What if…Rikishi Wasn’t the Guy Who Ran Over Stone Cold Steve Austin at Survivor Series 1999?

0 Submitted by on Thu, 27 December 2012, 15:11

Text By Jed Shaffer

What if…Rikishi Wasn’t the Guy Who Ran Over Stone Cold Steve Austin at Survivor Series 1999?

Part I

Our story begins on the October 9th, 2000 edition of Raw. Since coming back weeks before, Steve Austin has turned the WWF upside down in his quest for vengeance against the man who ran him down a year prior. Between Austin’s reckless actions, and his blatant attack the previous week on Smackdown, WWF Commissioner Mick Foley has suspended Austin until the investigation is complete. Rumors circulate that Foley has uncovered new clues that might bring the mystery to a close on this very night … if Austin doesn’t tear the federation apart beforehand …

Raw: Oct. 9, ’00

Jim Ross has only a few seconds to promote the nights double-header of tag matches–Undertaker & Rock vs. Kurt Angle & Kane, and Triple H & Jericho vs. Benoit & X-Pac–before WWF Commissioner Mick Foley comes down to the ring to start off Raw. But, unlike previous weeks, the hardcore legend is greeted not by his usual raucous pop, but a mixture of cheers and boos from the loyal Austin fans.

“Well,” he begins, and the dissenters in the audience voice themselves again, a little louder then before. “I see that some of you are cheering me, and some of you are not … which means, apparently some of you realise why I did what I had to do Thursday night … and some of you don’t. Now I wanna be real clear, I enjoy getting cheap pops from audiences around the country, but not at the expense of doing my job correctly. So, do I think I was justified in suspending Stone Cold on Thursday? You’re damn right I do. But am I going to let the fact that he gave me a Stone Cold Stunner and embarrassed me for a second time on national television prevent me from doing my job? You’re damn right I’m not. Now I know word has gotten out that I would deliver the person responsible, and whether you all want to believe it, or whether Stone Cold wants to believe it, I am on his side, and I have spared no expense to bring in a very important person here tonight. Somebody who, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, is a fellow Texan. Somebody who’s been hanging a little bit low – somebody who, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, is a former WWF Champion. Hell, he’s one of the greatest competitors to ever step inside this ring. Some of you know him as the former WWF Commissioner … some of you know him as the Heartbreak Kid. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring to you tonight … Mr. Shawn Michaels!”

Shawn Michaels saunters down to the ring as the audience comes out of their seats. He looks almost as good as he did not a couple years before, walking with a little spring in his step. “Shawn Michaels,” says Mick, “as the new WWF Commissioner, let me say welcome to Anaheim, California, my fellow … my fellow broken down, washed up wrestler.”

Shawn’s smile is immediately disarming and engaging, like the Shawn of old. “Damn glad to be here, Mick.” “Now listen, Shawn, out of respect for you and everything you’ve done in this ring, I’m not going to come out here and accuse you of running down Stone Cold Steve Austin.” The crowd immediately turns on the idea. Mick scans the audience for a second, then turns his attention back to Shawn. “What I am going to do, however, is present you with the opportunity to explain just where you were and what you did on the night that Stone Cold was run down.”

All the humor is drained from Shawn’s face; he looks hurt, let down, even offended. “Well, gee, Mick, you go through the trouble of flying me out here–first class, by the way … set me up in a five star hotel, you dust off the old HBK music … but still, nonetheless, you do it while accusing me of running down Stone Cold Steve Austin. Now being the guy I am, Mick, I’m not only gonna tell you what I did that night, hell, I’m gonna tell you what I did the whole damn day.” Shawn starts to pace the ring; Mick watches, his face wearing a mask of barely controlled impatient. “Now you’re gonna have to bear with me, as I’m sure you can understand this head’s taken a lot of chairshots, so I might be a bit foggy. Now, I remember opening my eyes in bed, rolling over, and squeezing my white-hot wife on the butt and giving her a kiss on the cheek, good morning. Then, I got up, brushed my teeth, had a little breakfast, and … let me see, did I jump on a plane, fly to Detroit, sneak into the Joe Louis Arena and run down Stone Cold Steve Austin? Now, you know my head isn’t always there, Mick, but I think I’d remember if I ran down another human being. Call me crazy, but I’m telling ya, that thud on the bumper woulda jogged my memory.” Shawn stops in front of Mick and shakes his head. “See, Mick, there’s one problem with your scenario: the person you’re lookin’ for needs a motive. And, well, the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels sure as hell doesn’t have one, but I wanna wish you all the luck in the world, and I hope you find your man.”

Shawn starts to leave the ring, but is stopped by Mick’s words. “Wait, wait, just a second. You claim not to have a motive, maybe indeed you do need a little bit of refresher. Let’s take a look at the TitanTron, a little footage from WrestleMania two short years ago. Going for the kick, but no–Stone Cold, bam, a Stunner.Bam, a Stunner, one, two, three, and not only that, Shawn Michaels, when you were down, when you were out, when you had to legitimately pass the torch, he reaches down and offers a Stone Cold salute. So, Shawn, I say to you, do you have the motive? Let me remind you of a little something: you know a question I get asked just about more than everything else? I get asked what was mygreatest match. Everybody assumes it’s Hell in the Cell with the Undertaker, every single time I say without fail it was Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels at Mind Games, September 1996. You know what their reaction is? ‘Uh?’ No one remembers 1996, Shawn. Nobody appreciates the trail you blazed so that the WWF Superstars of today could rake in the cash. No one seems to care. And then, Shawn, if it had been me, if I’d rolled off a hospital bed, come to main event the WrestleMania, and not only passed the torch, but been awarded for of all that by having Stone Cold Steve Austin put his middle fingers in my face, if all that had been done to me, I’ll tell you what, Shawn; I woulda run the son of a bitch over! So you ask me for motive; I say, you look up at the screen, and when Stone Cold put his middle fingers in the your face, you’ve got your motive!”

Shawn is now in Mick’s face, the cowboy hat off, and the classic HBK temper flaring. “Are you finished? First off, I don’t ever want to see that on the screen again, and secondly, you’ve got a hell of a lotta nerve coming out here and saying what you just said. I guess it’s time for the truth, isn’t it, Mick.”

“I would appreciate the truth. I think everybody here would appreciate the truth.”

“Fine, it’s time for the whole world to hear … the number-one suspect Shawn Michaels. Where was he that faithful night? I’ll tell you where I was, Mick: I was sittin’ at home, watchin’ Survivor Series, thinking to myself, what in the hell has the World Wrestling Federation come to when guys are gettin’ run down backstage? Now, do I like Stone Cold Steve Austin? No. But I don’t hate him either. Now did I do it? I have to tell ya … if I did, I’d be the one guy doin’ what I’ve always loved to do: be in the spotlight. I’d be the number-one guy once again, right here in the World Wrestling Federation, if I was the man that ran down Stone Cold Steve Austin! And anybody that knows anything about me knows that I thrive on being #1; I thrive on bein’ in that spotlight. But I have to tellya Mick; I’m ashamed to say it, but it wasn’t me.” The crowd buys it–even if Mick isn’t so sure–but the crowd obviously looks deflated. “But …” says Shawn belatedly, and the crowd perks up. “I got an idea about who it was. There’s one guy here in the World Wrestling Federation that loves the spotlight as much as ol’ HBK; hell, he loves it more than I ever did! He’s young, he’s hungry, he’s successful, and he’s got the whole world wrapped around his finger! Think about it, Mick” Shawn pauses for dramatic effect, then adds the fateful punchline: “If ya smelllllalalalalalalala what I’m cookin’.”

The mere hinting that the People’s Champion could be behind the attempted vehicular homicide of Austin draws boos … and the unsettled look on Mick’s face shows it’s a theory he’s unwilling to consider. When Debra pays him a visit just a short while later, Mick even goes so far as to accuse Debra of doing it to keep Austin off the road and at home.

Just prior to his big tag title match, Stephanie finds her husband, Triple H. “I tried to have the match changed, Hunter,” she says, “but Foley won’t even listen to me. He says he’s too busy with the Austin investigation to change matches. I don’t know who the hell Foley thinks he is, making you partner up with Jericho.”

Triple H glares at Stephanie, his face contorted in rage. “I’m having a hard enough time trying to swallow my pride to get through this match. The least you could do is not talk about it, Steph.”

“Well, I think, to keep you calm, you need me out the–”

Triple H puts a hand up. “We’ve been over this a million times, Stephanie. You coming out is a business decision. It’s not safe for you out there, not with Chris Benoit. Until I take care of Benoit once and for all, you’re staying back here, where it’s safe.”

“But–” “

No buts, Stephanie.” Stephanie pouts, but Triple H pays no attention, and adds;

“Speaking of business decisions, I’m glad you made the right business decision and decided not to accompany Kurt Angle to the ring on a permanent basis. I’ll see you after the match, okay?” Triple H kisses Stephanie on the cheek, finishes tightening and lacing his boot, and leaves the room, not noticing her scowl. The match itself runs along the lines everyone expects: Jericho and Benoit spend as much of the match arguing with each other as they do fighting X-Pac and Benoit. The in-fighting derails their team time after team, letting X-Pac and Benoit get massive advantages on their opponents. A miscommunication finally causes the team’s downfall, with Triple H sent crotch-first into the turnbuckle by his partner, Jericho, colliding with X-Pac in a clothesline over the top rope, and Benoit making the timely cover. Benoit taunts both Jericho and Triple H, tapping his forehead and smiling maniacally. Directly after, Triple H confronts Foley and demands a one-on-one match with Benoit; Foley grants it at No Mercy.

As the show continues, Foley is confronted time and again with the ugly possibility of his good friend, The Rock, being the guilty party: a brief meeting with Linda McMahon, where Foley tries to insinuate a McMahon was responsible for the heinous act (only for Linda to point out how ridiculous it would be for them to do such a thing when Austin sells tickets), reveals that in Austin’s year off, The Rock had supplanted Austin as the #1 seller of merchandise, and even had Hollywood taking a look at him for movie roles. Again, The Rock’s name comes up in discussions with other superstars, who point out that The Rock’s status outside of the WWF–with visits to the Republican and Democratic conventions, the Tonight Show, and other outside venues–had exploded in the past year since Austin had gone on injured leave. Right before the main event tag match, a courier delivers papers to Foley; Foley shakes his head as he reads the papers and, as Raw goes to commercial, grabs the phone to call security.

The Rock/Undertaker vs. Angle/Kane match mirrors the previous tag match, only with Angle and Kane disintegrating as a team; Kane “tags” Angle in with a chokeslam from the apron to the mat and abandons him, leaving Undertaker and Rock to pick the 2000 King Of The Ring apart and get an academic pin. The celebration is quickly interrupted by Foley, though, who comes to the ring with security in tow. The crowd is not pleased to see the embattled Commissioner, especially in light of the seemingly endless mountain of circumstantial evidence against The Rock.

“I’ve come out here in the past,” he begins, his head hanging heavy, “I’ve made wild accusations … but that’s not going to happen now. I promised to deliver the person who ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin, and I will! Fortunately, my announcement will conclude what has undoubtedly been the worst week of my professional career. There’s a mountain of circumstancial evidence, no doubt many of you have noticed the coincidences lining up … but circumstancial evidence alone doesn’t convict anybody in this country.” The crowd almost seems to exhale in unison as Foley leads the monologue away from accusing The Rock … but the question of who still hangs in the air uncomfortably. “There is a man in this company who has made a career of ending careers … of dominating people and, when he cannot, eliminating people in violent and almost Satanic fashion. This man is also a man whom Steve Austin has defeated on numerous occasions, quite possible more then any other competitor in World Wrestling Federation history, and this man is not accustomed to being on the losing end, not like Austin has put him in.” Foley’s glare, which had been scanning the crowd as he spoke, whips around to look directly at the man standing next to The Rock … The Undertaker. The Undertaker’s eyes–as well as The Rock’s–go wide with shock. “I don’t like it any more then anybody else, but look at history … this is a man who hit Stone Cold in the back of the head with a shovel. This is a man who tried to bury Stone Cold alive. This is a man whocrucified Austin! He threw me and Shawn Michaels off the Hell In A Cell! This man has shown time and again that he is a borderline homicidal maniac. And the last straw, just mere months before Undertaker was suspended last year by Vince McMahon, Austin defeated him in a First Blood match!” The Undertaker tries to reason with Foley, but Foley won’t listen. “You can talk until you’re blue in the face, Undertaker, but the fact remains that, of anybody in the WWF, there’s not one person who’s sicker, more demented, more violent and more dangerous then you. As far as I’m concerned, you are my number one suspect.” Foley turns to the security force and nods. The security guards surround the ring; Undertaker glares at Foley, but, realizing the numbers game is far and away not in his favor, The Undertaker drops down to the arena floor and allows security to escort him out.

Smackdown: Oct. 12, ’00

Smackdown opens in the parking garage; a black pick-up truck is parked, pointing towards the garage door. Inside, Michael Cole says, Steve Austin has been waiting since morning, in silence, for Mick Foley to show up. Cole pimps the big matches for the evening–Triple H & Road Dogg vs. Benoit & Perry Saturn, Angle against Kane and The Rock defending the WWF Title against Val Venis–but it is the sit-down interview with The Undertaker (and the possibility of him showing up) that trumps all.

The Undertaker appears distraught, his eyes weary, his face slack and exhausted. Jim Ross sits across from him nervously, although whether that’s because of the spectre hanging over that The Undertaker could’ve possibly attempted to kill Jim Ross’ good friend, or the security hanging back, it’s impossible to tell.

“Undertaker, thanks for joining us,” says JR coldly. “Some time has passed since RAW and Mick Foley naming you the number one suspect in running down Stone Cold Steve Austin like a damned dog. What are your thoughts since Monday?”

Undertaker glares at JR for a moment, a threat of violence for JR to cut the sass obviously on the tip of his tongue. Instead, Undertaker bites it back. “It’s no secret that Austin and I, we don’t get along. We’ve beaten each other up, we’ve drawn blood … we’re not friends. But how in the hell Mick Foley could stand in that ring on Monday and accuse me of attempted murder, just because me and Steve ain’t friends, I think he’s out of his goddamn mind.”

“So you’re saying Mick Foley is wrong? That you didn’t run down Steve Austin in cold blood?”

“I’m saying he’s either an idiot or a liar.” Undertaker leans forward; immediately, the security guards tense up. Undertaker spares a glance around, but continues on, looking JR in the eye. “Look; Foley says I did it because Austin done beat me a few times. If that’s the best he has, then how come I didn’t try to run over Shawn Michaels? How come Kane never tried to run over me? Foley’s been whacked in the damn head too many times. If this is the best he’s got to put me on the hook, Foley’s gonna find his case falling apart real quick like … it’s either that, or he wants it to be me.”

“What do mean by that? Are you trying to say the WWF Commissioner is trying to frame you?”

“I know he’s your boy, just like Austin, so everything I’m sayin’ is goin’ in one ear and out the other, but the fact is that this stinks like [bleep], JR.”

“So you’re saying this is a set-up. That Mick Foley, of all people, is trying to frame you.”

“See, JR? Not payin’ a damn bit of attention. No, that ain’t what I’m sayin’. What I’m sayin’ is that, like everything else in this business, this is all about politics. Triple H wants to get at the WWF Title and run the company? He marries Vinnie’s little girl. Vince has to get the belt off someone before he leaves the company? Ring the bell, Earl. This ain’t no different; Mick’s been around, he knows how to plays politics. There’s big pressure to get the guy who did this, big pressure from the McMahons to get this over and done. Mick knows who did it, the McMahons know who did it …” The Undertaker sits back, crosses his arms across his chest. “See, the problem is, the guy who did it, it don’t fit what they want. The suits–the McMahons–they need certain people in certain places. You take people out of them places, and that bottom line looks a little lower then it should. Take too many people out of their places, and that bottom line bottoms out. That’s what this is; Foley knows who did it, but that person can’t be fingered. He’s worth too much scratch. But The Undertaker … he ain’t worth the powder to blow to hell. Undertaker don’t do nothin’ but injure people and end careers. I made Mick Foley two years ago a household name by tossing him down twenty feet … I made Hell In A Cell’s reputation as a career-killing match … I got an undefeated streak at WrestleMania … I’ve put more people in wheelchairs then polio … but I ain’t the mainstream media type. I don’t fit the bill to go on Saturday Night Live, or the Tonight Show, or go meet Presidential candidates. So Vinnie Mac says I’m expendable, and Foley points the finger.”

“So then, who’s the wheelman? If you’re just a patsy, who drove the car?”

Undertaker shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “Jesus, son, you take a chair shot recently? Do I gotta spell it out for you? Who went to a couple Presidential conventions? Who’s Hollywood lookin’ at for movies? Who gets the audience to play sing-a-long like a goddamn campfire? Who became the big star, the man of the hour with Austin gone? Wasn’t me. Hell, I was enjoying a nice, fat suspension when Survivor Series rolled around. I didn’t come back till May of this year. So, who had the most to gain, and who gained the most? One guy, JR … one guy. One guy gained the world, and helped this company’s bottom line get fat as a hog.”

JR is speechless for a moment, holding Undertaker’s gaze. “Are you saying … are you saying The Rock did it?”

“Hey, I ain’t got the evidence, so what I’m tellin’ ya is just how the chips fall from where I’m sitting. But just ask yourself … who had something to gain by taking out Austin? Who had the opportunity and the chance to do it? And who are they blaming? If you can honestly say the answer to all that is me … then I’d say the suits have done their job. You see, me, I just beat up Austin a couple times. Who threw Austin off a goddamn bridge? Who put together a plan with Vince McMahon to screw Austin out of the title two years ago? Certainly wasn’t me.”

“I’m positive Steve’s gonna be at Smackdown. Will you? Will you try and discuss this with him and defend yourself?”

“Foley asked me not to come to Smackdown. Personally, I don’t think it’s because he’s concerned for my safety, or to keep Austin from doing anything bad; I think he knows he’s got jack-[bleep] on me, and he don’t want me stirrin’ the pot by comin’ to Smackdown and talkin’ to Austin. He knows we’re big boys and we can take care of ourselves, and me takin’ care of myself means takin’ this bull[bleep] accusation and killing it dead.” Undertaker leans forward, his eyes suddenly steely and assured. “Mark my words, though, Jim Ross.” He levels a finger at JR, eyes squinted just a little. “I’m rollin’ in to Raw come Monday. I got things to say that Austin and Foley need to hear.”

Austin, of course, hears none of this, sitting in his truck, waiting. Police come up and try to reason with him, telling him that if he is laying in wait to run someone over, it’s premeditated, and that’s a class-A felony. Austin’s response is to roll up the window. Jim Ross manages to get a moment of Austin’s attention as the segment switches to the next match on the docket, the Radicalz/Triple H & Road Dogg match. Triple H and Road Dogg fell Benoit and Saturn, with Triple H getting the pinfall over Saturn; Benoit, however, swoops in and locks Triple H in a Crippler Crossface until referees break up the melee. No sooner is the fight broken up and Triple H is back in the locker room then Stephanie gets in his face.

“You know this never would’ve happened if I was out there with you!” she protests. “I’m a necessary component! Since you put me on the bench, you–”

“Stephanie, what part of ‘no’ don’t you understand? I’m not putting you in danger out there.”

Stephanie glares at Triple H. “Oh, I understand completely.” Stephanie turns and leaves, slamming the door behind her in a huff.

When Smackdown comes back from commercial, Foley is walking to the ring. The crowd is swinging even closer to turning on Foley entirely. Foley doesn’t even try to appeal to the crowd’s good nature; he just gets down to business.

“Well I guess I followed through on Monday night, and I delivered the man who ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin.” This is met with a hailstorm of boos. Foley looks out on the crowd, his shoulders slumped and his expression heavy and worn. “And logic would say I should be feeling pretty good about it; instead, to tell you the truth, I feel a little bit sick … because I have a feeling this whole thing isn’t over. Instead, I have a feeling it’s just beginning. Maybe cause the investigation hasn’t produced concrete proof against Undertaker, but this whole situation has me worried all to hell, especially with Undertaker’s promise to be at Raw. And this brings up a problem; I know that Stone Cold is out in our parking garage with some pretty bad intentions running through that mind. What I want to say to him, to please come out of that garage … and come down to this ring, because, Stone Cold, I can help you with this. I can deliver The Undertaker. Now, Steve, I have got all night, if need be I will sit in this ring until you come down. But until then, I will be waiting, so if somebody could give me their chair, I’m gonna go on a little Austin strike here. We’re all gonna wait for Stone Cold to come on down. And this will be your episode of SmackDown!–’Mick Foley Sitting in the Middle of the Ring’–unless Stone Cold Steve Austin decides to make his presence know, but Steve, if you’re there …”

The TitanTron shows Ross still at Austin’s truck door, pleading with him. “Dammit, you owe it to yourself to get outta that truck and get in the ring and listen to what Mick’s got to say! Give him the benefit of the doubt, dammit!” Austin thinks a moment longer, then swings the door open wide, gets out and marches through the arena down to the ring, skipping the poses and the posturing. Foley has to track him left and right as Austin paces in the ring like a keyed-up tiger in a cage.

“Stone Cold, I wanna thank you for coming down to this ring. I wanna say one thing, I know you’re sitting out there all night in your parking lot, and you’ve got some damn bad intentions in your mind. I made the mistake a couple weeks ago of trying to tell you what to do … and I’ve now learned that nobody tells Steve Austin what to do. So I’m no longer telling you, Steve, I am asking you: if you are thinking about running down Undertaker like he did to you, don’t do it. First off, Steve, I don’t think the guy’s dumb enough to show up tonight knowing you’re looking for him. And second, you run down Undertaker, then it’s no longer a wrestling matter, it’s a police matter and you will go to jail. So as commissioner of the WWF, I’m asking you … please don’t do it. As somebody who’s known you for ten years, I’m asking you, please don’t do it.”

Austin finally speaks, getting right in Foley’s face, a homicidal snarl permanently etched into lip. “You talk about deliverin’ Undertaker, well I just got one little problem with that, Mick. You say ‘I’ve known Stone Cold Steve Austin for ten years’. You know me, you say?”

“I like to think I do, Ste–”

“Then cut the crap, Mick!” Austin holds up the fist not holding the microphone, ticking off fingers as he lists names. “Vince McMahon; hates the living hell outta me. Triple H; dropped a cinder block on me, wanted to cripple me cause it was ‘his time’. Big Show; slides into Stone Cold’s place, wins the WWF Title. Shane or Stephanie; they’s Vince’s stump-dumb kids. Ya got Test, maybe tryin’ to impress Vince by taking me out. Even my own wife, she wants me at home more often and she’s sick of the road. Shawn Michaels, Jake Roberts, there’s a million guys who ol’ Stone Cold has pissed off over the years enough to maybe make one of ‘em jump behind the wheel of a car and try and make me into roadkill.” Austin now holds up one solitary finger. “So the one guy you narrow it down to is Undertaker, a guy who was home nursin’ a bum wheel, servin’ a suspension. A guy with no motivation at all.” Austin’s hand drops; Austin’s face goes stone blank as he looks Foley in the eyes. “What’s the evidence?”

Foley stammers. “Well, Steve, I don’t have–”

“You ain’t got nothin’ because there ain’t nothin’, Mick. You can say Undertaker did it till the I drink all the Steveweisers on Earth, but I don’t buy it for a second. Show me somethin’ … show me what was in that envelope you got on Monday, maybe I’ll buy it then. But now? Uh-uh!” Austin leans in close to Foley. “So you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna be at Raw on Monday, and ol’ Stone Cold is gonna start interrogating people the old fashioned way. I see Hardcore Holly, I’m gonna beat his ass … I see Chyna, I’m gonna beat her ass … Dudley Boys? Them’s another two asses right there. Rikishi? If my foot don’t get lost in his fat ass when I’m kickin’ it, there’s another. And another and another and another until someone tells me what I wanna hear, you got that?”

“I can’t let you do that, Steve. I can’t allow you to come to Raw and disrupt it like that.”

The crowd comes unglued, expressing their hatred by chanting “asshole” at Foley. “Or what, Mick? I’m already suspended for god knows how long.”

Foley exhales loudly. “You’re putting me in an uncomfortable place, Steve. If you can’t play along, I’m gonna have to …” Foley exhales again, looking out onto the crowd that is now fully turned on him. “I’ll have to ban you from WWF events entirely until the investigation has run its course.”

Austin steps back, jaw unhinged in surprise. He thinks about it for a moment, paces a little, then stops in front of Foley. “Well, you do what you gotta do, Mick, and I’m gonna do–” Austin nails a kick in Foley’s gut, grabs his head and snaps off a picture-perfect Stunner. The crowd erupts in cheers as Austin stomps up the ramp, making sure to give the unconscious Foley a double-bird before disappearing behind the curtain.

Backstage, security meets Austin to escort him out of the arena. On the way out, Austin encounters Kurt Angle and Stephanie McMahon; the two exchange tense stares before security shoves Austin along. Angle mutters “Jeez … what’s his problem? Was just gonna give him a handshake!” to Stephanie as they continue to head to the ring for Angle’s showdown against Kane. The match goes Angle’s way, courtesy of some bottom-rope holding while pinning Kane, and he and Stephanie celebrate their victory to the chagrin of the crowd. Angle caps off the night, and Smackdown, with a post-match attack on The Rock after he defeats Val Venis to retain the WWF Title.

Raw: Oct. 16th, ’00

Raw’s card–coming from none other then the Joe Louis Arena, the arena where 11 months prior, Austin was run over–is stacked with Triple H taking on Kane, and a big six-man tag of Edge, Christian and Kurt Angle against The Rock and The Hardy Boys, all in anticipation of Sunday’s No Mercy pay-per-view. But the crowd, and indeed, the entire roster, is on key waiting to see if either Austin will break the ban and show up at the arena, or if The Undertaker will make good on his promise to show up and confront Foley.

A limousine pulls up in the parking garage. Before anyone can speculate, Kurt Angle is on top of it, meeting it’s occupant, Stephanie, and offering to carry her bags to the dressing room. Triple H is visibly bothered by Angle still lingering around his wife, and likewise, his wife accompanying him to the ring. Whe Kurt leaves, Triple H asks Stephanie to sit down for a discussion.

“I can understand you wanting to have a career, all right?” says Triple H. He takes ahold of her hands, trying to keep himself calm as well as her. “Do your own thing, but … I thought we went over this this weekend, I thought we had this all taken care of.”

Stephanie pulls her hands away, a sneer on her lips. “Well, if you remember correctly, I told you that I would reconsider … the same way that you reconsidered letting me be in your corner, but since you won’t …” Stephanie stands up, her arms crossed. “I mean, Hunter, the WWF is my business, okay? It’s my life, and since I can’t help you, then I’m gonna help Kurt.”

“Look at what happened last week, Steph. Kane nearly laid you out. What if–”

“Yeah, but he didn’t get it done, Hunter. I’m fine.”

Triple H sighs. He stands up and takes her by the shoulders. “Steph, understand this: if something happens to you, I don’t know what I’m gonna do!”

Steph lets the silence linger a moment, looking into his eyes with thinly veiled resentment. “Well, I guess that’s just a chance we’re both gonna have to take.”

When Raw comes back from commercial, Angle is in the dressing room, Triple H having left, consoling Stephanie and discussing their plans for No Mercy. As Angle is proudly boasting how WWF gold would be even better then his Olympic gold, Hunter pops back in. Both Angle and Stephanie pop up, keeping a couple feet between each other. Stephanie is quick to defend herself and Angle. “Hunter, this is a business meeting. This is strictly business.”

“We’re just talking, Hunter,” Angle adds.

Hunter’s response is cool, calculating, deadly. “Leave us alone for a second.”

“Hunter, it’s just business, and I think Kurt should be able to stay.” Hunter’s gaze is focused on Angle, but he speaks to Stephanie. “I wasn’t talking to Kurt … I was talking to you. Leave us alone for a second.” When Stephanie finally leaves, Triple H stares at Angle, his jaw clinched. “Have a seat.” Angle sits down, but Triple H remains standing. “Two things, Kurt. I don’t approve of Stephanie accompanying you to ringside. She’s in harm’s way coming to the ring with you. That makes her your responsibility. If she gets hurt, it’s on your head. And second … this business relationship … it better stay just that. You try and push it to anything beyond a business relationship, and it will be the last thing you ever do.” Triple H leaves before Angle can even form a rebuttal, and therefore doesn’t see Angle smirking.

The bad night–seemingly another in a chain of them–continues for Triple H, as he takes a pounding in his match against Kane. When Benoit comes down to the ring to guest on commentary, the chance to pummel his newest rival is too much to resist, and Triple H clocks him. Unfortunately, Benoit retaliates by grabbing a chair and waffling Triple H as he has Kane in position for a Pedigree. Benoit cinches in the Crossface, making Triple H tap, but Benoit refuses to let go until a gaggle of authorities have to pry Benoit’s arms off Triple H’s head.

When Raw comes back from commercial, Michael Cole is in the ring and introduces Mick Foley to a now full-fledged chorus of boos. Foley tries to wave to the crowd, but all he gets is middle fingers and vicious hatred. Cole shakes his hand and begins the interview by saying; “Mick Foley, first let me ask … how does it feel to have the WWF audience turn on you for pursuing this investigation?”

Foley takes his time in answering, partly because of emotion, and partly because the crowd starts an “asshole” chant. “You know, Michael Cole, it feels like crap,” he says. “I didn’t ask to be Sherlock Holmes, and I didn’t ask for the answer to be unpopular. The McMahons made me Commissioner, and as such, finding out who ran over Austin fell into my lap. I have no control over what I find. Yet, the WWF audience has decided to kill the messenger, as if I’m to blame for the man who did this.”

“Well, let’s discuss the man who you say is the number one suspect, The Undertaker. Let’s discuss the case. You say–” Cole interrupts himself, putting his hand up to his earpiece. “Wait a moment, Commissioner. I’m being told–The Undertaker is here! The Undertaker is in the arena!”

The TitanTron switches from the ring to a camera in the parking garage as the motorcycle of The Undertaker pulls in. Security immediately swarms the American Badass, but Foley shouts for them to back off and let Undertaker by. Undertaker gives the security force dirty looks as he passes by and makes his way to the ring to explosive fanfare. Undertaker grabs a microphone and glares at Cole. “You can leave now, boy.” Cole does so without hesitation.

“Look, I understand you’re angry,” says Foley. “But the facts–”

“The facts,” says Undertaker, pointing one leather-gloved finger in Foley’s face, “are that you’re a piece of [bleep] corporate suit, Foley. The fact is, one week ago, you saw the evidence, the culprit’s name was right there in front of you, and in spite of it all, you pinned it on me. The fact is, you’re ruining my career for reasons I, and just about anybody else with a pulse, can’t figure out.”

Foley snaps, his eyes wild with that Cactus Jack edge in them. “That’s enough! I’ve heard enough crap from you! Maybe you’ve forgotten who I am, but I am the WWF Commissioner. Nobody pulls my strings, Undertaker, and nobody intimidates me, least of all you! I reviewed the evidence, and the only person it could be is you!”

“The only person it could be, or the only person you want it to be?” Foley’s eyes narrow to a squint. “Yeah, I know what you think: Rocky did it, and he’s being protected. You know and I know that’s a load of crap. We both know what the evidence says.”

“That’s funny, Mick, cause, with the exception of you … nobody even knows what the evidence is. Sure makes it awfully convenient for you to name a suspect of your choosing when nobody else can see the evidence to contradict you.”

The music of The Rock breaks into the argument, and the People’s Champion comes out to, for the first time in a long time, a mixed reaction. Rocky pauses on the stage to look at the portions of the audience he hears giving jeers, then makes his way to the ring and immediately gets in Undertaker’s face. Foley, instead of trying to keep the peace, stands back, allowing the confrontation to occur. It is The Undertaker who breaks the silence. “I don’t remember you being invited to this party, boy. This is an issue between me and Foley.”

The Rock slowly takes his sunglasses off and perches them in the collar of his shirt. He speaks slowly, clipping off each syllable as sharply as if with a pair of scissors. “The Rock begs to differ. Smackdown, last week … Undertaker, number one suspect … Jim Ross asks you who you think did it … you say? The Rock. No evidence. No motive. Just accusations. The Rock notices you say that’s what Mick Foley is doing to you. So The Rock thinks either you’ve been hit in the head too many times, or maybe … maybe, Undertaker, you’re the worst liar The Rock has ever seen.”

The Undertaker stares at The Rock, the crowd noise–anticipating a full-blown brawl–building in the background, Foley standing back and letting it all unfold. “If you’re feelin’ froggy, Rocky, you can jump. Just remember who you’re jumpin’ at. I make people famous in ways they don’t wanna be famous.”

The Rock grins humorlessly. “The Rock’s already famous. In fact, The Rock could probably make you more famous just by beating your jabroni ass.”

Undertaker grins back, equally as humorless. “And your wantin’ to become famous is what I think helped make you run over Stone Cold Steve Austin. You see, Rock, Mick Foley has evidence. He won’t show anybody the evidence. He won’t do that because he knows points in a direction he don’t wanna look, a direction the McMahon clan don’t want him looking in. Your direction. So he gets to protect his buddy and keep the WWF vaults burstin’ at the seams with cash, and Undertaker gets sent up the river instead. Everybody goes home happy. ‘Cept for me.” Undertaker looks past Rock over his shoulder, glaring at Foley, who is sneering right back. “The problem is, Mick Foley ain’t no detective; he’s a broken-down, retired wrestler. If he was a detective, he’d know that, since I was on suspension, I couldn’t have been here a year ago. I was too busy enjoyin’ myself at a biker rally in Flagstaff.”

Rock’s eyes narrow; Foley’s, however, go wide. “Say what?” asks Foley.

Undertaker steps away from Rock to look at Foley more directly. “Yeah. Apparently, when you decided to orchestrate this little frame-up, you forgot to check alibis, and mine, Foley, is airtight. Phoenix. Biker rally. About a hundred or so Hells Angels, just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, they got my back. I suggest you call a few … I can get ya the numbers.” Undertaker steps up on Foley, who looks around frantically. “So … since your ‘number one suspect’ can back up his side of the story … time for you to come clean, Mick Foley.” Foley backs into the corner, surprising himself when his back hits the turnbuckles. “Fess up, Foley. What do you got on me? Or …” Undertaker advances a little more, but turns his head to look at Rock. “I should ask, what do you have on someone else?”

When Undertaker turns back to look at Foley, Foley jabs a thumb in Undertaker’s eye, sending him staggering into a Rock Bottom. No sooner is Undertaker’s back on the mat then Foley and Rock slide out and make tracks under cover of the security force. As soon as Foley gets to the safety of his office, he orders Rock under 24-hour security, and upgrades all officers into riot gear and fully-armed, with orders to detain Undertaker and/or Steve Austin on sight, by any means necessary.

Before the main event is due, Stephanie McMahon introduces Kurt Angle to a decidely tepid reaction … an improvement over the past year, but by no means positive. “And now, I’d like to introduce you to the man who, this Sunday, will defeat the Rock to become the new WWF Champion: Your Olympic Hero and mine, Kurt Angle!”

Angle takes the microphone proudly, reminding everyone he is an Olympic champion. “You know something, Steph, everyone’s making such a big deal out of this being the arena where Stone Cold Steve Austin got run down last Survivor Series. Like that’s something to brag about! I mean, yes indeed, this arena is famous, but not for Stone Cold Steve Austin. Detroit, this arena is famous for the national television debut of Your Olympic Hero here in the WWF.” The crowd issues a few half-hearted boos to the unbridled display of ego.

“And Kurt, this arena which is located in Detroit. Isn’t Detroit also known as the motor city?”

“Yes, indeed it is, Steph, it’s true, it is. And how fitting that this city is called the Motor City, because this is the city where the Rock just happened to one year ago, hope in his car and mow down Stone Cold Steve Austin!” This draws hearty boos from the crowd.

“You know, Kurt, it sounds like the Rock has a lot of excuses. But this Sunday, Rocky will have no excuses, except for maybe me, when you defeat the Rock and become the World Wrestling Federation Champion! It’s true; I will lead you to victory just as I did my husband, Triple H!”

“Thank you, Steph, and I know you will! I know you will. But the only difference is, I will have accomplished the European, Intercontinental, King of the Ring and WWF titles, all within my first year in the business! That’s because of the Three I’s, Stephanie.”

“That’s very impressive.”

“Well, for Triple H, it obviously took him a whole lifetime to achieve, regardless … Rock, it shouldn’t come as a big shock to you when you do lose your title to me this Sunday at No Mercy. Because Rock, you’re about to be accustomed to losing. I mean, you may be a five-time WWF Champion, you may be the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment (whatever that means!), but Rock, you’re about to embark on a losing streak starting right here tonight in Detroit. And I won’t just be beating you for the title on Sunday, Rock, because I can … no, somebody needs to stop you. Somebody needs to knock you down, Rocky, for being the criminal you are. You have no integrity … and I’m pretty sure you have no intelligence, judging by your shirts. You’re … you’re … scum! And I’m gonna wipe you off the foot of the WWF at No Mercy! It’s true, it’s damned true!” While the message is coming from a sanctimonious twit like Kurt Angle, it resonates with the crowd nonetheless, and they give him a warm, if not whole-hearted, reception as Angle awaits his partners.

Because of the altercation with The Undertaker, the main event becomes a curiosity in audience reaction: The Hardy Boys are cheered like normal, but their partner, The Rock, is received with raw hatred, even moreso for showing up with a detatchment of SWAT guards and Mick Foley in tow. And while Angle’s vow to eliminate the scum that is The Rock gives him some temporary currency with the crowd, his partners get no slack, being booed as viciously as ever. When Stephanie waffles Jeff Hardy as he’s atop the turnbuckle with a tire iron, leading to Angle getting the pinfall victory, the crowd is not happy … but when Angle and Stephanie bid a quick retreat, leaving Edge and Christian to attack The Rock, the crowd cheers it on. Nobody notices, in the commotion, that one of the riot guards has broken away from the detatchment, until he removes his helmet to reveal Steve Austin. Austin sneaks up on Foley and waffles him with the baton, then tries to go after Rock before Rock, who has fought off both Edge and Christian, slips out to the safety amongst the phalanx of riot guards. Austin gives Rock a glare as he backs up the ramp in the safety of his security force; when Foley tries to slide in behind Austin, Austin turns and delivers yet another Stunner to the Commissioner.

Smackdown: Oct 19, ’00

Fans showing up hoping to see Austin or Undertaker at the final Smackdown before No Mercy end up disappointed; the all-points-bulletin on their heads put out by Mick Foley is stepped up to a ridiculous level, with guards in riot gear carring tazers and rifles are positioned at every entrance, turning Cleveland’s Gund Arena into a police state. The huge main event–a fatal-four-way non-title match between Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, The Rock and Triple H–can’t take away from the disappointment of Austin and Undertaker being banned from the arena, and when Foley comes out to address the crowd at the start of the show, the crowd nearly breaks into a riot, with some audience members throwing garbage.

“When I took this job some months ago, I thought it would be fun. I’d get to be in front of the fans, without having to get thrown off of cells or driven into thumbtacks.” Foley sighs and looks out at the crowd mournfully. “Little did I know that, when Stone Cold Steve Austin returned from his injuries, he would make my job a living hell. I’ve tried to do the right thing in the course of his investigation … I’ve looked at the evidence impartially and followed the leads only in the directions that the evidence suggests … I’ve tried to serve in the best interest of Steve Austin and justice itself, but it seems that I can’t satisfyanybody. I’ve tried to protect Steve Austin from himself, I’ve followed the evidence currently available; everything I’ve done, you all would do in my position. And yet, I’m the bad guy, not The Undertaker. Austin attacks me, and you think that’s just swell.” Foley’s eyes turn cold, his gaze resentful as he peers out at the crowd. “Well, come Monday, every one of you … every one of you fans, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Jim Ross, Michael Cole, everybody who’s questioned my investigation will owe me one hell of an apology. On Sunday, you see, at No Mercy, Vince McMahon will be there, and I will be presenting him with all of the evidence I’ve collected. The following night, we will show the world the evidence we’ve collected against The Undertaker, and Vince McMahon will deliver his judgment, and we can all put this nasty matter behind us once and for all.”

The oppressive level of security succeeds in keeping the troublesome Austin and Undertaker out of the arena, but drama explodes all around him on the inside, as all four members of the fatal four-way main event complain to Foley about being booked in such a match. Foley dismisses all of them with a wave of his trademark gavel, telling them he has a headache over the Austin investigation and just wants some peace and quiet. Foley’s dismissals of the participants’ appeals puts Stephanie into the unenviable position of having both a business associate and her husband involved as opponents in the match; despite both men telling her not to come to ringside, Stephanie vows to do the right thing, never mentioning what the right thing is.

Shortly before the match, Kevin Kelly catches up with The Rock backstage. “Rock, you haven’t addressed the crowd for the past two weeks. What do you have to say?”

The Rock stares at Kevin Kelly until Kelly hands over the microphone and leaves. He stares at the camera for a few seconds, suddenly whips his head back, lingers, brings the microphone up to his lips and says; “Finally, the Rockhas come back to Cleveland!” The crowd unleashes their venom on Rocky, who seems visibly confused when an old chant suddenly pops up: “Die, Rocky, die”. He indulges the crowd for only a second, then just pushes along. “You see, over the past two weeks, the Rock has had a lot on his mind. The Rock’s been getting a lot of dirty looks over the past two weeks; people keep looking at The Rock, saying ‘Rocky … didja do it? Didja run over Austin?’ And every time The Rock hears that … it kinda knocks The Rock speechless. The Rock and Steve Austin, Steve Austin and The Rock … two men who don’t like each other. But no matter what, no matter what, The Rock is not that kind of man. The Rock doesn’t need to take shortcuts like that … The Rock, in case you forgot, is the Great One, the People’s Champion.” The crowd rebuts this last statement, but Rock doesn’t let it derail him. “You don’t know how much that hurts The Rock, to have his people so confused, so angry. That makes The Rock angry, that makes The Rock’s been confused … but there’s been one man to help the Rock snap out of it. And that man … is Kurt Angle. So Kurt Angle, thank you for helping the Rock. After all your trash-talking for the past two weeks, after attacking the Rock from behind, the Rock is now not thinking about Steve Austin or The Undertaker or his lies, he’s thinking about you. The Rock is thinking about you, Kurt Angle; thinking about beating the Olympic mucus from out of your smug, smiling face! And you see, Kurt Angle, over the past two months, The Rock has gone through a lot of opponents, one of which is Kane, all seven feet, 350 pounds, who comes out and says ‘I am the big … red … monster!’ Another man, by the name of Chris Benoit who comes down and says ‘Just prove me wrong!’ And now the Rock faces a man who comes out and says …” Rocky adopts a vapid smile, vacant eyes, and his voice perks up like a child. “‘Drinking milk has calcium and it’s good for your bones! And drinking milk is also very good for your healthy body, oh it’s true, it’s true.’” His smile fades into a scowl, his eyes once again piercing. “You see, Kurt Angle, this Sunday night at No Mercy, let the Rock explain to you exactly what he’s gonna do and only in language that you can understand.” Once again, Rocky uses the bright, happy, vacuous voice. “You see, Kurt Angle, you and the Rock, we’re gonna have a WWF title match, in which many moves are gonna be executed: an arm bar, a wrist lock, and many other moves. But, you see, the Rock has a very special move he’s gonna execute just for you, Kurt. You see, the Rock is gonna take his boot! And then the Rock is gonna turn it horizontal, or sideways, just the way you like it, or so the Rock has heard. And then, Kurt, in one swift motion, the Rock”–in between words, Rocky’s voice goes back to his normal condescending tone–”is gonna take his boot, and stick it straight up your candy-ass! You see, Kurt Angle, you think you’re special just because you’ve got your three I’s, do you you think you’re really special because you cashed in on the services of one Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley; a two dollar … no, fifty cent … no, buy-two-get-one-free, does anybody have change for a nickel, rented slut? You see, Kurt Angle, this is not the Olympics. You’re not facing the Romanians, you’re not facing the Bulgarians, you’re facing the Rock, the Brahma Bull, a man who has no quit, a man who has no fear. So Kurt Angle, bring your gold medals … Stephanie, bring your dirty panties…- but above all else … but above all else, just like tonight, at No Mercy this Sunday, just … bring it. If ya smell … what the Rock is cookin’!”

Until the end of the main event, Stephanie’s loyalties are not tested. When Rocky has a winning pinfall attempt at Triple H, however, Stephanie interferes, grabbing his foot. Rocky chases her until Benoit clocks him with a clothesline on the floor, but Angle sneaks over and gets the pin on Triple H, something Stephanie sees and makes no move to stop. Immediately after scoring the pin, Benoit slides in and puts Triple H in the Crossface again, while Angle goes after Rocky; however, Rocky counters and ends up putting Angle in a Sharpshooter. Stephanie merely shrugs as authorities come in to try and break things up. Benoit releases his hold and, before authorities can separate him, he nails Rock, puts the Crossface on him for a few seconds, then releases and makes his way back up the ramp smiling, the last man standing for the evening.

No Mercy: Oct. 22, ’00

Throughout the bulk of the pay-per-view, Mick Foley sits in a closed office, pouring over the confidential documents pertaining to the Austin investigation, sweating as he awaits the arrival of Vince McMahon. Through the opening Dudley Boys Tag Team Invitational match, through Chris Jericho’s victory over X-Pac in a steel cage, and through a Right To Censor/Billy Gunn & Chyna match, Foley sits in his office, armed guards at the door as if the arena were a top secret military fortress, paying no attention to the action on the monitor. His attention is only diverted when a production assistant comes up after William Regal’s European Title defense against Mideon to alert him that Vince’s limo is now just arriving. Foley bolts up out of his chair, tells his security guards to follow him and makes tracks for the parking garage.

As soon as Foley and his entourage disappear, the door to the maintenance closet across the hallway cracks open; Steve Austin’s head pokes out, surveys the hallway. When he’s assured himself it’s clear, Austin steps out, a walkie-talkie in hand. “I’m in,” he says into the walkie-talkie as he enters Foley’s office and closes the door behind himself.

Immediately, his eyes settle on the desk and the scattered paperwork. Austin scans each document, and with every passing word he sees, his eyes grow wider and wider. Finally, a voice comes over the walkie-talkie, a rough, Texas voice. “Whatcha got? Found anything?”

Austin is slow to respond, his eyes locked on the papers in his hands. Finally, after the voice asks him again, he grabs the walkie-talkie with one hand, triggers the send button and says; “Yeah, I did. Just like you said.”

“We’re on, then?” Austin’s eyes narrow, his hand tensing up, creating odd creases and crinkles in the paperwork. “You’re goddamn right, it’s on,” Austin replies.

With the crowd on his side, Triple H takes the fight to Benoit with a ferocity like never before; Benoit, in turn, does not shrink down, matching Triple H’s intensity step for step. Benoit works the arm with armbreakers, hammerlock suplexes, and wears out Triple H with suplexes, while Triple H stuns the crowd–and Benoit–with a new depth of technical prowess, hitting counters and high-impact offense like never before. The unexpected presence of Stephanie finally proves the decisive factor, as her distraction of the ref allows Triple H to use a low blow to stop the seemingly inexorable force of Benoit, hit the Pedigree, and score the pinfall. Triple H rejoices as he makes his way back to the locker room, but Benoit, dazed but awake, glares at Triple H from the ring with an evil smirk.

Just before the main event is set to begin, the cameras turn to follow someone coming down a stairwell in the audience: The Undertaker. He takes a seat in an empty seat in the front row, beer in hand, lazily leaning back until Mick Foley and his security force storms out and confronts him. Foley insists Undertaker leave the arena, but Undertaker silently counters by producing his front row ticket. Foley stews, and Undertaker rankles him more by offering that Foley can leave one of his sentinels to post next to him if it will make Foley feel better. Foley grudgingly agrees–posting two armed guards on either side of Undertaker–and storms back to the back, allowing the main event to proceed.

Kurt Angle, accompanied by Stephanie, comes to the ring as confident as ever; The Rock, by contrast, is nervous, casting glances over and over at Stephanie and The Undertaker. Rocky’s nerves about Undertaker prove useless, as Undertaker only contributions to the proceedings are generic yells of “C’mon!” and “Get ‘im!”, and purposefully psyching out the security, like shifting in his seat as if he’s going to stand up. The jitters over Stephanie quickly prove reasonable, as she asserts her presence by distracting the ref at crucial moments, including a moment when Rocky has Angle in a Sharpshooter and Angle is tapping. Stephanie’s interference finally backfires and Rock catches her in a Rock Bottom; the attack draws out Triple H, who attacks Angle on the outside, and nails Rocky with a Pedigree for good measure. Angle can only get two off the unintended assistance. Rocky manages to halt any Angle offense with a spinebuster, setting up the People’s Elbow. But, out of the corner of his eye, sees Undertaker reach into his jacket; the security immediately tenses up and tells him to freeze. Rock’s attention completely goes to watching security trying to keep the Deadman from doing anything rash; Rocky lobs insults at him from the ring, causing Undertaker to stand up and hurl insults back, which only makes the security force–which has now grown, the ringside security having shifted from position to back up the pair holding down The Undertaker–more insistent.

With both Rocky and the ref’s attention diverted, nobdy notices Austin storming down the aisle, steel chair in hand. Austin slides in and pounces, blasting Rocky in the back with the chair. The ref, down on the floor trying to assist the security team, never sees Austin repeatedly blast Rocky, a look of crazed bloodthirst in his eyes, almost literally foaming at the mouth with rage. Again and again and again and again, Austin rains down chair shots on Rocky’s arms, legs and body, until Rocky doesn’t move. Austin tosses the chair, rolls out and marches back down the aisle, two-fingered salute held high in the air to the cheers of the audience. In perfect synchronicity, Undertaker voluntarily walks up the steps to leave the arena; the ref gets back in the ring, in time to see Angle cover Rock, and makes the count. Three slaps of the hand later, and Kurt Angle is the new World Wrestling Federation Champion. Paramedics come to the ring to check on Rocky, while Foley confronts Austin in the aisle, only to get a pair of middle fingers in the face and a punch on the jaw. As Austin stomps on Foley, the security force seizes Austin, who is dragged away laughing maniacally, triumphantly, yelling; “I ain’t done, ya sons of bitches!”.

Our story continues the night after No Mercy, where the two biggest stories both occured in The Rock’s World Wrestling Federation Championship defense against Kurt Angle: first, the breaching of security, and WWF Commisioner Mick Foley’s edict, by Undertaker and Steve Austin, a plot that led to the second big story: Kurt Angle capturing the WWF Title with the help of a vicious attack by Austin. Mick Foley has vowed to reveal the evidence that he believes will put Undertaker on the hook for Austin’s hit-and-run, but Austin’s attack on The Rock seems to cement the reluctantly popular, and far more logical, belief that The People’s Champ is the guilty party. Now, 24 hours later, Foley, Austin, Rock, Undertaker and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon are on a collision course, with careers and lives hinging on whether it is Foley or Austin who blows the whistle first …

Raw: Oct. 23, ’00

Kurt Angle arrives to Raw to find out the glory of his victory is short-lived, as he is booked to defend his newly won title against Kane, in addition to three other title matches for the evening, and the first match of a four-man tournament–featuring Triple H, Chris Benoit, The Rock and Chris Jericho–to determine the number one contender for Survivor Series. But the big news as Raw opens is that Vince McMahon’s scheduled visit to hand out justice to the perpetrator of the Austin hit-and-run is still scheduled, although now, it will be a two-on-two confrontation: Vince & Foley confronting Austin & Undertaker for their actions the night before and trying to resolve the situation.

Michael Cole catches up with Kurt Angle and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley before he gets to the ring for his title defense and asks him what he thinks of the tournament, and his match with Kane. Angle chortles, staring at Cole in disbelief. “Didn’t I already beat this guy? Or is this another big goofy guy in red footy pajamas? Jeez!” Angle holds up his gold medals. “See these? Olympic gold medals.” Angle pats the belt around his waist. “See this? World Wrestling Federation Champion. I’m a super-champion! I’m a freakin’ world wonder! Kane … he’s … he’s just a freak!”

“Well, what about the tournament that starts tonight? Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Triple H, The Rock. Any one of those guys could be your opponent for Survivor Series.”

“Are any of them Olympic medalists? Pshaw! I’m gonna watch all of their matches. In fact, me and Stephanie will be down at ringside tonight, for whatever match is happening tonight. We’ll watch it up close and personal, so I can see exactly who I’m beating at Survivor Series … whether it’s that thief Chris Jericho–because I haven’t forgotten how you stole a title from me at WrestleMania, Chris–or if it’s that attempted murderer The Rock, or that jerk Triple H, or Chris Benoit. I’m Olympic, baby! Woo!”

Triple H comes down to ringside as Angle’s defense proceeds, causing Angle to be distracted. It takes Stephanie putting Angle’s foot on the ropes to keep Angle from only having a 24-hour title reign, but this earns her the wrath of Kane, who pulls her up by the hair. Triple H rushes the ring, clobbering Kane until he sends him over the top rope. Angle comes up behind Triple H and nails the Angle Slam, then rolls out and makes tracks for the back; Stephanie checks on her husband quickly, then follows Angle to the locker room.

At the top of the second hour, Foley enters the ring, looking perturbed; the chrous of boos don’t improve his mood, as he scowls at the audience “Last night at No Mercy,” he says, “Stone Cold Steve Austin got past security by hiding in the arena overnight. He violated a direct order from my office. He infiltrated the pay-per-view, he attacked The Rock and cost him the WWF Championship. And I think the evidence shows he conspired with The Undertaker to do it.” The crowd cheers the idea of Austin and Undertaker’s well-executed plan. “I don’t know how it is somehow Undertaker became a hero to you in all this. And I don’t know how I became your enemy. I’ve done the best job I can, and since I found the evidence linking Undertaker to the hit-and-run assault on Steve Austin, you people have treated me like some damned pariah!” The crowd boos in agreement. “Everything I’ve done has been to bring Steve Austin back to this very ring, and make sure his assailant faced justice. Why am I the bad guy? What did I do?” The crowd boos even more viciously. Foley surveys the crowd, looking like a boy who has lost his dog. Finally, after another “asshole” chant runs its course, Foley says; “Vince … just come out so we can get this over with.”

Vince’s music cues up and he swaggers to the ring in typical McMahon fashion. “Before we bring out Steve Austin and The Undertaker … Mick Foley, I have a few words for you.” Foley looks up at Vince, eyes squinted just a little. “I’ve had my doubts about you as Commissioner. We’ve rarely seen eye to eye. But I want to commend you on the fine job you’re doing.” The crowd turns hostile quickly. “What’s wrong you people? Do you understand the challenges this man has had to face? Every show, he has wrestlers whining and complaining about their matches. He has to balance the best interest of the show and the company against what will appease you ingrate fans. And to top–” A fresh round of chants breaks out for Vince now. “SHUT UP!!! This man, you should be on your knees thanking him. He has worked himself into a nervous breakdown so he could find the guy who hit Stone Cold Steve Austin and put Austin back in the ring for each and every one of you! And rather then show him the respect he deserves, you treat him like he ran over Austin himself!” When the crowd still won’t bend to his will, Vince glares up at the ramp. “Bring ‘em out! Just bring ‘em out so we can get out of this rotten hellhole town!”

Security guards start pouring out of the gorilla position. In the center, two plain-clothesed islands amidst a sea of black riot gear, are their escorted guests, The Undertaker and Steve Austin, scowls etched in stone on their faces. “I hope you haven’t minded your escorts tonight, gentlemen,” Vince says with a sneer. “We may have summoned you here for this, but we couldn’t take the risk of you wandering the arena and causing havoc, especially after your little escapades last night.” The guards gesture for Austin and Undertaker to enter the ring; Austin fakes like he’s going to swing at one of them, smiles a mirthless smile, then climbs the steps behind Undertaker. Once both men are in, Austin says; “C’mon, Vince, let’s get this crap over with.”

Foley clears his throat and steps forward. “Over the past two years, The Undertaker has–”

“What about what’s in that envelope, Mick?” interrupts Austin with a devilish grin.

Foley glares at Austin for a moment, then starts again. “Over the past two–”

“Show Vince what’s in the envelope, Mick.”

Foley looks at Austin, then Undertaker, then Vince, and back to Austin. “The documents from the envelope are merely documentation of the pattern of behavior–”

Undertaker interrupts, looking right at Vince. “You haven’t seen it, have you? Foley ain’t showed you nothing.”

“Mick Foley doesn’t answer–”

Austin steps forward, smiling at Foley, then turning to Vince. “Vince, you can listen to what I gotta say, or you can ignore it. But I think, deep down inside, you know Stone Cold Steve Austin is a lot of things: a tough son of a bitch, a take-no-prisoners ass-kicker, a beer-drinkin’ bionic redneck, and a rattlesnake … but even you know, Vince, that I ain’t never been a liar. So listen very closely when I tell you that if Mick Foley tries to put it on Undertaker, he’s a damned liar. I ain’t got no reason to stick up for Undertaker, Vince; but if he wasn’t the guy who ran me over, I got everything ridin’ on him not takin’ the fall for it like Foley wants.” Foley goes to retort, but Austin rolls on. “Ask Foley whose car done run me down a year ago. Ask him whose fingerprints was all over it. Ask him who went missing, not a damn witness to name, for a while, right around the time I got run over, and popped up not long after.”

Vince turns to Foley silently. When the piercing glares become too much, Foley snaps. “Big deal! So what if it was Rock’s car? Anybody coulda stolen it! They coulda stolen it, worn gloves, run you down, Steve, and put it back! That doesn’t prove anything!”

“It proves the son of a bitch ran me over, Mick!”

“Undertaker could’ve planted–”

“Don’t hand me that [bleep], Foley,” barks Undertaker. “You know damn well–”

ENOUGH!” Vince yells, sending everyone into an uncomfortable silence. Vince paces the ring as Foley, Austin and ‘Taker exchange contemptuous glances. Finally, Vince stops, turns to the crowd and breaks the silence. “As Chairman of the WWF, I have to make the tough decisions sometimes, and today is no different.” First, Vince looks at Foley. “Mick, you will continue the investigation.” The crowd gasps collectively; Austin gets out a “What the fuck?” that the house mics pick up and doesn’t get bleeped; Undertaker echoes Austin’s sentiments by labelling them as bullshit. Vince ignores them. “As far as I’m concerned, this new ‘evidence’ neither implicates nor exhonorates anybody. You will proceed, Mick, on the presumption that the number one suspect is still Undertaker … but, should another reasonable suspect emerge, I demand you pursue it to the fullest extent possible.” The crowd resoundingly rejects Vince’s judgment, but Vince ignores the reaction and turns to Undertaker, but the murderous look in ‘Taker’s eyes makes Vince take a step back and do a trademark McMahon-gulp. “U-u-u-undertaker … I, I have considered the evidence in light of your alibi … while Mick continues his investigation, I will allow you to continue wrestling. However, should the burden of evidence turn against you, I will not hesitate in punishment.” Undertaker takes a step forward, and Vince takes another corresponding step back, one hand up, as if he could defend himself that way. “Hey! Get back! I can just as soon fire your ass and let the police deal with you!” Undertaker growls, but steps back, his hands balled into fists at his sides. Vince’s smug sneer is almost intolerable. “Yeah, you’re damn right you’re gonna back down. You wanna get in a fight tonight, Undertaker? How about, tonight, you take on the Dudley Boys in a handicap match?” Undertaker grouses, but restrains himself from retaliating. Smug with satisfaction, Vince turns his gaze to Austin. “Austin, I realize not wrestling has been something of a hardship, and more then that, your competitive spirit is dying to get back in the ring. But you are a loose cannon right now,” he continues, and the crowd boos as Vince speaks, “and I cannot ignore the risk of you injuring any of the WWF Superstars in your state of mind. Until Mick’s investigation is complete, for the safety of both you and the WWF roster, your suspension from active competition stands.” The crowd comes unglued, with some even throwing cups. “Guards, please escort Mr. Austin back to his dressing room for the duration of the show. If he tries to get out of his room, you have my permission to use whatever means necessary to keep him detained.” Vince and Foley stay in the ring until Austin is escorted all the way to the back before leaving. On the way out, Vince looks at Undertaker and says; “Oh, I forgot to mention … your match … is right now.”

Vince bolts out of the ring, passing by the Dudleys, who march to the ring with confidence. Undertaker drops out to the floor as the Dudleys charge, goes over to the timekeeper, and slides back in with something in his hand. The Dudleys barely have time to deliver a punch before Undertaker swings and connects, once to the head of Bubba Ray, and once to D-Von, felling them both with one blow each from the timekeeper’s hammer. The ref signals for the timekeeper to ring the bell for a DQ; Undertaker tosses him the hammer and walks away as the announcer proclaims the Dudleys the victors by DQ.

The first round of the tournament starts with a meeting of Chris Jericho and The Rock. Chris Jericho takes the fight to The Rock, who has to deal with both a crowd so hostile they border on a lynch mob, and taped ribs and multiple bruises, courtesy of Austin’s beatdown the night before. Rocky fights as best he can, keeping Jericho from getting a real clear advantage, but the injuries keep him from pressing his own advantage enough to get the victory.

Rocky and Jericho don’t notice the TitanTron change view, though, from the match to a fight backstage, The Undertaker brawling with members of the security force, a chain wrapped around his fist. As he fells a guard, another comes in to replace the fallen one. The brawl leaves the door to Steve Austin’s dressing room unattended, and he sneaks out, racing to the ring with a chair in hand. Both the ref and The Rock see Austin coming; the ref warns him not to enter, while Rocky tries to talk to Austin, but Austin gives Rocky a reply of middle fingers. Jericho takes the opportunity to drop Rocky and lock in a vicious Walls Of Jericho, putting a knee right in Rock’s ribs. Rocky tries to reach for the ropes, but Jericho’s hold is too strong, and Rocky ends up passing out, advancing to the finals of the tournament. As soon as the ref has rung the bell, Austin slides in and lays waste to Rocky again with the chair and stomping him down until the authorities drag him out in handcuffs, kicking and screaming even as he’s being led away that next time, he’ll kill The Rock.

Smackdown: Oct. 26, ’00

Smackdown’s card is stacked with three big matches: Triple H vs. Chris Benoit in the second match of the #1 contender’s tournament, Undertaker taking on The Dudley Boys in a tables match, and Kurt Angle defending the WWF Title in a triple threat against Billy Gunn and Steven Richards.

But opening Smackdown is a sitdown interview, conducted by Jim Ross with The Rock, from undisclosed hospital room. Welts and bruises decorate Rock’s torso and arms; he has a black eye and stitches in his forehead, and enough bandages to make him look like an unfinished mummy. Unlike his usual cocksure swagger and bombastic attitude, Rocky is subdued.

“Rock, the past several weeks have been a roller coaster for you,” says JR.

Rocky chuckles, but without any real trace of humor. “That’s one way of putting it. Another way would be to say this has been a month from hell.”

“Well, we need to discuss the most obvious topic; the hit-and-run of Stone Cold Steve Austin at last year’s Survivor Series. Bottom line, Rock; did you do it?”

The Rock’s voice is cool and calm he keeps JR’s gaze the entire time. “Absolutely not. The Rock has done a lot of things … The Rock’s done some bad things since he started wrestling … but never has The Rock entertained the idea of running over somebody.”

“How do you explain the evidence that was revealed on Monday … that it was your rental car … that the only fingerprints found in the car were yours … that, at the time of Austin’s attack, you were nowhere to be found. How do you respond to this?”

“Well, I think Mick Foley said it all on Monday. Why couldn’t someone have stolen The Rock’s keys and taken the car, maybe worn a pair of gloves, and ran over Austin?”

“But where were you? Everybody who was there that night says you were nowhere to be found. That’s awfully suspicious, Rock.”

Rock’s eyes narrow. “So, that’s it, isn’t it, Jim Ross? You’re jumping on the bandwagon? Buying in to what The Undertaker is saying?”

Jim Ross squirms in his seat. “Rocky, that’s not it at all. But the fact is, Undertaker has an alibi, and Mick Foley didn’t address your whereabouts on Monday. You won’t here and now. And, if Mick Foley is going to use Undertaker’s past behavior against him, we can’t forget that you threw Steve Austin off a bridge. You have to admit, the case against you is strong, and yet, Mick Foley and Vince McMahon still has Undertaker has the number one suspect.”

Rock stares at JR, his eyes running through hurt and anger. He leans forward, holding up a single finger. “The Rock is going to say this once, Jim Ross: The Rock did not run over Stone Cold Steve Austin. If you want to believe Undertaker, if you want to get sucked up in his conspiracy theories about me being worth too much to blame, if you want to be suckered into that, that’s yourdecision.”

“The people seem to have made their feelings known; they don’t trust you, Rock.”

Rocky shrugs. “That’s the people’s decision. The Rock has done nothing for them to turn on him like they have. If the people feel The Rock is guilty, all The Rock can do is try and convince them otherwise, by continuing to be the People’s Champion, The Most Electrfying Man In Sports Entertainment.” Rock shrugs again. “If that’s not good enough, then … The Rock will do what he has to do.”

“What about Stone Cold Steve Austin? He’s convinced you did it. He put you in this hospital. What do you have to say to him?”

Rock turns and looks at the camera. In that moment, the persona of The Rock all but melts away, his __expression contrite and almost mournful. “Steve, The Rock can’t stop you from doing what you think you have to do. But The Rock istelling you … you have the wrong man. The Rock doesn’t know who did it, but you have to trust that Mick Foley will find the man who did this, and that that person isn’t The Rock. There’s no conspiracy, Stone Cold … there’s just one guy. One guy who hates you and wanted you out of the WWF. And you need to know that person isn’t The Rock.” The image of his earnest, imploring face lasts until the segment fades to black.

When Angle and Stephanie get to the arena and find out about Angle’s defense, and Triple H’s opponent, both make impassioned pleas to Commissioner Foley to have the matches changed. Foley declines their requests, and when they persist, he snaps and threatens to suspend both and strip Angle of the title. Angle and Stephanie immediately retreat to the locker rooms, where Stephanie runs into her husband. Triple H just stares her down, not saying a word. Stephanie tries to reach out to him and attempts to explain why she left with Angle after his hitting Triple H with the Angle Slam. Triple H shuts her down and tells her tonight, she has a choice to make about whether her career is more important to her then her marriage, and that he’ll be getting the answer by the end of the night one way or the other.

Before Undertaker’s handicap tables match against The Dudleys, The Undertaker grabs a microphone. “I just got something quick to say, a couple things for a couple people. First, Foley; if you think you’re gonna punish me with handicap matches and stackin’ the deck against The Undertaker until you break me, why, boy, I’d think you’d know me better then that after all the blood we’ve spilled together. You best just stay outta my way, Mick, before I gotta go and make ya famous again. Rocky? Hope them ribs and bruises heal up real nice, and real quick. Far as I’m concerned, I’m due a little something by way of you and Foley, and I intend to take it outta your ass at Survivor Series, injuries or not.” Undertaker grins; it is a grin that would send the devil running for cover. “As for Boss-man Vince … I’ll see you ’round, boy. See you real soon.” In the match, Undertaker holds his own against The Dudleys, twice managing to get one of the Dudley brothers into an elimination position. But when Undertaker slides out to get a chair to keep his chances of survival alive, Mick Foley (surrounded with his personal police) comes down to ringside and stops Undertaker from using the steel equalizer. The distraction gives the opportunity for the Dudleys to take the advantage and 3-D Undertaker through a table. Foley tells the downed Undertaker that, as long as his future and his freedom are in Foley’s hands, he will respect the office of the Commissioner.

When Kurt Angle’s WWF Title defense comes up, and Stephanie McMahon comes out with him, the crowd boos her appearance, taking it as a confirmation of her decision. When she tries to argue that she has a sworn professional commitment to Kurt Angle as a manager, the crowd rejects her arguments with more negativity. The match itself is more a chance for Billy Gunn to square off with his nemesis, Steven Richards, and Angle is all too happy to allow the two of them to beat each other senseless. A timely Angle Slam on Steven Richards after Richards’ Right To Censor friends subdues Gunn gets Angle the victory, but the celebration is short-lived, as Triple H comes out afterwards to argue with Angle and Stephanie. Stephanie becomes indignant, telling Triple H she is a free woman, she makes her own decisions, and she will not stand to be put on trial when she has done nothing wrong.

Triple H comes into his match with Chris Benoit with a severe chip on his shoulder, not so much wrestling or fighting Benoit but attacking him. Benoit manages to take advantage of his Triple H’s distraction and temper and systematically breaks him down, working the arm until it hangs limp at Triple H’s side. Triple H fights back as best he can with one arm, but every time he manages to build up some momentum, Benoit simply hits the arm, and Triple H’s offense comes to a grinding halt. A timely nutshot the ref doesn’t see gets Triple H a chance to breathe, and he goes for a Pedigree, gritting his teeth through the pain of using his arm to hook Benoit into the match-stopping finisher. But as he gets Benoit into position, the images on the TitanTron catch his attention, and he drops Benoit to the mat.

It is a grainy, black and white video; the sound is horrible, but the voice is still unmistakable, even before the face comes into view to confirm. It is his wife, Stephanie. She stumbles into the camera’s view, which shows the bed in a hotel room. She plops down onto the bed, kicking off her shoes, saying how she shouldn’t be doing this, but Triple H has just been so difficult lately. Suddenly, someone else comes into view, and although his face is concealed, the long, blonde hair and the colorfully designed shiny short-sleeved shirt is unmistakable, even without the arms-out silhouette on the back. Stephanie falls back on the bed, and the man moves forward; the video cuts off as the man helps Stephanie pull down the straps on her dress. Triple H stands in the ring, his face turning as red as a flame, his jaw clinched tight enough to break steel on. Benoit takes him by surprise, dumping Triple H with a hammerlock back-suplex, then floats over into a Crossface. The excruciating pain from his damaged arm is too much for Triple H to bear and, to the shock of the crowd, he taps out, sending Benoit to meet Chris Jericho for the #1 contendership on Raw. Benoit celebrates like he’s already won the WWF Title, while Triple H rolls out of the ring, holding an aching shoulder, and walks up the ramp forcefully, growing angrier with every step as Smackdown comes to a close.

Raw: Oct. 30, ’00

The sounds of sirens fill the air, and the Right To Censor comes to the ring, looking more smug then usual. “Last Thursday, the fans of the World Wrestling Federation were subjected to a horrible sight,” says Steven Richards. “You witnessed a pornographic video played during the middle of Smackdown, starring none other then this company’s Chairman’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley–a married woman, mind you–in the middle of … of … well, for the sake of your fragile, stupid little minds, I will not pervert you any further by describing what that … that harlot did!” The crowd boos, although whether it’s for the sanctimonious, self-appointed judges of taste known as the RTC, or for Stephanie’s marital indiscretions, is impossible to tell. “Rest assured … rest assured, the Right To Censor will be petitioning–”

The music of Triple H cuts off Richards’ smug, self-serving speech. Triple H stomps down the aisle, dressed in his leather & denim jacket and a pair of jeans, psychotic rage emanating off him, reinforced by the sledgehammer in his hand. Triple H slides in the ring, and Richards goes to shake his hand; Triple H responds with the sledgehammer right between Richards’ eyes. Bull Buchanan takes a shot to to the gut, and that sends the rest of the group scurrying. Triple H stalks around the ring for a few seconds, the crowd cheering both for Triple H sending the obnoxious group for the hills, and support for the wronged husband. When he grabs a microphone, his voice is an inhuman snarl.

“I got a couple things to say to a couple people. First, to my soon-to-be-ex-wife …” This gets a huge response from the crowd. Triple H isn’t bolstered by the audience’s support, however. “Do yourself a favor, you little bitch: stay away from me. Don’t talk to me, don’t send me messages, don’t call me. Nothing. The only thing I want from you is your signature on divorce papers. Come near me,” he says, holding up the sledgehammer, “and I’ll be introducing you to my best friend here.” Triple H paces a little more, then says; “As for Kurt Angle … you can have the dirty slut. Take her. Just remember one thing, Kurt: the only reason why I hadn’t put you in a wheelchair is because of Stephanie. That won’t stop me anymore.” Triple H finally stops pacing and looks right at the camera, breathing in and out so deeply, he’s nearly hyperventilating. “Jericho. I suppose I should thank you for helping me see how big a raging tramp Stephanie really is. And I have something to give you as a gift for doing me such a favor.” Triple H holds up the sledgehammer again. “And I plan on giving it to you over and over and–”

A light, spritely music, distinctly British, floods the arena, cutting Triple H’s rant off at the knees. Triple H’s gaze whips to the ramp, staring down the European Champion, William Regal, as he approaches the ring. Triple H leers over him as Regal climbs the steps and gets into the ring, all the while, his mouth running like a river. “As the WWF’s Goodwill Ambassador, I could bear no longer to hear your suffering, Triple H,” he says as he steps into the ring. Regal extends a hand that Triple H rebuffs with a dirty glare; Regal blinks, retracts his hand and continues in spite of the dirty looks. “Triple H, you’re obviously a man suffering. You don’t have the concentration for such things as wrestling a match with such scoundrels as The Rock and Undertaker, not while that filthy home wrecker, Chris Jericho, is lurking about. You need to take the night off. Let me act as your replacement in your tag team match, and you go off and have a pint.”

Triple H glares at Regal, seething. Through gritted teeth, he says; “This ain’t any of your business, William. Piss off.”

Regal blanches at the profanity, but presses on undaunted. “I know you’re in a bother right now, Hunter, so I’ll overlook your vulgarity. But you are in no emotional state to be wrestling tonight. Take the night–”

The screeching of tires and a familiar power chord bring out the embattled Commissioner. Foley enters the ring and glares at Regal. “I don’t know who you think you are, William,” snaps Foley, “but you’ve got no authority to come out here and go switching up tonight’s matches. Triple H is set to partner with The Undertaker against The Rock and the WWF Champion, Kurt Angle tonight. That’s my final ruling.”

“I’m the Goodwill Ambassador for the WWF,” says Regal with an air of disgust. “And unlike you, I actually excel in my job. What have you done, Michael, aside from bumble a very important investigation and let some hooligan run some scandalous videotape that has wrecked poor Hunter’s marriage.”

