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Changing Direction Post WrestleMania X7


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While working today I had the Observer Live podcast on from the night of Mania 17, with Meltzer and Alvarez questioning how successful an Austin heel turn was going to be and how they had their work cut out for them. It obviously ended up a financial disaster.

So I got to thinking - lets say the morning after the show Vince and Austin have decided not to go the route they did with the Austin heel turn. The decision is made to keep him babyface - how do you deal with the post-Mania Raw, how do you make something out of the end of the Mania show to logically explain it, and what direction do you go regarding challengers on the next couple of PPVs?

Having a go at this myself, you could have McMahon come out to start Raw. Given the time frame of Rock leaving for six months after the show, Vince says that people have been asking why he and Austin worked together, and while he can't speak for Austin, he can tell us his side. McMahon reveals that Rock's contract expires midnight tonight, after Raw goes off the air. With Shane buying WCW one week ago, Vince says there were rumours in the week that Shane and Rock met to discuss a possible move. So, panicking, he had an emergency meeting with Austin and made a deal. Vince knows a war is coming with WCW, and as much as he and Austin despise each other, he knows he needs Austin on the frontline, and he didn't want to risk losing the belt to WCW if Rock jumped. So he made a deal that he would do everything he could to make sure Austin left Mania with the belt and will not interfere with his title reign as he has in the past. In exchange, Austin will fight for the company against WCW when the time is right. Vince explains that Austin didn't sell out, they aren't allies, but they have a truce.

A furious Rock comes out to confront Vince. He says he did meet Shane as a courtesy, but there is no deal, the WWF is his home. But, Rock says, he can't forgive that Vince has cost him the title at two Manias straight. Vince says he can have a rematch for the belt as soon as he signs the contract. Rock says instead that the match is happening tonight and win, lose or draw, if the match goes off without a hitch, he'll sign. Vince says that isn't good enough. Rock says it is, and gives him an ass whipping. Not just a Rock Bottom, but not stretcher job level. Maybe puts him through an announce table.

Later in the show Austin comes out. You have a luxury that this Raw is also in Texas, so babyfacing him should come easier. He tells Rock DTA, and reminds him that he told him to his face before Mania that he needed to win more than Rock could ever imagine. He was out for a year, dying to be champion, and didn't want to lose the biggest WrestleMania match of all time in his home state of Texas, so he took the deal. But, if Rock wants a shot at the title, he can have it tonight. Kurt Angle then comes out, and says Austin's motive is a crock. You can have Angle, being what he is, telling the in-depth story that Austin wouldn't sound right telling - the story of Austin's self-doubt, the injury and need to overcome it, not knowing if he was still the man, and not knowing if he could beat The Rock. Angle can talk about the moral compass being screwed up when the fans boo an American hero, but cheer a Stone Cold sellout. You can end focusing on Austin's face, trying to read how much Angle's words have merit.

JR and Heyman explain that the match is on for tonight, and Rock has yet to sign his new deal. Play up throughout the rest of the show the importance of the match.

Before the main event, we see a pained Vince backstage in the distance talking to Kurt Angle.

The match is on, you'd expect crazy heat. As we enter the final stretch, Rock is looking to be on the verge of victory, when Kurt Angle runs in and attacks the Rock. The match ends in a DQ. Austin gets up and goes after Angle, when Edge, Christian and Rhyno hit the ring and start attacking Austin. Rock gets up on the floor, looks at the 4 on 1, but rather than get in the ring, he storms off. The heavy beatdown continues, Conchairto, Gore, with Austin juicing and Kurt standing tall as leader.

We cut backstage where Rock is walking through the corridors livid. Vince is running after him, screaming that he didn't send Angle out there, asking him if he's going to sign. Rock calls him on his bullshit and keeps walking. Vince is pleading the whole way, when finally Rock stops, looks at Vince, and says goodbye, before getting in a limo. As we pan down, we see the WCW license plate as the limo speeds off to end the show.

-

With this, you have a cool cliffhanger, have somewhat realigned Austin by giving him a new heel stable to feud with, planted seeds for down the road for Rock finally beating Austin, and a nice explanation for Rock not being around for a while and a built-in story for his return.

