WWF 1996 Post Wrestlemania to King of the Ring.

At Wrestlemania XII Shawn Michaels fulfilled his boyhood dream of winning the WWF title. However, reaching the top of the mountain brought a lot of pressure, with the rival WCW about to launch their biggest angle ever, and internal problems making it appear the WWF was losing steam. 

Among other issues facing Shawn Michaels were that two of his closest friends, and two of WWF’s biggest stars, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, were about to go to WCW. In April of 96, Shawn and his friends were on a post Mania European tour, where one night, over dinner in Hamburg Germany, they were discussing what would be their last show together. This was a house show (a non-televised show) on May 19th. Someone threw out the idea that Shawn, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Hall, and Nash all come out to the ring at the end of the show and say goodbye to the fans. What was initially drunk talk would have immense and unforeseen consequences for the wrestling industry. (Michaels 225)

Hall and Nash’s last televised matches were at the In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies PPV, on April 28th in Omaha Nebraska. On this night Hall/Razor Ramon lost to Vader, and Nash/Diesel lost to Shawn in a no holds barred match. During this match, “Mad Dog” Vachon, an Omaha resident known from the AWA days, was in the audience. Pat Paterson had the idea for Mad Dog’s artificial leg to be used as a weapon during the match. Nash would be the culprit, who took the artificial leg to hit his opponent. ECW was gaining steam at the time, and the WWF was trying to adapt with their first hardcore style match. Here was also the first time Michaels “loaded up”, meaning stomping his foot on the mat, before delivering his finisher, the sidekick known as Sweet Chin Music. (Shawn 226)

Just a few weeks later was the house show at Madison Square Garden. The bit about saying goodbye to the fans never came up again in conversation, but that night Hunter brought it up. Given that Hunter doesn’t drink, he was probably the only one who remembered it, and Vince gave his approval for the gesture. Shawn and Kevin again main evented the evening. After Michaels got the win, Scott and Hunter came into the ring and they all hugged and bowed to the fans. (Sean Waltman, the 1,2,3 kid, would have been there too, but he was in rehab) Wrestling fans were long aware of the predetermined nature of the business, but you never saw the wrestlers, heels and faces, acknowledge in front of an audience that they were friends. This was what they called breaking Kayfabe. No one knew it at the time, but this action was a turning point in the industry.

It wasn’t a big deal at the moment though. Backstage Vince asked Shawn, “Was that important to you.” Shawn acknowledged that it was, and Vince said “Then it’s important to me.” (Michaels p227)

It became a big deal a week later, when, in Florence, South Carolina, at the Beware of the Dog PPV, Vince called Shawn and Hunter in his office. Vince took a lot of heat from the old timers about what is now known as the Curtain Call, and informed them; “Shawn, you are the champion. I can’t punish you, but I want you to apologize to everyone. Hunter I can punish, and I have to. If I don’t punish you and show everyone that I am serious, I’ll lose credibility. You are going to have to eat this.” (Shawn p227) Hunter would job for the next year.

At that night’s PPV the power went out. Only two matches aired, and the whole event had to be repeated two nights later. Overall it was not the best night in Shawn Michaels’s career. 

In another match that night Savio Vega defeated Steve Austin in a Carribean strap match. The two had been feuding over the last few PPVs. Per stipulation that night, Austin would lose his manager, the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. He would go on to the WCW, and briefly be known as the money man behind the NWO. In the meantime, Austin was now left to cut his own promos, which, in the very next PPV, would begin his great legacy in the WWF.

King of the Ring, a tournament themed PPV, was held on June 23rd in Milwaukee Wisconsin. In a non-tournament match, Ultimate Warrior defeated Jerry Lawler. Warrior had written a comic book about himself, published by Ultimate Creations. Lawler, himself an illustrated, feuded over the Warrior claiming he should have drawn this comic. King of the Ring would be Warrior’s final WWF appearance until 2014, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Originally Hunter was scheduled to win the King of the Ring Tournament, but in light of the Curtain Call, Steve Austin was now set to win. In the first round of the tournament Steve Austin beat Marc Mero, but during the match he legitimately busted his lip and had to go to the hospital to get 14 stitches. Coming back to the arena, WWF official Michael Hayes told Austin that his final opponent would be Jake the Snake Roberts, who had just cut a religious promo on him. Austin then came up with one of the most popular phrases in wrestling history. (Austin DVD)

After winning his match, Austin was interviewed by Hayes, and said “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”

At the next Raw, the audience was filled with Austin 3:16 signs. It was an organic phenomenon, the audience, not the office, decided that Austin was a star. Soon he would have one of the top runs ever in the business, and Shawn Michaels would soon face his replacement for the stop spot in the WWF.

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

The Legacy of Stone Cold Steve Austin DVD, WWE 2007