Welcome to a special edition of Retroactive Reconstruction. If you're new to this, here we take apart abortive, not-quite-there, or downright abysmal gimmicks and see what could be done to improve the gimmick for either a future reincarnation or a retroactive reconstruction (hence the series title.) Today we look at a man who...if you need me to describe him, you haven't watched wrestling.
It's one of the most famous heel turns of all time.
Seriously, that picture above isn't worth a thousand words. It's worth ten thousand words. Each more betrayed and heartbroken than the last. For in that moment, as we watched Stone Cold Steve Austin thank Vince McMahon for helping him beat the Rock for the WWF title, we were seeing a true personification of the famous line (attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche)
He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.
Here we were supposed to see a shocking swerve that went against everything that we had been told for years as the greatest rivalry of all time, that between the foul-mouthed jackass Austin and the overbearing-turned-psychopathic Mr. McMahon who would literally do anything to make Stone Cold's life a living hell.
Go on, get it out of your system. I'll provide the reply. "Aw, Sunavabitch!"
We were supposed to see something that would make us feel betrayed in a way that we wouldn't feel again until Seth Rollins tried to break Roman Reigns' back with a steel chair.
What we ended up seeing and ultimately hating for all the wrong reasons was something that was so many degrees of wrong that one wonders if the decision was made along similar lines as "Fuck it, BROCK LESNAR! The fans'll come in droves!" As in, no real critical thinking involved whatsofreakingever.
Let's dig into Stone Cold's Heel Turn, hmm?
I am well aware that most people know of the famous Stone Cold-McMahon feud, but what's interesting about it is that there was a degree of legit character development involved in this angle. A bit of a given, considering that this was an angle that took place over several years. If we're estimating, I'd say from 1997-1999. Though, really, the development here wasn't on Stone Cold's side. But more on that later.
The genesis of the feud began in 1997, September 22. This was the first Monday Night RAW to be broadcast in Madison Square Garden. As Owen Hart was giving a speech to the fans, suddenly Austin burst into the ring with five "NYPD" officers in pursuit. He was about to beat up Hart (as they'd been feuding for a while now until THAT piledriver botch), when Mr. McMahon came in and started lecturing Austin on risking his health. After all, this was dangerous for Austin to come back so quick from a broken neck. Austin listened and...
I wish more people would flop like a dead fish when they got Stunnered the way McMahon did.
So Austin gets "arrested," but interestingly enough that wasn't the biggest thing that pissed McMahon off. I guess he calmed down and figured "Well, Stone Cold'll be Stone Cold, I suppose." He really started disliking Austin when he went and did this.
Anyone else feel that Mike Tyson fit in a little too well with the insanity of pro wrestling?
So from there McMahon really didn't like the idea of Austin as his champ, especially considering that Mike Tyson at the time was a hot mainstream star and Austin had gone and disrespected him like that. Also, Austin was the 1998 Royal Rumble winner, so the likelihood of him winning the title was reaaallly high. Add that to the fact that he'd be taking the belt off of Shawn Michaels if he won? Good grief, it's a wonder that McMahon didn't just spontaneously combust right then and there.
Of course, we all know the drill. Michaels and Austin have a barn-burner, Jim Ross has the call of his life ("HE GOT IT!…STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD!"), Shawn Michaels decides to piss off Tyson leading to my second-favorite Ross call ("Oh! A right hand! TYSON! TYSON! TYSON! Right hand!"), Michaels leaves for four years…and hello to the Attitude Era.
Oh, and goodbye to Mr. McMahon's sanity.
See, Austin stayed Austin the entire feud. Show up, flip off, Stunner. Oh, and curse-curse-cursity-curse. And some beer. More like all the beer.
What happened to McMahon? Well, he goes from an overbearing and slightly bumbling owner of the company (let's ignore the Screwjob for now) and eventually transforms into a mouth-frothingly insane psycho who will seek to make Austin miserable for even the slightest of offense.
You unscrewed the salt shaker, Austin! YOU'RE FIRRREEEDDDD!!!!
There is so much shit that Austin and McMahon went through that it would take us an entire book to get to all of it. So that's why when McMahon came out in that black and red sweatshirt (whatever the hell it was), and helped Austin take down The Rock. We were supposed to be stunned. (Sorry.)