Vince on TV can say Rock is a free agent, still unsigned but won't return his calls. Austin works with Angle and crew at Backlash and JD, plus we get some six and eight mans on TV throwing Benoit and the Hardyz in the mix. And as it turns out, Vince told Angle to stay out of things backstage at Raw and legitimately didn't order Kurt to fuck with the match, and is not happy with Angle, but since Shane is looking for steals, he can't fire Team RECK either. Vince is positioned as the general with an army of selfish troops unable to pull them together for the incoming threat that is more important to him than the wrestlers. That could tide them over until they have an idea for the Invasion perhaps..?

Very interested in hearing alternative scenarios for this...

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About 75% of the good shit Austin was involved in post-99 came during that heel run. I'd hate to have lived in that alternate world where the reprieve only lasts one night.

The world where they rightfully run with Triple H as the top babyface, instead of having him be Austin's #2 because... reasons, or the world where Austin stays heel after Survivor Series? Sign me the fuck up.

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Aye Austin as a face when he came back mid 2000 was stale as fuck compared to Rock, who had usurped him as top face when he was out for the year. Heel turn was desperately needed to freshen him up a bit.  Austin as a face champ would've been interminable. I'd have kept the heel turn, but fucked off Austin palling around with Vince altogether. Just have him as the paranoid angry bastard he played toward the end of the alliance run from the get go.  Feuds with a face Triple H til Rock gets back, then faces Rock at Summerslam and drops the title to him then or at the September PPV. Triple H can have the dud feud with Booker T and win the big gold that his hero Flair held. We never got a heel Austin vs face Rock feud, which was criminal. Also, no fucking 'What' promos either please.

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2 hours ago, DCW said:

Aye Austin as a face when he came back mid 2000 was stale as fuck compared to Rock, who had usurped him as top face when he was out for the year. Heel turn was desperately needed to freshen him up a bit.  Austin as a face champ would've been interminable. I'd have kept the heel turn, but fucked off Austin palling around with Vince altogether. Just have him as the paranoid angry bastard he played toward the end of the alliance run from the get go.  Feuds with a face Triple H til Rock gets back, then faces Rock at Summerslam and drops the title to him then or at the September PPV. Triple H can have the dud feud with Booker T and win the big gold that his hero Flair held. We never got a heel Austin vs face Rock feud, which was criminal. Also, no fucking 'What' promos either please.

No direct feud but there were elements of it at the end of 2001 with Survivor Series coming down to Rock/ Austin plus we did get a singles match with those dynamics at Insurrexion 2001 which I remember being decent. 

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The big what if is if they'd gone straight to Trips as a face. I see why they didn't because that would have meant burning through the matches or seriously dragging the arse out of it until SummerSlam. They tried to solve that by having them as a team that would eventually implode but Trips injury scuppered that. They were a wasteland for babyfaces the second Rock left. With hindsight, Trips has to step up that night.

If Trips does go face right away, you get a much stronger Austin as a heel. I love him parroting Vince and knocking about in a cowboy hat but that absolutely killed him to the casuals. They were trying to make him dislikable but it came at a big cost. 

If they'd not done a 180 on the character, then when Tripper did go down to the quad, they could have flipped him far easier.

I think things are always going downhill after Mania. It's the natural peak. Rock is leaving and WCW went pop. It's the age old debate, but perhaps if they'd gone quickly to a WWF vs. WCW feud with some big names, they'd have kept casuals intrigued and picked up some of that WCW audience. Even then, what's next? They're always in decline. They just hit the accelerator. 

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I’m not a deep diver into the business side of wrestling, but I remember across 2001 powerslam talking up the ppv rates so don’t think it was a financial failure his move. People still paid to watch him 

it’s so weird to say now given how slowly the top 2/3rds of wwe moves so slowly to be replaced, but baby face Austin was already out of place by the time he returned. Much like Chyna in the other thread, so much had been done in such a short period of time that we had seen it all. In ring and character wise the wwf had moved on, with match quality across the card increasing and the punch/kick brawls being replaced by far too many in hindsight German suplexes. 
 

