Welcome to an exciting new column series entitled Pro Wrestling WHAT IF from the producers that brought you On This Day in Pro Wrestling... and The Final Countdown here at LordsofPain.net / WrestlingHeadlines.com. For this column series, we will look back at a significant or "cornerstone" moment in pro wrestling and simply ask WHAT IF it didn't happen? Or better yet, WHAT IF a specific person didn't exist in pro wrestling. There are certain moments or persons that changed pro wrestling forever and without them, the sport of pro wrestling could be drastically different. Thus, this column will analyze WHY the event or person was significant and then analyze the industry if he, she, or it didn't happen.
For today's edition of PRO WRESTLING WHAT IF, we'll look specifically at today's WWE Management Team. In particular, the married couple in WWE's management who are both Executive Vice Presidents of the WWE Corporation and thanks to their relation to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Chairman of the Board Vince McMahon, there exists a strong probability that both EVPs will assume Vince's duties in the future. Who I'm talking about is EVP of Creative Stephanie McMahon, Vince's daughter, and EVP of Talent Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Vince's son-in-law. Over 13 years years ago during late 1999, a great storyline change for the Triple H character changed their lives forever and also created significant long-term change for the WWE as well. After their 1999 storyline in which the Triple H character shocked the world by marrying the Stephanie McMahon character, they not only made the business bigger together as an on-screen couple during 2000, but they also fell deeply in love in real life. Here we are in 2013 and both are EVPs of the WWE Corporation, still married, and have 3 daughters. Professionally, the answer only to Vince McMahon and Vince has delegated lots of authority to both.
But what if Stephanie McMahon didn't exist in the WWE????
Observe that this column said "in the WWE". Though the producer of this publication may disagree with Stephanie's leadership and creative ideas for the WWE over the last decade, this column wishes her no ill will. By all accounts, she appears to be a wonderful person, a great wife, and a great mom to her children. What this column is merely suggesting is that instead of working for the WWE Corporation, Stephanie McMahon simply takes another job and stays away from the pro wrestling business. After obtaining her Bachelor's in Communications degree from Boston University during 1998, she simply chooses to use that degree in a closely related field. Therefore, no future involvement with the WWE corporation that her dad, Vince McMahon, was still running in full force and appearing to begin to teach his son Shane McMahon to eventually take over someday. Thus, no Stephanie McMahon character, no eventual job of taking over the WWE Creative Team, and zero relationship to Paul "Triple H" Levesque. To consider the many signification changes because of this WHAT IF, one must consider the events of 1999 and beyond.
Stephanie McMahon's first real significant WWE work was during early 1999 when the then WWE Creative Team, led by Vince Russo with many WWE veterans (Jim Cornette briefly, Bruce Pritchard, Pat Patterson, Gerald Briscoe, and Michael "PS" Hayes) and reporting to Vince McMahon, decided to actually use Stephanie McMahon as an on-screen character as Vince's daughter.
During this period of time, the Attitude Era ramped up the intensity on the Undertaker and allowed him to create the Ministry of Darkness. The Ministry would eventually begin feuding with Vince McMahon's Corporation and one storyline had the Undertaker actually abduct Stephanie McMahon to get heat with Vince. Stone Cold Steve Austin would save Stephanie from the bizarre wedding attempt by the Undertaker. Vince was thankful for Austin saving his daughter and then Vince McMahon revealed himself as the "Higher Power" for the Undertaker. The Corporate Ministry was born with the Ministry of Darkness and the Corporation combined and we had Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon all over again. Stephanie's involvement in this storyline might be immaterial because Vince wanted to keep the Austin vs. Vince storyline going. Stephanie McMahon's character, however, would soon get into a more serious storyline that would give the WWE a much needed boost when the company's top star went down with injury.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin was the company's biggest star from 1998 to 1999 and grew the business significantly with his storyline against Vince McMahon. However, Steve Austin destroyed his neck in a match against Owen Hart at SummerSlam 1997. For whatever reason, the late Owen Hart hit Austin with a Sitdown version of the Tombstone Piledriver that broke Austin's neck. If you ever dared to question Austin's toughness, he dealt with the injury for 2 years until leaving the WWE just before Survivor Series 1999 to have neck surgery. Austin was scheduled to be out between 9-12 months and thus left the WWE with a major void. In addition, the Undertaker tore his groin during late and he was gone until later during 2000 too. The Rock was promoted to top babyface but the WWE needed something extra to continue 1999's strong growth momentum into 2000. WWE, as of October 1999, was now a publicly traded corporation and now had Shareholders to impress. They also had to drive final nails into World Championship Wrestling (WCW)'s coffin, their chief competition at the time.
