Iron Man: WWF 1996 to Wrestlemania

While WWF fired back via their Billionaire Ted Skits at the start of 1996, soon to be champion Shawn Michaels was nervous as two of his close friends, Kevin Nash/Diesel, and Scott Hall/Razor Ramon, were rumored to be WCW bound. Diesel was the WWF champion, but dropped the strap to Bret Hart at that previous years Survivor Series. The plan for 1996’s Wrestlemania was for Shawn Michaels to win the title against Bret Hart, in, as WWF official and former wrestler Pat Patterson proposed, a 60 minute Iron Man match (Michaels 220). In this kind of match, the two would wrestle for an hour, and whoever had the most pinfalls, submission etc at the end, would be champion. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were considered two of the best pure athletes in professional wrestling, and few if any other people on the roster would have been able to deliver in a match of this type.

On the road to Wrestlemania, Bret Hart retained his title at Royal Rumble against the Undertaker, via interference from Diesel. Shawn Michaels, who previously teased retirement in an injury storyline, would eliminate Diesel to win the battle royal style Rumble match, which in storyline granted Shawn a title shot at Wrestlemania.

1996’s Royal Rumble, held on January 21rst,  was also the PPV debut of Steve Austin under his Ringmaster gimmick. Fresh off his ECW run, Austin debuted on the January 8th Raw, and was awarded the Million Dollar Championship by his manager Ted Dibiase. The following week he had his first WWF match against then jobber Matt Hardy. A former wrestler known as the Million Dollar Man, Dibiase created the Million Dollar Championship for himself during his own WWF run, after several failed attempts to win the world title.

The following month was In Your House #6: Rage in the Cage, held in Louisville Kentucky on February 18th. Here Bret Hart defended his title against Diesel. This match was held in a steel cage, intended to prevent outside interference. Undertaker emerged from underneath the ring to attack Diesel, as revenge for the  Rumble match interference, leading to Hart retaining via disqualification. In the planning meeting of this match, Hart objected to having two title defenses in a row ending in interference that saved him. The story goes that Undertaker yelled at Hart saying it’s not always about you. Kevin Nash said this incident led him to seriously consider WCW’s offer to jump ship.  

Also at this PPV Shawn Michels defeated Owen Hart, who had kayfabe injured Shawn, starting Shawn’s concussion/retirement angle. Shawn put up his Wrestlemania title shot in the match.

In the Wrestlemania build up, WWF owner Vince McMahon conceived of the idea of Shawn’s victory being labeled as “The Boyhood Dream.” (Michaels 219) The WWF shot vignettes of Shawn training with his former partner Jose Lothario, and the two telling stories etc. Hart was also featured in vignettes training with his father, the legendary Stu Hart. Stu was the patriarch of the Hart family, and trained countless wrestlers in his basement, known famously as the Dungeon. 

Wrestlemania XII was held on March 31rst in Anaheim. The card included the Undertaker defeating Diesel, avenging the Rumble interference, and bringing his mania record to 5-0. 

Rowdy Roddy Piper returned to the WWF to face Goldust in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl (Piper had appeared in Hollywood films and Anaheim is close to Hollywood). While the WWF was not in its Attitude Era yet, the Goldust character pushed the envelope (as did Piper). Played by Dustin Rhodes, the son of legendary Dusty Rhodes, Goldust was an androgynous drag queen obsessed with movies and all things gold. He debuted that previous August, and starting at the Royal Rumble, was accompanied by Marlena, a sexy blonde who would watch Goldust’s matches in a directors chair while smoking cigars. She was played by Terri Runnels, who at the time was married to Dustin. In the buildup to the backlot brawl, Goldust expressed sexual attraction towards Piper, something he often did to his opponents. In an era when homosexuality was still not widely accepted, the Goldust characer pushed the buttons of the audience. Piper won the match, which included an appearance by a white Bronco, an allusion to OJ Simpson’s famous police chase. In fact, the initial idea was for Piper to wrestle O.J. Simpson himself. (Piper Born to Controversy DVD).

Also returning was the Ultimate Warrior, who beat then undefeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a squash match. Before being known as HHH, Hunter played the character of a New England snob. Sable made her WWF debut here, accompanying Hunter to the ring. 

