/CRZ Sells Out
/The Night the Rules Changed
|CRZ Sells Out||
The Night the Rules Changed
This column originally appeared on emzee.com. It was written 13 February 2000.
I had originally agreed to submit an article for MarkMadden.com's "Greatest Moment of the Millennium" series - only I procrastinated to the point where it was too late. Then Madden had an issue of another sort with me which has been publicised elsewhere. ;-) A few weeks later, I *finally* sat down to write this article, with the intention of submitting it to EmZee.com. Several hours and three parts later, the end result sits before you on this screen.
The night was 20 November 1995.
"The World Wrestling Federation - for over fifty years, the revolutionary force in sports entertainment..."
It began innocently enough...on the screen were still frames from the previous night's Survivor Series main event - Diesel/Bret Hart III, for the WWF title. Diesel well in control - remember when somebody (Hart) falling through the Spanish announce table was a *new* spot? But then, at the last moment, Hart snuck in a rollup before Diesel could hit the jackknife; the referee counted to three and Diesel's almost year-long reign as champion was over, just like that. After the match ended, Diesel snapped - taking out Earl Hebner with one shot, then repeatedly powerbombing Bret Hart. Seemingly, a heel turn was in the offing...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The "rooftop" version of the Monday Night RAW credits followed, and the pyro (not as much today, of course) welcomed us to the Richmond Colesium - as did the frenetic, almost hyperactive salutations from Vince McMahon (and slightly more restrained greetings from Jerry Lawler).
The show proper started with the freshly-heel-turned 1-2-3 Kid taking on the White Angle, Hakushi. Only a week earlier on the show, Kid had turned on Razor Ramon, aligning himself with Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Corporation (and, to a lesser extent with Sid - his eventual tag team partner). This 8:58 glorified squash helped to push along not only Kid's budding feud with Razor Ramon (thanks to an "on the phone" interview with Ramon during a headlock sequence - the use of the word "crybaby" showing a good three months' worth of foreshadowin), but a mini-feud with Marty Jannetty, who attempted to run in on the match, only to be held back by two referees. However, the man outside WAS generally the signal for an ad break, and here we took our first of the night.
Coming back live to the match between the 1-2-3 Kid and Barry Horowitz' "Americanization" project, McMahon announced that the former champ was just arriving at the building. A quick topical reference to the NBA referees' strike was typical for the "live" airings of the show - back then, often three to four weeks of shows were taped in one night. The crowd pops for a *handspring elbow* from Hakushi, for cryin' out loud! And, of course, it's always fun to see the Kid without the goatee, then compare him to today's X-Pac. DiBiase interfered behind Tim White's back, and the spinning heel kick made it academic. DiBiase paid off the Kid as we went to promotional considerations for Karate Fighters, Electronic Hot Shot Basketball, and "Spawn" for the Super Nintendo.
Jerry Lawler had a ringside interview with the 1-2-3 Kid and Ted DiBiase, in which DiBiase gave his heel rub as only he could. Again, Marty Jannetty came out, but before he could make a move on the Kid, Sid came out from the back and told Jannetty he'd have to go through him to get to the Kid - the beatdown (complete with powebomb on the mats) was academic. "That's what you get, Jannetty - if you mess with the Kid - or if you mess with the Master - the Ruler - of the world!"
Dok Hendrix, from the Slam Jam set, informed us that the December, 1995 In Your House from Hershey would have a main event WWF Championship match between Bret Hart and the British Bulldog - a clip from SummerSlam '92 showed that the Bulldog had beaten the champion before. This led to taped comments from British Bulldog and his manager, Jim Cornette - well, actually, all Cornette did was laugh in the background. Hendrix also announced a "Hog Pen Match" between Henry O. Godwinn and Hunter Hearst Helmsley--but he was cut off as we saw Diesel enter the building, pushing aside a couple people standing in his way - not the actions of a face! Back to Hendrix - this didn't fool ANYBODY, by the way - we all KNEW these segments were taped despite their best efforts to cut in and make it look otherwise. And yet...
Back to the ring, where the Body Donnas were standing. Before the ad break, we saw Diesel having a word with Shawn Michaels.
After an ad for "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls," among other messages, a listing of the upcoming stops on the WWF World Tour de Force Tour, AND a note that tonight's show was brought to you by Karate Fighters, Savio Vega made his entrance. He just happened to walk by Barry Didinsky, who was modeling the Undertaker denim jacket (a bargain at only $59.75 + $3.95 handling - also available in Hart, Diesel and Michaels!)