Austins character was already a heel though his run on top, he punched, he used weapons, he attacked much older and weaker men on a regular basis. How they switched him to be hated tho could only be down the weasel route, but it was a massive change and made no sense to why. Keeping him as a good guy would likely have fallen apart quicker than his bad guy run did. After a year off to heal up, he probably needed more time to freshen up. If they had split brands at the start of wcw, Austin was probably the guy to go to wcw and mix with their talent to get him away from the getting repetitive already wwf headliners 

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In hindsight, whatever you do, you're in the dying days of the boom period. The Rock's going to Hollywood, Austin only has a couple of years left, you've killed the places where you could bring in wrestlers who had been somewhat exposed to wrestling audiences. There's really no one else on the WWF side of things who's ready to step up. 

The problem with Austin as a blue eyes is no one gets over on him. He's all consuming. Turning him heel, especially when he's only got a few years left (although they probably didn't know that), is probably your best way of making a future star. Because sooner or later Austin has gone and you're left with bugger else.

I suppose you could have kept Austin virtually the same as a heel, just with the caveat that he now does Vince's bidding. I'm not sure he doesn't get cheered over all his opponents then. 

Triple H is then pissed off, beats the shit out of Austin at the end of the RAW after Mania (after Austin's already done away with The Rock). You could maybe get a couple of months out of that (although people were already bored of that combination and actually they probably did the sensible thing by avoiding it).

Maybe you can get Undertaker into a position where he feels like a more credible challenger in the meantime. Probably your best bet to do that would be to take him off TV until you're ready. 

You have Jericho, Benoit, Jeff Hardy and others challenge Austin on telly and look good in defeat.

Austin doesn't join the Alliance but the WWF still lose at Invasion. McMahon asks The Rock to come back, Rock will only do so if he gets Austin at SummerSlam. 

Rock beats Austin at SummerSlam. WWF babyfaces cheer him on because they've had enough of Austin. Vince doesn't get involved because he doesn't want to piss The Rock off. Austin calls put Vince the next night on RAW, stuns him, punches JR for not sticking by him (to keep him heel) and joins WCW because he has a valid reason for feeling betrayed. 

Survivor Series comes down to Rock and Austin with Rock winning. McMahon allows former Alliance wrestlers to join the WWF except for Austin who's fucked off anyway (mainly to rest). Eventually Austin comes back and feuds with RVD because he's been welcomed into the WWF with open arms and even the fans are cheering him. Try and make something of RVD before he becomes one of the most boring people ever in 2003.

Its still shit.

Its shit either way though. If you keep Austin babyface you're reduced to Austin/Angle and Austin/HHH (without the potential added intrigue of the role reversal) and both feel like a bit of a comedown. 

At least the way they went resulted in Austin and Angle singing in cowboy hats.

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3 hours ago, Louch said:

I’m not a deep diver into the business side of wrestling, but I remember across 2001 powerslam talking up the ppv rates so don’t think it was a financial failure his move. People still paid to watch him 

The PPV buys for Backlash and JD tanked, TV ratings fell sharply and house show business took a drastic downturn, with the company making something like $140,000 less per show than they were before. Heel Austin was a disaster business wise.

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15 hours ago, CleetusVanDamme said:

About 75% of the good shit Austin was involved in post-99 came during that heel run. I'd hate to have lived in that alternate world where the reprieve only lasts one night.

The world where they rightfully run with Triple H as the top babyface, instead of having him be Austin's #2 because... reasons, or the world where Austin stays heel after Survivor Series? Sign me the fuck up.

This is the one. Have insurgent, fresh new babyface RVD win the Rumble and beat heel WWF Champ Austin at Mania X8 to become your new top babyface. Maybe have Austin retire afterward to give RVD the maximum bragging rights. Can always bring Austin back for a special attraction with Rock at Mania 19, which was the only thing of substance he did after X8 anyway.

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The heel turn probably lead to his body braking down much quicker, instead of the brawling face he became the bumping heel taking stupid amounts of German suplexs from Benoit then later Angle.

