“I did it for the Rock” were the words that explained away Rikishi running over Stone Cold Steve Austin. After all that time it turned out it was Rikishi that had carried out the heinous crime. In this latest ‘Well That Didn’t Work‘ we take a look at that angle.
The year 2000 is often lauded as one of WWE’s finest, creatively and athletically. Fans were spoilt with the amount of top tier talent at the company’s disposal. Even the mid-card was jam packed with world class performers. Future World Champions such as Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Edge, Christian and Jeff Hardy were never too far away from a mid-card title in 2000. So perhaps one of the more surprising breakout stars of 2000 was a WWE veteran looking to make something stick after a run of bad gimmicks. Rikishi – along with Too Cool – and his post-match dance routines were white hot in 2000. However, all this came to a screeching halt when Big ‘Keesh turned heel and found himself inserted into what should have been one of the hottest angles of the year…
Formally Fatu of The Headshrinkers, Solofa ‘Rikishi’ Fatu subsequently tried to ‘Make a Difference’ in 1995 before being repackaged in 1996 under a mask as The Sultan. Neither of his post-Headshrinkers gimmicks caught on, and the big man disappeared from our screens for the better part of two years. In November 1999 he made his understated return on WWE’s C Show; Metal. Billed as Rikishi Fatu, the ‘Phat Man’ quite literally squashed jobber Julio Fantastico in his first television appearance since 1997.
Shortly after his debut Rikishi dropped ‘Fatu’ from his name and formed an unlikely alliance with low-card tag team Too Cool. Rather than act as a serious bodyguard type for the energetic tandem, Riksihi was more than happy to join in the fun, especially the post-match dance routine. That said, the big man did maintain a serious edge which gave him a certain level of credibility above Grandmaster Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty. His strong showing in the 2000 Royal Rumble – where he actually eliminated Too Cool – along with his brief run as Intercontinental Champion and outstanding cage match with Val Venis at Fully Loaded were testament to Rikishi’s firm footing as a reliable and popular mid-card babyface. So, where did it all go wrong?
Well, back at the 1999 Survivor Series – which was held the day after Rikishi’s re-debut aired on Metal/Jakked – Stone Cold Steve Austin was ran over by a car in a hit and run attack. This angle allowed WWE to write Austin out of the evening’s main event – a triple threat match also featuring The Rock and Triple H – and out of WWE in general so that The Texas Rattlesnake could undergo neck surgery. As an aside, WWE knew in advance of Survivor Series that Austin would not be able to compete, but still advertised his participation in the main event up until this angle was run during the PPV broadcast, i.e. after viewers had parted ways with their cash.
What ensued in the following weeks and months was a good old fashioned ‘who dunnit?’ Initial evidence pointed to The Rock, as the vehicle used was his rental car. However, The Brahma Bull had reported the car stolen prior to the incident. Triple H and DX were also prime suspects, but having been fighting with Austin seconds prior to the incident they were able to provide plausible alibis. Even the McMahon’s were accounted for, with Vince, Shane and – at that time – babyface Stephanie among the first on the scene.
As Austin’s return to WWE at Unforgiven in September 2000 loomed large, speculation intensified. Top babyface The Rock was still reluctantly seen as the prime suspect, having been unable to provide an alibi and almost every piece of evidence pointing in his direction. Triple H and DX had the motive, but evidence suggested that none of the group could have been driving the car given how quickly they appeared at the scene. Kurt Angle was also brought into the equation, having entered WWE and enjoyed a meteoric rise in Austin’s absence. Even old HBK was forced to confirm his whereabouts, while Jerry Lawler even began to insinuate that it may have been lead investigator, and WWE Commissioner, Mick Foley.
Of course, it was none of these people; it was Rikishi. But why?
It was around this time that Rikishi had begun to team with The Rock, playing up to their family connections. Following the main event of Raw on October 9th – where Rikishi and The Rock defeated Kane and Kurt Angle – Mick Foley marched to the ring and declared that he had figured out who had ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin. In one of WWE’s most anticipated moments of the year, Foley swerved The Rock and pointed the finger squarely at Rikishi. Somewhat surprisingly Rikishi – who did act shocked initially – made no attempt to deny Foley’s claim. Instead he provided a full and frank confession to end the show, and as a result provide one of the most anti-climatic moments in WWE history.