The match between Savio Vega and Skip started, and it still seemed like a normal episode of Monday Night RAW - no indications at all that all the rules, at least as we knew them in the WWF, were about to change. After we were told that Bob Backlund was out campaigning in the crowd (some things never change!), and just about three minutes of back and forth action, Diesel came out in leather jacket and blue jeans. After shoving aside Skip, he grabbed the microphone. What happened next would forever alter the way WWF fans thought about the whole concepts of "good" and "evil."
"Is this on? A lotta people are probably wondering where Big Daddy Cool's head's at right now. Y'know, I thought about it, and I thought maybe I'd come out here and apologise - for what I did to Bret, for what I did to all my dear fans. I don't think so. Y'know last night, when I went back to my hotel room, I wondered if I'd be able to get any sleep. For the first time in a year, I slept like a baby! When I woke up this morning, and I looked in the mirror, you know what I saw? I sm-aw a smile on my face! That's the first time I saw myself SMILE in a year! As I saw myself - not some corporate puppet that you decided to create, Vince - no - ya missed the ball on this one, baby - ya missed the ball! After I won the title, 24 hours later I'm up in Titan Tower with the marketing suits - the merchandising suits - 'hey Diesel, we need ya to SMILE a little bit - a little bit more politically correct - a little bit more corporate.' Well baby, what you saw last night was the tip of the iceberg. Big Daddy Cool's BACK. That same guy you saw in Providence at the Royal Rumble a couple of years ago..." Here he put on a pair of sunglasses. "The only thing that matters to me right now is my family, my friends (that includes you, Shawn Michaels) - and I - I'm not saying something--I'm not saying I'm not gonna smack hands, but it better have a black glove on it, baby - 'cause I know you're with me. Whether you like me, love me or hate me - hey, it's the way it's gonna be. I'M...BACK."
Vince McMahon, ever cool as a cucumber, even as we saw him sit stone-faced when Diesel made his remarks right at him: "Big Daddy Cool Diesel - with a rather - candid interruption, I think you would have to say....unquestionably, he has his fans - no telling what's gonna happen on RAW, it's live!...Big Daddy Cool Diesel, in an extraordinary match last night, losing the WWF Championship to Bret 'the Hitman' Hart, and after he did, losing his cool - and I think he has *still* lost his cool. Big Daddy Cool Diesel, on his way out of the building."
The camera followed him all the way back up the aisle, backstage, and out of the building - stopping along the way to get a high-five from Shawn Michaels.
There were two things that were remarkable about this promo - both "firsts" for the WWF. The first was the very notion that Diesel could somehow act as BOTH a face AND a heel, simultaneously. The word "tweener" had hardly EVER been used on rec.sport.pro-wrestling - but it was about to be used a GREAT deal. Despite the best efforts of promoters and brain trusts to repeat this tweener turn with other characters, I don't think it was ever done quite as well as for those few months that Diesel was walking the line. Of course, even *that* was eventually ruined as they went ahead and turned Diesel full-bore heel - it was just easier to book that way, and Kevin Nash was just about ready to leave anyway.
The other was the "wink and a nod" reference to Vince McMahon - known previously as merely the lead play-by-play announcer to those watching on television, this was the first of many clues that led to a slow, gradual outing of McMahon as the Chairman - the man responsible for the entire company and the product that we were watching and enjoying (or not). All we had on this night was a word from Diesel and a brief look over at him from the cameraman - but Vince's gaze never changed.
In a sense, this *single* segment was amongst the very first step in the coursthip of the "smart" fans - a segment of the fandom that the WWF had never seemed to need, but with the times turning lean, an approach designed to bring in the more "hardcore" wrestling fan may have been seen as a necessary step to ensure survival.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about this interview was that it was NOT what everyone was going to be talking about the next day - not then, nor for many weeks thereafter.
No, it would take an ad for Casino, one for "WrestleMania" for the Super Nintendo, one for the scary rubber people of Duracell, one for "ici" eau de toilette, one for Alka-Seltzer Plus Flu formula, and a promo for next week's RAW main event - Kama vs. Undertaker for the necklace made from an urn, as well as an interview of Bret Hart by a returning Brother Love for the REAL action to start.