“I’m sorry, William, but I just can’t muster much sympathy for someone who Pedigreed me face-first into a couple hundred thumbtacks and sent me through the roof of the Hell In A Cell. Seeing Triple H’s life fall apart actually fills me with a sense of glee right now, so, I think he’ll be staying put in his tag match tonight.” Foley turns to Triple H, the two trading scowls. “And if I see you pop your head in the match between Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, so help me God, I’ll see you nursing a nice, fat suspension right next to Stone Cold Steve Austin, you understand?” Foley turns right back to Regal. “And as for you … I have Steve Austin running around like a crazy man … I got a criminal I can’t send to jail because there isn’t enough evidence … and I got Vince McMahon breathing down my neck to finish the investigation. The last thing I need is you, William Regal, acting like you have some kind of authority to go switching things up on my show.” Foley suddenly smiles, then says; “Here, tell you what. You want to make a match so badly? You’re defending your European Title tonight. Triple threat match. Who would you like to face?”

Regal’s eyes goes wide. “You’re … you want me to … pick my opponents?”

“Yessir. Anybody.”

Regal thinks a moment, then smiles and says; “Fine. I’ll face … Crash Holly and Ivory.” Foley nods, considering the idea. “Good choices. But I think a switch needs to be made. I just don’t see that keeping people from going to get a tub of popcorn. How about we switch Crash Holly with … Test? Yeah, Test. And we switch Ivory with … oh, how about … Kane?” Regal’s jaw drops; when he finds the words to protest, Foley cuts him off. “Kinda sucks to have things all switched up without your approval, doesn’t it, William? Now how about we add Rikishi, just for fun? Yeah. Regal, Rikishi, Test and Kane. Ought to be a fair fight.” Foley turns back to Triple H, ignoring Regal’s continuing protests. “I meant what I said, Hunter; I don’t have time to babysit you tonight. I have a meeting with Mr. McMahon over the Austin investigation. Your martial spat means about as much to me as me feeding my family did when you got me fired last year, so I don’t wanna hear another word from you. Interfere with Chris Jericho’s match in any way, and you’ll be spending the next 60 days at home. You got that? Good.” Foley exits the ring, leaving the furious Triple H to go ballistic and smash the ringside area–announce tables, monitors, anything in sight–with the sledge.

The cameras cut to the back to show a limo pulling up. Out steps Stephanie, all alone, her face puffy from crying. She dabs her eyes a little with a tissue, and walks, shoulders slumped, toward the arena, stopping to ask Edge & Christian if they know if Kurt Angle has arrived yet.

“I’m sorry,” says Edge. “I no speak Skankasaurus Rex.”

“Yeah, hos are totally non-non-non-cool!” agrees Christian. Stephanie doesn’t even bother trying to disagree; she just walks away, head hung low.

Regal’s European Title defense goes about as predictable as possible, with Regal being the punching bag for three much larger athletes. Regal tries to rely on cunning and technical prowess to retain, but it is too much to overcome, and Regal ends up losing the title to Rikishi, after eating finishers from all three of his opponents. A battered and worn Regal immediately goes to Foley’s office and demands a rematch for Survivor Series, but Foley says he’s much too busy to consider it, and he’ll need to get in line behind everybody else with a selfish personal quest until after the Austin investigation is done.

The cameras go back to the parking garage, where Steve Austin arrives in his pick-up truck. Before the cameras cut away again, Austin says to an unidentified passenger; “Listen, I wanna thank you for helping me out here. I know you can’t do much, but … ol’ Stone Cold just ain’t Stone Cold if he ain’t stompin’ a mudhole in someone’s ass in that ring. Let’s go get this done.”

As Kurt Angle is about to leave the locker room to go to the ring, Stephanie comes in. “Kurt, oh, I’m glad you’re still here!” she says, her voice quivering. “Have you seen Hunter?”

“I know he’s here,” Angle replies. “And I know he’s all sorts of upset. Listen, I gotta go–”

“Kurt! Please, can we talk–”

“Stephanie, I have a match in a couple minutes. I have to team with …” Angle shudders. “I have to team with that freakin’ lunatic, The Rock. We’re facing Undertaker and Triple H.”

“Well, then let me come to ringside with you! I need to–”

“No, Stephanie, that’s not a good idea. Hunter is mad enough, and …” Angle’s voice trails off; he looks at the floor, kicking his foot around. “I don’t know how to say this.” Angle takes her arms and sighs. “Stephanie. I live by three I’s: Intelligence, Intensity and Integrity. You slept with Chris Jericho. You have no integrity. I can’t risk the stain on my career here in the WWF by being associated with an adulterer. I’m sorry.” Angle walks by as Stephanie breaks down, begging Angle to come back.

Angle goes to ringside by himself, taking the microphone before his partner appears. “You know, it’s just like Mick Foley to do something like this, partner me up with some … some … lowlife like The Rock. Cripes on Friday, look at the man! He tried to kill Stone Cold Steve Austin! And he’s got Mick Foley covering for him! That’s so lacking in integrity, why … why … it just spoils my milk!” Angle tosses the microphone in frustration, gnashing his teeth and stomping around like a child until The Rock makes his (much derided) arrival. The Rock and Angle get in each other’s faces, trash-talking until the referee has to step between them to keep the match from degenerating before it starts.

The same occurs between Undertaker and Triple H, although it’s more from Triple H’s poor demeanor then anything between the two. Finally, the ref manages to get both sides cooled down enough to start the match, but it isn’t long before the rulebook goes flying, and all four men are trading punches and kicks in the middle of the ring. When Triple H sends Angle up and over the top rope to the floor (while Undertaker and Rock brawl on the outside), Stephanie comes out to first check on Angle, then beg for forgiveness from Triple H. Triple H tolerates Stephanie’s blubbering for a minute before doubling her over and putting her in position for a Pedigree, turning with her to show all sides of the crowd the impending punishment he is about to inflict on his wife. But when he turns towards the stage, he nearly gets his head taken off with a Steven Kick from Steven Richards that goes unseen by the overloaded ref. Rocky, having subdued Undertaker by throwing him into the steel steps, slides in and steals the pinfall victory, although Angle comes in and makes Rocky eat an Angle Slam. Paramedics come in to check on Stephanie and help her to the back, but neither her husband nor her former business partner show the slightest bit of concern for her welfare.

Mick Foley enters the ring for his meeting with Vince McMahon, his head hanging low. The crowd drowns out Foley’s first attempt to speak with an “asshole” chant. Foley lets it run its course, then says; “I’m trying to do my best to bring Stone Cold Steve Austin back to you people, and this is the thanks I get? If I got a little more support, then maybe Steve would be back in this very ring–”

The sound of glass breaking and driving guitar riffs bring Steve Austin down to the ring, although the music can barely be heard over the crowd. Austin salutes the crowd and grabs a microphone, but Foley cuts him off. “Steve, I … this is supposed to be a meeting between me and Mr. McMahon. You–”

Austin gets nose to nose with Foley, boring holes through the back of Foley’s skull with his gaze. His tone is quiet and calm, but somehow more lethal then ever. “You call him Mr. McMahon now, Mick?” Foley stammers on a reply, but Austin cuts him off. “Shut your damn mouth, Mick, cause I don’t care what you call him; none of us can understand a damn thing you say with your head stuffed so far up Vince’s ass!” The crowd agrees wholeheartedly, and Austin eggs them on by saying; “If you think Mick Foley’s a kiss-ass, gimme a ‘hell yeah’!” The crowd responds in kind, then turns “Mick’s a kiss-ass” into a new chant.

After the chant dissipates, Foley says; “I hope you’ve gotten this out of your system, Steve. You’re not needed here tonight. Mr. McMahon should be here–”

“Oh, he’s here, Mick. I drove him myself. That’s why I’m here, Mick. You say nobody wants Steve Austin back in the ring more then Mick Foley, well huh-uh!, ol’ Stone Cold wants it a little bit more. So I did what I always do, I go grab the bull by the horns and pull, and I done brought McMahon here to ya.”

Foley looks in puzzlement from Austin to the ramp, and the confusion in the arena grows when McMahon’s music cues up … until Shane McMahon comes out. The crowd, and Foley, are gobsmacked to see Vince’s son coming to the ring, not showing a bit of the cocky swagger he normally has. Shane shakes hands with Austin, tries to do so with Mick, and only gets a blank stare. “Mick, Mick, Mick,” he says, “is that any way to say hello? I’m a McMahon, just like Vince.” Shane pauses, leans in a little with a conspiratorial grin and says; “And that means you answer to me, too.”

“Where’s Vince?” asks Foley. “I thought–”

“Stone Cold called me the other day, and we discussed a few things, and when I discovered my dad would be flying here to discuss the investigation … well, one McMahon is as good as another.” Shane flashes a million dollar, shit-eating grin, happy a as a clam to have put one over on Foley; then it disappears and he’s all business again. “This investigation is dragging, Mick. What’s the hold-up?”

“Well, we’ve had a hard time finding any more evidence linking Undertaker–”

“Any more evidence? I don’t remember seeing or hearing about any evidence at all tying Undertaker to this.”

Foley’s face flushes. “Shane, with all due respect to you and your position … you know, the one you got because of your last name …” The crowd boos at Foley for the cheap shot. “Your father has made it clear that I answer to him as far as the investigation. I don’t know where you get off coming here and trying to bully me, especially since a couple years ago, I kinda proved how much tougher I am then you and damn near ripped your arm right of your shoulder.”

Shane’s eyes narrow. He nods, a sideways grin on his lips. “You’re right, Mick. Vince is in charge. But the thing is, the World Wrestling Federation, it belongs to the McMahon family. That means Vince, that means my sister, my mother, and that means me. And while Steve and I have never been the best of friends, as a businessman, it’s plainly obvious to me that every show that Stone Cold Steve Austin doesn’t wrestle on, every pay-per-view we don’t sell because Stone Cold Steve Austin isn’t scheduled to appear, that’s money out of my pockets. That’s a disappointed fan. Every week that this drags on without any new leads, the fans get more and more ancy … it’s only a matter of time before they stop buying tickets and stop ordering pay-per-views out of disgust, Mick Foley. Out of disgust for your incompetence …” Shane pauses, his gaze piercing; Mick is too livid to look away, his knuckles white around the microphone handle. “Or is it complicity, Mick?”

Mick fumes, his head actually shaking with rage until he finally blows. “Where do you get the goddamn nerve to come into my ring and insult me like this? Who the hell do you think you are? I’ve worked my fingers to the bone to try and bring the man who did this to justice … I’ve checked every piece of evidence, listened to every piece of testimony–”

A patriotic fanfare breaks out, ushering the WWF Champion, Kurt Angle, to the ring. Angle hops in the ring, microphone in hand and makes a beeline for Foley, looking insulted, almost hurt. “How can you say that, Mick? You never questioned me!”

Both Austin and Shane look from Angle to Foley and back again. Shane and Austin both step towards Angle, who takes a nervous step back. “Do you have something to add?” asks Shane. “Something helpful?”

Angle’s gaze darts from Austin to Shane to Foley and back to start. Foley steps up and says; “No offense, Kurt, but what could he possibly have to add to this? He wasn’t even there!”

Angle’s eyes go wide. “What? Last year’s Survivor Series was my first day here in the World Wrestling Federation! I beat some kid in, like, record time! Sheesh, you’d think the day an Olympic gold-medal winner comes to the WWF would be like some kind of freakin’ national holiday.”

Austin suddenly steps up, sending Angle scurrying backwards out of surprise. “If you know something, Kurt, you best be spillin’ it right now, cause I got a six-pack of whoop-ass I’m lookin’ to open.”

Angle quickly scans his looming jury again. He takes a deep breath, holds the microphone with both hands and says; “Okay. I didn’t mention this sooner because … well, you see”–Angle pats the WWF Title wrapped around his waist–”this belt means the world to me. All the great men that have worn it … Superstar Billy Graham, Bob Backlund, Pedro Morales, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin … no Olympic gold medal winners, but good in their own right. And I believed then, as I do now, that I owed it to them to restore the glory of the WWF Title as only I could by first winning it before I got involved in this. If I’d said a month ago what I saw, with The Rock still holding the belt, why … well, we woulda all been just plain horn-swaggled!”

“What do you know, Kurt?” asks Shane. “What did you see?”

“I … I saw Rock …” Angle takes one more deep breath to steady himself. “I was putting my bags in my car when I saw Rock come out to the parking garage and get in his car. Like, maybe two, three minutes before Stone Cold was run over. I wasn’t sure until I saw the videotape of the accident, when I saw for sure it was the same car.”

A deathly silence fills the arena, with everyone looking at each other, trying to digest what Angle has just said. Shane finally breaks the silence, looking to Foley when he speaks. ” Commissioner Foley, order your security force to arrest The Rock at once, and reinstate Steve Austin effective tonight.”

Foley snaps his head in Shane’s direction. “I don’t take orders from you, Shane, and I’m certainly not arresting The Rock based on his testimony!”

“What’s wrong with my testimony?” asks Angle.

“Arrest The Rock, Mick,” says Shane again, ignoring Angle. “or I’ll do it myself.”

“What did I do to you, Mick?” asks Angle, still going ignored.

“There’s not a damned thing you can do to get me to arrest The Rock!” Foley blurts out. “I don’t care if there’s fingerprints, or DNA, or eyewitness testimony. Nothing short of a videotape with his face, or his own confession, will make me arrest The Rock!” Out of nowhere, Foley lunges at Shane, sending the two of them toppling to the ground. Austin and Angle pry the two apart, and security forces arrive in time to keep the two separate. Foley repeats his vow never to have The Rock arrested. Shane orders the guards to arrest The Rock; the guards look from one authority figure to the other in confusion. “You don’t answer to that punk kid!” Foley bellows. “Anybody I see going towards–”

“If you work for the WWF,” Shane yells at the security force, “you work for me! As part owner, I command you to arrest The Rock and deliver him into police custody, or every last one of you will be fired!”

Foley glares at Shane, but he knows he has no argument to counter with. The security force lingers a moment longer, then a portion of them disappear to the back. Shane levels a finger at Foley and says; “You’ll be seeing me at Smackdown, Foley! This ain’t over!”

The #1 contender’s match wraps up Raw, another classic match-up between Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. But unlike before, Jericho does not come out to the fanfare he is used to, in light of the infidelity scandal. In fact, between him, the heartless Benoit and Angle, the only person to receive even a warm reception is Angle. Strangely, Benoit comes in with more of an edge then before, attacking Jericho with a ferocity and a passion never seen before. Unfortunately, Benoit’s temper makes him take costly and unnecessary mistakes, and lead to a Jericho pinfall off of a Lionsault. Jericho celebrates as the announcer proclaims him the #1 contender (even though the crowd is sour on the idea), until Triple H races down to ringside and takes down Jericho. The two brawl until Steven Richards slides into the ring and levels Triple H with another Steven Kick. Angle gets in the ring and picks up where Triple H left off in brawling with Jericho, but it is when Benoit gets up, still weary from the loss, and takes down Richards with the Crippler Crossface until officials swarm in and break up the melee.

But the final, lasting image of Raw that night is of Shane walking with the security team, escorting The Rock to a car in handcuffs. Rocky is silent, almost mournful, as he is being put into the car. Shane mutters, “You make me sick,” right before the door is shut and the car drives off into the night.

Smackdown: Nov. 2, ’00

Triple H gets blindsided when he arrives at the arena. “Hunter, chap,” William Regal says as Triple H enters the locker room. “So you know, we’re partnering tonight against those insufferable toerags from the Right To Censor, Steven Richards and Val Venis.”

Triple H’s jaw clinches, his lip curling up. He stows his bags in his locker; when Regal starts to repeat himself, Triple H cuts him off. “Is Jericho here?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I haven’t been looking for him. You can’t be thinking about Chris Jericho, Hunter. We have to focus–”

Triple H wheels around, pinning Regal against the wall with his forearm across Regal’s chest, nose to nose as Triple H speaks through clinched teeth. “Theonly thing I’m focused on is putting Chris Jericho in a coma. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Right To Censor. They don’t matter.”

Regal’s reply is blunt and honest. “Tonight, they do.” Triple H holds up Regal for a moment more, then releases Regal, sits down on the bench and seethes. Regal gives Triple H a once over and says; “The match isn’t until later. I’ll give you some time to cool down,” and leaves.

Chris Benoit starts off Smackdown’s in-ring action, facing off against Eddie Guerrero and Chyna in a triple threat match for the Intercontinental Title. Once again, Benoit seems more vicious and angry then ever before. Unlike his match against Jericho, though, Benoit is able to channel is fury long enough to capture the Intercontinental Title by getting Chyna to submit to the Crossface. After being presented with the title belt, Benoit asks for a microphone.

“As glad as I am to win this again, to prove once again that I am the best damn technical wrestler in this business,” says Benoit, “I have to get something off my chest, and I need Triple H out here to do it.”

Triple H’s music cues up, but the stage remains empty. A second playing fails to draw him out. “I know we’ve had our differences,” Benoit says, “but I need you to come out here for a minute.” Once again the music plays, and this time, Triple H comes stomping down to the ring without saying a word. He gets right in Benoit’s face, silently urging him to speak his piece and be done with it. “I can see you don’t wanna be here,” Benoit says. “You don’t trust me. That’s fine. But you need to hear this.” Benoit takes a deep breath, then says; “All this time, these past several weeks, between you and me … I … I don’t know how to tell you this.”

Triple H spits out the words. “Out with it.”

“Stephanie … she hit on me a couple months ago.” Triple H’s face turns fire engine red in a matter of milliseconds. He starts to stalk Benoit, sending Benoit stumbling back into the ropes. “Listen! I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true! When you started getting all jealous of Kurt Angle, she got upset … but Kurt, he turned her down. So she came to me, and I thought, if I started attacking you, it might cause enough of a distraction for her to focus on your marriage again!” For a moment, it looks like Triple H is going to tear Benoit’s head from his body … but suddenly, Triple H just turns and walks away, leaving Benoit to call after him until Triple H is in the locker room again.

Back in the locker room, Regal approaches the seething Triple H and tries to talk it out with him. “I know you can’t help dwelling on these issues, especially after what Christopher said. But let me assure you, Hunter … I’ve known Christopher a long time. He is a close friend of mine. He helped me regain my job here in the WWF. I believe what he says. Sometimes he may act the dirty, rotten scoundrel, sometimes he may cheat … but Chris Benoit is no liar, this I can assure you.” For all of Regal’s efforts, however, Triple H continues to seethe until their match comes due.

Regal and Triple H dominate the Right To Censor contingent of Richards and Venis for most of the match, with the RTC only gaining any advantage through blatant cheating. When Triple H gets the hot tag and reverses the momentum, Richards quickly calls out the reinforcements, drawing the DQ, but getting the moral victory from a 5-on-2 beatdown. As the collective group put the screws to Regal and Triple H, Richards issues a challenge to Triple H to find 4 people who can stomach being near him and face the RTC in a classic Survivor Series match at the pay-per-view.

Shane McMahon walks to the ring, Austin nowhere to be seen. “If you’re wondering where Stone Cold Steve Austin is,” says Shane, “I asked him to stay away tonight. You see, Mick Foley and I have some issues to discuss, and having Austin present would only complicate issues. So I’m gonna ask Mick Foley to come down to the ring right now so we can have this out.”

Mick steps out onto the stage, but stops at the head of the ramp. “Shane, I just came out here to tell you that you and I have nothing to discuss. I don’t owe you any explanations, any justifications; I don’t owe you anything. When it comes to the Stone Cold investigation, the only person I answer to is your father.”

“See, Mick, I think you owe an explanation … to the people. And I’m here to get that for them. You owe them an explanation on why you won’t see a solid lead through to its end. You owe them an explanation on why you keep pursuing an obviously innocent man, and why you continue to turf Stone Cold Steve Austin when he’s perfectly capable of wrestling.”

Before Mick can answer, The Rock comes through the crowd, slides into the ring, and clobbers Shane in the back. A Rock Bottom later, Shane is out on the mat. Mick strolls down to the ring. “I’m doing the best job I can, Shane,” Mick says to Shane, lying prone on the mat. “And I don’t need some snot-nosed brat like you second-guessing my every move! I don’t answer to you, Shane, and I don’t have to explain anything to anyone who isn’t named Vince Mc–”

The roaring thunder of a motorcycle interrupts Foley; Undertaker races down to ringside atop his Titan bike and slides in the ring. Rock immediately pounces, stomping as Undertaker slides under the bottom rope, but Undertaker manages to get to his feet and fight back. An attempt at a chokeslam is derailed by a kick to the groin, but when Rock throws Undertaker into the ropes, he retaliates with a flying clothesline. Rock rolls out, but Mick gets caught by Undertaker and chokeslammed. Undertaker and Rock trash talk each other as Shane gets up and shakes out the cobwebs. “You wanna see some action tonight, Rocky?” Shane yells, holding the back of his head. “You and Jericho against Undertaker and Angle, tonight! And Monday …” Shane pauses, holding his head. “Monday, it’s you and me in a street fight!” The crowd pops for the announcement, while Rock glares at Shane and Undertaker.

While Jericho and Rock have something in common–both being formerly beloved performers who have recently lost the crowd’s approval because of bad deeds–they have little beyond that to tie them together, and the strain between the two shows in the main event tag match. Angle and Undertaker take advantage of this to dissect the team, until Mick Foley interferes on behalf of Rocky when he’s about to get hit with the Last Ride. The ref calls for the disqualification, helping Rocky and Jericho get the advantage over Undertaker and Angle. Foley gets chairs for Rocky and Jericho, who use them to floor Angle and Undertaker, splitting ‘Taker open. Triple H races down to the ring, sledgehammer in hand, but Jericho gets to Hunter first with the chair. Even a surprise appearance by Austin goes awry, with Rock denting the chair on Austin’s head. The attacks only cement the triumvirate’s positions as the most hated men in the company, with the crowd raining down cups and garbage into the ring as Jericho and Rock stand tall amongst the fallen bodies of multiple heroes … but even that bond does nothing to engender good relations between Rock and Jericho, who glare at each other, chairs in hand, a Mexican standoff between the federation’s most unpopular sinners.

Raw: Nov. 6, ’00

Raw starts off with the huge announcement of two matches for Survivor Series in addition to Kurt Angle’s WWF Title defense against Chris Jericho: The Rock taking on Undertaker, and Triple H teaming with William Regal, Billy Gunn, Chyna and a yet-to-be-determined fifth partner against the Right To Censor in a classic Survivor Series match.

Jericho comes out for a hot lead-off match on Raw, taking on The Undertaker. The crowd boos vociferously when the Y2J countdown begins, and drowns out his voice when he starts his “Welcome to Raw is Jericho!” tagline. He tries to talk a second time, but when the crowd drowns him out with the chant of “homewrecker”, Jericho tosses the microphone. But he doesn’t get more then a couple steps towards the ring before Triple H launches out of the back like a cannonball and takes down Jericho from behind. Triple H brawls with Jericho around ringside, tossing him into the steel steps and slamming him headfirst into the announce table until Steven Richards comes out and clips Triple H. Richards pounds on Triple H’s leg and books when the officials finally get their act into gear and come down to ringside. Jericho and Triple H are led away by trainers, while Richards disappears into the safety of the audience.

Backstage, Regal checks in on Triple H as a doctor checks out his knee; the scheduled singles match between Triple H and Richards for the evening is off.

“This is a fantastic opportunity,” says Regal. “We can eliminate two problems at once.”

Triple H glowers at Regal. “How is Steven Richards injuring my knee a good thing?”

“Hunter! We need a fifth man for our match at Survivor Series. You need someone to take your place tonight against Steven Richards. I know just the man for both of these jobs.” Regal’s chest puffs out with pride, his smile so beaming, it could outshine the sun. “Chris Benoit.”

Triple H deadpans Regal until the trainer makes Triple H bend his knee, sending a shockwave of pain through it. “Are you stupid? No way am I partnering with a guy who, just a few weeks ago, was trying to beat me senseless.”

“Hunter, just because you had your problems against Christopher doesn’t make him a bad guy. I’ve known him for years. He helped me get a job here and become the WWF’s Goodwill Ambassador, and that’s what I’m trying to do here; spread goodwill by offering up Christopher’s services as both our partner at the Survivor Series, and as a substitute tonight. I would stake my reputation and my honor as an Englishman on Christopher’s integrity.”

Triple H sucks in a quick breath of oxygen as the doctor cinches up the bandages around his knee. “Last guy I knew who went on about integrity tried to steal my wife.”

Regal blanches. “I can’t speak for Kurt Angle … but I’ve known the lad who didspoil your marriage, and he has never been a virtuous lad. Chris Benoit, however, is. I give you my word.” Triple H regards Regal for a few moments before finally acquiescing with a barely audible “fine” and a wave of the hand. “Splendid! I’ll go discuss it with Christopher, and alert Commissioner Foley straightaway.”

Benoit gladly agrees, vowing to “prove his honesty” to Triple H by taking out Richards. Regal accompanies Benoit to the ring to watch Benoit dismantle Richards in decisive fashion with a blur of suplexes, stiff chops and high-impact offense that leaves Richards stupefied. The tap-out is all but done until the RTC’s usual tactics of running in and trying the numbers game draws the DQ. Billy Gunn and Chyna come out and help clear the ring of the annoying faction.

Shane McMahon is busy stretching and warming up for his street fight when the locker room door opens and he’s met with a surprise visitor: his father. Shane looks at him a moment, then goes right back to his stretches.

“Shane, we need to talk,” says Vince. Shane doesn’t reply, or even acknowledge his father with a look. Vince sighs. “Shane, you … this can’t happen. I can’t allow this to happen, Shane.”

“Why not?” Shane says without looking up.

“Because … dammit, Shane, this isn’t right! You can’t …” Vince’s voice trails off.

Shane stops his stretching and stands up. “What, Dad? What is so wrong about this? Are you worried I’m gonna get hurt … maybe jump off something tall and break my back? Get my head split open and need stitches? Where was this fatherly concern when I was being beaten damn near into a coma by the Big Show, or when I was jumping off the TitanTron while I was fighting Steve Blackman? I’ll tell you where … it was folded up in your pocketbook, like it always is. Money before everything else; if Shane jumps off something tall, if he gets his head split open, it sells a few more pay-per-views the next time he shows up. Save it, Vince.”

Shane turns to go back to stretching, but Vince grabs him by the shoulder and spins him back around. “Shane, dammit, listen to me; The Rock is a very important component to the World Wrestling Federation. Did you know he has Hollywood producers interested in him for movies? Do you know what that kind of exposure could do for this company? I can’t risk you going out there and hurting him, and I sure as hell won’t allow you to continue this campaign of yours to get him arrested for something he didn’t do!”

“That’s really all you see here. Money.” Shane shakes his head. “Mick Foley has you so snowed …”

“Mick Foley does what I say! I don’t care one bit about him being buddies with The Rock, but I will not sit by and let someone like The Rock be taken out of the game because somebody has it out for him!”

Shane and Vince glower at each, the silence of the standoff palpable. Vince’s jaw clinches, anticipating the worst, but Shane steps back and sits down to continue his stretches. “Get out,” he says, almost an afterthought. Vince grumbles, but when Shane won’t acknowledge him any further, Vince stomps out of the dressing room.

Mick Foley enters Triple H’s dressing room as Regal is continuing his hard sell of Benoit as a partner for Survivor Series. Regal and Triple H regard Foley with plainly visible disdain. Foley gets right in Triple H’s face. “Because of your little antics earlier in ruining the Undertaker/Chris Jericho match, I’m fining you five thousand dollars!” Triple H’s only reply is to continue to stare coldly at Foley. “And as I am a man who always keeps his word, I intend on delivering that match to the fans here tonight. In fact, it’s happening in just a minute or two … and if I see you get involved in any way, so help me God, I’ll make sure you don’t wrestle again until Survivor Series. Next year.” Triple H’s gaze doesn’t break, and neither does his silence. Foley lingers a moment longer, then, without another word spoken, leaves.

Jericho’s match with Undertaker evokes memories of Undertaker’s legendary matches with Shawn Michaels: a big, angry giant, beloved by the fans, chasing and pummeling a smaller athlete whom the crowd hates. Jericho has to use his speed to take the advantage away from Undertaker, hitting the Dead Man with a blur of hit-and-run strikes and high-impact, high-risk offense. Undertaker manages to retake the upper hand, though, by bringing up his knees when Jericho goes for the Lionsault, and sets to beating on Y2J. Jericho eats a chokeslam and rolls out to the floor, trying to regroup, but is surprised to find Stephanie McMahon show up and berate him for taking advantage of her in the hotel room. Jericho pleads his innocence, to which Stephanie slaps him hard. While Stephanie and Jericho argue (which has the ref tied up, trying to get Stephanie to leave ringside), Rock slides into the ring and plants Undertaker with a Rock Bottom. Jericho manages to disentangle himself long enough from Stephanie long enough to go for the pin, but Stephanie climbs in and stomps on Jericho, forcing the ref to award the match by DQ to Jericho. Upon hearing the closing bell, Rock comes back and goes after Undertaker, pushing Stephanie out of his way to do so. When Undertaker gets nailed for a second time with Rock Bottom, Stephanie hauls off and slaps Rock for shoving her out of the way. The slap earns Stephanie a Rock Bottom of her own. Jericho wisely rolls out, all the while glaring at Rock as he backs up the ramp.

When Rock comes out again at the end of the night for the Street Fight, he is surrounded by his Commissioner-ordered protection squad, and the Commissioner himself. The Rock grabs the microphone before Shane can come out and says; “The Rock is sick … no, The Rock is tired … no, The Rock hashad it with being the fall-guy for running over Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock has tried to defend himself for weeks, and Undertaker, you’ve run your mouth for weeks trying to pin this on The Rock, blame The Rock, say The Rock was getting special treatment from management. Well, let The Rock tell you something; The Rock is done, finished, through listening to you spread lies about The Rock. The Rock is finished listening to you, to Shane McMahon, to all these backstabbing fans who don’t believe in The Rock”-this earns him a massive dose of antipathy from the crowd, which he disregards-“The Rock is finished defending himself when nobody wants to hear it … and The Rock is done playing games. Survivor Series, 13 days, Rock and Undertaker, Undertaker and Rock. Historic? Epic? No, The Rock isn’t going to come in and do what The Rock does best, and that is to be the most electrifying man in sports entertainment; no, The Rock is going to simply come in to Survivor Series … make sure his boots are shined up real nice … and beat on you and stomp on you until you are a dead man, if you smelllllllllllllllllllll … what The Rock … is … cookin’!”

The Rock and Foley are caught off-guard, though, when Shane comes to ringside with an escort: Steve Austin. Foley protests the appearance of Austin at ringside, but Rock tells him to let it slide, keeping a nervous eye on the twitchy, trigger-happy Texas Rattlesnake. Shane lives up to his reputation, throwing caution to the winds as he unloads the plunder and everything else to beat on The Rock. Rocky’s superior conditioning and years of in-ring experience, however, give him the upper hand. Austin and Foley cheer their men from the corners, Foley always keeping a close, nervous eye on Austin just in case. When Shane gets the upper hand again using a Singapore cane right between the eyes, Foley almost leaps up to the apron, until Austin makes a motion to climb into the ring as well; Foley backs down instantly … until the appearance of Vince McMahon, brandishing a chair, coming to the ring gets him stirred up. The crowd, as well as everyone else-save Shane and Rock, too busy beating on each other-sends people into an uproar, wondering if Vince’s greed will overcome family ties, or if he will retaliate for his daughter. A chair shot later, and Shane is on the mat, his head causing the seat of the chair to dent. Rock nails an unnecessary People’s Elbow and scores the academic pinfall. Before the timekeeper can even ring the bell, Austin is sliding into the ring. Rocky bails, and the ring floods with guards; Austin starts brawling with them, but he is overwhelmed by the numbers. However, with the bulk of attention turned to Austin, Rock doesn’t see Undertaker come from behind, his hand wrapped in a chain. Rock drops to the ground with one punch, out like a light, as a couple of the security force break off to check on Rock and question Undertaker while the rest of the group leads Austin away in cuffs.

Smackdown: Nov. 9, ’00

Smackdown begins with the arrival of Shane McMahon’s limousine; he has bandages on his forehead covering the wound caused by his father’s chair shot. A second passenger gets out; it is Stone Cold. Shane turns to Austin and says; “Let me talk to them first. The last thing we need is you getting riled up and attacking them; that won’t put them in any kind of mood to listen to me.”

“Shane, Vince and Mick ain’t gonna wanna listen to you no matter what,” says Austin, putting his hands up. “But if you wanna do it this way …”

Michael Cole announces the card for the evening as Austin and Shane enter the arena; Chris Jericho taking on Steven Richards, William Regal, Chyna and Billy Gunn taking on Bull Buchanan, Goodfather and Ivory, and Raven & Tazz squaring off against Triple H & Chris Benoit. As he’s doing so, Stephanie McMahon comes out to the ring. The crowd dumps on the McMahon daughter.

“Why are you mad at me?” Stephanie implores. “What did I do? If anything, you should feel sorry for me … Chris Jericho took advantage of me! I was obviouslyintoxicated; Chris Jericho forced himself on me. Why you’re making me out to be the bad g-“

The countdown of the Jericho clock drowns her out. Jericho stands on the stage, pacing back and forth. The crowd gives Jericho no better a reaction then Stephanie, but Jericho ignores it. “Stephanie, Stephanie, Stephanie,” says Jericho. “There’s just one problem with your little excuse; for me to take advantage of you would require a couple things: it would require you to actuallyresist sleeping with a guy!” The crowd breaks out into a “slut” chant, which bridles Stephanie to no end. “And secondly … to get into bed with you would mean stifling my vomit long enough, and being drunk enough to forget that you’re a dirty, filthy, disgusting, trash-bag, bottom-feeding ho!” The crowd, despite hating Jericho, eats up the trash-talking. “But one thing we have in common here, Stephanie, is that we’re both being set up. That’s so plainly obviously not me in that videotape, and that’s plainly, obviously … well, okay, that is you, flopping down on the bed, getting ready to … well, what you do best … the onlything you do best … but that sure ain’t me!”

Stephanie has to calm herself down before she can speak. Before she can even get a word in edgewise, Triple H comes barreling out of the back, clobbering Jericho in the back of the head. Triple H puts the boots to Jericho as Stephanie screams for Triple H to stop. Triple H grabs the microphone, looks at Stephanie with murderous eyes and says, “You’ll get yours soon enough, you little bitch!” Triple H throws the microphone away and puts Jericho in position to Pedigree him on the steel stage. Jericho, however, breaks the underhooks, lifts Triple H up and over into a back body drop that sends Triple H off the stage, crashing through a catering table. Medics and trainers immediately come out and check on Triple H, who doesn’t move. Foley comes out and surveys the damage, stomping and swearing at the turn of events as he disappears backstage while paramedics put him on a stretcher and wheel him out. Tazz & Raven catch up with Foley backstage, but Foley brushes off their requests to kept the match as a handicap and says he’ll make a decision about it when he’s damn good and ready.

Despite Trish not being as experienced in the ring, or as strong, as Chyna, Trish, Test and Albert manage to overwhelm Regal, Gunn and Chyna with their size and, naturally, dirty tactics. Chyna also helps her team fall behind when she tries to do too much and lift Albert up for a body slam; Albert pounds her down, strengthening their position of control. When Regal is finally tagged in, he looks to be turning the tide until the Right To Censor swarm out and beat on their Survivor Series opponents. Chris Benoit again comes to the rescue, but this time, his presence isn’t enough to turn the tide, and the heroes all take a beating.

Shane McMahon enters Vince’s office, where he and Foley are discussing what to do about Benoit having a partner for the match tonight. “We need to talk,” says Shane sternly. Vince and Foley look up at Shane disgustedly.

“We’re in the middle of trying to figure out what to do about Chris Benoit’s match tonight,” scolds Vince. “Hell, we don’t even know if he’s going to be able to wrestle, let alone whether or not we can find him a partner.”

“We could always make Undertaker take his place,” says Foley with a devilish grin.

“Undertaker vs. Raven and Tazz … I like-“

“We need to talk now!” Shane barks. “Last Monday on Raw, the two of you made it perfectly obvious what’s going on; you two are protecting The Rock because he’s an investment.”

“Now, now,” Vince counters, “if Rocky is guilty, we’ll have no choice but to punish him accordingly. Right now, the preponderance of evidence just doesn’t indicate-“

“How can you say that?” Shane shakes his head. “No, you know what? I can argue with you until I’m blue in the face. You won’t listen.” Shane makes his voice go unnaturally deep, puffs out his chest and starts walking around the office in the familiar Vince strut. “You’re Vince McMahon. You’re a titan of industry, Mr. Sports Entertainment himself. Certified genius and billionaire.” Shane stops, deadpanning. “But last Monday on Raw, you let Rock attack your daughter, my sister, Stephanie. You let him manhandle her and drive her into the mat with a Rock Bottom … and for what? No reason. And when you had the opportunity to even the score, you blast me with a chair. Are you telling me that Rocky is so valuable to this company, that you’re going to let your daughter be beaten up by some potentially dangerous man-a man who is the prime suspect in a hit-and-run assault-“

“Not according to our investigation, he isn’t,” says Foley.

Shane ignores Foley, focusing on his dad. “Is this how you’re going to run your company? Sacrificing everything and everyone because you got a gravy train you wanna ride till the end?”

Vince rises up from his chair, his face twisted and contorted into the familiar Vince McMahon face of rage. “After all the hell your slut sister put me through last year, she’s lucky I didn’t order Rocky to hit her again,” he spits through gritted teeth; the audience gasps in response (as do the announcers). “There are consequences when you step through those ropes, and she damn well knows what they are …” Vince smiles the smile of a maniac, looking up at Shane’s bandages. “And so do you.” The smile quickly switches back to Vince’s scowl. “I made this company, I own this company … I am this company, Shane. Next time you question my authority, when I’m through with you, you’ll be begging for a job on the ring crew down in Atlanta, you understand? This discussion is over.”

Shane’s eyes narrow. “Oh, I understand, father. Now you understand me.” Shane suddenly reaches out and grabs Vince’s tie, pulls him in real close and talks through similarly gnashed teeth. “If you allow another member of our family to get caught in the crossfire again because of your mistakes, you will answer to me.” Shane lets Vince’s tie go; he falls back in his chair, loosening it and coughing. “This isn’t over. Not until I say it’s over.” Shane turns his attention to Foley. “If I don’t see you produce something concrete by Survivor Series that ties Undertaker to this crime … there’s gonna be trouble. You understand me, Mick?” Shane walks out of the office before either his father or Foley can come up with a reply.

Undertaker’s handicap match with Raven and Tazz is inexplicably and suddenly changed to a handicap hardcore match as the match is being announced. Undertaker uses it to the best of his advantage, arming himself with a chair before Raven and Tazz can hit the ring, but the ECW alumni are no strangers to hardcore violence, and soon enough, Undertaker is taking a beating. Soon enough, everyone sees why the rules change occurred, as Rock interjects himself into the proceedings, sliding a chair into the ring for Raven and Tazz to use to spike-piledriver Undertaker for the pinfall. Afterwards, Rocky slides in with a microphone, instructing Raven and Tazz to continue the beatdown, while he looks on and taunts Undertaker. “You want to make The Rock the bad guy? You want to cast Rock as the sick son of a bitch who ran over Austin?” Raven and Tazz hold Undertaker up by the arms; Rocky gets in Undertaker’s face, nosetips touching. “If you want The Rock to be a vicious, rotten son of a bitch, you got it. From now on, The Rock is going to do whatever The Rock has to do … and if that means leaving you in a pool of your own blood … well, The Rock hopes you know how to swim, cause you’re gonna be drowning in an ocean of it. Do hear The Rock? Drowning.”

The Jericho/Richards match ends up being thrown out when William Regal interferes, brawling first with Richards, then with Jericho. Angle comes out to assist in putting Jericho away, but Jericho manages to hit crotch kicks on both guys. Jericho bolts, leaving Angle and Regal nursing sore groins.

Vince and Foley come out for the final segment of the evening. Vince, as usual, struts down to ringside as if he were a king. Foley, also as usual, has his phalanx of protection around him. Vince goes to address the hostile crowd, but doesn’t get out so much as a syllable before the sound of breaking glass sets off the audience. Austin stomps down to the ring, salutes the fans, then grabs a microphone. Foley goes to say something, and Austin cuts him off. “Mick, you need to shut your mealy little mouth before I crack that stack of dimes you kill a neck.” Foley and Vince both sneer at this, but Austin rolls on. “Now, I ain’t out here to wrestle, because these dumb sumbitches won’t let me do that. They think ol’ Stone Cold is some kinda dangerous person to have around since they ain’t arrested The Rock.” Austin pantomimes embarrassment, as if he said afaux pas. “Oh, I’m sorry. Since they haven’t arrested,” Austin says, deadpanning right at Vince and Foley, “’the perpetrator’. Now, me, I all I wanna do is whip somebody’s ass, and get on with my life, and get the World Wrestling Federation Championship back in my hands.” Austin turns to Vince and Foley, lowering his voice. “That’s why I came out here tonight; to see if we can’t, you know, hash this out. Come to an agreement. Do things …” Austin swallows, his upper lip curled up. “Do things … the easy way.”

Vince beams. “Do you mean you’re going to let us do our job and stop stirring the pot? No more attacks on The Rock? No more blaming him?”

Austin lets the moment draw out a few seconds. “No, Vince, what I mean is that I got a proposal for you. Easy for you, easy for me.”

 

Vince regards Austin skeptically. “And … what would that be, Steve?”

“Well, it’s real simple, Vince; me and Rock, we have a match on Monday.”

Foley jumps in quick as a heart-attack. “No way, no way will I allow that-“

“Was I talkin’ to you, Mick?” Austin turns away from Foley and looks right at Vince again. “One match. No Undertaker, no Mick Foley, no Shane, and none of these piece of crap little mall rent-a-cops Mick Foley seems to like so much. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, one on one. If I can’t beat The Rock, I’ll go back to Victoria and drink beers and watch Jerry Springer and fish and hunt until you tell me to come on back.”

Vince sees where Austin is going. “But … if you win …”

“Then I come back with a six-pack of whoop-ass riding shotgun, whether your stupid little investigation is done or not.”

Vince considers the idea a moment. Foley pipes up to protest, but Vince shuts him down immediately. “So … what you’re proposing is … if you win, your suspension is lifted, and you can come back full time to wrestling. But if you lose … you don’t come to any more WWF events until the investigation is over. Do I understand you correctly, Steve?”

“What, did I stutter, so you had to repeat the whole damn thing? That’s what I said. No Mick, no guards, no Undertaker, no Shane. Me and Rock, my suspension on the line.”

“Vince, you can’t be considering-“

“Mick,” says Vince, turning to Foley, “not only am I considering it …” Vince turns to Austin and extends a hand. “I accept your terms, Stone Cold. On Monday Night Raw, in this very ring, it will be Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, with Steve Austin’s suspension on the line.” Austin looks at the hand for a moment, visibly unsure about taking Vince’s hand. Finally, after a few moments of Vince leering at Austin with wide, almost psychotic eyes, Austin takes the hand and shakes it once. Austin extends a hand to Foley, who looks at it as reluctantly as Austin did Vince’s; eventually, Foley takes it, only to get pulled into a kick in the gut and a Stunner. Vince watches Austin salute the fans again with upraised middle fingers, seething, ignoring his Commissioner lying on the mat, unconscious.

Raw: Nov. 13, ’00

Jim Ross runs down the matches for the evening, including a triple threat Intercontinental Title match with Chris Benoit defending against Val Venis and Raven, and a tag match pitting the unlikely partners (and sworn enemies) Triple H and Kurt Angle against Chris Jericho and Steven Richards. But all the focus, all the anticipation, is for the main event, the Rock/Austin showdown, with Austin’s suspension on the line.

 

Michael Cole catches up with Austin in his dressing room as Raw begins. “Stone Cold, a moment of your time.” Austin looks up and shoots him a look that sends Cole scurrying back a couple steps. “Um, Stone Cold … I just wanted to ask you what your thoughts are as we get closer to your match with The Rock.”

Austin glares a hole through Cole. “You wanna know my thoughts?” Austin suddenly lays down on the bench. “See this? See what I’m doin’ here, ya little stick-figure?” Austin jumps up to his feet, pointing back at the empty bench. “I’m thinkin’ about that. How I laid on my back for a damn year of my life, because some sick son of a bitch ran me over. I’m thinkin’ about how I sat at home for a year while Rock became the biggest damn wrestler in the company. I’m thinkin’ about all that, Michael Cole. Cause that’s gonna be the fuel that drives this whoop-ass machine tonight.”

The participants in the triple threat match each bring a surprise to the ring: a corner man, with Benoit bringing Regal, Venis bringing Richards and Raven bringing Tazz. The addition of the corner men provides as much action outside the ring as there is inside. Venis and Raven team up long enough to weaken Benoit, but the fragile alliance shatters when Raven goes for a more hardcore approach, and Richards, disapproving of hardcore wrestling. Tazz goes after Richards, and the distractions are enough for Benoit to score the submission victory over Venis.

Undertaker pulls into the parking garage on his motorcycle, and is immediately approached by Foley. “Undertaker, if you’re even thinking of getting involved in The Rock’s match tonight, you’ll be suspended on the spot,” Foley warns, sticking a finger in Undertaker’s face. “Tonight’s main event is the biggest, most important match in Raw history, and the last thing I want is for somebody to come along and screw it up.”

Undertaker holds up his hands. “Hey, man, no worries. Me and Austin, we already talked. That’s his match tonight, so I ain’t doin’ a damn thing.” Undertaker starts to turn away, then turns back and puts a finger in Foley’s face. “But come Sunday, that’s my match. And if there’s anything left of your boy after Austin wipes the floor with him …” Undertaker walks off, leaving the sentence unfinished, but the implication is clear.

After his parking lot confrontation with Mick Foley, Undertaker goes right to the ring. “This Sunday is Survivor Series,” he says. “I’m supposed to have a match with The Rock. Vince McMahon and Mick Foley don’t want this match to happen, see, cause they know that here in my yard, I make bad things happen to bad people. And Rocky, he’s been a bad man, so I’m fixin’ to do some bad things to Rock. But, see, later on, Stone Cold’s finally gonna get a piece of Rock. And I gotta ask you a favor, Austin … I gotta ask you to go easy on the boy. Cause I don’t wanna be pickin’ bones on Sunday. Just as Rock took away a year of your life, Austin, Mick Foley and Vince McMahon, they’ve made me look like a criminal. If they can hang this on me, I’m losin’ more then a year. And if that happens, I wanna make sure I take out their precious little matinee idol.”

“Undertaker!”

Undertaker looks around for the source of the familiar voice, the deep bass voice of The Rock. The TitanTron switches views; Rock fills the screen. Rock rolls his eyes in the back of his head and makes his voice go even deeper, delivering all his words like a robot. “’I am Undertaker. I big hurt people. I beat Rock.’” Rock goes expressionless. “The Rock understands your fears, Undertaker. You’re afraid … afraid to go one on one with the Great One. Afraid that Sunday, at Survivor Series, The Rock’s gonna do what you say you do to everyone else, and that’s … make you famous. Undertaker, you spend so much time running your mouth about how The Rock and Vince McMahon and Mick Foley have it out for you, you’re a patsy, you’re being set up. The Rock did this, The Rock did that, but they’re blaming it on Undertaker. The Rock has said time and time again that he had nothing to do with running over Stone Cold Steve Austin, but nobody’s listening. Everybody wants to blame The Rock. Well, today, right here, right now, The Rock will be guilty of something.” The camera pulls back to show Undertaker’s motorcycle is next to The Rock … and Rocky is holding a sledgehammer. “You want a piece of The Rock, Undertaker? You want to go toe to toe with The Rock, make ‘bad things happen’? Well, The Rock says if you want bad things to happen, The Rock will be the one making bad things happen.” The Rock hoists up the sledgehammer, pulls back and swings; the hammer connects, sending pieces of metal flying, causing the bike to tip over. Rocky raises the hammer over his head and brings it down again and again, but Undertaker sees none of it, as he races out of the ring and back to the parking garage. A brawl breaks out, but Rocky ends it quickly and violently by blasting Undertaker between the eyes with the hammer. Officials pull Rock away from Undertaker before he can do any more harm, while medics take Undertaker away to stitch up the laceration in his head.

The Triple H/Angle vs. Jericho/Richards match comes off the tracks from the very first moment, with all four men in the ring, punching and brawling. Finally, Angle and Jericho are left in the ring, brawling, but only because Richards and Triple H’s brawl has spilled outside. Jericho and Richards manage to get the upper hand courtesy of Richards’ cheating, but Richards seems as uncomfortable tagging with an adulterer as Triple H is tagging with Angle, and dissension causes Richards to abandon his partner. Jericho’s chances for victory continue to evaporate when, of all people, Stephanie shows up and pulls on the ropes as Jericho is going for a Lionsault on Triple H. When Triple H comes to and sees his wife, he dismisses her apologies with a middle finger and sets up the Pedigree, but Richards reappears and nails a Steven Kick that almost takes Hunter’s head off. Richards quickly intercepts Angle, and Jericho gets the pinfall, then makes tracks for safer ground before Triple H can come to. After Richards leaves, pleased with his craftiness, Stephanie gets in the ring and tries to aid Triple H, but he shoves her away. Stephanie pleads her case, crying and begging Triple H to see it in his heart to forgive. Triple H’s reply is nail her with a Pedigree. Angle confronts Triple H, but gets a punch in the mouth for his troubles.

When the sound of breaking glass hits, the arena explodes with fanfare as Stone Cold Steve Austin makes his way to the ring in wrestling trunks for the first time in nearly a year. The Rock, by contrast, is received as warmly as Charles Manson. The ring announcer introduces the two combatants in a big-fight style, reading the rules while the referee checks for foreign objects in the trunks and boots of both men. The Rock steps to the middle of the ring, not taking his eyes off Austin, but not regarding him with any hostility; Austin, however, looks ready to kill.

But before the opening bell can sound, Vince McMahon comes through the crowd, slides into the ring and blasts Austin with a chair. Vince waffles Austin a couple more times, rolls Austin over and puts the chair on Austin’s chest, then orders Rock to nail the People’s Elbow. As Rock drives the point of his elbow into the chair, Vince grabs the microphone from the ring announcer; his voice is so hoarse, it’s almost unrecognizable. “Ring the opening bell, dammit! Ring it!” The timekeeper rings the bell; Rock covers Austin, but the referee hesitates. “Count that pinfall, or your ass is fired!” Vince snarls. The ref reluctantly goes down and counts once, twice … hesitates and slaps the mat a third time. The timekeeper rings the bell to close the match as the crowd becomes almost riotous. Vince leers over the fallen Austin as Rock quickly leaves the ring. “Remember what you said, Austin? No Undertaker … no security … no Foley … no Shane … you didn’t say anything about me, Austin! I won’t have you ruining my company, Austin! I won’t have you endangering my most valuable investment!” Vince signals to the back, and the ever-present security force comes into the ring. “Get him out of here! Send him back to Texas! I don’t want to see you again until the Undertaker is behind bars!”

Smackdown: Nov. 16, ’00

As Smackdown begins and the announcers run down the card for the evening (including Triple H & Regal vs. T&A, Rock vs. Crash, and Angle vs. Tazz in the main event), cameras catch Undertaker walking in the hallways in the arena. He stops and asks road agent Tony Garea if he knows where Crash can be found; Garea directs him around the corner. Undertaker comes up behind Crash, nearly scaring him out of his boots.

“Calm down, little guy,” says Undertaker. “Can we go somewhere and have a little talk?” Undertaker slips an arm around his shoulders and guides him into a nearby room, closing the door behind them.

“No Chance In Hell” brings down Vince and Foley, both of them all smiles and swagger.

“How ya doin’, Mick?” Vince asks smugly.

“Vince, I’m doing great. How about you?” “Well, Mick, ever since Monday Night Raw, I’m doing fantastic. You remember Monday Night Raw, don’t you, Mick? When I sent Steve Austin packing back to Victoria, Texas?”

Foley puts a hand on Vince’s arm. “Vince, I know we’ve had our differences, but after what you did in Raw, I have to thank you, and pay respect to your brilliance. You single-handedly found a loophole that allowed us to bench Stone Cold until we finish our investigation, protects this company’s biggest and brightest star, and secured peace for the federation.” Foley extends a hand. “Vince … I congratulate you.”

Vince takes Foley’s hand exuberantly. “Mick, thank you very much. It’s so … wonderful, to be able to live and work without worrying that some drunken psychotic is putting everyone in the company in physical danger. Don’t get me wrong … Steve Austin deserves to get justice for what happened to him, but not at the expense of the World Wrestling Federation’s integrity. Stone Cold is just going to have to take one for the team and stay at home until this mess is sorted out.” Vince pauses, his eyes going far, far away. “In fact … you know, Monday was such a triumph … how about we all watch it again?”

Vince and Foley turn to the TitanTron, but instead of the video of Raw cuing up, the screen flips over to Linda McMahon, sitting at her desk in the WWF offices. “Good evening, Vince. Mick. I must congratulate you on your brilliant plan on Monday Night Raw,” she says sarcastically. “You were nothing short of genius, Vince. The only problem is, your actions and the actions of Mick Foley over the past several weeks have been as detrimental, if not more so, then anything Steve Austin has done since returning to the World Wrestling Federation. The cost of hiring, retaining and obtaining permits for armed security at all WWF events has staggering, pursuing an investigation against a suspect with no evidence while ignoring the suspect to whom the evidence points, and keeping Stone Cold Steve Austin off WWF television as a wrestler has undermined the reputation of the World Wrestling Federation as the dominating force in sports entertainment. After speaking at length with both Stone Cold Steve Austin and our son, Shane, as Chief Executive Officer of the WWF, I can no longer allow you and Mick Foley to run unchecked and kill off this federation with your misguided attempts at protection.”

“You can’t do this, Linda–”

“Yes, I can, Vince. I can, and I am. Effective Monday, I am instituting a four week deadline on the investigation into Steve Austin’s hit-and-run assault. Your progress between now and then, coupled with an intensive review of your performance as Commissioner, will determine whether or not you keep your job.” Foley opens his mouth to protest, but Linda barrels on. “Also effective Monday, I am voiding the suspension of Stone Cold Steve Austin.”

Foley can’t help but interject. “Don’t you realize how much danger this puts The Rock in, how much–”

“I am aware of the dangers, Mick, and while I recognize that this puts your friend in physical danger, The Rock is perfectly capable of defending himself. I have also released your security force, Mick; it is an excessive waste of money and personnel. The Rock doesn’t need such security, and if you have grown so fearful for your safety, I can accept your resignation right here and now.”

“No, no, I … it’s just …” Linda’s stone-face goes unchanged as Foley stammers through aborted attempts at protests. Finally, Foley gives up and falls silent.

“Austin will not be at Smackdown tonight, so you can relax for tonight. However, I expect to see Stone Cold Steve Austin in action in a WWF ring on Monday Night Raw.” Linda smiles and adds; “Oh, Mick? Have a nice day.”

Regal enters Triple H’s dressing room. “So … have you decided, Hunter?”

Triple H looks up from tying his boots. “I still don’t trust him, William. This is a guy who tried to rip my arm out of my socket for over a month. Why would I wanna pick him for our fifth partner at Survivor Series?”

“You have my word, as a gentleman and a Briton, that Chris Benoit is a class act and a worthy partner.” Regal smiles suddenly. “I have a splendid idea! Why don’t you see if you two can team together tonight! Christopher can have my place when you face off against Test and Albert!” Triple H grumbles an incomprehensible reply, but Regal is undaunted. “Smashing! I’ll go tell Michael that I’m not able to wrestle tonight, so you can Christopher can use this opportunity to bond.”

As if Foley and Vince don’t have enough hassle to deal with, Rock comes out for his schedule match against Crash, but when Crash’s music plays, nobody comes out. The truck cues up the music again, and again, Crash is absent. A third play through gets, instead of Crash, Mick Foley, visibly perturbed. “I’m sorry, Rock, but Crash seems to have left the arena. We don’t anybody lined up as a substitute, so … you can take the night off and go home, Rock.” The crowd boos; a “we want a match!” chant breaks out, but it goes ignored as Rock walks back to the dressing room.

Triple H comes out first for his tag match and awaits his partner; when Chris Benoit’s music plays, he shakes his head in resignation. Benoit goes for a handshake, but Triple H leaves him hanging; Benoit doesn’t even notice, and enthusiastically volunteers to lead off the match. Despite their size advantage, Triple H’s skill and cunning, and Benoit’s technical superiority prove too much for T&A, and they go down to the seemingly well-oiled machine of Triple H and Benoit. No sooner does the ref raise their hands in victory then Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather come out for an attempted ambush, but Triple H and Benoit manage to send them packing. Benoit again offers his hand for a handshake. Triple H considers it for what feels like an eternity, then grudgingly shakes it once. Benoit holds on and raises his and Triple H’s arms in triumph, although Triple H looks at his partner suspiciously.

Kevin Kelly tries to catch up with Rock as he gets in his car to leave, but Rock slams the door on him. Kevin is about to throw the broadcast back to Michael Cole when the cameras notice something far off on the other side of the garage, illuminated by Rock’s headlights: The Undertaker. Suddenly, Rock’s engine rumbles, revving up as the car sits in place. Kevin slowly approaches the car, but before he can do anything, the car lurches forward, barreling down on Undertaker … until Rock’s car plows right through him and it’s plainly visible that it was a cardboard cutout of the Deadman. Rock’s car screeches to a halt, spinning to end up parallel with a tractor trailer … and, just as quick, another car comes out of the darkness and parks right next to Rock’s, the doors touching. Undertaker steps out of the second car, brandishing a baseball bat.

“C’mon, boy! You wanna play?” Undertaker swings the bat and connects with the back window. “You wanna play the pain game, Rocky?” Another swing, bashing on the metal. Undertaker hops up onto the roof and swings downward, taking out one of the driver’s side windows. “Come on, Rock!” The next swing dents the windshield, and another puts a hole right through it. “Are you afraid, Rock?” Undertaker moves down to stand on the hood and starts bashing the roof over and over again, Rock cowering inside from the noise and the rain of broken glass. “Are you afraid to go all the way with this? This is your game, Rock!” Undertaker keeps bashing the car, moving from body to windows (until he’s broken them all) and back until officials finally come to the scene and surround Undertaker. Surprisingly, Undertaker willingly forfeits the bat and allows himself to be escorted off the premesis, while a crew of people first move Undertaker’s car, then attend to checking Rocky for injuries.

With authorities kept busy attending to the Undertaker/Rock situation, Shane McMahon launches a surprise offensive, blindsiding Triple H in the locker room with a Singapore cane to the back of the head. Regal and Benoit manage to grab ahold of Shane and pull him off, but not before he gets off a few more shots for good measure. “You won’t get away with hitting my sister!” Shane screams as Benoit and Regal drag him out of the dressing room.

“You should be going after Chris Jericho, not Hunter!” says Regal as they pull Shane out of the dressing room.

“I want a piece of his ass too!” Shane yells, fighting to get free. Benoit manages to get the cane out of Shane’s hand, and they dump Shane in the hallway. “That son of a bitch Pedigreed my sister!”

“Your sister has to answer to her husband for her indiscretions,” Regal retorts. “If she’d not gone and laid down with that scrubber Chris Jericho, she wouldn’t be in the position she is now. If you have issue with Hunter, you need to take it up with him like a gentleman, not blasting the poor man from behind!”

Shane tries to lunge past, but Benoit catches him and moves him back. Shane tries once more and again gets nowhere. “I won’t forget this,” Shane says and walks off.

Jericho comes out before the main event and takes a seat at the commentator’s table. Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler pepper Jericho with questions about the videotape of him and Stephanie. Jericho issues a blanket denial immediately, and dodges further questions, saying he is here to scout his opponent three days hence. Tazz and Angle provide a technical tour de force, trading suplexes and submission holds in an effort to get the upper hand. When the fight spills outside, though, Angle can’t resist taunting Jericho, throwing Cole’s water in Jericho’s face. The ref quickly gets in between Jericho and Angle, and Angle goes back to the fight. Eventually, Angle manages to clap on the Ankle Lock and scores the submission victory. Jericho drops the headphones immediately and storms the ring; Angle and Jericho trade blows, with Angle getting the advantage. But Jericho reverses an attempt at the Ankle Lock into the Walls Of Jericho; Angle taps as Jericho wrenches back harder, driving his knee into the upper back. Out of the corner of his eye, Jericho sees Shane McMahon coming to the ring, Singapore cane in hand; Jericho drops Angle, rolls out of the ring and escapes into the crowd, leaving Shane McMahon to curse Jericho from the ring.

Survivor Series: Nov. 19, ’00

The arrival of Stone Cold takes everyone off-guard; he is barely in the ring before Mick Foley comes down, for once, not joined by his entourage of armed guards. “Steve, what are you doing here?” asks Foley.

“Well, after Linda McMahon’s little message to you and that mealy-mouthed son of a bitch, Vince McMahon,” rants Austin, “I figured I’d get the jump on things.” Austin bows his head, trying to look as contrite as possible. “I’d like to ask, if I can, who my opponent is gonna be tomorrow.”

Foley recoils, almost offended by the question. “Between trying to wrap up the investigation into your hit-and-run, keeping the peace around here with a hundred superstars all looking out for themselves, and keeping Survivor Series running smoothly, I haven’t had the time to give your opponent a lot of thought tomorrow.”

“Well, I got a couple requests, if I could run them by ya.”

“Can we do this tomorrow?”

“I’d really like to do it now, Mick. I think I’ve been on the shelf long enough that I deserve it.” Foley sneers for a moment, then finally relents with a shrug and a “go on” gesture. “Well, I was thinking there’s two opponents I think would be a good start for me comin’ off the bench: The Rock …” The crowd goes ballistic for this idea. Austin grins back at the positive response, ignoring Foley’s disgust. “Or, maybe ol’ Stone Cold Steve Austin could get a shot at the World Wrestling Federation Champion.”

Foley’s eyes go wide as dinner plates. “You haven’t wrestled since November of last year, Steve. You can’t really expect to get a WWF Title shot in your first match back.”

“So, what you’re tellin’ me is that a four-time WWF Champion don’t rate a shot?”

“Not after a year off, no. You gotta earn your shot, Steve, like anybody else.”

Austin blanches. “Well, then, what about Rock? Can I have The Rock tomorrow?”

“You only want him because you think he ran you over. I’m not making a match between you and Rock based on your guess.”

“He was aimin’ to run over Undertaker on Smackdown, Mick!” Austin exclaims. “If that don’t show the sumbitch has what it takes to have run me down, there ain’t nothing gonna convince you.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree. And I’m not going to put my best friend in harm’s way because you have a hunch. Your request is denied, Steve. You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to see who you’re wrestling.”

Austin shrugs. “Well, if I gotta wait until tomorrow, then I guess I better start gettin’ the ring rust off.” Austin suddenly kicks Foley in the gut, grabs his head and snaps off a Stunner. Austin gets down and trash-talks Foley, then salutes the audience on his way out of the ring.

The RTC vs. Team Triple H Survivor Series match leads off the triple main event. After multiple members of the teams trade off, the RTC focuses on eliminating Chyna first. Indeed, Chyna is the first eliminated, as Bull Buchanan destroys her, tags in Ivory and allows her to pin Chyna while the rest of the RTC keep Triple H’s team from stopping the three count. Billy Gunn falls next, the victim of a Steven Kick.

But Triple H’s team turns the tide, getting The Goodfather counted out when he is knocked out when he is knocked off the apron and nails the guard rail on the way down. Bull Buchanan eats a Pedigree, dropping the RTC’s resident big man and bringing the teams even at three apiece. Val Venis is the next to be eliminated, submitting to Chris Benoit’s Crippler Crossface. Steven Richards tries every cheap trick, short cut and dirty tactic to bring the odds back in his favor, but William Regal gets a tap-out from an STF, leaving only Ivory to represent the Right To Censor. Regal, Benoit and Triple H all hang back in the corner, smiling and waving at Ivory as she stands on the apron, quaking with fear. The ref tries to get her to come in, but Ivory stands on the apron, a dear in headlights. Triple H waves to get her attention, tells her she has ten seconds, then starts counting off with his fingers. By the time he’s reached five, Ivory is running up the aisle as if she’s being chased. The ref counts her out, giving the win to the three survivors, Benoit, Regal and Triple H.

As Triple H is walking back to the locker room, Shane approaches him. Regal and Benoit both step forward, but Shane holds up his hands. “I’m not here to attack you, Triple H,” says Shane. “Not today. But you and me … we’re gonna have it out soon, without your buddies to get between us. Nobody gets away with hitting my sister.”

“Your slut sister got what she earned by sleeping with Chris Jericho,” growls Triple H. “Stay out of business that ain’t yours, Shane, before I shove something a little bigger and a lot more uncomfortable then the silver spoon that’s already up your ass.” Shane glares at Triple H as he, Regal and Benoit walk away.

Jericho’s shot at the WWF Title follows, providing a fantastic back-and-forth technical contest. Twice, Jericho gets Angle in the Walls Of Jericho, only for Angle to get to the ropes to break the hold; likewise, Angle gets the Ankle Lock on Jericho, but Jericho dodges the bullet with rope-breaks, and both trade near-three counts on a variety of moves. Neither man can get the upper hand long enough to score the duke, so the lure of ruining Jericho’s big chance is too strong for Shane, and he comes out with a Singapore cane in hand. Shane stops at the end of the aisle, eyeballing Jericho as he mounts a comeback against Angle’s offense. Neither Shane nor Jericho sees Triple H race down to ringside and shove Shane out of the way to get to the ring. Shane immediately gets up and tackles Triple H, and the two start brawling on the floor. Jericho sees his two foes at ringside and climbs the turnbuckle to tackle both of them at the same time. Angle, however, pops up, climbs the turnbuckle and nails an amazing Angle Slam from the top turnbuckle for the three count. Officials separate Shane and Triple H, but as the officials are dragging them back to the locker rooms, Jericho comes to, runs down the aisle and leaps into the fray again, calling out more officials to keep the three brawlers apart.

The Rock/Undertaker match gets the main event slot, and the stakes get even higher when the ring announcer makes the sudden and surprise proclamation that the match is a no-disqualifications bout. The change in rules arouses suspicions among the announcers, and stirs enough suspicion in the locker room that Austin comes out after Rocky has been introduced and acts as a sentinel at the end of the entrance ramp. Both Rocky and Undertaker take advantage of the change in rules and utilize their license to maim from the opening bell, bringing in chairs, a chain, the ring bell, the announce tables and virtually anything not nailed down at ringside, or in the audience. After fifteen minutes have passed, both men are bloody and exhausted, having taken their fight on a sprawling tour of the arena and back to the ring, all the while, Austin keeping a close eye on the fight to keep out any interested parties from influencing the outcome. Undertaker ends up getting the pin by elbowing out of a Rock Bottom and nailing a Last Ride through a table. Austin immediately slides in, gets down in Rock’s face and says in a low growl; “I’m comin’ for ya next, son, and I won’t stop with tossin’ ya through a table. A hunter doesn’t bag nothin’ if he leaves his prey alive.”

Raw: Nov. 20, ’00

Austin marches down to the ring, wearing his trunks and knee braces. “If y’all are excited to see Stone Cold Steve Austin whip some ass tonight, gimme a hell yeah!” he says, and the crowd responds in kind. “I don’t know who Mick Foley’s got lined up for me, but the bottom is, it don’t matter who it is, cause I’m fixin’ to open up a six-pack … no, a whole keg … no, make that a whole damn brewery of whoop-ass on whatever poor sumbitch they send down here. See, to ol’ Stone Cold, whoever it is, it ain’t who I want, and that’s The Rock. So I’m here to go ’round Mick Foley and take my case right to the man himself: Rock, I know you ain’t here tonight. You’re restin’ up your little cuts and bruises Undertaker gave ya last night at the Survivor Series in some hospital like the yellow piece of crap you are. You run me down, you try and screw me outta my job with Mick and Vince, and you go and attack the only two guys who have the guts to do the right thing and say what’s goin’ on is a pile of crap. So I’ve come out here tonight to challenge you for Armageddon–”

The music of Mick Foley cuts off Austin. “Steve,” says Mick to a hailstorm of hatred from the crowd, “you know I can’t allow a match between you and The Rock before the investigation is complete.”

“You only got four weeks, Mick. What the hell do you hope to find in four weeks that’s gonna turn this case around?”

“We’ve hired an outside criminal forensics lab to investigate the car, and starting tonight, I will be putting each and every WWF Superstar through a polygraph. But unless we find a smoking gun, The Rock is simply not a suspect in this investigation.” Austin seethes, pacing the ring like an enraged tiger. “If you want, though, Steve, since you seem so ancy, I can get your opponent to come out now.”

“One way or another, Mick, I’m gonna get my hands on The Rock, and I don’t give a damn if you like it or not. Now send out whatever unlucky bastard you picked.”

Foley steps aside for the opponent to come out; the crowd stomps and claps and hollers in anticipation … all for the air to be sucked out of the room when the music cues up and out comes Funaki. Austin is absolutely incredulous as the Japanese cruiserweight makes his way to the ring. Funaki waves and jumps around like he’s won the match when he steps in the ring, until he comes face to face with Austin, who drills Funaki with the Stunner before the opening bell rings. The ref has the bell rung quickly, then makes the three-count for the victory. Austin is back up on his feet, grabs the mic and growls; “What in the hell was that, Mick?”

Foley comes back out and shrugs. “What? That was your opponent.”

“That was a joke, right?”

“Steve, you haven’t wrestled in a year. I can’t just toss you into the deep end of the pool against someone like Chris Benoit or Test or Triple H without getting the ring rust off of you.” Foley shrugs again. “Besides,” he adds, “after a year off, you kinda need to prove your worth again. I threw you a bone by scheduling you for the top of the 10 o’clock hour, a bone I don’t think you deserved.”

“Well, since you’re in such a givin’ mood, Mick, how ’bout you give me another opponent?”

Foley blinks. “Another opponent? I don’t want to tire you out, Steve.”

“Jesus Christ, Mick. I broke a bigger sweat last night beatin’ your ass at Survivor Series then I did just now. So how’s about you send someone else out?”

“Steve, I don’t have the time for thi–”

“Either you find me another opponent, or I’m gonna work up a sweat comin’ up there and beatin’ your sorry ass for a few minutes.”

Foley responds by retreating to the back as Raw goes to commercial. When Raw comes back, Austin is sitting in the ring on a chair, waiting and checking a non-existent wristwatch. He checks it a couple more times in just as many seconds, then says; “If you wanna see Stone Cold Steve Austin march into the back and beat Mick Foley’s fat ass all over Orlando, gimme a hell yeah!” The crowd affirms, and Austin is starting to stand up when Foley returns to the stage, waving his arms.

“Hold up, Steve! I found someone! Come on out!” Foley gestures for the mystery opponent to come out. Like before, the identity is a huge disappointment; this time, it is former WWF Hardcore Champion Crash. Crash swaggers to the ring as if he is much bigger then he is. He approaches Austin with a puffed-out chest, sticking a hand out for a handshake; Austin responds with a kick and a Stunner for another match that lasts as long as the pinfall count. Again, Austin jumps to his feet, glaring at Foley. “I’m sorry, Steve, I don’t have an endless supply of wrestlers! Everyone’s busy tonight. I’ll try and get you someone better for Smackdown, I promise.”

Austin sulks for a moment, then, seeing Crash struggling, offers him a hand. Crash gets to his feet and offers a word of thanks, only to eat another Stunner. Austin glares at Foley again, a silent warning passed from Austin to Foley for the next time they cross paths.

The announcers pimp the rest of the evening’s matches–including a Tag Title match between Bull Buchanan & The Goodfather against Chris Benoit & William Regal, and Kurt Angle in a non-title match against Raven–as Steven Richards comes down to the ring for his one-on-one match against Triple H, this time under hardcore rules. For all his hatred of the hardcore content in WWF shows, Richards quickly resorts to using the tactics to give himself a fighting chance, in addition to trying to run and hide from Triple H. Richards gets unexpected assistance, however, from Chris Jericho, when the fight goes past Foley’s office as Jericho comes out, having finished his turn at the polygraph. Jericho jumps into the fray, hammering on Triple H. Richards grabs a steel chair lying against the wall and swings, but Triple H ducks and the blow lands on Jericho instead. Triple H takes the moment to nail a Pedigree and pin Richards, unaware that Shane McMahon has arrived on the scene, pounding Jericho with punches. Triple H grabs Shane and tears him off Jericho, then goes after Jericho himself, but Shane returns the favor; Triple H re-returns the favor, only for Shane to grab a nearby coffee pot and break it over Triple H’s head. Shane tries to attack Jericho again, but Jericho stops him cold with a kick to the balls. Jericho gets in a lick with the steel chair on both Shane and Triple H, then heads for the hills.

Following a European Title match, Triple H barges into Foley’s office, where Foley, a polygraph technician and Steve Blackman are seated around a lie detector. Blackman immediately jumps up, clutching his Hardcore Title defensively. Triple H passes him by, grabbing the card table and flipping it, getting in Foley’s face. “I want Jericho,” he says, a finger millimeters from Foley’s eyes, “and I want Shane McMahon. Make it happen, Foley.”

Foley swats the hand away and stands up, getting right back in Triple H’s face. “Who the hell do you think you are? Can’t you see I’m trying to conduct an investigation here? I should just suspend you and get you out of my hair!”

Triple H gnashes his teeth. “Give me Shane and Jericho, Foley. Don’t make me give you flashbacks to the Royal Rumble.”

Foley, however, is undisturbed. “Threatening, oh yeah, that’s the way to win me over, Hunter. I’ve got bigger things to worry about then your stupid family drama and your little tiff with Y2J and Shane McMahon. In fact, I’m inclined not to give a damn whatsoever. Why don’t you try pleading your case to Vince on Smackdown?” Triple H opens his mouth but Foley points to the door. “That was your cue to leave, Hunter!” Hunter growls wordlessly at Foley, but Foley keeps pointing at the door, and Hunter finally acquiesces.

The rest of the Right To Censor accompany the tag champions, Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather, to the ring for their defense against Benoit & Regal; the ref immediately throws them out, giving Benoit and Regal a fair chance to win. Between the size and power of Bull and the cheating of both RTC members, the annoying duo hold on as tight as they can to their upper hand, but the technical skills of Benoit and Regal outshine. Val Venis’ attempt at interference to help his stablemates backfires, getting him re-ejected (but the ref uses his discretion and allows the match to continue), and both Regal and Benoit get Buchanan and Goodfather in stereo submission holds for a submission victory and new tag champions, Benoit’s second belt.