The "something extra" was the McMahon-Helmsley Era storyline that began during late 1999 and dominated most of 2000. Stephanie McMahon and Triple clicked on and off screen and it catapulted Triple H up the ranks as a legitimate Main Event Heel after several speedbumps were hit during 1999 for "the Game". During early 1999, Triple H reportedly signed a new deal with the WWE with a promise of a Main Event push to be in the works. After his heel turn at Wrestlemania 15, Triple H would drastically change his looks by adding larger muscle mass, new tights, taping up the fists, new music, and changed up the hair (or added water to it). Then, he came out the ring with long-winded speeches and said "I am the Game". WWE tried to push Triple H into the WWE Title scene but during Summer/Fall of 1999, it just wasn't sticking so easily. Certainly, it couldn't help that he won his first WWE Title on a RAW following SummerSlam 1999 and then lose to Vince McMahon on an edition of Smackdown. With all pushes, timing is everything, but luck is sometimes needed.
Through feuding with Vince McMahon, the idea was tossed around the Creative Staff for Triple H to trick Vince McMahon's daughter, Stephanie McMahon, to get married to Triple H as a cliffhanger of RAW. The storyline had Stephanie falling in love with wrestler Test and blossoming into a romance that led to a proposal and then a wedding on Monday Night RAW. Just as RAW was going to conclude with the union of Test and Stephanie McMahon, Triple H interrupts and reveals that he has a video to show... The rest was history:
In the event that the video no longer works - Stephanie McMahon has something slipped into her drink during the Bachelorette Party and Triple H takes her to a Las Vegas drive-thru wedding chapel to get married. Triple H revealed the video of these events when he interrupted Test and Stephanie's wedding.. Then, with the SHOCK of Triple H now being married to Stephanie McMahon, it was Triple H vs. Vince McMahon at Armageddon 1999 which saw Stephanie McMahon turn HEEL herself to fully accept Triple H as her husband. Must have been that trash can toss by British Bulldog that gave Stephanie temporary amnesia? The McMahon-Hemsley era had begun and utilized Degeneration X members X-Pac, Road Dogg, and Billy Gunn as heel henchmen. Triple H now had the heel heat he needed and just needed a major stage to focus his in-ring talents. That was Royal Rumble 2000 against Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) for arguably 2000's "Match of the Year". Now with heel heat and in-ring credibility, Triple H carried the Main Event momentum until his Quadriceps tear during May 2001. Triple H's 2000-2001 in-ring work gave him credibility to be pushed hard for years to come. That, and his blossoming relationship with Stephanie which resulted in a real life marriage during October 2003.
BUT - No Stephanie in the WWE - No Weddings, both in the ring and outside of the ring.
Without the Stephanie McMahon marriage, Triple H would have to work harder at getting over. As noted during Summer/Fall 1999, he wasn't so quick out of the gate as a Main Eventer. Chances are, he'd still be a major heel but Vince McMahon wouldn't push him as strong. Triple H would be a placeholder for the WWE Title until Vince McMahon wanted a big moment for the Rock to win the WWE Title. That, and Vince was crazy high on the Big Show at the time and had Big Show involved in the WWE Title scene during late 1999 and he was involved with the 4 Way McMahon Wrestlemania 16 match. In fact, the WWE had Big Show and Rock act as co-winners of the Royal Rumble 2000 when the match ended in controversy (Rock's feet hit but the referees didn't see it as Big Show went over the ropes). Quite possibly, the Big Show still defeats Triple H at Survivor Series 1999 in a 3 Way match along with the Rock and disallows for Triple H to win the WWE Title back at the January 3rd, 2000 edition of Monday Night RAW. Without the McMahon-Helmsley angle catching fire, Triple H doesn't have the heat to get the WWE Title. It could very well end with Big Show vs. the Rock at Wrestlemania 16 with the Rock outright winning the 2000 Rumble match.
Without the McMahon-Helmsley storyline strengthening Triple H as a Main Eventer and also gaining favor of the McMahons, Vince McMahon returns to his typical push babyfaces HARD template. It was the Rock's turn with Steve Austin out and Wrestlemania 16 was going to be the Rock's crowning moment. As shown by Vince McMahon pushing the Main Event babyface hard to the top such as Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Diesel, Shawn Michaels, and Steve Austin, 2000 was going to be the Rock's year to dominate. Chances are that Rock wins the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 16, continues to dominate through the summer, and then begins to compete with the returning Steve Austin for #1 babyface. Chances would be strong at Austin vs. Rock II still occurs at Wrestlemania 17 and for all we know, Steve Austin still might turn heel. But remember, the WWE Creative Staff is different and might realize that turning Austin heel was idiotic because the Rock was going to take time off to film The Mummy Returns. With the attention fully on the Rock and Austin for 2000-2001 instead, Triple H could just be one of the various main event heels for Rock/Austin to mow through along with Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Big Show, etc.
