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Changing Direction Post WrestleMania X7

Liam O'Rourke

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It's a really fascinating question, and as much as I love fantasy booking, it's not a situation I've ever really managed to resolve in my head.

Steve Austin as a heel, and even the Austin/Triple H partnership, needed The Rock to function correctly. There was nobody else well equipped to fill Austin's shoes as top babyface (and, effectively, he already had), and at the very least you needed someone in that role while building up (if there was any appetite to) the likes of Jericho and Benoit to a more viable main event position, and using Undertaker and Kane to fill in the gaps, rather than relying on them to carry a main event scene. It's still a few months pre-9/11, so you're lacking in the renewed jingoism and patriotic fervour that would have allowed them to repackage Kurt Angle as an all-American babyface.

Kurt Angle is probably the key, though, and I love the idea laid out in the original post. At this point, it's a fresh match (I think it had happened on TV, but on PPV they'd only been in multi-man matches together and hadn't yet worked an actual programme together. Playing them off each other as complete opposite characters, almost a rehash of the Hart vs. Austin feud in terms of "tradition vs. attitude", would give Austin something to really get his teeth into, which is what he'd been lacking since his return, interminable Triple H feud notwithstanding, plus you have the question of "Kurt Angle achieved all this in his first year, but would he have managed that if Stone Cold had been around to stop him?". 


For me, the elephant in the room is WCW - and, in a lot of ways, the Invasion could have been the biggest excuse in the world to effectively hit the reset button. Nobody realistically wanted the WWF of 2001 vs. the WCW of 2001; they wanted to see the platonic ideals of those companies against each other, and would have accepted pretty much any convoluted booking that got everyone back to the positions on the card, the gimmicks, and the face/heel balance to allow that to happen. 

With either a WCW relaunch or an Invasion angle lurking around the corner, that should have been the big angle to kickstart RAW after Wrestlemania. As much as I wouldn't really want the focus to be on McMahon Family Drama and Contracts, I think that's the best route to take here under the circumstances - switch the focus from "Why Austin Why?" to what Vince's motivation was.

This is going to be a long one, as I'm making it up as I go along...

Linda McMahon is back to being corpus mentus after Wrestlemania 17, so have her reveal that she'd been playing a long con on Vince for weeks or months - maybe even involve the angle they were doing with Mick Foley where he'd signed a bunch of contracts while still commissioner - and that Trish Stratus was in on it the entire time she was "having an affair" with Vince. Using Trish to get close to Vince, they tampered with WWF contracts, and generally got a bunch of inside information that they threaten could bring Vince down.

On RAW, have Linda McMahon file for divorce, threatening to use all of this information to ruin Vince - and, worse still, she's going to use the money she gets from Vince to buy up aspects of WWF programming on behalf of Shane, and hand it over to WCW. All the contracts, assets, etc., that she'd been looking at are now all at risk of being given to the competition.

Reveal via GTV or something like that, that Vince became aware of what was going on shortly after his match with Shane at Wrestlemania - beaten and bruised backstage, maybe Stephanie, William Regal or Patterson & Brisco come into his office and break the news to him that they've noticed some kind of irregularity. Have the big reveal being that the Linda/Shane/WCW consortium were either going to sign The Rock to WCW, or that they were close to purchasing the WWF Title itself.

Throughout RAW, have Steve Austin and Vince McMahon both pursued by backstage interviewers trying to get an explanation, alongside the Linda McMahon angle, as a show-long story. 

In the closing angle of the show, have Vince McMahon start to explain himself - a revived WCW is the greatest threat the WWF has ever faced, and he knows what WCW are capable of, they almost ruined the WWF by signing all their top stars before, and even threw a WWF title belt in the bin on live television, and he can't allow that to happen again. Vince swallowed his pride and asked for help from the one man he never thought he'd work alongside, Steve Austin, to protect his investment and keep the WWF Title where it belonged.

Austin comes out, and gets in Vince's face, basically saying that he hates WCW as much as anyone, and Vince got his part of the bargain, and now they're done. Austin calls out The Rock and says that whether he's WWF, WCW or anything else, he wants him to say it face-to-face, and if he's with the WWF then he'll put the belt on the line against him any time, but if he's with WCW then he's shit outta luck.

Shane McMahon interrupts and starts talking up The Rock as a WCW superstar. Maybe explain that The Rock isn't there because he's doing some publicity for The Scorpion King. Shane says that Steve Austin doesn't get to decide whether he defends the championship or not - and that a rematch with The Rock has already been signed for next week on RAW, and that Shane will be bringing the WWF Title to WCW. Steve Austin stuns Shane, Vince calls for some beers to celebrate together, but ends up taking a Stunner as well, just to really cement that we're dialling back the heel turn and that any collaboration with Vince was a matter of convenience, they're not allies.


On Smackdown, and maybe on RAW the following week, show a bunch of vignettes and interviews about The Rock's family and their loyalty to the WWF. Really build up that it would be a momentous act for him to sign with the competition, comparing it to Hogan jumping ship.