At the door to Foley’s office, Austin and Undertaker collide, both trying to get in to see him. Austin and Undertaker eye each other for a moment, uneasy allies only for a mutual dislike of someone else. Undertaker grabs the knob and enters first; Foley looks up, sees his guests and throws up his hands. “Can I get anything done around here without being interrupted? What do you two want?” Austin and Undertaker both start to talk, but the replies come out too crossed to understand. Foley shakes his head. “Okay, one at a time. Austin.”

“I want Rocky,” Austin says.

Austin tries to elaborate, but Foley cuts him off. “And you?”

“I think I deserve a shot at the World Wrestling Federation Title.”

“Okay. No and no.”

Austin and Undertaker say “What?” in unison, then go off on their own tangents. Foley has to wave his arms to get them to shut down.

“Guys, please! I’m trying to get on with the investigation. I’d think both of you would want me done with this, especially if it gets you off the hook, Undertaker.” Austin and Undertaker start up again, their overlapping complaints too much of a cacophany to understand. “Would you two take it outside? Austin, I’m not giving you The Rock. No way, no how. You can ask all damn day long, and I’m not gonna change my mind. Undertaker, I’m not giving you a title shot, not while you’re the primary suspect in Steve’s hit-and-run. If you don’t like my decision, you can talk to Vince on Thursday. Now get out.” When Austin and Undertaker don’t leave automatically, Foley suddenly flips out, his face turning beet red. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF MY OFFICE NOW” Seeing they’re not going to get anywhere with Foley, Austin and Undertaker leave.

Raven comes out for his main event non-title match against Angle, but without his normal hardcore plunder, the extreme loner is forced to play Angle’s game in the ring. Raven manages to hold his own, but Angle’s always one step ahead, one counter ahead, and gets the pinfall victory off an Angle Slam.

But instead of Angle’s music coming up after his victory, Undertaker’s music comes on instead. Angle’s head whips around to the stage as the Dead Man saunters out, a bandage on his forehead, sunglasses covering a black eye, and a microphone in hand, standing on the stage. “I ain’t out here to congratulate you on winnin’ any matches or bein’ some big gold medal athlete, Kurt,” says Undertaker. “Last night, I went and beat The Rock within an inch of his miserable life … and then I changed my mind and I took that inch. Last night, I gave Rocky the beating he deserves and a little more, and after I pinned him one-two-three … well, it occurred to me that Rocky was the last champion before you, Kurt. The way I sees it … that makes me the number-one contender …” The crowd cheers on this idea; Kurt, however, looks less than pleased. “But, you see, Kurt, Vince McMahon, he don’t think nothin’ of Undertaker ‘cept to be his patsy in this whole running over of Stone Cold business. I’m no good as a champion to him. He don’t like the idea of me doin’ my thing wearing his belt. What he forgets is that that ring is my yard, and I’m the big dog that runs it.” Undertaker levels a finger Angle’s way. “Right now, boy, you standin’ in my yard. And I’m thinkin’, you need to pay a toll if you wanna stay in it. A toll, like a shot at that belt of yours.”

Angle opens his mouth, but a response is quickly proven unnecessary by the surprise appearance of The Rock cracking Undertaker in the back of the head with a steel chair. The Rock proceeds to bash Undertaker over and over again with the chair, sending him rolling down the ramp. Rocky grabs the microphone and stands over the prone body of Undertaker. “You think you made The Rock famous last night?” he snarls. “The Rock says all you did was piss off the Brahma Bull. The Rock says what happened last night meant nothing, because The Rock’s gonna beat your monkey ass, then”–The Rock looks up at Angle, pointing the chair at him–”The Rock’s gonna beat your milk-drinking jabroni ass and get The Rock’s belt back, and–”

Rocky’s rant is cut off by the blind-side attack of Austin, who pummels Rock with fists and feet. Rock tries to get up and run, but Austin stays on him; Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco try to stop Austin, but they eat right hands, and Austin pounces again, tearing off Rock’s bandages and ripping at his wounds. As Undertaker gets up, Angle is out to meet him, engaging in a fistfight. Officials swarm the ringside area, prying the four men apart as Raw comes to a close.

Smackdown: Nov. 23, ’00

Austin stomps down to the ring, ready for battle. He immediately grabs a mic and says; “Alright, Mick, I ain’t got time to screw around. Vince is gonna be here in just a little, and I intend on meetin’ him, so send out the poor sumbitch I’m gonna beat up.”

Foley comes out on the stage, all smiles for once. “Steve, I think you’re gonna be impressed,” he trumpets. “I managed to line up a former champion for you to face!” Immediately, the crowd perks up with speculation. “That’s right, Steve. You’re gonna face … Scotty 2 Hotty!” The former WWF Tag Champion dances his way down to the ring to no crowd reaction whatsoever. A quick kick and a Stunner drops Scotty before Foley has time to get backstage.

“That better not be all you got for me, Mick,” says Austin.

“You know, Steve, I was afraid this might happen, so I just so happen to have lined up another former champion!” The same music comes up, ushering out Scotty’s partner, Grandmaster Sexay. Like his partner, Grandmaster Sexay goes down in seconds. Austin is up on his feet again, gesturing for Foley to send out another victim.

“Steve, everybody else is busy! I can’t help it–”

“You can help yourself to your own, personal six-pack of whoop-ass if you don’t stop flappin’ your gums and go find me someone else to wrestle tonight!” barks Austin. “Vince should be here any minute, so you got until the end of the night, Mick, to get me someone else to fight, or else I’m gonna come back out here and take a piece out of someone’s ass.” Austin stomps out of the ring, right past the stupefied Foley, still on the stage, pausing for a couple birds in Foley’s face before going to the back.

As a European Title defense wraps up, Vince’s limo pulls up in the back. Vince barely has one foot on the concrete before he comes face to face with three very angry men: Triple H, Undertaker and Austin. The threesome leer over Vince, who gulps as he faces off with the group. “I-I-I … um …” Vince tugs at his collar. Undertaker grabs Vince by the lapel and shoves him up against the car.

“We need to talk, Vince,” says Undertaker. “Foley won’t grant me a World Title shot for being Rock.”

“I want a piece of your idiot son and that son of a bitch Jericho,” says Triple H.

Austin gets right in Vince’s face. “You’re gonna give me The Rock, or I’m gonna hunt the piece of crap down like a deer and I’m gonna bag him my way.”

“Listen, listen to me! Listen to me!” Vince shirks out of Undertaker’s grip and smoothes over his jacket. “You’re not getting anything from me by coming here and accosting me as I’m getting out of my car.”

Triple H takes a step forward, making Vince stumble back up against the limo again. “You’re gonna be a lot more then accosted if we don’t get what we want, Vince.”

“You’ll get nothing from me with threats, Hunter,” Vince says coolly. “Now let me pass to conduct my business and we’ll discuss your individual concerns later.” Vince elbows his way past, mumbling under his breath as Austin, Undertaker and Triple H watch him walk away, all seething over their rebuffing.

Rikishi comes to the ring for his scheduled match against The Rock. When Rock’s music plays, he comes out hobbling, bandages around his head and ribs. He grabs a mic as he steps into the ring, his other arm holding his ribs. “The Rock had a hard night at Raw, Rikishi. The Rock had to fight off Undertaker at Survivor Series, and The Rock got monkey-stomped by Stone Cold Steve Austin on Raw. Now, if you want to beat up on a crippled Rock and go toe-to-toe with someone who isn’t even fifty percent, that’s your call. But know this … if you beat The Rock, you beat an injured Rock. You beat a broken Rock. You didn’t beat The Rock.” Rock steps forward and offers a hand; Rikishi responds with a superkick to the jaw, and the ref signals to start the match. Immediately, Rikishi goes after Rock’s injured ribs, weakening them strike by strike. Rock manages to overcome and take the advantage, but on a Rock Bottom attempt, Rock’s back gives and he can’t get the big man up. Another superkick, and Rikishi drags Rocky into the corner for the Banzai Drop. A three-count later, and Rikishi has scored the upset of the year. Rock rolls out of the ring and, wincing, grabs a wrench out from underneath the ring. While Rikishi has his hands raised in trimuph and his back turned, Rock slides back in and blasts Rikishi in the back of the head, leaving the big man in a heap on the mat.

Vince comes out at the top of the hour, trying not to look too perturbed. “Despite the best efforts of some of this company’s more seedy individuals,” says Vince, “I stand here tonight a proud man. I have a few major announcements. The first concerns the ongoing investigation into the hit-and-run assault on Stone Cold Steve Austin. Mick Foley and I have reviewed all the evidence, we’ve conducted an exhaustive interrogation with the use of a polygraph of every WWF Superstar in that locker room, and we believe we have come across a new break in the case. So, live, in this very ring on Raw next week, we will unveil this new evidence we hope will propel the case to a satisfactory close.” The announcers express concerns over Vince’s proclamation as Vince basks for a moment in smug self-satisfaction. “Now then … onto the other piece of business. Three men petitioned me earlier, making demands of me that I was not prepared to listen to. Now that I have discussed the situation with Commissioner Foley, I am prepared to address them … in regards to Triple H and his request, he will have to wait.” The crowd boos over this. “Please, please! Be quiet!” When the crowd starts up a vulgar chant, Vince gets red-faced. “Shut up!” The crowd intensifies and Vince has to ride it out. “Triple H’s marital concerns are not my problem. I have bigger concerns, and his issue is just going to have to wait in line. Now, onto the number-one contender. At Armageddon, Kurt Angle will indeed defend the World Wrestling Federation Championship. Mick Foley and I have take a lot into consideration, including win-loss records, key victories, outstanding issues and a number of other factors, and we’ve determined that there is only one logical man to face Kurt Angle, and that man is The Rock!”

The crowd comes unglued, but quickly turns as Undertaker comes out of the dressing room. Vince scrambles backwards as Undertaker gets right in Vince’s face. “What the hell are you on, boy?” Undertaker yells. “I done beat Kurt Angle clean as a sheet back at Fully Loaded! I beat your boy just a few nights ago! How in the hell does Rocky get before me?”

“R-R-R-Rocky is a former champion,” Vince says as he backs up into the ropes, startling himself. “He … he has the right to a rematch, regardless of standings, and–”

“You just said you checked out everybody’s records and all that. So which is it, Vince? I’m just about sick of hearin’ ya talk out of both sides of your mouth, McMahon, so I figure you got maybe three seconds before I punch it so hard, your lips’ll swell shut!”

“You lay a hand on me–”

“And your old lady will make sure you feel the heat, McMahon, not me. Three seconds.” Undertaker barely even gives Vince one second before clocking Vince right on the jaw. Undertaker drops out of the ring, grabs Vince by his hair and yanks him down to the ground, then sets to tearing apart the announce booth (and using one of the monitors to drill McMahon flat on his back, splitting his forehead wide open). Authorities start to pour out of the back, but not before Undertaker hoists McMahon high up and drives him down through the announce table with the Last Ride. Before the officials can rescue their chairman, Undertaker grabs the steel steps, sets them on Vince’s chest and batters them in with a steel chair. Officials finally get to the scene before Undertaker can hit Vince again with the steps repositioned onto his face. Paramedics carry Vince to an ambulance while Undertaker is taken away.

As Chris Benoit walks to the entrance way for his match with Chris Jericho, Triple H intercepts him. “I, uh … I just wanted to tell you, Chris …” Triple H hesitates, then offers a hand. “I was wrong about you. You’ve had my back, and I appreciate it.” Benoit takes Triple H’s hand; Triple H suddenly squeezes and pulls Benoit close, speaking in a low growl through clinched teeth. “Now go out there and cripple Chris Jericho. Break every bone in his body.” After a few silent seconds, Benoit nods and grins, then goes out to the ring. Jericho, however, doesn’t go down easy, fighting as if for his very survival, taking crazy risks and going for the jugular with every move or strike. When Jericho manages to get Benoit in the Walls in the middle of the ring, Triple H, watching in the back on a monitor, goes to leave the locker room to attack Jericho, only to open the door to a face full of pepper spray from Shane McMahon. Shane tees off with his ubiquitous Singapore cane, splitting Triple H’s wig, then racing down to ringside in time to see Benoit counter out of the Walls and into the Crossface. As Shane gets to the ringside area, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko come out of the crowd; Saturn climbs the turnbuckle, leaps off and drives an elbow into Benoit’s back, while Malenko blindsides Shane McMahon at ringside. The ref calls for the bell as Malenko and Saturn continue their beatdown of Benoit and Shane while Jericho rolls out of the ring, watching the events before him in confusion.

Austin stomps down to the ring, still in his wrestling gear, a steel chair and a microphone in hand. He unfolds the chair and sits down in the middle of the ring. “Far as I’m concerned, Vince McMahon got what was comin’ to him. Everybody here, including Vince and Mick Foley, know that sumbitch The Rock ran me over last year at the Survivor Series. If Vince thinks puttin’ him in a match with Kurt Angle protects his investment at Armageddon from ol’ Stone Cold, huh-uh! I’m gonna roll into Armageddon, and Rock’s fixin’ to get the first serving from his own personal, all-he-can-eat whoop-ass buffet, and that’s all I got to say about that.” Austin looks at his wrist, checking the time on a non-existant watch, gives it a few seconds, then looks over at the timekeeper. “Well, son, I need a workout, so get your bony ass in here before I come down there and drag you in.”

Foley’s music cuts in and the Commissioner comes out on stage, waving his arms. “Stop, stop! Steve! Stop!” Austin looks back at Foley grinning. “You win. I got you another opponent.”

“Not some piece of crap?”

“No, Steve. This guy’s good. Former Intercontinental Champion. He’s damn good.” Foley turns to look at the curtains as Eddie Guerrero steps through. The crowd boos Latino Heat, recently having divested himself rather rudely of Chyna’s companionship. Eddie saunters down to ringside as if the crowd loves him, but when the match begins, he resorts to his normal cheap tactics to counter the juggernaut that is Austin and his Texas temper. Austin almost seems to have fun as Eddie actually gives him the good match Austin has been looking for since coming back, testing both Austin’s brawling and overlooked technical skills. Eddie’s speed give him enough of an edge (as does his blatant cheating) to get Austin in position for the frog splash, but Austin rolls out of the way; Eddie gets to his feet holding his chest, and Austin gets to his and nails the Stunner. But before Austin can score the three count, Malenko and Saturn invade the ring again and demolish Austin with double and triple team maneuvers. As the announcers bemoan the seeming reunion of the Radicals and try to figure out what their purpose is, Foley gives a strong hint: a grin and applause, as he watches from the ramp.

Raw: Nov. 27, ’00

Vince comes out to lead off the show, hobbling down to the ring with a cane, a smug look on his face that belies his attempt at acting contrite on the microphone. “I’m hoping that, after the events of tonight, we can put all this unpleasantness behind us and move forward as we used to,” says Vince. “Before I bring to you the new break in the Austin case, though, there’s a little matter I need to discuss, and that is the safety of the main event at Armageddon. Right now, The Rock is set to enter Armageddon, squaring off against Kurt Angle for the WWF Championship, as the underdog. Not because he can’t beat Kurt Angle, because I know he can, and he will.” The crowd shares their dissenting opinion of Vince’s proclamation, but Vince soldiers on. “No, The Rock’s facing two problems that make him the underdog: Stone Cold Steve Austin and Undertaker. Not an event goes by when one or the other tries to find a way to assault and injure The Rock. I have tried, I have pleaded, I have presented my case that shows beyond all doubt that The Rock did not commit the heinous crime they accuse him of, and neither Austin nor Undertaker will listen to reason. Therefore, I have taken the action of making Kurt Angle’s defense of the World Wrestling Federation Title against The Rock a steel cage match.” Vince pauses for effect, letting the weight of the announcement settle in. “Now that we have that out of the way … for months, the issue of who ran over Stone Cold has been lingering over this company, and Mick Foley’s tenure as Commissioner, like a shadow. However, Mick and I have uncovered new evidence that points in a direction we’d previously dismissed.” Vince takes a deep breath before beginning. “At WrestleMania 14, Stone Cold Steve Austin won his first WWF World Title, defeating Shawn Michaels. In the year prior, Steve had faced off against Undertaker for the WWF Title, had fights with everyone in the locker room, WWF management, D-Generation X and even Mike Tyson, so there’s no shortage of people who dislike Stone Cold. But there are two people who Stone Cold crosses paths with that hated him more then anyone … two people who hate each other … Undertaker … and Shawn Michaels. Austin defeated Shawn Michaels in his last match, taking his WWF Title in the process.” On the TitanTron, clips of Austin’s victory over Michaels’ airs. It then switches to clips from the Casket Match at 1998′s Royal Rumble. “But two months before that, it was Undertaker who caused the back injury that ended Shawn Michaels’ career. Since winning the WWF Title, Undertaker has only defeated Austin twice: once with help from Kane, and once because of a fast count from Shane McMahon.” Vince holds up two fingers. “Shawn Michaels. Undertaker. Two men whose careers have been abruptly changed because of Stone Cold Steve Austin. It is the belief of Vince McMahon and myself that Shawn Michaels hired Undertaker to run over Steve Austin, and then left him to take the fall. It is–”

Undertaker comes down the ramp as Vince is talking. Vince smiles. “Perfect timing! I was just about to ask you to come out. I–” Undertaker grabs Vince by the throat and backs him into the corner.

“How many times do I gotta tell you, McMahon; I didn’t have nothing to do with this!” Undertaker squeezes just a little more; Vince’s eyes bug out as he claws at Undertaker’s hands. “I ain’t Shawn Michaels’ errand boy, and I’d never help that skinny little–”

Undertaker’s words cut off instantly as Vince plants a foot right in Undertaker’s crotch, sending him to his knees. From his pocket, Vince pulls out a tazer and zaps Undertaker with it, rendering the Dead Man unconscious and twitching. Vince stands astride the prone body of Undertaker, his face as red as fire, his voice so deep and gravelly it sounds inhuman. “You want to push me, boy?” Vince delivers another jolt of electricity to Undertaker. “You want to push the Chairman of the World Wrestling Federation?” Another zap from the tazer. “It will be your armageddon, Undertaker, because at Armageddon, you’ll be having a Street Fight with me!” Vince starts slapping Undertaker across the face, screaming “Do you hear me?” with every slap until he struts proudly up the ramp as medics try to revive Undertaker.

As Chris Benoit and William Regal start the walk to the entrance for their Tag Title defense against Tazz and Raven, they are stopped by The Radicals. “Hey, esse,” says Guerrero, “those belts look mighty fine! Would be a shame to lose them!”

“And that’s why we’ll be victorious tonight,” says Regal haughtily. “Come, let’s go–”

“Hey, just wait a minute, holmes! What’s your hurry? Chris here’s an old friend!”

“And we’re just concerned for his safety,” says Malenko.

“Yeah,” says Guerrero, “if, you know, you’d like, we can help you out against those two jokers. That’s what friends do.”

“But that’s not what we do,” retorts Regal. “We’ll dispatch with our opponents on our own, or fail trying. We don’t need help from the likes of you.”

“Why don’t you let Chris decide what he wants?” says Saturn, getting in Regal’s face.
Benoit puts a hand on Saturn and pushes him back, eyeing him, and the rest of the Radicals, coldly. “This is my thing. I don’t need your help, and I don’t wantyour help. Stay away.”

“I don’t think you understand, holmes,” says Guerrero. “If you ain’t with us, you’s against us.”

Chris doesn’t hesitate in replying. “Then I guess I’m against you.” He turns, tells Regal he’s ready to go, and they head to the ring for a successful defense against Tazz and Raven. From the back on a monitor, The Radicals watch, arms crossed and silent.

As Jericho is getting ready for his match, Vince McMahon comes into his dressing room. “Chris! Good to see you!” Chris gets up nervously, accepting Vince’s extended hand, but not shaking it nearly as hard as Vince shakes his. “How’ve you been? Listen, I just wanted to let you know how thankful I am towards you.”

Jericho blinks. “I’m sorry? I don’t understand.”

“You know, the thing. With Stephanie. Sleeping with her, videotaping it, showing it to Triple H. It was about a year ago that Triple H convinced my daughter to turn against me, and the two of them tried to take over this company with their ridiculous McMahon-Helmsley Regime, or Faction, or Era, whatever they called it. You don’t know how frightened I was at the idea of the two of them inheriting this company one day. Breaking up their marriage has been a Godsend.”

Jericho recoils, yanking his hand away as if stung. “Mr. McMahon, I didn’t touchyour daughter. She repulses me. I’d rather drink toilet water then get anywhere near your daughter with her … in that …” Jericho gags, holds it back and shakes his head. “No. No way.”

“Oh, Chris, no need to be modest. I understand. You don’t wanna take credit. That’s fine. Great masters have a right to be humble.” Vince claps Jericho on the shoulder. “I’ve arranged for some back-up for you, just in case you need it. And don’t think I don’t have my eye on you for another title shot down the line. Your performance at Survivor Series was nothing short of outstanding.”

“But, Vince, I–”

“No need to thank me, Chris. It’s I who owe you.”

“But–”

“I’ll let you get ready for your match now, Chris. I understand you’re facing Steven Richards? Ugh. I can’t stand people who want to impose their values and beliefs on others. Matter of fact, tell you what: if you beat Richards for me tonight, I’ll see to it that whatever match you’re in at Armageddon, it’s a number-one contender’s match.” Vince leaves the locker room before Jericho can reply.

Steven Richards makes it clear before the match that he holds a bottomless disdain for Jericho, labeling Jericho the WWF’s chief source of immorality and depravity. Jericho responds by fighting, taking it to the RTC’s loud-mouthed leader. When Richards’ cohorts try to come to his aid, Jericho gets some unexpected help: The Radicals. Saturn and Malenko take care of the RTC, while, with the ref’s back turned and Jericho also occupied on the floor, Eddie Guerrero scores a frog splash on Richards to help put the exclamation point on the match. Jericho gets back in and scores a pinfall, but rebuffs the hand of Guerrero after the match.

From up on the stage, Shane McMahon appears, clapping. “Congratulations, Y2J.” Shane makes a show of clapping. “Got yourself some help there. My dad’s hired thugs. That fits, since my father seems to think you’re just such a great guy. Well, I don’t, Chris Jericho. And I want a piece of you at Armageddon.”

“Get in line, you little twerp,” says Triple H on the TitanTron. “It wasn’t your marriage that got ruined by Chris Jericho. Besides, the last thing anyone wants to see is you defending your sister’s … well, I don’t know what you’re defending, cause she’s got as much virtue as a ten-cent hooker.” The crowd lets out an “ooh”; Triple H rolls right along. “Besides, the idea of you against Jericho for the number-one contendership oughtta be enough to make anybody sick.”

“Well, Hunter, since I’m not exactly thrilled with you either, maybe we can make it a triple threat.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” says Jericho. “I don’t wanna fight either one of you! I never touched your slutty sister, no matter how much I had to drink first. If you got–”

“You don’t get a say in this, Jericho,” says Triple H. “You want a triple threat, Shane? No holds barred, anything goes? You got it. First, I’m gonna send you out on a stretcher like I did with Kurt Angle at SummerSlam. Then, I’m gonna take Jericho, and I’m gonna send him out … in a hearse.”

Eddie Guerrero leans in close to Jericho and says in a low, conspiratorial voice; “You sure you don’t want no help, esse?” Jericho looks at him as if Guerrero’s made some kind of inappropriate suggestion and backs away in revulsion.

The Rock heads to the ring for a non-title match-up against Kurt Angle, visibly still suffering the effects of his many fights and beat-downs. “Every damn show, The Rock comes out here and delivers 100%, even if The Rock isn’t 100% for you, the fans.” The fans show no appreciation for this. “And, week after week, the people hate on The Rock. They don’t trust The Rock. They think The Rock is some kind of criminal. The Rock notices this all started when The Rock lost his World Wrestling Federation Title. Maybe you think less of The Rock because The Rock doesn’t have the belt that says he’s … the best. Armageddon … December tenth … The Rock, The Great One, The People’s Champion, The Brahma Bull … and Kurt Angle, the milk-drinking, grandma-smelling, ‘goshdarnit’-saying geek … steel cage … WWF Title … The Rock will restore your faith, your confidence, your hope, by beating that jabroni all up Know Your Role Boulevard and across Jabroni Drive. Tonight, it’s step one; tonight, The Rock, Kurt Angle, one on one, non-title. The Rock will show you, the people, that The Rock can get the job done against Kurt Angle, that The Rock isn’t just capable of beating Kurt Angle, but that Kurt Angle isn’t capable of beating The Rock. If you–”

Kurt Angle’s music stabs through The Rock’s signature sign-off, and for the crowd, not a moment too soon; Angle gets a raucous ovation like never before, the antethises of Rock’s reception, the very definition of a conquering champion. Immediately, Angle goes for the obvious targets on The Rock, attacking with suplexes, strikes and submission holds. Rock has a hard time keeping up, having to use his size advantage to get any kind of upper hand. A Rock Sharpshooter gets reversed into an Ankle Lock, but Rock gets to the ropes before tapping. Angle tries to pull him back, but the ref makes him break it up; instead, Angle hangs back, waits for Rock to get up and scores the Angle Slam, getting a clean three-count in the middle of the ring. When Rock comes to and sees Angle celebrating, he loses his cool and blindsides Angle from behind, laying him out for a People’s Elbow. Rocky grabs the WWF Title and holds it aloft, standing over Angle’s fallen body.

Austin meets up with Triple H in the locker room moments before their scheduled six-man tag against The Radicals. “Hunter, we got a problem.”

Hunter continues stretching as he talks. “What?”

“Undertaker ain’t no good to wrestle. That zapper attack Vince hit him with, the medics won’t clear him.”

Triple H stops in mid-stretch. “Damn. They gonna let us have a replacement?”
Austin deadpans. “We’re lucky they ain’t givin’ them Radicals another partner.”
Hunter shrugs. “We’ll just have to handle them ourselves then. Meet you out there.”
Austin leaves the locker room and starts for the ring. He never sees Eddie Guerrero come out from behind a crate, sneak up to the locker room doors, and lock it shut with a chain and padlock. The deception goes undiscovered until, after The Radicals and Austin are introduced, Triple H’s music plays multiple times with no results. Guerrero grabs a microphone. “Hey, holmes. Whassa matter with your partners? Looks like you got stood up, Stone Cold! You think you can go three on one?”

The music of Chris Benoit answers Guerrero’s challenge, signalling the arrival of the WWF Tag Team Champions. Benoit and William Regal dispense with the belts at the ramp and slide into the ring, launching the six-man brawl. Austin shows a little hesitation at his sudden new partners, but quickly jumps in the fray, swinging wildly at any member of the Radicals crazy enough to get in his way. The Radicals hesitate on fighting their old friend Benoit, but the Rabid Wolverine takes the fight to them, forcing them to fight or flee. In the end, the ref, unable to get any semblance of order established at any point has the match thrown out, but the brawl continues until Raw fades to black.

Smackdown: Nov. 30, ’00

The music of the Heartbreak Kid cues up, signalling Shawn Michaels’ arrival on the scene. Vince’s proclamation of Shawn’s involvement in the hit-and-run of Stone Cold seems to make no ill will between the legend and the crowd, as they welcome him with open arms. “Thank you, thank you,” says Shawn, sketching a little bow to all sides of the ring. “It’s nice to know somebody appreciates me around here. I mean, I know I took some shots back in the day. Dropped from the Hell In A Cell, got hit with a few chairs, but I could swear … I could swearthat on Monday Night Raw, Vince McMahon dragged my name into this whole who-hit-Steve-Austin thing.” The tape of Vince’s speech rolls, with Shawn talking over it. “Yup, there it is. Little ol’ me, Shawn Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid, the Showstoppah, the Main Event … and good old Vinnie Mac, dragging me and my seven nicknames through the mud. Anybody who knows Shawn Michaels knows I’m not all big on working with others, and yet, Vinnie’s here saying I hired Undertaker to hit Stone Cold. Ya know, it’s funny … back, oh, seven, eight weeks ago, Mick Foley accused me of doing it myself. I don’t know whether I should be flattered or insulted that I went from the wheelman to some weird shut-in buying other guys off to do my dirty work. The Heartbreak Kid does everything up close and personal, Vince. So, maybe you need to waddle on down here, Vince, so I can get right up close to ya, so you don’t have to turn up your hearing aid, and tell you exactly how things go ’round here.”

Vince stomps down to ringside, arms flaring out dramatically. “Just who in the hell do you think you are, Shawn Michaels?” Vince demands. “Last I checked, you’re not an active wrestler. And that means you got no business in this ring, or in this arena, or in my company. I–”

Shawn gets nose to nose with Vince, levelling a finger just millimeters from Vince’s face. “You dragged me down here by implicating me in this Austin nonsense, Vince. That‘s what business I got here.” Shawn backs away. “But since you’re so kind as to honor my request to come down here, let me ask you some questions. What am I worth to you?”

Vince raises an eyebrow. “Well, since you don’t do a damn thing for this company anymore, you’re not worth the powder–”

“That’s good enough. See, I was just thinking about how Undertaker said a few weeks back that he was being fingered by the suits because he doesn’t fit their mold. How Rocky was untouchable because he was a marquee idol, so Undertaker, the big redneck biker, got put on the hook because he was expendable.” Shawn mockingly strokes his chin. “Hmm … sounds a lot like this, don’t it? Hmm. Let me ask you another question, MacMoron. Who’s my best friend? Don’t be shy. You know this.”

“I know you’re good friends with Triple H.”

“That’s right, we’ve been friends for a long time. And, uh … how long have I been friends with Undertaker?”

“How would I know that?”

“Just answer the question, Vince. You know this. Me and Undertaker. Buddies?”

Vince grumbles and stalls. As Shawn is going to prod him again, he finally barks out; “You’re not! You don’t like him and he doesn’t like you!”

“Alrighty then. So, if I have all of my facts straight, let me lay this out, see if this makes sense; Steve Austin, in the course of a year, makes both me and Undertaker so angry that, even though my best friend, who would do anything for me, is available to get a favor done for free, I spend money to hire a guy I don’tlike to run over a man I’ve wrestled once. And, to top it off, I hire a man who is out of town on that day, witnessed by a hundred or so people. Do I have it all clear?” Before Vince can even nod, Shawn presses on. “Because that sounds all sorts of confusing to me, Vince. Maybe it’s the chair shots, but none of that makes any sense to me. It sounds, to me, like you’re grabbing at straws, Vince. You and Mick Foley, it sounds like you’re getting desperate to bring this to a head before Linda puts your head in a noose.”

Vince immediately starts steaming. “Linda has nothing to do with this–”

“Oh, I think she does, Mc-Mc-Mannequin. See, I went and saw your wife. Lovely lady.” Shawn grins and the crowd gets a little noisy, sensing something is coming. “And, you know what, Vince? Not only does she think your theory of my involvement is a big pile of … well, you know that unflattering name these fans like to call you?” The crowd starts chanting “asshole”; Shawn nods and hikes a thumb to the audience. “Yeah, that. She thinks your theory is made of what comes out of that. And she also thinks that this little match you wanna have with Undertaker at Armageddon, that you’re up to something. So, before you go getting all devilish and cooking up something with your new lackey, Mick Foley, she wants you to know that there will be a special guest referee for the match.” The crowd gets really loud, knowing who it is already. Vince does his trademark exaggerated gulp. Shawn claps him on the shoulder. “I just want you to know that, when the bell rings, I’ll call it right down the middle. I got just as much heat with Undertaker as I do you.” Shawn takes a couple paces away, then adds, “But until then …”, and tees off with Sweet Chin Music on Vince’s jaw. Shawn dances a little to the thrill of the crowd and gives Vince a condescending smack on the cheek before taking his leave.

The announcers run down the absolutely loaded Smackdown card for the evening–Triple H vs. Malenko, Undertaker vs. Guerrero, Austin vs. Saturn, and The Rock against a mystery opponent (of his choosing)–as William Regal and Chris Benoit make their way to the ring for their Tag Title rematch against Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather, who bring their RTC brethren to ringside. Regal and Benoit fight against the numbers game, which proves almost too strong until Triple H shows up and, for the first time, shows a true allegiance to Regal and Benoit, using his sledgehammer to clear the ringside area. From there, Regal and Benoit dissect their opponents, getting the victory off a Benoit swan dive headbutt. Backstage, though, Foley reads Triple H the riot act for interfering in the match and promises swift and decisive retribution if he tries to use the sledgehammer in his match with Malenko.

The announcers run down the absolutely loaded Smackdown card for the evening–Triple H vs. Malenko, Undertaker vs. Guerrero, Austin vs. Saturn, and The Rock against a mystery opponent (of his choosing)–as William Regal and Chris Benoit make their way to the ring for their Tag Title rematch against Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather, who bring their RTC brethren to ringside. Regal and Benoit fight against the numbers game, which proves almost too strong until Triple H shows up and, for the first time, shows a true allegiance to Regal and Benoit, using his sledgehammer to clear the ringside area. From there, Regal and Benoit dissect their opponents, getting the victory off a Benoit swan dive headbutt. Backstage, though, Foley reads Triple H the riot act for interfering in the match and promises swift and decisive retribution if he tries to use the sledgehammer in his match with Malenko. Triple H ignores rantings and warns Foley that, with the sentiment in the locker room fully against Foley as of late, he can snap his fingers and turn the WWF into a ghost town. Foley reiterates his warning and leaves with his tail between his legs.

Eddie Guerrero has to utilize his speed and technical prowess to get anywhere with the very angry Undertaker, who is looking to punish one of Vince’s new lieutenants as a message to his Armageddon opponent. When Undertaker’s anger and overwhelming strength advantage proves too much for Guerrero to counter, he resorts to cheap tactics to get the edge. It doesn’t take long for Undertaker to tire of the formalities of the match, and grabs a chair and swings for the fences, instantly getting DQ’ed. The attack draws out the rest of the Radicals, which in turn draws out Regal and Benoit, who help even the odds and send the Radicals back to the locker room, but not without Guerrero smarting from a serious chair-driven beatdown.

A knock at Foley’s door brings in the WWF Champion Kurt Angle. Foley sighs upon seeing Angle. “What do you want, Kurt?” Foley says exasperatedly.

“Well, I was wondering if we could talk–”

“Kurt, I have a lot to do. The Austin investigation is still going on, I got Triple H and Shane McMahon acting like a couple spoiled children, I got to find a way to protect Vince McMahon from Undertaker … I really don’t have time for whatever your problem is.”

“Hey! I’m the WWF Champion! I think that freakin’ means something around here!” Foley’s eyes go wide when Angle slams his fists down on Foley’s desk. “I have a grievance and you darn well need to listen!” Foley sighs again, leans back and gestures for Angle to go on. “You know, since I won this belt, you’ve made me defend it on Raw and Smackdown. You’ve partnered me with some strange people. Another guy might think you have it out for him, but not me. I know you respect me, because I’m this company’s only Olympic gold medalistand the WWF Champion. So, I’m hoping that this little steel cage match at Armageddon with The Rock for the WWF Title, maybe it’s like, a clerical error? Somebody checked the wrong box on the contract, or some other match is gonna have the cage? Cause putting me–”

“You’re in a steel cage match, Kurt. That’s all there is to it.”

Angle steps back, his jaw almost unhinged. “But come on! That’s so unfair! I mean, sheesh … I know I’m a good athlete, and these people would love to see me beat the stuffing out of Rock in a steel cage, but come on! Why should I be punished because The Rock is a criminal?”

Foley rockets out of his chair, leaning across his desk and pulling Angle close by the medals. “The Rock is not a criminal! If I hear that from you or anybody else one more time …” Foley lets the sentence trail off, letting go of Angle’s medals. Foley collapses in his chair, hands over his face. “Just go, please?”

“What about my–”

GO!”

Angle lingers a moment, then slinks out of the office, muttering, “Sheesh, what a crab-apple!” As Angle is reaching for the doorknob, Foley says; “For that, Kurt, you’re having a tune-up for your steel cage match next week. A tag team steel cage match. You and Triple H against Rock and Chris Jericho.” The crowd gasps, as does Angle. Before Angle can say anything, Foley says; “If I hear one word, one syllable of complaint, I’ll make it a handicap match.” Angle keeps his mouth shut, nods in resignation and leaves.

Austin’s match against Saturn never even materializes, as Saturn arrives backed up by The Radicals, and the three turn it into a gang-stomping. Regal and Benoit race to the ring to help out, but The Radicals overwhelm them, leaving the three on the mat. As Austin, Benoit and Regal writhe about in pain, Guerrero grabs a microphone. “Hey, esses! You got no fight you? I guess they don’t want no six-man match with us at Armageddon, guys, if we can beat up these gavachos so quick-like.” Guerrero throws the microphone down and they all stomp Austin, Benoit and Regal a little more for good measure.

Triple H’s match with Dean Malenko is a stunning technical affair, nicely balanced by Triple H’s strength and Malenko’s speed. When the Radicals swarm the ring, the ref goes to signal the timekeeper for a DQ, but Shane McMahon’s timely blindsiding of the ref prevents the decision. Shane allows the mugging to occur and wards off Regal and Benoit with swings of his cane, then counts a very academic pinfall for Malenko. As Malenko gets to his feet, Shane unleashes with the cane, splitting Malenko’s forehead open. The Radicals are all too stunned to do anything other then take licks from the cane of Shane McMahon, who beats on everyone within swinging distance until the Radicals scurry away. In the midst of Shane’s rampage, Jericho sneaks up from behind and tries to disarm Shane. The two end up in a fistfight, which travels out of the ring and into the back. Officials continually try to break up the fight, but anybody who gets in the way gets a fist in the face before the fighters turn back to each other. It is Jericho who finally brings the fight to a stop, though, throwing Shane through a large window in an office backstage. As Jericho looks at what he has done, Triple H sends Jericho grabs Jericho, drags him towards a loading dock and tosses him off. Medical personnel quickly arrive on the scene to check on the conditions of Shane and Jericho; both leave on stretchers.

The Rock approaches the ring for his “personal workout” match, a microphone in hand, although he is still wearing slacks, a unbuttoned collared shirt and sunglasses. “Before The Rock gets to whupping some jabroni ass, The Rock has something to say to Kurt Angle.” The crowd cheers for Angle; Rock pauses as the crowd chants for Angle a far cry from the WWF of three months prior. “It doesn’t matter to The Rock that you pinned The Rock last week. It doesn’t matter to The Rock that you beat The Rock at No Mercy. Last week, you had a Rock not at 100%. There was nothing in it for The Rock last week. It meansnothing. No Mercy? The Rock only lost because of Stone Cold Steve Austin. That won’t happen at Armageddon. Steel cage … fifteen feet high. Kurt Angle. The Rock. At Armageddon, Kurt Angle, it’ll be different. The WWF Championship is on the line, Kurt Angle, and you can damn well take it to the bank that you’ll get the absolute best of The Rock. But more important, The Rock hasn’t forgotten, Kurt Angle; The Rock hasn’t forgotten how you lied, how you said you saw The Rock in the parking garage in Detroit. The Rock remembers that night very well, and The Rock knows that Kurt Angle is full of grade-A, first-class, blue-ribbon, prime-cut, high-tech, award-winning, Olympic-class monkey crap! And more important to The Rock then the WWF Title is The Rock layin’ the smack down on you, Kurt Angle, for lying, for making the people turn on The Rock, for stealing The People’s Champion from the people. Expect the best, Kurt Angle; expect the best The Rock has to offer. Expect the angriest Rock the WWF has ever seen. But most of all, expect the biggest ass whipping you’ve ever had!” The Rock faces the entrance.”Now, The Rock has a very special work-out match scheduled. A very special opponent for The Rock to prepare for Kurt Angle. Time for The Rock to lay the smack down on some jabroni.”

The opponent is welcomed with music, and it is the same patriotic fanfare that is the signature tune of Kurt Angle. Everyone but The Rock looks confused; he remains stoic as his opponent, not Kurt Angle but his brother, Eric, steps out onto the stage. Rocky stands still as a statue as Eric Angle enters the ring; Rock gestures for Eric to bring it, not even removing his sunglasses. Eric rushes Rock, only for Rock to duck and starting laying in with punches. Eric, however, quickly goes to his wrestling skills and takes Rock down to the mat, stopping Rock’s onslaught cold. It is only when Eric inexplicably abandons the mat wrestling and charges Rock does Rock regain the advantage, scoring a spinebuster to set up the People’s Elbow. The ref counts the pinfall, but Rock continues to lay into Eric after the bell has run, drilling him into the mat with a Rock Bottom. When Rock rolls out of the ring to grab a chair, Kurt Angle races down to the ring and tries to stop Rock; manages to push him off, grabs the chair and drills Angle in the head. Rocky unleashes his anger on Angle, peppering him with chair shots too numerous to count; by the time Rocky is pulled off Angle, Angle has taken over 20 chair shots to his head, torso, arms and legs.

Raw: Dec. 4, ’00

The sound of glass shattering starts off Raw. Austin stomps down to the ring in street clothes, looking angrier then usual. He confirms this in his first words; “In case you don’t know who the hell I am, my name is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and I’m pissed off.” The crowd cheers without even knowing where Austin is going. Austin paces back and forth and in circles in the ring as he rants. “Two years ago, Vince McMahon made it perfectly clear he didn’t like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and didn’t see a beer-drinkin’, ass-kickin’ Texas redneck as his idea of a champion. Vince McMahon made a whole bunch of cash on the blood and sweat of Stone Cold Steve Austin. So, now, I come back, after gettin’ damn near killed by some crazy son of a bitch in a parking garage, and I get nothing. I don’t get no title shots, because I been gone too long. I don’t get no revenge against the son of a bitch who did this, because he’s Vince’s favorite wrestler. I don’t get big time matches cause Vince don’t want me takin’ over like I did two years ago. Even my old buddy, Mick Foley, he don’t want to do nothing for me, cause his buddy The Rock is the guy who done run me over, but he won’t listen.” Austin gets up close to one of the cameras, leveling a finger. “Vince, you get yourself a Q-tip and clean the wax out your ears, cause I want you to hear this damn clear. This Sunday at Armageddon, I’m gonna beat your three little pieces of crap. I’m gonna beat ‘em, and then I’m gonna roll in to Raw, and I’m comin’ lookin’ for a piece of The Rock, and I figure Linda’s gonna give it to me; I’m gonna get me Rocky, and I’m gonna get me what I deserve, which is to put Rocky in the hospital for a year, just like he did to me. And then I’m gonna roll into the Royal Rumble. I’m gonna take 29 pieces of trash and I’m gonna chuck ‘em over the top rope, and I’m gonna roll into WrestleMania and take back the World Wrestling Federation Championship once and for all, Vince. I’m gonna do every damn last thing I said just to piss you off, or I will burn this company to the ground tryin’, and that’s all I got to say about that.”

Mick Foley’s music hits, ushering down the unpopular Commissioner. Austin verbally abuses Foley as he approaches the ring. “I don’t remember callin’ out your fat ass, Mick. Just walk yourself back to your donuts in the back before I drop you on that stack of dimes you call a neck.”

Foley blinks, stunned at Austin’s reaction. “Steve, I’m not out here to be hostile. I’m here to try and mend fences.” Foley extends a hand, but Austin refuses it. “Steve, please,” pleads Foley. “There doesn’t have to be this animosity between us. We’ve known each other for years.”

“And you stabbed me in the back, Mick. You tried to keep me out of the ring, and you won’t arrest the bastard who ran me over.”

“But that’s behind us now! The final summations and conclusions have been sent to Linda McMahon. Next Monday, we will be arresting your attacker.”

Austin deadpans. “Who? Is it still Undertaker? Or is it Shawn Michaels? Maybe you wanna arrest my wife while you’re at it. Or maybe Trish Stratus. Or Shane McMahon.”

Foley just shakes his head. “I’m sorry you won’t accept the evidence as presented, but it is what it is. We’ve delivered it to Linda McMahon, and Vince and I are confident that we will have the green light to make the arrest.”

Austin nods, then suddenly gets up in Foley’s face. “And what if you don’t, Mick? What if Linda craps on your stupid little reports and your evidence, Mick? What then?” Austin gets as close as possible, eyes locked onto each other. “What if Linda says ‘arrest The Rock’?”

Foley goes white at the idea. Before he can reply, The Radicals race down the ramp. Regal and Benoit follow out shortly thereafter to join in the fight, driving The Radicals back to the locker room. Foley stands in the corner as the brawl rages, silent and still until Austin, Benoit and Regal clear the ring and turn their attention back to him. Before Austin can get to him, Foley drops out and hides behind The Radicals, who vow revenge.

Vince comes down to the ring unexpectedly, dressed in sweats and workout gear. “Before I get to what I’m out here for, I just have a small piece of business to deal with.” “Asshole” chants break out immediately, which end up morphing into “fire The Rock”. Vince snarls as the chants pick up momentum. “You’ll shut up and let me speak, or so help me God, I’ll cancel this whole show!” The crowd’s chanting and jeering picks up again, forcing Vince to wait it out. “You people make me sick! Just like how my wife, Linda, is making me sick, overstepping her bounds by assigning Shawn Michaels as a guest referee for my match against Undertaker. Well, since Linda is so excited in putting people in positions where they don’t belong, I have a little surprise for her; at Armageddon, during this little triple threat match with Triple H, my misguided son Shane, and a true hero, Chris Jericho … why, I think they need a referee of special qualifications. I think they need someone like …” Vince grins, looking all the more like a psychotic crocodile. “I think this match needs my daughter, Stephanie, as the referee!” The crowd audibly gasps at the idea, but Vince beams with pride. “Yes, I think Stephanie will be the perfect choice to officiate this nonsense. I can only hope, though, that her passion and attraction for Chris Jericho won’t make it impossible for her to call the match fairly!” Vince beams a little more, despite the crowd’s negative reaction. “Now that that’s out of the way, I do have business to attend to. It’s been a while since I stepped into a wrestling ring, and while I am obviously a specimen of physical superiority compared to Undertaker, it never hurts to be prepared. Therefore, I have cleared room tonight on Raw’s schedule for a public workout! Would my sparring partner please come down to the ring now?” Vince says over the boos of the crowd.

Through the curtains steps Crash Holly, approaching the ring cautiously. Vince stands with his hands on his hips as Crash tentatively climbs the steps, regarding Vince with intense skepticism. Finally, Vince snaps. “Dammit, boy, get your ass in this ring or you’ll be wrestling in flea markets and high school gyms before the week’s over!” Crash steps through the ropes and approaches Vince. “Okay, Crash. Here’s what I want you to do. I need to practice some basic moves and reversals. Put me in a hammerlock.” Crash hesitates, looking like he’s been told to do something he knows he’s going to get punished for, but when Vince repeats himself, Crash grabs Vince’s arm and puts him in a hammerlock. Vince tries to roll through, but Crash has the hold cinched on; again, Vince tries to get out, but Crash has the hold good and tight. Finally, Vince orderss him to let go and slaps Crash. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? I didn’t say to do that?”

“But … you said …”

“I know what I said. Now don’t screw up this time. I want a side headlock. I’m gonna try to get out of it. Don’t screw up again, you understand?”

Crash nods and, when Vince bends over, Crash applies the headlock. Vince lets him have his moment before trying to push Crash into the ropes, only for Crash to keep the headlock clamped on. Vince tries again, but Crash goes nowhere. Vince switches tactics and tries to lift Crash up for a back suplex, but Crash throws his weight forward, taking Vince down to the mat with a side headlock takeover. The crowd starts chanting for Crash, but Crash tries to ge them to shush when Vince gets to his feet, his face as red as a fire truck. “What did I tell you?” Crash tries to speak, but Vince cuts him off. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. You’re an idiot. There’s a reason you don’t get taken seriously, Crash. You can’t even follow simple instructions.” Vince sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “Okay. See if you can do this. Can you stand still? Turn your back to the TitanTron and just stand there. I’m going to try something, okay?”

Crash doesn’t move quickly enough for Vince, who grabs him by the shoulders and spins him around to face the audience. Vince circles behind him and says; “Okay, now, let’s try this, okay, Crash? Your job is on the line.” Vince drops down and nails Crash with a nutshot that puts the diminutive hardcore wrestler on the mat. Vince stomps on Crash a few times as the crowd comes unglued; Vince stops long enough to get out of the ring, grab a chair and slide back in. “You’re a dolt, Crash! You’re an idiot!” Vince continues the verbal abuse until Crash gets to his feet, then smacks Crash between the eyes. Vince uses the chair again a couple more times, then tosses it aside. “Do you see that, Undertaker? This mewling little simpleton just got a small taste of what I’m going to do to you at Armageddon! Armageddon will be the last time you step foot in a WWF ring, Undertaker, and I take extreme pleasure in being the one to retire you!” Vince grabs the chair and gives Crash a few more shots for good measure, then raises his arms as if he’s just won a real match and jumps up and down.

The WWF Tag Team Champions square off in individual matches against members of The Radicals, with Regal battling Malenko and Benoit defending his Intercontinental Title against Perry Saturn. Regal and Malenko trade reversals and counters for almost 10 thrilling minutes before Malenko resorts to a crotch shot and pulling the tights to score the pinfall. Benoit earns a DQ victory when Saturn, unable to put Benoit away, resorts to blasting him with a chair.

Shane McMahon barges into Mick Foley’s office as he and Vince McMahon are discussing the final details of the Austin case. “Stephanie can’t referee my match,” Shane insists. “You know she’s in no frame of mind to serve as an official.”

“That’s not my problem,” says Vince with a shrug. “Her soon-to-be ex-husband, her illicit lover and her brother, all fighting each other? With her in the middle? That’s a money match, Shane. You could learn a thing or two about business if you paid attention.”

“Business? Business? Stephanie’s mental health is not something you can screw with because you want to make money! Are you really sick enough to put her in a ring when you know she’s in no shape to do so?”

“I will do anything to protect this company, Shane. Someday, you’re going to inherit this company, and if you want to do me proud, you’ll learn the lesson that there is no price that isn’t worth paying.”

Shane shakes his head. “You’re a sick old man. I’m sorry to be your son.” Shane starts to leave when Vince calls him back.

“Shane … if you’re really that concerned with Stephanie’s well-being in the ring … I have a compromise.” Shane crosses his arms, waiting for Vince to continue. Vince’s face lights up, his eyes maniacally wide. “On Smackdown, yes … I’m seeing … yes, you. And your sister. Teaming up to face Lita and Triple H.” Vince’s eerie grin turns on Shane. “How’s that for a compromise?” Shane responds by leaving, slamming the door behind him. “Good idea, no?” Vince asks Foley rhetorically.

The screen of the TitanTron flickers as a voice fills the arena. The camera pans back to catch a top-down view of the Undertaker. “It’s been ten years I been runnin’ this company. Don’t let Vince fool ya; the World Wrestling Federation runs under my watch. There ain’t been a name that run through this company that ain’t been put in front of me, and every damn one of ‘em will say they ain’t never been the same since I made ‘em famous. That ring, it’s my yard, and I’m the big dog that runs it, and for ten years, ain’t nobody had a complaint. Well, ain’t nobody been brave enough to say one.” Undertaker lowers his head and shakes it. “And now, Vince McMahon comes along, and suddenly, even though The Undertaker’s been the foundation of this company for a decade, I’m expendable. Suddenly, Vince McMahon wants my head, and he wants me gone. Have you seen what I do to people who piss me off, Vince? Ask Shawn Michaels. Ask Mick Foley. They’ll tell ya. They seen the darkest side. I’ve shown them the darkest side, taken them to place you don’t wanna know about. You’ve done made me go and look at the darkness again, Vince. You done pushed me to a place nobody ever did before. Armageddon’s gonna be exactly that, for you. I’m gonna roll into Armageddon one pissed off Undertaker. I’m rollin’ in on hate and anger, old man. I’m rollin’ in with vengeance on my mind.” The camera pans back; the flickering light is coming from flames on the ground around and behind Undertaker, burning in the shape of the old Undertaker cross. “Guess who’s comin’ with me, Vince?”

The cage lowers around the ring for the main event, Angle and Triple H against Rock and Jericho. The match quickly pairs off into Angle/Rock and Triple H/Jericho, with nary a shred of teamwork to be found in the teams. For a while, neither team establishes dominance, as the teammates never work together to establish a unified force. But when Jericho finds an opportunity to pin Angle, Rock pulls him off and the two start to brawl. Triple H takes advantage long enough to score a Pedigree on Jericho, which Rock ignores and goes to climb the cage. Angle pulls Rock off with an Angle Slam, scoring the pinfall victory, but the fight continues between the four combatants. As the foursome brawl, Shane McMahon runs down to ringside, climbs up the cage from the outside and dives onto the group. Triple H and Jericho refocus their efforts on Shane while Rock crawls for the door, only for Austin to come out and slam the door on Rock’s head. Austin goes through the door and starts to put the boots to Rock until Angle interrupts him, wanting some of Rock for himself; for his interference, Austin drills Angle with a Stunner, then drags Rock back to the door, positioning his head in between the doorframe and the door itself; he then grabs a chair and swings, crushing Rock’s head between the door and the frame. Austin gives the double-fingered salute as Raw goes off the air.

Smackdown: Dec. 7, ’00

The final Smackdown before Armageddon kicks off with a non-title tag team bout between Regal & Benoit against Malenko and Saturn. The teams wow the crowd with a fifteen-minute volley of chain wrestling and counters. However, like before, all the science and skill in the world falters in the face of blatant rulebreaking, and Saturn manages to score the pinfall over Regal courtesy of using the ropes for leverage during a cover. The two teams continue their brawl after the bell has rung until Austin stomps down to the ring and delivers Stunners for Malenko and Saturn. Eddie Guerrero comes on Austin’s heels and eats a Stunner as well, leaving Austin, Benoit and Regal to toast each other with beers.

As Undertaker works out with a heavy bag, someone comes up behind him and clears his throat. Undertaker turns around and comes face to face with Shawn Michaels. For a few tense moments, the two stare at each other in silence, the air tinged with respect and rivalry. Undertaker turns back to the bag and starts working it over again. “Make it quick,” he says with obvious disinterest.

“I just want you to know a couple things, Undertaker,” says Shawn. “I don’t like Vince any more then you. There’s nothing that’d make me happier then to see you break his bony old ass in half.” Undertaker’s reply is a grunt. Shawn waits and, when Undertaker doesn’t elaborate, he continues. “But I’m gonna call this thing down the middle. That’s why Linda made me the ref.”

Undertaker stops punching the bag and gets up close to Shawn, putting a finger in his chest. “You better be makin’ sure you don’t go gettin’ partial. I won’t be takin’ to you gettin’ pissy at me for what roads we been down and you takin’ out frustrations on me. Believe me, son, I won’t hesitate sendin’ you back to Texas after finishin’ the job I started back at the ’98 Rumble.”

Shawn doesn’t flinch or falter. “You didn’t just threaten me three days before your big match, Undertaker. Even you aren’t that dumb.”

Undertaker holds Shawn’s gaze for a moment, then smiles humorlessly. “You just do your job like you’re s’posed to, Shawn Michaels, and the only person who’ll have something to worry ’bout is Vince.” Undertaker turns his back to Shawn and goes back to work on the bag. Shawn lingers a moment, watching the dead man, then leaves his old nemesis to his workout.

Shane leads Stephanie out to the ring for their mixed tag match, although both approach the ring with extreme trepidation, as Triple H leers across the ring at the McMahon siblings with hardly contained rage. The fact that the rules are strict mixed-tag offer no comfort for Stephanie, who stands in the corner and quakes in fear at the sight of her husband, and her fear is no less alive when she’s tagged in to square off against Lita, a woman with whom Stephanie has had no love lost. The tease of Stephanie in arm’s reach becomes too much for Triple H to withstand, driving him to step into the ring and grab her by the hair. Shane immediately jumps in and goes after Triple H and, in the melee, Lita is clocked with a clothesline, giving Stephanie a chance to make the pinfall. As Triple H and Shane brawl, Stephanie cowers in the corner, begging for them to stop, while Jericho watches from the ramp, arms crossed.

Vince struts to the ring, once again dressed in workout gear, looking cocky as ever. “As you may know, I will be taking on The Undertaker this Sunday at Armageddon in a Street Fight,” says Vince. “While I am an amazing specimen of physical superiority, it never hurts to push oneself just a little further, so I have been undergoing rigorous training. As you saw on Monday Night Raw, I put myself through the ringer against Crash Holly, but I feel I need to go just a bit further.” The crowd boos, but Vince raises a hand. “Please, please, I know you’re worried for my health, but I promise you, my sparring partner is a trained professional, so your concern is nice, but unnecessary. So, will my sparring partner please come out?”

The curtain parts and out steps Taka Michinoku, much to the crowd’s disappointment. Vince ignores the audience reaction and welcomes Taka to the ring. “Taka, glad you could join me. You … do … understand me, right?” Taka shakes his head, so Vince asks again, only louder. “Do you understand me?” Taka shakes his head again, so Vince replies; “Wrestle! Wrestle!” Taka nods enthusiastically and goes for a lock-up that transitions into a side headlock on Vince. Vince pushes off and puts Taka on the mat with a shoulderblock, then over-celebrates like he won the WrestleMania main event. Taka gets up and tries to go for a kick, but Vince side-steps it, slaps Taka and yells at him for trying to attack him. Taka looks at Vince confusedly until, just beyond him, Taka sees Undertaker step over the barricade. Undertaker nods and Taka turns around, giving Vince a free shot at his back. Vince stalls at first, but then goes for a waistlock, which he applies enthusiastically. Vince wrenches on the waistlock as Undertaker quietly climbs up on the apron and over the top rope. As Vince cinches the hold a little tighter, Undertaker walks up behind Vince and taps him on the shoulder. Vince turns his head and out of the corner of his eye sees Undertaker and his arms go slack. Taka pulls away and leaves the ring as Vince slowly turns around, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in the classic McMahon gulp as he comes face to face with his future opponent. Undertaker grabs Vince by the throat and spikes him into the mat with a chokeslam and, for good measure, picks him up and puts him back down with a Last Ride to the delight of the crowd.

Before the non-title match between Austin and Angle can get underway, The Rock surprises everyone by coming down to ringside to join Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler on commentary. Cole and Lawler drill Rock about his chances with Angle after losing to him twice in the past month as Angle comes to the ring and glares at Rock; Rock glares back and confidently insists Armageddon will be different. When asked about Austin, Rock says again that he is being framed, and that Austin is making a mistake coming after him; when Cole asks if that’s a threat, Rock says it’s simply a statement. Austin gives Rock an evil, predatory grin before the match begins. As Austin and Angle go back and forth, from technical to brawling, the commentators continue to grill Rock, who repeats his vow to win back the WWF Title and that he’s not going to engage Austin because he has no ill will against him. At separate times, both Austin and Angle come out to confront Rock; with Angle, Rock trades verbal jabs, but keeps from striking. With Austin, however, Rock stays seated and says nothing as Austin promises to do all things criminal to The Rock when Austin gets his hands on him. But it isn’t Rock who comes in and ruins the match–it’s Eddie Guerrero, who attacks Austin with a chair. With Austin entangled with Guerrero, Angle comes out and comes after Rock, but Rock sees Angle coming and uses Cole’s coffee to blind Angle. Rock drags Angle up onto the announce table and puts him through with a Rock Bottom, while Guerrero nails Austin with a frog splash. Guerrero stands over the body of the fallen Austin, while Rock and Angle lay in the wreckage of the table, the final images before Sunday’s big event.

Armageddon: Dec. 10, ’00

After the fireworks die down to open the show, the glass breaks and Austin stomps down to the ring in his wrestling gear. He skips the poses in the turnbuckle and grabs a microphone and says; “I’ve had to wait three days since Eddie Guerrero attacked me like the yellow piece of crap he is, so I’m through waitin’. I don’t care if Regal and Benoit are here or not; Vince, send your little flunkies out here so I can kick their asses already.”

The Radicals stroll down the aisle, approaching the ring with a cocksure swagger buoyed by their 3-on-1 advantage. Austin crouches, telling them to hurry it up; The Radicals pause at the ringside area, regarding their prey … until Regal and Benoit run down the aisle and attack from behind; Austin slides out and joins the fray, pounding on Guerrero and stomping him into the mats. When the match finally gets into the ring, the Austin-led team enjoys a lengthy command of the match, trading quick tags to keep their opponents off balance. As normal for The Radicals, though, they utilize cheating and illegal double-teaming to take the advantage and work over Regal. When Regal tags into Benoit, his team’s advantage only lasts a moment before Saturn comes in illegally and clips Benoit, giving The Radicals a nice bullseye to shoot at. Malenko and Guerrero, both utilizing leg submissions, work over Benoit extensively, nearly drawing a tap-out from the Rabid Wolverine until his teammates interfere. But The Radicals lose their edge when Malenko goes for a hurricanrana and gets powerbombed instead; Benoit crawls over and gets the hot tag to Austin, who tears through Saturn and Guerrero on his way to Malenko. Regal comes in to help clear the ring while Austin sets to work on Malenko, stomping and pounding on him mercilessly. Malenko has to poke Austin in the eyes to bring him to a stop, but Austin still brings the fight to him, putting him down with a spinebuster. Saturn manages to get past Benoit, but Austin drills him with a Stunner; likewise, Guerrero gets past Regal, but also eats a Stunner, which leaves Malenko to get his neck snapped and take the pinfall loss for The Radicals.

Shawn Michaels comes out first, the referee for the Street Fight. When Vince comes out, clearly still sore (in both sense of the word) over the events of Smackdown, he gets right in Shawn’s face. Shawn does his best to remind Vince who is in charge during the match, leaving Vince even more frustrated; his anger, though, disappears, when Undertaker’s music cues up and the realization he is actually going to fight the big man sinks in. Vince ducks out, searches under the ring and comes up with a lead pipe, then waits for Undertaker in the ring. Undertaker slowly ascends the stairs, knowing Vince is looking for an ambush; Vince charges with Undertaker still on the apron, but Undertaker catches Vince’s swing, and rips the pipe from Vince’s hands. Vince backs away, white as a sheet, thus starting the running theme of the match: Vince, on the run, with Undertaker stalking him. When Undertaker finally catches the billionaire owner, he unleashes months of pent-up fury, using everything he can get his hands on to pummel and bloody his employer. Shawn finally has to step into it when Undertaker produces a fork and goes for Vince’s head; Shawn grabs the fork from Undertaker’s hands and tosses it. The confrontation allows Vince to nail Undertaker in the crotch with a garbage can lid. Vince does his best to mount an offense from there, but the beating and the blood loss weakens his offense to the point of ineffectiveness. Undertaker shrugs off Vince’s weak attacks and uses a monitor from the announce table on Vince’s head. Undertaker grabs a table, a chair and the steel steps and tosses them all in the ring. A blast to the head with the chair puts Vince out on his feet, but Undertaker follows it up with a Tombstone on the steel steps. Shawn gets down to count, but Undertaker picks up Vince instead. Shawn gets in Undertaker’s face again, telling him to just pin Vince and end the execution; Undertaker flips off Shawn, puts Vince on the top turnbuckle, then hits a super chokeslam. Again, Shawn goes down for the count, but Undertaker won’t pin; Shawn yells at Undertaker to stop, but Undertaker says he wants blood for Vince’s sins. Undertaker unfolds the table and puts the chair flat on the table, then hits the Last Ride through it. Finally, Undertaker makes the pinfall, and Shawn counts it quickly before Undertaker changes his mind. As soon as Shawn has counted to three, Undertaker gets up, drops down to the floor and goes for the saddlebags on his motorcycle. Shawn warns him from the ring that if he’s thinking of beating on Vince anymore, he’ll have Linda suspend him. Undertaker ignores him as he digs through the bag, then pulls out what he is looking for and holds it up as he climbs the steps: a body bag. The crowd explodes at the relic from the old Phenom days; Undertaker opens up the bag, rolls Vince into the bag and zips it up, leaving it in the center of the ring for officials to retrieve as he rides his motorcycle to the back.

Stephanie is the first person out for the triple threat match, although she stays in a corner (even in the empty ring) and cowers like a live chicken in a lion’s den. Her brother is the first one out, who tries to comfort her and tells her to do her best to keep out of the way and far away from Triple H. Chris Jericho comes out second, but as he poses on the ring apron, Shane rams him from behind, sending Jericho chest-first into the barricade. Triple H comes out as Shane and Jericho brawl and joins the fight immediately. The three distinct styles of fighters–Jericho’s speed, Triple H’s power and Shane’s hardcore recklessness–offer an interesting contrast when as each fighter gets their chance at an upper hand. When Triple H gets a pinfall attempt on Shane, Stephanie stays in the corner, quaking with fear, failing to make the count. Triple H gets up and stalks Stephanie, grabbing her by the hair and putting her in position for a Pedigree; Shane comes to the rescue, however with a swing of the cane to the back of Triple H’s head. Still, Stephanie, now sitting in the corner and sobbing, can’t even bring herself to move; Shane tries to coax her out, but she refuses to move, petrified with fear. The announcers question whether Stephanie might be faking it to favor Jericho, but when Jericho has a winning cover on Triple H, Stephanie remains motionless in the corner. When more weapons are brought out, including a barbed wire 2×4, Stephanie pleads from her corner for everyone to stop, but nobody has any intentions of stopping until someone is carted off on a gurney. The match comes to its close when Triple H drives the 2×4 into Shane’s face, knocking him out and inducing further bleeding on top of his already gushing forehead. Triple H goes for the pin, but Jericho, thought out cold on the floor, climbs in, bounces off the ropes and hits the Lionsault across the back of Triple H; Jericho makes the cover on Triple H, but as Triple H falls to the mat, his arm also drapes over Shane’s body; Stephanie reluctantly crawls out of the corner and, though sobbing, counts to three as quick as she can and runs away. Both Triple H and Chris Jericho are announced as the winners of the match as Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler raise the question of what this means for the number-one contendership.

The Rock and Kurt Angle do their best to match the blood flow from the previous match in their steel cage WWF World Title match; both taste the steel multiple times and produce rivers of blood from each other’s foreheads. But while Rock relies on the brute force of using the cage and uncovered turnbuckles, Angle utilizes his mat wrestling to slow down The Rock’s offensive onslaught. As Rock finds counters and comebacks increasingly harder to come by, he resorts to dirty tactics such as a low blow to stop Angle’s momentum, but Angle won’t stay down for long. The audience almost riots, however, when Mick Foley comes down to ringside and gets a chair into the cage for Rocky to use; after plastering Angle in the head with the chair, Rock starts to climb out of the cage, stopping when he sees Austin coming down to the ring with a chair of his own. Foley tries to stop Austin and gets leveled, then perches under The Rock’s drop-point and dares him to come down. Rock and Austin trade barbs, but Rock won’t climb down, either back into the cage or down to the floor. Angle comes to, climbs up and nails a spectacular, eye-popping Angle Slam from the top of the cage. As Angle crawls over to the door, Austin climbs the cage, hesitating at the top until Angle hits the ground and the bell is rung; as soon as that happens, Austin descends like a vulture on carrion, laying waste to Rock with the chair, the cage and any other way he can think of to pummel The Rock as Angle celebrates his victory.

Raw: Dec. 11, ’00

 

The music of Linda McMahon kicks off Raw; the announcers speculate on Linda’s decisions as she enters the ring and is handed a microphone. “Before I address the issues today, I need to request the presence of three people, so I may address them personally. So, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker and Mick Foley,” she says, “would you all please join me in the ring?”

 

Austin, Foley and Undertaker come to the ring, each carrying microphones. As they do so, Linda continues; “I would also ask my husband and The Rock to join us, but for safety concerns, I’ve asked to watch on a monitor in back. Vince, however, is unable to be here, as he is still in the hospital due to injuries sustained at Armageddon last night.” Only Austin goes over to shake Linda’s hand; Undertaker leans back in a corner, watching the CEO with a cool detachment, eyes hidden by sunglasses; Foley, sporting a bandage over the head wound received from Austin’s chair shotthe night before, timidly bows but keeps his distance. “However,” she continues, “he is watching on a television from his hospital room.

 

“The board of directors and I have deliberated over two issues in the past four weeks: namely, the investigation into the assailant of Stone Cold Steve Austin at the 1999 Survivor Series, and the condition of the World Wrestling Federation itself. It is the determination of both the board of directors and myself that the evidence clearly justifies the suspicion of The Rock as the perpetrator of the attack.” Foley launches into a tirade, but Linda dismisses it with an upraised hand. “Mick, the evidence speaks for itself. Your refusal to acknowledge the evidence, and your continued pursuit of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, in light of the evidence, is worrysome at best. We are not prepared to take official action against The Rock as of yet, as we have not consulted with you, Steve, on how you would prefer to proceed.”

 

“Linda, this is–”

 

“Mick, please. You have no logical argument against the facts, and your impassioned pleas for your friend only highlight the second, and larger, problem: your failure in the office of the WWF Commissioner. Mick, in the past two months, you have let corruption and prejudice cripple your tenure as Commissioner, granting special consideration to friends, the employ of hired thugs as in-ring enforcers, and turning the WWF into a police state with armed guards.” Mick opens his mouth to counter, but Linda steamrolls on. “You have turned a blind eye to the evidence in the Austin investigation because it implicates a friend in the attack of another friend. And worst of all, Mick, your lack of attention to other matters has enabled the WWF to sink into absolute chaos. If you’d turn to the TitanTron …” Videotape rolls on the TitanTron, a highlight reel of barbaric assaults featuring Triple H, Chris Jericho, The Rock, Steve Austin, the RTC, The Radicals, Undertaker and virtually everybody else in the federation. “The World Wrestling Federation has lost advertising dollars, lost public image and confidence from the public, lost credibility within the industry, and perhaps most important … the roster of men and women who work for us are all working in fear, Mick Foley. You’ve turned away from them and let anarchy become the norm, forcing everyone to live in fear.” Linda takes a deep breath. “It is, therefore, the decision of the board of directors that, based on your failures to keep control of the WWF Superstars and to properly conduct the Austin investigation in both a timely and unbiased manner, Mick Foley … you are hereby fired as WWF Commissioner.”

 

Foley barely has time to register the fact before turning to Austin and Undertaker. “I want to apologize to both of you–”

 

“You can’t do this! Vince won’t stand for this!” screams Foley. “Iwon’t let this stand! The Rock is innocent, and if it kills me, I will prove i–”

 

Austin walks up to Foley, kicks him in the gut and drops him with a Stunner, popping the crowd. Linda puts forth a half-hearted “Steve …”, but her heart is obviously not in it. Austin says; “As you were saying, Linda?”

 

“I was saying that I wanted to, on behalf of the board of directors and myself, apologize to the both of you for the past two months. Both of you have been through a tremendous amount of stress over the past few months. If there is anything I can do for you …”

 

Undertaker steps up first. “Well,” he says, “you can gimme what I think I deserve: a shot at Kurt Angle and the World Wrestling Federation Championship.”

 

“Well, I’m going to leave that decision to tonight’s interim Commissioner.” Linda turns to look at Austin and adds; “Well? Does he deserve it?”

 

Austin raises an eyebrow. “Me? I’m Commissioner?”

 

“For tonight only, yes.Ó

 

“So I’m in charge. I make the matches.”

 

“Yes.”

 

A crocodile smile spreads across Austin’s face. He looks at Undertaker and says; “Undertaker, you want your title shot, you got it. Tonight.” Austin looks at Linda and says; “Linda, you and me, we’re gonna have to discuss me and Rocky later. Just promise me that I’ll get my shot, and you ain’t gonna pick another piece of crap like Mick Foley and we’re good.” Austin offers his hand again, which Linda accepts. Austin remains in the ring after Linda and Undertaker leave for the back, ready to address the crowd. “So ol’ Stone Cold is Commissioner for a night.” Austin’s toothy smile is both humorous and frightening. “How many folks wanna see Latino Heat Eddie Guerrero get his ass whipped tonight?” The crowd responds heartily. “How’s about Eddie Guerrero … against … hmm …” Austin snaps his fingers. “How about The Dudleys?” The crowd cheers at first, then starts chanting for tables. “Tables? Well, that’s a damn good idea! Eddie and The Dudleys, a tables match!” When the crowd settles down, Austin asks; “Hey, I got one more idea. Who wants to see Rocky get his ass whipped tonight, too?” When the audience responds a very strong affirmative, Austin replies; “I think it’s a damned good idea myself. If y’all think Rocky against the WWF Tag Team Champions, William Regal and Chris Benoit, sounds like a good idea, gimme a ‘hell yeah’!” The crowd gives the desired reply, to which Austin gives an “Oh, hell yeah!” to punctuate the moment.

 

Eddie Guerrero’s handicap tables match against The Dudleys follows, but before he makes it to the ring, Austin stops him and his Radicals stablemates in the back. “I don’t know if you know,” says Austin, “but I’m Commissioner for the night, and I wanna see this be a fair fight.” Austin ignores the slack-jawed faces of the Radicals at the idea of a “fair” handicap tables match and continues. “So if I see either one of ya mealy-mouthed little bastards down by that ring, I’ll fire the whole damn lot of ya.” Austin claps Guerrero on the shoulder and points to the curtains. “You’re late for your match, Eddie,” he says obnoxiously. Guerrero skulks off to the ring and, despite a valiant effort, succumbs to the predictable outcome of being put through a table with the Dudleys’ 3-D. Malenko and Saturn nearly come out of their skin during the match and are all but through the curtain when the closing bell rings, but Austin clears his throat to remind them of his edict, which brings them back with their tails between their legs while Guerrero lays in the mess of a broken table in the ring.

 

In between matches, Angle finds Austin in what was Mick Foley’s office, kicking back and drinking beer. “Steve. I need to talk to you.”

 

Austin grins big. “Hey, you wanna beer? Course ya do!” Before Angle can answer, Austin leans to the side, opens a cooler, grabs a beer and tosses it at Angle; Angle catches it and looks at it as if it came from a foreign planet. “Crack it open! What can I do ya for?”

 

Angle looks at the beer a moment, then sets the beer down on the desk; Austin tracks the beer, staring at it as Angle paces and talks. “Steve, I … um … I’m kinda confused on a couple things. There’s this whole problem with Chris Jericho and Triple H and the number one contendership. And then there’s me wrestling tonight, after having a steel cage … match …” Angle stops and suddenly notices Austin staring at the beer. “Is … um … Steve?”