They knew before mania The Rock was leaving for a bit so they should've started building the next faces, Taker and Kane may have been the plan but it had been done since 97

Benoit was in a last minute match then feud with Angle and Jericho won the IC title but he was already at that level so was neither up nor down, they were probably last minute pushes to tick things over after Taker Kane feuds bombed then HHH got injured.

A proper unhinged psycho Austin might've done well and still been popular in a heel way.

If they didn't do the invasion but debuted new guys on there own then RVD, Booker T or DDP could be new faces for him til The Rocks big return.

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It’s a tough one, explaining away Vince helping Austin win the belt because he was desperate with the “threat” presented by WCW on the horizon, so he wanted Austin on his side, is OK. Babyfacing Austin back the night after by him saying he didn’t know why Vince helped him but he’s no idiot so he took it there and then, but don’t expect him to return the favour, Kick-Wham-Stunner, “DTA you piece of trash” etc ... quick and easy for one night still in Texas. Does it work in the rest of the country given that’s The Rock he brutalised? I don’t know, even if you have Austin run rampant over all the heels/WCW in the interim.

If you DO manage to keep Austin cheered, then it gives a great opportunity to bring Rock back with some of the “Hollywood Rock” style mannerisms and egotism earlier than they did, with a justification for turning on his fans. He’d been the people’s champ for these ingrates while Austin was on the shelf, then they forgave an injustice against him and forgot about him as soon as Stone Cold was champion again. Unfortunately face Austin vs heel Rock is not a dynamic you want to stretch out to Mania again, and as a main event would be too “been there, done that.” I think the more satisfying route would be one of two - you can have Rock take the title and fight a different babyface at Mania 18. In a world where Austin’s path changes but somehow Triple H still gets benched only to come back to that thunderous response from MSG, keeping HHH babyface and seeing if it works would be very good if he wins the Rumble and gets a proper main event with a full blown heel Rock - the antagonist he could never be free of, destined to fight each other forever. It works for me, especially if you can persuade Austin and Hogan to work each other. The other being you bring Rocky back still as a returning hero and you simply have him and Austin both be babyfaces but that hate each other. Possibly have Vince force them to work together with the promise of huge cash incentives to defeat WCW, then run with Rocky doing the one thing he never could at Mania 18 - win the title from Steve Austin.

Heading back to reality, it’s madness to think that the big revenge one on one title match only happened on TV at Rebellion, that the only televised pin of face Rock on heel Austin was closing Survivor Series, and when Rock was finally allowed to pin Austin in a televised singles match, it was only to get him ready for Goldberg.

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On 1/16/2021 at 11:39 AM, Liam O'Rourke said:

The PPV buys for Backlash and JD tanked, TV ratings fell sharply and house show business took a drastic downturn, with the company making something like $140,000 less per show than they were before. Heel Austin was a disaster business wise.

I think this is simplistic. Heel Austin combined with disappearing Rock and no top baby faces other than a very stale Undertaker and Kane.

It was always going to drop after the culmination of attitude that was wrestlemania x7, as discussed, but I think they really had an opportunity with Jericho to run as a top baby face. Austin HHH *again* wouldnt have helped anything, they needed to press the button on some guys, and Jericho was the most obvious of those.

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It may be simplistic, who knows, but then the answer to halt that decline and eliminate as many of those other circumstances is to keep him babyface as I said in the OP, since Austin had shown signs of heating up at the start of the year (drawing very well when challenging Angle for the title in February) and doing the massive buyrate with Rock. There will still be a decline, but it wouldn't be nearly as drastic or as quick.

So the challenge I thought was interesting was if you had to keep him babyface, what can you line up for him.

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1 minute ago, Liam O'Rourke said:

So the challenge I thought was interesting was if you had to keep him babyface, what can you line up for him.

DDP vs Austin would have been about 900 times better both in angles and matches than the Undertaker vs Page. DDP would have took the Turner buyout about 20 minutes after Shane McMahon walked out on Nitro if he thought he was working Stone Cold for the next few months.

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