“I did it for The Rock” was pretty much all anyone remembers from what should have been the promo of 2000. The gist of Rikishi’s explanation was that he was tired of WWE’s relentless emphasis on “the great white hope”, citing names like Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan. Rikishi claimed that Samoan people had been “held back” in WWE, but he saw an opportunity to clear a path for The Rock to succeed. Rikishi took out Austin to allow The Rock clear passage to the top of WWE, and he did this without knowledge nor consent from ‘The Great One’.
So rather than be revealed as a monster willing and capable of the attempted murder of his rivals, Rikishi came off as a slightly naïve and certainly misguided individual with no real personal issue with Steve Austin…. whom he would obviously have to face at some point in the very near future.
That confrontation came just a couple weeks later at No Mercy 2000, when Stone Cold absolutely destroyed Rikishi. The obvious pay off to this angle was Austin exacting his revenge on the man who had put him on the shelf for the best part of a year. However, rather than make Rikishi look competitive and build to future matches, this no holds barred grudge match went to a no contest after Austin was arrested for trying to run over a battered and bloodied Rikishi with a pick-up truck. The outcome of the match may have been inconclusive, but the outcome of the fight was not: new heel Rikishi had been battered to a bloody pulp by returning babyface Austin.
Between a flimsy explanation and a totally one-sided match – in reality it was more angle than match – WWE had blown off a story eleven months in the making in a little over two weeks. Or had they?
Oddly, the ‘who shot Mr. Burns’ – sorry Austin – story did continue, only without the guy who actually did it. Appearing to backtrack after the initial angle bombed, WWE provided a twist when Triple H confessed to being the brains of the operation after turning heel on Austin – The Game had previously fallen into a tweener role stemming from his rivalry with heel Kurt Angle.
In retrospect it was blindingly obvious that Triple H was involved so this development made total sense. However, his confession rendered Rikishi’s explanation of ‘doing it for The Rock’ completely redundant, leaving most wondering why Rikishi was booked into that spot in the first place.
In most stories of retribution the hero will first go through the villain’s generals before confronting the villain himself. The problem in this instance is that there was no possible way Triple H could have been driving the car, so the mystery man had to be the accomplice. I can’t help but feel that Triple H should have been outed as the main villain first, with Rikishi’s role as driver revealed shortly after. Austin would then have fought through Rikishi to get to Triple H. Ultimately that is what happened; only it was presented in a way that seemed to suggest that Rikishi bombed so WWE gave his spot to Triple H instead.
With Austin moving to a feud with Triple H what became of Rikishi? Well, he naturally segwayed into matches against The Rock, who was miffed that Rikishi involved his name in this whole fiasco. The pair actually contested a very good match at Survivor Series. Rikishi lost, obviously. The Bad Man’s final duties as a main eventer were to make up the numbers in the 6 man Hell in a Cell match at Armageddon in December. Someone had to take a big bump off the cage, step forward Rikishi…
Thereafter ‘Keesh drifted down the card and formed a tag team with Haku in early 2001. Their moderate success was cut short when Rikishi suffered an injury. Upon his return, the big man reverted to his far more natural role as crowd pleasing babyface. His good guy status was confirmed when he gave Stephanie McMahon a Stinkface on the May 14th 2001 episode of Raw.
Rikishi remained a babyface for the rest of his stay in WWE, which stretched into 2004 and consisted of a couple of Tag Title runs, most notably with his pal from Too Cool; Scotty 2 Hotty.
Rikishi can now be found in WWE’s Hall of Fame. It’s to his credit that he is fondly remembered as a fun loving babyface, and not the guy that ran over Steve Austin. While Rikishi never fully reached the heights of his original run in 2000, there are not that many wrestlers out there that would have survived such damage to their character and recovered like Big ‘Keesh did.
You can read all previous ‘Well That Didn’t Work’ pieces here.