Without the McMahon-Helmsley storyline, the great Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) match at Royal Rumble 2000, which was deemed 2000's "Match of the Year" by various publications, probably doesn't happen. Part of how this match actually occurred was Foley protesting the McMahon-Hemsley relationship and how it began to shift the power of the WWE. After Vince McMahon sold his injuries from Armageddon 1999, Triple H and Stephanie acted as corrupt interim authority figures and began screwing with wrestlers lives and matches. Foley, who was a major target of the McMahon-Helmsley bullying, stood up against the new faction. The Foley/Triple H match at Royal Rumble was a direct result of the McMahon-Helmsley storyline. In this column's opinion, IF Stephanie McMahon doesn't exist in the WWE, Triple H vs. Cactus Jack from Royal Rumble 2000 does NOT happen whatosever and neither does their Hell in a Cell rematch at No Way Out 2000. Furthermore, Mick Foley does not get added to the Wrestlemania 16 match because of no linkage to Triple H for heat. Without Stephanie involved, chances are that we don't get a "McMahon Four Way" at Wrestlemania 16.
Quite possibly, Triple H becomes a top contender to win the 2000 Royal Rumble instead. Vince McMahon has used to Royal Rumble to get various Main Eventers over and he could have used the Rumble match to push Triple H over the top. However, Vince was also set on getting Big Show over during late 1999 and early 2000 and the Rock was set to become the #1 babyface to probably be crowned at Wrestlemania 16. Maybe the WWE does the same Rumble 2000 finish but with Rock and Triple H instead (Rock's feet hit the ground but referee doesn't see it as Triple H goes over the top rope). We're operating on the same booking staff as it were during early 2000 and thus this controversial Rumble finish was on somebody's mind (likely to be Pat Patterson's). If this happens, we'll get Triple H vs. Big Show vs. the Rock at Wrestlemania 16 in a Triple Threat match instead of Big Show vs. Rock. Either way, the Rock is highly likely to win the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 16. From there, it would be up to Triple H to get over himself as a heel but Steve Austin's return later during 2000 could have hurt any Triple H momentum built. He no longer has his growing backstage influence from the relationship to Stephanie McMahon as a firewall to protect his Main Event spot. Austin's 2000 return was somewhat uneventful because the WWE landscape had changed so much with the McMahon-Helmsley storyline running so strong. Tables would be turned on Triple H in this timeline as something like a Best 2 out of 3 Falls victory for Triple H over Steve Austin at No Way Out 2001 doesn't happen.
Chris Jericho may have been WWE Champion earlier rather than later. Reportedly, and this was due to Jericho being very over during 2000, he was set to defeat Triple H at one big 2000 matches, whether it was the reversed decision match at Monday Night RAW or the Last Man Standing at Full Loaded 2000. But remember, these matches do not happen in their storyline context during 2000 without Stephanie. Jericho's star was on the fast track already after his incredible debut during August 9th, 1999. Without Triple H as a strong heel on top, Jericho's star could have actually eclipsed Triple H during 2000. Kurt Angle, who quickly climbed the ladder too, could have equal or greater than Triple H. There is no Stephanie McMahon for Angle to have a crush on, too, and thus no redemption for husband Triple H to obtain over Angle. The dependent factor would be how Triple H works with the Rock. Chances are that THE match that Triple H was waiting for was a strong one-on-one showing with the Rock instead of Cactus Jack at Royal Rumble 2000. Triple H did work with the Rock during 1998 and in-ring chemistry that the 2 actually had during 2000 could also be present in this altered timeline without Stephanie. But again, the backstage stroke to give Triple H favorable booking is no longer there even if he has 1 great match with the Rock.