 

Austin looks up at Angle, his eyes almost forlorn. “You … don’t want the beer?” 
Angle leans on the desk, brow furrowed. “Steve, were you even listening to me? I have some real problems here! How can you expect me to wrestle tonight after the hell I went through last night? And how am I supposed to sleep at night without knowing who the number one contender is?” Angle suddenly grabs the beer and pops the top. “This … this is stressful, Steve! A guy can’t live like this! Maybe I do need this beer!” Angle swigs the beer, then freezes when the taste hits his tongue; he swallows what he has with some effort, then gingerly puts the beer down and backs up a step.

 

Austin blinks up at Angle. “You don’t … you don’t like the beer?”

 

“Steve! Could you please focus?”

 

“Kurt, bein’ WWF Champion means a hard schedule. Way I see it, Undertaker deserves a shot, and since he ain’t got nothin’ to do tonight, and you don’t neither, might as well put ya together.” Angle opens his mouth, but Austin cuts him off. “As for your little worries ’bout Hunter and Jericho, they’re gonna be wrestlin’ tonight to settle who gets the shot at Royal Rumble, so you can rest your gold-medal-wearin’ head.” Angle tries to get out a yeah-but, but Austin again stops him cold. “Cool. Good to see ya, Kurt.” Angle pouts for a moment but leaves without lodging a protest.

 

The usual swagger and bravado is missing from The Rock as he limps out to the ring for his handicap match. Soreness and bandages aside, The Rock’s _expression is more one of resignation, a man knowing a dreaded date with destiny is nigh. Regal and Benoit utilize the bandages on Rock’s body as bullÕs-eyes, zeroing in on them with surgical strikes and submission holds. Victory looks assured with Benoit locking Rock in the Crippler Crossface until The Radicals come down to the ring. With Guerrero providing the distraction for Regal and the ref, Saturn comes off the top rope and plants an elbow in the small of Benoit’s back. Malenko and Saturn put the boots to Benoit, drill him with a double-team DDT, then put Rock on Benoit; Guerrero lets the ref get back to the match, but makes sure to trip up Regal behind the ref’s back so Rock can get the three-count. The Radicals celebrate their moral victory over Benoit & Regal, but Austin comes out on the stage to ruin their fun.

 

“In case you didn’t notice,” says Austin, “your buddy, Mick Foley, ain’t in charge no more, and Vince is at the hospital, gettin’ Band-Aids on his boo-boos, and I ain’t gonna tolerate your crap another damn minute. Next Monday on Raw, since you three jackasses like breakin’ the rules so much, I’m just gonna put you in a match where you don’t have to worry ’bout it anymore; you done bought yourself a hardcore match next week against The Dudley Boys …” Austin pauses to look out on the crowd and grin, then goes serious again and looks at The Radicals. “And me!” Austin drops the microphone and rushes the ring as Regal and Benoit get to their feet and attack The Radicals from behind; Austin helps Regal and Benoit clear them out of the ring, but when Austin turns around to get a piece of The Rock, he finds the ring empty, The Rock having taken a timely powder in the middle of the chaos.

 

Chris Jericho limps down to the ring, bandaged and stitched together from the previous night’s hellish encounter, along with the indignity of the crowd’s venomous hatred. Jericho, however, shows no fear as he gets in the ring; in fact, he looks more defiant and resilient then ever, even as Triple H hobbles out. Hunter eschews his normal entrance and marches down the ramp as fast as his injured frame will allow, making a beeline for Jericho. The two immediately collide and trade fists, spilling out the ring and onto the mat. Triple H pounds Jericho’s head into the steel steps, then goes to fetch a steel chair to crush Jericho’s head with, but Jericho rolls out of the way. As Triple H shakes off the stinging in his hand, Jericho gets to his feet and the fistfight begins anew; neither man, however, notices that the referee has ordered the timekeeper to ring the bell and signal for a double count-out. Jericho and Triple H continue trading punches until Triple H misses with a wild swing, giving Jericho the opportunity to kick Triple H in the crotch. Jericho pushes the timekeeper aside and grabs his bell hammer, but officials cover the area and escort Jericho away, ruining his opportunity to use the hammer.

 

Before Undertaker’s shot at the WWF Title, Michael Cole approaches him backstage; he is barely able to get a word out of his question before Undertaker’s glare scares Cole away. “They say the Golden Rule is that he who has the gold makes the rules.” Undertaker chuckles. “That don’t apply here. Ya see, it don’t matter if the champ is The Rock or Kurt Angle or Triple H …” Undertaker pauses and grins maliciously. “Or Vince McMahon. That out there, that’s my yard. I’m the big dog that runs it. And last night at Armageddon, Vince, why, I proved that right to ya. I don’t take no crap from anybody, Vince, not from any of the boys, not from anybody, and especially not from you. In that ring, that’s my world, and I make the rules there. Nobody does a damn thing there without my say-so, and that includes you, Vince. So tonight, I’m gonna go out there, and I’m gonna punish little Kurt Angle; I’m gonna beat him, I’m gonna bloody him up, I’m gonna break bones and tear muscles … and if he pisses me off, I’m gonna show him my darker side, just like you done seen last night Vince. You see, last couple months or so, you done awoke a sleeping giant, Vince. You woke him up on the wrong side of the bed, he’s hungry for blood, and he got an appetite that don’t stop. So now I’m gonna use the monster you made, Vince, and I’m gonna bust up Angle and take the title. And then, I’m gonna get me another piece of your boy Rocky, and I may just track down where your pet Commissioner–oh, former Commissioner–lives, and I may get me a piece of him, too. And then maybe I’ll come to your private hospital room, if you’re still in it, and pay you a visit, too, Vince; maybe get a little bit of what’s left from ya. But right now … right now, I’m ’bout to go and give you the worst nightmare you can think of by cripplin’ your all-American hero Kurt Angle and puttin’ that belt where the hell it belongs: around my waist.”

 

The chilling promo had an immediate effect on Undertaker, as his reception by the crowd is cool at best; Jim Ross speculates that while Vince may be a monster at heart, Undertaker has shown his monstrous side can be turned on and off, and fears for the safety of Angle and the rest of the Superstars if Undertaker has decided to embrace his darkness for good. Angle shows no sign of discouragement in the ring, approaching it like he does every other match, and brings his trademark athleticism to the match, trying to ground Undertaker with sound mat skills and takedowns, working over Undertaker’s leg bit by bit. Undertaker, however, is interested in none of that, and brutalizes Angle every chance he gets. The ref has to interject himself to keep Undertaker from strangling Angle in the corner, an intrusion Undertaker takes none too kindly to; he intimidates the ref into the corner, then goes right back to abusing Angle until the champ manages to get a shot in on Undertaker’s leg. Angle matches the ferocity and bloodlust of Undertaker and zeroes in on the leg, but a figure-four is reversed by a blatant choke; when Undertaker won’t release it, even after standing up and out of the leg lock, forcing the referee to intercede again. This time, the ref’s actions earn him a chokeslam. A second ref races out and is dispatched with a soupbone to the jaw. Angle gets a glancing blow off on Undertaker when he turns his attentions back to Angle, but Undertaker is fresher, and mauls Angle with a chokeslam of his own. A third referee slides in, but rather then counting the expectant Undertaker’s pin, he signals for a disqualification, enraging Undertaker further. By the time Raw fades to black, two more referees and a handful of officials have been assaulted by Undertaker, and the dead man is being hauled away in cuffs, glaring back at the ring with cold, killer’s eyes.

 

Smackdown: Dec. 14, ’00

 

Smackdown opens in the ring, with The Rock coming down for a Royal Rumble qualifying match against Rikishi. Kevin Kelly catches up with Rikishi right before he walks through the curtian and asks him his thoughts on this huge match. “Well, Kevin,” says Rikishi solemnly, “part of me is excited. The winner of the Royal Rumble is guaranteed the main event at WrestleMania, and I’d bet the people would love to see me back dat ass up at WrestleMania!” The crowd cheers an affirmative. “But, out in that ring, that’s my brother out there. We both Samoan. Blood is thick, Kevin Kelly… but with what Rock did to Stone Cold Steve Austin, I don’t know what to think about Rock anymore. I just hope someday he can see the light and realize the mistake he made.”

 

Rikishi steps away, but Kevin Kelly asks another question; “Rikishi, one more question: Stone Cold Steve Austin is dead set on getting revenge on Rock every chance he gets. What will you do if he comes to the ring tonight looking to screw The Rock out of his shot?”

 

Rikishi turns back, taking a deep breath. “I hope Stone Cold don’t cross dat line. I don’t want no tainted win. If I can’t beat The Rock, I don’t deserve the shot at the Rumble. But I hope Stone Cold will let the match take its course before he comes up and gets in Rock’s business. I don’t got no beef with Stone Cold, and I don’t want one, but I won’t let it go if he makes one.” Rikishi walks through the curtains and to the ring, into an uneasy, tense silence between the two. Rock offers a handshake, but Rikishi hesitates, and Rock sullenly retracts the hand. With a Rumble slot on the line, both men give it their all, scoring many near falls. But the deciding factor ends up being, not surprisingly, Steve Austin, as Rock is preparing to hit Rikishi with the Rock Bottom; what does surprise everyone, though, is that Austin attacks Rock, giving Rock the DQ victory. Rikishi recovers enough to shove Austin in anger, to which Austin responds with a Stunner. As Austin stomps up the aisleway, giving the people in the ring a pair of fingers, Kevin Kelly runs out to meet him.

 

“Stone Cold! Do you realize you just helped The Rock get into the Royal Rumble?” 
Austin’s stare runs right through Kelly. “Do you think ol’ Stone Cold is stupid? You think I’m some kind of idiot? You’re ’bout two seconds from me snappin’ that roll of fat you call a neck if ya keep mouthin’ off to me. Yeah, I know what I did, and that’s what I wanted to do. Linda McMahon won’t discuss a match for me and Rocky at the Royal Rumble until she gets the business with the Commissioner settled, so if that can’t happen, then I want Rocky in that Rumble, Kevin Kelly. I want him in the Rumble, so I can be the one to throw him over that top rope–and make no mistake about it, I will open up a six-pack of whoop-ass on every single son of a bitch that tries to do it before me. I want him in that Rumble so that, when I toss him over the ring, and he looks up at me from the floor with them stupid little bug-eyes and that stupid eyebrow raised up, he will know that while he made a year of my life a living hell, I will ruin every single damn day from now until the day he dies, and that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so!”

 

A message from Linda McMahon airs, with the CEO seated at her desk. “Good evening. The World Wrestling Federation is currently in a state of crisis, and this is something I and the board of directors do not take lightly. Personal issues between Superstars have become so heated that criminal charges could be considered. The WWF needs strong leadership, something it has lacked for months now. To that end, the board of directors and I are debating numerous candidates, but I can unfortunately not name a new Commissioner tonight. However, next Monday, on Raw, I am confident we will be able to name the new WWF Commissioner. Tonight, however, I have left the security of the WWF in charge to the hardworking staff of officials and road agents we have under our employ. Once the transition of power is complete, we should be able to move forward as a company and resolve some of our more devisive issues that threaten the security of everyone in the WWF. The one issue we can address tonight is the disputed number one contendership between Chris Jericho and Triple H; to resolve the issue, both men will face WWF Champion Kurt Angle in one-on-one matches, starting tonight with Chris Jericho. Should Jericho or Triple H defeat Kurt Angle, that person will compete for the WWF Title at Royal Rumble.”

 

The sirens of the Right To Censor cut the air; Steven Richards, Val Venis and Ivory represent the obnoxious group, and Richards makes sure to grab a microphone. “It is our sincere hope that Linda McMahon sees the light and appoints me as the new WWF Commissioner!” bellows Richards to a chorus of boos. “The WWF has been mired in a sea of debauchery and unnecessary violence, and in the past few months, that sea is threatening to drown this company alive! When you have homicidal maniacs like The Rock, or sexual deviants like Chris Jericho, or even plain old thugs and bullies like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Undertaker running the company, it is a sure-fire way to corrupt the moral fiber of this country!” The crowd’s hatred gets louder, but Richards is undaunted. “If I am elected, I vow to clamp down on the rampant carnality and violence … I will outlaw any female clothing that does not button at the collar and skirts that do not extend to the knee … I will outlaw punching and kicking … and I will do away with bra and panty matches and hardcore violence! I–”

 

Undertaker roars out of the back on his bike; behind him, walking down the aisle, is his partner, Hardcore Holly. Undertaker parks his bike, gets in the ring and snatches the microphone from Richards’ hand. “You’re gonna make rules.” Undertaker nods. “You. You’re gonna make rules around here. Let’s get one thing straight, boy: I make the rules ’round here, and I am the judge, jury and executioner.” Undertaker suddenly throws the mic in Richards’ face and starts pummelling him; Venis tries to get Undertaker off him, but Holly comes in and clotheslines Venis out and down to the floor. The ref rings the bell for the match to begin as Undertaker lays into Richards, breaking out the heart punch. While Holly and Venis fight around the ring, Undertaker goes outside, grabs a chair and slides in; the ref tries to stop Undertaker, but gets pie-faced. A chair shot to Richards’ back draws the DQ, and for signalling the DQ, the ref gets his wig split as well. Undertaker tears the turnbuckle cover off one of the turnbuckles as Venis manages to get away from Holly and tries to attack Undertaker; the ambush fails and earns Venis the pleasure of being dropped Snake Eyes-style onto the exposed steel bolt. Undertaker adds a few more chair shots to the RTC members, and, when Holly comes in to celebrate their moral victory, Holly gets laid out with the chair as well. Undertaker finds the mic again, picks it up and says; “Until I get me another shot at Kurt Angle and that title belt, I’m gonna put the hurt on whoever I come across. It’s what I’m owed, it’s what’s fair, and it’ll happen because I said so.”

 

Eddie Guerrero comes to the ring for his hardcore match against Steve Austin, ever the picture of cocksure arrogance. Guerrero immediately arms himself with a chair before Austin arrives, but Austin surprises Guerrero by coming through the crowd behind him, pulling him out of the ring to take the brawl through the arena. Every kind of item, from the obvious chairs and garbage cans and cookie sheets, to the unusual, like a potted plant, gets used as a weapon by one of the two fighters. But when the fight moves out to the parking garage, a horrific scene of deja vu unfolds as, in the distance, a pair of headlights come up, focusing their beams on Austin. Austin turns to face them, daring the unknown driver to try and hit him; instead, Perry Saturn bashes Austin in the back of the head with a beer bottle. Dean Malenko gets out of the car and joins his stablemates in time for Guerrero to get the pin on Austin, then make a quick retreat when The Dudleys show up.

 

Kevin Kelly catches up with Angle right before he heads to the ring and asks the question on everyone’s mind: “Do you have a preference who you face at Royal Rumble between Triple H and Chris Jericho?”

 

Angle blinks, looking absolutely astonished. “Are you, like, slow or something? Sheesh! You think I want to get in between these two lunatics? I don’t want either one of them!”

 

“So what’s your gameplan, then, Kurt?”

 

“To win, duh! If I beat Chris Jericho tonight, and I beat Triple H on Raw, it’ll make Linda McMahon or Mayor McCheese or whoever’s gonna be in charge on Monday pick somebody else.”

 

“Do you have someone in mind you’d like to face?”

 

Angle pauses a second, mulling it over. “You know, I still haven’t really gotten a chance at a rematch against Chris Benoit from WrestleMania. I mean, the guy won a title off me and I didn’t even get pinned. I mean, how freakin’ silly were those rules? Triple threat? The champ can lose without being pinned? Who thought that up?” Angle walks away before Kelly can ask another question.

 

Angle makes good on his pre-match statements, fighting like a man determined to upset the apple cart and keep both of the potential contenders out of the running. With memories of his spoiled chance at Survivor Series ringing in his mind, Jericho also brings his A-game. With their recent shared history and their shared desire to win, the match becomes a series of new counters and feints as each second-guesses the other’s arsenal and has to reinvent themselves on the fly to get the upper hand. In another moment of deja vu, Triple H gets involved, except that, unlike Survivor Series, Triple H’s plan falls apart, and the chair shot meant for Jericho hits Angle instead. With the ref’s attention the other way, the chair shot goes unnoticed, and Jericho is allowed to seize the moment, nailing a Lionsault for a three-count, securing a rematch with Angle at Royal Rumble. Triple H slides into the ring, grabs the exhausted Jericho and drills him with the Pedigree, then, for good measure, hits Angle with it as well, leaving him the odd man out but the only man standing as Smackdown closes out.

 

Raw: Dec. 18, ’00

 

The announcers run down the night’s match line-up–including the Angle/Triple H match, the Radicals/Dudleys & Austin hardcore tag match, and a huge Survivor Series rematch pitting The Rock against Undertaker–as WWF CEO Linda McMahon enters the ring. “Tonight,” she begins, “I am pleased to announce that, after an exhaustive search, we have chosen a new WWF Commissioner, and he is–”

 

The music of her husband cuts her off. Vince swaggers to the ring like he’s just won the lottery. “Linda, I have two major announcements. Do you mind if I have the floor?” he asks, then continues before Linda can answer. “Firstly, I’d like to announce that, in light of the chaos that has engulfed the World Wrestling Federation of late, I have taken the liberty of implanting a special entity to ensure the Royal Rumble match comes off without a hitch, a special competitor that I feel will be able to keep everything on the level.” Vince beams and grabs his lapels. “Me!” The crowd murmurs with dissension, but Vince is quick to attempt to counter it. “Please, please! I will merely be present to ensure the safe passage of my Superstars into and through the match. Despite harboring a desire to compete at WrestleMania since I invented it, if I find myself one of the final two competitors, I will gracefully eliminate myself, so as not to steal the thunder of one of the WWF Superstars.”

 

Linda has to shake her head to regain composure. “You can’t be serious.”

 

“Oh, I’m serious, Linda.”

 

“This wouldn’t be some misguided attempt to assist The Rock, since he might conceivably be in the Rumble at the same time as Stone Cold Steve Austin, would it?”

 

Vince steps back in a comical show of offense. “Linda! That you would suggest such a thing! I have nothing but the best intentions for the World Wrestling Federation at heart!”

 

“Well, if you want to enter the Royal Rumble, you’ll have to take that up with the new Commissioner–”

 

“That’s not necessary,” Vince says with a smile. “I’ve decided to dispose of the office of the WWF Commissioner and oversee operations at the event level personally.”

 

“You don’t have the authority to do that, Vince. The board of directors has voted on this issue.”

 

Vince now looks genuinely offended; his brow furrows, his lip curling up in a snarl. “The hell I don’t, Linda. This is my company. Ibought it, I own it, and what I say goes.”

 

“If you want to fight that way, Vince, Shane has concurred with the decision. That’s fifty percent ownership in favor of the board’s decision. You can’t beat that.”

 

Vince stews a moment, then retorts. “I’ll file an injunction! I’ll initiate a hostile takeover of your’s and Shane’s interest! You don’t want to screw with me on this, Linda. I’m going to be in the Rumble and there is no Commissioner, and that’s final.”

 

Another theme music comes over the PA, charming and decidedly British–the music of William Regal. Vince looks from Regal to Linda, back, and back again. Regal offers a hand, but Vince just stares at Regal. “What the hell are you doing here, William?”

 

Linda taps Vince on the shoulder. “That’s the new Commissioner, Vince.”

 

“Yes, Mr. McMahon,” says Regal. “And, according to a precedent established by former WWF Commissioner Shawn Michaels, the Commissioner has jurisdiction over all active WWF Superstars.” The crowd makes the logical leap; so does Vince, who gulps melodramatically. So does Linda, who grins. “And since you participated in a match at Armageddon, and are petitioning to participate in this year’s Royal Rumble, this can be construed as the action of an active Superstar.” Regal lowers his gaze to a sneer. “Don’t try to out-scoundrel a dirty, rotten bastard of a scoundrel such as myself, Mr. McMahon. You’ve made your bed, now lay down in it. You will compete in a qualifying match against the opponent of–”

 

Vince wheels around and puts a finger in Linda’s face. “You’ll see me in court, Linda. I will not acquiesce to this usurping of my authority–”

 

Regal grabs Vince by the shoulder and wheels him back around; Vince’s jaw drops so far, it practically falls off his skull. Even the crowd gasps in surprise. “You’ll bloody well listen to every damn word I have to say,” Regal barks, “or I’ll see to it you’ll dine on your dental work tonight!” Vince is too stunned to even formulate a reply, let alone get one out. Regal, however, is not finished. “In fact, if it’s a fight you want, Vincent, it’s a fight I shall give you. Since I’m already busy tonight with a fatal four-way, we shall fight on Smackdown. If you should win, I’ll not take the Commissionership, and you can run this bloody company into the dirt, as you seem intent on doing. But if I should win, I will be Commissioner.” Regal now puts a finger in Vince’s face. “And youwill kneel at my authority, and you will take part in a qualifying match for the Royal Rumble.” Regal gets up real close to Vince, keeping the finger just centimeters away from Vince’s eyes. “And if I so much as sense some sort of collusion between you and that toerag hooligan The Rock to steal the victory in the Royal Rumble, I’ll have no hesitation in putting the both of you out on your arses.” Regal extends a hand to Linda, kisses hers delicately and escorts her out of the ring without giving Vince a second look, leaving him agog in the ring.

 

Regal’s opponents are introduced first for the fatal four-way: Edge, who comes out with Christian, Matt Hardy, who is escorted by his brother, and Bull Buchanan, who has the RTC in tow. Regal does the prudent thing and has his partner, Chris Benoit, come down to the ring with him. Predictably, the extra people around the ring clash, and it doesn’t take long for the overflow of opposing personalities to boil over into violence, which quickly hits the ring. In the confusion, Saturn slips into the ring and clocks Regal in the back of the head, allowing Edge to steal the victory. Vince comes out on the stage and claps as his hired thugs put the boots to Regal and Benoit.

 

But before The Radicals can celebrate too much, Austin and the Dudleys rush the ring and start brawling with Vince’s enforcers. The rest of the ring clears out as the Dudleys and Austin take to pounding down The Radicals. When Guerrero, Malenko and Saturn are tossed to the floor, Austin grabs a microphone and asks; “If y’all don’t wanna wait to see Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Dudley Boys beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of Vince McMahon’s three little jackasses, gimme a hell yeah!” The crowd enthusiastically, and, when Raw comes back from commercial, the match is on. The Radicals’ technicality and speed is no match for the brute strength and brawling of their opponents, and the hardcore nature virtually locks in The Radicals’ doom. Vince watches on the stage in horror as The Dudleys eliminate Guerrero and Malenko with 3-D’s (Guerrero’s 3-D through a table), while Austin scores the pinfall on Saturn with a Stunner.

 

Undertaker enters the ring in anticipation of his big Survivor Series rematch, gnashing his hands together as he waits for The Rock. But when the music hits, nobody comes out. The music plays again, but instead of The Rock, Vince McMahon comes out to a tidal wave of boos. Undertaker’s face twists with rage as Vince cilmbs in the ring. “Listen, Undertaker. I can’t risk you doing to Rock what you’ve been doing to other people,” says Vince. “The Rock is a huge commodity in the eyes of the WWF. We can’t risk you injuring or disfiguring him in any way. So, I took the liberty of sending him home.” Vince claps Undertaker on the arm; Undertaker’s head snaps toward Vince’s hand. “You can have the night off, too, big guy.” Undertaker’s head snaps back again to pierce Vince with an evil glare; suddenly, his hand snatches Vince’s and starts to crush it. Vince buckles at the knees as Undertaker crushes his hand and twists his arm, asking Vince if he didn’t get enough at Armageddon. Vince cries and whines as Undertaker cranks on the pain until Undertaker kicks him in the chest. Undertaker drags him out of the ring, hoists him up and drops him through the announce table with a chokeslam. As he walks up the ramp, paramedics start to file out of the back; Undertaker floors one with a punch to the face. The second freezes in his tracks and gets decked as well. The stunned crowd has virtually no reaction as Undertaker poses triumphantly, fists in the air, then gestures a belt over his waist, at the top of the ramp.

 

Triple H comes out for his match against Kurt Angle, but with Chris Jericho having secured his Royal Rumble title match, speculation runs rampant as to what, if any, impact the match will have. Triple H fights like everything is still on the line, forcing Angle to switch from a more laid-back gameplan to a more aggressive stance. When Chris Jericho comes down to ringside, you can almost hear a collective groan from the crowd, but Jericho stuns everyone by pulling on Angle’s leg as he bounces off the ropes. Angle turns and starts yelling at him, but Jericho responds by jumping up, grabbing Angle’s head and pulling it down across the top rope. Triple H is perplexed, but not enough not to take advantage, spiking Angle with the Pedigree for the victory. Jericho slides in and jumps on Triple H. Angle rolls out of the ring and backs away, leaving the carnage behind, only to get smashed in the back with a steel chair by Undertaker. Undertaker steps over the fallen Angle, slides into the ring and waffles Triple H in the back with the chair. Jericho stands with mouth agape at the sudden development, only to get his brain rattled by his own chair shot. Undertaker drops to the floor, grabs the title belt from the timekeeper, gets back in the ring and holds it aloft, pointing to it and mouthing “It’s mine, Vince, it’s mine”.

 

Smackdown: Dec. 21, ’00

 

With Regal’s confirmation as Commissioner hanging in the balance of his main event match against Vince McMahon, Kurt Angle enters Smackdown with no real clue as to whom the number one contender is, and to add insult to injury, scheduled to partner with the increadingly violent Undertaker against Triple H and Chris Jericho.

 

Steve Austin opens the in-ring action, taking on Rikishi in a grudge match, even though, due to Austin’s actions in Rikishi’s match with The Rock, Rikishi was granted entry to the Rumble. While Rikishi’s size creates a disparity in strength, Austin’s fire and rage are enough to propel him to victory. As Rikishi rolls out, Austin grabs the microphone. “Just like I just did Rikishi there, Stone Cold Steve Austin is gonna roll into the Royal Rumble, get into that ring, and it don’t matter if I’m number one or number thirty, cause the result’s the same; I’m grabbin’ twenty-nine pieces of crap, throwin’ them out of the ring and goin’ to WrestleMania!” The crowd cheers, but Austin isn’t finished. “But there’s one piece of trash I wanna get my hands on more then the rest, and that’s The Rock. I’m gonna get my hands on him in the Rumble, but as far as the Texas Rattlesnake’s concerned, that just ain’t enough.” Austin gestures to the stage. “So, I’m here to ask real nice for Linda McMahon to let me have The Rock one-on-one at the Royal Rumble.”

 

Linda comes out onto the stage. “Steve, I thought we discussed this.”

 

“Well, I know we did, Linda. But I figured … you’re the CEO … I’m Stone Cold Steve Austin … surely, between the two of us, we can work it out. There ain’t no reason to wait for this whole little Commissioner stuff to get done. All you have to do is say ‘Yes, Stone Cold, you can face The Rock at Royal Rumble’, and that’s the end of it.”

 

Linda cocks her head, her lips pressed together thin. “Steve, you know it’s not that simple.”

 

“Sure it is! Linda, I ain’t askin’ for much. I ain’t asking for a title shot. I ain’t askin’ to go out with your daughter. I just want a match. One little match.”

 

“But, Steve, it isn’t little. This is a very big match you want me to authorize. Quite possibly the biggest non-title match in WWF history, and you want me to agree to it on the spur of the moment.”

 

“You’ve had plenty of time to think about it, Linda. You’ve had since last Monday. I think I deserve an answer.Ó

 

Linda blinks, considering the situation. “Fine, Steve,” says Linda. “You’re right. I’ve had time to deliberate long enough.” She takes a deep breath, exhales and says; “I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to work both the Royal Rumble and what would likely be the most physically contested and violent match in this company’s history in the same night. As you’ve already committed yourself to the Royal Rumble, I have to decline your request.” The crowd lets Linda know of their disappointment in her decision; Austin is frozen in shock, his eyes wide, his mouth slack and hanging open. “Perhaps we can discuss having the match at No Way Out in a few days, but, I’m sorry, Steve, I just am not comfortable granted your request.” Linda leaves the stage, leaving a stunned Austin to try and process the denial of his dream.

 

Chris Benoit defends his Intercontinental Title against Saturn and Dean Malenko from The Radicals in a triple threat match, which is really a glorified handicap match. Benoit exploits critical mistakes by the duo and manages to pick up a roll-up pinfall on Saturn, but gets a royal beatdown afterwards. Regal arrives in time to scare them off, but not enough to spare his partner from the beating. Malenko and Saturn back up the ramp, taunting belts around their waists and pointing, proud of their punishment of Benoit.

 

Angle approaches Linda’s office, the WWF Title in his hands like Oliver asking for more porridge. “Mrs. McMahon?” ehe asks, peeking his head in the door. “Can I come in?”

 

“I’m terribly busy, Kurt,” says Linda, not looking up.

 

Angle pushes the door open and comes in anyway. “Mrs. McMahon, I just wanted to … well … I’m concerned about the number one contendership for Royal Rumble. I mean, sheesh, it’s like there’s number one contenders coming out of my ears or something!”

 

Linda looks up and sighs. “Yes, Kurt. It’s something we’re discussing. We’d prefer to leave the issue until the situation regarding the Commissionership is resolved.”

 

“Yes, but, if I could maybe, you know, get an idea of what you’re thinking? I mean, if I just look at it like how you got me booked tonight, against Triple H and Chris Jericho, teaming with Undertaker? Yikes, man! I mean … come on, it’s like you’re trying to kill me!”

 

Linda sighs again, folds her hands on her desktop and adorns a somewhat irritated tone of voice. “Being WWF Champion isn’t a cakewalk, Kurt. Should you make it to WrestleMania with the belt, you’re going to find yourself against possibly the toughest opponent of your life, under the harshest spotlights, in the toughest situation you’ll ever face. I can assure you you’re not being persecuted. Sometimes, champions do face adversity. By competing for, and winning that belt, you agreed to face that adversity. I am sorry you feel under the gun tonight, but recent events demanded some sort of pairing of the four of you, and this was the best pairing we could come up with. We will discuss the number one contender next week.” Angle tries to formulate an argument, but a phone call comes through that Linda has to take, leaving Angle in silence. Angle petulantly stomps out of the room, looking back in scorn.

 

Angle is introduced first for his tag team match; he stands in the ring, shaking nervously, as Undertaker roars down the aisle and around the ring on his motorcycle, like a vulture circling a dead body. As soon as Undertaker parks his bike, Angle moves to the opposite side of the ring, trying to put as much distance between himself and his maniacal partner. Triple H and Jericho, meanwhile, start arguing right away, allowing Undertaker and Angle to get the jump on them. Triple H and Jericho struggle to get on the same page, and when they manage to get an advantage, they blow it with oneupsmanship and petty jealousy over who gets the pin attempt. Finally, Jericho has enough of Triple H and, when he goes for a Pedigree on Undertaker, Jericho clips Triple H’s knee and leaves ringside. Undertaker recovers enough to nail a Last Ride on Triple H and scores the pinfall for his team. No sooner does Undertaker get the victory then he switches gears and focuses on Angle; Angle quickly drops to the floor and makes tracks down the aisle, while Undertaker pantomimes a belt around his waist and points at Angle.

 

Vince approaches the ring with his normal bravado and cocky stroll, puffing his arms out like a peacock would its tail. Regal, by comparison, is all business, looking across the ring grimly as Vince has a stern chat (complete with finger-waving) with the match’s designated referee, the notorious Earl Hebner. As soon as the match begins, it becomes obvious that the fix is on; Hebner jumps all over Regal, threatening DQ’s on elbow strikes and European uppercuts and demanding breaks on simple moves like chinlocks and sleepers, while Vince gets the rulebook almost disposed of. Pinfalls are also counted with a glaring discrepancy; Regal’s counts are deliberately slow, while Vince’s (all gotten from blatant cheating that would give another ref cause to call for a DQ) are hummingbird quick. The ref problem is wiped out, though, when Regal accidentally whips Vince into Hebner. With the ref out, Vince nails a low blow and goes for the plunder. Before Vince can blast Regal with a chair, though, Shane McMahon, wearing a referee’s shirt, slides in and yanks the chair out of his hands. While the McMahons argue, Regal recovers enough to get up, drag McMahon down to the mat and clamp on the Regal Stretch. Vince isn’t in the move long enough for Shane to get down on the mat before he taps; Regal gives a couple extra jerks just to add injury to insult. Shane signals for the bell and raises Regal’s hand as the crowd cheers; all the faces in the locker room pour out and celebrate Regal’s victory, including Austin, who comes out, shakes Regal’s hand firmly and says; “Come Monday, we got business.”

 

Raw: Dec. 25, ’00

 

The Christmas edition of Raw kicks off with Regal coming to the ring, the ring announcer proclaiming him the new WWF Commissioner; Regal is welcomed warmly, especially in comparison to his predecessor. “Thank you,” he says, “you’re too kind. Tonight is my first night as active Commissioner of the World Wrestling Federation, and there’s a terrible amount of business to get to, so let me start off with–”

 

Breaking glass and a heavy guitar riff bring Austin down to the ring. After his normal four-corner salute of the fans, Austin grabs a mic and gets up close to Regal. “William. You and I, we gotta have a talk about me and Rocky,” says Austin. “I been waitin’ for months, and I’m tired of waitin’, and I figured, since it’s the holiday season, you might consider, you know, givin’ me a little present.”

 

Before Regal can get out a single syllable, the Olympic flourish ushers out the WWF Champion, proudly wearing all his gold. Angle comes down and approaches Regal with cold determination. “Commissioner Regal,” says Angle, “I know you’re busy, but I won’t wait any longer. I’m the WWF Champion, I’m an Olympic gold medalist, and I deserve to know who the number one contender is.”

 

Austin pushes Angle aside. “I been waitin’ a year to get my hands on the son of a bitch who ran me over, Kurt. I think I come first.” Austin turns back to Regal and says; “So, how ’bout it? Me and Rocky. You gonna make the match or what?”

 

Now Angle pushes Austin aside with an incredulous look on his face. “Excuse me? WWF Champion here. I think my problems are just a little bigger, right?”

 

Austin shoves Angle aside, almost sending him to the mat. Angle responds with a shoves of his own, and before you know it, they’re bumping chests and barking at each other. Before Regal can interject himself, Vince’s music cues up. The Chairman stomps down to the ring, his face twisted in a mask of rage. Before Vince can even get in the ring, though, Shane comes out and starts bumping chests with his father. Regal stands and watches, shaking his head as Vince and Shane, and Austin and Angle, snort and huff like pairs of mountain goats ready to butt heads, when yet another person, Regal’s partner, Chris Benoit, comes down to the ring and gets in the faces of both Angle and Austin in defense of his friend.

 

Finally, the bickering and the almost-fighting is too much and Regal blows his stack. “Shut it! All of you, shut it!” Immediately, everyone stops and stares at Regal as if he’s grown a third eye; then, the group fugue breaks, and all of them start talking at once, pleading their case. Again, Regal barks at everyone to shut up, which they do. “You’re bloody giving me a bloody headache! I’ve got half a mind to put all of you out on your backsides and not even put you on the Royal Rumble pay-per-view!” Vince starts to talk, but Regal jumps right on. “You’ll do well to remember, Vincent, that by wrestling at Armageddon and insisting on taking part at Royal Rumble, you’ve placed yourself under my jurisdiction.” Regal barely pauses long enough for Vince to inhale. “I know you’re about to object to your son administering the decision in our match last week on Smackdown. May I remind you that, not only is Shane McMahon an executive in this company, you threatened Earl Hebner’s job if he did not call the match in your favor. Your wife has already stated the decision will stand. And before you ask,” adds Regal, getting closer to point a finger in Vince’s face, “if you want to be in the Rumble, you’ll be wrestling tonight to qualify, against young Crash Holly in a hardcore match.”

 

Regal then fixes his gaze on Angle. “As for you, Kurt, and you, Steve; I’ve no intention of letting either of you wait any longer in your respective issues. However, I also have no intention of letting you push me around. This office has had enough damage done by corrupt and inept individuals, and if I am to make a successful go of it, I cannot be bullied about by anybody who can’t keep a lid on their mouth.”

 

“I’m not just anybo–”

 

“That’s enough, Kurt!” Regal snaps. “You want to know your opponent for Royal Rumble? You have three: Triple H, Chris Jericho and Undertaker. And as for you, Steve,” he continues, turning to Austin, “I understand your need to square up debts with The Rock. However, you have only been active for a short period of time, coming off a horrific injury, and I cannot in good conscience allow you to wrestle twice in one night, especially when the first match will be the Royal Rumble.” Regal gives them both stern glances and adds; “And since I can see neither of you are happy with this decision, you can meet Christopher and I in the ring later on tonight and work out some of that aggression. If that’s all, you can all get the hell out of my ring now!”

 

Shane steps forward, head bowed, hands laced together. “Commissioner, can I make a request?” he says respectfully.

 

Regal sighs. “What?”

 

Shane turns to glare at his father. “I don’t believe that my father’s intentions in the Rumble are anything other then to protect his ‘investment’ in The Rock, at the expense of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the rest of the WWF Superstars. I can’t let him get away with such blatant favortism.” Shane turns back to look Regal in the eye. “I want a qualifying match, too. If the only way to keep my father honest in the Rumble is to be in it myself, then so be it.”

 

Regal takes a deep breath, holding Shane’s gaze for a long moment. Finally, Regal nods, slowly. “Fair enough. You’ll have your match tonight.” Almost everyone leaves the ring exchanging sneers with the new Commissioner, which Regal returns in kind.

 

Shane’s qualifying match comes up first, squaring off against the RTC’s Val Venis. Being an untrained wrestler, Shane is put through the ringer against the much more experienced Venis. However, Venis’ cohorts get greedy in trying to ensure the victory for their partner, and in trying to interfere, accidentally cost their own man the match. In the back, Vince nearly has a heart attack watching on a monitor as his son get the three count. Eddie Guerrero lays a hand on Vince’s shoulder, which he retracts when Vince shoots him a glance that could stop a clock. “You just make sure there’s no screw-ups in our plans for the rest of the evening,” Vince growls, “or you’ll find a pink slip in your stocking for Christmas.” Guerrero nods and leaves Vince to stew.

 

As Rock prepares for his match against Raven, Guerrero pays a visit to the former People’s Champion. Before Guerrero can even get a word out, Rock is there to meet him, hand up in his face to silence Guerrero. “The Rock doesn’t want to talk to you, Eddie Guerrero. The Rock doesn’t want you near him.”

 

“Holmes, esse, c’mon–”

 

“The Rock knows why you’re here, Eddie Guerrero. Vince sent you to protect The Rock, to watch over The Rock, to have The Rock’s back. Well, you know what that’s gotten The Rock in the past two months? The Rock is a hated man. The Rock is spit on by the fans, and by the rest of the WWF Superstars. Being associated with Vince McMahon has made the people turn against The Rock for something he didn’t do. So The Rock is going to break this down for you, ‘holmes’: The Rock doesn’t want help from Vince McMahon or Vince McMahon’s little pets tonight, The Rock doesn’t want help at the Royal Rumble, and in case that isn’t perfectly clear, you tell Vince that The Rock is done with Vince McMahon. As a matter of fact, The Rock is about this close to being done with the whole damn thing. So you run and tell Vince that, Eddie Guerrero. You tell him The Rock says he needs to know his role, shut his mouth and stay out of The Rock’s life.” Guerrero gives Rock a curious glance, then leaves without another word spoken.

 

The Rock’s match against Raven comes off quite surprising, as not only does Raven dictate most of the match, but Rock’s attempts at offense and defense are feeble at best, leading the commentators to speculate on his mental state. Despite his prior warnings, Guerrero comes down to help Rock by trying to take Raven’s head off with a chair on the outside, but Rock stops him and lays him out. Rock manages to reverse a Raven Effect attempt into a Rock Bottom for the sudden pinfall, but as he stalks off without posing or accepting the referee’s attempt to raise his hand, it becomes plainly obvious the stress is getting to The Rock.

 

As Undertaker sits on his bike, waiting on his music to cue up to the proper spot for his entrance, his opponent, Kane, comes at him from behind with a shovel; Undertaker falls to the ground in a heap, clutching the back of his head. Guerrero steps out of the shadows, barking orders at Kane to continue the beating. Kane grabs a steel chair and places it over the head of Undertaker, then uses the second chair to strike his half-brother, sandwiching Undertaker’s head between the steel and the concrete. Guerrero tells him not to stop; Kane swings again, this time murdering Undertaker’s torso with uncountable shots. To put the exclamation point on it, Kane wedges Undertaker’s head into the chair, with the backing around his throat, and stomps on it, Pillmanizing Undertaker’s throat, making him cough up blood. Kane and Guerrero back off, laughing madly as medics load Undertaker into an ambulance.

 

Crash uses his knowledge and experience in the hardcore division to get the advantage on Vince when the Chairman enters the ring, ambushing him and battering the boss with trash can lids and cookie sheets. Vince takes a pounding with the plunder, but kicks out of Crash’s pin attempts. A nutshot stops Crash cold, though, and after Vince gives the ref a dirty, menacing glare, a hyper-quick three-count gives Vince the victory and a slot in the Rumble.

 

The main event tag match divides the loyalties of the crowd, between the new by-the-book Commissioner and his partner, and the perennial favorite in Austin and his partner, the seemingly besieged WWF Champion. Everybody gets a chance at to tee off on someone from the other side, but the balance of skills from everyone keeps the match a see-saw battle. The match ends up being thrown out when Vince sends out The Radicals and Kane to annihilate everyone, only to see his plan come undone when Angle, Austin, Regal and Benoit all get on the same page and drive their attackers away. Vince’s thugs vow revenge, but as they jaw-jack with the foursome in the ring, Shane McMahon comes out and tackles his father on the stage; officials are close on his heels to pry apart father and son, and to keep Vince’s henchmen away from Shane. Vince and Shane exchange words over the shoulders of the group of men keeping them apart while Austin, Angle, Benoit and Regal look on and laugh.

 

Smackdown: Dec. 28, ’00

 

A huge eight-man tag headlines Smackdown, pitting The Radicals and Kane against the unlikely foursome that squared off in a tag team match three days prior of Angle, Austin, Regal and Benoit. But to lead off Smackdown, The Rock is slated to square off against Steve Blackman for the Hardcore Championship. The Rock enters the ring first, but before Blackman can come out, Rocky grabs a mic. When he speaks, his voice is low, contrite, a far cry from the normal bombastic, over-the-top attitude he normally displays.

 

“The Rock isn’t out here to talk trash, or to make challenges or anything like that. Tonight, Vince McMahon got Steve Blackman to put his Hardcore Title on the line against The Rock.” For a moment, a light perks up in Rock’s eyes as he stares down the camera. “Vince, let The Rock make one thing perfectly clear; being associated with you has cost The Rock everything he has. The people, respect, the WWF Championship … personal safety … Because The Rock listened to Vince McMahon, The Rock lost everything that matters to The Rock. So The Rock is out here to deliver a simple message to Vince McMahon: Vince, leave The Rock alone. Don’t do The Rock any favors, don’t pull any strings for The Rock, don’t do anything for The Rock. Steve Blackman, you can stay in the back; you won’t be facing The Rock tonight; The Rock forfeits.”

 

The stunned crowd stirs to life again quickly when Steve Austin’s music hits the speakers. The Rock doesn’t even go into a defensive posture when he hears Austin’s music; he merely looks to the entrance with resignation. Austin, however, surprises everyone by only coming out to the stage, ready for talking instead of fighting.

 

“That’s real movin’, Rocky,” says Austin snidely, walking back and forth across the grated steel of the stafe. “The problem is, it’s also a pile of crap! Everybody in this damn building knows that you been duckin’ Stone Cold Steve Austin for almost three months. You been hidin’ behind Vince’s skirt because you’re afraid; since you didn’t get it done at Survivor Series last year, now, you gotta reckon with one pissed-off Texas Rattlesnake who’s lookin’ for blood.” Austin stops pacing, giving Rocky a glare of evil intentions. “I ain’t out here to threaten, Rocky, because I think you damn well know that one day real soon, I’m gonna catch up with you. You know that, one day, Stone Cold Steve Austin is gonna get the jump on you and I’m gonna get revenge on you for stealing a year of my life! So if you’re tired of being in my crosshairs, Rocky, if you wanna get on with it like I do, then you need to do something.” The Rock cocks his head, squinting as Austin continues. “You need to go up to your buddy, Vince, and say you want to get this done at the Royal Rumble. You need to go up to your buddy and use this stroke you got to make something between us happen. Because the longer this goes, Rock …” Austin flashes a toothy grin that looks like a crocodile about to eat something that fell into his pond. “The longer you drag this out, Rocky, the more time I got to think of new ways to get you back!” Austin throws down the mic and disappears behind the curtain, leaving Rock in the ring to contemplate Austin’s words.

 

With his head hanging low, Chris Jericho approaches the free-standing door that represents the entrance to the APA’s “office”. Faarooq barks out permission to enter, but when he and Bradshaw see their visitor is the reviled homewrecker of the WWF, both recoil. “We don’t do business with your kind,” says Bradshaw. Faarooq agrees and orders Jericho to hit the bricks.

 

“Please! I need your help!” pleads Jericho.

 

“We do business with you, and we won’t get any more business ever again,” says Faarooq.

 

“I have nowhere else to turn! I didn’t do it and I need your help to prove it.”

 

Faarooq and Bradshaw look at each other and laugh. “Do we look like private detectives?” says Bradshaw. “We’re in the protectionbusiness, Jericho.”

 

Jericho won’t relent. “I can pay you. Money. Title shots. Whatever it takes.”

 

Faarooq waves him off. “Buddy, nothin’ you got can make us want to take your business.”

 

Jericho closes his eyes, sighs, and steps up to the table. “How ’bout I fight you for it?”

 

Bradshaw and Faarooq bust up in laughter again. Through subsiding laughter, Bradshaw asks; “Who the hell’s gonna partner with you?”

 

Jericho stands resolute, looking both of the APA in the eyes. “Nobody. Handicap match. I win, you do some investigative work for me.” He pauses for effect, then adds; “Unless you’re scared of getting your butts kicked by me, all by my lonesome.”

 

Bradshaw and Faarooq exchange glances for a moment, considering the idea. “You feel like fightin’?” asks Faarooq.

 

Before Bradshaw can reply, Jericho takes the initiative of giving the APA some incentive, and slaps Bradshaw’s head, then flips over the poker table. Bradshaw and Faarooq are up on their feet in Jericho’s face in a heartbeat. “So, we got a deal?” Jericho asks.

 

Bradshaw stares a hole through Jericho. “Boy, I don’t know when you went so stupid, but I’m gonna enjoy beatin’ the stupid right outta ya. You got five minutes to make your funeral arrangements before we meet you in the ring.”

 

Jericho comes out to the ring alone, as promised. When the APA enter the ring and Jericho doesn’t run away, everyone expects a surprise partner or ambush; to everyone’s surprise, Jericho pulls no surprise and fights his own battle, taking a hellacious pounding as a result. Jericho manages to get in some very minimal offense, but the two-on-one advantage allows the APA the opportunity to take the advantage at will. Victory looks assured for the APA after Jericho eats a Dominator from Faarooq and a Clothesline From Hell from Bradshaw, but the surprise appearence of Stephanie McMahon draws the APA’s attention. Stephanie pleads for the APA to talk with her; Faarooq and Bradshaw drop down to the floor as Stephanie pleads for them to take Jericho’s job request, regardless of the match. Stephanie begs for their help to prove her innocent, which the APA listen to politely if with measurable disinterest; however, Stephanie’s pleas for service keep the APA out of the ring long enough for a ten-count, giving the match to Jericho by count-out. Bradshaw and Faarooq cuss and fume over their inattention costing them the victory as they stomp back to the locker room, leaving Jericho hurting but victorious in the ring.

 

The TitanTron comes up on the bowed head of Triple H, alone in a darkened room. “This has been the worst year of my life,” says Triple H without lifting his head. “It was supposed to be the culmination of a career. I was supposed to reign supreme atop the World Wrestling Federation, my wife alongside me, running the company while I held the WWF Title in a stranglehold. I retired Mick Foley, the man behind the hardcore icon known as Cactus Jack … I main-evented WrestleMania against three men and made history as the first heel to win the main event … and what do I get for it?” Triple H’s head whips up to gaze harshly into the camera’s lens. “I lose my WWF Championship in a tag match when my father-in-law gets pinned by The Rock. My marriage disintegrates, first because of Kurt Angle, and then because Chris Jericho takes advantage of my wife. My brother-in-law tries to cripple me and put me in the hospital, and my father-in-law allows it to happen.” Triple H takes a breath, his lip turned up in a snarl; he exhales, letting the snarl dissolve. “We’re four days from 2001. A new year. A new beginning for me. At the Royal Rumble, I step into the ring against three other men with the World Wrestling Federation Championship in the balance: The Undertaker, the man who says he makes people famous, the man who has been on such a path of destruction, Vince McMahon had to turn to Undertaker’s brother just to slow him down, a man who wants the title to stick it to Vince McMahon. Chris Jericho, a man who slept …” The snarl comes back on Triple H’s lips; he has to pause to collect himself, lowering his head again. “A man who set foot where a man should never set foot: in the sanctity of another man’s personal life.” Triple H looks up again, his eyes cold as steel and narrowed to slits. “And Kurt Angle. The supposed champion of the people, the man who diverted a woman’s attention from her man and gave her all the reason in the world to look for affection from another man. Every one of you has been running your mouth about how someone screwed you or framed you. None of you have anythingto complain about compared to me. But at the Royal Rumble, I’m gonna give all three of you something to complain about: how all three of you were beaten to a bloody pulp and defeated by The Game, Triple H.”

 

Michael Cole announces, as the Radicals and Kane come down the ramp for the main event, that the duo of Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn have been granted a WWF Tag Title shot against Chris Benoit and William Regal at the Royal Rumble. The news, no doubt, accommodates for their swagger as they approach the ring, in addition to knowing that their team is much more a cohesive unit then their opponents, which is rife with strain and animosity. The Radicals and Kane exploit the lack of cohesion to dissect the team, relying especially on Kane to physically overpower the opposition. But an attempt at a Tombstone on Benoit is reversed when Benoit floats over and nails a hard German. Benoit gets the tag to Austin, who unloads on the opposition with rights and lefts, but a thrust to the throat from Kane stops Austin’s progress; he staggers back to the corner and gets the tag to Angle, although the entire team comes back in, causing a full-scale brawl. With everyone in the ring at once, the ref loses track of the match and, therefore, doesn’t see Triple H come in and clock Angle in the back of the head, sending him stumbling into the hands of Kane, who plants him with a chokeslam. With everyone busy brawling, Kane makes the cover and gets the pin. Triple H celebrates his costing Angle the match with a chuckle as he backs up the ramp, not seeing that Undertaker has come out of the back with a sledgehammer; Triple H turns around and takes it between the eyes, then charges the ring, making a beeline for Kane. Jericho takes the opportunity to go after Angle as the brawling spreads out, bringing the last WWF program of the year to a chaotic close.

 

Raw: Jan. 1, ’01

 

The first Raw of 2001 kicks off in the ring, with Malenko and Saturn taking on The Dudleys in a tag team tables match. The scientific Radicals are obviously out of their element, both in light of the relaxed rules and trying to manhandle the much larger Dudley brothers. Benoit and Regal come down to ringside and hang out, making the atmosphere all the more awkward, keeping Malenko and Saturn from acquiring any foriegn objects they could use to even the odds. The distraction of having their Rumble opponents at ringside proves the final nail for The Radicals, even though Benoit and Regal keep their hands off their opponents, as Saturn gets nailed with a 3-D through a table after taking time out to talk trash at his opponents. Benoit and Regal help set up a second table so Malenko can taste lumber, and shake hands with the brothers afterwards.

 

As Regal walks back to his office, he crosses paths with Austin. “Steve,” says Regal studiously, as Austin stares a hole through him, “is there something I can do for you?”

 

“Yeah, you can gimme The Rock at Royal Rumble,” Austin says flatly.

 

“Steve, we’ve been through–”

 

“What do I have to do to get Rocky at the Rumble, huh? You want me to beg? You want me to wrestle twice in one night, show you I can handle it?”

 

Regal shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Steve, it’s just not a risk neither I nor Linda are comfortable taking.” Regal starts to walk away, but Austin grabs his shoulder. Regal turns around, flashing his trademark sneer. “Listen, I’ve had just about enough of you. I don’t want to be cross with you, Steve; we are old friends, and I’d like to keep it that way. But you made a commitment to the Royal Rumble, and I cannot allow–”

 

“What if I buy the match?”

 

Regal blinks, absolutely stunned. “I’m sorry?”

 

“I’ll buy the match. One month’s pay, in exchange for the match. You don’t even have to sanction it. Just gimme a place to have it. That’s all I ask.”

 

Regal pauses to consider, then says; “I’ll have to discuss it with Mrs. McMahon, but I honestly don’t think she’ll agree, Steve. Now, please, excuse me.” Regal walks away quickly, leaving Austin alone in the hallway.

 

Funaki comes out for his match against Scotty 2 Hotty, but the match barely gets past a lock-up before Undertaker barges in on the proceedings. Funaki gets a chokeslam for not moving fast enough to get out of Undertaker’s way, while Scotty gets one for sticking up for Funaki. Scotty’s partner, Grandmaster Sexay, tries to stick up for his buddy, eats a big boot and gets tossed for his troubles. Once the ring is cleared, Undertaker speaks. “In three weeks, I’m rollin’ into Royal Rumble to take the WWF Title,” he says, pacing the ring. “In my way, you got some scrawny little punk, some stringy-haired fool who can’t keep a hold on his old lady, and some cross-eyed dork who thinks he’s in the Olympics. Them’s my opponents, and they’re supposed to be my onlyopponents.” Undertaker pauses and points a finger to the back. “But that son of a bitch, Vince McMahon, he’s had it out for me since day one, and he don’t want Undertaker wearin’ his gold. He don’t want no fire-breathing, bike-riding, ass-kicking American badass bein’ his WWF Champion, so he sends his monkies, and he sends my brother to come knock me out the game before Royal Rumble rolls around. Vince, when are you gonna learn that this here, this is my ring. You don’t got–”

 

The lights go out and red flares explode from the turnbuckles. Kane comes down the ramp, ready to fight; Undertaker drops down to the floor to meet him. The two giants trade punches, neither one willing to be the first to take a knee, until Chris Jericho runs out and clobbers Undertaker in the back. Jericho’s appearence draws out Triple H, who shoves aside Kane to get at Jericho; Kane takes none too kindly to this, grabs Triple H by the throat and chokeslams him on the steel ramp, then joins in stomping down Undertaker with Chris Jericho until officials clear the scene.

 

The APA begin their investigation (grumbling about it the entire time) by going into the production truck and cornering the director of Raw, drilling him about where they got the tape. The director says he got it by mail (the address on the envelope indicating a post office box), and was contacted by phone on when to play it. Faarooq and Bradshaw leave the truck discussing on whether the post office or the motel will get better results.

 

Regal checks on Triple H in the trainer’s room to see if he’s ready for his match, the first of two huge matches for Raw. Triple H grumbles about Regal not doing any better a job at keeping the peace then Foley did, which Regal brushes off.

 

“Can you wrestle tonight?” Regal asks. “If not, I perfectl–”

 

“Oh, I’ll wrestle tonight,” says Triple H, dropping off the trainer’s table with a noticable wince. “But … I want Kane on Smackdown. No disqualifications.”

 

“Fair eno–” Triple H leaves the room before Regal can finish his sentence.

 

Triple H hobbles down to the ring, his ribs taped from the beating from earlier; he skips his normal water spitting and posing on the turnbuckles and stands in the ring, staring at the entrance ramp as his opponent, Chris Jericho, comes out. Jericho hangs back until the third participant in the match, the special referee, comes out; it is Kurt Angle, who looks nervous as all get-out to be stuck in the ring trying to officiate not only two people whom he is facing in three weeks, but two people who have a blood feud raging. No sooner does Jericho slide into the ring then Triple H pounces, but Jericho stops Triple H cold with a blow to the ribs. For a while, Angle relaxes as the two bitter enemies try and tear each other limb from limb. Their indifference to their referee disappears, however, after Jericho disputes a near-fall as a three-count; Angle insists upon it having been two, which leads to a shoving match between the two. Triple H manages to nail a low blow and a roll-up which draws two, and the fact that it didn’t draw three causes Triple H to get in Angle’s face. Angle barks back at Triple H, reminding him who the ref is (and, unnecessarily, who the WWF Champion is), which sends Triple H’s temper over the boiling point; he swings at Angle, but Angle ducks. Jericho, now up on his feet, spins Triple H around. Angle suddenly grabs Triple H from behind and drills him with the Angle Slam. Jericho looks on, stunned for a moment, then springs into action and lands the Lionsault. Angle, seeing Jericho’s plan, moves into position, and when Jericho lands and rebounds to his feet, Angle snaps him up and plants him with an Angle Slam as well, then signals the timekeeper to ring the bell for a no-contest. Angle gets in some unheard taunting on Triple H and Jericho, putting the belt in their faces to remind them who wears the belt and leaves them lying in the ring.

 

Benoit and Regal go to the ring for the main event, a tag title defense against unnamed opponents. Regal and Benoit mill about for a few moments in the ring, waiting for their opponents to come out. Instead, Vince McMahon comes out. “William, Chris,” says Vince, beaming a little too happily, “you’re probably wondering why I’m here. Well, I’m here to introduce your opponents. You see, it was me that scheduled this title defense for you because, frankly, you two hold altogether too much power together. So allow me to introduce the next WWF Tag Team Champions … first, Eddie Guerrero!” Guerrero saunters out, taunting the crowd and his opponents as he walks down the aisle, motioning a belt around his waist and pointing at Regal and Benoit when he climbs in the ring. Guerrero looks back to the stage at Vince. “And now, Eddie’s partner,” continues Vince, “he is the People’s Champion, The Rock!”

 

The music plays, but nobody comes out. A second go-through gets nothing. On the third playthrough, as both Vince and Eddie are getting nervous and twitchy, The Rock finally comes out, but fully dressed in slacks and a shirt. He walks right up to Vince and takes the microphone out of his hand. “What did The Rock say last week?” he snaps. “Did The Rock say, ‘Oh, Vince, please do The Rock favors, please give The Rock title shots’?” Rocky takes off his sunglasses and gets right in Vince’s face, speaking very slowly. “Listen … to … The Rock. The Rock says you and”–Rocky points at Guerrero–”your jabroni in the ring and the rest of your pieces of monkey crap in the back, your Uncle Jimmy Jack, your tax accountant,  your fifth grade teacher and anybody else you got are going to … no, need to … no, will get a four-star check-in to the Smackdown Hotel’s luxury suite if you don’t stay the hell away from The Rock!” Rocky hurls the microphone to the ground and walks back through the curtain, leaving Vince slack-jawed and flummoxed, and more importantly, leaving his partner in the lurch. Regal gets the ring announcer’s microphone and says; “As WWF Commissioner, I will not allow these paying customers to be let down by cancelling an advertised match. And since we cannot defend the titles against a single opponent, and you are in need of a partner …” Regal looks from Guerrero to Vince with a deliciously evil grin; Vince gulps and shakes his head. “And since you, Vince, are, by virtue of your participation in the Royal Rumble, an active WWF Superstar … either you will report to the ring immediately and act as Mr. Guerrero’s partner, or you will forfeit your slot in the Royal Rumble.” Vince stammers on an objection, but Regal says; “Five seconds, Vince.”

 

By four, Vince takes off his sport coat and starts stomping angrily down the aisle, loosening his tie. The crowd explodes as Regal works over Vince with stiff forearm shivers and European uppercuts, while Benoit and Guerrero try and chop each other into oblivion. Predictably, Vince proves a weak link and, when Guerrero has to tag him in after Regal gets the hot tag to Benoit, Vince’s talent in the boardroom don’t cross to the ring, and he falls apart under the blizzard of offense. Regal holds off Guerrero while Benoit gets the Crippler Crossface on Vince, drawing a tap out in what seems like the blink of an eye. Everyone holds their breath, waiting for The Radicals and Kane to come pouring out, but cameras in the back show their progress halted by a whole host of disgruntled WWF Superstars, including Undertaker, Austin, the Dudleys, the Hardys and Shane McMahon. Guerrero limps back to the back, forgetting about his boss, who sits on the mat in the corner of the ring, grumbling and cursing at Regal and Benoit. Regal grabs a mic, a devilish grin on him.

 

“Vince,” he says in between deep breaths, “you can bet your last bloody dollar that your attempt to not only play mind games with us, but to subvert my authority by booking a tag title defense will not go overlooked. Not by me …” Regal takes another breath and looms over the fallen owner. “And certainly not by your wife!” Regal and Benoit leave the ring as Vince mutters obscenities at and vows revenge against his enemies.

 

Smackdown: Jan. 4, ’01

 

A limo pulls up as Smackdown begins; the door opens and out steps Linda McMahon, escorted by William Regal and Shane McMahon. As they walk through the parking garage towards the arena doors, they come across a production assistant. Shane approaches the young man and asks; “Is my father here yet?” The young man nods and the trio continues on their way.

 

The in-ring action begins with the Hardys taking on Malenko and Saturn. The Hardys fight back from the Radicals’ dirty tactics and technical wizardry and look to be on their way to a victory, but Malenko and Saturn signal to the back, calling out Guerrero and Kane, who help decimate the young high-flyers. Guerrero makes sure to add a verbal warning to punctuate the physical one just provided to their Rumble opponents, Undertaker, Triple H, Austin, and Guerrero’s opponent later on in the evening, The Rock, that they, coupled with the endorsement of Vince, is the real power in the WWF.

 

Linda, Shane and Regal approach the ring and immediately request Vince to join them in the ring. Vince comes out, obviously perturbed as he stomps down the aisle. “How dare you demand my presence!” he barks when he gets in the ring. “Do you forget who I am? I’m Vince McMahon, dammit!”

 

Linda smiles in response. “No, Vince, I haven’t forgotten who you are; you’re an active WWF Superstar, which puts you under the jurisdiction of Commissioner William Regal,” she says smugly. “And that’s why we’ve summoned you here, Vince. Because of your blatant disregard for the chain of command. You granted The Rock and Eddie Guerrero a WWF Tag Team Title match on Raw, without consulting with Commissioner Regal or myself, and without consideration for the numerous other teams which have valid claims for contendership. Your flagrant abuse of power, and disregard for the proper authority–”

 

“Are you finished yet?” Vince snaps. “Because I’ve heard just about enough.”

 

“Not at all, Vince. I–”

 

“I couldn’t care less what you have to say anymore, Linda. I mean, my God … I can’t believe, after all the humiliation I have  suffered in the past couple months, that you come out here and publicly embarrass me by demanding I come out here and bend to your will like some common piece of street trash? How much … how much can a man take? How much can a man give? My God … I’ve given my life to WWF fans … God … I care for my family. How much can a man take?” The crowd starts chanting “asshole”; this time, Vince doesn’t let it slide. “Shut up! I said how much can a man take? Dammit, I’m not gonna take it anymore! I’m tired of giving! I’m not gonna give anymore! From this moment on, the hell with WWF fans! From this moment on, the hell with my family! And as far as my marriage is concerned … as far as my marriage is concerned …” Vince lets the sentence hang in the air as Linda’s face runs through a range of shock, horror, fear and sadness. Vince gets up right close to Linda’s face when he delivers the bombshell: “I want a divorce!” Linda stands so shellshocked, she can’t move; Shane puts his hands on his mother’s shoulders, while Regal looks around nervously. “I said I want a divorce. Get out of my ring! This is my ring! This is my house! This is my arena! Get the hell outta here! Walk out! Walk out! Walk outta my life, and, dammit, keep going! And don’t you ever come back! You were never … you were never good enough for me! Dammit, I’m Vince McMahon! I’m Vince McMahon!” Linda leaves the ring, stumbling away, bawling, while her son helps her to the back. Regal steps forward on Vince, who is shaking with fury; Regal slaps him hard across the face and walks out of the ring, leaving Vince in the ring to quake with rage and bellow over and over again that he is Vince McMahon.

 

The first of three main events for the evening never even really begins, as Undertaker ambushes his opponent, Chris Jericho, as he comes through the curtain. Jericho takes a five minute beating down to and around the ring, tasting the steel steps, the barricade and a chokeslam through the announce table, but Jericho manages to get a breather when he kicks Undertaker in the crotch. Jericho finds a chair and splits Undertaker’s wig, busting him open. When Undertaker, bleeding and weakened, manages to get to one knee, Jericho swings for the fences, tattooing Undertaker in the face. Again, slower and bleeding more heavily, Undertaker gets to a knee; Jericho drops the chair and retreats to the back.

 

The TitanTron shows a video detailing the APA’s trip to the hotel where Stephanie’s drunken liason occured. An interview of the hotel owner reveals the room was paid for ahead of time, reserved under Stephanie McMahon’s name, and never saw the gentleman she was with when she turned in for the night. Faarooq and Bradshaw check out the room, including where the camera was positioned. The search, however, turns up empty in both clues and leads and ends with the APA leaving the hotel, frustrated at being cornered into the investigation.

 

Angle joins the announcers at the remains of their table for the no-disqualifications match between Kane and Triple H. As Kane comes out, Angle drops the bombshell that, starting next week on Raw, Angle will take on and defeat all three of his opponents, starting with Chris Jericho. Triple H comes out, sledgehammer in hand, giving Angle a murderous glare before entering the ring. Triple H and Kane dispense with wrestling almost entirely and go for brawling and weaponry. After slamming Kane’s head into the guard rail, Triple H walks up to Angle and cheap shots him; when Triple H turns his attention back to Kane, however, Angle comes up from behind and tosses Triple H into the stairs. Kane takes exception to Angle’s involvement and nails him with a shot to the throat, then tosses Triple H back into the ring. When Kane goes for a chokeslam on Triple H, Angle slides in and clobbers Kane in the head with his title belt and leaves. Triple H manages to get an arm draped over Kane for a pinfall attempt, but Guerrero comes through the crowd, climbs the turnbuckle and comes crashing down on Triple H’s back with a frog splash. Guerrero puts Kane on Triple H, and the ref is impotent to do anything but count the pinfall for Kane.

 

As Guerrero walks backwards up the ramp, taunting Triple H, The Rock comes out behind him and clobbers him. When Smackdown comes back from commercial, the main event for the night, Rock versus Guerrero, has begun, with Rock taking it to Guerrero. Guerrero gets the upper hand with his usual devious tactics, dissecting Rock with speed and precision. But Guerrero’s attempt at a frog splash ends up with him kissing the mat, giving Rock the opening he needs to take back the match. Guerrero tries to fight back, but a Rock Bottom plants Guerrero firm on the mat. Rock stands over Guerrero, takes off the elbow pad and is about to bound off the ropes for the People’s Elbow when the face of Steve Austin fills the TitanTron and catches Rock’s attention. For a few long, cold seconds, Austin’s serial killer glare leaps off the screen and right into the souls of everyone watching; this isn’t the “Oh, hell yeah!” Stone Cold the WWF fans have loved for years. This Stone Cold is just that: stone cold.

 

“Rock,” he says with a snarl, his words more spat out then spoken. “I don’t know what you’re doin’ right now, and I don’t really give a rat’s ass. It took me a year to get back to the World Wrestling Federation after you ran me over like a dog in the street, and the WWF officials can’t see fit to let me beat the crap outta the man who did this to me! I asked nicely, I played by their stupid little rules, I even offered money, and I keep gettin’ told the same thing: ‘Now’s not the time, Steve. Maybe next month, Stone Cold. We gotta wait till this or that happens.’ Well, it’s a bunch of crap, and you know it, I know it, and the whole damn world knows it! You took away a year of my life, Rock, and you been hidin’ behind everyone you can like some little girl, cause you scared to take what’s comin’ to ya. I’m done waitin’, and I’m done playin’ games; I want a piece of your ass at the Royal Rumble, and if I gotta raise some hell in a way I ain’t done in years to get it, then you can bet your ass that’s just what’s gonna happen!”

 

The camera zooms out from the hard close-up; behind Austin is a nice house, all the windows closed and dark. Rock’s face goes sheet white when he sees the house. “You took a year of my life away from me, Rock, and now I’m gonna start takin’ things from you until you give me what I want. And I’m gonna start …” Austin reaches into his pants pockets and produces a lighter; he flicks the flint wheel, producing a brilliant red flame. “By takin’ away your sense of security. Oh, I’m sure you’re there, babblin’ like the stupid son of a bitch you are, Rock. This ain’t no conversation; I can’t hear a damn word you say, so you can beg and plead till your stupid little voice gives out. Brian Pillman couldn’t stop me from breakin’ into his home, and neither can you.” The satellite feed breaks off as Austin turns and starts walking to the house. Rock leaps out of the ring, knowing it won’t do any good, but runs up the ramp and through the curtain.

 

Raw: Jan. 8. ’01

 

Once again, the show kicks off with a limo pulling up in the parking lot. This time, it is Vince inside. Upon stepping out, he turns and offers his elbow to someone else in the vehicle; a feminine leg peeks out under the door as a womanly arm takes Vince’s. The owner stands out of the limo; it is Trish Stratus. “Come, dear,” says Vince. “We have business to take care of tonight.”

 

Benoit kicks off the in-ring action on Raw with a non-title match against Dean Malenko. For three short minutes, the two engage in a fantastic chain wrestling exhibition, but the match quickly goes to seed when Perry Saturn interferes, drawing the DQ. Regal comes out on stage, dressed for combat and says; “If you two are so bloody anxious for a fight, then we’ll just have our match right now!” Regal races down to the ring to aid his partner, and the new match begins immediately. Benoit comes back from the beating he suffered from the duo, and with Regal, they manage to send dominate the opening moments of the match, but Malenko and Saturn manage to exploit a crucial mistiming between Benoit and Regal to their advantage, pounding on Regal in an attempt to draw the submission. Regal, however, proves too tough and gets the tag to Benoit, who clears house. Victory seems assured until Eddie Guerrero comes down to ringside and uses misdirection to draw the ref’s attention away from Kane coming in and obliterating Benoit with a chokeslam, then dragging Regal to the floor as Malenko goes for the cover. Guerrero lets the ref get back to his duties and, not seeing Kane pummeling Regal, counts the pinfall, giving The Radicals the WWF Tag Titles.

 

The APA use the postmark from the envelope that the videotape was shipped in to visit the post office from which it was sent. The postal clerk is unable to give much in the way of helpful information, describing the sender (as best as he can remember) as dressed in a hoody and sunglasses. As they leave the post office with their hands empty yet again, a guy in a heavy coat and hat bumps into Bradshaw. The stranger speaks in a whisper, his words bringing Bradshaw and Faarooq to a halt: “Meet me in the parking garage at the arena for Smackdown. I can break your case wide open.” The stranger slips a card into Faarooq’s hands; Faarooq reads the card, on which is written the time and date to meet.

 

“No Chance In Hell” signals the arrival of Vince McMahon, who saunters out with Trish Stratus on his arm and his soldiers walking behind, Malenko and Saturn proudly displaying their Tag Team Title belts on their shoulders. “Not that it’s the business of any of you,” says Vince, “but I’d like to publicly introduce the new first lady of the World Wrestling Federation, Trish Stratus!” The crowd boos, but Vince and Trish ignore it. “I understand, you idiot fans just aren’t able to cope with change, but change can be good. In this case, the WWF was being poisoned from the top down. I’ve now taken steps to rectify this; I’ve filed divorce papers against Linda, and I’ve purchased my daughter’s stake in the company. Once the divorce is finalized, I expect a seamless transition of power, and the restoration of order, back to the rightful ruler of this company, me, Vincent Kennedy McMahon!” Vince beams for a few moments, but then his _expression turns glum. “Now, speaking of law and order, one thing Linda said a few weeks ago when she unjustly fired Mick Foley was that he had let the inmates run the asylum. I reference this because, on Smackdown last week, we all witnessed one of the most blatant examples of disregard for the law that I have ever seen when Stone Cold Steve Austin trespassed on the private property of The Rock with every intention of setting fire to The Rock’s private residence. This is intolerable behavior for a WWF Superstar, especially one that has–”

 

The Rock’s music interrupts Vince’s passionate defense of the former People’s Champion. Vince, Trish and the Radicals all applaud Rocky as he enters the ring (Kane stands perfectly still), even as he strides with obvious purpose–and anger–towards Vince. Rocky holds up one finger in Vince’s face; Vince remains unfazed. “The Rock wants to one thing, Vince, just one. Do you have a hearing problem?”

 

Vince blinks, all the pride suddenly washed away with confusion. Vince shakes his head. “No, I’m fit as a fiddle. Why?”

 

“Let The Rock ask another question. Does The Rock … stutter?”

 

“Why, no, Rock. What’s this–”

 

“Well, that puzzles The Rock. Because The Rock explicitly–explicitly–told you to stay out of The Rock’s business. In fact, The Rock swears he told you that just a week ago, and yet, here you are, sticking up for The Rock, trying to get involved in The Rock’s business, trying to do favors for The Rock.”

 

“Rock, please,” pleads Vince, “I’m doing this for you. I sent a camera crew and private security to your house to ensure your family’s safety. You’re a key component in this company, and you need to be protected from common thugs like Stone Cold St–”

 

“The Rock is sick, sick of saying this, Vince. Does The Rock have to tell you with a boot in the ass?” Immediately, Vince’s troops step forward, Kane gnashing his hands together. Rocky remains undaunted, getting up close and personal with Vince. “The Rock is going to tell you one more time; if you don’t understand after tonight, The Rock will show next time how The Rock feels about your help. Don’t do anything for The Rock. No security. No help. No bodyguards. Don’t even offer The Rock a stick of gum in the hallway. Just … stay … aw–”

 

The TitanTron suddenly comes alive with an outdoor shot, peering down a long road. Off in the distance are a pair of headlights, coming closer rapidly. The camera swings around to the familiar sight of Rock’s house; walking up the path to the front door is Rock’s wife. Voices are heard yelling warnings to Rock’s wife as the car screeches to a halt on Rock’s lawn. The security guards immediately converge on the car, but Austin dispatches with both, the first being thrown into one of the car’s windows, and the second getting his lights punched out. Austin stomps up to Rock’s wife, who has fallen on the stoop and is screaming in fear. Austin looms over her as she screams for mercy. “Shut up! Shut up!” Austin hunches down, pointing a finger in her face. “You tell your husband I won’t stop until he fights me,” Austin says, his voice as cold as the grave. “You get Rocky to fight me at the Rumble, or I promise, I will come back.” Austin walks back to his car, gets in and takes off, leaving Rock’s wife sobbing on her front stoop.