So eventually we get to a rematch of Wrestlemania in the next week's main event, Steve Austin vs. The Rock. Rock has remained silent all day, not answering questions on whether he's signing with WCW or not, and the announcers spend all show talking about what a tense, hostile atmosphere it is. In a conscious echo of the Montreal Screwjob, Earl Hebner is the referee, and Vince is at ringside alongside Patterson and Brisco, William Regal, whoever else is stooging for him at the time, and road agents and officials that serve to make it look a little more legitimate. Shane and Linda come out to watch the match too, either from the ramp or just at the other side of the ring.

As the match draws on, The Rock goes for the Sharpshooter. Austin reverses it into a Sharpshooter of his own, and Vince immediately starts yelling for Hebner to ring the bell. Austin breaks the hold, though, and gives Hebner a Stunner, before giving McMahon the middle finger. Vince is furious, and with the ref bumped all hell starts to break loose. 

Rock and Austin brawl to the outside, The Rock grabs the title belt and swings for Austin, but Austin ducks and Vince gets knocked out. Regal, Patterson and Brisco try to intervene, but Rock and Austin both fight them off. They get back in the ring, and The Rock hits a Rock Bottom, makes the cover either as Earl Hebner is starting to come round, or as another referee runs in to make the count. William Regal grabs the ref by the leg and drags him out of the ring to break the count. The Rock starts yelling at Regal, and Shane McMahon clubs Regal from behind and bundles him into the ring.

Rock hits Regal with a Rock Bottom, turns around, gets caught with a Stunner. A groggy Steve Austin starts to lurk toward Shane McMahon, who looks panicked and ready to run away - when a mob of WCW talent (the usual midcard Invasion crew - Palumbo, O'Haire, Storm, Awesome, etc.) rush the ring and jump Austin, beating him down. As the WCW guys stand triumphant over the fallen Stone Cold, The Rock gets in Shane's face, basically saying "what the hell are you doing?", making it clear that - whether he had intended to sign with WCW or not, this isn't what he had in mind, and he's not cool with it at all.

The Rock grabs Shane for a Rock Bottom, but it's broken up by another member of WCW's roster - either a debuting Booker T or DDP, or Triple H to signal that he and Stephanie are abandoning the WWF for WCW. 


Now you have The Rock and Steve Austin both re-established as top WWF babyfaces, and WCW introduced as the primary threat to the company. I had considered involving Eric Bischoff at that stage, either debuting at the end of the Rock/Austin clusterfuck directing traffic, or the following week on RAW, to add more heel weight to WCW, and direct the focus away from Shane McMahon in case he still has too much babyface equity built up against Vince. Vince can be transitioned into more of a babyface role by the presence of Bischoff, as now it's not Shane getting one back against his evil dad, it's Shane being prepared to do deals with the devil to sink the WWF. Austin, meanwhile, hates Vince but hates Bischoff even more.

The Rock can, hopefully, be kept around until Backlash and get written out there - if not, we just do it on an episode of RAW that he's available for. Do an injury angle at the hands of whoever our big WCW heel is. Austin starts rallying the WWF locker room with promos that are basically "fuck Vince, but fuck these guys more, we fought them off once and we'll do it again". 

Whatever happens next depends on the future of WCW. If it exists as a separate brand, Austin can pivot to feuding with Kurt Angle or Triple H - if Triple H hasn't signed with WCW - as they try to bring him in line under Vince's leadership, until whenever the first cross-promotional PPV takes place. If it's an invasion angle instead, just go straight to Stone Cold vs. WCW as the crux of that story, with it not becoming a full-blown "interpromotional" story until The Rock returns in July/August, to set up the first WWF vs. WCW event either as a standalone show in July, or at Summerslam. By the point that's happening, I'd want Shane McMahon more or less sidelined in favour of Bischoff, so that the focal point is entirely on WWF vs. WCW, not McMahon in-fighting - at some point, you'd want to get a Vince vs. Bischoff match out of this. 


Ultimately, there's some playing around with heel/face dynamics with Austin at first, and with The Rock in a "will he/won't he" story, but also with WCW moving from a Shane-led babyface faction to a heel group, and even probably with Earl Hebner in that title match. I think the audience would allow for all that, in part because they want Austin to be a babyface and will follow any story that gets them back there, but also because it's about making all those readjustments to allow things to fall into place for WWF vs. WCW, and I think people would have accepted pretty much anything to get to that end. 

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44 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

It's still a few months pre-9/11, so you're lacking in the renewed jingoism and patriotic fervour that would have allowed them to repackage Kurt Angle as an all-American babyface.


It seems so obvious now I think about it, but I don't think it ever fully clicked with me that super babyface Kurt Angle beating heel Austin for the title in September 2001 was connected to 9/11 and what was happening in America at the time. He'd been pursuing the title since August, so maybe that's why I didn't realise, but of course he's who you go with on top at that moment in time and give the family-celebrating-in-the-ring show closing moment to.

Edited by HarmonicGenerator
can't spell 'to'
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