2001 becomes more difficult. With a lesser Triple H now in the way, Steve Austin could return to his throne and the whole teaming of Triple H and Steve Austin after Wrestlemania 17 could be thrown out the window. Without that teaming of Austin and Triple H, no Quadriceps tear in a tag team match during May 2001 against Chris Jericho/Chris Benoit. Chances are in this timeline that without Stephanie McMahon, Triple H will now exist in the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) Invasion storyline. Better yet, Stephanie won't exist to be bankrolling Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) that was soon added to WCW to invade the WWE together. One could argue that Paul Heyman could have assumed ownership of the ECW brand but part of the point of Stephanie being the ECW owner was to have the 2 siblings (Shane McMahon with WCW and Stephanic McMahon with ECW) taking on their father Vince. Without Stephanie in the mix and without a successful 2000 year to boast, chances are that Shane McMahon bankrolls both WCW and ECW and just enlists the help of Paul Heyman. At the end of the day, Vince McMahon's end game was to prove, on screen, that the WWE was superior to WCW and even ECW brands. With or without Stephanie McMahon as Lead Writer of the WWE as of late 2000, the WCW/ECW angle was destined to fail because of Vince McMahon's own personal ego. For Triple H, I could possibly see him joining the WCW brand because of his previous time in WCW before joining the WWE during 1995. Terra Ryzing lives! (One of his WCW ring names).
Then there's 2002-2003 for Triple H. In the real time, Triple H returned from his Quadriceps injury to make his grand return at Royal Rumble 2002 and won the Royal Rumble to become #1 Undisputed WWE Title contender. Triple H would win that very title against Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 18 in a feud that saw Stephanie McMahon align herself with Jericho (Triple H & Stephanie's characters split after Triple H found out she was faking a pregnancy, oops!). This is the infamous Lucy "the Dog" feud where the heat wasn't on the Undisputed WWE Title but on ex-lovers squabbling over who gets ownership of a dog. Seriously. But if Stephanie McMahon doesn't join the WWE during 1999, Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania 18 have different outcomes in 2002. The actual Jericho/Triple H Wrestlemania 18 match up was uneventful and Triple H walking away with a predictable WWE Title win didn't give Jericho much to show for during the rest of 2002. Triple H would go on to immediately drop the WWE Title to Hulk Hogan, to Triple H's credit, but would then go on a dominant streak that only saw Shawn Michaels getting some edge on the Game during 2002-2003.
When Triple H returned to the WWE during 2002, the backstage situation was different. He had been dating Stephanie for a solid 2 years and by early 2003 (Valentine's Day, I believe), he was engaged to Stephanie. By October 2003, they were married. Triple H began attending backstage production meetings and obviously grew close to his future father-in-law, Vince McMahon. At the same time, Triple H remained an active touring wrestler and main eventer. This "conflict of interest" between being a top wrestler and a creative influence backstage caused a very dark period for RAW during 2002-2003. The WWE conducted their brand split with RAW and Smackdown through 2002 and RAW was Triple H's brand. He was even crowned the RAW brand's "World Heavyweight Champion" with the big gold WCW Belt instead of any tournament held to decide the champion after WWE Champion Brock Lesnar bolted for the Smackdown brand. Triple H's backstage and in-ring presence began to affect all of his opponents during 2002-2003.
In addition to Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 18, Triple H seemed to destroy almost every opponent besides the returning Shawn Michaels. The one who received it the worst was Kane. The humiliating unmasking (partially shaved head???) and then the Katie Vick storyline where Triple H alleged that Kane killed a female companion while being intoxicated in the past. Triple H's ode to Necrophilia with a dummy representing Katie Vick was just absurd. Then, there was Rob Van Dam and Booker T, 2 top stars from other companies. WWE, and possibly Vince himself, destroyed Booker T with the Rock and Steve Austin beforehand, as Booker T was WCW's final World Champion before the acquisition. But the way Triple H humiliated Booker T with that scathing promo and then beating him in an uneventful Wrestlemania 19 match was shameful. We got nothing out of the Rob Van Dam match other than Rob Van Dam saying "you spit out your water and you're like grrrrrrr!". WCW Superstars Bill Goldberg and Scott Steiner would join the WWE and be fed to Triple H. Triple H won out in the end against those two and delivered extremely cliche storylines with them as well. Go see the posedown with Scott Steiner!
But without Stephanie McMahon, Triple H might not be the creative influence backstage during 2002-2003 that kept the Triple H character way too strong. It's hard to argue that Booker T, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Kane, Scott Steiner, or even Bill Goldberg are on "All Time Great" lists ahead of Triple H, but the way Triple H dominated and belittled them during 2002-2003 did damage to each of those wrestlers long-term. Better yet as a backstage presence, Triple H showed bias to wrestlers who became friends of his. Batista, like Sheamus is now, was a lifting buddy of Triple H while Triple H seemed to take a liking in the young star named Randy Orton. Together, they formed the Evolution stable with Ric Flair and the stable was gaining momentum through 2004 until Triple H broke the group up by attempting to give Orton a World Title way too early in his career at SummerSlam 2004. When Orton's premature World Title reign was clearly failing, Triple H was there with open arms to win the title shortly thereafter. Then, Triple H put over his other pal Batista for the World Title the following year at Wrestlemania 21. Treats his friends nice but is very protective of his Main Event spot. But without the Stephanie relationship, does all of this happen?