 

Rock snaps his head back to Vince, getting right in his face; Vince’s storm troopers brace themselves, but Vince holds his arms up to ward them off. Rock’s chest bumps against Vince’s. “You listen to The Rock, Vince, and listen good: stop provoking Stone Cold Steve Austin, and stay out of The Rock’s life. If The Rock sees you or any of these jabronis near him, The Rock will do to you what Stone Cold thinks I did to him.” Rock shoves Vince in the chest, putting him on his backside. Rock levels a finger at him and adds; “Give Austin what he wants before someone gets hurt,” then leaves.

 

Triple H approaches Undertaker right before they head out for their tag match against Guerrero and Kane, with the intention of putting aside tensions, if only for the night. Unfortunately, Triple H’s confrontational approach quickly puts Undertaker’s hackles up, making their task for the night all the harder. And when Guerrero and Kane work together as if they’ve been tagging for months, the schism between the current partners/future opponents becomes a gaping chasm, and they come to blows. Kane and Guerrero let their opponents do some damage to each other before Undertaker finally clotheslines Triple H out of the ring and walks into a Kane chokeslam. Guerrero comes off the top rope with a frog splash which gets a stunning three count to silence the crowd.

 

After the deflation from Vince’s thugs defeating Undertaker and Triple H, the hopes of the crowd to provide a happy ending are on Angle to up-end Jericho in their one-on-one preview match. After their Survivor Series encounter, the two know each other’s offense even better then before, and spend a good part of the match dodging, feinting and countering each other. However, it is a simple mistake and not a reversal that scores the win, as Angle misses a moonsault and Jericho quickly pounces, locking in the Walls Of Jericho for the tap-out victory. The crowd, already in shock from the prior match, is absolutely floored by seeing the WWF Champion tapping out to his Rumble opponent. Despite their beating in the previous match, Undertaker and Triple H hobble out and brawl with Angle and Jericho to close out Smackdown as everyone is left to wonder if the champion’s days are numbered.

 

Smackdown: Jan. 11, ’01

 

Smackdown kicks off with a Tag Team Title match, pitting the new champions against The Dudley Boys. The Dudleys outbrawl the tag champs and look to be taking the titles from Vince’s troops. Malenko and Saturn manage to tread water with some cheats, but the Dudleys press their size and strength advantage and are moments away from taking the belts when Saturn uses one of the belts to clock D-Von, drawing the DQ. Long time Dudleys nemeses Edge & Christian race down to ringside, followed by The Hardys, quickly followed by Regal and Benoit. Edge & Christian are run off by the combined efforts of the Hardys and the Dudleys, with the Hardys chasing Edge & Christian down the aisle. Regal and Benoit keep the champs pinned down as D-Von and Bubba get the tables; Saturn gets put through a table with a 3-D, but Malenko manages to escape courtesy of Guerrero pulling him out.

 

On the big screen, the first part of a two-part interview conducted by Jim Ross with The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson. The WWF legend opens up about the shock he felt when he heard about the evidence against his son, having a hard time reconciling what he’s seen and heard with the boy he raised and loves. When Jim Ross asks him point blank if Johnson thinks his son is guilty, Johnson can’t bring himself to answer, save to say that if The Rock is guilty, he would like to see his son step forward, admit his guilt in it and face the consequences of his actions.

 

As Regal gets back to his office, he finds Shane McMahon waiting on his sofa. Regal sighs as he moves to his desk. “What is it, Shane?”

 

Shane stands up and approaches the desk. “I want your assurance that when it comes time to draw the lots for the Rumble,” says Shane, “that my father won’t receive special treatment.”

 

Regal recoils. “I hope you’re not implying that the office of the Commissioner is for sale, young man. I won’t stand for such baseless–”

 

“I’m just making sure all the bases are covered, Commissioner. I don’t trust my father. He has his own interests at heart, not the WWF’s, and I’m afraid he’ll somehow try to rig the drawing if he can get away with it.”

 

“Well, you can rest assured, that won’t be happening. Now, if there’s nothing else–”

 

“Actually, there is.” Shane pauses, takes a seat at Regal’s desk. “I, um … I was wondering … um, have you spoken to my mother lately?”

 

Regal hems and haws, stalling for time before finally breaking down and saying; “I, I don’t know how to tell you, son. I’m surprised you weren’t told by your family. Your mother … sheÕs taken a leave. Perhaps you should speak with your father; I wasnÕt given details.”

 

Shane stands up, fuming. “Oh, I’ll talk to him all right,” he says and takes off. 
Benoit steps into the ring for an Intercontinental Title defense against Kane, showing no nervousness over Vince’s pet wrecking machine. The collision of the rabid wolverine and the big red machine proves to be even more high impact then one could’ve guessed, as Benoit refuses to stay down for Kane’s overpowering onslaught, and Kane fights to stay up against Benoit’s mechanical dissection-like offense. Predictably, Kane’s new running buddies come to his aid when Benoit’s victory looks within grasp; with Eddie Guerrero attacking Benoit from behind. Regal comes out for the assist, but the numbers game spells doom for the Commissioner and the IC Champ, who are left lying broken on the mat, victims of Vince’s continued meddling in the business of others.

 

The APA stand around in the parking garage, waiting for their mysterious informant to show up. Faarooq comments that they’ve wasted enough valuable whiskey-poker-and-cigars time and they should pack it in when the person signals from the shadows.

 

“Jericho’s innocent,” says the person through a voice decoder. “I can get the proof.”

 

“You came all this way and you don’t have it,” says Bradshaw matter-of-factly. “C’mon, man, let’s–”

 

“I need your guarantee first.”

 

“Guarantee of what?” asks Faarooq.

 

“Protection. Bringing this out will make me a wanted man.”

 

“By who?”

 

There is a slight pause. “I can’t say. All I can tell you right now is there are people who don’t want this to come forward. The damage it will cause when the truth co–”

 

The voice is cut off when the Right To Censor explodes on the scene, hammering the APA down to the pavement. The mystery man runs away, dropping something that clatters on the ground as he runs; Richards orders Goodfather to chase him down. Richards directs traffic as the APA are thrown into concrete pillars and manhandled in a way totally unusual for them. Richards bends over and scoops up the dropped item, a videotape. When officials finally drive the RTC away from the scene, Bradshaw and Faarooq are bruised and bloodied, with nothing to show for it.

 

Shane barges into Vince’s private quarters, only to find that Vince isn’t there. In his place, however, is Vince’s new associate, Trish Stratus. She saunters up to Shane, tracing a finger down his chest. “Whatcha doin’, Shane?” she asks playfully. “Lookin’ for someone?”

 

“Yeah, my father,” he says, taking her hand and moving it off him. “Where is he?”

 

Trish pouts at being shut down and plops herself on the couch. “He sent me tonight to watch over Smackdown. Is there something I can help you with?”

 

Shane laughs incredulously and turns to leave, then pauses and turns back around. “Yeah, there’s something you can do for me.” Shane walks up to Trish, looming over her, his face a mask of anger. “You can stay the hell away from my family, you little tramp. I see what you’re trying to d–”

 

Shane chokes on his words as Kane bursts into the room, grabs Shane and launches him into the wall. Trish gets up and screams for Kane to annihilate Shane, and he does so with great zeal and without a shred of mercy. Trish gets in a couple cheap licks and adds insult to injury by telling Shane he could never have her anyway before she and Kane leave him in a broken heap.

 

When Guerrero enters the arena for an actual match, the crowd almost riots with hatred for Vince’s lieutenant. Guerrero riles up the crowd even further by getting on the stick and reminding the crowd how he’s helping Vince McMahon get rid of the scum like Steve Austin, Undertaker and Chris Benoit, and that tonight, he’ll put the dagger in Triple H’s heart and eliminate him before he can get to Royal Rumble. But Guerrero’s bravado melts when Triple H comes out armed with his sledgehammer and a murderous glint in his eyes. The match never even gets started, as Triple H wallops Guerrero in the gut and Pedigrees him into oblivion. The assault draws out Guerrero’s cohorts, who all hang back when Triple H picks up the hammer and dares them on. Undertaker comes up from behind and blindsides his brother, which draws the attention of the Radicals; with their attention drawn, Triple H blasts them from behind, leaving Triple H and Undertaker to beat down the Big Red Machine. The crowd cheers as the two opponents get on the same page for the effort of downing Vince’s pet killer, but once Kane is sent packing, Undertaker quickly clocks Triple H and goes after him, only for his opponent for the night, Kurt Angle to come out and join in the fight. Undertaker and Angle brawl into the ring and, when Smackdown returns from commercial, the ref has rung the bell to start the actual match.

 

Angle’s sneak-attack gives him an early-on advantage, which he uses to zero in on the perennially weak legs of Undertaker, going for early submission holds and wear-down moves. Undertaker fights back with his newfound vicious streak, blundgeoning and manhandling Angle like he were a man half his size. Angle and Undertaker go back and forth, technical prowess versus raw strength, until Triple H comes back and jumps into the fray, drawing the DQ ending as Angle, Undertaker and Triple brawl until they are pulled apart. In the back, Jericho watches on a monitor, visibly confident.

 

The second part of the interview concludes the program with the header by JR that the interview’s contents will shock viewers. The second part has JR bringing up Stone Cold Steve Austin, his bloodthirst for The Rock and his anything-goes campaign to get a match for the Royal Rumble with Johnson’s son. Johnson admits that, while Austin has every right to a match if his son is the guilty party, and that the WWF officials shouldn’t stand in the way of the match to protect his son, Austin’s tactics are vile and reprehensible. Johnson goes so far as to call Austin, after watching a videotape of his verbal intimidation of Rock’s wife, a monster and no better then the man who ran him down. It is then that the shocking content comes to pass as Austin barges in on the closed-set interview and assaults Johnson. Austin punches and stomps Johnson to the ground, yanks off his belt and whips Johnson as crew members and JR yell at Austin to stop. As Austin beats on Johnson, Austin yells out over and over again; “I want your boy! I want your boy!” Finally, Austin stops and gets up close to the lens of the camera, panting and almost frothing like a rabid dog. “I’m sick of waitin’, Rock,” he says as he gasps for breath. “Iwill have your ass at the Rumble, Rock, or I will destroy your life piece by piece. You hear me, Rock? You hear me? Make the match, Rock! Make the match!” Austin quickly snaps around and puts the boots to Johnson; JR tries to get Austin to calm down and gets pushed down for his efforts. Austin gets in a couple more stomps, gets back in the camera and gives Rock one more warning to make the match or else, and then leaves the set as medics come to check on Johnson.

 

Raw: Jan. 15th, ’01

 

The final Raw before the Royal Rumble is stacked with big matches, including Undertaker, Regal & Benoit against The Radicals in six-man action, The Rock facing Kane, and Angle facing Triple H.

 

But the evening starts off with Jim Ross and William Regal welcoming a bandaged Rocky Johnson to the ring. Johnson comes out limping but receives a warm reception. “Thank you for coming here tonight,” says JR a tad shamefully, “after the incidents of last week.”

 

“Indeed,” says Regal, shaking Johnson’s hand, “on behalf of the World Wrestling Federation, I would like to extend our deepest apologies for the actions of Stone Cold Steve Austin. I–”

 

“I’m not here for apologies,” Johnson says sternfully. JR and Regal look confused, almost insulted. “I’m here to kick Stone Cold Steve Austin’s ass.” JR and Regal have a hard time keeping their jaws from swinging loose; likewise, the crowd doesn’t know how to react to this. “I know Steve Austin thinks he has a problem with my boy, and they need to square it up on their own. But a man ain’t much of a man if he can’t stand up for his own self, and for what Steve Austin did to me last week, I ain’t much of a man if I don’t give him a receipt.”

 

JR and Regal trip over each other trying to talk Johnson out of this course of action, but the sound of breaking glass clinches them all on their current course. When Austin jumps in the ring, JR and Regal both jump in between Johnson and Austin. Austin smiles humorlessly and steps back. “So you want a piece of Stone Cold Steve Austin, right here tonight. Am I–do I have that right? Well, hell, son, I ain’t dressed to go yet, but if you got an itch you need scratchin’, I ain’t gotta wait to get my trunks and boots.” Austin throws down his microphone, takes off his vest and gestures for Johnson to bring it. Johnson takes off his jacket and looks ready to push Regal and JR aside when the music of The Rock stops the powder keg from blowing. The Rock comes to the ring without his bravado or swagger, approaching Austin with neither fear nor respect, getting nose to nose with the Bionic Redneck. For a few tension filled seconds, it seems as if the entire federation is balanced on a knifepoint, until The Rock finally speaks, never taking his eyes off Austin.

 

“If this match can be signed before the end of the night, does The Rock have your word you’ll leave The Rock’s dad alone?”

 

Austin takes his time answering, smirking just a little. “Sure. You got my word. One hour, or beat the living crap out of your old man.”

 

“Make the match.”

 

“I-I-I don’t know–”

 

The Rock’s head whips around to look at Regal. “The Rock doesn’t care about the how. Just get it done.” The Rock turns around and leaves the ring. Once Rock is through the curtain, Austin turns to Regal, points at Johnson and says; “You got one hour, or I’m comin’ to this ring lookin’ to beat his sorry ass into a hospital bed.” Austin leaves the ring, leaving Regal with JR and Rocky Johnson, trying to figure out how to authorize a match that has been expressly forbidden by the higher-ups.

 

A 10-man battle royal featuring Superstars who will compete in the Royal Rumble goes on. Both members of Too Cool, Rikishi, Steve Blackman, Raven, Tazz, Test, Albert, and Al Snow all band together to target the person whose destructive behavior has him labelled as one of the favorites to win the Rumble: Kane. But the Big Red Machine fights off the band, single-handedly tossing six of his competitors. When the dust settles, Kane and Steve Blackman are the last two in the ring.  As Blackman breaks out the martial arts skills, Eddie Guerrero comes down with another referee; Kane catches Blackman’s leg, grabs him by the throat and chokeslams him, then, for good measure, does it again and pins him. The second referee counts the decision, making Kane the new Hardcore Champion. As soon as the ring announcer has finished the announcement, Kane picks up Blackman and tosses him for the victory. Guerrero celebrates with Kane on his Hardcore Title victory, a championship that, with Kane’s dominance, doesn’t seem stoppable.

 

Earl Hebner pops into Regal’s office as Regal hangs up the phone. “Earl, is this pressing?” asks Regal.

 

“Sir, it may be,” says Earl sheepishly. “Have you made a decision about the Steve Austin/Rock situation?”

 

“In fact, I was just speaking with the board of directors, Earl. They’ve decided that, in the interest of safety and legalities, they will allow Steve Austin and The Rock to fight at the Royal Rumble in an unsanctioned bout.”

 

Earl’s face grows dark. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

 

Regal raises an eyebrow. “Is there a problem?”

 

Earl takes a deep breath, steeling himself. “The other refs and I have spoken, and we’ve decided that none of us are willing to take the risk of officiating a match between those two. It’s too dangerous. I’m sorry, Commissioner.” Earl leaves Regal’s office, leaving Regal with his head in his hands as his timely negotiations go up in smoke.

 

Steven Richards accompanies Bull Buchanan & The Goodfather to the ring for a match with the Holly Cousins and grabs a mic before the cousins come down. “I know a lot of people are wondering why we attacked those thugs, Faarooq and Bradshaw, last week on Smackdown,” proclaims Richards to a hailstorm of boos. “Everything we do is to protect you stupid people from seeing or hearing what you shouldn’t, and the APA was about to make a deal with someone to procure what is most assuredly pornography!” The crowd renews their hatred, which Richards yells over. “Your protests only show how deep the virus of depravity has eaten into your bones, that you would actively cheer for two beer-swilling rednecks to acquire an uncensored videotape of a, a, a carnal, adulterous moment between two adults! You people don’t know what’s best for you! You people–”

 

The music of the APA busts into Richards’ mindless ranting; Bradshaw and Faarooq step out onto the stage, looking as angry as ever. “Hey, Stevie!” Bradshaw yells, which prompts an off-mic rant by Richards that his name is Steven, not Stevie. “Yeah, you, pencilneck. You and your nerd friends … we got a job to do, and you idiots got in the way. So we can either come down and beat the living snot outta you right here and now and leave your carcasses for those dancin’ kids to finish off … or, you and your buddies can meet us on Smackdown for a six-man tag, and if we win, we get the videotape!” When Richards doesn’t answer right away, Bradshaw turns to Faarooq; “Well,” he says, “if they ain’t gonna answer, you may wanna put out that stogie.”

 

“I’s plannin’ on puttin’ it out in the middle of poindexter’s forehead,” says Faarooq. 
Bradshaw nods. “Good plan.”

 

“Wait! Wait! Fine! You got it! You got your match!”

 

Faarooq elbows Bradshaw. “Gets ‘em every time,” he says with a hearty laugh as they disappear backstage, leaving the RTC out of sorts as the Hollys come down for their fight.

 

The top of the hour rolls around and, right on time, Austin heads to the ring in his wrestling gear. Austin grabs a chair on the way in, unfolds it in the middle of the ring and sits down, looking at an imaginary watch. “Y’all got ten seconds to come out here before I come back there, Regal, grab ya by your skinny little tie and beat ya like a dog. And then, I’ll beat Rocky’s daddy even more.” Austin starts the countdown, barking out the numbers. Regal comes out at three.

 

“Steve!” gasps Regal. “I need more time! I can give you the match, but I need more time! The WWF officials won’t referee your match out of fear.”

 

“I gave you all the time in the world, William Regal. So either gimme the match or gimme Rocky’s old man!”

 

Regal is about to plead again when the music of Undertaker cues up. Undertaker saunters onto the stage. Regal looks at him with equal mixtures of fear and confusion. Before anyone can ask what he’s doing here, Undertaker speaks. “It seems to me, the two of you, you got yourself a problem.” Undertaker gestures to Regal. “You can’t get your britches straight,” he says, then points to Austin, “and you won’t give the man time to do it.” Undertaker chuckles. “You need an official, someone to make this happen? Keep the peace? And you wanna get your hands on The Rock?” Undertaker points at himself. “I can make it happen.”

 

“What the bloody hell are you talking about? If I don’t provide an official, the board of directors won’t approve–”

 

“That’s the problem with you suits, you ain’t got no brains beyond your little balance books and whatnot. You want a match with Rock, Stone Cold? Here’s what I can offer ya. I can offer you the place, I can offer you the time, and I can offer you the official.”

 

Austin leans on the top rope, directing his gaze at Undertaker. “I’m listening.”

 

“In the circles I roll in, two men got a beef they can’t settle, they take it to the Iron Circle. The boys circle ’round on their bikes, and the guy who can’t stand up no more loses the fight. I’ll provide the circle, I’ll be the official.” Regal starts to speak up, but Undertaker cuts him off. “But I ain’t doin’ this for nothin’. I gotta git somethin’ in return.”

 

“Well, what do you want?” asks Austin.

 

“I want two things.” Undertaker looks at Regal. “I want a guaranteed title shot down the line. My choice when to cash it in.” Undertaker looks to Austin. “And I want you to leave a little bit o’ scrap for me with The Rock, cause I still ain’t got enough of him yet. You just leave a piece for me, Stone Cold, and you and me, we’re square.”

 

“I don’t appreciate being put over a barrel like this,” opines Regal. Austin and Undertaker look at him as he mulls it over a second longer, then says; “But I have no choice. Your terms are accepted.” Austin’s music kicks in immediately as the announcers speculate on how either Rock or Austin will be able to compete in the Rumble if they have to square off in such a hellacious, unregulated environment as an Iron Circle match.

 

The Angle/Triple H match, for all the technical ability possessed by them, degenerates into a fist-swinging bar brawl from the word go. Wisely, the ref stands out of the way and lets the rules go lax as they bend, break and outright destroy rules left and right in their quest to eliminate one another before Royal Rumble. When Triple H decides taking Angle out within the confines of a match is just too much trouble, he seeks out his sledgehammer under the ring, but Angle dodges the potentially lethal blow, kicks Triple H in the gut and goes for a Pedigree; Triple H low blows out of it, goes for one of his own, and promptly gets low blowed back. The ref starts the out-of-ring count, and when neither men makes it back in, both are counted out and the match is tossed, completing Angle’s run of his Rumble opponents, with not a real successful moment to point to from any of the three matches.

 

The six-man tag main event also degenerates into a fist-swinging fight, as Regal and Benoit go after Malenko and Saturn with a fury and Undertaker, ever in the mood for a fight, manhandles Guerrero at will. But Vince’s troops, nor Vince, will let his enemies slide so easily; Vince leads Kane to the ring, Kane going after Undertaker while Vince goes after Regal. The interference draws the DQ, and also draws out Shane McMahon, cane in hand. Shane goes right after his father, but Guerrero manages to cut off Shane and put him down before Shane can take his father’s head off with the cane. By the time Smackdown comes to a close, Vince’s troops have put down their opponents and stand triumphant.

 

Smackdown: Jan. 18th, ’01

 

The final Smackdown before the Royal Rumble is loaded with both big matches and big events: in addition to Shane McMahon stepping into the ring to face Eddie Guerrero, the APA/RTC showdown and other matches, Commissioner Regal will draw the lots for the lucky person to get #30 in the Rumble and the unlucky duo who get the first two slots.

 

But the show starts off with a table set up in the ring, with chairs on both sides of the table, set up for the official public signing of the divorce papers for Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Shane escorts his crying sister down to the ring, as does her lawyer. Triple H comes out with his lawyer, but stands on his side of the table, staring a hole through Stephanie, looming over her like the shadow of death. Jim Ross, handling the announcing duties in-ring, suggests Triple H sit down; when Shane echoes the sentiment snidely, Triple H starts to come around, but stops when his lawyer restrains him. Once Triple H is seated, his lawyer produces the final documents to certify the dissolution of marriage and presents them to Stephanie, who makes one more impassioned plea to save her marriage; Triple H’s response is to glare menacingly. Shane picks up the pen and hands it to his sister who, reluctantly, with a shaking hand, signs the document.

 

But as Triple H gets set to sign it, the music for Vince McMahon hits the PA; the Chairman, as well as his “associate” Trish Stratus and Eddie Guerrero come down to the ring. JR almost throws the microphone in disgust, while Shane and Triple H unwittingly get on the same page, staring at the unwelcome elder McMahon with antipathy. As Trish hangs on Vince’s arm like a groupie and Guerrero makes lurid gestures to Stephanie, Vince addresses the soon-to-be-former couple. “You know, as elated as it makes me to finally have you out of my life and my family, Triple H, I can’t help but be a little sad. Yes, a little sad, and a little envious. You see, it’s going to take some time for the courts to work out the divorce proceedings for your mother and I, and I just wish we could fast forward to the point where your mother is cast out into the street, penniless and destitute, just like she was when I first started dating her!” The crowd gives Vince a piece of their mind, but Vince ignores it and presses on. “And yet, I also find myself sad, because, considering how much shame you’ve brought to the McMahon name, there isn’t a legal way for me to remove you from my life as you are from Triple H’s. I mean, to restore pride and dignity to the McMahon family name, I’m going to have to become a father again sometime down the line with”–Vince turns to Trish, stroking the line of her jaw, glaring at her luridly–”a woman of much better stock.”

 

Guerrero sidles up next to Stephanie, blowing kisses and winking. “Hey, mamacita. I hear you like to party,” he says. “You wanna come out with me after you ditch this gavacho and get a little Latino Heat?” Shane shoves Guerrero, who reacts with non-chalance. “Hey, esse! Just cause your sister is the partyin’ type, don’t mean you gotta get on my case!”

 

“Stay the hell away from my sister, you sick–”

 

Stephanie puts a hand on Shane’s arm and asks him to sit down, which he does reluctantly, never taking his eyes off Vince, who just smiles at him. “Yeah, that’s it, Shane. Sit down. Do like you did when they benched you in little league, like when you got that B instead of an A in college. Do like you’ve always done and back down. That’s why your appearing in the Royal Rumble to stop me from protecting my investment won’t matter, Shane: because you don’t have the grapefruits to do what it takes, and you never will. Not like me.” Vince now turns to Triple H. “Now sign the damn document. I want you out of this family once and for all.”

 

Triple H snatches up the pen and signs. As he finishes, Vince leans down and says; “And now that you’re no longer staining the name of McMahon, I want to wish you the best of luck this Sunday in your World Title match. Because it’s going to be the last one you’ll ever get.” Triple H stands up so fast, he kicks the chair out from underneath himself. “Oh, threaten me all you like, Hunter. With my wife on a leave of absence, and my having purchased my daughter’s interest in the WWF, all I have left to do to consolidate my control over this company once and for all is to get my divorce finalized, which should happen by WrestleMania. And when I finally have what I built back in my control, I’m going to make sure you’re out of my company as well as my family!”

 

Before Triple H can do anything, Guerrero sucker punches Triple H. Shane goes for Guerrero, but gets kicked in the crotch by Trish; Guerrero, meanwhile, puts the boots to Triple H, then sets him up on the table, climbs the turnbuckles and frog splashes him through it. Vince, busy getting in a few kicks on his son, stops to laugh in Triple H’s face and leaves with his escorts, laughing while his daughter cries amidst the mess of her fallen brother and now ex-husband.

 

Steven Richards and the RTC escort Bull Buchanan & The Goodfather to the ring as they prepare for their match against the APA, with possession of the Stephanie McMahon sex tape on the line. Richards is reluctant to relinquish possession of the tape, but the referee forces him to abide by the stipulations. Not surprisingly, the four fighters, not adept at catch-as-catch-can wrestling, dispense with formalities and get to brawling. When the APA start their late-match comeback, Richards, seeing his team is on the brink, starts to slide in. Val Venis slides in with him, but the crowd is stunned to see Venis clock Richards, kicking him down to the floor. Bradshaw and Faarooq get over the surprise faster then Venis’ former RTC teammates; Bradshaw almost takes Goodfather’s head off with the Clothesline From Hell and scores the winning pinfall. Together, the threesome send the RTC packing and seize control of the videotape.

 

Steve Austin enters the ring for his match against Raven. Unfortunately for Raven, Austin’s too keyed up to be toppled, and Raven goes down in under a minute. But on the stage watching is Eddie Guerrero, grinning like a crocodile. Guerrero gestures a throwing motion, the message behind it clear: Austin is a target on Sunday. And in the back, watching on a monitor is The Rock, an opponent of Austin in both the Rumble and in their unsanctioned Iron Circle fight; Rock watches with an _expression of sad resignation.

 

Shane McMahon, still smarting from his beatdown, bumps into Commissioner Regal as he is escorted through the halls, on his way to the ring with the kitty to draw lots for the Rumble. “Regal–”

 

“I really don’t have the time, Shane,” Regal says hurriedly.

 

“All I want is a match tonight.”

 

“You already have one, against that toerag Eddie Guerrero.”

 

“I know. I want you to change it. Eddie and my dad.”

 

Regal shakes his head. “I’m not sending you out there to die, young man.”

 

“Then pick a partner for me. I don’t care. Just give me the both of them. Please.”

 

Regal dismisses Shane with a wave. “Fine, I don’t have to argue. You’ll get your match. Excuse me.” Regal pushes Shane aside and heads for the ring, with attendants carrying the gold spinning tumbler behind him. When Smackdown comes back from commercial, Regal is turning the tumbler, ready to draw the first number when “No Chance In Hell” brings out Vince and his entourage again. “And just what can I do for you?” asks Regal without bothering to hide his irritation.

 

“Oh, I’m just here to bear witness to the proceedings.” Vince’s smile drops away. “I don’t trust you, Regal. You’re a stooge for Linda. Until I have control of this company, I have to tolerate you, so since I have to put up with you, I intend to make sure you run this company aboveboard.”

 

Regal ignores Vince’s rantings and addresses the public. “As is tradition, the WWF shall be conducting random drawings for the bulk of the Royal Rumble slots in secret, to be revealed as the Rumble proceeds. Tonight, however, I shall be drawing the names of three of the thirty Royal Rumble competitors,” explains Regal. “One of these three men will be the lucky participant who draws number thirty, while the other two will have the bad luck to start first and second. I shall draw the lot for number 30 first.” Regal stirs the kitty a couple more times, opens up the hatch, pulls out a ball and cracks it open. “The WWF Superstar who will come in thirtieth is … Rikishi!” The crowd gives a warm cheer for the dancing Samoan’s good fortune, although it’s obvious the reception would be bigger were the name drawn someone like Steve Austin. “Now then,” Regal continues, pulling out another ball, “the person who shall come out as the number one entrant is …” Regal pauses, his _expression darkening. When he speaks again, his voice is somber. “The number one entrant is Shane McMahon.” A ripple goes through the crowd as the ramifications of Shane going first hits–his whole purpose, safeguarding against Vince spoiling or tilting the results of the Royal Rumble by his presence, gone. Next to Regal, Vince and company laugh heartily. Regal takes a deep breath and draws the third bubble. “And the person entering as number two is …” Regal cracks the ball open, sees the name, blinks, reads it again, then looks up, a devilish grin on his lips. “The number two participant will be …” He turns to his left and says; “you!”

 

Vince’s laughter stops abruptly and is replaced with slack-jawed silence. Regal puts the slip of paper in Vince’s hand, but he is too shocked to move; Trish grabs it out of his hands and looks at it, confirming that it indeed does say Vince’s name, condemning him to face off against Shane, alone, for two long minutes, his master plan reduced to ashes. Regal grabs Vince’s limp hand and shakes it, snidely adding; “Best of luck, Vincent. You’ll need it,” and leaves the stunned Chairman in the ring.

 

Kane comes to the ring for his match against his half-brother, Undertaker, but before the match starts, he grabs a microphone and makes a statement; “I have defeated and dominated almost everyone in this company. I want what is coming to me. Next Monday, I want Kurt Angle and the World Wrestling Federation Title!”

 

Angle comes out immediately and gets right in Kane’s space. “So Mr. McMahon has it out for me know, huh? He sends you, this big, goofy looking guy in red footy pajamas to come take his title? Geez, after a steel cage match with The Rock and a fatal-four-way this Sunday, you’d think I’d made someone mad!” Kane remains non-plussed by Angle’s rant. “No. I’m taking next Monday off. And you haven’t done anyth–”

 

Just as quick as a hiccup, Kane grabs Angle by the throat and goes for a chokeslam; Angle somehow floats out of it, slips behind and nails an Angle Slam, but Kane sits up on impact. Angle stands there, mouth in an O, unsure whether to fight or flee, when Undertaker comes out, shoves Angle aside and goes after his brother. Angle, however, upset at Undertaker for pushing him aside and more upset at Kane for getting up after the Angle Slam, gets behind Kane and nails another one, stopping the match almost as quickly as it started. Kane again sits up out of Angle’s finisher, but a little slower this time; however, he stands up right into a chokehold from Undertaker, who drills his brother with a chokeslam. Kane rolls out, fazed but not defeated, staggering up the ramp, swearing vengeance on both of them. As Undertaker trades insults with his brother, Angle comes up behind the American Badass and plants him with the Angle Slam. Like his brother, Undertaker gets up from it, scaring Angle so badly, he drops out of the ring and starts running up the ramp until he sees Kane is still there. Angle hops the barrier and leaves through the crowd instead.

 

Jericho meets up with the APA in their office, where the duo has a TV and VCR set-up, watching the tape. “Well?” asks Jericho. “What’s going on?”

 

Faarooq and Bradshaw look at each other, both apprehensive. Bradshaw stumbles over his tongue, so Faarooq speaks up. “I, uh, think you better look at this.” Jericho takes a seat and watches the video, his jaw coming unhinged as it plays out. Faarooq puts a hand on his shoulder. “If you need a minute …”

 

Suddenly, Jericho’s face becomes steely, resolute. “All I need is that tape.” Jericho grabs Bradshaw’s and then Faarooq’s hands for handshakes. “Thank you. I owe you both.”

 

Upon getting in the ring, Vince shows that he has been spending more time in the weeks leading up to the Rumble flirting with Trish Stratus and sitting around then training, as he is easily outmatched by his son, who shows he’s taken the business of being in the Rumble very seriously, beating up on his father at will. Guerrero makes sure to bail out his boss, his expertise outweighing Shane’s rookie exuberance. Shane eventually gets the tag to Triple H, who cleans house on Guerrero, but Vince sneaks in and gets a timely crotch-shot to fell the former WWF Champion. In the ensuing melee, Guerrero and Triple H end up brawling to the outside, where Triple H gets ambushed by Guerrero’s fellow soldiers, while Vince utilizes another shot to the groin to drop his son and get the tainted victory. But, as much as seeing the older (and more cavalier) Vince get the pin on his son is a surprise, the bigger shock comes from Triple H’s three opponents at the Rumble all coming down and siding with each other to fight back Vince’s army. When the smoke clears, the four opponents drive Vince’s army back, only to realize who they’re standing next to in the end; Smackdown fades to black as the foursome start to brawl with each other.

 

Royal Rumble: Jan. 21, ’01

 

After the introductions and rundown of the card, cameras immediately cut to the parking lot, where a bunch of cars and motorcycles, manned by barking, smoking bikers, are gathered in a circle in the parking garage by the arena. Inside stands Stone Cold, still in his street clothes, and Undertaker, patiently waiting the arrival of The Rock. Austin stands perfectly still, eyes on the only path into the Iron Circle, while the bikers hoot, holler and whoop it up. After a few minutes, though, it becomes obvious Rock isn’t coming just yet, and they cut away to an undercard match. When it ends, they cut back to the parking lot, only to find the situation unchanged: Austin, standing as still as a statue, Undertaker conversing with his biker friends, and no Rock.

 

After almost two whole months of taunting, attacks, deceit, avoidance and the stealing of their titles, Benoit and Regal enter their WWF Tag Title match with a raging fire in their bellies. Malenko and Saturn are caught off guard by Benoit’s and Regal’s fury, and even cheap tactics and shortcuts don’t do enough to swing the momentum in favor of The Radicals. But as Benoit is looking to cinch on the Crossface on Malenko and score the victory, the TitanTron changes from in-ring action the Stephanie McMahon hotel video. The scene, so familiar from repeated airings, plays out, only this time, it continues past the cut-off point everyone is familiar with … which is when Stephanie’s “guest” turns around and winks at the camera, providing a clear shot of the face: it is of Chris Benoit. The revelation brings the match to a standstill; Regal looks dejectedly at Benoit, who can offer no defense or rebuttal. Without saying a word, Regal drops off the apron and walks away, leaving Benoit alone with The Radicals, who quickly seize the numbers advantage to pound Benoit into unconsciousness for the victory. Michael Cole catches up with Regal in the back, but Regal brushes off his questions and locks the door to his office.

 

Another check on the Iron Circle match shows the same unfortunate scene as before: no Rock. Austin gulps down a beer (and, judging from the cans around him, not the first) and paces inside the circle. Undertaker approaches Austin, but Austin’s hostile glare encourages Undertaker to take a step back. The cameras go back to another undercard match, and when they come back, a WWF official approaches to inform them that the WWF Title match is next, and then the Royal Rumble, and if they don’t report to the backstage area immediately, they will both forfeit their matches. Relucantly, both men leave the Iron Circle with a grim sense of disappointment.

 

The WWF Title match comes on next, the last regular match before the Rumble. With well over a month of pinfalls, ambushes and taunts between them, the heat amongst the four Superstars is off the charts; Triple H and Undertaker start brawling before either Jericho or Angle get to the ring, and when they do, the fight looks like a mini-Rumble, with shifting allegiances forming and dissolving at the drop of a hat. The only new dynamic comes from the evening’s earlier revelation of Jericho’s innocence, which turns the Triple H/Jericho rivalry on its ear; no longer does Triple H go after Jericho like a homicidal maniac. In fact, Triple H proves so distracted by the ramifications of the videotape’s evidence, it ends up costing him the match, as Triple H gets nailed with an Angle Slam for the pin while Jericho, with his back turned to the action, fights Undertaker for a Walls Of Jericho. Angle eschews his normal in-ring celebration, knowing that lingering will earn him a beatdown from the irate Undertaker; he quickly heads for the back, leaving Triple H and Jericho in the ring, the tension between them palpable. Triple H, dejected and visibly disturbed, leaves the ring first, his head hanging, while Jericho takes in the apologetic cheers of the crowd. Undertaker tears up the ringside area, frustrated with his failure, before leaving.

 

The evening concludes with the Royal Rumble, which has father and son squaring off as the first two entrants. Shane attacks his father like a man possessed, tackling him and raining down blows on his head for two solid minutes until the horn blows for the third entrant. The crowd’s happy mood goes right down the tubes when #3 is Vince’s chief lieutenant, Eddie Guerrero, who mauls Shane and tosses him. Guerrero and Vince shake hands in the ring and wait out the remaining time on the clock until the fourth man is announced, being Al Snow. Snow gets beaten down and tossed by the duo. The fifth entrant, Funaki, gets tossed almost as quick as he comes in, sending the crowd into a tizzy. A sixth entrant, Scotty 2 Hotty, gets dumped quick, and the crowd is almost ready to riot; when the seventh person comes out and it’s The Rock, cups and garbage start flying. Guerrero and Vince offer their hands and Vince assures the Rumble is all but in his hands. Rock takes Guerrero’s hand, then pulls him in and drills him with a Rock Bottom. Vince stands, mouth agape, as Rock picks up Guerrero and launches him over the top, leaving Rock and Vince. Vince stammers and backpedals, hoping for mercy; instead, he gets right hands that back him up to the ropes. The last punch, Rock’s trademark spit-in-the-hand punch, sends Vince up and over the top and to the floor. Test comes out as the eighth man, and Rock dispatches with him quickly and with a minimum of fuss. The ninth entrant finally turns the Rumble into a real contest: it is Kane, Vince’s one-man wrecking machine. Slowly but surely, the ring fills with entrants. Kane gets numerous eliminations, but none of them his primary target, The Rock, while Rocky fends off all sorts of comers to keep in the match. It isn’t until the twenty-eighth entrant that things suddenly explode: it is Stone Cold Steve Austin. The ring, stuffed with 9 people already, parts like the Red Sea as Austin makes a beeline for The Rock. Only Kane gets in the way, who eats a quick Stunner; when Kane sits up from one, he gets a second and tossed unceremoniously. The rest of the entrants maintain their distance from Austin and Rock as Austin takes Rock down and starts whaling on him. Steve Blackman makes the mistake of trying to stop Austin from going overboard and gets tossed for his efforts. As the last of the entrants are brought in, and one by one, the participants thin out, the two favorites to win are Rock and Austin, although Austin makes no attempt to eliminate Rock and focuses on inflicting pain, while Rocky works more on trying to put Austin down long enough to catch a breather. And when the final horn blows to usher in the last participant, it is only Rocky and Austin in the ring, trading punches; Jim Ross makes the announcement to the home viewers that Rikishi is not present for unknown reasons, and that he will be replaced by a surprise entrant named The Golden Warrior. The mystery participant comes out in a full gold body suit, covering arms, legs and torso, with a golden mask covering his head. With Rock and Austin busy clobbering each other into submission, neither notice the entry of this unusual and unknown entrant, who sneaks up behind the both of them as they get near the ropes and dumps them both. Rock and Austin sit on the floor, stunned, looking up at the mystery man as he celebrates his unprecidented and unbelievable victory. The crowd reacts with a mixture of revulsion and shock as the realization that, as long as Kurt Angle makes it through the next two months, he will face a total unknown in the main event of Wrestlemania, while Austin and Rock will be left out in the cold.

Raw: Jan. 22, ’01

 

 

Crash and Grandmaster Sexay are set to square off to open Raw when the glass shatters. Without a word said, Austin Stuns both guys, then helps each one of them to their feet, only to Stun them again. Austin paces around the ring, stomping and snarling, ready to kill. “Last night, at the Royal Rumble, Stone Cold Steve Austin got screwed not once but twice, and I’m pissed off!” he barks. “First, there’s that coward piece of crap Rock. He ducks me for months, he makes me work my ass off to get a match, and he doesn’t even show up to the match he asks for!” The crowd boos this. “Rock, I hope you’re watching, you gutless bastard, so if you are, listen real good: if you thought what I did before was bad, it ain’t nothing compared to what I’m going to do to you now. If you wanna get out of this alive, you will face me at No Way Out, Rock, or I will go to my grave trying to put you in yours!” The crowd cheers this with almost psychotic zeal. “And then we got the Royal Rumble, where I’m just a couple seconds away from tossing that yellow sumbitch Rock over the top rope so I can roll into WrestleMania and win back my World Wrestling Federation Title, the thing I live for, the thing I wrestle for every damn day of my life … and some silly lookin’ sumbitch in gold pajamas who got in at the last minute comes up and dumps me out!” Austin looks right in the camera. “I hope you can hear through your stupid little ski mask there, son, cause I’m gonna say this once: it don’t matter who the hell you are, ’cause I will find you, and I will stomp a mudhole in your ass and walk it dry, and that’s the bottom line, ’cause Stone Cold said so!”

 

Triple H enters the dressing room and runs into Chris Jericho. For a few long, tension-filled moments, the two rivals stare each other down like old gunslingers, inches from each other. Finally, Triple H extends a hand, which Jericho regards with skepticism.

 

“I don’t like you, Jericho,” growls Triple H. “But I do owe you an apology.” Jericho’s eyes never leaves the lock on Triple H’s, and his hand never rises to meet Triple H’s. Triple H sighs. “Look, we have to be on the same page tonight. We got a tag match against Chris Benoit and Steven Richards. I don’t know if those two are connected, and I don’t know why they played us for fools, but I do know that if we don’t go out there as a team, we’re gonna get beat, and after the past few months, I don’t wanna give them another moment over us to gloat about.”

 

Jericho looks down at Triple H’s hand, then back up in his eyes and finally returns the handshake. Triple H shakes it and goes to release, but Jericho squeezes and pulls Triple H back. Jericho and Triple H exchange harsh, hostile stares before Jericho says through gritted teeth: “I don’t like you either, Hunter. And because someone exploited our hatred, I got turned into the WWF’s most hated man. Tonight, we’ll have our little tag match. But I owe you something, Hunter, and it ain’t an apology.” Jericho throws Triple H’s hand aside and turns his back on his long-time nemesis.

 

Val Venis joins William Regal for a tag match against the Right To Censor’s Bull Buchanan & Goodfather. The announcers make mention of Regal’s embarrassment in endorsing Benoit for so long only to see him turn out to be a snake, and acknowledge that rumors are circulating regarding him being on shaky ground with the board of directors. Before the RTC come down, Venis grabs a microphone. “People ask me wherever I go, ‘What’s going on, Val? Explain it!’ Well, this is what The Big Valbowski can tell you: I was confused, I was frustrated, and Steven Richards sucked me in when I was at my weakest. But when Steven Richards helped Chris Benoit with his scheme, I knew the line had been crossed. I knew they were doing things The Big Valbowski just didn’t agree with.” Venis turns to Regal with his head hung. “I can’t apologize enough, Commissioner Regal. Not to you, or Stephanie McMahon, or Chris Jericho, or Triple H. But I want you to know that I know I won’t stop trying to prove to you and everyone I’ve helped to hurt and the WWF fans that this is the real me. Now let’s kick some Right To Censor butt!” Regal accepts Venis’ hand to the delight of the crowd. Unfrotunately, the match’s outcome isn’t as rosy a moment, as Richards makes sure, via timely interference, that Venis and Regal take the loss, and Venis and Regal get their brains bashed in.

 

Vince and his entourage of Trish Stratus, Eddie Guerrero and Kane walk into the dressing room and asks that everyone leave, save for The Rock and Rikishi. Rock and Rikishi eyeball Vince as the crowd, whether they’re fully dressed or not, take their leave. When the room clears, Vince’s eyes narrow to lethal slits, aimed first at Rikishi. Rikishi immediately speaks up, knowing what Vince wants. “My flight got switched last night. I don’t know why, but somehow, my flight got bumped and I couldn’t get another one.”

 

Vince glares at Rikishi for a few seconds, actually making the hefty Samoan take a step back, then directs his glare to Rock. Rock, however, won’t have any of it, and holds up a hand. “If you’re here to scold The Rock, if you’re here to badger The Rock, The Rock says you can take your attitude and take turns stuffing it up each others’ asses!” The crowd likes that (even if it is from The Rock), but The Rock doesn’t stop. “You’re in here to say ‘Why didn’t you go to the Iron Circle match, Rock? Why’d you ruin the Rumble, Rock? Why’d you cost me money, Rock?’ Well, The Rock doesn’t need to tell you why, Vince, because you know why. And The Rock knows you know why. And The Rock knows that you know that The Rock knows why. There The Rock was, lacing his boots, ready to get this crap with Stone Cold Steve Austin over and done with. Ready. And what happens? As The Rock is going out the door, the door closes on The Rock’s head. And when The Rock wakes up, the door won’t open. And the door doesn’t open until a bunch of referees and officials cut it open with bolt cutters. Who would do that, Vince? Who would do that? Damn near everybody in this company wants this fight to happen. The people want it to happen. William Regal, the Commissioner, he wants it to happen. Even Rock’s wife and daddy, they want it to happen. Only person that don’t is you.” Rock steps back, crossing his arms. “Go ahead, Vince. Punish The Rock. Make The Rock pay.”

 

Vince’s lip curls up as he glares at The Rock. Finally, breaking free of Trish’s arm, he steps forward into The Rock’s space. “I did what I did last night to protect you, Rock. It’s what Mick Foley would’ve wanted, and it’s what this company needed.” Vince looks Rock up and down, looking into Rock’s eyes with a disgusted sneer. “But I can see I’ve been wasting my time these past few months. You’re just as pathetic as Triple H or Undertaker or any of the other WWF Superstars who don’t appreciate all I’ve done for them. Maybe when I finish taking over this company once and for all, I’ll make you the first piece of trash I take out instead of Triple H.” Guerrero comes up and whispers something in Vince’s ear. Slowly, a malicious smile spreads on Vince’s lips. “My associate here has given me an idea, Rock. Since you obviously have no appreciation for what I can provide you, and since your fat friend here can’t be bothered to deliver on a promised WWF appearence, I have no need for you. But to be fair and give you a sporting chance, you’ll take part tonight in a three-on-two handicap match; if you and your friend here can win, you’ll keep your jobs.” Vince laughs as he and his cadre leave the room, leaving Rock and Rikishi to talk strategy against an unknown trio of opponents.

 

Triple H and Jericho stand uneasily together in the ring as wait their opponents, Chris Benoit and Steven Richards. Kevin Kelly tries to get a word with Benoit on why he lied to everyone, including his friend, William Regal, Triple H and the WWF audience, and why he set up Chris Jericho to take the fall; Benoit gives Kelly the brush-off, chuckles ominously and heads down to the ring with his partner. Triple H and Jericho’s fragile partnership ends up disintegrating in the face of the unified mission of Richards and Benoit–that of extermination of their opponents–and a mistimed spinning heel kick from Jericho blasts Triple H in the mush, setting him up for a Steven Kick and the pin by Benoit. Benoit and Richards leave the ring, enjoying their triumph as Triple H and Jericho argue over who cost their team the match.

 

24 hours after successfully defending his WWF Title in a fatal-four-way, Kurt Angle finds himself in the ring with one of his previous night’s opponents, Undertaker, in a non-title match. The assumption, per Jim Ross, is that a win here will get Undertaker another WWF Title shot (this one a one-on-one match), and Undertaker fights like the stipulation is in effect, taking it to Angle with intensity that puts the champion on the defensive. Angle fights back with a slow but steady strategy of chipping away at Undertaker’s knees, bringing the much taller and stronger Undertaker down to the mat. But Undertaker’s capacity for pain keeps Angle from getting the duke, and helps Undertaker find enough energy to bring the match back under his control. Undertaker’s advantage evaporates, however, when Eddie Guerrero and Kane come down to the ring and attack Undertaker, drawing the DQ. Angle takes exception to the interference, which earns him not one but two chokeslams from the Big Red Machine, while Guerrero drills Undertaker with a frog splash. Guerrero gives Undertaker and Angle a few choice words about bucking Vince before leaving them on the mat, broken and hurting.

 

The fight for continued employment takes the main event slot, dividing the crowd; on the one hand, the desire to send The Rock, the most reviled man (next to Vince) in the company, packing, but on the other hand, the thought of Austin getting his vengeance is too sweet. Rock and Rikishi stand in the ring, awaiting their opponents; two of the three appear, being The Dudleys, who look none too thrilled at being sent to the ring as executioners. Once in the ring, their partner appears; it is the Big Show, and unlike Bubba Ray and D-Von, the mammoth man looks hungry for blood. The Dudleys let Big Show do as much of the work as possible, manhandling the surprised Rock and Rikishi and battering them down. Neither he, nor Rock or Rikishi notice Steve Austin walking down the ramp, but the crowd and The Dudleys notice; the brothers immediately distract the referee, while Austin jumps in the ring and pops off a Stunner on Big Show. Rikishi, the legal man, gets the pinfall. The Dudleys drop away and leave the ringside area as Rock and Rikishi celebrate … until Austin nails Rock with a Stunner. Austin gives Rock some trash-talking on the mat until Rikishi interferes, which earns him a Stunner. Austin salutes the crowd with upraised fingers in the corners, but as he comes down off the last turnbuckle, Big Show stands up, wraps his hand around Austin’s throat and plants him with the chokeslam.

 

Smackdown: Jan. 25, ’01

 

Smackdown opens on Vince McMahon, standing in front of his minimal audience in a locker room, now expanded to include Big Show, giving his troops a pep talk like a general about to send his troops into battle. Trish Stratus stands by his side, batting her eyelashes and staring at Vince as if he was a vision of heaven.

 

“Tonight, we have the chance to strike a fatal blow to our enemies!” Vince barks, veins standing out on his forehead and neck. He looks at Big Show. “You, Big Show, will team up with Edge and Christian, and together, you will wipe out those damn traitorous Dudleys!” Vince looks at the collected Radicals and Kane. “And you four … tonight, you have Chris Jericho, that snot-nosed little punk who had the temerity to turn down my endorsement! You have that loose cannon, Undertaker! You have my no-good, rotten bastard ex-son-in-law Triple H! And you have that whining, uncooperative so-called champion, Kurt Angle! I want the four of you to exterminate them! Leave no bone unbroken! Leave no muscle untorn! Excise these four cancers from the body WWF, and we shall reign supreme!”

 

“What about The Rock?” bellows Big Show, cutting into the revelry like a knife through butter.

 

Vince’s _expression darkens, a crocodile’s grin slowly spreading across his face. “I already have plans in motion to ensure that tonight will be the last night we ever have to ‘smell what The Rock is cooking’, gentlemen. Concern yourself only with the tasks at hand.”

 

“What about Stone Cold Steve Austin?” asks Dean Malenko.

 

“And Commissioner Regal?” adds Perry Saturn.

 

Vince’s face darkens even further. Unlike before, there is no smile; just the stoic, steely determination of Vince McMahon. “William Regal’s power base is eroding by the day. He cannot contain the chaos that is swallowing this company whole, and he no longer has my wife or son to shield him. He is an impotent figurehead. As for Stone Cold Steve Austin … I am saving Stone Cold for last. Once we have purged the WWF of its toxins tonight, we will focus our efforts on Stone Cold Steve Austin collectively, and finish the job that got started in the Joe Louis Arena two Novembers ago!”

 

Val Venis and Chyna lead off the in-ring action for Raw, squaring off against RTC members Ivory and Steven Richards. Venis’ quest for atonement comes through in his aggressive wrestling, punishing Richards as if every move or blow landed is directed at himself for his misguided following of Richards’ vision. Richards’ back-up in the RTC help cement the tainted victory, but Richards and his cohorts get a surprise by the appearance of the APA, who run off the geeky foursome before they can lay into Venis and Chyna.

 

The first phase of Vince’s plan, the punishment of the Dudleys for failing to work with Big Show, gets moving, as they square off in a handicap match. But the ring announcer springs a surprise (a surprise even to him, as Trish Stratus runs down to ringside to deliver new index cards): the match will be a table elimination match, taking the already stacked odds against The Dudleys and putting them practically out of reach. Even interference from Edge & Christian rivals The Hardy Boys aren’t enough to turn the tide, as D-Von goes through a table first, the victim of a chokeslam. Bubba lasts longer, but mostly because Show dictates that Edge & Christian go and punish D-Von a little more while Show works over Bubba; Bubba fights back as best he can, but also falls victim to a table-enhanced chokeslam. Edge & Christian get off Conchairtos on their rivals to add injury to insult, fulfilling Vince’s first phase.

 

Commissioner William Regal approaches the ring with none of the haughty attitude he normally carries. The crowd gives him a supportive “Regal” chant, but it does nothing to lift his spirits. “I come before you tonight a humbled man,” he says, his head bowed. “Despite my best efforts, I have failed to provide to either the WWF Superstars, the employees or the fans of this company the kind of Commissioner that was promised. That I unknowingly allowed and supported such a vile, reprehensible cretin such as Chris Benoit will be a shame I shall not soon live down, and only serves as an example of my failures.” The crowd is still as Regal pauses; the announcers speculate wildly on whether or not Regal is leading up to a resignation. “And with Linda McMahon taking an indefinite leave of absence, and her son Shane doing the same, I am left without any allies to counter Vince McMahon’s assumption of command, now that he has decided to step away from the ring once again.”

 

Before Regal can get into what is obviously his resignation, Triple H’s music hits, still in his street clothes. As soon as Triple H’s music dies away, Austin’s music hits. Regal faces both of the iconic superstars, pulling at his collar and stammering. “G-g-gentlemen, I, uh … um …”

 

“If you think we’re out here to beat your ass, you got it all wrong,” says Triple H calmly. “I’m not mad at you over Chris Benoit.”

 

Austin steps up, which makes Regal take a clumsy step back. “Hey, just, just calm down,” says Austin soothingly. “Me and Hunter, we don’t got much in common, but we agree on this; Vince is gone crazy.”

 

“You can’t quit, William. Vince is insane. I mean, he’s turning on people left and right … you saw what he had done to the Dudleys. I think …” Triple H pauses, scanning the arena before looking Regal dead in the eyes. “I think he may have been behind Chris Benoit and that tape. And maybe behind Steve’s hit and run.”

 

“Gentlemen,” says Regal, “you can’t go and throw around baseless accusations like that.”

 

“Aw, come on, William, don’t tell me you ain’t thought about it!” says Austin. “Think about it! Everything’s happened since I came back in October; who’s made off like a bandit? He keeps me and Rocky apart and puts Undertaker in the middle of it. That keeps us busy. He sets up Jericho to keep Triple H busy, and brings in Benoit and them Right To Censor jackasses to muck it up. He gets Stephanie all scared to be here, signs her part of the company over, wants to divorce his wife and sends her packing, and Shane goes off to help mom!”

 

“Don’t you get it, William?” says Triple H. “That crotchety old son of a bitch … he’s playing us.”

 

“And you men want to help me. Out of the goodness of your hearts.” Triple H and Austin gesture in the affirmative. “Right. Because both of you are charitable, decent men. Let’s not kid ourselves; you, Hunter, are a scoundrel through and through. Nothing you do is for anyone other then yourself. And you, Steven, are a ruffian, a thug. Why, I believe one time, didn’t you even attack your good friend, Jim Ross? I appreciate your kind words, but I don’t appreciate you thinking I’m daft. What do you want?”

 

Austin and Triple H look at each other, exchanging glances that confirm Regal’s assumption is correct. Triple H speaks on behalf of the two. “Well, William, you’re right. I am a rotten son of a bitch. Steve is a cold-hearted bastard. And we ain’t just doing this to be Boy Scouts. But if we can’t get what we want if Vince gets in a position to muscle you out of the Commissionership. So, if you agree to this … you give us what we want–”

 

“And we’ll keep your ass out of trouble,” adds Austin.

 

“So what is it you’re asking for?”

 

“I want Chris Benoit at No Way Out,” states Triple H. “No disqualifications, no count-outs. Me and him.”

 

Regal looks from Triple H to Austin. “You know what I want, William. I want Rocky. I wanna hurt him. I wanna make him bleed. I wanna beat his ass and I want it all legal.”

 

“There isn’t an official in the company that’ll step into that ring with you and The Rock, Steve. And if Vince has his way, The Rock won’t even be employed by No Way Out.”

 

“You leave that to me. Just find someone to be the ref, and I’ll handle the rest.”

 

Regal sighs and offers a hand. “I suppose you don’t leave me much of a choice, do you?” Triple H and Austin exchange handshakes with the Commissioner, sealing the deal as Vince watches it all unfold on a monitor in back and seethes.

 

The first of two main events bows, although exactly what it is is a mystery to The Rock. As The Rock takes to the ring, Vince (with Trish, now changed into an outfit even sluttier then before) comes out on stage with a microphone. “Rock, you’re no doubt wondering whom you’re wrestling tonight. Well, you see, I was highly unsatisfied by the result of your last match, wherein I placed your job on the line should you fail to defeat your opponents. I say disappointed, because it’s obvious you conspired with that alcohol-addled redneck Steve Austin to help you keep your job. But the thing is, Rock, you failed. You see … you didn’t win. Rikishi won. So, as far as I’m concerned, you’re back to square one.” The crowd, despite the scene being between two hated people, boos Vince’s megalomania. “Shut up! This man is a criminal, a vicious, heartless psychopath, and you’re booing me? What kind of–” Trish gets in front of Vince and puts a finger on his lips, silencing him. She whispers something as a smile spreads across his lips. She returns to his side, hanging on his arm like a groupie. “I apologize. That was rude of me. As I was saying, Rock, as far as I’m concerned, you’re back to square one. You will have to fight for your job tonight. And this time, you’ll have no partner to get the winning pinfall for you, so, if you fail to beat your opponents … oops! I was going to leave that for a surprise! Oh, well, come on out!”

 

Vince takes a step aside to accomodate Rock’s opponents walking by; Raven and Tazz come out, with Raven pushing a shopping cart full of weapons. Vince grins and points out the obvious: “Oh, did I fail to mention this is a hardcore match? Good luck!” Rock swings at Tazz and Raven, scoring some early hits, but facing two guys armed with weapons quickly proves too much to overcome, and the match becomes a protracted, but unstoppable, mugging. As The Rock’s hopes of continued employment vanish under a hailstorm of garbage can lids and cookie sheets, Steve Austin jumps into the fray, scrambling the brains of Tazz and Raven with a steel chair. Vince watches from the ramp, horrified as Austin beats The Rock’s opponents into unconsciousness, then puts Rock on top of Tazz for the three-count, saving Rock’s job once again. As officials come down to help Rock to his feet, Austin turns to the stage and gives Vince a pair of middle fingers, then turns around again and, while Rock is being held up by medics, blasts Rock in the head with the chair to the delight of the crowd. Officials immediately move between Austin and Rock; Austin backs away peacefully while medics continue to help Rock, Raven and Tazz get to their feet.

 

And, backstage, the winner of the Royal Rumble, bedecked in his golden body suit and mask, watches silently as Austin is escorted from ringside.

 

The second half of the main event, the eight-man tag, concludes Raw, and the story, like all of the confrontations between Vince’s troops and their enemies, is the unity of Vince’s gang against the individual agendas of their opponents. Both Angle and Undertaker, not the best of friends, go after Kane, a single goal that often puts them at odds. The residual enmity between Triple H and Jericho turns their fight against The Radicals into two one-on-three matches instead of a unified forced. Somehow, though, as the match proceeds, the all-out aggression of the anti-Vince team puts Vince’s thugs on their heels, and while the other six men are busy brawling, Undertaker has Guerrero ready for the Last Ride. But Guerrero comes prepared and, as he’s being pulled up for the powerbomb, produces brass knuckles and clocks Undertaker in the forehead. Angle, the legal man for his team, manages to get in the ring and nail Guerrero, but turns around into a chokeslam from Kane. The Big Red Machine then picks up Angle and drops him with a Tombstone and scores the pin for his team. The Big Show comes down to assist in dismanteling Triple H and Chris Jericho. By the time Smackdown fades to black, the McMahon army has totally dominated and destroyed the opposition, leaving four broken bodies strewn about the ringside area.

 

Raw: Jan. 29, ’01

 

Vince McMahon strides to the ring with Trish Stratus on his arm, a smile so boastful and triumphant, one would think he’d just been elected President. The crowd receives him with unbridled hatred, but Vince shows no effect. “I know the reception you’re giving me is rooted in jealousy,” he boasts, “because only I, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, could execute such a flawless, brilliant scheme as I did last week on Smackdown! None of you could even create, let alone bring to fruition, a plan that single-handedly eliminated The Dudleys, Triple H, Chris Jericho, Undertaker and Kurt Angle!” Vince’s jubilation disappears as he takes on a mockingly mournful tone. “However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the failure to excise the tumor that is The Rock from the WWF. Fortunately, I will be dealing, once and for all, with this problem tonight, as The Rock will–”

 

The music of WWF Champion Kurt Angle breaks Vince’s prideful boasting. Vince looks horrified to see Angle come down to the ring, looking uncharacteristically angry. “What did I ever do to you, Mr. McMahon?” demands Angle. “I mean, sheesh! I never kidnapped your daughter like Triple H or Undertaker. I never ran someone over like The Rock. I never attacked women and put them through tables like The Dudleys. I’m an Olympic Gold Medalist! I’m WWF Champion! I’m a hero to millions!”

 

Vince collects himself and lays a hand on Angle’s shoulder. “Kurt, Kurt, Kurt. I understand you’re upset about last week. You’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kurt. The WWF is going through … some changes, just like I am: new woman, new outlook on life, new friends. And you’re just a symbol of everything that needs to be purged in this company. You’re … I mean, Kurt, let’s face it.” Vince shrugs, smiling suspiciously. “You’re a big, whiny, crying dork. And that’s not what this company needs as champion.”

 

With that, Kane, having come down the ramp as Vince spoke, slides in the ring. Angle, however, turns around in time to block Kane’s punches and nails punches of his own. Vince and Trish bark at Kane to get the job done, but Angle ducks a wild swing by Kane, gets behind the monster and nails the Angle Slam. When Kane stands up from this, Angle knocks him out of the ring, and knocks him out, by ramming the title belt into Kane’s head. Angle turns around in time to catch Vince sneaking up to low-blow Angle; Vince staggers back, falling on his butt, begging for mercy. Angle grins the same suspicious grin that Vince used before Kane attacked. “You don’t deserve any mercy from us,” says Angle. Vince’s eyes go wide at the word “us”; he mouths it back, and gets his answer seconds later as all of his victims from Smackdown come to the ring, a human wall of judgment looking down on Vince. Vince scrambles backwards, under the bottom rope and out into the crowd, leaving Trish Stratus behind to face the jury. Chris Jericho tells The Dudleys to get the tables, while Triple H and Undertaker hold Trish down while Angle tears off her skirt and blouse, leaving her in a bra and panties. D-Von sets up the table and lifts Trish up to Bubba, positioned on the top turnbuckle; Trish screams all the way down, until Bubba drives her nearly naked body through the table with a top-rope powerbomb to the fanatical delight of the crowd.

 

The first match pits the revenge-minded Dudleys against two of Vince’s soldiers, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn, in a non-title match. With the McMahon faction rocked by their leader’s vanishing from the building and the phoenix-like rise of their entire hitlist, Malenko and Saturn are little more then rudderless ships while The Dudleys play the part of the stormy sea. Malenko & Saturn’s only saving grace is the appearance of Edge & Christian, determined to screw their long-time rivals, The Dudleys. This draws out The Hardy Boys, who go after Edge & Christian, making the ringside area just as chaotic as inside the ring, where Malenko and Saturn both fall victim to 3-D’s to give Bubba and D-Von a rousing victory.

 

As Regal is lacing his boots in the locker room in preparation for his tag team match, Chris Jericho walks in. Regal and Jericho exchange cool, uneasy glances before Regal finally offers a hand. “I misjudged you, Chris. We all did. I’m sorry.”

 

Jericho takes Regal’s hand and shakes it firmly. “You can do something for me to make it up,” says Jericho.

 

“I’m afraid every decision I make is a fight anymore, so I can’t make any promises.”

 

“I think this one’s easy, William. I want Chris Benoit at No Way Out.”

 

“I’m afraid Hunter is facing Chris Benoit at No Way Out. Perhaps at WrestleMan–”

 

“Not good enough, William. No Way Out. Me and Benoit. I owe him. He ruined my life for months. He made me look like I slept with … with …” Jericho shudders, unable to complete the sentence.

 

“I understand, Chris, how you might want vengeance on him. Chris Benoit suckered me in. He made me believe he was an honorable man. He humiliated me. I want revenge as much as either one of you, but–”

 

“Listen, William. I don’t care how you get it done. Just gimme Benoit, in the ring, at No Way Out, or I promise you, he won’t makeit to No Way Out.” Jericho turns on his heels and leaves Regal alone in the locker room to mull over the complicated scenario.

 

Regal’s opponents, Chris Benoit and Steven Richards, are approached on their way to the ring by Michael Cole, again looking for an explanation behind their conspiracy against Triple H, Stephanie and Chris Jericho. Benoit chuckles, while Richards, usually impossible to shut up, offers only the cryptic “It served its purpose,” as reason before heading to the ring, accompanied by the rest of the RTC. Regal and his partner, Val Venis, also come to the ring with escorts: the APA, Venis’ personal protection. Unfortunately for Venis and Regal, while the protection nullifies the presence of Richards’ cohorts, it doesn’t stop the cheating in the ring, as Benoit uses a handful of tights in addition to putting his feet on the ropes to get the pin on Venis.

 

The scheduled Big Show/Triple H match never gets underway, as Triple H blindsides Big Show backstage with a sledgehammer thrust to the back of the head, dropping the big man instantly. Triple H talks smack to Show’s unconscious body, but ends up on the floor beside him when Benoit Pearl Harbor’s him. Regal, close behind Benoit on the way back from the ring, immediately jumps in the fray, chopping away at Benoit until he drives the Intercontinental Champ from the scene.

 

Kevin Kelly meets up with The Rock backstage and asks about what he’ll do if Vince has his way and gets Rock fired. Rock raises an eyebrow and stares a hole through Kevin Kelly through his sunglasses.

 

“What will The Rock … do? What will … The Rock … do? No, The Rock wants to know what you’re gonna do. Are you going to stalk The Rock at home? Sit in The Rock’s rosebushes? Go through The Rock’s garbage? Break into The Rock’s house and sniff The Rock’s dirty laundry? Because, God knows, you already creep The Rock out here in the WWF. The Rock doesn’t even wanna–”

 

Rock’s typical anti-Kevin Kelly rant cuts off dead as Steve Austin walks up. Kevin Kelly actually trips over his own feet, trying to get to safer ground. Austin slowly crouches to pick up the dropped microphone, never taking his eyes off Rock. Slowly, security and officials creep up on the scene, ready in case it explodes into carnage. But Austin stays restrained, speaking slowly and deliberately.

 

“You ain’t gotta worry ’bout Vince McMahon firing you, Rock,” says Austin. “If there’s anyone that knows how to take care of Vince McMahon, it’s Stone Cold Steve Austin. I got over a year of my life stolen from me, and I’ll be damned if Vince McMahon’s gonna rob me of what I want. So you go to bed tonight and rest them beady little eyes, Rock, because Stone Cold’s got your back. That’s right, I’m gonna make sure you stick around, so that, come No Way Out,I can be the one to put you outta this business, Rock.” The Rock opens his mouth to rebut, but Austin drops the mic and walks away before Rock can get out a single syllable.

 

The main event sets Kane and Eddie Guerrero against Undertaker and Kurt Angle. While still not on the same page in many respects, Angle and Undertaker prove more formidable then they might’ve weeks before, thanks to their unified mission against Vince’s goons. Guerrero and Kane don’t roll over and die, but their usual swarming offensive capabilities are diffused by their opponents’ determination. It is the WWF Champion, in the end, who manages to overcome the power of Kane and the cheating of Guerrro to take the victory for his team, pinning Guerrero after an Angle Slam. Kane tries to get a few licks in on Angle, but Angle is ready and takes Kane down. Undertaker, likewise, gets a bit of revenge on Guerrero, splattering him with the Last Ride. Neither are as convincing a domination as the previous week’s wholesale slaughter provided, but for the anti-Vince campaign, it is a start.

 

Smackdown: Feb. 1, ’01

 

As Kane approaches the ring for a Hardcore Title defense, Michael Cole breaks the news that Kane has been granted a WWF Title match at No Way Out. Kane’s opponent, Crash, awaits him in the ring, looking like a prisoner being tied into the electric chair. For a few seconds, Kane allows Crash to try whatever he can, but the offense from Kane’s diminutive opponent amounts to little more then a mosquito bite on King Kong. Kane finally bores of the match and drills Crash into the mat with a chokeslam. But as Kane is picking up Crash for another chokeslam, Kurt Angle slides into the ring behind the monster hits an Angle Slam into a garbage can. Angle grabs the prone body of Crash and drapes him over Kane; the crowd comes out of their seats when the ref’s hand falls for a three-count.

 

Vince McMahon, pacing in the parking garage, smiles as he sees the headlights of Austin’s pick-up come down the ramp. Austin’s tires squeal as he slams on the brakes. Vince strides up to Austin’s door and extends a hand. “Steve! Good to see you!” Austin’s gaze goes from Vince to Vince’s hand and back to Vince’s face, without saying a word. “Listen, I know we’ve had a few differences of opinion, but I want to extend an olive branch tonight, because I believe we’re both working towards the same goal.”

 

“Whatever you offering, I don’t want it,” dismisses Austin, pushing past.

 

Vince stops Austin in his tracks, though, by saying; “I’m giving you Rock. Tonight.”

 

Austin stops cold, wheels around and gets in Vince’s face. “Whatever trick you got set up here, Vince, you can just stop it right here and now, before I stomp a mudhole in your ass.”

 

“It’s no trick, Steve! Listen to me! I want Rock fired. You want revenge on Rock. Regal isn’t here tonight, so there’s nothing stopping us. Just think about it. You, Stone Cold Steve Austin, partnering with Undertaker, squaring off in that very ring with The Rock. Me, as special referee. Rock’s job on the line. It’s everything we want, Steve!”

 

“Except I want Rocky one-on-one at No Way Out, Vince. I don’t want no partner, I don’t want you prancin’ around like some kind of jackass in your little striped shirt that’s too tight for you, and I don’t want nobody gettin’ in my way of putting Rocky in a wheelchair. So as far as your little offer’s concerned,” says Austin, then holds up two middle fingers in Vince’s face, “here’s to ya!”

 

Austin turns to leave, but Vince’s words stop him again. This time, Vince’s tone isn’t inviting; it’s hostile, threatening. “This isn’t an offer, Austin. You either partner with Undertaker tonight against The Rock, or it’ll be your ass I fire.” Austin grumbles, his lip curled up, but he resumes his walk into the building instead of firing off on Vince, who smirks as Austin walks away.

 

Big Show comes to the ring and demands The Dudleys come out and face him so he can prove once again his dominance, and eliminate The Dudleys once and for all from the WWF. The brothers are all too happy to oblige Show’s handicap match request, although the mammoth athlete proves to still be formidable, even by himself. Interference by the Tag Team Champs draws a DQ finish, but it is of small comfort when the threesome outnumber and lay waste to the brothers.

 

In the back, while Crash looks for sanctuary from Kane, Raven finds him and blasts the little guy with a steel chair to the head. Raven makes the quick pin and captures the Hardcore Title, but gets his skull rattled by Steve Blackman’s martial arts sticks, giving Blackman the title. Blackman barely has time to blink before the angry Kane finds the chaos, chokeslams Blackman through a catering table and recaptures the Hardcore Title, then leaves the scene, bellowing Angle’s name.

 

Trish Stratus comes into Vince’s office in a fluster, standing in front of Vince’s desk with her hands on her hips. Vince looks up at her as he listens to the person on the phone and nods. “Yes. Yes. Mmhmm. Very well. Then do whatever you feel is necessary to keep the situation as is. Cost is not an option. Yes, goodbye.” Vince looks up, his smile as phony as a six-dollar bill. “Why, hello, sweetheart! Is there something I can do for you?”

 

“What the hell was the big idea, leaving me alone with all those … those …” Trish shudders. “They stripped my clothes right off of me! They put me through a table! I could sue! I should sue! And you, you ran like a coward and left me there!”

 

Vince gets up and puts his hands on her arms. “Trish, love, please, calm down. Do I give you everything you want? Money, status, fame? Am I not giving you the chance to manage the World Champion when Kane defeats Kurt Angle at No Way Out? Who’s making your dreams come true?”

 

Trish is reluctant to answer, and does so under her breath. “You.”

 

Suddenly, Vince’s _expression darkens. “Then be a good woman and keep your mouth shut. Every single one of us is committed to my vision, Trish, and we’ve all taken our lumps to bring it to reality. I won’t have you reaping the rewards of the hard work and sacrifices made by us while you hang on my elbow; if I wanted that, I would’ve stayed with Linda. So you can either shut your mouth and just take what happened on Raw as a learning experience … or you keep being an ungrateful little bitch and you can try to go toe-to-toe with me … and make no mistake, I will buryyou. Now get out of my office before you make me make you regret it.” Trish, on the verge of tears, leaves as quick as lightning, sobbing into her hands.

 

Val Venis steps into the ring for his chance to step up in a huge way: a shot at knocking off Chris Benoit and taking his Intercontinental Title. Benoit shows the whistleblower no mercy, but Venis surprises by taking what Benoit has to give and gives back just as good. Fans are made to hold their breath when Steven Richards, bent on destroying the turncoat Venis, tries to take his head off with a Steven Kick, but Venis misses and clobbers Benoit; Venis gets a two-and-three-quarters count off the error. The ref, however, doesn’t miss Richards blatantly pulling Venis out of the ring and brawling with him, and that draws the DQ. Benoit standing alone in the ring provides an easy and tempting target for Triple H and Jericho to pounce on, but before they can even get to the ring, their animosity boils over and fists fly against each other, leaving Benoit unscathed and able to escape through the crowd.