Regarding the Iron Man Match, while Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels later had a real life legendary dislike of each other, at this point they got along well. When discussing the outcome of their Wrestlemania match, Shawn quotes Bret as saying “Vince spoke with me and I’m on board. I’m more than happy to do it for you. I don’t have a problem putting you over. I just want the match to be good. (Michaels 220-221) Shawn says “He then made it very clear that he was doing me a favor, and he reminded me that he had told me a few years ago that he thought I would be the guy to take his spot.” (Michael HBK) Bret knew that WCW was getting hot, but speculated that eventually Vince would come out on top. Hart felt like a loyal soldier and wanted to help, figuring that a Hart/Michael’s rivalry would be just the thing.

Specifically planning for Wrestlemania, Bret came up with a numbers system to pace their match, below five was good, eight was time to slow down, and at ten one of them would grab a hold for a breather. (Michaels 221) Shawn made a spectacular Wrestlemania entrance, flying down to the ring on a zip line. The main event would go 60 minutes without a pinfall, known in the business as a Broadway. Shawn’s idea was after the bell Bret would walk up the aisle with the belt, assuming he’d won, but on screen WWF President, and former wrestler Gorilla Monsoon, would order Bret back to the ring for over time (Michaels 222). Then Shawn Michaels would hit his signature move, Sweet Chin Music (a side kick to the jaw), for the win at one hour, one minute and fifty six seconds. Bret had the idea to not shake Shawn’s hand after the match (Hart 381), a move designed to make the perception among wrestling fans and the locker room that the two really did have animosity toward each other, planting the seeds for a return match.

In the moment though, Wrestlemania ended with Shawn Michaels as the WWF champion. The torch had been passed, and the WWF was in the dawn of a new era, but it was an era Shawn would almost face alone. 

Hart, Bret. Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Grand Central Publishing, New York and London, 2007.

Michaels, Shawn, and Feigenbaum, Aaron, Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story. Pocket Books, New York, London, Toronto and Sydney, 2005.

Rowdy Roddy Piper: Born to Controversy DVD. WWF 2006

WCW Acquires Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

From the time WCW started Monday Nitro, airing head to head against WWF Raw, they offered some innovation to the wrestling business by airing live, showcasing Japanese and Mexican stars, and giving away the results of their competitor. However, some of the stories and characters were still cartoon-ish and reflected 1980’s sensibilities. Starting in the spring of 1996, WCW acquired two new stars, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall,

In the early 90’s Kevin Nash had a short stint in WCW as part of the Master Blasters tag team, under the name Steel. From their he had a silver haired wizard gimmick called OZ, and finally Vinnie Vegas. Scott Hall also had a stint in WCW around the same time under the name Diamond Studd. Neither were very successful in WCW, but both would go on to find success in the WWF. There Nash would wrestle under the name Diesel and become WWF champion, and Hall wrestled under the name Razor Ramon, a pseudo Scarface type character, and become Intercontinental champion. This was in a time when WWF was focusing on younger talent, and older established stars like Hogan and Macho Man had moved to WCW. However, Nitro eventually needed fresh young faces as well.

Eric Bischoff says “Nitro at the time was starting to get some traction. The numbers were growing, revenue was growing, the company was growing you know. We needed some fresh faces, so I contacted Scott hall and Kevin Nash.” (Monday Night Wars documentary episode 2)

Scott Hall was contacted first. WCW offered him a contract for around 1.2 million, for around 120 days of work. Hall says that you could make the same money in WWF, but there you’d work 300 days. Soon Nash was offered a contract as well, but was not eager to go back to WCW. “I had probably the worst three years of my life in WCW.” Nash recalls. “I was happy there and had no desire to leave. (MNW2)” In an attempt to negotiate he told Vince, “This is the offer they gave me….I want to stay, if you can match the offer I’ll stay.(NWO DVD)” Vince explained that if he matched that offer he’d have to do the same for his other big stars. Nash was still hesitant to leave. He explained to his wife that he felt like WWF was his family. His wife, who was six months pregnant at the time, patted herself on the stomach and said “This is your family.”

