Friday, November 18, 2011

Series of Surviving: 1998

By Chad Smart
@chadsmart on Twitter

I think it’s safe to say 1998 was the year the Attitude Era of the WWF really kicked in to gear. At Wrestlemania, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin captured the World Title from Shawn Michaels (who wouldn’t wrestle another WWF match for four and a half years). In the process the Austin/McMahon feud started with Vince deciding Austin didn’t fit the image the face of the company should look like. Vince decided to do everything in his power to get the title off of Austin.

First, McMahon tried to stack the deck against “Stone Cold” with a title defense against Dude Love. The match was contested under No DQ rules with Vince McMahon as special guest referee. McMahon’s “stooges” Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco were also at ringside during the match and tried to interfere several times during the match. After the dust had settled Austin had John Cena’d his way to overcome the odds and retain the title.

Austin would lose the title to Kane in a first blood match at King of the Ring. That loss would be a minor 24-hour setback, as Austin would regain the title the next night on Raw. A few months later Vince would come up with a master plan to get the title off of Austin. A triple threat match was set for the September Pay Per View, Breakdown. Austin would defend the title against both the Undertaker and Kane with the stipulation that Undertaker couldn’t pin Kane and Kane couldn’t pin the Undertaker.  The match ended with both Kane and Undertaker pinning Austin. Then McMahon grabbed the title and ran out of the arena.

The following month at the Judgment Day Pay Per View, Vince rewarded Kane and Undertaker by putting them in match against each other for the World Title. To add insult to insult, Steve Austin was named the special referee for the match with the stipulation if Austin didn’t call the match squarely he would be fired. Towards the end of the match, Undertaker had Kane down for a pin, instead of counting; Austin gave Taker a Stunner then counted a double pin fall before declaring himself the champion. Vince was irate at Austin’s insubordination and for the first time on TV uttered his now famous phrase, “you’re fired.”

Before I get into the discussion of the Survivor Series, I just want to say after doing some research to re-familiarize myself with the events leading up to the show I do not understand why people romanticize the Attitude Era while trashing what WWE and TNA do today. The only difference I can see is the larger than life stars of Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, DX and the nWo. Reading the results from 1998 and 1999 made my head hurt. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

Photo by Chad Smart
Going into Survivor Series there was no World Champion. To fill the void, a one night, 16-man tournament was to be held to crown a new champion. The story leading up to the show was Vince had fired Austin due to his actions at Judgment Day but Shane McMahon had re-signed Austin to a new contract. Shane had been working as a commentator before getting demoted to a referee by Vince. Shane signed Austin to spite his father. In addition to not wanting Austin to win the title, Vince McMahon was also feuding with The Rock because Rocky was “the people’s champion,” and McMahon hated the people. In his attempt to get the corporate champion he could be proud of, Vince took the very non-corporate looking Mankind and groomed him into looking more professional.

Chad and his posse
Survivor Series was held in the Kiel Center (now Scott Trade Center) in St. Louis. I rounded up a group of friends from the college and we made the two-hour trip from southern Illinois up to St. Louis with the guarantee of seeing a new champion crowned.  For you Chikara fans, if you look closely at the group photo, you’ll see Da Soul Touchaz member Acid Jazz sitting with us. The artist in the group, Tom Denney drew two posters in an attempt to get some screen time. One had Austin mistaking Bossman’s nightstick for a rectal thermometer. The other was a portrait of the Rock raising the people’s eyebrow with the caption, “the real arch of St. Louis.”  Sadly, we were in the upper deck of the arena and there was no way we were getting face time.

Mankind vs. Austin
As the tournament played out, the storytelling was near perfect. Mankind got an easy opening round victory over jobber Duane Gill. Austin advanced after McMahon henchman Big Bossman got DQ’d, while attacking Austin with his nightstick. Due to Triple H suffering a knee injury, Vince decided the Rock would face Bossman. The Rock ended up putting Bossman in a small cradle as Bossman entered the ring, getting the victory in near record time. X-Pac and William Regal ended with a double count out giving Austin a pass to the semi-finals. Kane interfered in the Rock/Undertaker match giving Rock the victory by DQ. During the Mankind/Austin match, Vince McMahon attacked the referee as the ref was about to make the three count for Austin. After another Stunner, Austin went for the cover and Shane McMahon ran down to the ring to make the count. One…Two….Shane looked at Austin and gave him the double middle finger Austin salute. Stone Cold went to attack Shane, which allowed Mankind to recover, hit Austin with a chair and secure the victory.

The Rock vs. Mankind
Lawler kept going on and on about Mankind being Vince’s handpicked corporate champion. But being there live, with the electric atmosphere of the crowd, there were no thoughts of shenanigans happening. We were all cheering for the Rock to win.

A grueling back and forth match ensued. At one point, the Rock was propped up against the announcer’s table. Mankind leaped from the second turnbuckle to deliver a crushing blow. Unfortunately for Mankind, The Rock saw the attack coming and moved out of the way. Mankind instead crashed into the announcer table. I believe Foley mentioned in one of his book he tore his ACL or MCL in the crash. Back in the ring, The Rock applied the Sharpshooter and as soon as he rolled Mankind onto his stomach to cinch in the move, Vince called for the bell to ring. The bell rang and The Rock was declared the new WWF Champion. 

The Corporate champ!
One year removed from the Montreal Screw Job and the WWF creative went back to the well.  The crowd was stunned. It had all been a rouse. The Rock and Vince were working together to create not the people’s champion, but rather, the corporate champion. After the match, The Rock cut a promo telling the fans to go back to their trailer parks and stop kissing his ass. For some reason this didn’t sit well with the fans in the arena as they unleashed a flurry of boo birds.

I remember Tom taking the picture he’d drawn of the Rock and scribbling over it with the marker. As we were walking out of the arena, Tom (who by the way, had blue hair, a pierced nose and a scraggly goatee. He was our Mankind) went up to some kid about 12 years old, showed him the scribbled picture and said, “The Rock used to be my favorite. But he called me trailer park trash. I’m going back to my trailer and taking down all his pictures. Hate him now.”  The scared look on the kid’s face made the entire night.

Having re-watched this show recently, I forgot how good the wrestling was. I only remembered the storytelling aspect, which was also very good.  I would highly recommend tracking down a copy of the show and watching it. As The Rock prepares to return to the ring on Sunday night, watching him win his first WWF title is a nice blast from the past.

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