For those that watch archived wrestling from 20 years ago – as I do for the Wrestling 20 Years Ago Podcast – you’ll know we’re fast approaching very exciting times: the debut of the nWo and Stone Cold Steve Austin winning King of the Ring. Another significant event happened in mid 1996, namely the Curtain Call. In this latest ‘A Moment in Time‘ piece we go back to look at the impact of that moment.
Ah The Kliq, the backstage grouping of Scott Hall (then known as Razor Ramon), Kevin Nash (Diesel), Michael Hickenbottom (Shawn Michaels), Paul Levesque (Hunter Hearst Helmsley), and Sean Waltman (1-2-3 Kid).
Formed through touring together and spending a lot of time in each other’s company, their backstage influence grew to the extent that they heavily influenced booking decisions and found themselves in prominent positions on the card.
Their actions and behaviour also impacted on the success of various other WWE superstars with the likes of Carl Ouellet, Shane Douglas and, most prominently, Bam Bam Bigelow all suffering as a result of the group’s power.
However, their most famous (infamous?) moment occurred on May 1996 at a house show at Madison Square Garden. At the time both Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were coming to the end of the WWE runs and would depart for the company’s main rival: WCW.
On May 19, the WWE were performing at MSG. Early in the show the heel Triple H faced off against fan favourite Scott Hall while in the main event the heel Diesel faced Shawn Michaels. Immediately after the match, Ramon entered the ring and hugged Michaels – not so much an issue with both being babyfaces. However, Triple H then joined them in the ring, Diesel stood up and the four entered a prolonged hug and then stood facing the crowd with their arms raised.
These actions enraged management and shattered the illusion that heels and babyfaces were rivals in and out of the ring. It effectively pulled the curtain back and showed wrestling fans the opposite.
Initially Vince McMahon was said to be OK with it but did not expect them to take it quite so far. Little did McMahon know, also, that two fans in the crowd managed to sneak a camcorder into the house show and captured the entire incident on tape, allowing it to be a bigger story than just word of mouth.
Owing to already being set to leave the company, Nash and Hall escaped punishment and with Michaels as champion and a top draw, McMahon couldn’t punish him. Therefore, the brunt of the fallout fell on Triple H.
Although the future WWE champion had had an unremarkable start to his run with the company since joining the previous year, he had been lined up as the winner of the 1996 King of the Ring. Instead, he had to wrestle in the mid-card against some forgettable characters, in some absolutely terrible matches.
This, in turn, created perhaps the biggest legacy of all from the incident. Namely forcing the company to find an alternative winner for that year’s tournament. In the end, Steve Austin won, Austin 3:16 was born and the rest is, as they say, history.
Triple H was able to bounce back. Five months later he went on to win the Intercontinental title and would go on to become a major player in the WWE, in no small part to his future on-screen work with Shawn Michaels. He would also win the 1997 King of the Ring.
The incidents that took place at MSG will always be a reminder that the line is very thin between reality and fantasy when it comes to wrestling. The ramifications were really only fairly short-lived with little, or no, long term impact on the business. But it certainly would have left a number of the old guard shaking their heads at the actions they witnessed at MSG.
You can read all previous ‘A Moment in Time’ pieces here.