Welcome to Article 8 of this series. Today we look at breaking the fourth wall in a cage...
Say that wrestling is scripted today to another fan and it would unlikely raise an eyebrow. Likewise talk about how John Cena and Randy Orton probably don't hate each other's guts and your friend would probably yawn. However there was a time where the world of kayfabe and the world of reality were never to collide- lest if they did they would cause scandal in the industry.
In the 70s and 80s- when the Ric Flairs and Dusty Rhodes ruled the territories, these rules were sacrosanct. This was not only because bookers were in place to ensure that the rules were abided to, but also because these territories had one head face that could hold the others in line. With one top babyface in a territorial promotion, it became hard for anyone to use their leverage to try anything silly. In the WWE, that man was Hulk Hogan. As long as Hogan was the top babyface, nobody was going to be politically strong enough to try and change the status quo. Hogan was the draw and nobody would be stupid enough to cross him or Vince McMahon as the twin pillars of the WWE.
When Hogan left however in 1994 there was a power vacuum that McMahon struggled to fill. Nobody could fill stadiums quite like Hogan and so the idea of politicking became more of an issue.
Enter the Kliq- a faction of wrestlers headed by Shawn Michaels, Triple H (then Hunter Hearst Helmsley), Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman. The Kliq was a group that could get inside the ear of Vince McMahon and, using their considerable combined behind the scenes influence, began turning various match results their way- something that would raise the ire of many in the locker room on occasions.
However, their most infamous incident was yet to occur.
WCW was now getting to the stage where it was beginning to really push WWE in the ratings as a viable competitor With that in mind Eric Bischoff began negotiating with Hall and Nash about moving from WWE to WCW- a massive change that would eventually change the course of the ratings war. Hall and Nash handed in their notice to WWE and were set on course to WCW.
Their last date for WWE was a House Show on May 19th 1996 at Madison Square Garden- the historic home of WWE. Which made what would happen there all the more scandalous.
The main event would see the babyface and WWE Champion Shawn Michaels wrestle the heel Diesel (Kevin Nash) in a steel cage match. Afterwards Hunter and Nash (then Razor Ramon)- who had wrestled against each other earlier that night- would join them to embrace in the middle of the ring before posing in front of fans.
The level of controversy of the incident is a storm in a teacup or a moment of utter blasphemy depending on who you talk to. To some (including some members of the Kliq themselves) the whole thing was blown out of proportion by old wrestling fuddy duddies who were too nostalgic of a bygone era to realise that wrestling fans had become smarter and savvier to the product that was delivered to them in the ring. Surely, it was time for wrestling to move on in order to keep up with the new modern age.
However, this was not a move borne out of the pure motives of bringing wrestling into the 21st Century. This was a group of guys backslapping each other in front of a crowd, with scant regard for the consequences of storylines and titles. While it may have seemed harmless to the members of the Kliq there is no doubt that the members of the production team and creative may have been a bit annoyed that they saw fit to trash all over the meticulous work they did to build up the kayfabe. This was compounded by the fact that the incident was televised by two people in the crowd with a camcorder so the house show suddenly became something much more controversial.
To some, the Curtain Call was a nice send off to two of McMahon's performers who were going to greener pastures. To others- many of the guys backstage in particular- it looked like a self-indulgent prank that crapped all over Vince and his company.
The aftermath of the Curtain Call saw the backstage crew baying for blood. As far as they were concerned, the Kliq had gone into business for themselves and made the job of the rest of the locker room a hell of a lot more difficult. Nash and Hall were impervious to punishment as they were going to WCW. Michaels was as well because of the simple fact that he was the title holder. The punishment fell squarely on the shoulders of Hunter Hearst Helmsley who had his push stripped from his and was busted down to the bottom of the pecking order. This meant that Hunter was no longer booked to win the 1996 King of the Ring. That honour would be bequeathed to Stone Cold Steve Austin- beginning his push to stardom.
It is difficult to ascertain the exact significance of the Curtain Call on wrestling history but there is no doubt that it was influential. With Nash and Hall gone and Triple H now pushed down to the bottom of the pile, the Kliq lost some of its influence over the booking. When Steve Austin began his rise to the main event, the Kliq could no longer point to the fact that they were the biggest draws. Vince's new top priority was protecting Austin, rather than listening to Michaels and co. Had Triple H won the King of the Ring in 1996, there is little doubt that Michaels and Triple H would have been able to keep a big voice in the booking.
The Curtain Call was also a clumsy example of the blurring of kayfabe and reality that would become prevalent in WCW by Hall and Nash via the nWo. While the Curtain Call may have been a genuine heartfelt goodbye, there is no doubt that Hall, Nash and Eric Bischoff in WCW and eventually Michaels, Triple H, Waltman, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg in WWE's D-Generation-X saw the world of wrestling as becoming increasingly old-fashioned. Wrestling shows needed to realise therefore that the regular wrestling needed to adapt to a more media savvy audience.
The Curtain Call allowed audiences a look into the workings of the business. It is no surprise that there was a significant backlash. However, without it the wrestling world would not have modernised to meet the challenges that both WCW and WWE faced- nor would the WWE have pushed the most influential superstar of the Attitude Era so readily.
That concludes article 8 in this series! In article 9 we examine why a company was in the damn shape it was in- because of bulls*** like this!
See you then!