 

In the dressing room, Angle relaxes on a bench, caught in the middle of a phone conversation. “I mean, Vince is just gone off the deep end, Stephanie,” says Angle. “I think he may, I don’t know, maybe he’s senile or something? I mean, he’s hanging out withKane of all people, and he suddenly hates me. He’d have to be freakin’ senile for that to make sense, ya know? Is there anything–”

 

The door bursts open; Kane charges, murderous rage in his eyes. Thinking quickly, Angle uses the phone as a weapon, breaking it on the side of Kane’s head. Crash runs up and tries to take advantage of the situation for a quick pinfall, but gets a jab in the throat to stop him in his tracks. As Kane tries to shake off the cobwebs, he staggers into the swinging arc of the door; Angle kicks him in the gut, grabs the door and throws it with all his might into Kane’s head. The Big Red Machine crumples from the hit. Angle makes a cover and Crash’s ref makes the count that, for the second time this evening, makes Kane a former WWF Hardcore Champion and gives Angle the distinction of being a two-time double-belt holder.

 

Much to everyone’s surprise, Austin comes out for the main event handicap match, although his displeasure is obvious by his demeanor. More surprising, Austin lets Undertaker take the start against The Rock. When Undertaker tries to tag out, Austin backs away, further confounding everyone (including his partner and Vince). After Undertaker attempts three more times to tag out, only to be met with an empty corner, Vince comes over and chastises Austin. Austin lets Vince rant and rave, but when Vince brazenly slaps Austin across the face, Austin finally rouses himself from complacency. Vince nearly falls over himself trying to get away from Austin as he comes through the ropes, but Austin pulls another surprise by Stunning Undertaker. The Rock, weakened but aware, makes a cover, but Vince won’t count; Austin grabs Vince by the scruff of his shirt and drags him over to Rock and Undertaker, deposits him on the mat rather roughly, then bends down and, with a handful of Vince’s hair, points and commands Vince to count. Reluctantly, almost crying, Vince makes the three-count, preserving The Rock’s job. Austin then hauls Vince to his feet and nails a Stunner on the WWF Chairman. Before leaving the ring, Austin looks right at Rock, points and mouths three words, words quickly developing a new meaning for The Rock: “No Way Out”.

 

Raw: Feb 5, ’01

 

Raw opens with the WWF World & Hardcore Champion, Kurt Angle, heading to the ring with a microphone. Before he can say a word, though, the floodgates open: Raven, Tazz, Crash, Hardcore Holly, Test and Albert all flood the ring, with accompanying refs, trying to take the Hardcore Title. As the invaders start to lose focus and brawl each other, Kane and Big Show push their way through the mass, swatting Superstars out of the way like flies, until Show grabs Angle and tosses his across the ring like a ragdoll. Kane picks up the champ and chokeslams him on an abandoned chair, and makes the cover while Show keeps the others away to retake the Hardcore Title. A few brave souls attempt to take on the Big Red Machine, but both he and Show knock back all would-be fighters as if they were children.

 

Undertaker comes storming in to William Regal’s office as Regal is on the phone. Regal excuses himself, hangs up and jumps out of his chair. “I’ve had just about enough of all you WWF Superstars barging into my office like an inibriated elephant!” Regal barks. “With Vince McMahon’s flight delayed, I finally have the opportunity to craft a Monday Night Raw as I see fit, and I will not tolerate obnoxious lummoxes like you abusing my office and my time! Now state your business and make it quick, because I have work to do!”

 

Undertaker takes a moment to collect himself from Regal’s surprising outburst. “I want Austin,” he finally says, not nearly as aggressive as one would expect. “Tonight.”

 

Regal seats himself and looks up at Undertaker condescendingly. “But I thought the two of you were thick as thieves.”

 

“The son of a bitch nailed me with the Stunner last week on Smackdown and made me lose to The Rock. I want a piece of his ass.”

 

Regal shrugs, already looking away from Undertaker to concentrate on his paperwork. “No bother to me.” Undertaker fumes at Regal’s nonchalant, but Regal continues to ignore Undertaker, so the American Badass has no choice but to walk away.

 

The WWF Tag Champions are split up for the evening and given singles matches against members of rival teams that are viable contenders: Malenko gets Matt Hardy, while Perry Saturn faces off against Christian. As the Malenko/Hardy match is set to start, Regal comes down to ringside and sends Saturn back to the back on threat of suspension and the titles being stripped, and does the same for Malenko when Saturn wrestles. With Regal perched at ringside, and their partners sent to the back, both Malenko and Saturn find themselves at a loss without their normal match-winning strategies; Malenko eats a Twist Of Fate and gets pinned, while Christian uses a handful of tights to steal a pin on Saturn.

 

Steven Richards enters the ring for his match against Chris Jericho, microphone in hand. The crowd already starts haranguing him before he can get out a single syllable. “For far too long, the WWF and Vince McMahon have reveled in filth and garbage! For too long, Vince McMahon has peddled smut to you people and you’ve swallowed it hook, line and sinker, like the idiots you are!” Richards beams with pride as the crowd chants vulgar epithets on him. “Thanks to the showing of that … that … videotape … we are now in a position to submit a complaint to the FCC against Vince McMahon and have him removed from the air once and for all! And the best part is … every single one of you fell for it! We helped flood this company with smut and filth and objectionable programming so Vince McMahon would have to cave to our demands, and we have Chris Benoit to thank for helping us bring our plan to fruition!”

 

The countdown of the Y2J clock cuts off Richards’ tiresome rantings. “Welcome to Raw Is Jericho!” says Jericho, to the welcome reception of the crowd once again. “Steven Richards, there’s only one thing that’s been going on for far too long, and that’s you, boring this crowd to death!” The crowd agrees with this. “And since I am the cure for boredom, and I got a little problem with how you kinda took my life and flushed it down the toilet for a few months, I’d be more then happy to come down to that ring and kick your teeth in!” Jericho drops the mic and runs for the ring, and the two immediately get into a punchfest. Before the match can really get any traction, Chris Benoit comes down attacks Jericho. Benoit coming out of hiding draws out his other two foes, Triple H and William Regal, in addition to Val Venis coming out to get a piece of Richards. Officials flood the ring to pry everyone apart and send everyone in different directions, while the crowd chants “let them fight!”.

 

With Rikishi standing in the ring, the music for X-Pac hits, but instead of the obnoxious former D-X’er, Rikishi gets Stephanie McMahon. The former princess of the McMahon empire enters the ring, no longer cocky or brash; she shakes Rikishi’s hand, and says something to him politely, which gets him to leave the ring.  Stephanie takes a deep breath before speaking, trying her best to assume an image of strength after months of personal disaster.

 

“The past several months have been a time of great personal loss for me,” says Stephanie mournfully. “Because of the lies spread by Chris Benoit and the Right To Censor, I lost people I considered good friends, I lost respect and reputation, and most of all, I lost a man I deeply loved … a man I still love. My family has been fractured by their plans, possibly beyond repair.” Stephanie raises her head, a newfound fire in her eyes. “For too long now, the WWF has been bleeding, wounded by horrible men with plots of destruction and pain. And the worst one of them all may just be … my father.” The crowd boos at the mention of the WWF Chairman. “I am here tonight to clear a misconception, and to publicly state my intentions: my father does not have my 25% interest in the WWF. During the stressful divorce, I mistakenly signed over to him the right to vote my shares as a proxy. It is the worst mistake I have ever made, and in working side-by-side with Commissioner William Regal, I intend to block my father’s efforts to rule this company like a tyrant!”

 

The music of Trish Stratus kicks in, and immediately, Stephanie’s body language switches to one of defensive hostility. The blonde vixen–making sure to wear an outfit fashioned to show off her assets–strides up to the McMahon daughter and chuckles. “Stephanie, maybe you don’t get how things run around here, but when Mr. McMahon traded in your mother for me, that made me< the first lady of the WWF.” Trish sneers at Stephanie, who returns the gesture. “I mean, all you’ve done is cause nothing but trouble for him. You run off and get married to Triple H … you almost run the company into the ground while he’s gone … and worst of all …” Trish gives Stephanie a disapproving scan from head to toe. “You flaunt … that … that … that like you’re some kind of model and you run off with one of the WWF Superstars to a motel and bring shame to the entire McMahon family. In fact,” adds Trish, “last night, in bed … that’s what he called you. The shame of the family.”

 

Stephanie jumps without warning, tackling Trish to the ground and swinging wildly. The crowd roars with delight as the two women roll around on the ground, pulling hair and trying to get the upper hand before Stephanie finally manages to get on top and starts punching and clawing, with Trish covering up her face for protection. Officials have to pry a nearly-rabid Stephanie off of Trish, the once angelic (and once snotty) Stephanie replaced with a feral, raging beast, while Trish cowers behind the throng of men keeping them apart.

 

Kevin Kelly catches up with The Rock backstage. Kevin Kelly asks The Rock if he’s grateful for Steve Austin saving his job three times. Rocky eyes Kelly for a moment, then says; “Are you thankful when they close off the buffet when they see you coming?” Rock fakes a backhand, which makes Kelly duck. Rock shakes his head in disappointment and takes the microphone when Kelly offers it. “Stone Cold Steve Austin! The Rock knows you don’t give a monkey’s anus about The Rock. You’re interested in one thing, and one thing only: hurting The Rock. Breaking The Rock. Making The Rock break. Well, The Rock isn’t running. The Rock isn’t hiding. You say you need this, Stone Cold? You say you need this to happen? Well, so does The Rock. The Rock wants this issue gone, done, finished, so The Rock can get on with his life. The Rock has said he’s innocent for months, and nobody’s listening, so if The Rock has to move on with this over his head, that’s fine. The Rock is ready to move on. No Way Out. Sunday, February 25th. Rock, Austin, Austin, Rock. It will happen, Austin. You don’t need to worry. You just need to … bring it.” The Rock turns to leave, stops, then turns back to the camera. “One more thing on The Rock’s mind, one more thing. Royal Rumble, Rock and Stone Cold, fighting for the chance, the big chance, to main event WrestleMania. What happens? The golden jabroni, the pajama-wearin’, mask-hidin’, sneaky son of a gun, he comes and dumps us both over the top! Just like that! No Rock in the main event. No Rock, no Austin. Just some lucky piece of monkey crap in a ski mask.” Rocky whips off his sunglasses to look dead in the camera, his voice lethally calm. “Don’t show up to Raw. Don’t show up to Smackdown. It doesn’t matter, Goldylocks, because the Rock will find you, The Rock will catch you, and The Rock will make sure he’s wearing his extra-special, 24 karat boots, just so they match your precious little outfit when The Rock turns his boot sideways and sticks it straight up your candy ass!”

 

The Undertaker/Austin clash starts before they get to the ring, trading punches on the ramp and bashing each other into the barricades. The brawling doesn’t stop when they finally get in the ring, and it doesn’t take long before Austin’s fire buckles against Undertaker’s brute strength. But it also doesn’t take long for Eddie Guerrero to slide in and go after Undertaker. Austin joins Undertaker in pounding Guerrero, but Guerrero gets back up from Malenko and Saturn. When The Rock joins the melee, everyone expects a cheap shot on Austin, but Rock delivers a thunderous Rock Bottom on Guerrero and helps knock drive the tag champs out of the ring. Rock and Austin exchange tense glances as Rock leaves the ring.

 

Prompted by the earlier attack, the main event features Angle tagging with William Regal against Kane and Big Show. The size difference comes into play immediately, as the champ and the Commissioner are treated like rag dolls, being tossed, slammed, suplexed and beaten at will. Regal gets a minor comeback, enough to tag out to Angle, but Angle is neutralized by Kane getting in a cheap shot behind the ref’s back. Kane goes to work on his opponent for No Way Out, with Angle getting in minimal offense that has little effect but prolonging the inevitible. But a savior comes in the form of Raven, who slides into the ring with his own referee, and breaks a beer bottle over Kane’s head. The Big Red Machine goes down in a heap, and Raven makes the cover; his ref counts the pinfall, giving Raven the Hardcore Title. As Raven runs to the back with his new championship in his arms, Angle crawls over and drapes an arm over Kane; to the amazement of the crowd, Angle draws the three-count, pinning his future challenger. Unfortunately, there is no time for celebration, as Big Show comes in and chokeslams both Angle and Regal to hell and back before escorting his cohort to the back.

 

Smackdown: Feb. 8, ’01

 

The McMahon limousine arrives in the parking garage; Vince steps out and it is instantly apparent he is perturbed. “I just can’t believe Stephanie is fighting me on this!” exclaims Vince, throwing his hands in the air. Trish Stratus steps out, taking one of Vince’s arms. “How can she take back her proxy? This is my company, dammit! Mine!

 

“Mr. McMahon—Ò

 

“And then there’s the Right To Censor and Chris Benoit, trying to kill my company from the inside!”

 

“Mr. McMahon–”

 

“And there’s Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Undertaker, and Triple H, and Chris Jericho, and The Rock, and–”

 

Trish puts a finger on Vince’s lips and lets the other hand stroke his chest. “Shhh,” she says. “You’re stressed out. If you don’t calm down, you’re gonna have a breakdown, and we can’t have that can we?” Vince shakes his head with Trish’s finger still on his lips. “We need your mind crisp if you’re going to purge the WWF of all the trash and begin a new era. Why don’t you relax here in the limo? You don’t need to sit there and worry about how the night will go. Big Show has Kurt Angle tonight, Kane has The Rock, and I got a special surprise in mind for Stephanie.” Trish pats Vince playfully on the butt. “Go, get in the limo. Have a drink. Relax. Watch Smackdown on the TV. Go.” Vince hesitates, grumbles, and acquiesces. Trish tells him not to worry, kisses him on the cheek, then closes the door and heads into the arena.

 

Smackdown is scheduled to lead off with The Rock facing off against Kane, but The Rock is ambushed by Kane in the dressing room before he can even change into his wrestling gear. Commissioner Regal arrives with the officials and helps pull Kane off Rock and lays into him about ruining the show. Kane tries to intimidate Regal by leering over him, but not only does it not work, it backfires, as Regal hauls off and slaps Kane hard, shocking the monster. Regal’s yelling and posture make Kane backstep, with Regal jabbing a finger in Kane’s chest and warning him that continued unprovoked attacks would result in him forfeiting his WWF Title shot. When Smackdown comes back from commercial, Regal is walking through the parking lot, making a beeline for the limo. Regal grabs the handle and almost tears the door off the hinges when he opens it. “Listen to me, you pathetic coward!” he yells. “I have had it with your hooligans running roughshod over the WWF Superstars! From now on, you can be assured I will meet your attempts to derail this program with your threats and your thugs with swift and decisive action the likes of which you have never encountered!” Regal slams the door, pauses, then opens it again. “If your father or your grandfather were alive to see the disgrace you’ve heaped on your family’s name, they would die out of shame!” Regal slams the door again and walks away, muttering under his breath in disgust.

 

With all the enmity and rivalries amongst teams, Smackdown features a Tag Team Turmoil match between seven pairs to determine the number-one contendership. Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn sit in with the commentators, although they offer little but hostile glares for every team that steps in the ring. Billy Gunn and Chyna are the first eliminated, pinned by Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather. Likewise, the RTC thugs finish off the Holly Cousins, with a liberal dose of help from their leader, Steven Richards. The Hardys come up next and are in position to finish off the RTC members, but Richards’ cheating draws out the APA and Val Venis, who end up getting the brothers eliminated via disqualification. Coincidentally, the APA are up next, but the Hardys, sore at the APA’s interference, give Faarooq and Bradshaw a receipt for their “help”, getting them DQ’ed as well. The Dudleys come out next, who get ambushed on the ramp by Edge and Christian and tossed into the ring for easy pickings for the RTC; however, the RTC overestimate the half-brothers’ condition, and the Dudleys are able to drop the nerdy conservatives with a pair of 3-D’s, leaving the Dudleys and Edge and Christian. The APA and Val Venis come out again to attack the RTC on their way back, which distracts the ref, leaving Edge and Christian open to grab some chairs and go for a Conchairto. D-Von plays possum, though, ducking the chair sandwich, and snatches up Edge while he nurses ringing hands from the collision of chairsl Bubba adds the assist to complete the 3-D, and Bubba pins Edge while D-Von knocks Christian out of the ring, giving the Dudleys the PPV title shot.

 

Stephanie McMahon comes out to an unfamiliar response from the crowd: applause. She demurely waves it down and is about to address the audience when Trish Stratus, accompanied by Eddie Guerrero, interrupts. “Maybe you didn’t hear me right on Raw,” says Trish, “maybe I’m remembering bad, I don’t know. But I couldswear I made myself clear on Monday Night Raw when I told you that I am the WWF’s reigning queen now, and that you’re yesterday’s news. So why do you keep coming out on my shows and–”

 

Trish’s words are cut off sharply with a slap that hits Trish’s cheek so hard, she’s taken off her feet. Guerrero moves forward and grabs a handful of Stephanie’s hair, threatening her in a mixture of English and Spanish. The gong that marks the start of Undertaker’s theme music freezes Guerrero in his tracks, and the rumble of his motorcycle as he tears down the aisle sends him scurrying out of the ring, hiding behind the announce booth. Trish scampers into the corner as Undertaker steps in the ring. “I done had just about enough of you, Guerrero,” says Undertaker, looming over the ropes to glare in Guerrero’s direction. “Everywhere I turn, everything I do, I got your face stickin’ in mine, messin’ with my business. Vince don’t want Undertaker with the title; Vince don’t want Undertaker even on the show, so he sends his little errand boy to screw with my stuff … and then you and this dirty, bottle-blonde whore try and put the fear on this girl here. Well, I think you and me, we need to have a little pow-wow at No Way Out and come to an understanding, you dig?” The crowd cheers the idea, even as Guerrero is shaking his head and begging off. “But since you seem to got an itch tonight, how ’bout I do you a favor and scratch? You and the ten-cent tramp here come get a piece of me later on, right here, tonight?”

 

Stephanie steps forward, looking at Undertaker, but speaking to Trish and Guerrero. “And me,” she says forcefully, offering Undertaker a hand. The crowd comes out of their seats in support for Undertaker to accept Stephanie’s gesture. Undertaker mulls it a moment, grins an entirely humorless grin and takes her hand, sealing the deal.

 

Raven comes out for a scheduled defense of his Hardcore Title against a peculiar choice for opponent: Steve Austin. Austin, however, has little time to get into the groove before Kane comes down with his own ref, looking to reclaim the Hardcore Title. Kane lays into Raven, but before Austin can take exception, two people come for a piece of Kane’s hide: The Rock and Kurt Angle. The Rock barely gets a bit of Kane before Austin pulls Rock away and starts swinging, while Angle hammers down on Kane. The two pairs brawl through the arena, leaving Raven alone, the match more or less thrown out by way of abandonment.

 

Out in the parking lot, Vince steps out of the limo and comes face to face with a surprise: Mick Foley. For a long few moments, the two exchange tense glances. Vince coughs nervously and adjusts his tie. “Mick. This is a surprise. What are you doing here?”

 

“Well, um, I was hoping to talk to you.”

 

“No, I mean, how did you get in? Security has orders to bar you from entry.”

 

“I’ve been waiting since this morning, before security got posted. I was Commissioner, remember. I know the schedule.”

 

Vince sighs. “Wonderful. So now that you managed to break security and invade my arena, can I hope to expect you’ll be leaving now?”

 

“Actually, I was hoping that, um … well … I don’t know how to ask this.” Foley sighs, his head drooping down. “I was kinda hoping you might be able to give me a job.”

 

Vince looks at Foley, blinking absently, not saying a word or showing a single shred of emotion. Suddenly, he starts walking away, shouting for security. Foley chases after him, begging to be heard. After tolerating it for a few seconds, Vince whips around. “I know for a fact you are one of the most frugal men on the planet, Mick Foley, so if you’re trying to imply you need me to give you a job for money, you’re either a liar, or you think I’m stupid. Now get out of my arena before I have you arrested!”

 

“No! Please, Mr. McMahon! Give me a chance! I want to make amends! I want to make things right!”

 

Vince stops, his head cocked. “You what?”

 

“I screwed up. I was a horrible Commissioner, and I screwed up everything. I screwed up the Austin thing, I screwed up with security, I screwed up everything. Let me make it up. Give me a chance to make things right.”

 

Vince sneers, as if he’s being pawed by a filthy animal; suddenly, a smile erases the negativity, an idea striking him almost like a physical force. “Tell you what, Mick,” he says with a predatory grin, “come see me on Raw. We’ll discuss it then, alright?” Vince walks away before Foley can say anything else.

 

Angle comes to the ring, fired up and looking none the worse for his arena-encompassing fistfight with Kane earlier. Big Show attempts to intimidate with his size, but Angle has none of it, using his superior wrestling ability to surgically strike at Big Show’s weakest points: his knees. With his wheels knocked out, Show is an easier fight for the WWF Champion. Show tries to use his power to keep Angle at bay, and for a little while, he is successful, but Angle manages to level the playing field with targeted shots to the damaged knee. When Angle gets the submission victory off a figure-four, the crowd is amazed. Kane comes down the aisle, but Angle sees him and gets out of the ring before Kane can get his hands on him, taunting him with the title belt and gesturing that he knows know how to take down the Big Red Machine.

 

Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit comes out to a hailstorm of jeers and hatred. The secondary champ disregards it; in fact, he looks angry, if focused. “I’ve held onto this belt for months!” he proclaims. “I held two titles at once, until my partner cowardly abandoned me at the Royal Rumble! I had two WWF Title victories stolen from me by that crooked former Commissioner, Mick Foley! I am the best technical wrestler in the WWF, and yet, with all this, I can’t get a title shot with Kurt Angle!” The crowd gives Benoit’s rant a stern booing, which he ignores. “I am out here to demand what’s mine, what I deserved, what I’m owed! Kurt Angle, I want a WWF Title shot!”

 

Benoit waits, looking to the stage, knowing full well he’s calling out someone who just went through a hard-fought match with Big Show and a brawl with Kane, and isn’t likely to come out. “Are you really this kind of champion, Kurt Angle? A coward? Someone who runs from challengers? Come out here and give me what you owe me!

 

The countdown of the Y2J clock cuts in, but rather then wait for the clock to finish and go through his elaborate entrance, Jericho runs for the ring and starts trading blows with Benoit. Benoit ducks a wild swing by Jericho, goes behind and tries a German, but Jericho lands on his feet, just in time for Triple H to hit the ring. Triple H spins Jericho around, kicks him in the gut and tries a Pedigree, but Jericho reverses with a double-leg takedown and tries for the Walls. Benoit grabs Jericho’s arm and tries to pull him down for the Crossface, but Jericho rolls through and gets back to his feet, all three men now in a stand-off.

 

“That’s enough!” yells a profoundly British voice. Regal stomps down the ramp, face twisted in anger. “Now, I’ve tolerated this nonsense long enough, and I want to see this put to an end.” Regal gets in the ring, and immediately, Benoit goes after him, only for Triple H and Jericho to cut him off. Regal yells at everyone until they stop. “One more outburst from any of you and I will suspend the lot of you until hell freezes over!” The group settles down enough to take a step back, but less then a heartbeat later, they’re all arguing their case to Regal. Regal takes it for a couple seconds, then yells out; “Shut up! Shut up! I know how bad both of you want at Chris Benoit. Don’t forget I put my sterling reputation on the line when I convinced you, Triple H, to let Chris Benoit tag with us at the Survivor Series. Everybody in this ring has reason to extract some vengeance from Chris Benoit. And that’s why at No Way Out, we’re all getting our chance.” Chris Benoit’s eyes go wide with surprise while Jericho and Triple H raise eyebrows. “I’ve signed a non-title four-way elimination match between the four of us for No Way Out.” The raised eyebrows turn to smiles, while Benoit’s _expression goes from surprise to horror. Regal turns to Benoit and approaches him. “I stuck up for you, I respected you. What you’ve done …” Regal shakes his head. “Somebody will make you pay, Chris. That’s the only thing you deserve.”

 

The mixed-tag match gets the main event slot. Stephanie accompanies Undertaker, looking nervous but ready, while Trish, with Eddie Guerrero, looks nervous and unprepared. The men start off, with Undertaker easily overpowering Guerrero and tossing him around the ring at will. Very quickly, Guerrero chickens out and tags in Trish when he has the chance, forcing Undertaker to tag Stephanie. When the ladies square off, it becomes a hair-pulling, slap-throwing catfight. Guerrero pulls Stephanie off by her hair, which draws in Undertaker. The men brawl, spilling outside, while the women continue their fight, with Trish actually employing some wrestling moves to subdue the boss’s daughter. Vince McMahon, however, provides a timely distraction, when he comes down to the ring and taunts his daughter. With the ref tied up, The Radicals come from the opposite direction and help Guerrero knock out Undertaker. Stephanie manages to turn the tide briefly as her father argues with the ref, but Trish rakes Stephanie’s eyes and knocks her down to the mat, providing Guerrero with the timely opportunity to hit Stephanie with a frog splash. Trish makes the cover just in time for Vince to disengage the ref, allowing him to make the three-count. The Dudleys try to aid Undertaker, but The Radicals gang up on the half-brothers and lay waste to them as Smackdown comes to a close.

 

Raw: Feb. 12, ’01

 

Raw opens with a pre-recorded message from the desk of Commissioner William Regal; his expression is blank, unreadable, as he issues his statement. “Good evening, WWF fans. Due to the overwhelming demands being put upon by the fans of the WWF, numerous Superstars, and the two men in question, I am officially announcing a once-and-for-all match to occur at No Way Out, to settle the long-standing issue between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. The match itself will be two-out-of-three falls; the first fall will be a Street Fight, the second will be an I Quit match, and if the third fall is necessary, it will be contested under Last Man Standing rules. As WWF referees remain steadfast in their refusal to be in the middle of such a dangerous environment, WWF officials continue to search for someone to serve as referee for this momentous occasion. Regardless of who officiates the match, and regardless of who emerges victorious, this match will settle this issue once and for all.”

 

With the bombshell announcement confirming the long-awaited Austin/Rock confrontation at No Way Out in two weeks, and both Rock and Austin expected in the building, the tension on Raw is immeasurable; and with four huge matches, and a confrontation of some sorts between Vince McMahon and Mick Foley, Raw promises to be a pivotal stepping stone on the way to both No Way Out and WrestleMania.

 

Raw kicks off in the arena with tag action, pitting the APA against the Hardy Boys, a grudge match based on their crossing swords during the Tag Team Turmoil match. With both the RTC and the tag champs watching, the teams trade offensive styles, the Hardys using speed and flash to dazzle the APA, while Faarooq and Bradshaw use power and strength to grind down the brothers. The temptations of having targets occupied with others proves too alluring to either team, and the RTC bite first, scoring decisive interference that allowes Faarooq to take a Swanton Bomb from Jeff Hardy for a pinfall loss. Malenko & Saturn, half a step late with their attack on potential contenders, get into a shoving match with the Right To Censor. When shoves turn to punches, the APA and the Hardys take the opportunity to clear the ringside area of their shared rivals to the delight of the audience.

 

Vince McMahon strides to the ring, looking the very definition of the opposite of humble. In his hand is a plastic bag. “I’d like to believe I’m a forgiving man in life,” he proclaims. “I’ve given many a man second chances. Sometimes, it’s come back to haunt me, but in business, that’s a risk you have to take. So tonight, I am willing to entertain giving a certain man a second chance here in the WWE. Mick, if you would please join me here in the ring?”

 

The music for Mick Foley hits, to a nearly silent reception, as fans neither want to embrace the disgraced former Commissioner, nor want to see him humiliate himself by prostrating at Vince’s feet. Foley’s walk down the ramp is a humbled shuffling, which Vince watches with obvious, and malicious, glee. “Thank you for joining me, Mick,” says Vince as Foley steps through the ropes. “Now, as you all may or may not know, Mick Foley approached me last week on Smackdown and begged me to give him another chance in the WWF. Now, what I want to ask you, Mick, is, what kind of position are you looking for here?” Vince holds the microphone to Foley, but before he can reply, Vince pulls it back and starts pacing as he talks. “Because, in thinking about it, a couple things have occured to me. First, it occured to me that the position you last held is now filled. True, I believe the person currently acting as Commissioner is a failure, but I alone cannot get him removed from office, so that option is out. And that led me to my second revelation, in that, you, Mick Foley, are retired from the ring. Now, since the role of Commissioner is out, and you’re not an in-ring competitor, I don’t see much left for you. So,” says Vince, advancing on Foley, who looks like someone has shot his puppy, “it seems to me that I get the privilege of telling you that, as much as my heart bleeds for your situation, I’m afraid you’re absolutely worthless to me.” The crowd firmly comes down on Vince’s attitude; Foley doesn’t even try to plead. He turns around and starts to leave until Vince stops him. “That is, unless you can complete a task for me. If you can do me one small thing, perhaps I can find a place for you.”

 

Foley approaches Vince, grabbing Vince’s hand and shaking it enthusiastically. “Oh, Vince, you don’t know how happy you’ve made me! Tell me what you need done, and it’s yours!”

 

Vince grins, a smile that has the effect of killing Foley’s exhuberance on sight. “It’s just a small, teeny, tiny little favor.” Vince reaches into the plastic bag and pulls out its content, a large mass of black cloth. “You see, Mick Foley, during your last few months as WWF Commissioner, your policies and procedures created a monster. Your actions turned what had been the nuisance known as Stone Cold Steve Austin into a bull in a china shop. He’s got the entire locker room worked up, he’s created a world of anarchy in this company, and I firmly believe that if you had enforced the law during the final months of your tenure, Stone Cold Steve Austin would be a non-entity now. So I need you to clean up the mess made.”

 

Foley blinks and takes a step back. “I … um … Mr. McMahon … Vince–”

 

“Let’s keep it at Mr. McMahon.”

 

“Um, okay. Um, Mr. McMahon … listen … I … how would I … I don’t understand.”

 

“I know you don’t, Mick. You’re simple like that, which is half the reason why you failed so miserably as Commissioner. But this is your opportunity to make good.” Vince tosses the black lump of cloth at Foley; Foley catches it and looks from it to Vince, confused. “Go ahead, Mick. Unfold it.” Foley unfolds the fabric, and his eyes go wide when he sees what it really is: a Cactus Jack t-shirt. Vince’s grin is now a full-fledged maniacal smile, his eyes wild. “If you want a job here in the WWF, Mick Foley, tonight, in this very ring, you will summon the hardcore spirit within you, you will pour your fat posterior into those tights and jam your overweight gut into that shirt, and Cactus Jack will annihilate the plague of Stone Cold Steve Austin!”

 

Foley’s eyes make wordless protests, but his lips remain still. The crowd chants “don’t sell out” as Foley looks from the t-shirt to Vince and back down again, chewing his lip. Foley takes a deep breath, hs chest falling with such weight, it is as if the entire world is pushing down on his shoulders. With great reluctance, Foley extends a hand, accepting Vince’s offer. Vince grasps it and shakes, vowing Foley will not regret his decision.

 

Vince’s two mammoth executioners, Kane and Big Show, make their way to the ring with the intention of eliminating both Val Venis and William Regal. Kane and Show take their sweet time, abusing their much smaller opponents. But when Angle runs down and points to his knees, Regal takes the cue and, upon getting into the ring, goes after Show’s knees. Kane drops away to go after Angle, who makes tracks for the back, while Venis and Regal double-team Show, with Venis getting the biggest victory of his career, pinning the former WWF Champion following a Money Shot. Jim Ross hypes up Venis’ No Way Out singles match against Steven Richards as the RTC leader watches his former comrade’s victory on the monitor and seethes.

 

The shattering glass brings out Steve Austin, who looks, as usual, pissed. “I’m pissed off!” he confirms, stomping around the ring like a caged animal. “I can’t even enjoy the fact that I got my match at No Way Out with that slimy sumbitch Rock, cause a few weeks back, I was this close”–Austin holds up his forefinger and thumb, with almost no room between them–”to winning the Royal Rumble. The Rock was just a Stunner away from me tossin’ his sorry ass over the top rope and me rollin’ on to WrestleMania to face the champ, when, BAM!, some piece of crap I ain’t never seen before comes up behind me and dumps me over. I don’t know who this guy is, I don’t know nothin’ about him, and ain’t nobody seen a damn hair on his head for weeks now, cause he keeps hidin’ like a little girl, watchin’ us on TVs. Well, I’m out here, ya yellow bastard, and I’m sick of your crap! If you’re any kind of man, you’ll drag your pajama-wearin’ ass out here and take and give me a chance to beat your sorry ass in front of the world!”

 

Instead of the Golden Champion, though, The Rock comes out, keeping his distance by staying on the stage. Austin eyeballs his two-weeks-hence prey as if he were a rabid dog and Rock was the stray cat in his yard. Rock paces the length of the stage, almost in a manic state. “Stone Cold Steve Austin! The Rock knows that, as far as you’re concerned, you only owe The Rock one thing, and that’s an ass-whipping.” The crowd cheers this, but The Rock presses on. “But The Rock is out here man to man,mano e mano, to ask Stone Cold for something else: mercy. Mercy … for Mick Foley.” Austin, about ready to launch into a vicious tirade, stops at the mention of Foley’s name. “The Rock knows that you know Mick Foley is The Rock’s good friend. The Rock also knows that, years ago, Steve Austin and Mick Foley were friends. The Rock knows that you and Mick Foley got problems. But The Rock is asking you, man to man, Stone Cold, to look at what’s going on here, to look, to see, to recognize that all this, all this BS is Vince McMahon, stirring up the pot, getting you all riled up. Getting me all scared. Making Mick Foley dance like a puppet and beg. All this, here, tonight, right now, this is Vince McMahon. Just like he manipulated Mick Foley months ago to keep you on the bench, he’s manipulating all of us, right now, right here. He wants Stone Cold and The Rock to want to hurt each other … to cripple, to … kill … each other. Vince McMahon is using Mick Foley to piss us off, and I’m out here to ask you, not as Mick Foley’s friend, not as a wrestler, but as a human being walkin’ God’s green Earth … walk away tonight, Stone Cold. Walk away. Don’t do the match. Don’t do it.”

 

The Rock waits for a reaction from Stone Cold, but all he gets is a murderous, steely stare. Seeing that Austin won’t be giving him the dignity of a response, The Rock turns to leave, but Austin’s voice, mimicking a sweet, innocent child’s tone, makes him turn back. “Well, gee whillikers, Rock, it’s just so darn cute, seein’ ya come out here and beg me for mercy for your friend, maybe I oughtta!” Austin’s face twists back into the Stone Cold sneer of hate. “Since the very sight of you makes my blood boil inside my veins, and hearin’ your stupid little voice makes me wanna puke, most of what you said I just plain ignored. But I did hear you say something like ‘cripple … Mick Foley’, and you’re in luck, because that’s exactly what I’m fixin’ to do.” Rocky tries to protest, but Austin overrides him. “The son of a bitch screwed me out of two months of my career, Rock; two months that I coulda been beatin’ ass and gettin’ my WWF Title back, he won’t turn you in cause you’re his little buddy, and the fact of the matter is, with all the crap he’s pulled, it’s a damn miracle I ain’t rolled into Long Island, busted down his door and beat his sorry ass in his living room, right in front of his kids! You can sit here and beg and plead and whine like a puppy all you want, but the bottom line is, Mick Foley or Cactus Jack or Mankind or whatever t-shirt he comes down to the ring wearin’, it don’t make a difference to me, cause he’s been due a Stone Cold ass-whipping like nobody ain’t never seen before, and I intend on givin’ the man what he’s owed!” Austin goes to toss the microphone aside, hesitates, then adds with as much attitude as he can muster; “If you smell what Stone Cold is cookin’!”

 

All three Radicals tag up for a six-man match against their combined opponents for the PPV, the Dudleys and Undertaker. Despite the size difference, the cohesive unit the Radicals present are a formidible force against the three brawlers, and their willingness to use every dirty trick in their playbook gives them the extra edge. A well-timed distraction by Trish Stratus of the referee is enough for Malenko to score a low blow on D-Von Dudley, followed up by a frog splash by Guerrero, and the pin by Saturn. Trish blows her triumvirate’s future opponents kisses as she and her cohorts quickly head for the hills.

 

What had been scheduled for the main event, a non-title match between Triple H and Kurt Angle, gets the semi-main slot, thanks to the impromptu booking of Austin and Cactus Jack. The two old rivals act as if the issues between them were as fresh as the moment, but now, with the knowledge of repeated facings, the match-up is made more intense with reversals and counters. Angle ducks a clothesline from Triple H, and the ref eats the shot. Before another official can replace him, Chris Benoit slides in, kicks Triple H and pulls off the ultimate insult: nailing Triple H with a Pedigree. Angle and Benoit start trading barbs until Kane races down and goes after Angle. By the time the ref comes to, Jericho and Regal have come down to run off the interlopers, but Triple H and Angle are both face down on the mat.

 

The very nature of the main event creates an uncomfortable feeling all throughout the arena; cameras find WWF Superstars watching the monitors nervously, while the fans twitch and shift in their seats as the ring announcer introduces the no-disqualifications main event. Mick Foley, wearing his Cactus Jack shirt, comes out onto the stage, looking less like a wrestler heading into battle and more like the condemned approaching their execution. As soon as Foley’s feet hit the mat, Austin is out, eyes like a lion sizing up a gazelle. But before the timekeeper can ring the bell, The Rock jumps in the ring. There is none of the normal Rock swagger, and he isn’t even wearing sunglasses. When he speaks, his voice is missing all of the projection and performance that is the hallmark of The Rock.

 

“Steve, please,” he asks. “The Rock … no, me, Dwayne Johnson … I am asking you, one more time, to not go through with this. I know what you got in mind; it isn’t pro wrestling. This man has a family, and so do you. Don’t make a mistake that’ll tear both families apart, Steve. Walk away, please.”

 

Austin’s eyes narrow to slits as he listens to The Rock’s plea for Foley’s well-being. Upon hearing Rock’s final plea, Austin turns away, as if to consider, then hauls off with a right cross to the jaw.      Austin falls on Rock and starts whaling away; Foley drops out of the ring, grabs a chair, comes back and brings it down across Austin’s back. As Vince comes out and directs traffic, Foley, reluctantly, almost remorsefully, brings the chair down in its killing arc again and again until Austin is out cold. Foley looks up at Vince, but Vince orders him to continue; Foley protests at first, but a stern glare from Vince gets Foley moving, bringing down the chair a couple more times before he tosses it away and pins Austin. The Rock having pulled himself up to a sit in a corner, watches the brutal, heinous attack with revulsion and horror. After the ref’s hand hits the mat for three, he springs up and yells for medics. Foley tries to help up The Rock, but Rocky rolls under the ropes and limps away, keeping an eye on Foley as he backs away.

 

Smackdown: Feb. 15, ’01

 

Smackdown kicks off in the ring, with Stone Cold Steve Austin, wearing enough bandages to pass as a mummy, but ready to fight anyway. Before he can get into gear, though, Vince McMahon comes out to ruin the party.

 

“Steve, I know you’re expecting Kane right now,” says Vince, “but before we can get on with your match, I have a major announcement to make, and it just so happens to have direct implications on your match. Now,” says Vince, switching from addressing Austin to the crowd, “for any of you who, for one reason or another, witnessed the most beautiful, miraculous, transcendant moment in World Wrestling Federation history on Monday Night Raw, allow me to provide you with video so you may experience it.” The TitanTron rolls with the horrific beatdown of Austin at the reluctant hands of Mick Foley, to the massive jeering of the audience. “Such a wonderful moment. Chokes me up a little,” says Vince as he dabs away a non-existant tear from his eye. “Because of Mick Foley’s heroic decision to pummel you into a fine goo, Stone Cold, I have awarded Mick Foley a new job here in the WWF. Now, you ask, how this affects you? I want you to take a look around you. See who’s around.” Austin lingers a moment, sensing a trap, but ends up looking around. “Do you see anything amiss, Austin? You’re there, ready for the match. The timekeeper’s there. The announcers are there. The ring announcer is there. But there’s no referee.” Austin’s head snaps back, eyes wide with rage. “Yes, Stone Cold, tonight, debuting as a full-time WWF junior referee, and the official for this match, Mick Foley!”

 

Foley emerges from the back, wearing the official uniform of a WWF referee, looking just as nervous as he did on Monday. Right behind him is Kane, walking with an uncharacteristic swagger. Austin’s eyes never leave Foley as he approaches the ring, walks up the stairs and steps through the ropes. Foley barely even has a leg through the ropes before Austin springs like a coiled snake, peppering Foley with shots to his body. Kane immediately leaps into the ring, going after Austin; Kurt Angle races down to the ring and nails an Angle Slam on Kane, while Rock runs down and gets in between Foley and Austin. Austin tries to take a swipe at Foley, but is too far away, so he settles for pouncing on Rock, which forces Foley to try and get physical with Austin to keep him off his friend. Before the officials can even get in gear, the other WWF Superstars rush the ring to break up the full-scale riot that is miliseconds from erupting. Austin is pushed into the back by a phalanx of WWF Superstars and security, and more handle the Angle/Kane confrontation.

 

When Smackdown comes back from commercial, Regal barges into Austin’s dressing room. “Do you mind telling me just what in the bloody hell you were trying to accomplish out there?” demands Regal. “I have half a mind to suspend you right where you stand and terminate your match with The Rock at No Way Out!”

 

“That no-good, son of a bitch Foley kept me–”

 

“Yes, yes, we all know how Mick Foley suspended you and hampered the investigation with his bumbling and deceit.” Regal advances slowly on Austin, not showing a hint of trepidation at approaching the Texas Rattlesnake. “But Mick Foley, like it or not, is a licensed WWF referee, and I will not have WWF Superstars taking out transgressions on officials, no matter the reason.” Austin opens his mouth to protest, but Regal cuts him off. “I said,no matter the reason, Steven!” Regal closes his eyes and takes a deep cleansing breath. “I have business to attend to, so I am going to leave you. I expect you to be on your utmost behavior.”

 

“Oh, I’ll be on my utmost behavior, all right,” says Austin with a snarl. “I’ll be at my utmost pissed off when I find that big dumb bastard Kane, and then that piece of crap Rock, and that yellow bastard Foley, and Vince McMahon, and I beat ‘em–”

 

“You will do no such thing, Stone Cold!”

 

“If I don’t get ‘em in the ring tonight, then you can bet your bottom dollar I’m gonna put someone in a hospital the Stone Cold way!”

 

Regal sighs. “You realize the difficult position you’re putting me in, don’t you?” If Austin feels any glimmer of sympathy, he shows none of it. Regal sighs again. “Very well. If Angle will agree to be your partner, you’ll face The Rock and Kane tonight. Satisfied?” But Austin has already walked away, leaving Regal to mutter to himself if what he’s done was the best idea.

 

As Triple H walks through the halls, on his way to the ring to tag with Val Venis against Steven Richards and Eddie Guerrero, he crosses paths with his ex-wife. For a long, lingering minute, the two stare at each other, a spectrum of emotions being exchanged just through the eyes. They try to talk at the same time twice before Triple H finally gestures for Stephanie to give it a start.

 

“Good luck in your match tonight,” she says, shifting her feet around.

 

“Thanks,” says Triple H sheepishly.

 

“Make sure Steven Richards pays. For …” The sentence trails off, the unsaid implication hanging but clearly understood.

 

Triple H nods. “I will.”

 

Stephanie nods in return and prepares to leave when Triple H calls to her. “Steph.” She turns around, but doesn’t come any closer. “I would like it if you could … maybe … accompany me to the ring. Just for tonight.” When he sees Stephanie’s body language leaning towards during down such an awkward request, he quickly adds; “I’m pretty sure Trish Stratus is gonna be with Guerrero.Ó

 

A devilish smile breaks out on Stephanie’s face. “Give me five minutes.”

 

Sure enough, Stephanie accompanies Triple H and Venis to the ring, grinning like the cat who swallowed the canary. For both teams being ad hoc, Triple H and Venis show a natural chemistry, while their opponents don’t. In fact, since Richards represents the faction trying to take down the WWF and Vince McMahon, and Guerrero is a McMahon soldier, the two are more like gasoline and a lit match then natural partners. In the match’s closing moments, as Val Venis is cleaning house on Richards, Guerrero catches an elbow in the mush from Richards by accident; Guerrero’s temper gets the better of him and he abandons ship, backing up the ramp. Trish Stratus tries to escape with him, but Triple H blocks her way, which leads to Stephanie coming from behind and tossing Trish into the ring. Venis gets a Money Shot on Richards and scores the pin as Guerrero watches from the ramp, caring little for either Vince’s girlfriend, or his team’s loss, and turns around right into the waiting Undertaker, who chokeslams Guerrero on the steel stage. Back in the ring, Trish begs for mercy, but, seeing she isn’t going to get any, she tries to run; Triple H grabs hold of her, then gestures to Stephanie to ask what she wants to do. Stephanie’s evil grin comes back; Triple H grins back. Stephanie grabs Trish’s clothes and rips them off, leaving her in her bra and panties. As she tries to cover herself, Stephanie kicks her in the gut and, while not perfect, does a passable impression of a Pedigree, silencing her nemesis. The crowd hoots and hollars, especially when Stephanie tells Trish’s prone body that there will be more in store for her at No Way Out.

 

Stemming from their run-in on Raw, Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather square off against the tag champions in a non-title match. Bad omens pop up almost instantly as soon as the bell sounds, as The Dudleys, The Hardys and The APA take posts around ringside, arms crossed, just watching, while Edge & Christian watch from the stage. When The Goodfather gets tossed out and lands at the feet of Faarooq and Bradshaw, the APA back off, hands raised, smiling at the turncoat former pimp; Goodfather responds by spitting in Bradshaw’s face. Bradshaw clinches his fists, but does not respond. Similarly, Malenko takes a spill and drops right in front of both the Dudleys and the Hardy brothers. Malenko gives Jeff Hardy a shove, but Bubba is quick to remind the obnoxious Malenko who their opponents are come WrestleMania. Matt gets in Bubba’s face, which starts a shoving match; Malenko takes the opportunity to get back in the ring as Faarooq and Bradshaw try to break up the brawl; but their inclusion only makes it worse, which draws down Edge and Christian into the mix, leaving the participants in the ring to continue their match uninterrupted. Saturn scores the winning pinfall, using the ropes for leverage, and the tag champs manage to leave the ringside area untouched as their numerous enemies argue with each other.

 

Chris Benoit comes out, proudly displaying his Intercontinental Championship on his shoulder, ignoring the tidal waves of hatred coming at him. “There was a time when the Intercontinental Champion was looked on as the number one contender to the WWF Champion,” says Benoit with a hint of venom. “Do you know how many title shots I’ve gotten since I’ve won this title? Everybody but me has gotten one! I am the best technical wrestler in the WWF! I had the championship won twice last year before that corrupt Mick Foley reversed the referee’s decision! I deserve a title match, and I’m not leaving tonight until I get one!”

 

After a few seconds of awkward silence, distinctly British music pipes in, signalling the WWF Commissioner. “Christopher,” says Regal with more then a hint of disdain, “you are absolutely correct. You are long overdue to be placed in a title match. In fact, I believe we have some time right now, if you’d like.” Regal undoes his tie and tosses it aside, then starts unbuttoning his shirt. “Only, it won’t be the title you’d like it to be, Chris Benoit. You are rather overdue to defend that title, and since both I and Chris Jericho have nothing else to do, I think an Intercontinental Title match is in order.”

 

When Smackdown comes back from commercial, Benoit is fighting off both Chris Jericho and a trousers-and-loafers-clad William Regal, who seem less intent on winning the the match as they do punishing Benoit. But when Benoit looks ready for the kill, the pre-existing tensions, as well as the heat of the moment, overcome Regal and Jericho, and they start trading blows. Everyone gets their opportunity to defeat the other, but Benoit manages to get the victory with both a nutshot to Jericho and a handful of tights on Regal.

 

Though the main event tag match has four men involved, it is the very definition of a mixed tag, with Austin and Angle having been at odds in the past (and Austin’s stated title desires give reason for Angle to buddy up either), and Kane representing Vince’s army, a group with a stated goal of eliminating his partner, The Rock. And, as expected with such a combustable combination of people, the teams spend as much time arguing and fighting with each other as they do their opponents. Austin and Rock spill out of the ring, leaving Kane and Angle to slug it out as the legal participants. But when Angle won’t stay down, Kane takes his frustrations out on the ref and chokeslams him, which draws out a new ref: Mick Foley. With Vince watching from the stage, Foley, lifting his hand as if it was made of lead, issues a quick three count on Angle when Kane pins him following a clothesline. Foley bails as quick as possible, leaving the four Superstars to continue their brawl as Smackdown fades to black.

 

Raw: Feb. 19, ’01

 

The final Monday Night Raw before No Way Out is stacked, with a fatal-four-way main event pitting Angle against The Rock, Kane and Austin, a Show/Undertaker match, a tag title match, and a Divas Evening Gown Beauty Contest. But the disgruntled Intercontinental Champion hits the ring first, microphone in hand, for more self-centered complaining.

 

“Last week on Smackdown, the corrupt, biased Commissioner of the WWF sprung a triple threat title defense on me!” complains Benoit, and gets no sympathy from the crowd. “I am the best technical wrestler in the WWF, and the best Intercontinental Champion in history! I don’t deserve this kind of treatment! I should be facing Kurt Angle for the WWF Title at No Way Out, and instead, I’m stuck facing three other men who couldn’t lace my boots! Kurt Angle, I am twice the wrestler you are, and tonight, I’m going to prove it to the world, and you’ll have choice but to give me what you owe me!” The announcers mull over what Benoit means by this as he leaves everyone hanging for a second. “Tonight, I am going to prove to the world that I am the superior technical wrestler by challenging any wrestler back there to try and get me to tap with your best submission hold. But I promise, not only will you not get me to tap, I will find a way out and make tap instead!”

 

The first to fall victim to Benoit’s superior wrestling skills is Grandmaster Sexay, who gets a chicken wing reversed on him into the Crossface. Steve Blackman falls prey, as does Rikishi and Tazz. Benoit is reaching for the microphone to declare his superiority when the music of William Regal cuts him off. Regal, dressed for action, steps into the ring without saying a word and immediately gets into a game of counters and counter-counters with Benoit, until Benoit makes a mistake and Regal manages to lock on the STF. Benoit begs him off and demands they try again; Regal shrugs and again they square off, only for Benoit to find himself stuck in the hold again, in half the time of the first application. Benoit demands a third go-around, a request which Regal is only too happy to oblige. As Benoit fights to break a waistlock by Regal, Benoit mule-kicks him in the groin, floats behind and goes for a German suplex; Regal flips through, clobbers Benoit in the back, sending him to the mat, and reapplies the STF for a third time. Benoit taps for a full thirty seconds, with referees trying to pry Regal off Benoit, before Regal finally lets go and leaves Benoit in the ring, broken and humiliated.

 

Stemming from their breakdown on Smackdown as a team, Eddie Guerrero takes on the Right To Censor leader Steven Richards. The opening minutes of the contest raise a few eyebrows as both men are hesitant, almost withdrawn, circling one another and trading lots of reversals and headlocks. When Val Venis comes down to try and jump Richards, the trap is sprung: both Guerrero and Richards lay waste to Venis, pounding him until he bleeds and tossing him to the floor. Guerrero’s No Way Out opponent, Undertaker, tries to save Venis and, for a while, manages to hold his own, but a pair of brass knuckles brought in by Guerrero drops Undertaker like a stone in a lake. Undertaker suffers a little more punishment and, like Venis, is left on the arena floor, bleeding.

 

Regal is on the phone, laughing about his embarrassing of Benoit, when Steve Austin barges in, almost knocking the door off its hinges and upending chairs. Regal quietly and quickly excuses himself from the call, hangs up and smiles with all the genuine happiness of a root canal patient. “Stone Cold, a pleasure to see you.”

 

“I got one thing to ask you, Regal, and you damn well better be tellin’ me the right answer,” threatens Austin. “No Way Out. Me and Rocky, Three Stages Of Hell. Who’s the ref?”

 

Regal blinks, caught off-guard by the question. “I’m sorry, you have me at a loss. I wasn’t expecting that question.”

 

“I really don’t give a rat’s ass what you were expecting, Regal. I wanna know who’s the ref for my match?”

 

“Well, Steven, because of the parameters surrounding the match, and the issues–”

 

“You don’t know.”

 

Regal shakes his head. “You don’t understand. Finding a referee has been an arduous process, Steven. None of the regular referees are willing to–”

 

“Is it Foley? Did you stick me with Foley? Cause if you dumped Foley in between me and Rocky, you may as well just start keepin’ my paychecks, cause I’ll be whippin’ Foley’s ass as bad as I do Rock’s.”

 

“Steven! I have tolerated your boorish attitude for long enough. No matter how despicable, no matter how questionable a man might be, I will not have you abusing WWF officials.” Regal folds his hands on his desktop. “As for the official who will be involved in your match, rest assured we believe we have located a referee who will call a fair and unbiased match.”

 

Austin glares at Regal; when he tries to make the Commissioner flinch and fails, Austin sulks just a little and says; “Well, if he ain’t, after I get done beating their ass, and Rock’s ass, I’m comin’ after your ass,” on his way out the door.

 

Malenko and Saturn come out for their tag title defense against a pair of most unlikely opponents: Triple H and Chris Jericho. Knowing that the tension between their opponents is still there, Malenko and Saturn seek to take advantage of it by playing mind games, keeping Jericho isolated as if he’s trying to hog the match. Jericho manages to break away, though, and gets the tag to Triple H, who cleans house and has the tag champs in position to say goodbye to their titles, when Malenko counters a Pedigree with a nutshot. The run-in from the Dudleys draws the DQ, but on the outside, Triple H decks Jericho for not tagging out sooner so they could dictate the pace of the match.

 

In the exclusive McMahon dressing room, Vince bursts in as Guerrero is kicking back with the other soldiers, sipping champagne and laughing. “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Vince bellows, bringing the celebration to a screeching halt.

 

Guerrero puts his flute down, ambles over to Vince and claps Vince on the shoulder. “Hey, jeffe, did you see what we did earlier? Man, that was cool!”

 

Vince’s if-looks-could-kill glare stops Guerrero’s laughter cold. “No, Eddie, it was not cool. Getting into bed with Steven Richards was most definitely not cool. The little twerp is trying to bankrupt me and you’re out there, working little conspiracies? I don’t care how much good you did for our cause; the Right To Censor are the very embodiment of the people we are trying to flush out of this company, and here you are, working alongside him!”

 

“B-b-b-but … Commisioner Regal … he–”

 

“I don’t care, Eddie. Let me make myself perfectly clear, Eddie, right here and now: you’re on your last straw. You’ve not been able to get the job done in anything I ask of you, so you have one more chance to keep your ass out of hot water with me, and that’s at No Way Out.” Vince leaves, slamming the door behind him, leaving Guerrero shell-shocked.

 

Jerry Lawler emcees the Divas Beauty Contest, which, he announces, will be a two-show event, with tonight being the formal wear competition. Lita, Tori, Chyna and Jacqueline all come out in beautiful, form-fitting, elegant (yet sexy) dresses that get the male audience members hooting. Ivory, true to her Right To Censor roots, is clad in an outfit that more resembles a muumuu then a dress, and is promptly booed. But the biggest reaction is for Trish Stratus, who comes out wearing what looks like a wedding dress designed by Victoria’s Secret, with a neckline that plunges down to the belly-button (and no bra), long slit legs up to the hips, thigh-highs and high heels, and carrying a bouquet of flowers. Lawler approaches her and asks if she’s confused about what she should be wearing.

 

“What, wedding dresses aren’t formal?” she asks with mock naivete. “I was just thinking over the weekend that I needed to do something that would help me stand out, maybe even bring a little … happiness … to the WWF. I mean, with all that’s been going on … car accidents, adultery, divorce … this place is depressing! Nothing’s more cheerful then a bride! Ask Stephanie … oh, wait …” Trish covers her mouth. “Oops! I’m sorry, my bad. I guess your days as a blushing bride are kinda done.”

 

Stephanie storms down to the ring, yelling at Trish the whole way down. When she gets in the ring, she gets in Trish’s face, talking loud enough for her words to be picked up by Lawler’s microphone. She manages to get in “Listen, you homewrecking slut” before Trish winds up and smacks her with the bouquet of flowers. To the surprise of everyone but Trish, Stephanie crumples like a house of cards in a tornado and doesn’t move an inch from her position on the mat. Trish snickers as she brushes away the flowers to reveal a lead pipe, tosses it down and walks away with smug satisfaction.

 

Despite being bloodied and battered earlier, Undertaker enters the ring for his showdown with Big Show. Show goes after Undertaker’s head wounds, tearing away the bandages and ripping at the skin, but the sight of Undertaker’s blood only goes to enrage the American Badass. Undertaker makes the comeback, rocking the giant back on his heels until he rolls out of the ring and tries to take the shortcut of using the ringbell. Undertaker follows him out, grabs a chair and swings, sending the ringbell back into Big Show’s face and knocking him unconscious. Guerrero runs down to try and get a piece of his nemesis, but Undertaker swings for the fences and almost takes Guerrero’s head off with the chair. The ref has no choice but to throw out the match, but with two people lying bleeding on the floor seeing stars, Undertaker is the moral victor.

 

Before the huge main event can begin, Vince comes out to make an announcement. “This Sunday, my amassed army stands poised to purge the toxins that pleague the body WWF,” he proclaims. “Once we finish cleansing the poisons out of the WWE, we can march onto WrestleMania with heads held high. But first, we must deal with No Way Out, and to that effect, I have taken the step of assigning a special referee for the WWF Title match between Kurt Angle and Kane. To keep his officiating skills sharp and keen, he will also be refereeing tonight’s main event.” The crowd turns on a dime, knowing what Vince is going to say before he says it. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the official for your No Way Out main event, three-time former WWF Champion … Mick Foley!”

Foley cowers in a corner as the participants file into the ring one by one; Kane looks at him like he looks at everyone, a potential victim; Angle and Austin both eye the portly former Commissioner with severe mistrust and animosity. Only The Rock doesn’t regard Foley as a potential target; instead, he views Foley with pity and sadness. Foley takes a step back and allows the match to progress, but, much to the surprise of everyone, Austin hangs back and refuses to tag in when The Rock is fighting; he just leans on the rope, staring a hole through The Rock. Kane manages to score the victory by hitting a blind tag on Rock as Rock is set up for an Angle Slam, then coming in and chokeslamming Angle. Austin drops down to the floor and backs away, keeping a close eye on Rock, until Kane moves toward Rocky; Austin races in and snaps off a Stunner on the Big Red Machine, leaving him the last man standing in the ring as Raw closes out.

Smackdown: Feb. 22, ’01

The second half of the Divas beauty contest, two big tag matches and a 15-man pin-to-win battle royal for the Hardcore Title highlight the final Smackdown before No Way Out. And in addition, six short sit-down interviews are sprinkled throughout the broadcast, comments from Regal, Triple H, Benoit, Jericho, Rock and Austin.

The first to air is Commissioner Regal’s video. “No Way Out represents an opportunity for me to exhonorate myself for the mistakes I’ve made, not only as a Commissioner, but by supporting Chris Benoit.” Regal shakes his bowed head. “Chris Benoit was once a decent man; he helped me regain my job here in the WWF. He has been a loyal and true friend … but somewhere, that Chris Benoit has been lost. I cannot apologize enough to either Triple H, or Chris Jericho, or to the WWF fans for my blunder in allowing Chris Benoit and his obnoxious cohorts the open door to destroy so many lives. All I can do is pledge on my honor that I will not rest until I eradicate Chris Benoit and undo the damage he has inflicted upon this company.”

The 15-man hardcore battle royal starts, predictably, before all the competitors get to the ring. With the structure of the true champion being the last person to hold the belt when the timer elapses, winning the belt during the interim proves a bad strategy for anyone wanting to walk out with the belt, and Steven Richards utilizes this strategy, keeping out of the match and letting others do the beating. But as everyone brawls and swings in an effort to be the last man standing, the Radicals and Edge & Christian sneak out and start laying waste to The Dudleys, The APA and The Hardys. Richards’ RTC cohorts, also in the match, join in on pulverizing The APA. With his RTC cohorts there to help, and six of the 15 competitors eliminated, Richards has his path paved for him to capture the Hardcore Title.

The second video message is from Triple H, who speaks with his elbows on his knees, his head down. “The past six months of my life have been a nightmare I can’t wake up from,” he growls. “Kurt Angle inserts himself into my marriage. I get so paranoid, I think my wife’s having an affair. And when it’s all done, I’ve lost the woman I love, I’ve lost months of my career on a wild goose chase, and a guy I trusted stabbed me in the back.” Triple H looks up, water dripping from the tips of his hair, his eyes wild like a feral cat. One of his hands comes up into view, holding a sledgehammer. “This ends at No Way Out. We’re going to change places, Chris Benoit, in three days. My nightmare will finally be over. Yours will be just beginning.”

Triple H’s is immediately followed by another of his opponents, Chris Jericho. “Since I’ve been in this business, I’ve been loved and I’ve been hated,” says Chris Jericho. “But what Chris Benoit did to my life took my life past hatred. No, I had crowds throwing stuff at me on the streets, harassing me in airports. I got turned into the company’s second-most hated man behind The Rock, and all because … you were helping out the Right To Censor? You used my life and my reputation as a weapon against someone else?” Jericho shakes his head. “Three men, Chris Benoit. Three men you toyed with, screwed with, hurt and destroyed. Three men are out for your blood, Chris Benoit. And I have more motivation then anyone to squeeze you dry.”

Val Venis teams with Undertaker in a tag match against Eddie Guerrero and Big Show. With Vince watching from a monitor in back, Guerrero and Show pour everything they have into taking down the WWF’s American Badass and the turncoat agent against the RTC. Eddie Guerrero manages to score some good licks on his No Way Out opponent, but in the end, Vince’s soliders come up short, and Val Venis scores the huge victory with a Money Shot on Big Show that nets the three-count. Steven Richards tries to ambush Venis, but Venis gets the better of him, picking up valuable momentum for the PPV.

When Guerrero and Show get backstage, Vince is waiting for them, glaring at them with murderous fury, arms crossed and brow furrowed. Guerrero and Show fall over each other trying to plead their cases and put the blame on the other. Vince watches the exchange, never giving hint to buying either story … and when Kane comes exploding out of nowhere with a lariat to the back of Big Show’s head, Vince’s _expression doesn’t change. He just hunkers down, gets in the unconscious giant’s ear and growls out, “You’re fired!” Vince comes up again, catching Guerrero dead in the eye. “If you don’t want the same happening to you, Eddie, you’ll be defeating Undertaker on Sunday,” says Vince as he turns and walks away, Kane following close behind.

Chris Benoit’s taped message features something most uncomfortable: a long silence, almost thirty seconds long, with Benoit grinning into the camera, flashing a grin that would send shivers down the spine of the deivl himself. When he speaks, he is still smiling, even though he sounds lethally serious. “I am the best technical wrestler in the world today,” he states, “and I am the Intercontinental Champion. I will make all three of my opponents submit to the Crippler Crossface, and then, I will take what’s rightfully mine, and that is a shot at the World Wrestling Federation Championship, Kurt Angle!” The camera fades to black on the sick smile of Benoit.

The second part of the Divas Beauty Contest takes center stage, with the event the male audience members have been frothing at the mouth for since Raw: the swimsuit competition. One by one, the Divas come out in robes and reveal their swimsuits. Ivory comes out in a swimsuit reminiscent of the 1930′s, while the other Divas come out in one-piece and two-piece swimsuits that leave little to the imagination. However, Trish Stratus’ outfit blows all the others away; it is a barely-there collection of threads, with just enough material to cover the naughty bits, colored to match her skin tone, that looks like she will fall out of it with the right movement. As Lawler is ogling and trying to compose himself to measure the audience response, Stephanie strolls out on stage as Trish starts squirming in her skin. Trish’s eyes get wider as her squirming gets more prevalent, even as she tries to hold herself in. Stephanie pulls a hand out from behind herself; she is holding a tube of Icy Hot. Trish’s eyes flash hatred for a moment before the discomfort is too much to bear; she scoops up her robe, throws it on and runs to the back as tears start to fall down her cheeks, while all the Divas and Stephanie share a hearty laugh at Trish’s expense.

The final two sit-down confessionals roll before the main event. The Rock goes first, looking serious but calm. “When The Rock debuted, and the crowd would chant ‘Die, Rocky, Die’ … that hurt The Rock. But the past six months have been worse. The Rock has said time and again that he isn’t guilty, and nobody listened. The Rock made some bad choices to try and get this to go away, and it got worse.” Rocky sighs. “Three Stages Of Hell. No Way Out. Stone Cold Steve Austin, you deserve your shot at revenge. But not against me. The Rock will go to his grave saying he didn’t do it, and The Rock will go into No Way Out with no intention of laying down for Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock isn’t going to walk in there and let Austin destroy The Rock. The Rock doesn’t have a grudge here; The Rock will fight, and he will fight for survival, but make no mistake, Stone Cold; The Rock did not run you over, and The Rock won’t take the blame, or the pain, you want to give The Rock. Yeah, we can talk about one fall, two falls, sixty minutes, sixty days, who’s guilty of this, who’s innocent of that — it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is February 25th, No Way Out, The Rock and Austin. The fact of the matter is this: is I will give you every drop of sweat, every drop of blood, every ounce of energy I have – win, lose or draw, you are gonna get the absolute best of The Rock at No Way Out, and there’s a reason why they call me The Rock, there’s a reason why the most electrifying man the world has ever seen and all that … and there’s a reason why they call me the best. Come February 25th, two unstoppable forces will meet … and all questions will be answered.”

Steve Austin stares into the camera as if it was a target, as if The Rock himself is inside the lens. “I’ll go on record as sayin’ every single time I’ve been in the ring with The Rock, he has brought out the absolute best in Stone Cold Steve Austin. So when I roll in to No Way Out on February 25th? Do I wanna beat you on a personal level? Oh hell yeah, I do. You took goin’ on a year and a half of my life from me in one night, Rock, and I intend on beating out the frustration of every day of that into your ass at No Way Out. But on professional level, which bleeds over into my personal existence, I need it, Rock — I need it more than anything you could ever imagine. I need to finish this so I can get on with my life, and get on with my career, and until I do that, all I see is you in my crosshairs. So that’s the mentality I roll into No Way Out with, the fact that Stone Cold Steve Austin is back, and that I must beat the Rock to get my life back on track, to get back on the path to becoming World Wrestling Federation Champion once again. And there is no other way. There is only room for one. There is only room for one of us in the World Wrestling Federation. And that will be, Rock, when it’s all said and done … Stone Cold Steve Austin. Or I’ll die trying.”

Before Kurt Angle can join The Dudleys in the ring, Commissioner Regal pulls him aside backstage. “Kurt,” says Regal, “I just want you to know that, as part of my reaffirmed dedication to this position, I am taking in action regarding the main event at WrestleMania.”

Angle blinks. “Uh … what?”

“Should you successfully defend the WWF Title against that toe-rag Kane, you’d be scheduled to face this mysterious bloke in the gold jumpsuit. Well, I am issuing right here and now the proclamation that if this person wants to take advantage of his Royal Rumble victory, he will appear at No Way Out.”

Angle swallows, eyes wide. “Or else?”

“Or else he will forfeit his shot, and we will determine a new number one contender for WrestleMania.”

“But isn’t he guaranteed the title shot? Isn’t that iron-clad?”

“This person has not shown up at a single event since winning the Royal Rumble. He’s not wrestled once, he’s not contacted my office, and that makes him inactive as far as contractual status is concerned. He has until the end of No Way Out to show himself, or I will determine a new number one contender next Monday on Raw, in a match between the winner of the Stone Cold Steve Austin/Rock match and the Intercontinental Champion, Chris Benoit.” Regal claps Angle on the shoulder and adds with a smile; “Rest assured, Kurt, this mystery will be put to rest quite quickly, and you can move on with your career without this nonsense hanging about.” Regal walks away, leaving a perplexed Angle in his wake.

The main event, a six man tag with Angle and The Dudleys against their No Way Out opponents, Kane, Malenko and Saturn, is marred by a distracted Angle taking the brunt of the punishment. Announcers speculate that Angle is concerned with what could be a grueling future, facing either the technical prowess of Benoit or the short-tempered brawler and former WWF Champion Steve Austin at WrestleMania, if he manages to get past Kane first. The Dudleys mount the comeback for their side and clear the Radicals to the floor, leaving Kane and Angle; however, Angle takes too long in going for a moonsault and eats the mat, giving Kane the opportunity to nail a pair of chokeslams for the pin. Kane looms over his fallen foe and ignites his pyro as the announcers speculate on if the events are an omen of things to come on Sunday.

No Way Out: Feb. 25, ’01

The seven-match PPV, with almost every match being high profile, kicks off with the Steven Richards/Val Venis confrontation. Before Venis can be introduced, Richards comes out with the Hardcore Title and a trash can. “For too long, this company has reveled in the lowest common denominator for programming, appealing to gutter trash like all of you with over-the-top sexual content and rampant violence!” The crowd boos his words, but the cult leader presses on undeterred. “No longer will the Right To Censor allow the WWF to run unchecked as it corrupts the minds of Americans and the youth of this country especially! No longer will we merely act as passive demonstrators; the Right To Censor is a group of action! We exposed the dependence on pornography in this company, and the FCC has heard our voices, make no mistake, brothers and sisters, and tonight, we shall bring to an end a dark chapter in the WWF’s addiction to violence!” Richards hovers the Hardcore Title above the trash can. “Tonight, I, Steven Richards, am throwing this title, and the division that competes for it, in the garbage!”

Before Richards can let go of the belt, Commissioner Regal comes out. “You’ll do no such thing, sunshine,” he says as he strides up to Richards. “The only person who has the authority to retire a title is myself. So either, you are wasting your breath when you should be conserving it for your Hardcore Title defense in a few minutes, or you’re forfeiting the title.”

Richards recoils. “I, Steven Richards, would never abandon a title! I am–”

“Then this match will proceed,” says Regal, walking away.

“I protest this–”

Regal wheels around as quick as a snake, slapping Richards so hard he goes to the mat. When Richards springs back up, he gets in Regal’s face, only to see the fire in Regal’s eyes and backs away … until Regal grabs his tie and yanks him back in close. “And I protest your pathetic little attempt at a power play, you insufferable little bastard! Now you’ll either see fit and defend this title in the manner in which it is accustomed, or I’ll see to it you and your friends are spewing your nonsense about WWF programming from a picket line outside the arena after I terminate the lot of you!”

Regal turns and leaves, not giving Richards the time to respond, crossing paths in the aisle with Val Venis, accompanied by The APA, who looks poised and ready to decimate his former leader in the RTC. Because Venis is ready and willing to go hardcore, he has a distinct advantage over the conservative Richards, beating him into a standing stupor. But Richards utilizes a shot to the groin, a handful of tights and feet on the ropes (and his RTC members as distractions for Venis’ protection) to take the victory.

The first of three huge main events goes next, and of the three, it is the most anticipated: the long-awaited Three Stages Of Hell match. Commissioner Regal comes out again before Howard Finkel begins his introductions and hands the ring announcer an additional index card, then goes back. Finkel announces that the first introduction is for the special guest referee: Shawn Michaels. Bad blood with both Austin and Rock aside, the crowd knows that, based on recent months, Michaels is both capable of handling himself in what is likely to be chaos personified, and fair enough to call it down the middle. Rock comes out first, to one of the loudest receptions of raw hatred ever recorded, while Austin gets a welcome like a returning war hero. For almost twenty grueling minutes, Austin pursues Rock like a serial killer stalking his victim, while Rock fights back like a man making his last stand; by the end of the first fall, both men are bleeding, battered and worn, and when Rock nails Austin with a Stunner quickly followed up by a Rock Bottom for the pin, he as well as Austin take almost a full ten count to regroup. The second fall, under I Quit rules, resembles the first fall in strategy, with neither man bothering to go for submission moves and relying on brute force and battery to draw the other to say the dreaded words. In a scene that makes the audience squirm with horror (and a reversed echo of deja vu), Austin uses a chair to repeatedly bash Rock up the aisle, although like the scene’s historical mirror, there is no recorded “I quit” to be played to bail Rock out of his abuse. When Rock and Austin’s brawling gets them into the parking garage, the audience’s discomfort gets pronounced as everyone leaps to the obvious conclusion; when Austin, after breaking a beer bottle over Rock’s head to subdue him, handcuffs Rock to a guard railing in front of Austin’s truck, the worst fears in everyone’s heart and mind sink even deeper. Austin starts his truck, then jumps back out and his plan is revealed: he has jumper cables in hand. Rock finally shakes the cobwebs free as Austin is attaching the cables to his truck’s battery; when he sees Austin advanced with the live wires and realizes he can’t move his hands, Rock utters the two words, drawing the second fall to a finish and tying the epic confrontation at one decision apiece. Michaels asks Austin for the keys so they can start the third fall, but Austin shoots him the bird and climbs into the truck. Michaels calls over officials to try and get Rock free, but when Austin closes the door and turns on the headlights, Austin’s motivations become obvious.

With the squeal of tires, another car–a Lincoln Continental–comes out of nowhere and t-bones Austin’s pick-up truck; the truck slides sideways, the tail section colliding with a concrete pillar, making the entire truck pivot until it comes to a stop. The Lincoln turns off as the mob of officials split between trying to free Rock and check on Austin. The driver steps out and freezes everyone in their tracks: it is the Golden Champion. He strides through the throng of people around The Rock, who is kicking and thrashing, trying to lash out with his legs. The Golden Champion silences The Rock with a tazer to the ribs, putting Rock into dreamland. When the officials manage to get Austin’s door open, they find him alive, but unconscious and definitely injured. With both men unconscious and needing immediate medical attention, Shawn Michaels has no choice but to render a no-contest for the match. Lost amidst the chaos of checking on the medical condition of Rock and Austin is the Golden Champion, who is now quite a ways away, heading back into the arena. The officials and Michaels all demand answers, and surprisingly, the Golden Champion provides the answer to one of them, removing his mask before disappearing into the arena again. A hushed silence falls over all who see the gold mask pulled off, revealing Chris Benoit, to the group in the parking lot, laughing with obscene pride as he disappears into the arena again.

The Dudleys dominate the early proceedings of their WWF Tag Title match, although cheating from Malenko helps Saturn turn the tide and get The Radicals in control. When D-Von finally gets the tag and brings in Bubba, Edge & Christian come out to stop their rivals, but Edge accidentally spears Malenko instead. The Hardys come down to go after Edge & Christian, but accidentally cause Bubba to get tripped up. With the ref still coming to after taking a spill, Malenko uses the belt to bash Bubba’s head in and get the pin, but the fight continues past the close of the match, with all four teams taking after each other with bloodthirsty hatred.

