as Rock and Austin fight on the outside. Dude Love comes out next to complete the Three Faces of Foley and he takes out Brashaw. Rock hits a People’s Elbow on D’Lo as Austin and Goldust fight on the outside. Chainz and Vader enter the fray to complete the field and the Mastodon eliminates HTM. Austin then gets rid of Thrasher, Kama and Savio and Goldust takes out Vader. Dude Love loves avoids an onrushing Henry Godwinn as the pig farmer is eliminated. Chainz gets rid of Goldie but in turn is eliminated by Stone Cold. Faarooq takes out Henry and we are down to the final four as two Nation members pair off against Austin and Foley. Dude however puts the Mandible Claw on Austin but a low blow allows Faarooq to get rid of Foley for a third and final time. The Rock lets Faarooq take on Austin and eliminates his leader when he gets the chance. Austin and Rock have a huge showdown and crowd go wild. There is a Stone Cold elimination tease but a Stunner leads to Rocky being thrown over the top and “STONE COLD STONE COLD STONE COLD IS GOING TO WRESTLEMANIA” as Tyson cheers. It wasn’t the greatest paced of Rumble matches but the Austin stuff was fun and a Rumble is always a Rumble.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***¼


THE MAIN EVENT


Shawn Michaels (With Triple H & Chyna) defeated The Undertaker in 22:23 in a Casket Match to retain the WWF Championship
We already knew by this point just how much chemistry these two men had with each other after their epic battles at Ground Zero and Badd Blood, and after a build which contrasted D-Generation X’s sophomoric pranks and Undertaker’s supernatural power perfectly, the stage was set for another classic. From the opening bell, the familiar story of Michaels’ quickness against Undertaker’s strength and power is evident, and HBK’s attempts to stick and move are foiled by the Deadman catching him off the top turnbuckle, but the speed of the man from San Antonio sees him wriggle free and come off the ropes, but he gets caught with a huge back bodydrop...and that’s where one of the most fateful bumps in wrestling history occurs.

When you watch it now, knowing what it means to Michaels’ future life and career, it’s nothing short of eerie, just like the Screwjob we looked at a fortnight ago. Shawn’s lower back collides with the casket and he crumples in a heap on the floor. It’s clearly a botch, and a painful one at that, but it doesn’t appear career ending, indeed, The Heartbreak Kid gets to his feet with a grimace and is soon being press slammed on the floor by ‘Taker. Who knows how much more damage Shawn did to his back by continuing to take those bumps through the match? He must have been getting through it on sheer adrenaline. He walks gingerly through the next passage of play, but is soon back to his usual mobility, foiling an Old School attempt and hanging him on the top rope, before getting caught on a crossbody attempt and dumped in the casket.

Now, people often rag on casket matches as being dumb, and I suppose there’s a certain truth to that in the sense that it’s one of several gimmicks that only make sense when either Undertaker or Kane is involved, but actually, I enjoy the psychology and cat and mouse action that accompanies the stipulation, particularly when you have a worker as adept at selling and moving as Shawn Michaels. The cunning of the champion is shown when he finds ashes in the coffin and flings them full in the face of The Phenom, and yet the seven footer’s resilience is shown yet again and he tosses HBK right off the apron. However, Sexy Boy is just as hardy as his larger opponent, and continually tries to turn the match into one of movement and manoeuvre, showcasing the sensational athleticism which would be so missed in the years to come.

The Heartbreak Kid finally manages to get the advantage by Irish whipping The Deadman into the ring steps, and then shows how far he is willing to go by using those same steps to pummel his foe and then to assist his brutal piledriver (it’s funny to think how often that move was used in the months following Austin’s broken neck; I’d often retrospectively imagined it being perma-banned by Vince much earlier than it actually was). As soon as the advantage is traded, Hunter appears on his crutches, which had often been used as foreign objects over the TVs preceding the event, and are here too. As ever with casket matches, the rolling into the receptacle is premature, and the Phenom is able to uppercut the hell out of DX, who bump heroically for the comeback. I’ve often seen people diss this contest, but in truth it’s hot all the way through and aged rather well. It seems to be the forgotten great of the Michaels/’Taker oeuvre.