The destinies of Chris Jericho, Kane, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Bill Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Randy Orton, and Batista could be ultimately changed without the Triple H roadblock in the way. Who knows about "Natureboy" Ric Flair? Ric Flair and Triple H became friends again and Triple H was very responsible for Flair's 2000's comeback. Ric Flair, if he would still join the WWE after Survivor Series 2001, could have had just a non-wrestling role during the 2000's instead of being lured into becoming a full time wrestler again. And then there's Chris Benoit... Triple H put the guy over huge during 2004 at Wrestlemania 20 with a clean tapout. Chances are that Chris Benoit remains on the Smackdown brand and possibly goes after Eddie Guerrero for Wrestlemania 20 instead. Who knows? And who knows what Shawn Michaels would have done? Triple H commanding a powerful spot in the WWE certainly had a positive influence on Shawn Michaels as a friend. Seeing Triple H grow and become the most successful Clique member could have driven Shawn Michaels to clean up his act and make an incredible comeback during 2002. Instead of Triple H and Shawn Michaels acting as separate wrestlers during 2002-2003, I bet that they team up in some capacity such as DX or maybe even a group called the "Clique" during 2002 (with Sean Waltman, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall) instead since Triple H isn't the standout star because the year 2000 was much different for him.
Hard to say what else could happen with Triple H... What is clear is that the McMahon-Helmsley Era got Triple H instantly over as a heel from the Stephanie marriage and put him in a position for a very heated match with Cactus Jack at Royal Rumble 2000. The backstage politician of Triple H is a lot less significant without having Vince's daughter's ear and eventually, Vince's ear itself. "EVP of Talent" and the #1 adviser to Vince McMahon doesn't happen if Stephanie is not working for the WWE to fall in love with Triple H. Other main eventers, such as the Rock or the returning "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would become much stronger. Steve Austin cites Triple H as a major problem starter during 2002 when Austin was having his backstage problems and walked out of the WWE twice over creative differences. This conflict between Triple H and Austin during 2002 doesn't happen although Austin's bad neck still does. Chances are, something else within the WWE (returning Hulk Hogan) would upset Austin with a bad neck inducing the need to ease the pain...
Triple H's influence on the talents used, acquired, and pushed would be gone. In addition to his influence on the WWE Creative Team, Triple H wanted a say on developmental talent. He helped eliminate John Laurinaitis as EVP of Talent Relations and now oversees the developmental territory. While Laurinaitis's tenure has been controversial and not as great a Jim Ross's reign, he was thrown out the door and also had his television character eliminated. Wrestlers like Sheamus, who Triple H really likes and has personally vouched for, would be able to remain in the WWE developmental territory and be called up when he was ready. Sheamus could be a midcarder for years until he was actually over to win a World Title. Someone like CM Punk doesn't have Triple H ruining his career simply because HHH doesn't personally like Punk. Imagine CM Punk's 2011 year if he didn't have to put up with a "Chief Operating Officer" named Triple H after the Money in the Bank 2011 Pay Per View. For all we know through 2013, Triple H might not be in the WWE without Stephanie. Maybe the WWE got tired of him sometime during the mid-2000's and Triple H gives TNA Wrestling a try. Who knows?
Personally, Triple H could have remained with Joanie "Chyna" Laurer and could have tried to make it work. During late 1999, independent of the Stephanie McMahon storyline, Laurer was reportedly becoming possessive and controlling. The relationship was on the rocks and the break-up could have occurred anyway. However, without an option like Stephanie McMahon to date soon thereafter during early 2000, Triple H could have gone back to Laurer and attempted to make it work. Triple H really did care for Laurer and was by her side since 1996 through their early 2000 break-up. Without Triple H dating Vince McMahon's daughter, Chyna's chances for remaining in the WWE increase greatly. She left during November 2001 after a new contract "couldn't be reached" and her life has been a trainwreck ever since with alcohol/drug abuse and pornography. Triple H and Laurer could have tried to make it work during 2000 and even marry eventually. Laurer's dangerous lifestyle since 2001 could have been erased and replaced with a continued WWE career and possibly a movie career. Hollywood had interest in her while she was employed with the WWE but no so much after she exited the company, especially without the trademarked "Chyna" name.