Nobody has any reasonable expectations beyond a catfight for the Stephanie McMahon/Trish Stratus match, and to that end, they don’t disappoint; much of the fight, at least from Stephanie’s end, comes from slaps, wild swings and hair-pulling. But while Stephanie’s tactics are about as technically impressive as a chairshot, her fire and rage is overwhelming for the arrogant homewrecker Trish. Trish only manages to get a count-out victory when she resorts to a clever, if unfair, strategy; while she has the advantage, Trish rips at Stephanie’s clothes, putting huge tears in both Stephanie’s top and pants that leave Stephanie with the choice of holding onto her clothing or getting down to her skivvies to continue to fight. Pride takes over and Stephanie bails for the locker room, holding onto her clothing for dear life while Trish gloats in the ring.

As Benoit comes out for the four-way elimination match, Jim Ross updates the home audience that both The Rock and Austin are expected to be fine, with multiple lacerations and bruises, but both are in a medical facility for the night. The crowd, already not fans of Benoit, shower him with hatred usually reserved for war criminals and murderers. William Regal is announced second, and he immediately pounces on Benoit; Triple H and Chris Jericho get their entrance music, but both run for the ring to join in on the pounding of Benoit. Eventually, with three sets of fists flying, punches go astray, and the old hatred between Jericho and Triple H is renewed, splintering them off while Regal focuses on taking out Benoit. Benoit takes an amazing amount of punishment, never submitting to any of Regal’s holds, but every move or hold brings him just a little closer. But while the ref has his attention turned to a pinning predicament with the other two, Benoit uses a pair of brass knuckles to put Regal’s lights out, then slaps on the Crossface; the ref sees Benoit applying the hold and, when Regal won’t respond, the ref has no choice but to declare Regal a loser by knock-out.

Benoit sits back and lets Triple H and Jericho fight it out, taking a powder to the floor. It takes a few minutes, but finally, Jericho and Triple H notice they’ve forgotten about their shared quarry; they converse a minute, then exit the ring on opposite sides, trying to cut off his escape routes. Benoit starts to back down the aisle, but the evening’s second huge surprise drops to cut off his escape: the Golden Champion bolts out of the locker room, a chair in hand, bringing it down over the head of Benoit. Triple H and Jericho stand slack-jawed as the golden-dressed mystery man — the second one of the evening — pulverizes Benoit with shot after shot on his torso, then tosses Benoit into the ring. Triple H and Jericho shrug, communicate a second more, then finish off Benoit in dramatic fashion: a perfectly timed combination of a Pedigree and a Lionsault, followed up by a double-cover that seals the deal on Benoit’s elimination, and gives both men a long-overdue taste of revenge, leaving Triple H and Jericho alone to square up their differences. For ten long minutes, the crowd remains on their feet as two crowd favorites trade offense almost move for move, punch for punch, each looking for that one mistake to capitalize on. It is, in the end, Triple H who makes the mistake, trying for a DDT that Jericho stops by holding onto the ropes; as Triple H hits the mat, holding the back of his head, Jericho nails the Lionsault and scores the pin. The crowd explodes, until Triple H gets back to his feet and confronts Jericho; for a few tense moments, they stand eye to eye, on the precipice of another explosion. But Triple H diffuses the moment by offering a hand; Jericho takes the hand with pride.

Undertaker comes to the ring with his usual casual confidence, while his opponent, Eddie Guerrero, is nervous and edgy. Guerrero unloads everything he has into closing up Dead Man Inc., taking every shortcut and using every underhanded tactic he can find, and for a while, Guerrero looks to have the win locked up. But Undertaker’s fire and refusal to fall before an agent of Vince McMahon, and Undertaker reverses the tide to put Guerrero away with the Last Ride. When Guerrero comes to and realizes he’s lost the match, he freaks out and leaves through the crowd as the audience sings the “Na Na Na Na, Goodbye” song for his impending dismissal from Vince’s army.

With Mick Foley as the referee for the WWF Title match, the deck would seem stacked against Kurt Angle; when Vince comes out and takes a seat by the timekeeper, echoes of Montreal hit everyone in the building like a ton of bricks. Vince imposes his will on Foley from afar, scowling when Foley gives a normal-speed count for either man, and yelling at Foley for allowing Angle to “get away” with things that are basic offense. When the fight spills outside, Vince encourages Kane to utilize the ringside area–steps, tables, guardrails and ringposts–as offensive weapons, while encouraging Foley to strip Angle of the title should he use the same tools. But when Vince helps Kane by handing him a length of rope to choke Angle into unconsciousness, Foley can take no more and steps in, taking the rope away and chastising Kane. Vince responds by taking Jim Ross’ candy jar and smashing it over Foley’s head. Vince barks orders for Kane to continue punishing Angle as the crowd turns on the scene they are witnessing. As Vince directs Kane to finish off Angle once and for all, a new referee runs down, but it isn’t just a referee; it is Shane McMahon, back from exile, brandishing a Singapore cane. He slides in without anyone seeing him and dishes out lashes for both Kane and Vince, beating Kane into a stupor and kicking Vince out of the ring. With the crowd coming out of their skins, Angle, coughing up blood, crawls over to Kane’s body and drapes an arm on it; Shane makes the count, giving Angle the victory and a berth in the main event at WrestleMania.

Raw: Feb. 26, ’01

 

Steve Austin limps to the ring as Raw begins, looking less like a wrestling and more of a battlefield victim, with bandages, bruises and stitches to address his many wounds. His temper and snarl, however, look as healthy as ever. “Last night, in front of the world, Stone Cold Steve Austin beat the livin’ hell out The Rock, just like I said I would!” The crowd cheers, but not as enthusiastically as they once would have; whether it is because of the previous night’s revelations, or the murderous intentions shown by Austin the night before, nobody can be certain. “But just as I was about to get my revenge on The Rock, BAM!, here comes another damn Lincoln and crashes into me, and it’s that jackass in the gold suit. Now, I been accused of bein’ thick sometimes, but ya ain’t gotta be a genius to see what’s goin’ on here. And that’s why I’m out here, because I got two things I need to do tonight. The first,” says Austin, lowering his head a little, “is I need Rocky to come out here so I can look him in the eyes and say what I need to say like a man.”

 

The Rock, looking as bad off as Austin does, limps down to the ring. Without a shred of malice, but likewise missing any sense of friendly atomsphere, Rock approaches Austin, looking him dead in the eye from mere inches away. “Last night,” says Austin, “you took me further then I ever been in a match. You and me, we may never see eye to eye, but you may be the toughest damn guy I ever fought.” Austin pauses, sticks out a hand. “And I owe you an apology.” Rock looks down at the hand and back to Austin’s eyes, knowing Austin’s usual trick. “I ain’t pullin’ nothing, Rock. Last night, in front of the world, you showed up for the fight of your life. You knew I was lookin’ ta cripple you, and you didn’t back down once, even though you said you wasn’t guilty. And … I think I shoulda known. You may be a loud-mouthed, snot-nosed punk, and you may be a son of a bitch, but the one thing you ain’t never been is a liar. I can’t take back what I did to your family and your life … all I can do is apologize. I owe ya that.”

 

Rock lingers over it a moment, then accepts the handshake to the delight of the crowd. Once done, Austin then adds; “And I owe someone else something, and I think you owe it, too. We owe that guy in the gold jumpsuit the ass-kicking of a lifetime!”

 

The music of Chris Benoit hits; he steps out onto the stage, Intercontinental Championship on his shoulder, and a world-class smile on his face. “Gentlemen, gentlemen,” says Benoit, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait–”

 

“I wasn’t talkin’ about you, ya dumb bastard!” snaps Austin. “I’m talkin’ ’bout the guy who ran me over a year and a half ago!”

 

Benoit blinks and actually takes a step back. “I know your brain may be rattled from last night, Stone Cold, but–”

 

“Did you not hear what Stone Cold Steve Austin said?” asks The Rock. “Here, since you’re Canadian, let The Rock give you a Texas-to-Canada translation: know your role, and shut your mouth! You see, The Rock knows your game, Chris Benoit. The Rock knows … stupid guy, wears a gold Elvis costume and a mask … wins the Rumble … you piss and moan for weeks, ‘Kurt Angle owes me, Kurt Angle owes me!’. Suddenly, here you are, wearing the dumb little costume, saying you won the Rumble. Ties up neat in a little golden bow, right? Well, it’s a load of monkey crap!”

 

“It is not! I–”

 

Of all things to interrupt Benoit’s protests, no one expects it to be the audience, who react as one with shock at the face on the TitanTron … or, the lack of a face, covered by a gold mask. Benoit turns his head up, sees the Golden Champion on the screen and flips out. As Benoit fumes and hollars about how this isn’t right or fair, William Regal comes out. “Last night, Chris Benoit, your actions gave me enough reason to see you terminated without warning. You are a despicable, rotten, sorry excuse for a person, and I should send you packing … but if I fire you, you’ll never answer for your crimes against all the people you’ve hurt here, and quite frankly, I don’t even know anymore how far your crimes extend. Tonight, you will start repaying that debt, though, when you square off against The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin!”

 

Benoit completely flips his lid, throwing the title belt. “I don’t get a partner? What kind of–”

 

“Oh, you’ll get a partner alright,” says Regal with a malicious grin. “Somebody who I believe those two gentlemen want a scrap with just as much as they do you.” Regal looks up at the TitanTron, sending the crowd over the edge. “By my order, I am commanding the Golden Champion to appear as the partner of Chris Benoit, or he will forfeit his slot at WrestleMania!”

 

Benoit’s eyes go wide, almost in horror; above him, the cameras catch the golden-dressed mystery man fly off the handle–albeit silently–throwing things around, wherever he is. Regal is about to step away when he stops and taps Benoit on the shoulder. “Oh, sunshine? For disrespecting the title belt as you did, I’ll see to it you’ll be facing a fine so large, you won’t eat for a week. And you can expect a sound thrashing by me at WrestleMania 17 as well!” Regal sucker-punches Benoit, smoothes out his suit, waves to the crowd and goes backstage.

 

The first match of evening is a huge 8-man tag, pitting The Radicals and Steven Richards against Undertaker, Triple H, Chris Jericho and Val Venis. The Radicals come with Trish Stratus and Kane in tow, but both stand with arms crossed in the corner, scrutinizing the performance of their team. The Radicals almost ignore Richards’ presence, which, to their detriment, turns the match into a 4-on-3 handicap; eventually, Richards has enough of being ignored and drops away, officially leaving the team. The numbers advantage helps the opposition press their dominance and put away the three Radicals, with Venis getting the winning pinfall. As Venis and his teammates leave the ring, Trish and Kane enter, walking up to Guerrero, who immediately falls to his knees and begs for another chance. Trish smiles an entirely humorous smile, caresses Guerrero’s cheek, and takes a step back so Malenko can bash Guerrero in the back of the head with the Tag Title belt. Kane picks up Guerrero as Malenko lays out his title belt on the mat; Kane drives Guerrero headfirst into the belt with a tombstone piledriver. As Malenko and Saturn pull Guerrero to his knees so Trish can slap him and spit in his face, Big Show enters the ring, grabs Kane and chokeslams him to hell and back. Malenko and Saturn charge, but Show hits stereo chokeslams, leaving Trish alone in the ring with the giant athlete. Trish begs and pleads for her safety, but Show hears none of it and plants Trish alongside her compatriots on the mat, sending the crowd through the roof. Show picks up Guerrero’s lifeless body, drapes him over the shoulder, and carries him to the back.

 

With the tag title situation a total mess, a triple threat singles match is signed to help the teams blow off some steam, pitting Bubba Ray Dudley against Edge and Matt Hardy. The match breaks down barely inside a minute, with the respective partners getting involved, before Malenko and Saturn come back out and join the fray. The ref has no choice to but to throw the match, while everyone gets pulled apart.

 

Shane McMahon, not seen in over a month prior to the previous night’s interjection into the WWF Title match, comes out to a raucous reception. Shane soaks in the applause for a bit, then asks everyone to quiet down so he can speak. “I’m sure you’re all wondering where I’ve been for the past month. I’m sure there might even be a few of you who are mad at me for not sticking around while my father has turned the WWF into a nightmare for the WWF Superstars.” The audience responds with more applause, putting down the thoughts of ill will over his absence. “You see, I was gone for a month because I discovered the truth. My mother, Linda, did not take a leave of absence to deal with the impending divorce of my parents. My mother …” Shane pauses, holding a hand to his mouth, obviously choking up. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and continues. “My mother was devestated by my father’s demand for a divorce. And when my father learned of this, he had her so medicated, she doesn’t even respond anymore. She sits in a chair and stares out the window all day; she doesn’t talk, she barely moves, and she has to be fed like some kind of invalid!” Shane’s hands tremble with rage as he speaks; his forehead gets clammy with sweat, his eyes get wide like spotlights. “My father manipulated my mother and put her in a catatonic state, so he could muscle her out of her position as CEO of the World Wrestling Federation!” Shane turns towards the ramp, the rage coming off him in almost visible waves. “How can you do this to your own wife, Vince? To the mother of your children? Vince, you senile old bastard! I swear to God and everybody here, on my honor, I will not stop until I beat you at your own game and drive you out of the WWF forever!”

 

“No Chance In Hell” cues up, bringing out Vince McMahon, arms puffed out as if he were a champion body builder. Vince looks all too proud off himself, even as his only son looks at him with endless contempt. “Shane, Shane, Shane,” says Vince. “Your mother’s condition is purely brought on by her inability to cope with the stress of losing the comfortable life I’ve given her. You have to face the facts: your mother always has been a gold-digging whore–” The crowd nearly comes out of their seats at this; Vince sneers at the audience. “You’ll shut up when I beat the living hell out of the WWF Commissioner in a few minutes!” he says, strutting down to the ring. Vince gets in the ring and gets right in Shane’s face. “You also need to face the fact that you willnever stack up to me, Shane. I was a better student, I’m a better businessman, and I’m a better wrestler.” Vince rears back and slaps Shane, but Shane brings his head back to bear, glaring at his father with raw hatred. Vince stares in shock as Shane seethes, his hands balling and loosening over and over again. Vince doesn’t notice William Regal enter the ring and stand right behind him until Shane slaps Vince so hard, the blow turns Vince around; Vince staggers right into Regal, who grins before unleashing on Vince’s chest with vicious knife-edge chops. Shane ducks out of the ring and instructs the timekeeper to ring the bell, turning the beatdown into the official contest, which sees Vince get beaten from pillar to post. When Regal locks in the STF, a tap-out is all but assured, until Chris Benoit comes and attacks Regal, drawing the DQ. Shane jumps in the ring and goes after his father, but Vince’s army rushes the ring and pulverize Shane, then pull Vince out and leave Regal for Benoit to dissect.

 

Kane, fresh off his decimation of Eddie Guerrero, comes at Big Show with renewed fury, but Show won’t wilt against the Big Red Machine. When Kane can’t land a chokeslam on Big Show, he leaves the ring and grabs a chair, blasting Show in the head to draw a DQ. Kane is all ready to maul the giant with the chair, but Guerrero hobbles down the ramp with the fire of vengeance in his eyes and a chair of his own in his hands. Kane catches sight of Guerrero and beckons him to get in the ring and fight, taking his eyes off Show, who gets back up to his feet as if nothing happened, spins Kane around and plants him with a chokeslam of his own. Guerrero and Show gesture to each other, both now bonded by being exiles from Vince’s favor.

 

The biggest main event in Raw history kicks off with the introductions of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Both look absolutely horrible and in no shape to compete, but neither look like they’d miss the opportunity before them for the world. Before the ring announcer gets to introducing their opponents, Austin steps up to The Rock, and for a few tense moments, the rivalry looks to be simmering again … until Austin extends a hand. Rock accepts it without hesitation, sending the audience into overdrive with cheers. The contrast of the peace brokered between the two long-time rivals is countered by the first man coming down to the ring, Chris Benoit, a man responsible for spreading poison in nearly every corner of the WWF. Behind him, the masked mystery winner of the Royal Rumble, now a figure of skepticism and mistrust in the WWF. The Golden Champion drops away from the apron, forcing Benoit to take the lead in the match, a move the announcers speculate is out of spite. For almost ten minutes, Benoit is forced to endure a thorough beating as Austin and Rock trade off pounding on the Intercontinental Champion; every advantage Benoit earns, either Rock or Austin has no moral qualms about ending with an illegal attack from behind. Benoit manages to snap off a brutal German on The Rock and staggers towards his corner, only for the Golden Champion to come into the ring and nearly separate Benoit’s head from his shoulders with a clothesline, then leaves the ring again and backs up the ramp, leaving Benoit to the wolves. Austin gets the tag, snaps off a Stunner and gets the pinfall, and is just as quickly on his feet again, as is Rock, looking towards the Golden Champion. He backs up the ramp, shaking his head at Rock and Austin, not seeing the line of security guards behind him, led by Regal until he actually bumps into Regal. Before he can find an escape or even beg for mercy, Austin and Rock storm up the ramp, dragging him by the arms down to the ring as he kicks and thrashes, but he twists enough to get the grip loose and scrambles to the outside, where Benoit pops up and drops him to his knees with a vicious chop across the chest. As the Golden Champion holds his smarting chest, Benoit grabs the mask and rips it off. For a handful of seconds, the only sound in the arena is over 10,000 people gasping simultaneously. Austin and Rock watch from the ring, perplexed as the security force swarms down to take the person in for questioning, and presumably for their safety. But while Austin and Rock are left scratching their heads, the audience’s mindset quickly gels upon seeing the Golden Champion revealed as Kurt Angle: unbridled disgust.

 

Smackdown: Mar. 1, ’01

 

A WWF Tag Team Title defense, pitting the Radicals against former friends Eddie Guerrero & Big Show, and a big confrontation between William Regal and Shane McMahon teaming against Vince McMahon and his reluctant partner Chris Benoit, highlight Smackdown’s in-ring docket. But what everyone wants to see, what has been promised in television  and radio ads, and on the WWF website: an on-demand appearence by Chris Benoit, explaining exactly what happened on Raw, his role and what exactly is going on with himself and Kurt Angle. Angle himself is banned from the arena while continuing to undergo intense interrogation (and protective custody), while the five victims of the confusing conspiracy–Steve Austin, Undertaker, Triple H, Chris Jericho and The Rock–are blockaded in dressing rooms while Benoit is in the ring.

 

Commissioner William Regal leads a battalion of security guards marches out of the back and down the ramp; in the middle of the squadron is the second-most hated man in the World Wrestling Federation, Chris Benoit. Regal urges the crowd to calm down so Benoit can speak. When the audience finally, after several minutes of uninterrupted heckling, quiets down, Regal steps up to Benoit, shaking his head, a mask of disgust on his face. “Before I give you the floor, Chris Benoit,” says Regal, spitting out the words, “I want to say something to you. When I was at my lowest point, I looked up to you as the model of behavior I should follow to turn my life around. So to see the scoundrel you’ve become is nothing short of horrid. You make me sick, and I have no expectations that whatever feeble excuses you plan on spewing forth tonight will make any difference in the hearts and minds of these fans, or of myself.” Regal shoves the microphone into Benoit’s hands, then, quite uncharacteristically, spits in Benoit’s face. Benoit doesn’t even blink, and only wipes away the spit when Regal leaves the ring. When Regal disappears to the back, Benoit finally begins speaking.

 

“I am not out here because Commissioner Regal forced me,” proclaims a defiant Benoit. “I am out here to right a wrong. I am out here to correct an injustice. Kurt Angle screwed me, and I am out here to tear him down. When I arrived here in the World Wrestling Federation a year ago, I came here looking for opportunity I couldn’t get elsewhere, only to find myself the victim of a corrupt Commissioner and an uncaring owner. Kurt Angle approached me after Unforgiven last year, and he told me about a plan he’d been working on for over nine months, a plan that had already eliminated two big WWF Superstars, and with my help, could take down more. He told me how the most important of his Three I’s was Intelligence, and he used his intelligence to eliminate Steve Austin by running him over at the 1999 Survivor Series, and he’d used his intelligence to plant evidence to frame The Rock when the time came. He told me how he’d been trying to break up Triple H’s marriage to distract him, but Stephanie had decided to stay with Hunter, so he came to me and asked for my help. We used the Right To Censor and we framed Chris Jericho as a homewrecker, while Mick Foley created such a mess of the Austin case beyond our wildest fantasties that we could only help fan the flames. Every move he made … the fake eyewitness confession about seeing The Rock in the parking garage … entering the Royal Rumble under a mask so he could keep Austin and The Rock from winning … everything that Kurt Angle has done in the past six months, he’s done with my help.” Benoit pauses, his lip curling up, his brow furrowing. “And when it was all done, when everybody Angle was afraid of was put in their place, and he’d won the Rumble, I went to him and I asked him for my payment, my WWF Title shot. And he refused!” Benoit walks up to one of the cameras, leveling a finger. “Kurt Angle, I know you’ll watch this somewhere, somehow, and I want you to understand: you do notscrew Chris Benoit! I will make your life a living hell, Kurt Angle! I’ve already destroyed your little conspiracy, and now, I’ll make your life a nightmare until WrestleMania! You owe me a World Wrestling Federation Championship match, and I’ll get it … or I will show you why they call me the Crippler!”

 

No sooner is the confession over then Chris Jericho is in Regal’s office, demanding a piece of Angle’s hide at WrestleMania. Jericho reminds Regal about his victory in the four-way elimination match not a couple weeks before, and how Angle hasn’t been able to defeat him fair and square in any of their WWF Title confrontations. Regal tells Jericho he will consider it and let him know next week.

 

Smackdown gets the mirror triple threat of the Dudleys/Hardys/Edge & Christain rivalry, featuring D-Von, Christian and Jeff. Like Raw, the match deteriorates quickly, and the partners of the respective wrestlers jump in the fray just as fast, forcing a no-decision. From the back, the tag champs, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn, watch with smug satisfaction as their enemies tear each other apart.

 

As Regal relaxes with a cup of tea, his door explodes open on the heels of Triple H, who overturns a chair and demands a shot at Angle at WrestleMania. Like Jericho, Triple H brings up how Angle has yet to beat him sqaurely, and also reminds Regal of his pinfall victory over the champion in September. Unlike Jericho, though, promises to review the situation and get back to him doesn’t satisfy Triple H, who takes out another chair before Regal jumps out of his chair and reiterates, this time in firm, threatening tone of voice, that if he doesn’t stop tearing up the office, Triple H will find himself on the outside of title contention for the rest of the year. Reluctantly, Triple H leaves, vowing to come back on Monday if he doesn’t get an answer first thing.

 

Val Venis enters the ring, accompanied by the APA, set to do battle with Bull Buchanan, a “qualifier” set by Steven Richards that Venis must win if Venis wants another crack at the Right To Censor leader. In a rare show of forethought by the RTC chieftain, Richards directs The Goodfather and Ivory to come backstage with him, so as not to cause a disqualification for their man. Unfortunately, without the gang behind him, Buchanan seems lost and is easy prey for Venis, who wrestles with a newfound fire as he dismantels the big bully. The RTC tries a bumrush after the match’s closing bell, but the APA, true to their word, provides some back-up muscle to drive the white-shirted worms back into their holes.

 

Regal replaces the last piece of upturned furniture in his office and sits down to enjoy a new cup of tea, only for the door to burst open again. This time, it is Undertaker, who proceeds to undo all the repair-work done by Regal. Undertaker reminds Regal of his decimation of Angle at Fully Loaded the previous summer, and his being the victim of Vince McMahon’s persecution and false accusations. Like his previous two visitors, Regal tells Undertaker that all requests for matches with Angle are under the same consideration, and he will deliver a decision on matches, as well as the WrestleMania main event, on Raw the following week. Undertaker gives Regal a warning on the way out: if Regal screws him around like Vince did, Regal will be taking his tea through an IV.

 

Malenko and Saturn are given marching orders from Vince McMahon before they go to the ring: cripple their opponents at all costs. Guerrero and Show try to counter by sending in the big man to soften up the opponents, but, knowing the wheels of the giant are his weak points, The Radicals zero in on Show’s knees and chop him down to size. When Show finally tags into Guerrero, the fiery Latino cleans house, but his bid for gold comes unglued by the unwanted interference of Kane, who draws the DQ by chokeslamming Guerrero almost out of his boots. As Big Show struggles to get to his feet, Kane gets some back-up from an unexpected source: Test, who kicks Show’s head into next Tuesday. The Hardys and The Dudleys come down and help clean house, but quickly come to blows of their own. When the brawl between the rival teams spills into the back, Edge & Christian, lying in wait, use chairs to drop the two teams of brothers like stones in a lake.

 

Yet again, Commissioner Regal finds himself resetting the office furniture after a wrestler’s tantrum. He rights the final chair, sets the pillow properly and turns around right into the face of The Rock, his eyes hidden by sunglasses. Regal sighs and looks up, waiting for Rock’s inevitable tirade in the spirit of the last three he’s faced, but instead, The Rock stands motionless, wordless, gazing from behind the mirrored lenses, the seconds dragging by as the silence, for Regal, becomes unnerving. Finally, he explodes. “Yes, yes, I’m considering you as well! Really, this kind of harassment is more then I should be forced to endure! How would you like it if I stalked you night and day and made demands?”

 

The Rock raises an eyebrow. “The Rock doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about. The Rock just wants to know if the WWF officials are going to apologize for throwing mud on the good name of The Rock.”

 

Regal stands, mouth agape, unable to move for a second. He blinks a couple times, coughs and offers a hand. “Yes, Rock. You deserve as much. For the errors commited by both my administration and the prior in falsely accusing you of the hit-and-run assault on Stone Cold, I hope you can accept my apology.”

 

Rock looks at Regal’s hand a moment, then clasps it strongly. As Regal is about to release, Rock clasps it harder and pulls the Commissioner closer. “The Rock had better be getting thought of to beat Kurt Angle’s jabroni ass at WrestleMania.” Rock releases the hand and walks away.

 

Vince’s disdain for wrestling with Chris Benoit, the co-conspirator of Kurt Angle, the master of his company’s misery for well over a year, is palpable as he approaches the ring. Conversely, Benoit approaches the ring with an evil, twisted grin, and the reasons behind it come to surface not long after the bell rings: Benoit drops down to the floor, refusing to tag in. When Vince barks at Benoit and orders him in, Benoit flips off the chairman and asks snidely; “This isn’t the opportunity I left Atlanta for, asshole!” But the two-on-one advantage quickly disappears, as Regal chases Benoit up the ramp and into the back. In the ring, Vince gets help from his soldiers, who lay waste to the disowned McMahon son, drawing a DQ Vince couldn’t care less about. Vince and his soldiers leave Shane a bloodied, broken heap, cackling as they walk up the ramp.

 

In the back, the police intercept Benoit and keep Regal from attacking him, citing a protective order against the Commissioner. Benoit laughs as the police give him escort to a waiting police vehicle for safe transport away from the arena, only for the vehicle to be rammed at high speed by a Lincoln. As Benoit frantically, and unsuccessfully, tries to find a way out of the back of the cop car, the door opens on the Lincoln; out steps Kurt Angle, brandishing a crowbar. Screaming about betrayal the entire time, Angle hammers the windows and car; when a cop tries to subdue the WWF Champion, Angle throws them into the car or a nearby tractor trailer.

 

But as Angle reaches in to try and grab Benoit by the hair, another person, Stone Cold Steve Austin, comes out of the darkness and breaks a shovel over the back of Angle’s head. Wordlessly, like a serial killer focusing on his victim, Austin lays into Angle’s fallen body with the shovel handle. It isn’t until over twenty arena security guards and a platoon of WWF Superstars pull Austin away from Angle does Austin finally say anything, only it’s directed to Commissioner Regal: a promise that, if doesn’t get Angle at WrestleMania, Angle will be the first WWF Champion to die while holding the belt.

 

Raw: Mar. 5, ’01

 

Jim Ross pimps the marquee matches for Raw as Vince McMahon saunters down to the ring: an 8-man tag pitting Kane, Test, and the WWF Tag Champs against Eddie Guerrero, Big Show, and two partners of their choosing; Undertaker & Rock teaming up against Raven & Tazz; Triple H against Steven Richards; Val Venis taking on The Goodfather; and the main event, a first-ever for the WWF: a steel cage lumberjack match, pitting Kurt Angle against Chris Benoit in a non-title match. Vince’s brow is furrowed, his stride forceful and angry.

 

“Last week on Smackdown,” begins Vince, “the biggest mystery in WWF history came unglued. Kurt Angle, working with Chris Benoit and the Right To Censor, ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin, manipulated the investigation which led to the termination of an acceptable WWF Commissioner and the framing of an innocent man, tore apart a marriage with deception and trickery, and rigged a Royal Rumble. I may not have any love for any of the victims in this tragedy, but the fact remains that these men saw fit to pervert and poison my company! Do you know how it makes me feel … how … how … dirty it makes me feel, to know that this simpleton, this meathead, this, this mere wrestler single-handedly pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes!” The crowd cheers the sentiment, even if the source is less then the crowd’s favorite person. “And all this would not have happened, had I, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, not had been so distracted by fighting non-stop for control over my own company with my gold-digging wife, my idiot children and that insipid Commissioner! And that is why, at WrestleMania 17, I will solve this problem once and for all; I will, in one fell swoop, flush out the toxins that are plaguing this proud company, and I willrestore the pride and the stature that have been lost in the shadow of this past year and a half, and I will do that by fighting my son, Shane McMahon, in a Street Fight, and when I beat him within an inch of his life and drive him out of this company, I will finally be able to bring some order to this cha–”

 

Vince’s words abruptly stop as his eyes catch sight of someone in the crowd. Vince’s eyes turn into huge white orbs, his jaw almost falling off its hinges as he looks on at the person in the front row. The camera follows his gaze, and when the person’s face appears on the screen, the arena falls silent with shock at the sight of the mad scientist of ECW, Paul Heyman, sitting front row at Monday Night Raw. Vince’s mouth tries to make words, but on the first few tries, he can’t find his breath. Finally, a whisper passes through his lips. “Wha-wha-what are you doing here?” Heyman doesn’t move in his seat, not even a twitch of the lip, so Vince repeats himself, this time with a little more force. “What are you doing here? Dammit, I asked you a question, what do you think you’re doing here?” Heyman remains as still as a statue in his chair, incensing Vince further. “Get your ass in here, Heyman, and answer me!”

 

Heyman slowly stands, smoothing out his familiar leather trenchcoat as he stands. He smiles politely, then offers a response in the form of two middle fingers. “I don’t work for you, Vince!” he yells. “I don’t answer to you!” Heyman sits back down, the smile disappearing as he crosses his arms and glares at Vince. Vince barks for security, but Heyman flashes his ticket, burying any threat security could pose. Finally, Vince drops down to the floor, walks up to Heyman and demands an explanation for his presence.

 

“I don’t owe you anything, Vince,” says Heyman calmly. He stands up, smooths out his jacket again, and continues. “But, since you asked, I’ll tell you: I’m a businessman. I’m a businessman, like you, and like you, I’m in the business of promoting wrestling. So, naturally, I’m here … on business.”

 

Vince flushes. “Business …” Vince gulps, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down what looks like a foot. “Business with … who?”

 

“Business, Vince. I’m here looking at business opportunities.” Heyman sits back down, crossing his arms. Vince walks away, staggering and nearly tripping over his own feet, his face as white as a sheet of paper, as Heyman watches the WWF Chairman stammer back to the back like a nauseated drunk.

 

The in-ring action kicks off with Val Venis’ second stage in his fight through the RTC to get to Steven Richards, taking on The Goodfather (although the announcers spend more time speculating about why Heyman is at Raw). Unlike the mistake of keeping the troops back when Venis defeated Bull Buchanan, Richards, Buchanan and Ivory make sure their presence, and their threat, at ringside is blatant. The APA, true to their word, keep a watch on Venis’ back and, as the match progresses, run interference when the RTC tries to stop what quickly becomes inevitable: another win by Venis, netting him a Hardcore Title match on Smackdown.

 

Vince’s soldiers take to the ring for the eight-man tag match. Guerrero and Big Show stand on the stage as they await their chosen partners for the colossal confrontation: The Dudleys. With the masters of tables and hardcore action alongside, the foursome take to the ring like a stampede of bulls, clearing the ring to start off the match. The referee finds himself overwhelmed with eight angry men ready to throw down, and the match is a donnybrook before long. The Dudleys end up scoring the 3-D on Perry Saturn, taking the pinfall for their team. As Vince’s troops back up the ramp, cursing their enemies, Bubba grabs a microphone and challenges Malenko & Saturn to a WWF Tag Title match at WrestleMania. Before The Radicals can answer, Edge & Christian come through the crowd and drop their hated rivals with chair shots to the backs of their heads. Edge & Christian grab the microphones and are about to declare themselves the rightful number one contenders until The Hardy Boys charge in and drive them from the ring.

 

Commissioner Regal enters the ring, his demeanor serious. “The disturbing revelations by Chris Benoit about WWF Champion Kurt Angle’s involvement in multiple conspiracies against other WWF Superstars have causes me much concern,” says Regal. “Equally troubling is the issue that, to avoid a title defense at WrestleMania, Kurt Angle defied WWF regulations and entered himself under a mask and won the Royal Rumble, ensuring no number-one contender.” Regal looks to the entrance ramp and says; “At this time, I’d request that the five gentlemen who petitioned me for favor on Smackdown last week come down to the ring.”

 

One by one, Regal is joined by Chris Jericho, Triple H, Undertaker, The Rock and Steve Austin. All five stand in the ring, looking as if they’d prefer being anywhere else but the ring. “All five of you do indeed have outstanding cases for being the person to challenge Kurt Angle for the WWF Title at WrestleMania. And I assure you that my decision was not reached with ease. I–”

 

Undertaker leans forward and rips the microphone out of Regal’s hand. “All I wanna know is, if it ain’t me, when I get to beat your uptight ass? Cause if anyone deserves it–”

 

“It’s me, junior!” says Jericho as he steals the microphone. “Nobody’s been made to look like a bigger–”

 

Triple H snatches the microphone, but before he can say anything, Rocky shoves him, causing him to drop the microphone. Rock and Triple H get nose to nose, trading insults until Austin grabs the microphone. “I lost a damn year of my life cause of that son of a bitch, so y’all can get in line for an ass-kicking after I break the bastard’s neck,” says Austin.

 

Regal snatches the microphone back. “That’s quite bloody enough, all of you!” he yells. “The lot of you better settle down before I send all of you home for WrestleMania and give the title shot to Earl Hebner!” The group of Superstars finally settle and focus on the Commissioner, all still looking ancy, but at the very least, no longer at each other’s throats. “I’ve reached what I believe to be a fair and just decision. Firstly, to prevent any kind of undue influence from outside sources, and because of the severity of the issues involved, I have decided that WrestleMania will have its first World Wrestling Federation Championship defense in a Hell In A Cell match, and it will be defended against …” Regal pauses, looking at the tableau of expectant faces, then out into the frenzied crowd. “Kurt Angle will defend against … all five of you.”

 

The five men, all linked as victims of Angle’s treachery and Machiavellian planning, now look at each other with new faces: those of opponents, roadblocks to both exacting personal vengeance on the diabolical Angle and to capturing the WWF Title. But the shock of the situation hasn’t even wore off before Chris Benoit is out on stage, looking absolutely enraged.

 

“How dare you overlook me?” Benoit opines. “This is the discrimination, the bias that this company has shown since I arrived here! I earned a shot at Kurt Angle, and I damn well expect–”

 

Benoit’s whiny tantrum gets cut off by none other then Angle himself, who rips the microphone from Benoit’s hands. “You thinkyou got it bad? All you gotta do at WrestleMania is make that freakishly pale Commissioner tap out, and your night is done! I gotta beat five men inside a Hell In A Cell!” Angle looks at Regal. “You’ll be hearing from my attorney. That is an unsafe working condition you’ve placed me in.”

 

Austin grabs the microphone from Regal to respond. “If you hadn’t pissed the five of us off so bad, you wouldn’t find yourself in an ‘unsafe working condition’. So if you got a complaint, you stupid son of a bitch, why don’t you come on down here and make it?”

 

“Oh, no, I’m not that stupid. You’ll be lucky if I even come to WrestleMania, after this … this … farce!” Angle drops the microphone and goes to leave, but Benoit steps in his way. Angle tells him to step aside and tries to walk around, but Benoit again blocks the way. Benoit taps the belt on Angle’s shoulder, then makes a belt motion across his own waist. Angle feigns turning away, then turns back and shoves Benoit. Benoit chuckles, pulls the same feint, but instead of coming back with a push, unleashes with a flurry of knife-edge chops across Angle’s chest. Angle is too stunned to fire back, and with his now-assumed position of the most reviled man in the company, nobody is eager to come to his aid as Benoit raises welts and nearly draws blood chopping into Angle’s chest. Angle finally manages to escape when he’s dropped to his knees and crawls through Benoit’s legs like a baby, scurrying for the back, leaving his title belt behind. Before Benoit can boast, though, the ring empties, sending Benoit looking for higher ground.

 

A pre-match demand by Raven and Tazz to fight under hardcore rules is quickly agreed upon by their opponents, Undertaker and Rock, and the weaponry and impliments come pouring out from under the ring, around it, and from Raven’s ever-present shopping cart. Yet, while Rock and Undertaker have a size and power advantage, and are no strangers to weaponry, they cannot overcome miscommunication and timely errors on their part, including a devestating shot with a cookie sheet that flattens the People’s Champ and gives Raven the opportunity to DDT Rock into a stop sign while Tazz occupies Undertaker for the three-count.

 

A variety of WWF Superstars, from the lowliest of preliminary talent to upper echelon icons, file down to the ringside area, surrounding the caged ring. And, in a sign of clever decision-making by Commissioner Regal, the Superstars chosen as lumberjacks include no one with a vested interest in the match, nor a personal grudge with either Angle or Benoit. Nevertheless, as first Benoit, and then Angle, pass through the crowd and into the cage, they have to endure hostile glares from their peers. As soon as the door closes, Angle and Benoit tear into each other, skipping their technical and amateur prowess for trying to cut the other in half with chops. But when either man try to leave the cage, they are met with stern glares and crossed arms from the lumberjacks, a direct counter to the intention of the lumberjacks. Finally, after numerous attempts to escape are met with simmering hostility, Angle mouths off to one of the lumberjacks; the result becomes an instantly iconic visual, as Benoit and Angle look on like a rat trapped in the corner by a hungry cat as the 20 lumberjacks storm the cage through the door and over the walls. The officials try to bring the situation to order, but the lumberjacks won’t be stopped by bell-ringing or 90 pound referees. Once the WWF Champion and his former co-conspirator have been left in heaps on the mat, the lumberjacks file out orderly, up the ramp towards a waiting Steve Austin, with a wad of money in hand and a huge smile on his face.

 

Smackdown: Mar. 8, ’01

 

Steve Austin against Chris Benoit, The Rock and Undertaker challenging for the WWF Tag Titles, and Val Venis finally getting his hands on Steven Richards in a Hardcore Title match are just three matches that highlight a huge Smackdown on the Road To WrestleMania.

 

But it is the WWF Champion who opens the show, coming out with a phalanx of guards. Instead of his normal singlet and the ominpresent gold medals, he is in a suit. “When I came to the WWF, I was kind enough to share my insight about the Three I’s with all of you common people: Integrity, Intensity and Intelligence. But when I met the so-called Superstars in the WWF, I realized that not a one of them possessed any of the Three I’s.” Angle holds up a finger. “The Rock, for example. Rude, crude, abusive, and … what is with that speaking in the third person? Is he delusional? I mean, sheesh, did he eat paint chips as a kid or something? He sure doesn’t have Intelligence, and with how he treats that poor Kevin Kelly just because he’s mentally retarded, that’s a sign of no Integrity!” Angle holds up a second finger. “Then there’s Undertaker. I mean, the guy rides a motorcycle to the ring; indoor pollution, both air and noise! And let’s not forget what kind of laziness it takes to ride a motorcycle down the entrance ramp! And he chews tobacco! He doesn’t have any one of the The Three I’s!” Angle proceeds to hold up more fingers as he names off more people. “Triple H, he’s an abusive lunatic with no care or concern for women … Chris Jericho is a raving madman with a poor grasp of English … but then again, what should we expect from a Canadian? And then there’s Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is such a mess of problems, he barely qualifies as a human being! That’s why I worked so hard to get rid of these people, and for all my hard work, not only do you people boo me–and I’m an Olympic hero, you traitors!–but the WWF Commissioner puts me in mortal danger by booking me in a six-man Hell In A Cell match at WrestleMania?” Angle shakes his head. “Well, tonight, I’m putting my foot down. I will not be put in danger tonight, or any other night, because of the bias and the ungratefulness of the WWF front office. I am here to announce I will not be appearing on any WWF programming between now and WrestleMania, and I have filed a formal protest against my title defense at WrestleMania. I am confident that I can get it reduced to a proper one-on-one match, or perhaps cancelled altogether. For the egregious error in judgment committed by the WWF in allowing those corrupt lumberjacks to manhandle me like they did on Monday Night Raw, it is the leastthey can do!” Angle nods as if adding punctuation to his statement, then proclaims; “Well, that about covers it. See you in April!”

 

William Regal’s music and appearence on the stage cuts off Angle’s retreat. “Kurt, Kurt, Kurt. I’m to be the bearer of bad news for you, I’m afraid,” he says with a smile that contradicts his words. “Protest all you like, but not only are you the holder of the World Wrestling Federation Title, but you’re also contracted to make a certain number of appearence for this company, and I’m afraid we cannot have the WWF Champion taking time off in the weeks before WrestleMania, especially at the detriment of not defending the title for over a month.” Regal’s grin grows wider. “Because, if memory serves, a champion who does not defend his title within 30 days is within rights to be stripped of said title. And we simply cannot have a vacant championship going into WrestleMania, just as much as we cannot have a WrestleMania with a champion!”

 

“Yeah, well, my lawyer–”

 

Regal’s demeanor switches from maliciously jubilant to ice cold. “I’ve already spoken with your barrister, and I’ve made it perfectly clear to him the legalities of the situation. When you speak with that schyster, I assure you, he’ll make it perfectly clear you’ve not a leg to stand on. So either I will see you at every Raw and Smackdown between now and WrestleMania, or so help me God, I will not only will I relieve you of the title, but I’ll slap the skin clean off your bones, sunshine!”

 

Angle tries to produce a comeback, but his throat only lets out unintelligible grunts and wordless noises. Regal is about to turn away when he stops and throws out; “It occurs to me that, frankly, the people are sick of seeing you sullying that prestigious title, and so am I. So I expect to see you in that ring, defending your title tonight.” Regal pauses, an evil sneer on his lips. “Against me.”

 

The crowd loves the suggestion but, upon returning to his office, Regal runs into five people who don’t: Angle’s Hell In A Cell opponents. Triple H steps forward first, his eyes electric with anger. “What in the hell was that, William?” The group concurs and is on the verge of getting rowdy before Regal urges them to calm down.

 

“You have to understand, Kurt Angle frustrated me and backed me into a corner. I had to teach the miserable little toerag a lesson.”

 

Austin steps up, leaning over the desk, his gaze that of a lion toward a gazelle. “Well, all I hear is, you just got yourself a title shot. Which means, if you win, my title shot at WrestleMania goes up in smoke! I want Kurt Angle, and I want the title, and I want ‘em at WrestleMania, Regal!”

 

“I understand, Steven. All of you, I sympathize. And I promise you, regardless of the outcome of tonight’s WWF Title match, you all will get your shot with Kurt Angle. If I win, though, we will determine a new number one contender–a single number one contender–and as for Kurt Angle, you’ll all just have to take turns exacting your revenge.”

 

Val Venis’ long-awaited Hardcore Title shot at Steven Richards turns into a fiasco, as having a concrete time announced for a Hardcore Title defense invites others to utilize the 24/7 rule. Richards loses the belt three times, none of which are to Venis, until his Right To Censor brethren stick their nose into the proceedings and clear out the uninvited challengers. The APA come to the rescue, but not in time to save Venis from taking a three-on-one pounding en route to a defeat. As the RTC walk up the ramp, boastful like they won the Super Bowl, Faarooq and Bradshaw get on the microphone and make a challenge: once and for all, a six-man tag at WrestleMania, Venis and the APA against the Right To Censor. Buchanan opens his mouth and accepts before Richards can stop him, to which Richards flies off into a rage, berating his underling as they disappear into the back.

 

A scheduled match between Big Show and Kane never gets off the ground, as Kane ambushes the behemoth on the entrance ramp. The attack draws out Eddie Guerrero, who attacks Kane with a lead pipe. Before Guerrero can get too proud of his ambush victory, Test evens the odds and extinguishes Latino Heat with a boot in the face, then gets in a few licks on Big Show.

 

A chance at some revenge is given to Chris Jericho and Triple H when they are partnered up to face off against Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather of Right To Censor. The holier-than-thou conservative troop takes it for granted that Jericho and Triple H, rivals from way back and a pinfall by Jericho still fresh in Triple H’s mind, won’t be able to co-exist, and initially, they’re right. However, the RTC’s cockiness opens the door for their opponents’ quest for vengeance, giving Jericho and Triple H the chance to stage the comeback and score simultaneous pinfalls off of a Lionsault and a Pedigree. But the unity vanishes as quick as it came in as Triple H sucker punches Jericho to the shock of the crowd. Kevin Kelly catches Triple H on the way to the back and asks why he would turn on Jericho so ruthlessly.

 

“You need to understand some basic fundamentals, fatboy,” snaps Triple H. “For me to ‘turn’ on Chris Jericho implies I was friends with him at some point. I didn’t ask to be partnered with him tonight, or on any other night it’s been forced on us. We both got screwed by the Right To Censor, so Regal gave us the shot at revenge. At WrestleMania, Chris Jericho isn’t helping me beat Kurt Angle; he wants to beat Kurt Angle just as much as I do. Don’t be so stupid as to think he forgot about that. I know I haven’t.” Triple H walks away, leaving Kevin Kelly’s follow-up questions unanswered.

 

As Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler run down the established card for WrestleMania thus far, the production team messages them that cameras have found Paul Heyman in the front row again, sitting quietly in his trademark trenchcoat and ECW ballcap. Heyman brushes off the inquiries of Kevin Kelly, leaving all the questions around his presence still a mystery. But Kevin Kelly’s failure to get answers doesn’t stop someone else from trying: Trish Stratus, who makes her appeals for information all the more alluring by wearing her most revealing and low-cut top and leaning over the guard rail so Heyman has a good view of her cleavage. Heyman only gives the ample chest of Trish and her words half an eye before Trish is pulled away by Stephanie and Shane McMahon. Stephanie hauls off with a slap that puts Trish on the ground, as Shane warns Trish to keep her nose out of the WWF’s business dealings. Shane goes to shake hands with Heyman and apologize, but Heyman keeps his arms crossed and stays seated.

 

Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn come down to the ring for their scheduled WWF Tag Title defense against The Rock and Undertaker, but before their opponents come down, Malenko grabs a microphone. He and Saturn brag about how they are the company’s best wrestlers, handpicked by Vince McMahon to represent technical superiority in the tag ranks, and that the hardcore “slop artists” like the Dudleys, the Hardys and Edge & Christian can go muck about in their brawls while their reign will continue until the end of time. The boasting draws out Commissioner Regal, who asks if the tag champs believe their technical prowess can overcome the teams they’ve managed anytime, anyplace; when Malenko and Saturn assure Regal that, yes, their skills can put down “any idiot with a chair or a ladder or a table”, Regal informs them they’ll get the opportunity to prove their point at WrestleMania, in a four-way TLC match against the Hardys, the Dudleys and Edge & Christian.

 

The announcement puts Malenko and Saturn out of sorts for their title defense, a fact that Rock and Undertaker exploit to pulverize the tag champs at will. But, once again, miscommunication and the old enmity comes back to bite the challengers in the ass, leading to Saturn getting a pin on The Rock by way of a shot to the head with the title belt. Once the champs leave, Rock, still groggy, demands to know where Undertaker was when Saturn used the belt to ring Rock’s bell; Undertaker responds by turning away, but Rock pulls him back. Putting his hands on the Dead Man earns Rock a chokeslam.

 

When the ring announcer proclaims it time for the main event WWF Title defense, there is an air in the arena that this might just be the night. When Angle comes to the ring looking a deer in headlights, and Regal comes down looking focused and lethal, the anticipation is almost palpable … until the ring announcer adds that the special referee for the match will be Vince McMahon. With no love lost between Vince and Regal, and Angle being the source of a major headache for the chairman, the mood in the building is not only one of fear but confusion as to whom, if anyone, Vince will favor. From the opening bell, it looks like Vince won’t have a choice, as Regal lights into Angle like a hurricane, peppering the champ with strikes, suplexes and stretches. But it quickly becomes apparent that Regal is not the chosen one in the match, as Regal’s numerous attempts to secure a submission go unattended by Vince. Angle manages to turn the tide and score some desperation offense, but Vince, scowling from the corner, does nothing to render a decision in Angle’s favor either. It is only after Regal and Angle put each other down with a double-clothesline that Vince finally takes action: executing a hyper-quick 10-count. Before he can get to 10, however, Shane slides in and starts arguing with Vince. The bickering McMahons give ample time for Benoit to come down and attack both Angle and Regal, but Benoit’s interference comes to a crashing halt when Steve Austin jumps in and drops him with a Stunner. By the time Austin is done, everyone, save Angle, has eaten a Stunner, and Angle is backed into a corner, trembling in horror as Austin approaches ever so slowly. Before Austin can strike, though, the locker room empties to hold Austin back. Austin fights as much as he can against the almost 20 people forming a blockade between him and Angle, but Angle renders it unnecessary by making a run for it through the crowd. Out of frustration, Austin nails a few of the people in the human wall with Stunners before leaving.

 

Raw: Mar. 12, ’01

 

With less than four weeks to go before the biggest show on the WWF schedule, and the WWF on the brink of collapsing into full-scale war, the matches booked for Raw seem poised to push the federation over the line: Kane takes on Stone Cold Steve Austin; Dean Malenko & Perry Saturn launch a three-match series against their WrestleMania opponents, seeking to out-do their rivals in their own specialty matches, starting with a Tables match with The Dudley Boys; and, in the main event, a disaster waiting to happen, with Triple H and Chris Jericho thrust together, taking on the equally dysfunctional pair of Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle.

 

Raw starts with an appearence by the McMahon children, who thank everyone for their kind words and support shown towards their mother. Shane vows that, after WrestleMania, when he defeats his father and removes him from power in the WWF, he and his sister will restore the pride in the WWF by working with Commissioner William Regal to bring the chaos back under control; problem number one, they declare, will be exacting swift and decisive punishment on Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit for their roles in numerous conspiracies against multiple WWF Superstars. When Shane’s eyes fall on Paul Heyman, again seated in the front row, Shane adds that, after his father is vanquished, he will reach out and work with people like Paul Heyman instead of crushing them, buying them out or bankrupting them like his father did in the 80′s.

 

Trish Stratus’ music cuts off Stephanie before she can go off on a rant about her father; the vixen, dressed as trampy as ever, walking vampishly to the ring. Shane has to hold onto Stephanie’s wrist to keep her from tearing Trish’s hair out at the scalp, something Trish catches onto and taunts Stephanie mercilessly. And to drive the nail in deeper, Trish has the production truck post stills from No Way Out, showing Stephanie running for the locker room with her clothes in tatters. Trish mocks Stephanie’s figure, saying it can’t match up to a fitness model like herself, and that, after Vince McMahon emerged victorious from WrestleMania, the WWF would have a woman in charge with beauty as well as brains.

 

Shane’s retort dies in his throat as, coming up from behind through the crowd, Vince’s troops descend on the McMahon kids. Even Stephanie is not safe; her lights are put out with a chokeslam from Big Show, while Shane is hammered senseless by everyone. Vince strides down the ramp and joins in the fun, getting in some cheap shots as Shane is held up by Malenko and Saturn. After getting in a few licks, Vince picks up the microphone. “What you’ve seen here is a preview of what my crusade will accomplish at WrestleMania! I will destroy Shane, I will drive my kids out of this company once and for all, and once I’ve accomplished that, I will rid this company of the poisons and the toxins that are coursing through its veins! Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Steve Austin, Undertaker, Triple H … they’re all going! They will all be crushed! This is my company! My company, dammit! I rule this industry! Iam this industry! Your lives would be even more shallow and empty and meaningless if it weren’t for my accomplishments and contributions to the world!” Vince’s wild-eyed glare falls on Heyman, who watches the tableau without expression. “And if you wanna do business with me, little man,” screams Vince at Heyman, “you’ll do it my way, you understand? If you want to survive in this business, you’ll do business when I say, and how I say, or else …” Vince turns to the graphic scene behind him, then turns back to Heyman, a sick smile on his face, his eyes blazing with madness.

 

With both the Hardys and Edge & Christian watching on monitors in the back, The Dudleys head to the ring for their Tables match against the Tag Team Champions. But as the match unfolds, it becomes apparent that Malenko & Saturn aren’t accustomed to the extreme environment the Dudley brothers are used to, nor to the restrictions of a Tables match, as both Malenko and Saturn try to use submission holds to wear down the half-brothers. When the Dudleys manage to get the momentum and introduce the brawling/hardcore aspect into the match, the Tag Champs are overwhelmed, leading to Perry Saturn eating wood. In the back, the other two WrestleMania opponent teams seethe at the Dudleys’ victory.

 

A collision of ideals, goals and personalities hits in a fatal-four-way: Test, Vince McMahon’s newest hired thug, collides with Eddie Guerrero, a McMahon expatriate; Steven Richards, nemesis of most everyone in the WWF, including the administration and McMahon family; and William Regal, Commissioner of the WWF and rival of Vince. As soon as the bell rings, though, one commonality, among three of the four, becomes clear: disdain for Richards. The white-socked RTC leader gets torn limb from limb as Test, Guerrero and Regal take turns picking his bones clean, but the camraderie only lasts as long as the first pinfall attempt is made, when Test stomps Guerrero’s head as Guerrero goes for the cover. From then on, it’s every man for himself, as the three all take to beating each other while Richards lies beaten and broken on the floor. With no disqualifications in the match, the license to break the rules is taken by Kane, who pulls Guerrero to the floor and pounds him into a fine putty. Regal manages to get Test tied up in the Regal Stretch, but Richards, having sat out almost the entire body of the match, drags Guerrero back into the ring and pins him while Test is fighting to get to the ropes. When Regal argues with the ref, Chris Benoit comes in from behind, takes down the Commish and cinches in the Crippler Crossface until he’s pulled off by officials.

 

When Richards retreats to the back, however, his joyful mood at stealing a victory disappears when he walks up to the door to the RTC’s dressing room and sees it covered over with an APA sign. Richards’ anxiety turns to horror when he opens the door: the APA and Val Venis are in the middle of the room, playing poker, smoking cigars and drinking beer. Hogtied to hooks in the ceiling are Bull Buchanan, The Goodfather and Ivory; Buchanan is minus a shirt, while Goodfather is down to his skivvies. The trio welcome Richards to the room and invite him to pull up a chair, as Venis informs Richards they’re playing Substitute Strip Poker; just then, they all show their hands and Venis loses. Venis stands up and starts towards Ivory, rubbing his hands together like Snidely Whiplash. “What should I lose? Blouse … or skirt?” Ivory starts thrashing and screeching like an angry parrot as Venis nears her. Richards grabs Venis’ shoulder and wheels him around, but Faarooq and Bradshaw jump to their feet, sending the card table toppling over, warning him that he’s going to get the beating of a lifetime for ruining their poker game. Richards weighs his options, then beats a hasty retreat from the room. Faarooq, Bradshaw and Venis consider their options for a moment and come to the agreement that the moment is lost, leaving the room, their prisoners still tied up.

 

Austin doesn’t wait to be introduced or for the formalities of theme music; as soon as Kane hits the ring, Austin explodes from the back, knocking Kane to the ground as he goes through his pre-match pyro demonstration and stomping him repeatedly. Kane’s fellow McMahon loyalists all race out one at a time to try and put a stop to the living hurricane that is Stone Cold, but Austin takes them down, one at a time, with Stunners and ejects them from the ring. Kane pulls himself up, but Austin drills him with a Stunner, then picks him up and nails a second Stunner and, after considering it for a moment, picks up Kane again and hits a third for the pin. Austin drops out of the ring, grabs a microphone and stands on JR & The King’s announce table. “I’m pissed off!” he barks. “If I gotta beat every single damn sumbitch in that locker room back there till there’s only me and Kurt Angle left, you can be your bottom dollar ol’ Stone Cold is gonna do just that! I can’t wait for WrestleMania no more, so Kurt Angle, this is your one and only warning: it’s huntin’ season, and I’m gonna bag me a big ol’ Olympic jackass! I–”

 

As Austin speaks to the crowd behind the announce table, Kurt Angle sneaks down to the ringside area, behind Austin and, in one smooth motion, pops up on the table behind Austin, grabs him and drills him with an Angle Slam from one announce table to, and through, the other. Angle stands over Austin’s body, breathing heavily, seething. Suddenly, Angle drops down, grabs Austin’s ankle and twists, screaming wordlessly. Austin yells out in agony, mixing with the rage-filled screams of Angle until he releases the hold. But as Austin is helped away by officials, the damage is obvisous: he cannot put any weight on the foot whatsoever.

 

In the back, Rock watches the scene on a monitor in his dressing room, shaking his head. When the scene ends on the screen, he turns around, only to wind up face to face with Undertaker. “We got unfinished business, boy,” says Undertaker with a sneer. “And if it wasn’t unfinished before, the last week or so, I done owe you a piece.”

 

The Rock’s head cocks to the side like a dog. “You? Owe The Rock? You owe … The Rock?” The Rock whips off his sunglasses, staring a hole through Undertaker’s. “Let The Rock make one thing absolutely, perfectly, crystal clear. You don’t owe The Rock anything. The Rock owes you. The Rock owes you … a thank you.” Undertaker lifts his sunglasses up on his head, his eyebrow raised as the only form of reply. “The Rock should thank you for reminding The Rock exactly what’s important. You see, you stand here and you want a piece of The Rock. You wanna beat up The Rock. You don’t like The Rock. The fact of the matter is … you don’t matter to The Rock. What happened, back at Survivor Series, ever since October, that’s ancient history. That doesn’t get The Rock anywhere. The Rock’s been wasting time, tagging with you and fighting jabronis, when there’s only one match, one opponent, one goal that matters to The Rock: WrestleMania 17. Hell In A Cell. Kurt Angle. Revenge. The WWF … Championship. So The Rock says, if you got unfinished business with The Rock, if you got problems with The Rock, you can do like the other four jabronis in Hell In A Cell and get in line for a WrestleMania-sized ass-whipping. Hell, maybe they’ll let you take cuts. Because, on that day, in that match, The Rock will be happy to lay the smack down on your candy ass. But until then, Undertaker … you and The Rock … there’s nothing unfinished. There’s nothing owed. There is nothing between you and The Rock.”

 

The Rock turns back to the monitor, turning away from Undertaker, who grabs Rock by the back of the neck and hurls him head-first into the wall. Rock goes down in a heap, holding his head and neck as Undertaker gets in a few stomps. “It ain’t over till I say it is, boy!” he yells as he puts the boots to Rock. When Rock doesn’t stir anymore, Undertaker spits on him and walks off.

 

Nobody knows what to expect from the main event, aside from a lot of intensity and hostility, both across the ring and in the corners, and a dose of intra-team hostility starts things off as Angle and Benoit get into a shoving match over who will start. When both men step out onto the apron, both refusing to draw the short straw against Chris Jericho, the ref orders that if neither man will take the initiative, he will force one of them to start or disqualify the team. Angle drops to the floor; as Benoit yells at Angle for walking away, Jericho runs over and drags in the Intercontinental Champ and sets to work on him (and prompting Angle to pop back up on the apron). But when Jericho ventures near his own corner, Triple H tags in roughly, slapping Jericho on the back without warning. Angle offers no help as Triple H hammers Benoit with hard-hitting offense. But Triple H surprises everyone by picking up Benoit and throwing him into his own corner, ordering him to tag Angle. Benoit goes to tag, but Angle drops down to the floor again. Triple H jumps out, sending Angle scurrying around the ring, where he runs into Jericho. Angle begs for mercy as Jericho backs him up, unaware that approaching behind him is Triple H, now armed with a sledgehammer taken from under the ring. Jericho directs Angle to turn around, in time to get the head of the hammer right in the head. Triple H directs Jericho to take Angle into the ring; seeing the proceedings, Benoit bids a hasty retreat. Once inside, Jericho and Triple H show unity in pulverizing Angle, beating him until he’s a limp rag, and they summarily toss him out. Undertaker comes down to pick the bones clean, but the crowd’s attention is drawn back to the ring when Triple H turns and drills Jericho between the eyes with the sledgehammer. As Undertaker kicks away at Angle, The Rock, bandaged head and all, comes down the ramp, but Triple H intercepts and lays him out with a hammer blow. Undertaker’s expression of gratitude is met with a split wig, leaving Triple H the only one standing, hammer in hand as an incredulous crowd looks on at the carnage caused by The Game.

 

Smackdown: Mar. 15, ’01

 

Smackdown starts with Vince McMahon in the ring, accompanied by the WWF Tag Team Champions. The Chairman is all smiles, beaming with pride as he looks upon the audience that loathes him. “Once again, on Monday Night Raw,” he proclaims, “I proved both my superior intellect and business acumen to all you common troglodytes.” The crowd harangues him without mercy, but Vince continues undisturbed. “Once again, I crushed my son, Shane, into a fine paste, just like I will at WrestleMania, when I defeat him in the first-ever Father-Son Street Fight! I will stop at nothing to humiliate and bury him and drive him out of his company for good, just like I’ve done to every other person who’s crossed my path … just like I did that insignificant carny schyster, Paul Heyman! I killed his stupid little bingo hall company and I gave him a prime example of what’s in his future if he–”

 

The crowd’s stirring catches Vince’s attention. “What’s going on out there? Who is that?” he says as he spies a person coming down one of the stairwells in the audience. As the baseball cap and leather trenchcoat become clearer, Vince’s expression darkens. No sooner is he calling for Heyman’s ejection then Heyman is flashing a purchased ticket. Vince turns so red, steam is almost coming out of his ears. Suddenly, he drops to the floor, right in front of where Heyman will end up at the bottom of the stairs, his pet Tag Champs right behind. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Heyman? I don’t care if you have a ticket or not, you have no business here!” Malenko adds a shove to punctuate Vince’s words. “You have no business here, and you have no friends here, so I suggest you leave!” Saturn now gives Heyman a shove, which Heyman responds to by looking at Vince with unreadably cold eyes. Suddenly, a smirk breaks out on Heyman’s face. “What’re you smiling at, little man?” demands Vince. Vince and his cohorts turn around to see three people standing behind them: Shane McMahon and The Dudley Boys. Before any of them have time to register what’s going on, Vince and his troops are taking a beating; Shane hammers on his father until Vince runs away like a scared child, with Shane chasing him all the way to the parking garage and into the safety of his limo, which speeds away from Shane before Vince can even close the door. But back in the ring, as the Dudleys are pounding down Malenko and Saturn, Edge and Christian, opponents for later in the evening of the tag champs in a chairs-are-legal match, slide in and waffle everyone in sight with chairs.

 

When Smackdown comes back from commercial, the Dudleys have been helped to the back, while the chairs match is underway, with the beaten Malenko & Saturn taking further punishment from the masters of the Con-chair-to. Edge and Christian have no moral qualms about employing the chairs from the opening bell, and after a few moves onto chairs–and shots from the chairs themselves–the match looks to be over as quickly as it begun. But the interjection of the Hardy brothers brings Edge and Christian’s offense to a screeching halt, as the Hardys use chairs on the other set of brothers to drop them like stones. Malenko, worn out from the beating he’s taken, crawls over and drapes an arm over the fallen body of Edge and gets the three count, making them 1-1 in their run of specialty matches.

 

Val Venis approaches the door to the locker room of his partner, Chyna, for later in the evening in a mixed tag against Steven Richards and Ivory. When a couple knocks don’t get the door open, Venis opens it himself and finds Chyna out cold on the floor. Venis calls out for medics, who get to the fallen Ninth Wonder Of The World after Smackdown returns from commercial and cart her out on a gurney, leaving Venis without a partner for his match later.

 

A taped interview rolls, with Jim Ross talking to Triple H. Jim Ross thanks Triple H, who only snorts a reply. “Alright, then,” JR says, “let’s cut right to the chase. You attacked Chris Jericho with a sledgehammer without provocation on Raw. You then went on to attack Undertaker, Rock and Kurt Angle. Have you turned your back on the fans? What were you thinking?”

 

Triple H leans forward, looking through squinted eyes. “Let’s get one thing straight, JR. I never asked for the fans to jump on my bandwagon. I didn’t ask for them to cheer me, and I couldn’t give a damn if they do. I’m doing what I have to do to get what I want.”

 

“So getting what you want gives you license to go around and trying to bash people’s skulls in with sledgehammers?”

 

“Let me tell you about the past year of my life. When I wasn’t trying to keep the World Wrestling Federation Championship out of The Rock’s hands, I was trying to keep Kurt Angle away from my wife. So, when that doesn’t work, he sends his henchman, Chris Benoit, to stir up trouble; makes a little videotape. Ruins my marriage. Sends me off on a wild good chase, hunting Chris Jericho for months on end. I even gotta deal with my ex-brother-in-law. So when everything finally comes out, that Kurt Angle’s been pullin’ strings to keep ahold of the WWF Championship … and he’s cost me time, he’s cost me blood, and he’s cost me my marriage … yeah, I think that gives me license to kill.”

 

“But you just said it yourself: Kurt Angle did all this. Kurt Angle plotted with Chris Benoit and the Right To Censor. Kurt Angle manipulated you and Chris Jericho. Kurt Angle ruined your marriage. What does that have to do with Chris Jericho? Or The Rock? Or Undertaker?”

 

“It’s real simple, JR: WrestleMania. William Regal’s putting Kurt Angle in the ring, locked inside a Hell In A Cell, with five guys he screwed over. Guys he set up to take a fall, guys who he ruined the personal lives of, guys he tried to cripple. Kurt Angle’s got a lot of enemies looking to take a piece of him, and get that WWF Title, too. I’ll be damned if it’s anybody but me …” Triple H leans back and, from behind the chair, produces a sledgehammer, which he holds up in front of his face. “And if I gotta put the other four guys in comas to get my hands on Angle and the WWF Title, so be it.”

 

A tag team match is scheduled, pitting Test and Kane against their WrestleMania opponents, Big Show and Eddie Guerrero, but the match is aborted when Eddie Guerrero and Show ambush Test and Kane as they come out of their locker room. The fight spills through a nearby catering area, where Big Show manages to put Test down for the count by chokeslamming him through a table, while Guerrero gets the better of Kane by shattering a pot of coffee on the Big Red Machine’s head. Guerrero and Show get a few kicks in before leaving their foes amidst the ruined food spread.

 

Austin comes to the ring, sporting a small but detectable limp, his parting gift from Angle’s savage attack on his ankle on Raw; the announcers point out that for Austin to come into a match with Chris Benoit, a superb technical and submission wrestler, with an exploitable weakness is sheer suicide. And, predictably, the leg and ankle is what Benoit targets from the opening bell. Austin manages to fight back for a little while, but every attack makes it harder for Austin to fight back. When Austin manages to whip Benoit in the ropes, he instinctively goes for the set-up kick to the gut for the Stunner, forgetting his leg is too weakened to use for kicking; Benoit catches the leg and twists, taking down Austin in a dragon whip. Benoit starts kicking away at the foot as Austin screams in pain, which draws down Commissioner William Regal, who pushes Benoit aside and checks on Austin’s ankle. Benoit tries to pull Regal back, but Regal shoves him away and checks on Austin, then orders the ref to stop the match. Medics come to take Austin to the back, while starts yelling at Regal for screwing him out of his opportunity to defeat Austin and vault himself into a title shot. Regal and Benoit argue about Regal’s decision, with Benoit demanding a title shot, since he was unfairly robbed of the shot he was promised by Angle, and equally robbed moments before. When Regal refuses to grant any such reward, Benoit rocks Regal with a sucker punch to the jaw, falls on the Commissioner and locks in the Crippler Crossface for what seems an eternity, and walks away with a fiendish grin.

 

Before the next match comes up, camera crews catch up with the medics as they examine Austin. Kevin Kelly asks what the initial prognosis is; he gets his answer when Austin screams like a dying cat as the medic turns his foot ever so slightly. Austin tries to shove the medic away when he suggests Austin go to the hospital for more thorough medical attention, but when Austin tries to stand, his ankle crumples as if it were made of balsa wood. Medics quickly scrounge up a gurney, load up Austin and take him to ambulance.

 

Steven Richards and Ivory, accompanied by Bull Buchanan and Goodfather, approach the ring. “Chyna is an amoral cancer on the fabric of American society, and a cancer on this company! Her reprehensible choice to prostitute herself to a magazine likePlayboy is nothing short of vile! So, Val Venis, another disgusting fraud of a human being, a, a, a Judas … since you don’t have a partner, you can either come out here and forfeit like a coward, or you can take the beating you deserve!”

 

The slow, porn-like saxophone ushers out Val Venis, in his wrestling gear. “You know something, Steven Richards,” says Venis, “you may have put out my partner, but I managed to find someone else who’d like to kick your sorry butt out of the WWF!” Venis looks to the entrance, and is soon joined by his new partner: Stephanie McMahon. Venis and Stephanie charge the ring, and, for the first few minutes of the match, Richards and Ivory are rocked back on their heels by the fire and fury of their opponents. But the numbers game quickly takes over, and, despite a late comeback attempt after Stephanie gets the hot tag to Venis, the timely interference from Richards’ underlings proves the deciding factor in Richards getting the pinfall on Venis. The APA come out, hobbling and holding their heads, the obvious victims of a pre-match beatdown, and though they are weakened and unlikely to make much of a difference, Buchanan and Goodfather waste no time in crushing them, while Richards and Ivory humiliate their fallen foes.

 

The long-standing enmity between Undertaker and The Rock explodes in the main event, as they bend every rule to the breaking point in their quest to destroy each other. The referee, wisely seeing that there is no sense in trying to maintain control when the wrestlers are hellbent on maiming each other, steps aside and lets the match turn into something of an undeclared street fight. As the fight spills into the aisle, Triple H stalks down it, sledgehammer in hand; Chris Jericho comes up from behind and takes down Triple H, dropping the hammer, which Undertaker picks up drives into Rock’s stomach, which is finally enough for the ref to signal the DQ. Jericho and Triple H go at it until Undertaker levels The Game with his own hammer, then, without warning, grabs Jericho and tosses him into the steel steps head-first. Trying to take advantage, Kurt Angle races down to ringside, but Undertaker catches him in a choke, then switches his grip, hoists Angle over his shoulder and plants him with a Tombstone on the floor. It is an eerie harkoning to Raw only nights before, but instead of Triple H standing over his fallen Hell In A Cell opponents as Raw closes out, it is Undertaker, the last man standing amongst a ringside area full of bodies.

 

Raw: Mar. 19th, ’01

 

Kurt Angle walks down the aisle as if he’s the marshal of a parade, even though the crowd’s reception is anything but pleasant. “Despite the fact that my lawsuit to stop this ridiculous match at WrestleMania was thrown out,” he opines, “and despite the fact that I’m obviously being locked in there with a bunch of homicidal maniacs, I’m a happy camper. That’s right, I’m a happy camper, and all because I applied a little bit of one of the Three I’s: Intelligence. You see, I started to think about things, and I realized something: Undertaker and Rock hate each other. Hunter and Y2J, they hate each other. They’re so busy trying to kill each other, I’ve practically fallen through the cracks!”

 

The music of Chris Benoit cuts in, ushering in the Intercontinental Champion, who storms down to the ring with a chip on his shoulder you could see from space. He gets right up in Angle’s face, who takes a step back and waves the air. “Whoa, Chris, breath mint!” he says. Benoit gets up close again, his lip curled up in a snarl.

 

“You owe me,” growls Benoit. “Again.”

 

Angle looks completely clueless. “Um, what? I don’t remember owing you once, let alone twice.”

 

Without warning, Benoit snatches Angle by the gold medals, his grip so tight, it nearly strangles the WWF Champion. Through gritted teeth, Benoit spits out: “I put Stone Cold on the shelf! He won’t even make it to WrestleMania! I did you a favor, Angle, so the least you can do is give me a fair title shot!”

 

Angle shoves Benoit back, breaking the grip on the medals. “Hey, listen, Mr. Gimme Gimme Gimme! I got more then enough people wanting a title shot! This isn’t Halloween, and title shots aren’t candy necklaces that I can hand out willy-nilly!”

 

“Then why don’t you let me make you tap out tonight, and I’ll earn one the hard way!”
Angle looks incredulous. “So … you want to face me … again … and lose to me … again … to prove, what? That you’re still the second-best wrestler in the company?” Angle shakes his head. “Thanks, but I can think of better things to do tonight.”

 

“So can I, sunshine,” says William Regal from the stage. The crowd pops for the Commissioner. “For a week, now, all I’ve seen from either one of you is dirty, underhanded sneak attacks and bickering like children. Well, frankly, I won’t stand for this one minute longer. Kurt Angle, if you want to get in some punishment early on your WrestleMania opponents, then that’s just what you’ll do, tonight, in a non-title confrontation; you, and Undertaker, and The Rock, and Triple H, and Chris Jericho.” Benoit is about to pipe up when Regal shuts him down with a look that could stop, start and re-stop a clock. “And since you’re so bloody determined to insert yourself into the proceedings, Christopher, you’ll be involved as well. And since Stone Cold Steve Austin isn’t medically cleared to compete tonight, you can hold your grievances with him, as he will be officiating your match as a special referee.” Both Angle and Benoit open their mouths to protest, but Regal kills the words dead in their throats. “And if the two of you utter so much as a syllable of dischord, I will remove you from the match, Chris Benoit, and I will put that title on the line, Kurt Angle! Am I understood?” Regal leaves before they can answer, leaving Benoit and Angle to argue over who got them stuck in this horrible predicament.