WHY IT WAS (SUPPOSED TO BE) AWESOME
Look, this is a pretty damn shocking swerve in theory. I mean, from a logical storytelling standpoint it makes total sense. While Austin and McMahon were going back and forth, The Rock had carved himself out a role as a bona fide superstar. (Think about it. While WCW was flailing to build someone to stop the nWo, the WWF had two guys that you could carry a company with for years by themselves.) He ditched his laughably cheesy "Rocky Maivia" persona and had pretty much made himself without McMahon right next to him (at first). He joined the Nation of Domination, took it from a Black Power establishment and pretty much just made it a group highlighting his own awesomeness. Then he turned heel and became the Corporate Champion. He was young, athletic, good-looking, and goddamn entertaining on the microphone. He had to work really hard to keep heel heat, but he could keep it. And best of all for McMahon, he wasn't about to Stunner the boss anytime soon.
See how Austin could feel threatened?
And with Austin so desperate to hold onto the title or win it back, that would leave him vulnerable to McMahon coming up to him and saying "Heyyy, Austin. Whaddaya say that we forget everything that's gone on between us, and I make you a deal? I help you win your title back, and you be someone that I can rely on. Fair deal?"
Evidently Austin thought that it was, and that's why we were treated to the terrible sight of Austin and McMahon putting aside a quite frankly ludicrous amount of baggage for the sake of Stone Cold getting his precious back.
You are now imagining the Austin 3:16 Promo in Gollum's voice. You're welcome.
So, that's got to be something to write home about, right? I mean, McMahon and Austin joining sides? That could be really interesting! What direction would they take?
A terrible one, really. And that's why we're here.
WHAT KILLED THE GIMMICK?
Based on my "expert" analysis, there are…four major things that killed the Austin Heel Turn.
First, the location.
Wrestlemania X-Seven was the sight of our legendary moment, folks. This was the location where Stone Cole Steve Austin was the challenger for the WWF title against the Rock in the main event. That should make people boo him, right? He's the challenger, he should beat the champ fair and square!
Now, where did Wrestlemania X-Seven take place?
That rat bastard Austin turned heel and won the WWF title in Houston, Texas?
I mean, seriously WWE? You think that the fans aren't going to mark out for that moment? This is how they saw that above sentence.
That rat bastard Austin turned heel and won the WWF title in Houston, Texas!!!
At best you're going to get a decidedly mixed reaction where some fans boo and most cheer that their hometown hero just took back the title. At worst you're going to get an entire building cheering for the bad guy the way they did for Hogan at Wrestlemania X-8. (At least that was simply an Icon vs. Icon match, where the fans were "allowed" to go back and forth with who they wanted to win.) And then what's the point of turning Austin heel? Heels get booed, Faces get cheered. The fans decide who they cheer or boo. Stone Cold would've gotten cheered, thus making him the de facto "Face," thus defeating the entire purpose. And that's the bottom line, 'cuz GrecoRomanGuy said so!
I promise I will never say that again, Mr. Austin…Sir.
Second, his personality.
They took a badass and made him, to be perfectly honest, a whiny little shit. Stone Cold acted like a prima donna, started hating the fans, and complained like a sunavagun. Also, he had a slightly creepy obsession with pleasing McMahon. Giving him gifts, smiling like an insincere Bo Dallas…it was bad.
Also, his heel mannerisms…weren't too different from his face mannerisms. And now the crowd wasn't sure whether to laugh with him or be mad at him. Because on one hand, what he says is funny. That's like an objective scientifically proven truth. Austin can make you laugh at his creatively crude putdowns. On the other hand, insults aren't too funny when you're the butt of all of the jokes. "Waaaaait," the fans start to think. "Stone Cold doesn't like us!" And then this happens.
One of the few times I have unequivocally loved Jeff Hardy.
No longer is it funny or a character. It just seems incredibly mean-spirited. Austin's guttural growl should never be put against the fans like that. It doesn't feel right.
Third, these fucking guys.
Here's a scary thought for those of you who grew up hating Triple H: he is probably (maaaaybe along with Stephanie. I think she serves as a sort of mediator between Trips and her dad) the only thing standing in the way of Vince McMahon and the alleged Kevin Dunn from ruining the WWE with their hair-brained ideas, ruthless cuts of wrestlers that really aren't going to affect the bottom line as much as, say, restructuring the higher-level contracts (CENA), and extremely infantile impatience with the NXT folks. There is so much I could say about Vince and the alleged Kevin Dunn right now, but that's another article for another time. In the meantime, Triple H might just be our savior.
Which is REALLY WEIRD, considering that during the majority of his full-time wrestling career he has been accused of literally doing anything that he could to get to be the guy. He was allegedly a real-life Heel Stone Cold the way he was pushing himself to the top. The Kliq, his relationship with Stephanie (which I see has since blossomed into something quite admirable. Probably because Trips is a bit more laid back than I think we give him credit for.), alleged horror stories of him getting in Vince's ear over whether or not he'd be going over and going over clean…it was bad.