Backstage, things without Stephanie McMahon assuming Creative Team duties during late 2000 could get very interesting. From early 1997 through early October 1999, former WWE Magazine writer turned Creative Team member became Lead Writer for the WWE. While many criticize Russo's WCW and TNA runs, he deserves credit for injecting adult themed storylines and creating compelling storylines around the major superstars that exponentially grew during Russo's lead writer tenure such as Rock, Mick Foley, and Steve Austin. By the fall of 1999, Russo became burned out due to the WWE hectic schedule and also for the newly created WWE Smackdown show on the UPN Network. In what could either be called a blunder or on purpose, due to some real life heat, Vince Russo and his associate Ed Ferrara's WWE contracts expired under VP of Talent Relations Jim Ross's watch. They worked under a verbal agreement until World Championship Wrestling (WCW) made them an offer to book WCW. Both Russo and Ferrara jumped, as well as another WWE wrestler whom Ross also their deal expire without noticing, Jeff Jarrett. A replacement was needed during late 1999, especially if Russo/Ferrara were to be successful in WCW.
A man by the name of Chris Kreski replaced Vince Russo during October 1999 and remained WWE's lead writer until Stephanie McMahon replaced him during November 2000. Kreski oversaw arguably the most successful period of the WWE Attitude Era that was mostly without Steve Austin and the Undertaker. The bulk of the McMahon-Helmsley storyline was overseen and written by Kreski and he was able to create storylines that spanned across both RAW and Smackdown effectively. Kreski, a former Mtv television writer by the way (Remote Control, Beavis & Butthead, and Celebrity Death Match, mind you), was big on storyboarding. Even though Kreski was mocked for the storyboards, including by Triple H openly, WWE RAW and Smackdown shows had continuity and consistency that the 1999's booking-on-the-fly, at times, by Russo didn't have (see "Higher Power" during 1999). WWE not only benefitted by a major influx of fresh talent (Jericho, Angle, Benoit, Tazz, Guerrero, Saturn, Malenko, Dudleys) and existing wrestlers stepping up (Edge, Christian, Hardys, and Triple H), but by actual booking consistency both at the Main Event and Midcard level. Kreski would be replaced as Lead Writer by Stephanie during November 2000 but remain on as a consultant through 2002 before leaving the WWE.
BUT if Stephanie McMahon doesn't join the WWE and therefore doesn't become Lead Writer during November 2000, chances are that Chris Kreski remains as Lead Writer through 2001. Who knows what could have happened with the WCW/ECW Invasion storyline with Kreski in charge and not Stephanie? Granted, Vince McMahon wanted to officially squash WCW like a bug on television during 2001. That much is clear... However, a little bit of storyboarding could have gone a long way during the WCW/ECW Invasion. As you'll recall, the WWE and WCW Titles changed hands repeatedly among WWE or WCW/ECW branded wrestlers and also without hype. Randomly, WWE and WCW/ECW wrestlers would wrestle on WWE television shows without hype and taking away from the special element of WWE and WCW/ECW wrestler dream matches. It was quite a joke to see WWE vs. WCW/ECW match-ups on the WWE's syndicated shows when those should be reserved for the bigger shows or at least hyped in advance. The WCW/ECW Invasion was an organizational disaster on top of a Vince McMahon ego trip. At the very least, if Kreski could have not let the WWE and WCW Titles get screwed up with major title change inflation at the time, things could have improved. After all, Kreski had the year 2000 on his resume and that was a much better year than 2001.
If you assume that Kreski wanted to eventually leave the WWE, who replaces Kreski during 2001 or 2002? Enter Paul Heyman. Heyman's Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) promotion was set to die during early 2001 and thus he'd join the WWE anyway. In need of a creative mind to replace Chris Kreski, there exists a strong likelihood that Paul Heyman gets the nod. After all, Heyman received lead writer duties for the 2002 Smackdown brand and held the role through early 2004. Even with Stephanie McMahon around, Heyman was still given booking duties and for about 2 years. Without Stephanie to compete with, Vince McMahon would rely on Heyman more and possibly make him Lead Writer of the WWE overall. Heyman's problem during 2003 was that he made Smackdown more successful as a brand than RAW and thus caused backstage jealousy with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, notably with Triple H as the major superstar on RAW. Heyman was getting lots of credit for Smackdown's brand split start-up and thus crap like Albert turning into the A-Train was shoved down Heyman's throat and other meddling booking by the McMahons (Stephanie as Smackdown GM, Vince McMahon vs. Mr. America/Hulk Hogan, etc.) was thrown his way. Without Stephanie and a less powerful Triple H backstage, Paul Heyman's influence on Vince McMahon can be stronger.