Scott Hall also left reluctantly. “I felt like I sold out. I wanted that guaranteed money to secure my kid’s future….not to excited about the prospects. (MNW2).” He also recalled some advice he got from a wrestling legend. “Chief Jay Strongbow told us years ago in this business you can make friends or you can make money, and I remember looking at Kev and like kid/xpac and going I’ve already got some friends, I’d like the money.” (NWO DVD)

In retrospect, WCW and Eric Bischoff get criticized for offering guaranteed contracts, but as Bischoff explains “WCW still did not have a great licensing and marketing business. In WWE (then WWF) someone like Nash or Hall could make considerable money from their cut of the licensing and merchandise.We didn’t have that, which was one reason we had to continue guaranteeing contracts.” (Biscoff, 209)

Hall and Nash both saw their WWF contracts end within six days of each other. Once Hall and Nash were on board, Bischoff planted the seed of what would become one of the hottest stories in the history of the business.

Sources

Monday Night Wars documentary Episode 2: Rise of the NWO

NWO DVD set from WWE

Eric Bischoff Autobiography, Controversy Creates Cash

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 2: The Rise of the NWO.

Episode 2 of the Monday Night Wars documentary on the WWE network covers the NWO, the heel stable led by a villainous Hogan that pushed WCW Nitro ahead of WWF Raw in the ratings.

After a short recap this episode starts out with the careers of Scott Hall/Razor Ramone, and Kevin Nash/Diesel. Both of them were formerly in WCW but floundered there. Nash’s various horrible gimmicks are shown, such as Oz. He’s on camera saying those were the worst 3 years of his life. It also shows the cartoonish gimmicks WWF was still using, such as Doink the Clown, and some character in a Bison outfit. Eventually Hall and Nash became big stars in the WWF, as older stars like Hogan and Savage went to WCW, and WWF began focusing more on younger talent.

However, as WCW was having success with its older talent, it started needing some younger blood as well. Nash and Hall’s contracts were both up within 6 days of each other. The contract negotiations are covered, and it’s interesting to see the conflict between the loyalty to WWF and not really wanting to go to WCW, and the lure of money and family pressures, especially from Nash. It’s noted that they were offered around1.2 million for around 120-150 days of work. They said guys might have made that in WWF but worked 300 days.

Documentation is shown on screen for how WWF sued WCW for copyright infringement as Vince McMahon alleged that WCW portrayed Hall and Nash basically as Razor Ramone and Diesel. Hall is shown talking about carving people up and doing his toothpick bit on both WCW and WWF programming. They don’t talk about how the lawsuit turned out. I’d read somewhere that one of the results was that WWF would have first dibs if WCW was up for sale, but I’d like to get that confirmed.

As Nash and Hall were having success in WCW, the story line teased of a third man that would join them. Meanwhile Hogan was not getting the crowd reactions he once had in the 80s. Kevin Sullivan is on camera saying he was in Hogan’s ear telling him to turn heel. He told him to look at WWF’s Undertaker, a dark foreboding undead character is their hero. Bischoff went to Hogan’s house talking to him about it Hogan’s responded with “Until you walk a mile in my red and yellow boots you’ll just never really understand.” And showed him the door.

Originally the NWO’s third man was going to be Sting, but Hogan called Bischoff to inform him that he in fact was the third man. This led to perhaps the greatest heel turn in history as Hogan joined Hall and Nash at Bash at the Beach in July of 1996.

In WWF Hall and Nash’s wrestling gimmicks were Razor Ramon and Diesel. WWF attempted to stir things up by having other wrestlers play those gimmicks. This tactic is portrayed as not being received well, and Nash says it led to WCW offering them an even more lucrative contract, thinking they actually were going to leave.

New Japan pro wrestling had a similar NWO type story that Bischoff is said to have borrowed from. This episode lightly touches on this, as well as the backstage resentment at how the NWO ran over everyone in the ring. The NWO’s own PPV Souled Out is mentioned, I would have liked to have heard more about that. It’s also a great mystery to me why the NWO never actually had their own television show. I know Bischoff talked about it and wanted it, but I never heard anywhere why that never happened.

This new type of story line with the New World Order is shown to lead into WWF creating the attitude era, which is the topic of the next episode.