Where Bossman was hung from the rafters in an act of absolute evil...only to come back the next night.
Please note that I apologise for the tardiness between article 19 and 20. I have moved house recently and the Internet has just been re-connected.
It has to be said that Vince Russo never died wondering. While some other bookers would have been a bit more careful about their universe and where everything should go week to week, Russo's philosophy has always seemed to be more akin to the bull in the china shop. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Ministry of Darkness Angle that ran in WWE in 1999.
Now it would be wrong to say that the Ministry worked because of great writing. I think it actually would be more accurate to say that it succeeded in spite of its writing. What made it work was the dedication to the gimmick that Mark Calaway showed as well as the cool production that allowed the Raw audiences to overlook that the massive plot holes that were being torn through the WWE's kayfabe.
In early 1999, the Undertaker returned after a couple of months sabbatical with a new look and a new motivation. Garbed in druid-like robes, the Deadman intoned that he was the Lord of Darkness and was preparing to engulf the WWE in a wave of evil. He brainwashed superstars into his Ministry- rechristening Denis Knight as Mideon and Mabel as Viscera. With these two, the Acolytes as well as the Brood, the Undertaker's ministry was growing in strength.
Most bookers during this would have then allowed the audience to join the dots. Not Vince Russo. Instead he got Vince McMahon to come out and cut a promo about how Mark Calaway- the real name of the Undertaker was taking his gimmick too far- believing that he was actually the true Lord of Darkness.
To any fan, the fact that the Undertaker wasn't actually a demonic figure would have seen perfectly obvious. What was cool about Calaway inhabiting the character was that he was so invested in it that he could have suspend your disbelief just a smidgen so that even though you know it was pyrotechnics and lighting crews and everything else, when that gong hit, the goosebumps shot up your arm and you gripped your seat that little bit tighter. What's the point in that suspension if the company themselves tells you all that its fake?
All this lead to McMahon unleashing (if that's the right word) the Big Boss Man onto the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 15 in the confines of Hell in a Cell.
I am writing all of this to show that, yes, though the match between Taker and Boss Man stank at Wrestlemania 15, in reality they were always on a hiding to nothing. You had a beloved baby face in Undertaker who was going through a heel turn that everyone thought was still quite cool, against a 'face' in Big Boss Man who was best known as being the patsy of the most hated heel in the company. Oh, and just in case you thought it couldn't get any more confusing, though McMahon and Bossman were playing face against Taker's Ministry, they magically turned heel against Austin and Mankind's quest for the championship. Russo should have handed out flow diagrams for the audience. How could Boss Man and Taker get any heat with each other when the crowd wasn't really sure who was the heel? After all, McMahon was the one with the enforcer, not Taker…don't heels usually have protection?
Compounding all this was the stupid decision to actually have a Hell in a Cell Match. This was actually the 5th Hell in a Cell Match (there was two forgettable Raw HIAC matches), and it would be safe to say that the WWE were still not sure exactly what Hell in a Cell should be. The first match was an amazing blowoff match to a feud between two remarkable performers that was one of the most enthralling bouts in WWE history. The second had no heat leading into the match but had two moments that would become iconic in the history of the Attitude Era, as well as Mick Foley and to a lesser extent, the Undertaker. This match also had zero heat, but after Foley almost killed himself at King of the Ring, there was no way that McMahon (and for that matter, probably Taker) would agree to climb to the top of the cage again and risk the professional career of anyone who got in the ring. Furthermore, the ideas of tables, chairs and all the other hardcore weapon malarkey that became a staple of more recent Hell in a Cell matches was no where to be seen.
The result? Possibly the most tame Hell in a Cell match in the history of the WWE.
The best thing about the match was clearly the Undertaker's entrance, when he came out in an outfit that would not have looked out of place in a Cradle of Filth concert with a new goth haircut and goatee. Then everything went to buggery.
Quick question: If someone hand cuffed another person to a cage and started wailing on them with fists and a nightstick, would you consider them the heel or the face?
If you said 'heel', then you clearly were not the booking agent of this match. No instead it was the Bossman that started wailing against the Undertaker in a spot that went on for a while and was ridiculous for a number of reasons- including Taker falling over and 'breaking' the cuffs, freeing him in a moment that is so bizarre that it's difficult to know whether to know if it is a bad spot or a botch.
With that being the big 'hardcore' spot of the match, the bout needed to rely on the chemistry and ring savvy of both competitors. And unfortunately, neither were really on song. Undertaker was suffering from a bit of ring rust having not wrestled much since October and Bossman, while an underrated big man, was never a great baby face and couldn't really do the sort of ring psychology required.
This match was not a moment of outrage, like the Fingerpoke of Doom, nor was it a a total cluster**k of a match like the Warrior and Hogan WCW debacle. Instead this was a match that died a slow and painful death as it sank into the quagmire of indifference.
Until the post-match.
After Taker had beaten the Boss Man, the Brood dropped from the rafters and proceeded to put a noose around the Bossman's neck and hang him from the Cell in one of the most disturbing images in Wrestlemania History.
Did the crowd really care about this? No, not really.
Did it help Vince's baby face persona? No, particularly since next up he was in cahoots with the Corporate Champ the Rock against Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Did it write Bossman off TV? Nope, in fact he was on TV the next night- making the whole moment seem pretty redundant.
All it did was offend a lot of family viewers of wrestling and confuse a whole lot more.
The Taker/Bossman debacle though did show the WWE that Hell in a Cell deserved a lot more than a thrown together match with little heat and little investment. They got away with it once, but only because of one of the most emotionally gruelling performances ever put together by any wrestler in history. It was folly to believe that they would get away with it again.
This match also showed bookers about the limitations of the Cell as both a weapon and a gimmick. Bossman and Taker were very good wrestlers, but with the addition of the Cell there was heightened expectations to perform and deliver something bloody and hardcore. Bookers from then on were able to learn about what the Cell could offer in this regard.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the post-match hanging was the final really controversial moment at a Wrestlemania. There have been many results that have left a bad taste in the mouth at Mania, but there is rarely a promo that does. Little is made of this, but it is one of the lesser acknowledged reasons why WWE eventually would pull away from WCW in the ratings war. Sure, the Attitude Era was raunchy, but at least there was a steady hand to stop it getting really bad and at least there was a sense of order amongst the chaos. When Scott Steiner begins to do unscripted promos burying big stars in the locker room, or when Tank Abbott pulls a knife on an opponent and threatens to "f**king kill them" or when established stars buried younger talent on public radio- all with no punishment (virtually) then it becomes clearer that while WWE may have had a controversial product, at least they had their shit together.
Well that is Article 20. Join me next time when we examine the lowest moment in Mr Bischoff's booking career!