Heyman's influence, however, would depend on how much Shane McMahon would want to one day run the WWE himself. Without Stephanie McMahon and Triple H competing heavily for Vince's favor backstage, Shane McMahon is set to inherit Vince McMahon's WWE without much competition backstage. With Stephanie existing in the WWE, Shane McMahon was just a part of the WWE's management team and eventually stepped away from the creative team to head up the WWE's media division. Certainly, a lot of WWE.com's success throughout the 2000's could be from Shane's leadership, particularly with regards to technology. By October 2009, Shane McMahon stepped away from the WWE to leave no doubt who would inherit the WWE when Vince McMahon retires or passes. Without Stephanie McMahon and her #1 advisor husband Triple H around, Shane McMahon could inherit the WWE without causing any family feud. Chances are that Shane would run the WWE company well, given his work with WWE media division and other roles outside of the WWE, but it's rather difficult to gauge how well he'd do on the Creative side of things. He seemed to never get fully involved with the WWE's storylines or wrestler development as Vince Russo, Chris Kreski, and Stephanie McMahon stepped up to the plate instead.
Another thought... Eric Bischoff joined the WWE during 2002 as the RAW General Manager. For all we know, he could have had a bigger influence on Vince McMahon and joined the WWE Creative Team instead of being just an on-air talent. But, Bischoff could have also tried to create a legitimate conpetitor, too, in this alternative timeline provided that Bischoff tried to buy WCW during early 2001. Bischoff backed off from buying WCW when AOL/Time Warner canceled WCW programming from TBS and TNT.
And then consider 2013 WWE Hall of Famer, Trish Stratus... Many questioned why she didn't have Lita induct her instead of Stephanie McMahon. Trish started off with the WWE as a manager for midcarders such as the Test & Albert (ya get it, "T & A"?) tag team as well as Val Venis. Soon, however, she'd get involved into the whole McMahon-Helmsley storyline. The famous scene backstage where Triple H is teaching Trish Stratus how to counter a hammerlock and Stephanie walks in on the scene with Trish suggestively bent over in front of Triple H. This scene planted seeds for future animosity, such as Trish Stratus acting as Vince's on-screen girlfriend (with Linda institutionalized, LOL) and Stephanie certainly having a problem with that. The 2 had a pretty good women's match at No Way Out 2001 which in my opinion, was very important to Trish's then early career. Stephanie, to her credit, gave Trish one of her best matches and Stephanie barely performed in the ring. Without the McMahon-Helmsley angle, Trish could have been stuck longer as a manager and unable to begin her fantastic in-ring career. Stephanie was extremely important to Trish's WWE career, thus the Hall of Fame induction nod.
Quite difficult to project the remainder of the 2000's through 2013 without Stephanie McMahon. She reshaped the booking team from old WWE veterans to Hollywood television writers. Quite possibly, the lack of Hollywood's influence on the WWE could erase the thought of WWE Films or other mainstream branch outs by the WWE Corporation. Stephanie has filled her creative teams with Hollywood writers and changed the WWE's creative thought process forever. Without wrestling guys on the creative team, past wrestling traditions like midcard title belts and tag teams have become less important. Being the daughter of Vince McMahon, Vince has been willing to listen to his own daughter rather than consider Vince's own previous decades of experience in the wrestling business for what works.
Consider this... The McMahon-Helmsley storyline WAS very successful from late 1999 through 2000. Without, thanks to Stephanie not existing in the WWE, we could see a less profitable WWE. That storyline kept the momentum going even as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was out with a neck injury. Without the McMahon-Helmsley storyline, the WWE might have officially peaked in 1999 with the last remaining fumes of the Austin vs. Vince storyline. 2000 could have been the decline of the WWE empire instead and thus keeping World Championship Wrestling (ECW) and possibly Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) with skin in the game. After all, a highly successful WWE through 2000 caught the interest of Viacom for their TNN (now Spike TV) cable channel. Viacom threw lots of money at the WWE to jump from USA Network to TNN. Quite possibly, that deal doesn't happen or is for much less money than what Viacom offered (CLICK HERE for Mr. Tito's famous "Winner's Curse" 9/14/2005 column about TNN/Viacom's 2000 deal). The deal with Viacom was very lucrative for the WWE during 2000 and a big revenue boost to present to investors with the WWE becoming a publicly traded Corporation during October 1999.
