If you’ve read enough inductions on this site, you will by now have figured out that the Attitude Era wasn’t the golden age of cool angles, awesome wrestling, and mature content that many fans seem to think it was when complaining about WWE’s recent “PG Era.” At least not if you take the word, “mature” literally.
You’ve probably also heard the conventional wisdom to explain why the WWF was so much better under Vince Russo than WCW would be with the same head writer: In the WWF, Russo’s crazy ideas all got filtered through Vince McMahon, who used only the best ideas of the bunch and rejected anything on par with, say, David Arquette winning the company’s world title.
Once again, conventional wisdom tends to over-simplify history, as a segment-by-segment look back at WWF programming in the late 90s reveals that at any given time there were at least three Wrestlecrap-worthy angles going on. In Russo’s last month in the WWF alone, fans were treated to the Kennel from Hell Match, Mark Henry’s sex addiction, and the subject of today’s induction. That would be like if in the “New Generation” era everyone loves to deride, a single Monday Night Raw featured Tekno Team 2000, Man Mountain Rock, and hype for the “Kiss My Foot” match. Okay, point taken.
What I’m saying is, Vince McMahon might have been a better “filter” than Vince Russo’s superiors in WCW (who, if I’m not mistaken, consisted of nobody), but he still let quite a few large fecal masses slip through on to national television. Mind you, McMahon didn’t green-light anything quite so egregious as putting the top championship on a non-wrestler with nearly zero build-up on a B-show just to shock fans and promote a crappy movie. What he did approve, however, was still pretty close: putting the top championship on a non-wrestler with nearly zero build-up on a B-show just to shock fans and promote himself.
See, the boss had been off television since July 26th due to a stipulation where if Steve Austin won his match, McMahon could never appear on WWF TV again. Basically, he would still collect checks, he just wouldn’t come to work. And you thought the Light Heavyweight division was a blatant rip-off of WCW!
Of course, according to Attitude Era calendars, “never” and “49 days later” were practically the same length of time, so McMahon was back on Raw on September 13th.
I can just imagine Russo coming up to Vince that morning with a draft of the night’s script.Russo: “Hey boss, you know how you’ve been off TV for a while? How about you turn face tonight and win the title tomorrow?”McMahon: “Quick, get me to makeup! Vinnie, this is great! But you still can’t have Smackdowns off. Better hire a nanny.”
That night on Raw, Steve Austin got arrested on TV (again), so Triple H demanded that Linda McMahon cancel his title shot against The Game. The champion was being rather rude to his future mother-in-law, so husband Vince came to the rescue to defend his wife’s honor.
His excuse for violating his contract? This wasn’t business, it was personal, so it didn’t count. I suppose that if he had ever jumped into the ring and punched Austin in the groin, that would have been “personal,” too, and therefore perfectly legal. In summary, Vince called Triple H an SOB, asked him who the hell he thought he was, and reminded him that he gave Hunter the break needed to win the title in the first place. That’s not so much a “summary” as a blow-by-blow of the promo, as the whole confrontation lasted just over a minute.
Austin then rushed to the ring (having escaped police custody somehow), ignored his arch-rival who was in flagrant violation of their contract, and started a match with Triple H. Thus, the most hated heel of the decade was turned face via a 60-second outburst against another heel. Further solidifying his face turn, I guess, was the fact that Austin beat Triple H up instead of him. Am I missing something?
The next night on Smackdown (which was taped on Tuesday but aired on Thursday), Triple H had to defend his title again. This time, though, he had his choice of referee (given that all the real referees were on strike) and opponent, who he claimed had main-evented against Steve Austin.
Hunter chose his buddy and fellow heel Shane McMahon to officiate…
…but when it came time to pick an opponent, he shocked the world by calling out Vince McMahon himself. That’s actually a pretty clever twist, given that Vince had indeed wrestled Austin at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre earlier that year. You would think that with how lightly the WWF took stipulations at the time, the Vinces would have had him pick, say, Billy Gunn or Road Dogg or even Savio Vega and just say, “Screw it” to the whole “main event against Austin” clause.
An angry Vince McMahon marched to the ring and — excuse me, I have just been informed that all three of the aforementioned career mid-carders did in fact main event a pay-per-view against Austin, and on the same night, in 1998.
Anyway, an angry Vince McMahon marched to the ring but refused to fight. Triple H then insulted his manhood and teased having sex with Linda, which was the last straw (and, given how hasty this feud was, pretty much the first straw, too).
Keep in mind that anyone who hadn’t seen that week’s Raw, or who had been flipping through the channels during its last ten minutes, would have absolutely no idea what Triple H’s problem with Vince even was. I missed that week’s Raw, so count me in that group. Frankly, after watching the footage all these years later, I’m still not completely sure what they were feuding over, unlike, say, Bossman and Al Snow, whose Pepper on a Pole match on this night was pretty clearly spelled out.
Vince came out swinging, but as soon as the bell rang, Triple H was in total control, beating Vince down as if he were a 54-year-old rookie recovering from a motorcycle accident. The only possible problem for Hunter, it seemed, was the fact that his hand-picked referee was his opponent’s son who was actively rooting his father on. Couldn’t he have just picked, I don’t know, Chyna to ref this match?
Triple H bloodied Vince for nine minutes (or nine times the length of the feud) until the familiar shattering of the glass played over the arena speakers. Steve Austin stunned Hunter, his rival for the past month, before dragging the limp body of his mortal enemy over top of him so that he could win the title. It was okay: Vince was a babyface now.
Shane O’Mac counted the three and awarded the WWF title to his father and the owner of the company, who as of 24 hours earlier was not involved in any storyline whatsoever. The McMahons then held up their dazed and wounded patriarch and posed for perhaps the most gruesome family portrait ever.
The next Monday on Raw, Vince posed with the WWF title around his waist as if to remind himself and the world that, yes, he did own the whole damn company and could have done this years earlier.
In fact, he actually did do this years earlier, but with the USWA belt.
Vince, however, had no intention of defending his title and promptly forfeited it. Basically, Mr. McMahon figured out a way to win and lose a title without ever having to put anybody over, yet he still wasn’t Triple H’s best friend.
Six days later, Triple H won the Six-Pack Challenge at Unforgiven to get his title back, taking us right back to where we were two weeks earlier.
Except of course, for this guy being back on television for the next 14 years, as Stone Cold reinstated him in exchange for a single title shot, which he lost and could have gotten from fan-friendly Linda anyway.
You might think that with all of Vince Russo’s shenanigans in WCW, such as the constant pole matches, the David Arquette title reign, and the numerous worked shoots that fooled no one, Vinnie Ru didn’t understand his audience. But consider this: as head writer of the WWF, he put on an angle that made Vince McMahon a champion and gave him an excuse to once again be on TV every week for years and years. When your true audience is none other than Mr. McMahon himself, could you possibly do any better?
Frankly, that kind of pandering to the boss should be #1 in the playbook of any booker seeking job security.