From here, there is just so much fantastic action; the HBK five moves of doom routine, including an absolute beauty of a Sweet Chin Music which Undertaker sells like an absolute champ. The Deadman is put into the coffin once again, but the celebratory crotch chop from Shawn is beautifully premature and Michaels is thrown back into the squared circle, but the exhaustion of the Phenom leads to him falling back into the casket, at which point the Showstopper goes to the top and hits a thrilling elbow drop into the coffin itself! As the lid closes, the audience gasp, not knowing what on earth is going on until eventually Shawn is punched all the way out of the casket. The psychology of this is incredibly impressive, with the arrogance of HBK constantly causing him to butcher chances to win. On this occasion, the chokeslam followed by the signature throat slash taunt, and the Tombstone into the casket itself seem to have finally put paid to Michaels’ heel championship run, but a terrific piece of interference from Chyna, who low blows the ref, allows hired goons in the form of the New Age Outlaws and Los Boriucas to attack The Deadman.

With chaos reigning, the lights suddenly go red, the organ sounds and Kane appears, just as the pre-match hype had promised he would. The crowd are absolutely nuts for this development but then the Big Red Monster decks his storyline brother and chokeslams him into the casket, whereupon he and Paul Bearer padlock it closed as DX make their escape with the title. What happens next is indicative of both the Attitude Era as a whole and of the Russo influence on booking. Kane, with his character’s affinity for fire, breaks open the coffin and pours gasoline into it, before setting the entire thing alike. It’s a shocking, horror movie turn of events that would do a great deal towards building to the Wrestlemania feud to come. Although it looks rather excessive now, even a little silly, it did a hell of a lot to get the Kane gimmick over and set up a money supernatural style rivalry between the two. It also elegantly steered Michaels away from ‘Taker’s clutches and towards his pre-destined date with the Rumble winner, who we knew by now to be Stone Cold.

The casket match was a heck of a lot of fun to rewatch and featured everything we’d come to expect of its two main protagonists.The only question was whether it was worth the price. For Shawn Michaels, that cost was ghastly. More of which later.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***¾


OVERALL THOUGHTS


After a couple of PPVs that didn’t really hit the spot, the Rumble got things back on track. Whilst none of the matches were really all time great encounters, it was pretty solid across the board. Even on their worst day Taker vs Michaels is going to have an epic feel to it whereas the rumble match is always guaranteed to bring a certain level of excitement. The tag team and IC title matches filled the card nicely and the opener was fun and served its purpose. The minis were unneeded but the night was filled with some nice backstage segments that built up the ongoing story of the night - would Stone Cold make it to the Rumble? The pop when that glass smashing hit was huge and it’s a shame the WWE didn’t try and run a similar rumble story this year!

Yes it all seemed set up for a massive Bryan win at this year’s Rumble, but ultimately, things worked out just fine! Back in 1998, there’s just no way that WWF could have gambled with not having Austin win the Rumble; it was the only business decision they could have made, and the way they set his story up was incredibly exciting and also rather amusing. As Maz pointed out earlier, even the worst Rumble card is a lot more fun than most “normal” PPVs and this is no exception! The undercard delivered (particularly Vader/Goldust and Rocky vs Shamrock), the Rumble had some great moments (three faces of Foley, the final two face off between Rock and Austin) and the title match was very well worked with a spectacular Russo-tastic ending. A very fun show indeed.


Royal Rumble 1998 Overall ATTITUDE! Rating: ***½



MVP - THE ROCK



It was clear that the WWF always saw Rocky Maivia as the future of the company. As is often the problem however, the fans didn’t get the memo when he debuted. He was given the IC title immediately but a few months down the line it was clear The Blue Chipper wasn’t working and something had to give. He left TV for a while and when he returned as a heel member of the Nation of Domination, the world let out a collective “ahhhhhhh”. Here we are only a few months later and The Rock is not only back as the guy the company are clearly behind, but he has the fans eating out of his hand and hanging on his every word. You wouldn’t need to have even watched the events to see his importance. An Intercontinental Championship defence followed by a 50 minute ironman run in the rumble match which saw him as the final man eliminated. He put in a one hour shift (imagine that watching him get gassed up at Mania last year) and it wasn’t a lazy one either.