Additionally, if the WWE cooled off by late 1999, who knows if NBC would have been confident in the WWE as an investor to create the XFL professional football league. NBC was still burned by losing the AFC television contract for the NFL to CBS and was seriously looking to start up their own professional football league. WWE, remaining on top of the professional wrestling business, joined the league as an investor and poured lots of WWE money into the project. In addition, Viacom invested heavily in the league with television contracts for games to air on UPN and TNN. Without a successful 2000 WWE, no Viacom contract for RAW nor is there a Viacom investment for the XFL. Whether the league starts or not, the WWE and NBC needed Viacom to eat some of the financial burden of the league. Without them, either the XFL doesn't launch successfully or NBC/WWE eats more of the financial loss that the XFL disaster would present.
Without the McMahon-Helmsley storyline, the WWE could have been much weaker as a dominant wrestling entity. WCW and ECW could have survived longer, but even if they both still died by early 2001, the WWE wouldn't have been the wrestling powerhouse that it would remain after 2001. However, a different WWE Creative Team could actually do more with the Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory "Class of 2002" with Randy Orton, Batista, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, etc. and other Ohio Valley Wrestling performers since 2002. Jim Cornette, Jim Ross, and Danny Davis stocked that farm system and gave the WWE lots of fresh talent that would help make the Brand Extension concept of splitting the roster successful. Paul Heyman was instrumental in the development of Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Shelton Benjamin, and Charlie Haas for the Smackdown roster and could have done more with Batista and Randy Orton if Heyman oversaw the entire WWE roster and not just Smackdown's.
But, if the different timeline WWE Creative Team couldn't do more than the real Creative Team did with the Ohio Valley Wrestling "Class of 2002", the WWE is much more vulnerable to competition. Not just from TNA Wrestling, but possibly other wrestling minds and investors might consider jumping into the wrestling business besides TNA. WWE was so strong financially during 2001 that it kept other potential competitors out. With a weaker WWE financially, TNA might become a more viable option for wrestlers to join via free agency. Since 2001, WWE's retention of wrestlers from competition has been strong in the aftermath of the Monday Night Wars, from a growing 2000 year, and the lucrative Viacom/TNN contract. Bigtime WWE veterans don't even bother with TNA because WWE remains the better financial wrestling option and by a mile. A weaker WWE due to the promotion peaking in 1999 without the McMahon-Helmsley storyline during 2000 could open things up for competition moreso than what has really happened.
IN SUMMARY: No Stephanie McMahon in the WWE, the WWE is a much different company. She was the cornerstone of change, whether you like the WWE since late 1999 or not. Stephanie changed the way that the WWE develops storylines, gimmicks, and scripts lines. Her aggressive nature backstage has thrust her into becoming the successor to her father for the WWE empire while pushing her older brother Shane out of the way. Her storyline with Triple H during late 1999 and continued on fumes through early 2001 captivated audiences and kept fans interested in the WWE product after Steve Austin was injured. But her relationship and marriage to pro wrestler Triple H is the biggest change of them all... It created a new WWE Superstar and put Triple H in a backstage position of major power which did appear to create a "conflict of interest" with Triple H remaining a wrestler himself. Stephanie's existence in the WWE ultimately changed the WWE forever.
Now, don't get me wrong... I'm NOT wishing ill will on Stephanie McMahon... I'm just a wrestling columnist and dedicated wrestling fan analyzing her impact with the WWE, both good and bad, and that's it. By all means, she appears to be a fantastic person, a loving wife, and a great mother to her 3 daughters. So if one of her 3 daughters is reading this in the future years, take no offense. At the end of the day, she oversaw a profitable WWE that remains a strong force in not just the pro wrestling industry, but in entertainment as well. Wrestling fans don't see everything that goes on backstage, so for all we know, she could have kept the WWE company together from an even bigger freefall since 2000. She still has to answer to her father, Vince McMahon, who could be legitimately squashing great ideas of hers. In addition, she's a female who has a prominent role in a publicly traded corporation. Granted, her father is Vince McMahon, but it's not like other WWE Shareholders are running towards the Stamford, CT offices with pitchforks and demanding her termination. She has booked and overseen several extremely successful Wrestlemania shows and probably influenced the WWE Corporation to dabble into other industries besides wrestling such as WWE Films. The film "The Call" made money at theaters this year and could be a sign of better things to come.
Thus, Stephanie McMahon has succeeded well at life, both professionally and personally. Like her or not, her footprint in the WWE Universe has to be respected and without her, we have a much different universe to behold.
Hope you enjoyed the new WHAT IF series... Many more to come...