And on that note, I fucking hate the Two-Man Power Trip.
They literally won everything. The Tag Titles, the WWF title, the Intercontinental Title…everything worthwhile was in their hands. And because Vince McMahon and Stephanie McMahon were intimately involved, this felt like an extension of the McMahon-Helmsley faction literally from a year ago. And it felt like real life was writing the plot, as Triple H was using Austin as a vehicle for him to hold the belts for as long as humanly possible, bringing up other stars be damned. And it got fucking boring, fucking quick.
And if it wasn't for Triple H's quad injury, we might have seen this angle extend even longer.
Here's something to consider: He was in that hold with a completely torn quad. Chew on that one.
Instead, Trips' quad blew out and the InVasion began. The Stone Cold heel turn there can pretty much be summed as thus: "They didn't trust anyone to be strong enough on the WCW side to be an Alliance leader, so they gave it to Stone Cold. Terrible idea. Not worth saving." There. I just saved you a long-ass Fanpost to slog through.
Fourth, the preposterous nature of the turn.
Really? Are we really supposed to believe that the desperation for Austin to win the title was enough to make him okay to side with Vince McMahon. THIS guy?
So if McMahon was the higher power, then that means that he was okay with this?
For fuck's sake, Austin broke up the fucking ceremony because he thought it was over the top!!!
And think about just how much crap McMahon and Austin went through. That stuff is the kind of thing that makes blood feuds last for life. Permanent animosity.
And now we're supposed to believe that Austin is willing to overlook all of that. ALL of that…for the sake of the Smoking Skull Championship?
Bullshit. That's preposterous. You've murdered the willing suspension of disbelief for the sake of shock value.
So how do you fix it?
Do you know how Mick Foley got legit heel heat in ECW after this?
He decided to abandon the ECW fans and the spirit of the company…but he did it in a creative way. Instead of playing to their bloodthirsty style, he just used boring and safe headlocks against people. Barely anything else. For a fan base that wanted to see piledrivers through a pool table followed by a spear through a sofa cushion, this was bullshit.
You've got to be creative with Austin's heel turn. If McMahon offers the choice for Austin to turn heel for the belt, he does it…and then on the next night of RAW announces that he's taking his ball and going home. He's tired of proving himself as the best damn wrestler in the world when he knows he is, he wants to bask in that knowledge, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. He carries the title with him.
So McMahon and the company announce there'll be a makeup match for the "new" title (sorta like when CM Punk took off with the belt). Two competitors go at it in the ring, when Austin walks into the ring. He's wearing his belt, but his music isn't playing. He's there to ruin the proceedings.
But he doesn't Stunner either guy. That'll get him a pop, because everybody marks out for the stunner. No, instead he's gonna knock out both wrestlers with something depressingly boring.
Let's go with a sleeper hold. And have Austin look incredibly bored while doing so. He then, as soon as both competitors are out, destroys the fake belt. And then walks away without saying anything. He doesn't hold up his or anything.
We'll repeat this several times. Soon, the fans will despise seeing him show up and show just how selfish he is about holding onto the title, and then proceeding to interfere with every match to determine a "new" champion. That'll get him heel heat without him insulting the audience.
We're gonna have him just be silent and bored. He never grabs a mic and cuts a promo. Not silent and angry, because that's awesome. But silent and bored. He's clearly going through the motions here, and there are a million places he'd rather be.
He just doesn't want to be there, and he'll still guard his belt like it's the One Ring and he's Gollum.
"Gollum 3:16 says we doesn't defends the precious against anyones, no we doesn't!"
It becomes a question of who can stoke the fire again under Austin's belly. Who has the technical know-how, the mic skills, and the badassitude and freshness to pique Austin's interest so that he might just put the belt back on the line?
It's DAMN true!
This is going to be a short heel turn, because anything more is financially stupid. The InVasion is coming up, and we need Austin to actually be invested in that. Because, otherwise, we're gonna have him out there and doing something really dumb, like Stunnering Kurt Angle and joining the Alliance because at the end of the day Vince wants a WWF guy at the head of the WCW guys because he doesn't want anyone to think that his company was weak even though it is now the only game in town and that WCW was terrible and-
Let's just stop there.
What do you guys think? Agree with my methods? Have a better idea? Have a future reconstruction suggestion? Drop a line in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and tune in next week when we return by covering the aftermath of "Black Thursday." Who'll be the first one I reconstruct? You'll see...