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CRZ Sells Out

The Night the Rules Changed



This column originally appeared on It was written 13 February 2000.

With twelve and a half minutes elapsed in the 21 November 1995 Monday Night RAW main event, it seemed like Shawn Michaels was completely in control.

Of course, that's what they WANTED us to believe.

Michaels had just hit one of his signature spots - the clothesline out of the ring, with followthrough, holding onto the top rope and "skinning the cat" to get back into the ring. The crowd was cheering wildly and Michaels was feeding on their cheers - getting a wide base to hit that double bicep...

...but not. Michaels stood up, put his hand to his temple, staggered twice, then slumped to the canvas.

Earl Hebner stopped his count at 4, walked over, and nudged Michaels' boot with his shoe. Nothing. Fuji and Cornette told Hart to stay outside - Cornette fanning Hart with his racket.

Again Hebner checked on Michaels. Nothing.

Hart stepped back into the ring, but Hebner told him to go to a neutral corner and stay there. Hebner looked at Vince, then left the ring for help. Cornette got up on the apron and whispered to Hart while McMahon said very softly "go to black." Then there was feedback as his headset was put down on the table. Hart looked to Vince, who was entering the ring. Hebner, back in the ring, was yelling out Shawn's name - but getting no response.

We DID go to black.

For seven seconds, there was dead air on the USA Network.

After 2:30 of ads, we came back to see EMT's rolling Shawn over and putting an oxygen mask over his mouth. Hart, Cornette and Fuji were all gone. You could hear Vince's voice asking for the doctor. The Double Feature showed Michaels collapse - then the camera zoomed in on him, quickly changing focus to get a closeup of his face. Back to live action.

You could hear a pin drop in the arena as the crowd had gone silent. Nobody was on a headset. The ring had filled with WWF officials - J.J. Dillon, Rene Goulet. Shawn's gloves were being cut off with scissors. Outside the ring, Jerry Lawler asked what he should do. Timekeeper Mark Yeaton and ring announcer Joey Aiello stood by anxiously, along with Gerald Brisco. Shawn finally stirred, and moved his legs. This segment lasted ninety seconds, and we took another ad break.

After almost another two minutes, we looked back to hear the voice of Pat Patterson asking Shawn if he could hear him. The camera found people in the audience crying. Dave Hebner and WWF President Gorilla Monsoon were in the ring. Everywhere the cameras looked - everyone they found had a look of concern on their faces. Still there was no commentary, and hardly any noise at all from the fans. The credits came up...and as RAW left the air, Michaels' condition was left UP in the air.

Of course, Michaels WASN'T hurt. He was just taking some more time off until the Royal Rumble and this match was devised to write him out of the picture - but it was SO well done that readers actually called area hospitals to try and find out Michaels' condition. Diesel's very powerful interview earlier in the night had been completely forgotten. For days, people debated whether we had just seen a very well-done work - or whether those final ten minutes were actually something else.

The reason for all the hubbub was that nothing like this had been seen on WWF television before - at least not in a long while, if not ever. The whole angle had been planned down to the smallest detail and everyone, from Micheals and Hart, to Hebner, Cornette and Fuji, even to the EMT's, officials, and ringside crew, played their parts perfectly.

Rather than immediately show Michaels collapsing, they first showed over twelve minutes of "four star" action between two of the top workers in the company and built to the collapse with exposition (commentary from Vince revolving around the various head injuries Michaels had recently suffered) AND the action (Owen Hart's baseball slide dropkick, German suplex, spinning heel kick, knee to the head and of course the enzuigiri).

The very basis for the angle was a "real life" event known mostly to dirt sheet readers and r.s.p-w discussion-goers, but built into something else for the TV crowd. Another wink and a nod to the "hardcore" wrestling audience, who ate it up in droves.

But you know what the most important part of this whole thing was?

Those seven seconds of black screen.

So often, unexpected occurrences seem to be met with the immediate cueing up of the adverts - leading the cynical television viewer to wonder just exactly how "unexpected" they really were. Adding that blackness was crucial, because it easily allowed the viewer to suspend their disbelief if they were of that frame of mind, or to go a step further and actually BELIEVE if they were of THAT frame of mind.

It's really somewhat surprising that we haven't seen that technique employed since - I can only think of one more time, during RAW's "ECW invasion," that we saw an "unexpected" fade to black. It seemed to work equally well, then.

Finally, ending on the "cliffhanger" seemed to help out the WWF. After losing that night to Nitro 2.5 to 2.3, RAW turned it around the next week to by the same margin. Unfortunately, they failed to properly build on the angle... and wouldn't win again for the remainder of the year. So it goes in the Monday Night Wars.

All that aside, the Michaels collapse was an engaging, involving angle that really hasn't been successfully duplicated since. I don't know if it CAN be. We've all grown up in the four years since then - the rules have changed even more since that night.

What was more extraordinary was that it was actually the second punch of a 1-2 combination that told wrestling fandom that it maybe, just maybe it WAS possible to watch this stuff even though you were well into your twenties. Perhaps the storylines COULD get more sophisticated; perhaps the characters WOULD become more grey on the black and white spectrum. Maybe we were a lot closer to a time when we WOULDN'T be embarrassed to admit to others that we were watching this stuff - at least we'd only be as embarrassed as if we admitted to watching...say, "Baywatch."

We didn't get there all in one night - but it was a hell of a start.

21 November 1995..."Monday Night RAW..." my choice for the wrestling moment of the millennium.




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