Welcome folks to number 18 in the series. Today we look at an angle that was totally not racist. I mean, some of the WWE's best friends are black...
There are a few rules that bookers would take to heart as being integral to running a successful promotion. Make sure your kayfabe universe is well versed in logic, ensure that you listen to the fans and make sure that your promotion does not saturate the fans with every single angle so that they become immune to their product.
Another rule that makes sense is that on the biggest show of the year, unless you have a good reason to the contrary, the babyfaces should have their hand raised in victory.
Now, as I say, there are plenty of matches where the heel should win (Cena vs Wyatt is a good example) because the story would be better told, you want the heel to get over, etc. But if its a line ball decision, then the default position should really be that the babyface is the one who gets the nod.
At Wrestlemania 19, the World Heavyweight Championship Match went for a curiously less orthodox option...
In 2002 Triple H had begun his reign of terror with the newly minted World Heavyweight Championship. With only the one month hiccup where the belt was passed to the returning Shawn Michaels, the Game- alongside his manager/crony Ric Flair dominated the Raw brand. After a incredibly awful feud with Scott Steiner, many wondered who exactly would step up to the plate to be his opponent come Wrestlemania 19.
Enter Booker T.
Many of the workers who came from WCW to the WWE were hampered some what by the fact that, for a lot of them the WWE simply did not know what to do with their characters (DDP anyone?). But the fact of the matter was that Booker was canny enough and smart enough to turn whatever bizarre angle they gave him into something interesting that the crowd wanted to see. His tag team with Goldust was very funny and gave some of the best moments in tag team television since Edge and Christian and the Rock and Sock Connection. Add to that the fact that Booker's moveset was incredibly unique for a guy his size, his trademark spinneroonie, infectious catchphrases and it wasn't long before the fans simply demanded to see more of the guy. Furthermore, while Booker T was a 4 time WCW Champion, he was not a Hogan or a Goldberg so he was fresh to the less hardcore WWE viewer's mind.
What could be better than giving this guy the World Heavyweight Championship- the first African American to hold the World Heavyweight Championship at a Wrestlemania in history? What a moment that would be.
Triple H, as the heel of this program, decided to embark on a series of promos that at best were...uncomfortably close to prejudice and at worst were just downright bigoted. He claimed Booker had "nappy hair" and he was only there to make "people like me laugh". At one point he gave Booker $1 and asked him to get him a towel. Flair contributed as well, offering Booker the job of their limo driver where he could carry there bags into the arena.
There's no doubt that if you're going to go this far on a feud there needs to be some catharsis. Big evill heels need to be taught lesson by honest babyface in big Wrestlemania moment that will be remembered for ages to come. The booking writes itself. Booker T walks out with the belt, the WWE has a new star and the crowd get to witness something truly special.
The match itself was going perfectly well. Triple H and Ric Flair were trying all sorts of nasty tactics to try and beat Booker T by crook, including bashing Booker's knees on the steel steps. JR was being appalled by these tactics, the King was essentially continuing to tread the fine line between 'contentious' and 'Confederate Slave Owner'. While this was happening Booker did an excellent job of selling the injury and so we all were waiting with baited breath for what would happen.
Suddenly, Booker T got a bit of room and hit Hunter with the Scissor Kick! The crowd went wild! The ref was there!
Ok, that sometimes happens. I mean, it did take him a while to get to the cover. But then he climbed to the top rope and connected with his Houston Hangover (a somersault leg drop that looked really cool). The crowd went wild again, slowly Booker crawled to the cover after selling his injuries.
Flair puts Hunter's foot on the ropes.
Now we're a little on edge. The Game has essentially got out of 2 finishers that Booker T has inflicted on him, what gives? Then a moment later, Booker T's legs give out and Hunter hits him with the Pedigree and pins him.
One pedigree. One pedigree. That's all it took to put the babyface away. And yes, it took an eternity for the Game to crawl over to cover Booker.
The ending is not helped by a suddenly very passionless JR who, when trying to show how close the match was, only does further damage by unintentionally patronising Booker T by saying "Triple H victorious once again at Wrestlemania, but hats off to Booker T". One almost wonders if JR is advocating a Participation Award. What would have been good is if JR actually talked about how Flair had cheated during the match- costing Booker his rightful title. Instead it comes off like Booker T was gallant, but just not good enough against a superior foe- an unfortunate implication to make where this angle was concerned.
So the major question in all of this is why? Well, it seems that for the most part, it was thought that Booker would go over- hence where the angle went. The thinking behind this seemed to be that Triple H needed to remain strong so that he could lose it to a bigger name- Goldberg, who the WWE had just signed a contract with. The Game thought- and McMahon seemed to agree that Hunter needed to have as much heat as possible going into a match with Goldberg as Ric Flair did all those years ago in WCW.
In the words of Edmund Blackadder though, there was only one tiny flaw in the plan: It was bollocks.
Firstly, Goldberg was already a name- the WWE had a chance to make a name and they threw it away on a match that they had an idea would draw a huge amount. In reality, people began to realise pretty quickly that WWE Goldberg was not the same guy that WCW Goldberg was and he would be in the ring for a year- doing very little for the WWE bottom line.
Secondly, because the feud had been so intense there was nowhere left for it to go- particularly if Booker continued to have to lose. Therefore Booker had to be dropped from the main event level feud. As a consolation prize he eventually got the Intercontinental Title, while Triple H began feuding with good buddy Kevin Nash in a feud that nobody cared to see. For all intents and purposes, it looked like Triple H had refused to drop the title and decided to go and play with his friends rather than be professional. While they may have decided that booking Hunter with the title was a good idea up until Summerslam, it then meant the title was dragged through three pretty boring PPVs where nobody cared about the Big Gold Belt as Kevin Nash and Triple H found themselves as a pretty poor second to the feuds that were being carried out for the WWE Championship.
Thirdly, the WWE were curiously tone deaf for a company based on the notion of 'sports entertainment'. This was 2003 after all and an African American champion could have been a massive moment in the WWE's history. Booker T was well liked and his story was one that had qualities of redemption and perseverance. Instead- at their biggest show, with the most press watching, the WWE basically let the racist win. Why? Because they wanted to plan for a less important show- with less people watching and less mainstream press coverage (yes, I am surprised that Vince was convinced too). This was a chance to make a statement to the world and the WWE blew it because of their ignorance of the pop cultural significance- something which you can't blame the WWE for usually.
The match at Wrestlemania is significant for another reason besides these above- namely it helped gain Triple H a reputation as a burier of talent. His grip on the WHC was such that while he may of been trying to emulate Ric Flair, he didn't have Flair's nous for putting new talent over. This was made all the worse by the fact that he dropped the belt to Shawn Michaels and had a major feud over it with Kevin Nash- two of the members of the Kliq. It seemed to many like politics were as rife as ever in the WWE.
Booker T vs Triple H at Wrestlemania 19 is one of the biggest let downs in Wrestlemania history. It is a tale of how the WWE snatched a PR defeat out of the jaws of victory.
And that is your lot for this article. Next time we look at why the Monkees were never as popular as the Beatles. Confused? Find out next time.