 

Two vignettes air back to back, the first showing Shane McMahon arriving at the sanitarium where his mother is being kept. With a heavy sigh, Shane goes through the front doors and is escorted by hospital personnel towards Linda’s private room.

 

Following that is a video of Steve Austin’s visit to an orthopedic doctor over the weekend. X-rays are shown and the injury is discussed as footage of the two incidents that put Austin on the shelf–Angle’s initial attack on Austin’s ankle, and the Benoit match from Smackdown–rolls. The doctor says Austin has severely strained muscles and tendons, and two hairline fractures in his foot from the attacks. The doctor warns Austin that to compete in the ring at any point in the next two months would risk the possibility of a full muscle tear or a fracture of bone. Austin receives the news in silence, visibily seething as his WrestleMania dreams–revenge on Kurt Angle, recapturing the WWF World Title–slips through his fingers like sand.

 

Dean Malenko & Perry Saturn head to the ring, giving ominous looks to the structure sitting at the end of the ramp: a ladder, the central device to their match against The Hardys. The brothers dazzle the tag champs with their ability to use a ladder as both a weapon and as a device to augment their high-risk offensive arsenal. Malenko and Saturn manage to get a brief edge, but it evaporates as the Hardys use their ladder skills against the tag champs. And when Edge and Christian make the surprising attack on the champs with chairs, all the Hardys have to do is climb … but the Dudleys tip the ladder, sending the Hardys crashing to the mat. When Edge and Christian see the Dudleys are on the scene, the two brotherly teams collide, leaving the race to capture the briefcase hanging from the hook between two teams that have both been decimated. Matt Hardy and Saturn are the first to their feet, stablizing the ladder and climbing opposite sides; when they both get to the top, they trade blows until Matt locks on the Side Effect and they both plumment back down to the mat, leaving Jeff, who is at the bottom of the ladder, a free path to take the briefcase and the match.

 

As Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler get face time, word is sent to them that, once again, Paul Heyman is in the audience; only, this time, he is not alone. Cameras switch over Heyman who, again, is seated in the front row … but on either side of him are two ECW alumni: Spike Dudley and Rhyno. And, just as quick as they’re caught by cameras, they’re joined by unwanted guests: Kane and Test, who tell Heyman and his friends that, if they’re smart, they’ll leave the arena before they get hurt. When none of the three seem even the slightest bit bothered, Test reaches across the barrier and slaps Rhyno almost out of his chair; the last ECW World Champion stands up, which immediately draws security over to diffuse the situation. When Raw comes back from commercial, Test and Kane are in the ring, demanding that Rhyno and Spike jump in the ring and fight them; but when Commissioner Regal comes out and discusses the idea with Heyman, they turn sheet white as Rhyno and Spike jump over the barricade and hop in the ring, still dressed in street clothes, ready to fight. When Raw comes back from commercial, the impromptu brawl is an official match, with Spike putting up a terrific fight, but ends up being crushed by the size differential. But when Spike tags in Rhyno, the Man-Beast falls right back onto the path of destruction he’d started in ECW, turning Test inside out with a Gore, and manhandling Kane like few had ever done before. Test has to resort to using a chair to stop Rhyno, drawing the DQ, but the McMahon soldiers’ situation goes from bad to worse when Big Show and Eddie Guerrero join the fight and help leave McMahon’s boys in a heap. With their mutual foes defeated, the foursome meet in the center of the ring, eyeing each other cautiously. It is Rhyno who breaks the tension with an extended hand. Guerrero weighs the decision on whether to trust Heyman’s friend, and the crowd seems evenly split on whether or not the ECW alum is trustworthy. Guerrero takes a deep breath and risks it, clasping Rhyno’s hand, and doesn’t regret it; they all shake hands and part, with Rhyno and Spike leaving the arena with Heyman.

 

Back at the institution, as Shane sits with his mom on a sun porch and tries to get through to her, cameras see a limo pulling up. The limo driver opens the door for the occupants, Vince McMahon and Trish Stratus; Vince examines his surroundings with a disapproving sneer, then mutters “Let’s get this over with,” to Trish and storms in.

 

Ivory comes to the ring with Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather, looking smug and satisfied, as Ross informs the viewers that the six-man tag at WrestleMania with Val Venis and The APA against the RTC has been changed to an 8-person elimination tag, with Ivory and Stephanie McMahon added. She preaches on about her moral superiority and her embarrassing the owner’s daughter in the middle of the ring on Smackdown, then proclaims that she will do the same to the “homewrecking whore” Trish Stratus as soon as she crawls out from the rock she’s hiding under. Ivory’s sermon is cut off, though, by the APA and Stephanie McMahon, who stand on the stage; in Stephanie’s hands are sets of handcuffs. “Ivory,” she says, “I’ve got a little offer for you.” Stephanie holds up the handcuffs. “We use this on your friends and handcuff them to the ringposts. You and me, we have a bra & panties match. Yeah, that’s right; I, an executive and part-owner in this company, am willing to risk public humiliation for the chance to inflict it on Ivory!” Ivory is shaking her head, but Stephanie continues. “You haven’t heard me out, Ivory. If you win, you and the RTC can name any stipulation you want for our WrestleMania match. But if I win …” Stephanie grins. “If I win, then we pick the stipulation.” Ivory declines again, but Stephanie shakes her head. “Oh, I don’t think you understand, Ivory,” she says as she walks down the ramp. “I’ve already cleared this with Commissioner Regal, Ivory. The only thing you’re getting out of is that ugly outfit you’re wearing!”

 

Stephanie suddenly rushes the ring, tackling the RTC’s matronly first lady as officials scramble to handcuff the APA and the RTC to ringposts. Caught totally unawares, Ivory is on the receiving end of a sound catfight thrashing, even losing a clump of hair. Ivory’s wrestling skills and strength get her an advantage eventually, leading to Stephanie’s blouse being torn to ribbons. But the removal of her shirt fires up something in Stephanie; in short order, Ivory is shirtless and running in circles in the ring, trying to get away. As Ivory tries to duck out of the ring, Stephanie grabs her skirt and pulls, tearing it free, sending Ivory falling to the floor. She doesn’t wait for her cohorts to be freed before running for the cover of the locker room as the ring announcer proclaims Stephanie the winner. She immediately asks for the microphone and announces that, if the RTC doesn’t win the match at WrestleMania, the RTC will be forced to disband.

 

Back at the hospital, as Shane talks to his mother, his father and Trish approach. “What the hell is going on here? Why has Linda been moved from the home I put her in?” demands Vince.

 

Shane stands up, his eyes full of the fires of Hell. “The ‘home’ you put her in was pathetic, Vince. You might as well have thrown her out on the street with how filthy and disgusting it was. I paid for her to be moved.”

 

“Well, she’s my wife,” says Vince, grabbing the handles of Linda’s wheelchair, “and I say where she’ll be cared for. She’s going back to the other facility and that’s fi–”

 

Shane reaches out, grabs Vince’s tie and jerks him back, right into Shane’s face. Through clinched teeth, Shane spits out; “You aren’t moving my mother one damn inch, Vince. You and your little whore are gonna get in your limo and get the hell out of here before I … before I …”

 

“Before you what, Shane? Before you get your ass kicked by me again, just like when you tried to take me on when you were 16? Or just like when you took a poke at me when you were 19, and I beat you down again? Or when you were 23?”

 

Shane looks in Vince’s; neither man looks ready to flinch. “No,” says Shane, releasing the tie. “I’m not going to do anything to endanger Mom’s stay here, no matter how much I wanna knock your teeth down your throat.” Shane unclips a cell phone off his belt and flips it open. “However, I can get you kicked out of here. That’ll sure look good, won’t it? A billionare Chairman and owner of a global entertainment company, being kicked out of a sanitarium?”

 

Vince seethes for a moment, waiting to see if Shane is bluffing; as Shane dials without hesitation, Vince realizes he isn’t and departs quickly and quietly. Shane puts the phone back on his belt loop and sits down with his mother again.

 

Stone Cold Steve Austin is introduced first, and if the ankle wasn’t a bother before, the heavy bandages wrapped around it are practically a neon sign flashing bad news to the faithful Stone Cold supporters. Austin walks as much as he can on it, but it is plainly obvious his weight cannot be supported by his ankle. And as the competitors are introduced, every one of them eyes Austin’s ankle, their thoughts readable: maybe he’ll be easy pickings in the Cell … if he makes it at all.

 

But though Austin looks a tempting target, the competitors themselves regard each other a little more cautiously, as if nobody is in any hurry to risk injury or exhaust oneself for a match with nothing on the line. Even long-time rivals like Triple H and Jericho or Rock and Undertaker take it easy on each other. Only Benoit and Angle are not immune to the cautious disease, getting the full force of hatred from everyone. It is only when tempers flare when trying to gain a pinfall does the match finally catch fire, with everyone pouring into the ring at once in a massive, uncontrollable brawl that Austin is all too happy to let go.

 

But Angle uses the chaos to leave the ring, grab a steel chair and slide back in. One swing into the leg later, Austin is on the mat, screaming in agony; Angle quickly wraps the chair around Austin’s ankle and Pillmanizes it repeatedly as the other combatants start dropping to the floor to continue their fight, or get knocked out by something else. As Austin rolls out, clutching his ankle, Angle, seeing a new ref on the way, sees Undertaker clothesline Triple H to the floor; as Undertaker stands at the ropes trash-talking, Angle comes up from behind and nails the Angle Slam and makes a quick cover. With everyone occupied or out cold, there’s nobody to stop Angle from stealing a pinfall.

 

But as Angle over-celebrates, The Rock slides back in and catches Angle in a Rock Bottom. Rock scoops up the chair left behind from the Pillmanizing of Austin and proceeds to deal out receipts for the beatdowns suffered on the previous two shows. Once all other people are dealt with, Rock returns to the ring in time to greet a reviving Angle, who gets another Rock Bottom for his troubles, and a People’s Elbow to boot. The Rock takes Angle’s belt and poses on a turnbuckle close to Austin; for a moment, Rock looks down at Austin, his expression unreadable … but Rock just goes back to holding the belt aloft to the adulation of the crowd.

 

Smackdown: Mar. 22, ’01

 

Two special stipulation matches highlight Smackdown’s card: a no-disqualifications tag match between Test & Kane against Eddie Guerrero and Big Show; and, as a concession to the tag champions, Dean Malenko competes in a four corners match against Bubba Ray Dudley, Jeff Hardy and Edge with “straight” wrestling rules (rules he won’t allow disclosure of until belltime). And, the announcers mention, there will be an update on the condition of Steve Austin and his potential participation in the Hell In A Cell WWF Title match at WrestleMania.

 

Leading off is Commissioner William Regal, who comes down to the ring very angry. “I’ve spent the past two days having my hindquarters chewed off by World Wrestling Federation executives and referees over what transpired on Monday Night Raw.” Regal talks as videotape of Kurt Angle’s flagrant attack on Steve Austin rolls on the TitanTron. “Kurt Angle targeted and assaulted Steve Austin, and while he is not a regular WWF official, he was the presiding official for that match. For two days, I’ve had to argue against the board of directors wanting to strip Kurt Angle of the title, depriving you of the match as promised, and protecting that repugnant piece of trip, Kurt Angle, from his deserved retribution. And for two days, I’ve had WWF referees saying that, if Kurt Angle could attack a wrestler acting as a referee, then there is no reason to assume he will show any respect to a regular WWF official. And because of that, for the second time in two months, referees are refusing an assignment.” Regal’s face goes from a scowl to a murderous rage. “And I blame you, Kurt Angle! Every crime you’ve perpetrated, every vile, reprehensible crime you’ve committed, you’ve turned this noble company into a farce, a den of chaos and bloodthirsty lunatics, all because of the storm you’ve stirred up. Well, sunshine, tonight, you are going to get right in the middle of the storm, by facing me, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in a fatal-four-way!”

 

The screeching of tires and a simple power chord echo through the arena, taking the audience and Regal by surprise. On the stage, for the first time since No Way Out, is Mick Foley, who walks down to the ring with purpose. Regal eyes Foley with caution, even as Foley pulls out a microphone. “I know it’s been a while since I’ve been to a WWF event. I hope you’ll understand … I kinda had a headache, after Vince broke that jar on my head.”

 

Regal wastes no time in getting to the point. “What do you want, Michael?”
“Listen, I know I made mistakes. I wanna make amends.” Foley looks Regal dead in the eyes. “I wanna come back to work. You need a referee; I’m a WWF official.”

 

But Regal’s expression doesn’t hide his feelings: skepticism. “Michael, you’ve not been the most trustworthy person in the past six months. You impeded the process of a major investigation and willfully hid evidence. And you aligned yourself with that scoundrel Vince McMahon.”

 

“Then let me earn your trust again; let me referee your fatal-four-way match tonight. If you don’t like the job I do, I’ll leave the WWF, for good. If you like the job I do, then put me in the Cell.” Foley extends a hand. “Deal?”

 

With some reluctance, Regal shakes Foley’s hand, sealing the deal for both the main event and a temporary solution to the officiating woes.

 

But another potential disaster is in Steve Austin visiting the doctor, brought into the office in a wheelchair. The doctor tells Austin that the injuries he’d suffered already had been aggravated to the point they’d feared: full fractures and muscle tears. When Austin asks what this means for WrestleMania, the doctor tells Austin that, due to the severity and the way the injuries are compounded on each other, his career is in legitimate jeopardy; WrestleMania is not even a remote possibility. The expression on Austin’s face–his soul, his very life’s purpose, being extinguished while his hands are tied–mirrors the feelings of everyone watching.

 

A match between the APA and Bull Buchanan & The Goodfather kicks off in-ring action, although the match barely resembles a wrestling match, either in the action or structure; from the moment all four people are in the ring, it’s a bar brawl that the ref can’t get ahold of. The match swings decisively in the favor of the RTC when Bradshaw, looking to nail a Clothesline From Hell on Buchanan, hits Faarooq instead when Buchanan ducks; as Goodfather keeps Bradshaw occupied, Buchanan hits the scissors kick and pins Faarooq for the victory.

 

Backstage, Kevin Kelly catches up with The Rock, who is pacing. Kevin Kelly starts to ask a question, but Rock glares at him through his sunglasses until Kelly hands him the microphone and walks away. Rock watches him walk away, then says; “Try bathing more then once a month!” Rock then leans back, breathes deep and says, “Finally, The Rock … no, no, no. The Rock’s got something to say, and The Rock’s not gonna waste time.” Rocky whips off the sunglasses, gazing right into the camera. “WrestleMania. Hell In A Cell. Six men. Six months. Kurt Angle, for six months, you’ve twisted, and you’ve plotted, and you’ve manipulated. You run over Steve Austin, and you set up The Rock to take the fall. You break up a marriage, and you set up Chris Jericho for that. You work, and you plot, to keep that WWF Title. And what do you have to show for it? Six men. Hell In A Cell. WrestleMania.” Rock pauses, taking in a deep breath, then adopts an ugly sneer. “I-uh … am-uh … The Game-uh … I-uh … am too-uh … constipated-uh … to talk-uh … normally-uh!” The sneer vanishes and The Rock’s eyes go vacant. “I’m Chris Jericho, ay? I’d be all aboot beating you hosers if I could find a stepladder to stand on!” Suddenly, the vacancy disppaears and Rock semi-rolls his eyes back. “Unnnnngh … I’m a zombie … no, I’m a biker!” And just as quick, Rocky puts on a humungous smile and brings back the vacant eyes. “I’m a hero! I drink milk, and eat apple pie, and love my mommy”–Rock’s voice turns all of a sudden, from the stupidly cheerful Angle impression to his own voice–”and I’m the dumbest son of a bitch on God’s green Earth! There’s only one man, one man, who’s suffered your crap, Kurt Angle, and doesn’t look like a bigger pussy then you already are, and that’s Stone Cold Steve Austin, but–” The crowd chants for Stone Cold, so Rock obliges and lets them chant. “But Stone Cold Steve Austin won’t be in the Hell In A Cell now. So, it goes like this; Triple H … Chris Jericho … Undertaker … Kurt Angle. Next Sunday, it belongs to The Rock. Next Sunday, the World Wrestling Federation Championship comes back to The Rock. Revenge? The Rock will get his first, next Sunday.” The Rock lowers the microphone and makes to leave the scene, then turns around. “But tonight … tonight, Chris Jericho … Kurt Angle … Triple H … Undertaker … tonight … if you smelllllllllllllllllll … what The Rock is cookin’!

 

Dean Malenko heads to the ring for his “straight” wrestling match against representatives of his WrestleMania opponent teams. When all the participants are in the ring, the announcer goes over the rules, saying enforcement will be strict: no closed fists, no foreign objects, no moves off the turnbuckles, and a strict ten-count outside the ring. With Bubba and Malenko the first in the ring, Bubba gets to be the first to find out that the ref was serious, as a habitual punch gets a stern warning from the ref and a promise to eject him from the match on the next infraction. Without brawling and normal fighting, Bubba’s offense is severely limited, as is Jeff’s, who finds all of his daredevil dives removed from the equation. And, seeing Malenko dominate his opponents with his blur of technical skills and submission wrestling, Edge refuses tags and stays on the apron … until Bubba manages knock the wind out of Malenko by falling backwards into the turnbuckle with Malenko on him, cinching on a sleeper. Edge tags himself in and goes to town, scoring several near pinfalls that are broken up by Jeff and Bubba … until the two, in disagreement over whom Edge will tag in, come to blows. With the ref trying to break them up, Malenko gets a low blow and puts on the Texas Cloverleaf. The ref ejects Bubba and Jeff, who have spilled out onto the floor anyway in their fistfight, and turns around in time to see Edge reach back and reverse the Cloverleaf into a reverse Sharpshooter. With the ropes too far away, and knowing no reversal, Malenko has to tap out, putting the tag champs three losses down in four consecutive speciality matches.

 

Backstage, Undertaker sits on his motorcycle as Kevin Kelly approaches with a microphone. Kevin goes to ask a question, but Undertaker reaches out, grabs Kevin’s hand and the microphone. “You comin’ to ask me some stupid little question, boy? Maybe how I felt gettin’ punked out by Rocky back on Raw, or how I feel ’bout Austin not bein’ in the match no more?” Undertaker chuckles, spits out a wad of tobacco juice, then says; “Austin? He’s lucky. He’s lucky he got a get-outta-jail-free card on this one. You seen me in Cells; I make people famous. I hurt people. I shorten careers. Austin’s got a wife, he got a ranch. He don’t need Dead Man Inc. rollin’ over him. Now them other four fools … Rocky, Jericho, Hunter, Angle … ain’t no way out for them. Ya see, that ring, that’s my yard. And I’m the big dog that runs it. Come WrestleMania, we gonna put a Cell over my yard, and the big dog’s gonna run loose. One big, nasty, hungry dog, four helpless little kittens … and nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

 

The no-disqualifications tag match with Test and Kane against Big Show and Eddie Guerrero gets started in the backstage area, as if picking up from their previous catering area-brawl. With the license to maim, the participants waste no time in dropping the wrestling and using their surroundings and the items strewn about to bludgeon, batter and beat down one another. The foursome ends up getting split up, with Big Show and Test veering further backstage, while Kane and Guerrero make their way to the ring, where Guerrero, no stranger to cheating and dirty tricks, takes every shortcut he can in an effort to put down the Big Red Machine, from chair shots to low blows and more. When he gets Kane on the mat, Guerrero quickly climbs the turnbuckle and flies, crushing Kane with the frog splash. The crowd explodes for Guerrero until, behind him, Test appears, grabbing Guerrero and planting him with a pumphandle slam. Kane revives enough to get to his feet; Test confers with him quickly, as the TitanTron reveals how Test got away: Big Show is backstage, handcuffed to a rail in the garage. Test grabs a chair and climbs the turnbuckle as Kane picks up Guerrero and lifts him up for a powerbomb, holding him in place so Test can come off the top rope with a chair swing, obliterating Guerrero for the three count.

 

Video rolls at the private nursing home that houses Linda McMahon, who is busy staring at the sky silently when the door behind her opens. Wearing a mask of disgust, Vince McMahon walks in; he looks at Linda, follows her gaze towards the sky, then looks back to her and kneels down beside her. “I know you’re listening,” he growls. “I know you can hear every word I say, Linda. I know you’re not on the medication I had you on since your idiot son moved you here, so this little catatonic act, you can drop it.” When Linda offers no reply, Vince grabs her by the shoulders and shakes. “Wake up, Linda! Look at me! Look at me!” Linda gives no hint of a reply; Vince’s lip curls. “Fine, you want to continue this charade? That’s just spectacular. Because, when I finally get total control of the WWF, and our divorce is finalized, we’ll see how long you can continue this farce when you’re fired, and your son is fired, and the money isn’t there anymore to support this elaborate little fantasy vacation you’re on. I’m going to bring your precious little fantasy world crashing down around you, Linda; I will leave it in tatters, just like I will your pathetic excuse for a son. The only difference is, when I’m done with Shane … he really will have brain damage!” Vince stands up, leering down at his wife. “Oh, by the way, Linda; I’m going to give you a going-away present; you’re going to be in my corner at WrestleMania, so you can see, up close and personal, as I break every bone in Shane’s body and wrest control of my company back from the jaws of hell you and your children and your insipid Commissioner have thrust it into!”

 

The audience welcomes Mick Foley as referee with a reception that could only be described as cautious. And with neither the World nor Intercontinental Championships on the line, all that’s on the line is momentum and a psychological edge with WrestleMania a week and a half away. With four men fully versed in submission wrestling, all four resemble the proverbial walking wounded in due time, but Angle is the worst of the lot, taking punishment from all comers. When Angle tries to run away, Jericho gives chase, leaving Regal and Benoit in the ring, where a low blow allows Benoit to stop Regal’s momentum and slap on the Crossface; Regal refuses to tap, however, and Foley is forced to call the match for Benoit when Regal passes out from pain.

 

Back in the aisle, though, Jericho catches up with Angle and throws him into the guardrail. Angle begs for mercy as Jericho stalks Angle, but Jericho lays into him with the boots, stomping the air and the strength out of the WWF Champion … until Benoit comes up from behind and nails Jericho. The locker room then empties out, and once again, the Hell In A Cell participants find themselves duking it out in the show’s closing moments. Benoit ends up running for his life when Triple H comes after him with the sledgehammer, but Triple H gets dropped when Jericho comes back with the ring bell and levels him. The Rock gets a piece of the bell upside the head as well, making a gash in his forehead. Undertaker, laying into Angle, sees Jericho coming, kicks him in the gut and takes the ring bell; but as he’s about to bring it down on Jericho, Y2J grabs the dropped sledgehammer and thrusts it upward, sending the hammer and the bell into Undertaker’s face, knocking him out cold. Smackdown comes to a close with, once again, bodies strewn about … but this time, it is the person probably most considered the underdog of Hell In A Cell, and the only non-former World Champion, Chris Jericho, who stands while all others are unconscious.

 

WWF Monday Night Raw/WCW Monday Nitro: Mar. 26, ’01

 

Viewers tuning in to WCW’s Monday Nitro at 8pm are confronted with a (for WCW loyalists, horrific) surprise: Vince McMahon, backstage at Raw, his eyes absolutely on fire with maniacal glee. “Imagine that. Me, Vince McMahon. Imagine that! Here I am on, WCW television. How can that happen? Well there’s only one way: you see, it was just a matter of time before I, Vince McMahon, bought my competition. That’s right, I own WCW. Therefore, in its final broadcast tonight on TNT, I have the opportunity to address you, the WCW fans; I have an opportunity to address you, the WCW superstars. What is the fate of WCW? Well, tonight, in a special simulcast, you’ll all find out, because the fate–the very fate of WCW … is in my hands!

 

When Raw begins, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler hype up the stacked card–the final Raw before WrestleMania–with seven huge matches, including two title matches. But all the attention is on the story that has had the entire industry, from wrestlers to the internet and even mainstream media talking: the realizing of Vince McMahon’s 15 year dream: total ownership and control of the American wrestling industry.

 

The in-ring action kicks off with a handicap match, booked, per JR, as a special request by the handicapped person: Big Show. As Big Show walks down the ramp, video rolls from Smackdown the prior week, showing how he’d been handcuffed during the no-DQ tag match, and that it was Dean Malenko & Perry Saturn who’d helped Test ambush the giant and detain him. Malenko & Saturn approach the ring accompanied by Test, and it’s not more then a minute into the match, 59 seconds of which Malenko and Saturn spend getting thrown around like dishrags in a tornado, then Test gets involved and goes after Show. The Dudleys immediately join the party and dare Vince’s thugs to turn it into a six-man tag, but Test and the tag champs decline as they back up the ramp … and, as Kane comes through the crowd, armed with a chair, ready to level his cohorts’ enemies. But Eddie Guerrero pops up behind Kane, rips the chair out of his hands and levels the Big Red Machine in the head; when one shot only puts Kane on a bended knee, Guerrero’s Latino temper pops like a champagne cork, and he unleashes a hailstorm of chair shots to Kane. Show helps pull Kane into the ring while the Dudleys set up a table and hoist Kane onto it; Guerrero climbs a turnbuckle and leaps through the air, putting Kane through the table with a precision frog splash to the crowd’s delight.

 

The first of two title matches happens is next, with Ivory putting up the WWF Women’s Championship against someone equally hated, but for entirely different reasons: Trish Stratus. But before the two can lock up, Stephanie McMahon, wearing a black and white striped shirt, comes down to the ring with a wide smile. Taking a microphone, Stephanie cuts to the chase; “I’m using my authority as a part-owner of this company and naming myself as a special referee for this match.” Stephanie’s evil grin gets bigger. “Oh, and before I forgot … it’s now a bra & panties match!” Both Ivory and Trish flush at the turn of events, but Ivory recovers quicker and takes Trish down to the mat. Ivory ends up the first to lose her top, but when she stops to taunt Stephanie, the McMahon daughter gives her a slap across the face that dazes the homewrecker long enough for Ivory to tear off Trish’s shirt. But when Trish gets the upper hand again and goes for Ivory’s long skirt, Steven Richards leads his RTC troupe to the ring; Stephanie orders them out of the ring, and for her troubles, gets a Steven Kick right on the jaw. Trish gets her lights put out by Bull Buchanan, allowing Ivory to rip off her blouse for the uncalled victory.

 

As Richards leads his troops backstage, they run across Kurt Angle, who is busy polishing and admiring his championship belt. “Kurt, can we talk?” says Richards as he sidles up next to Angle. “Listen, Kurt, back awhile ago, my group and I, we helped you with a favor. We helped with that nasty videotaping business and leaked it out. I think we did a darn good job. I was just wondering when we could expect a return favor.”

 

Angle blinks. “Um, what? You want something in return?”

 

“Yes. I was thinking something in the way, perhaps, of a WWF Championship match for myself? And perhaps a little help in the way of watching our backs at WrestleMania?”

 

If Angle looked confounded before, he now looks absolutely shell-shocked. “You what? Let me get my ducks in a row here: you screw up and let Val Venis get the whole videotape … destroy all the hard work I invested coming up with this plan … and in, like, a zillion matches, you can’t manage to pin Triple H or Chris Jericho even once, let alone beat ‘em up bad enough to put ‘em out of wrestling? Yeah, you sure deserve my help. Get lost, bucko.”

 

Richards fumes and turns away, then suddenly springs back with a Steven Kick, only for Angle to catch the foot and drop down into an ankle lock. The suddenness of it leave Ivory, Buchanan and Goodfather stumbling to get moving, and by the time they do, road agents and officials are separating everyone and helping Richards away.

 

With constant looks over his shoulder, Test makes his way back down to the ring for his own match, against an old nemesis, Triple H. Test fights for everything he has, and scores several near-falls, but comes unglued when Big Show comes out onto the stage to watch. With the distraction, Test is a sitting duck for The Game, who puts away Test in easy fashion. After the bell rings, however, Triple H drops down, picks up his sledgehammer and waits until Test gets up before splitting his wig with a shot to the head. The ref calls for the bell again, but Triple H continues to drive the hammer into Test’s body until the voice of the ring announcer gets his attention, declaring that the ref has reversed his decision and awarded the victory to Test by disqualification. The decision enrages Triple H further, who grabs the referee and drills him with a Pedigree and leaves.

 

Vince McMahon strides down the ramp of Raw, a surreal sight being watched by viewers of either WWF or WCW. Crowds in both Cleveland (the site of Raw) and Panama City Beach (Nitro’s emanating point) boo the WWF–and now, WCW–Chairman. “For the first time ever in sports entertainment history, this broadcast is not only being seen here on TNN and Cleveland, Ohio … it is also being seen across TNT–Turner Network Television. Now there’s only one way that that can happen; there’s only one way, and one man who can make history like this happen. Obviously, you all know I have acquired WCW. That’s right, I bought my competition! Now then, it’s not exactly final–well it is and it isn’t, you see. The only thing is, Time-Warner can’t sell this property to anybody else because nobody really knows what to do with it, so therefore this is what’s gonna happen. Time-Warner is practically begging me to buy WCW, and I have agreed. There’s only one small caveat they’re hearing for the first time, and that is this: Time-Warner, they’ve signed the contracts and I will sign the contracts, but I’ll sign it this Sunday, on pay-per-view, at WrestleMania. And I’ll sign it when Ted Turner himself walks down the aisle at WrestleMania and delivers the contract in front of me. Now then, some would say, ‘geez, Vince, how did you do it? How did you do it, Vince? I mean, you were up against this media conglomerate, Time-Warner. You were up against a billionaire. I mean, how could you possibly do this?’ Well, some might say I had a little help along the way with certain WWF superstars and things of that nature, but quite frankly, I did it all on my own. It was my effort, it was mymoney. How do you beat a billionaire? There’s only one answer to that, and that’s become one yourself. So now, you have to understand, when Ted Turner walks down the aisle at WrestleMania and practically begs me to sign the contract, I’m gonna do it and then I’m gonna reserve a seat for Ted; I’m gonna put him right over here, right in the corner, because I want Ted Turner to see what I’m gonna do to my very own son Shane. Some would say, come on now, ‘Vince, you can’t do that to your own son – he’s your flesh and blood!’ But you gotta understand what it means to be a competitor; nobody understands that better than I do. Because you have to grab your competition by the throat and you’ve gotta squeeze the life outta your competition, just like I did to WCW! And just like I’m gonna do to my son Shane this Sunday. Now then, what should I do with WCW? Well there are a lotta things I could do with it. Well, you see, I had a choice to make tonight, and that choice was coming here before you in Cleveland, and  quite frankly gloating–which I think I’m doing a very good job of at the moment–or, or I could do this, instead of gloating, what I could have done was get in my plane, and assuming they have an airport there, fly down to the redneck Rivieria, Panama City Beach, Florida, and walk out there and give every WCW star a piece of my mind, ’cause that’s what I really wanna do! But no, I’ve opted to come before you here, the loyal WWF fans, as opposed to walking in the ring and lining each and every one of those WCW stars up–every single one of them–so I could look right in their face and say to Goldberg, Booker T, and Jeff Jarrett, and Lex Luger, and all the rest of them, to look them right in the face and say … you’re fired! And that’s exactly what’s gonna happen because WCW is going on the shelf, it’s going nowhere, WCW isburied. WCW will remain buried. Just like anybody here in this arena, or anyone in the world that gets in my way. Every single one of you, when you attempt to compete with me, and that includes my son Shane. Just like WCW is buried.” The crowd erupts with an “asshole” chant. “Don’t start with that. I deserve more respect than that! Dammit, I’m Vince McMahon! Dammit! I own WCW, I own the WWF, and you will treat me with respect! Or I’ll walk outta this arena–”

 

The music kicks in, and the crowd erupts, expecting Shane McMahon to come flying out of the back. Instead, he comes sauntering down the WCW aisle, looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. “Surprise, Dad,” he says with boastful pride. “You’re in Cleveland, Ohio, and I’m here in Panama City Beach, Floria, standing in a WCW ring. And as usual, your ego has gotten the best of you. I mean, you wanted to finalise this deal at WrestleMania? You you have the audacity to ask Ted Turner himself to come down and to finalise that deal? Well, that’s just the opportunity that I was looking for, because the deal is finalized with WCW. And the name on the contract does say McMahon …” Vince gulps, his expression pleading for this to all be a nightmare. “However, the contract reads Shane McMahon. That’s right! I’ve sold my interest in the WWF, and I now own WCW! And Dad; just like WCW did in the past, how it kicked your ass in the Monday Night Wars, it will again. And that’s exactly what’s gonna happen to you this Sunday at WrestleMania!”

 

Vince stares slackjawed at the TitanTron, muttering how it can’t be happening. So focused is he on the screen that he doesn’t notice Paul Heyman, flanked by Rhyno, Spike Dudley and a new member of the posse, Justin Credible. “Oh, but it is happening, Vince,” says Heyman as he strides down the ramp. Vince finally manages to drag his eyes away from the screen in time to see Heyman enter the ring. “It is happening. You see, I know how much you people appreciate how Shane and Stephanie have stood up to the tyranny of Vince McMahon over the past few months. And the way it is, ladies and gentlemen, is quite simple; the reign of Vince McMahon in the WWF, his vision, his dream of One World, will die this Sunday. And there’s no one to blame but you, Vince! I’m not the one that ruined everything that was accomplished by all the men and women who’ve given their lives to you. You see, at WrestleMania, it means so much more than just the personalities that are involved. It’s about ending what Vince McMahon has tried to accomplish. I’ve sat there in those seats week after week, and I’ve listened to the wrestlers and I’ve heard Jim Ross, and they all say how this place has become a cesspool, a cancer-filled corpse that doens’t know it’s dead. And I agreed with every-damn-thing that they had to say, that the WWF that exists now, the WWF your genius has created, truly doessuck! You have lost your mind. You’ve become unstable, your ideas deranged, your concepts convoluted, and everyone is right, because the WWF is imploding from within! Like every great empire, the WWF is imploding from within. Your loyal employees, you’ve either cast them aside, pushed them away or made them run screaming into the night! The only people willing to stand by you, you have to blind their eyes with golden blinders! Vince’sown children want him to burn in hell, and I don’t blame ‘em. Vince McMahon will see the WWF–his bloated, corrupted, perverted version of the WWF–die this Sunday at WrestleMania when Shane defeats him and drives him out of this business. Oh, God, I’ve waited so long to see you face to face like this. And I’ve waited so long to tell you to your face that I hate your stinkin’ guts! But it’s not just me. It’s your children that hate your stinkin’ guts, Vince. And at WrestleMania, your children are gonna do to you what I have waited my whole life to see somebody do to you, Vince. You are, so help me God, the most disgusting, vile son of a bitch I’ve ever seen in my life. You took Hulk Hogan’s blood and you built Titan Towers. You stole Bret Hart’s dream, and with that money bought yourself an airplane with WWF all over it. And you know it, you son of a bitch. You stole Shawn Michaels’ smile, took your company public, and made yourself a billionaire. But not a self-made billionaire, like you like to tell everybody you are, oh no. See, you’re a billionaire on other people’s hard work. Your father–your father, Vincent J. McMahon, he went around the country and shook the hand of every promoter in this country and swore to them that he’d never compete against them, that his son would never compete against them. And when your father died … you competed. And with your ruthless, merciless, take-no-prisoners attitude, you drove everybody out of business. You ran all the competition to the ground and you stole all their ideas, and you made yourself a billionaire out of it. And you know whose ideas you stole the most, Vince? You stole mine. It’s a damn shame what you did to all those people, but I don’t give a damn about Don Owen and Sam Muchnick and Jim Crockett. I care about what you did to me and my family. How you stole my dreams, how you stole my legacy, how you stole everything that ECW represents. Because … while Doink the Clown had a green hair and rubber nose, Stone Cold Steve Austin was drinking his first beer in ECW, damn you. While Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund were dancing around singing ‘Tutti Frutti’, ECW was producing the edgy TV that you named ‘Attitude.’ Oh, we had attitude! You got nothing, man. What you got is my ideas, and you stole my life, my money, my legacy!” Heyman removes his hat and throws it at Vince. “Screw you! Screw you and your family! I’ll tell you something, your own children hate your guts, and on Sunday, your children are gonna get even with you, for everything you stole from me, for everything you stole from them. For everything you stole from thisbusiness, Vince. The wrestling business. Because that’s the business we’re in.” (Jim Ross gets in a quick “We?!?” comment before Heyman steamrolls on.) “You talk about doing business? That’s the business we’re in! Your father built a wrestling company, and you hadda have ‘sports entertainment.’ ‘We had to have sports entertainment, ha ha ha.’ Men like Tazz and Eddie Guerrero and Shane Douglas and Mick Foley … these men werewrestlers, they were real, honest-to-God wrestlers. But you can’t have that, ’cause you made wrestling a dirty word. You made ‘wrestling’ a dirty word, Vince, and you made these proud men into caricatures, cartoons like teachers and racial stereotypes. What kind of a man are you? What kind of a man takes wrestling and makes it sports entertainment? Well, it’s all over Vince, one way or another. At WrestleMania, you’re goin’ down, Vince. I promise you, you’re goin’ down, and I’m gonna watch it, and your children are gonna lift their leg, standin’ over your grave, and we’re gonna laugh, and you know what else I’m gonna do, Vince? I’m gonna run your ass outta business. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You know why? Because if, somehow, someway, if Shane can’t drive you out of this company and out of the wrestlingbusiness, then I will … since I now own Shane’s interest in this company!” Vince jaw, which looks unhinged already, falls almost clear to the ground, his skin a shade of white that borders on transparent. Heyman drops the microphone, picks up his hat and makes sure to give his new business partner a pair of single-finger salutes before leaving the ring.

 

Edge & Christian square off against the APA, who come to the ring with their nasty moods on their sleeves. Unfortunately, Edge & Christian spoil it by coming out on crutches, saying they’re too injured after “totally” getting beat up in the four-corners match on Smackdown; the APA point out that Edge won the match, and that Christian didn’t even participate, to which Christian informs him they’re sympathy injuries. As the APA argue with Edge & Christian over the ludicrousness of it, the Right To Censor try to sneak up from behind, but the APA catch them and start pounding away as they slide in the ring. Edge & Christian panic as the Hardys race out from the back and attack their rivals. One fight leads back through the back, while the other spills into the crowd and out into the arena, where officials break up both fights.

 

Escorted by his ECW alumni, Heyman visits Commissioner Regal in his office. “Commissioner Regal!” exclaims Heyman. “A pleasure to see you!” he says, offering a hand.

 

Regal, however, isn’t quick to bite, regarding the hand with a thinly disguised sneer. “While I applaud your desire to restore the wrestling aspect of this business back into the WWF,” says Regal. “your reputation leaves much to be desired, Paul Heyman. I hope you come into this organization with a clean slate and the drive to business in the proper methods, not in the brutish manner you did in Philadelphia.”

 

Heyman’s eyes twitch just a little, betraying the good nature of his smile. “Obviously, we have some philosophical differences, Commissioner,” says Heyman, retracting the hand. “But I hope that we can work together in spite of those, so we may erase the stain that Vince McMahon has put on this business.”

 

Regal considers his answer for a second, but never gets a chance to reveal it, as the door to his office bursts open, bringing in Raven and Tazz. “Gentlemen!” says Heyman, offering a hand. “It’s been a while. Good to see you both!”

 

The handshake is rebuffed when Raven slaps it away. Tazz steps forward and gets in Heyman’s face. “So, what, you just waltz on in here, buy up a part of the company with what, Monopoly money? And you never, not once in almost a month, do you call us and tell us what you’re planning, but you let those guys in on it? Who wrestled in that sweatbox in front of a hundred people for you when didn’t have a pot to piss in, since WCW had just fired your ass? Who worked with a man he couldn’t stand because it would sell your pay-per-view? Who sacrificed his body in barbed wire for your benefit?” Tazz waves his finger between himself and Raven. “Us. We helped build ECW. And you wanna come in here with these bandwagon-jumpers?” Tazz gives Heyman a little push, which makes Rhyno jump; Regal and Heyman immediately position themselves between the two groups and break them up before it comes to blows. Tazz and Raven spit Heyman’s feet on the way out the door, leaving Heyman and his troupe mystified.

 

The second title match of the evening has Chris Benoit defending his Intercontinental Title against The Rock. Like their previous encounters, there is a certain extra intensity in their matches, but even moreso tonight, as, unlike their prior matches, the man with something to lose is Benoit. When Rock takes control of the match and looks to have things sewn up, Benoit resorts to pulling the ref in between them, knocking him out. With nobody to enforce the rules, Benoit gets a lowblow, slides out, retrieves his title belt and blasts Rock in the head. A replacement ref makes the count, but it only gets two. Benoit tries for the headbutt, but comes up empty, which sets up The Rock to go for the People’s Elbow. But when Kurt Angle comes out on stage, Rocky is distracted long enough for Benoit to recover and get the roll-up with his feet on the ropes for the pin. Angle laughs and taunts Rock by saying that if he can’t beat the number two champ in the company, what makes him think he has what it takes to beat the World Champ.

 

The main event of the final Raw pits Chris Jericho one-on-one against Undertaker, who comes to the ring sporting a bandage on his head courtesy of the hammer-to-bell collision in Undertaker’s face the week before on Smackdown. From, the opening bell, the match resembles nothing more then a back alley brawl, and going toe-to-toe with Undertaker in a fistfight doesn’t get Jericho very far, so Jericho hits the floor and starts using the environment to his advantage. When the fight progresses through the curtain to the backstage area, the ref has no choice to throw out the match, but neither Jericho nor Undertaker show a whit of concern. As Undertaker and Jericho use chairs, trays, loading palates and anything else they can get their hands on, Undertaker catches a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of Triple H using a sledgehammer to dissect his motorcycle. Undertaker makes a run for Triple H, with Jericho in close pursuit, but Rock, hidden behind a closed door, opens it right into Jericho’s face. As the four pair off, Angle sneaks up on the scene; first, Rock is taken out using the WWF Title right in Rock’s face. Angle positions Jericho and finishes him off by slamming the door closed on his head. Carefully, Angle sneaks up behind Undertaker and Triple H as they’re trading punches, grabs Triple H and Angle Slams him on the concrete floor. Undertaker goes after Angle, but Angle falls back on his amateur background, taking Undertaker down with a drop toehold and immediately cinching on a sleeper and body scissors until Undertaker passes out. Once again, a WWF show ends with a massive melee, and one person standing, and for the final Raw, it is the focal point of the match: Kurt Angle, WWF Champion, his challengers strewn about at his feet.

 

Smackdown: Mar. 29, ’01

 

The final Smackdown before WrestleMania, and the first show following the Earth-shattering bombshells concerning WCW and Paul Heyman, kicks off in the ring with a grudge match, pitting Steven Richards against Kurt Angle in a non-title match-up. Despite the righteous anger of Richards, and his cohorts being at ringside, Richards is unable to get much traction against the WWF Champion, who gets a submission victory off the ankle lock. Val Venis and the APA rush the RTC and drive them from ringside, which Angle watches with an expression of pleasure.

 

“Not that I really like Val and those two big lunkheads,” says Angle, “but I gotta thank you for getting rid of them before I had to go and give them a glimpse at what I’m gonna do at Hell In A Cell.” The crowd boos, but the Olympic Gold Medalist ignores it. “See, last Monday Night Raw, I showed my superiority. I took out Triple H, and The Rock, and Undertaker, and Chris Jericho. And if they have any brains whatsoever, they’ll stay away tonight, or I’ll cripple them, just like I did Stone Cold Steve Austin!” The audience pours on the hate for the mention of the fallen but not forgotten Austin. “Oh, yeah, that’s right! I didn’t just cripple him! I ended his career! He won’t even be in Hell In A Cell! And to celebrate that, and my impending, historic victory at WrestleMania, I’m going to bring out Stone Cold later on tonight and interview him about how he feels! I even got a special surprise for him!”

 

Backstage, Shane McMahon arrives in a limousine with WCW on the license plate. As he walks through the hallways, he bumps into Rikishi; Shane shakes his hand, tells him how great it is to see him, and tells him that if the WWF gets too crazy for his blood anymore, “there’s always another choice”. Shane slips him a business card with the WCW logo on it and continues on his way.

 

Test, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn head to the ring for six-man action, facing off against Paul Heyman’s crew of imports, Rhyno, Spike Dudley and Justin Credible. Heyman himself appears on stage beforehand and informs the six that, just for fun, the match will be no-DQs. The former ECW’ers not only hold their own, but rock the tag champs and Test back on their heels, looking for all the world like instant contenders to the belts, until Spike ends up against Test. The littlest Dudley takes a mountain of punishment, but the no-DQ atmosphere allows for Spike to get some help from his brothers, who drop Test with a 3-D before heading for the back again, only to get cut off and engaged in a brawl with Edge & Christian on the ramp. In the ring, Spike gets the hot tag to Rhyno, who cleans house on the tag champs, Goring Saturn almost right out of his boots while Justin Credible gets a superkick on Dean Malenko to ensure the three-count. Back on the ramp, The Hardys join in the three-way brawl, but get pulled apart by other wrestlers and officials, including William Regal, who makes a three-way tag match for later on so they can get tuned up for TLC II.

 

But as Heyman’s team heads backstage, they are Pearl Harbored by Raven and Tazz, then challenge them to a match at WrestleMania, ECW-style. Spike gets an especially horrific beating, being busted wide open and taken away by medics.

 

And if the chaos already rampant through the company isn’t enough, cameras are summoned to Triple H’s dressing room, where he is found unconscious and bleeding. Laying beside Triple H’s still body is a length of chain wrapped in a ball. Medics swarm on the scene as officials ask witnesses in the vicinity if they saw anything, but everyone’s story matches: they saw nothing, heard nothing, know nothing.

 

A three-way women’s match takes people’s minds from the chaos in the back, pitting three women with grudges across the board: Trish Stratus, WWF Women’s Champion Ivory, and Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie takes a hammering early on, leaving Trish and Ivory as the primary participants, but to the crowd, neither is acceptable over the other for support. But Stephanie manages to pull herself together and waits for the proper time to spring; Ivory takes a stiff kick on the jaw from Trish, knocking her for a loop, giving Stephanie that golden opportunity. Stephanie rushes Trish from behind, grabbing her top and tearing; with nothing on underneath, Trish has to clamor to keep her breasts covered, leaving her vulnerable to suffer a pinfall, giving Stephanie a measure of revenge for No Way Out.

 

Backstage, Shane bumps into Big Show, letting him know that WCW is coming back, and that despite their differences in the past, Shane recognizes Show’s value more then Vince ever did. Show tells Shane he’ll put some thought into it.

 

As if the medics weren’t busy enough, they’re called in a rush to Undertaker, who is in the parking garage, sprawled out on the concrete, his chest having been crushed by a garage door and his head driven into the headlight of his custom Titan motorcycle. With nobody in the parking lot, there is no one to question, but everyone at the scene all have the same suspect in mind.

 

Chris Benoit comes to the ring for a special “submissions-only challenge”, a special tune-up he calls it for his submission match against William Regal at WrestleMania. The hand-picked opponent, Crash Holly, comes out, but is pushed aside at the last minute by a surprise: Val Venis, who says he’d love a little tune-up of his own in preparation for WrestleMania. Benoit declines, but Commissioner Regal comes out and ratifies the change in the line-up with a sadistic grin. Venis slides in the ring and, for ten exciting minutes, Venis more then holds his own with Benoit, who grows more and more frustrated as Venis slips out or reverses submission hold after submission hold. When Venis manages to do the seemingly impossible–roll through the Crossface–Benoit snaps and clubs Venis, drawing a disqualification, but Benoit won’t stop clubbing and stomping until Regal pulls him off and chops his chest red. Stunned, but not out, Venis takes Benoit down and locks in the Venis Fly Trap long enough to get some screams and for Regal to taunt Benoit before letting him go to suffer the humiliation of being out-wrestled.

 

Shane runs across Eddie Guerrero in the catering area and reminds him that WCW is about to come roaring back and bring the pride back to wrestling. While Guerrero is reluctant to jump on board WCW, he thanks Shane for the compliment of approaching him. As Shane is about to hand Guerrero a business card, Kane comes from out of nowhere and clotheslines them both, then hauls them back up and hits stereo chokeslams through a nearby table. Vince strolls in and taunts Shane, promising him a beating worse than this at WrestleMania, and tells Guerrero he’ll regret ever failing the McMahon family.

 

Done in the back, Kane stomps down to the ring for his match, anxious for his next victim. But his opponent is no shrinking violet; it is the Commissioner, who takes it to Kane as if the size difference was reversed. But Benoit comes down and trips up Regal from behind as he lingers near the ringropes; the distraction is enough for Kane to seize Regal and chokeslam him to Hell and back. Standing at ringside, Vince demands one more chokeslam before pinning Regal. Satisfied with his opponent’s decimation, Benoit leaves, smiling as Regal writhes in pain.

 

The cameras cut away quick to the dressing room of The Rock, where medics find him in his shower, his head having been rammed into the tile wall (which sports a nasty dent). Too Cool, who are seen outside the door, are interviewed quickly, but both attest to having just passed by and stopping to check out the commotion.

 

The last match of the night is the hastily scheduled Hardys/Dudleys/Edge & Christian three-way dance. From the opening bell, it is a barely-containable storm, with no one paying attention to tagging or rules. The referee, wise to the realization that there is no way he alone can reign in the chaos, turns the other cheek to the match’s lack of cohesion. The match dwindles down to a couple participants–Edge and Matt Hardy–as the others wander away, brawling with each other. Edge ends up getting the pin when Lita tries to interfere on Hardy’s behalf, but misses a moonsault, and Hardy checks on her, setting him up for a spear. But the fight between the teams continues, right on out the arena, while the tag champs watch on monitors in the back, chuckling.

 

Right before the final commercial break, the camera crews are called back to the parking garage, where they find Chris Jericho lying unconscious next to a car. The back window is caved in deep, as if someone had been thrown into it, and the trunk is covered in head-sized dents. Like The Rock, Undertaker and Triple H before him, Jericho is taken out on a stretcher.

 

When Smackdown comes back from its final commercial break, the glass shatters, sending the crowd into a frenzy. The crowd explodes, but quickly turns when Kurt Angle comes out, wearing a skull cap and a black leather vest, rolling down the ramp in a wheelchair with a six pack of root beer in his lap and a large brace on his foot. Angle mockingly struggles to get into the ring; once in, he pops a root beer, pours a root beer over his head and says; “Steveweiser! Stunner! 3:16! Rattlesnake!” The reception he gets is positively venomous, but Angle couldn’t care less. He flips off the crowd with the wrong finger and pours another root beer all over himself, then pauses to note the reaction of the crowd. “Okay, I see some of you are a little upset. And I wouldn’t be a very good hero if I didn’t live up to promises, so without any further ado … Stone Cold Steve Austin!”

 

Angle looks to the stage with great anticipation; the glass breaks again, and the crowd goes bananas … until a midget, dressed like Austin, comes down to the ring, hobbling all the way down. “Wow, Austin! I knew I hurt your ankle, but I didn’t know they’d have to amputate both of your legs! I must be better then I thought!” The Austin midget finally gets in the ring and snarls and Angle; Angle shrugs and unceremoniously kicks the little person in the face, sending him sprawling. “It was just that easy to get rid of Austin the first time! And you know what’s great? I had you all fooled! I played everybody … Austin … Foley … Vince McMahon … Triple H … Chris Benoit … the Right To Censor … I played everyone, because unlike all of them, I have Intelligence! I have Intelligence, and I used it to drive this company into the gutter, while I sat on top, the rightful place for an Olympic Hero, as I think we’d all agree, as Champion! And look at my challengers … I’ve beaten everyone of them in the ring, and back on Raw, I beat them out of the ring! I’d like to take credit for whatever happened to them tonight, but I think we all know there’s a lot of Kurt Angle admirers in the back; they may not want to admit it, for some reason, but their actions speak louder then words. So, whoever it is, I thank you! With the four of them decimated, and Austin out of the match, my WrestleMania’s gonna be like a vacation!”

 

Suddenly, the glass breaks for a third time; the audience, conditioning by two phonies, don’t leap for the third one until the real Stone Cold Steve Austin hobbles out on crutches, his injured foot clad in an aircast boot. Angle masks his initial expression of shock quickly. “Steve! What a pleasant surprise! Come on down and wish me luck!”

 

Austin limps up the steps and hobbles up to Angle, a sneer carved onto the stone mask of his face. Angle holds a microphone up to him, and for a long time, Austin does nothing but glare. “Steve,” says Angle, “I hope you didn’t come out here to stare. That’s rude, you kno–”

 

With the crutch still under his arm, Austin grabs Angle’s hand and pulls it close. “Do you know what it’s like to have everything you want, everything you live for, taken away from you? I know you done broke that stack o’ dimes you calla neck, but–look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya, boy. I been sittin’ at home now for a couple weeks, thinkin’ ’bout if I’m ever gonna get in this ring again, about how you done screwed me not once but twice. You are without the biggest piece of [bleep] I ever met, and the only thing that hurts worse then my foot is the fact that it’s keepin’ me from beatin’ your sorry ass in Hell In A Cell. You can wipe that stupid little smirk off your face, ’cause you ain’t gonna be champ forever. If you had brain-one in that stupid head of yours, you’d know that, someday, somebody’s gonna beat your ass and take that little belt from ya, and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop it.” Austin pauses, the tiniest hint of a smirk breaking out on his face. “And you can bet your ass I’ll be there to see it. Well, hell, son … matter of fact … if you had just a little intelligence …”

 

Austin lets the sentence hang uncomfortably until it drives Angle nuts. “What, Austin? If I was intelligent, what?”

 

“Well, you stupid son of a bitch, if you was intelligent, you woulda known I been playin’ ya!” Suddenly, Austin drops the crutches and uses the booted foot to plant a kick in Angle’s gut. With Angle bent over, Austin snaps off a perfect Stunner as the crowd comes out of their seats. As Angle lays on the mat, Austin rips off the the boot and walks around the ring to show that his ankle is, in fact, perfectly fine. When Angle begins to stir, Austin picks up one of the crutches, waits until Angle is up to one knee and swings for the fences; the impact of the crutch to Angle’s head sends pieces of the crutch flying into the audience. With the broken crutch, Austin starts laying into Angle’s prone body, shot after shot after shot after shot, beating on him for a good thirty seconds before stopping to grab one of Angle’s root beers; he flips Angle over and sits him up, then smashes the can in Angle’s face, busting him wide open. After a few more shots with the crutch, Austin grabs the mic, gets down on the mat and right in Angle’s face. “You can bet your ass I will be at WrestleMania, you piece of crap! I will be at WrestleMania, I will be in that Cell, and just like I done beat them other four sons of bitches, I will beat your ass until your own wife don’t recognize ya, ya gutless piece o’ crap!” Austin leaps back up and beats on Angle some more with the crutch until Angle doesn’t even react anymore, and just a little bit longer after that. The last image on Smackdown before the fade to black is of Austin, holding Angle’s WWF Championship belt aloft on one of the turnbuckles, toasting it with a beer to the borderline riotous excitement of the crowd.

 

WrestleMania X-Seven: Apr. 1, ’01

 

The biggest show of the year, headlined by no less than three matches guaranteed to be hyper-violent and overflowing with long-simmered hatred, kicks off with six-man tag action, pitting recent ECW refugees Rhyno, Spike Dudley and Justin Credible against two fellow ECW alums, Raven and Tazz, and their partner, Hardcore Holly. While Raven, Tazz and Holly fight admirably, they’re quickly overwhelmed by Paul Heyman’s imports and their unending fire and hunger to prove their worth. Even Spike Dudley overcomes a hellacious beating from his adversaries, debuting the Acid Drop in the WWF on Raven, while Credible nearly superkicks Tazz’s head off, and Rhyno Gores Holly almost clean in half for the victory. As Heyman congratulates his imports on their way back, Raven and Tazz take their frustrations out by beating down Holly for not living up to his moniker of “hardcore”.

 

Eddie Guerrero approaches the ring alone, ready for his showdown with the man that, of late, has cut a swath through the roster in recent months: Kane. Immediately, Kane sets out to make it a short match by pummeling Guerrero into paste and, apart from a brief burst of offense at the onset with Guerrero going after Kane’s knee, the Big Red Machine’s plan goes according to script. But an attempt to tear Guerrero’s face off with a big boot in the corner goes awry when Guerrero ducks, leaving Kane to snag his leg on the top rope. Fighting horrific fatigue and soreness, Guerrero zones in on the leg. Kane tries to counter a Guerrero run off the ropes with a chokeslam, but his leg gives out. Again, Guerrero goes to work on the leg, and even nails a frog splash onto the leg to further the damage. But as Guerrero goes for a figure-four, Kane kicks off, sending Guerrero face-first into the turnbuckle; Kane makes the cover, but only gets two, and goes for a one-legged chokeslam. With his balance upset, the chokeslam comes off weak, and as he goes for the cover, Guerrero pulls him down into a small package, rolls out of it, grabs Kane’s legs and locks on his rarely-used Lasso From El Paso in the center of the ring. With nowhere to go, Kane has no choice but to tap.

 

Malenko and Saturn approach the right in preparation for TLC 2 with extreme caution, as the announcers recap their failures in recent weeks to adapt to the hardcore natures of tables, ladders and chairs. By contrast, the three challenging teams enter the ring with confidence, and even a noticable amount of zeal, at home among the various pain-inflicting devices. As soon as the bell rings, mayhem breaks out; the tag champs each go after a member of the Hardys and Edge & Christian, trying to work on a limb to weaken it, while everyone else reaches for the items which give the match its name. As one person after another tries to climb the ladder, the threat of his tag champions being unseated brings out Vince McMahon on the stage, who watches with a measurable degree of worry. But when Vince starts to inch towards interfering as the Dudleys set up Saturn on a table, he gets cut off by two unlikely allies: Lita, friend of the Hardy brothers, and Spike Dudley. In the ring, the action takes on more frightening tones, as everyone puts life and limb on the line as they try to get the belts, including a daring attempt by Jeff Hardy to walk across the tops of three ladders to get to the belts that ends in a crushing fall to the mat; a dramatic spear from Edge on the top turnbuckle to Matt Hardy, hanging on the belts; a Bubba Cutter on Perry Saturn off the ladder through a table; and, courtesy of a 20-foot ladder found under the ring, a mind-blowing Swanton Bomb by Jeff Hardy on Dean Malenko through a table on the arena floor. When the final bell rings, and the bodies are strewn about in the ring and around it, there are new WWF Tag Team Champions, but they are neither the daredevil Hardys, or the extremist Dudleys; they are the unctuous, irritating Edge & Christian who come up with the gold.

 

Steven Richards leads his Right To Censor troop to the ring with the confidence of a man leading an army twice the size of his opponent’s into battle. “Tonight,” he says amid a chorus of 50,000-plus people booing, “the Right To Censor will stand up for the slighted decency of every one of you people, even if you’re too awash in moral terpitude to realize it! Tonight, we will stab a good and proper conservative dagger into the very heart of this cancerous, sinful company by ridding it of not only three of its most morally bankrupt citizens in the APA and Val Venis, but we shall go straight to the heart of the beast when we demolish the shameless daughter of sin herself, Stephanie McMahon! After tonight, you all will praise me as the hero I am, and you will begme to continue our crusade against indecency and filth and eliminate such vile, contemptable scum as The Rock and Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin!”

 

Any traces of their normal nature, though–be it the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking good ol’ boys of the APA, or the slick lothario that is Val Venis–is nowhere to be found as Venis, Bradshaw, Faarooq and Stephanie approach the ring. As soon as they hit, they’re trading blows with the RTC, looking for the advantage. They find when, after the ring is cleared out and brawls continue on the floor, Bradshaw scores a Clothesline From Hell on Goodfather for a pinfall and a four-to-three advantage. When the ref regains control of the match, Richards sends in the big Bull Buchanan to even the odds, and for a while, Faarooq is in danger of being eliminated. But a timely tag to Val Venis revives the anti-RTC team’s fortunes, and leads to another elimination against the RTC. Panicking, Richards orders Ivory to get in; Stephanie gladly obliges, going over to Ivory’s corner to hold open the ring ropes. Recognizing the RTC as a sinking ship, however, Ivory drops down and starts to walk away; Stephanie jumps out, catches her from behind and throws her in by the hair, then sets to work pounding Ivory down. Multiple times, Ivory tries to scramble out of the ring for safety, but Stephanie cuts her off and, eventually, is able to wear down Ivory enough to score a pinfall, leaving Richards alone. Like Ivory, Richards tries a retreat, but the APA and Venis quickly surround the RTC’s leader and spokesman, toss him in the ring, and are set to torture him when Stephanie interrupts on the microphone; “Him and his friends have poisoned my company long enough,” she says. “I don’t want him and his kind here anymore. Get rid of him.” Her partners feign disappointment, then jump right into business; first, a Clothesline From Hell, then a Dominator, and then a Money Shot. Stephanie shakes hands with all three, and they all pin Richards simultaneously, putting one foot on his unmoving carcass to bring an end to the Right To Censor.

 

Accompanied by Trish Stratus, pushing Linda McMahon in a wheelchair, Vince McMahon approaches the ring with a sneer on his face, looking both ready for battle and disgusted. As he scans the disapproving crowd, his eye catches a large group of people seated in a luxury box; prominently displayed in the windows of the box is a banner with three large, colorful letters that gets under Vince’s skin immediately: WCW. And Vince’s mood doesn’t improve when, before his opponent can come out, his new co-owner Paul Heyman comes out and takes up residence at the announce table. With his nerves already dancing on a razor’s edge, the final push comes when Shane McMahon is serenaded to the ring by the theme music to WCW Monday Nitro; Vince runs down the aisle and tackles Shane, engaging in a rolling-on-the-floor fistfight. The McMahon boys don’t even come close to the ring until they’re separated by the surprise special guest referee: Mick Foley. Vince’s face goes sheet white at seeing his former whipping boy, who points to the referee shirt on his portly frame when Vince tries to protest, and reaffirms position by telling Vince that Heyman assigned him as the official. Shane takes advantage of Vince’s argument with Foley to grab a stop sign laying nearby and hammers Vince across the back; Vince scurries into the ring, with Shane and Foley close behind. Shane peppers Vince with quick fists and fancy footwork, and mixes in plenty of hardcore action, busting open the 50-something Chairman Of The Board’s forehead with a shot by a chair. But Trish comes to her boyfriend’s aid and boots Shane in the balls, giving Vince time to recover and plot a gruesome beatdown. Slowly, tauntingly, Vince begins to dissect his son, utilizing everything he can find at ringside, from a chair to a tabletop fan from Jim Ross’ announce table, to the timekeeper’s hammer. By the time Vince is ready to make a cover, Shane is a limp dishrag, his blood pooling wherever he lays; but when Vince goes for a cavalier pin, Shane kicks out at 1. Vince makes a serious cover, hooking the leg, but again, Shane kicks out. Vince tries a third pin, but again, Shane kicks out. Vince argues with Foley about the speed of the count, and when Foley reiterates his position, Vince clocks him. Vince barks out an order to Trish to fetch a weapon from under the ring; but as the blonde bombshell ducks down, another person rises up from their seat: Linda McMahon. With single-minded purpose gleaming in her eyes like a sun gone supernova, Linda walks up behind Trish, grabs two handfuls of hair and drags her up to her feet. With Vince looking on in shock, Linda turns Trish around to face her and unleashes with a stiff slap that spins Trish around and puts her on the ground. Vince breaks out of his reverie and drops down to the floor to get in his wife’s face, but Linda responds with a slap that rocks his jaw and spins him around as well, to end up face to face with Paul Heyman, who kicks Vince in the nuts. Together, they toss Vince into the ring as Shane gets to his feet. Foley, now recovered from the punch, pulls out Socko and jams it down the gullet of the WWF Chairman, leaving him a convulsing mess on the mat. Shane puts his father slumped in a corner, puts a trashcan in his father’s lap, and goes across the ring to the other corner and, amid a sea of flashbulbs, sails through the air and dropkicks the trashcan into Vince’s face. Shane drags Vince to the middle of the ring and covers him for a three count made by Foley, Linda and Heyman together. The crowd erupts in cheers as the threesome celebrate together with hugs and upraised hands, which turns into a rousing chorus of “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye” as Vince and Trish slowly, shamefully, retreat.

 

The Test/Big Show proves short, but memorable, as Show throws Test around the ring like a ragdoll, taking his time and torturing Vince McMahon’s hired thug. But as Show looks ready to put Test down for the count, a timely referee distraction by Trish Stratus allows Test to use brass knuckles to pop Show between the eyes; amazingly, one punch only makes the big man stagger, so Test clocks him again, which fails to do much more than put Show down on one knee. Fuming, Test comes off the ropes and lunges, brass knuckle-covered-fist first, at Show; the third shot is the trick, felling Show like a tree in the forest for the winning pinfall.

 

Like a big-money prize fight, Chris Benoit and William Regal wait in their corners until the referee rings the bell for their submission match for Benoit’s Intercontinental Championship; once rung, the two patiently circle one another and test each other out with mat wrestling, counters and reversals that bring the crowd to their feet, but get the competitors nowhere in their fight for the victory. It is Benoit who finally abandons the mat wrestling game, striking Regal and going to suplexes and high-impact moves to daze Regal enough so that work over the arm without trouble. But Regal proves a harder nut to crack, and counters with stiff chops and attacks directed at the legs of Benoit. Regal gets the first attempt at a submission, getting a figure-four, but Benoit reaches the ropes; a leg grapevine also gets a rope-break, but Benoit manages to counter a spinning toe-hold by pulling Regal down to the mat by the arm. From there, Benoit works a variety of submissions, from armbars to a Camel Clutch, but not only will Regal not tap, he refuses to do resort to a rope break and breaks every hold manually. Finally, Benoit gets frustrated and uses the rules to his advantage by blasting Regal with a chair square in the head. But, despite being knocked senseless and busted open, Regal will not submit to a Dragon Sleeper, even as he screams out in agony while blood courses down his face. Finally, with Regal refusing to submit or move to the ropes, and, somehow, fighting the lure of unconsciousness, the referee demands Benoit break the hold. The ref has to grab a handful of Benoit’s hair to physically pull him off Regal; the proactive move gets Benoit off and up to his feet, but also right in the referee’s face, arguing. He doesn’t notice Regal roll out to the floor, trying to recoup and get some feeling back in his stretched and strained muscles. When Benoit finally does notice, Regal reaches in, grabs Benoit by the legs, sweeps him down and crotches him on the post. With Benoit momentarily stunned, Regal grabs a chair; he makes sure Benoit’s leg is still against the post, then swings the chair, crushing the leg between the post and the chair. Regal swings again as his eyes go wide with rage and bloodlust, then swings a third time. Regal tosses the chair into the ring, climbs in and uses it to Pillmanize the ankle a couple times. With the crowd ready to explode, Regal slaps on the Regal Stretch in the middle of the ring. Benoit reaches for the ropes even as he lets out the most God-awful, inhuman screams ever uttered by a wrestler, but Regal keeps Benoit firmly in place. Benoit tries a reversal, but Regal manages to cinch in the hold as tight as ever, even as his own blood pours down his face. With the pain too much, and Regal locked on like a pair of vice grips, Benoit has no choice but to tap out. Regal holds onto the move a few seconds longer after the ref calls for the bell, just to rub it in, but when he lets go, he collapses to the mat. The ref has to pick his hand up off the mat to raise it and places the belt across Regal’s chest as he gasps for breath, looking nothing like the victor, but the new Intercontinental Champion despite appearences.

 

The crowd rumbles with anticipation as a pulsating beat accompanies the lowering of the cell for the main event. A vignette rolls, showing the nearly 18 months worth of history that have led to this historic, hellish contest: the manipulations of Kurt Angle against not only WWF Superstars, but his own co-conspirators and the owners; attempted murder with the hit-and-run; and the stealing of the Royal Rumble victory to avoid a title defense. The vignette has a glimpse at each wrestler and the crimes they suffered under the Machiavellian plotting of Angle, and their vow to take his title and exterminate him.

 

The first music to hit pleasantly surprises everyone: it is Shawn Michaels, the mystery special referee for the main event. One by one, the challengers come out, each one greeted with borderline psychotic zeal. Angle comes out last, but when he gets to the door of the cell and finds a virtual firing squad all waiting patiently, side by side, for him to step into the mouth of the lion, he refuses to enter. Michaels approaches him, but Angle turns and goes to leave, until the aisleway fills up with Heyman and his trio, standing side by side with arms crossed. Angle backs up, unaware that Austin has opened the door to the cell, waiting until Angle is within reach and drags him in. Once Michaels gets in, the door is chained and padlocked shut, and Angle is at the mercy of five very angry, very bloodthirsty men, who proceed to corner and take turns mauling the champion. Within three minutes of the match’s official beginning, Angle is bleeding, beaten and out on his feet. But the desire to bring the match to a quick end turns everyone against each other, with old rivalries boiling over in the hellish environment; Rock and Undertaker renew their hatred, while Jericho and Triple H pick up where they left off, leaving Austin alone with the vulnerable champion. Only when Austin nails a series of Stunners on Angle and goes for another pin do the other fights break up and the action spills across all lines. Save for Angle, who is too beaten to do much of anything other then stumble away on occasion, the rest of the group take advantage of the cell and the no-rules environment, pulling out chairs, a sledgehammer and using the cell itself as a partner to inflict pain upon one another; Rock gets his brains scrambled when his head is sandwiched between the cage and a swinging steel chair from Triple H; Undertaker blasts Austin in the head with the hammer, knocking him off the apron and into the cage. But the first really big spot is a huge high-risk move by Jericho, who, seeing Angle leaning against the cage trying to catch his breath, hits a springboard dropkick from in the ring, over the top rope and down to the floor. The force of the impact rips the wire mesh off the frame and sends Angle tumbling through the hole in the cell wall. Gradually, as people realize Angle is no longer in the cell, his opponents leave the cell in search of him. With time to recover and plan, Angle waylays his pursuers by attacking them with a chair as they crawl through the hole, but as he takes one down, another comes out, and soon, Angle has to run to stay alive. But with the entire ringside area encapsulated, he has only one choice: scale the cell, which he does. And, one by one, he is followed up the cell, where the brawling continues as the crowd waits with baited breath to see if anyone will take the plunge. As soon as people get distracted, Angle once again leaves, dropping down the cell on the aisle side, only to once again be confronted by Heyman’s enforcers. Rhino is about to step up and confront Angle, but Heyman holds him back and yells at Angle to get back into the fight and take what’s coming to him. With his opponents on top, the aisle blocked, and ringside encircled by the cell, Angle has only one choice: get back into the cell. Angle demands the officials unlock the door; as they get it undone, Angle decks the official, steals the key, the lock and chain, then enters the cell and chains the door shut behind himself just in time for almost everyone on the roof of the cell to scale down the door side and demand entrance. Angle taunts them with the key, not seeing that, behind him, Austin, weakened and bloody (like everyone else in the match), is crawling through the hole in the wall. Austin crawls to the ring apron, lifts it up and searches for something while everyone else tries to rip the door off the frame, but to no avail. Jericho starts to climb the cage, only to get pulled down by Triple H; likewise, when Rock tries to ascend, Undertaker pulls him back down and the brawling starts anew. None of them, Angle included, see Austin rise from under the apron holding a large burlap sack that makes everyone gasp. Austin waits until Angle turns around and freezes, a deer in the approaching headlights of the speeding semi known as Stone Cold Steve Austin; a sick grin breaks out on Austin’s face as he pulls the tie off the sack, reaches in and pulls out a handful of everyone’s suspicions: thumbtacks. But instead of doing anything with them in the ring, Austin tosses them down in front of the hole, and through the fencing on the outside of the hole, a minefield for anyone who can make it over the cell wanting in … and a blockade for anyone trying to get out. Alone, in an enclosed space with his first and worst victim, Angle falls to his knees and pleads, but Austin listens to not even a syllable and pulverizes Angle, first by punching him down, then stomping him mercilessly, then grabbing a chair and re-enacting his crutch-beating of Angle from Smackdown. When Angle’s body won’t move anymore, Austin pauses to look at the progress of his opponents: Jericho is on now on top of the cell and trying to get across, with The Rock in close pursuit, and Undertaker and Triple H not far behind. Austin raises the chair to bash Angle’s limp, motionless body once more, but Shawn Michaels catches the chair and tells Austin to end it. For a brief moment, there is a tense staredown as Austin and Michaels, never friends, consider the possibilities … and for a moment, there is a gleam in Austin’s eye that there can never be enough vengeance, enough blood split, enough pounds of flesh taken against the wages of Angles’s sins. But a few words from Michaels kills the glint in Austin’s eyes; he tosses the chair aside and spares a glance at his other opponents; Jericho and The Rock have managed to hit the floor and are working, carefully, to sweep tacks away so they don’t have to crawl through them. Austin grabs Angle by the hair and drags him to his feet; he sticks a middle finger before Angle’s rolled-back eyes, snaps off a picture-perfect Stunner and makes the cover. The other four participants hustle to brush away the tacks, but the deafening explosion of applause from the crowd tells them their efforts are for naught: Kurt Angle is defeated. Stone Cold Steve Austin, bloody, sore, a year and a half removed from what could’ve been a career-ending (or even fatal) attack, is the new World Wrestling Federation Champion. In the center of the ring is his attacker, unconscious, bleeding, almost surely injured … and beaten. Humiliated. His months of planning, spoiled as Austin toasts the belt–Austin’s belt now–with a few Steveweisers. With the cell raised, the other four challengers now walk into the ring and confront Austin; each one shakes hands with Austin, last of which is The Rock, who smiles through the curtain of blood on his face as he congratulates Austin. Everyone in the ring, Austin first and foremost, knows that sooner or later, everyone is going to get a shot at Austin; over the past six months, every one of them and more (Chris Benoit, William Regal and a few others) has earned a shot to become WWF Champion. And provided that he can keep winning, Austin is ready to face them all.

But everyone also knows that just because Angle was defeated by Austin on this night doesn’t mean that the desire for vengeance is done. No, not by a long shot; in fact, Austin and everyone in the ring knows that between a shot at Austin and the title, and a shot at exacting revenge upon the diabolical Kurt Angle, the line for Angle might be longer.

Written by

Creator, editor and semi-sorta-retired original author of Rewriting The Book, husband, father of three, gamer, lover of 90's MTV animation.

No Comments Yet.

leave a comment