Looking back on Rocky before his shift in alignment, you could see the potential, and his IC title run was never as bad as it’s sometimes made out to be today (for example, his match with The Sultan at Wrestlemania XIII is actually very decent). With that said though, the character he was given was never going to cut it in the late 90s and his stint in the Nation turned him into the hottest heel in the business within a few short months. He was a fantastic foil for Shamrock, playing that arrogant jock dickhead you just want to punch in the face….and of course The World’s Most Dangerous Man obliged and Rock sold it like a total champ. The knucks spot at the end of that bout is brilliantly performed, and the interaction between the future Brahma Bull and the other Nation members, particularly Farooq, is a whole heap of fun. A deserved second MVP trophy for Mr Johnson!


THE ONE TO WATCH


What had seemed like a routine (for him, at least) bump turned into a living nightmare for Michaels. He apparently woke up at two in the afternoon before Monday Night Raw to find that he couldn’t move. When examined by WWF physician Dr Vasquez, it was found that he had crushed one disc and herniated two others, meaning that to all intents and purposes his wrestling career was over. Unfortunately for Vince, the wounded man was champion and was needed for the main event of an absolutely crucial Wrestlemania. The doctors were able to just about get Shawn to ‘Mania, but the wider audience could not know about the severity of the problem in case it harmed the precious buyrate. On reflection though, it’s obvious. The Heartbreak Kid did not wrestle on Raw, did not take any meaningful bumps on Raw and would ultimately be pulled from the multi-man tag main eventing No Way Out Of Texas.

Facing the ruin of his career and the prospect of having to be the torch passer at Wrestlemania while badly hurt caused Michaels’ well publicised volatile personality a whole lot worse. Ghostly footage on the Heartbreak and Triumph DVD documentary shows him pilled out of his mind at a Wrestlemania publicity event walking out after being hit by an object thrown from the crowd. He was bitter and in very bad shape. He even went so far, allegedly, as to almost refuse to drop the belt to Austin, being “persuaded” by ‘Taker that it was his duty to the business to do so. In the event, Shawn produced an incredibly gutsy performance to put Stone Cold over, but the wincing, limping champion is a tough thing to watch. In the post-Wrestlemania press conference, Michaels is seen in the background during Austin’s session kicking a door open to steal some of the spotlight. He would of course be replaced as the leader of DX by his best friend Hunter Hearst Helmsley and even be somewhat buried by him in the promo that marked the takeover. With his WWF commitments done, HBK descended into mindless hedonism, taking pills and drinking all day, every day. It was a horrible fate for somebody who had put on so many entertaining evenings of wrestling.

I mentioned during the Montreal Screwjob discussion that it seemed like a bizarre quirk of fate that Michaels was forced out of the WWF as an active competitor so soon after Bret had been jettisoned. Their destinies seemed so inextricably bound together in that way. In his book, Hart makes some rather snide remarks about the legitimacy of the back injury, but I suppose you have to expect that given the mental state the Hitman was in when he wrote that tome. Anyway, it’s a grim irony that they were both swept away just as wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation was entering a new boom period. Many have suggested over the years that the end of their respective tenures was ultimately a good thing for the business in the sense that the likes of Austin, Rock and Triple H were pushed to the fore now. In that respect, the career ending back injury of Shawn Michaels is one of the most crucial points in the early Attitude Era.

Quite. In the grand scheme of things I cannot help but think that the injury was a good thing. Shawn would return even better four years later for a great run and in reality the break probably extended his career. That is in addition to opening the door for others. In reality however it is hard to watch this period with an “all’s well that ends well” philosophy. The screwjob had Bret butt hurt but he his path at the time remained relatively unaltered. This however took Shawn well and truly out of the game for the rest of the era (in an in-ring capacity anyway). If this hadn’t happened though it would be interesting to see just what would have happened over the next few months.

The first thing you have to look at is what was right in front of your nose - the feud between Michaels and Austin. Whilst Bret suggesting that HBK was faking his injury smells of typical Hart bitterness, Shawn’s behaviour over the previous year or so did open the door for those suggestions. Whilst it is not out of the realms of possibility that Shawn faked it, his selling of his injury was way too understated when compared to his regular selling. I know some HBK fans won’t buy this, but the guy really isn’t that good an actor! What we missed out on in the end was what could, and should have been an all time great WrestleMania main event. Shawn had been killing it recent months and whilst Austin was hurting himself, I am sure he would have pushed his body to the limits for the granddaddy of them all. I recently listened to Michaels on Stone Cold’s podcast and they had a run together when Austin first joined the company where they tore the house down every night. The potential was there for an epic. Shawn’s injury and general demeanour at the time had an impact on the feud and the match. Mike Tyson’s involvement helped cover that but it could have been amazing if The Baddest Man On The Planet was enhancing it rather than saving it.

What happened after that would have been interesting. My assumption is that the feud would have continued. The fact that Dude Love, a character pretty much modelled on Michaels became the main challenger might be a clue. The fact that Foley was also the perfect guy to fit into a stopgap feud also suggests they probably didn’t have any other plans beforehand. Even if Shawn didn’t have to hang up his boots though, a bit of time off might have been perfect. It would have allowed Hunter to take the same trajectory with DX whilst setting up a feud outside of the title picture on his return. You could argue that a face turn for HBK so quickly after his heel turn wouldn’t have made sense but DX would soon be turning anyway and it wouldn’t have been too hard to pull off. A feud against the stable that overthrew him could have been great and you’d think that Shawn would have relished the chance to raise the profile of a Kliq buddy. They would feud down the line and would have excellent chemistry together but it would have been interesting to see earlier in Hunter’s development.

If Shawn did become a face, or if he did remain with DX, you’d have to assume his path would have crossed with a certain Mr Johnson before too long. The Rock vs HBK is a dream match in every sense of the word and their personality clash on screen could have been absolutely magic. He could have added a lot to the early stages of DX vs The Nation but you’d have to wonder if that would have really hurt Hunter in the long run if he was front and centre. If he feuded with Owen however whilst Trips and Rocky went at it, that could have been very fun. Even though his star was rising fast, you’d have to wonder if 1998 Shawn would have been willing to take that step down to Rocky however. In fact, that idea does kind of limit any fresh feuds in the first couple of years of Attitude. He may have renewed his feud with Taker at some point. Something fresh with Foley could have gone down and a battle against Kane might have happened. Outside of that I can’t imagine much on the horizon for Michaels. I am sure he would have been trying to politic his way back to the title. If that wasn’t happening he was more than creative enough to have pitched something that pushed him as a special feature and a big deal. At least until the mass exodus from WCW begun and Shawn would have had some excellent technicians to work with.

Of course, the rumour has always been that Shawn and Rocky did not get on at all well, even that DX tried to force a de-push for the Brahma Bull, and you have to wonder if a situation not unlike that of 2006-2010 when no new main eventers were made, might have occurred, holding the Great One and even The Game, who played second fiddle to HBK in their stable, down a little. It is ultimately hard to ignore the fact that the loss of Bret and Shawn forced the push of the long overdue Foley, and the two up and coming stable leaders, Trips and The Rock. You’ll never catch me saying that what happened to Hart and Michaels was “good” because their personal pain is something which has always resonated with me as a horrible thing. But for the WWF at the time, any number of great matches from those two premier workers would never make up for the characters that got over huge and won Vince the war. And who were those characters? The Rock (Nation, Corporate, Great One), Mankind (and occasionally Dude Love and Cactus Jack too), Triple H (DX leader, The Game) and Austin. They had space to breathe and space to influence the product, which was what ultimately gave WWF the advantage over WCW. As I’ve said before, fate is often very influential in determining the future of the product, and you won’t find two more fateful events than The Montreal Screwjob and the career ending injury to Shawn Michaels.


FINAL WORDS


Quite the historically important pay-per-view there. The Rumble is often the precursor to huge shifts in the WWF/E landscape, and 1998 was a prime example, with Michaels’ injury, huge progression in the saga of Kane, a shift towards the next generation of main eventers with the crowning of Austin as number one contender, and a significant bad ass celebrity endorsement with Tyson. With all the intrigue surrounding the rise of Stone Cold, the buy rate was bound to be good, especially given the Rumble’s strong history as a draw anyway, and indeed the event drew as close as damnit to a 1.0, a serious cause for celebration. Things were looking rosy from a business point of view; all Vince needed to do was keep Shawn from self-combusting in the aftermath of his injury and he would be all set to make some serious money...

Things in Atlanta weren’t going badly either. After a very strong main PPV of the year, WCW followed things up with Souled Out which managed a buy rate of just over 1.0. This was a strong card even without Sting and Hogan. The main event saw Lex Luger take on Randy Savage while Bret Hart wrestled Ric Flair and Kevin Nash took on The Giant. But WWF were still building towards Mania and the Stone Cold momentum was snowballing. We’d have one more stop on the road to the Granddaddy of them all and Vince would be looking to maximise the success of the event, even if he did have a crocked champion.




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