The Complete History of the WWE Championship - Part 7
WWE recaptured that World Cup feeling in the run-up to WrestleMania XIV.
It is staggering in hindsight how quickly WWE managed to turn things around post-Montreal.
At Survivor Series on November 9, 1997, WWE owner Vince McMahon, assisted by Shawn Michaels and referee, Earl Hebner successfully screwed Bret Hart out of the WWE Championship for real.
In the immediate aftermath, McMahon and WWE were pilloried from all sides. McMahon, despite his protestations, was under no pressure to dupe Hart.
The Hitman could not legally work for WCW until December 1, 1997. He neither had the will or law behind him, to humiliate McMahon and the WWE Championship. It was never going to happen.
However, McMahon's legitimate gripe was likely that he did not like being dictated to by one of his employees when it came to his title. He had to show The Hitman and the rest of his roster who was boss.
The double cross created negative headlines across the world for WWE and fans enmity for McMahon was so great that he was forced to relinquish his announcer duties.
In an attempt to quell the backlash McMahon conducted a sit-down interview with Jim Ross, screened on the November 17, 1997, Raw, in which he attempted to paint Hart as an ingrate and himself as the champion of tradition.
The ploy backfired. McMahon was well and truly a heel in the eyes of the people. However, in a stroke of genius, he used the crowd heat to his advantage. Reinventing himself as a pompous, villainous company owner character, McMahon actively encouraged boos.
He was to have the perfect foil in Intercontinental Champion, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stone Cold had been an anti-establishment character for over a year and stood up to McMahon on television to the delight of crowds.
Austin got over with the WWE fanbase like no one before or since and the 1998 Royal Rumble event, built around his quest to win the 'Rumble match and challenge WWE Champion, Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV pulled a huge 351,000 buys; the event's highest number since 1991. That buy rate was higher than the previous year's WrestleMania.
WWE was on the rise with Austin as it's focal point. McMahon had finally found his replacement for Hulk Hogan.
Stone Cold would go on to take WWE to greater heights than even Hogan ever accomplished.
Part 7 in this long-running series will cover 1998 into early 1999, including the first reigns of Stone Cold, Kane, The Rock and Mankind.
All previous installments in this series can be found here;
Stone Cold Steve Austin (March 29, 1998 - June 28, 1998)
Stone Cold Steve Austin finally achieved his destiny and became WWE Champion at WrestleMania XIV and ushered in a new era of critical acclaim and incredible box office success. WrestleMania pulled a magnificent 740,000 buys; it's second best buyrate ever.
Austin's anti-authoritarian character was the perfect foil for Vince McMahon's evil Mr McMahon character.
Their feud escalated after Stone Cold won the belt. McMahon initially tried to convince Austin to "go corporate" on the April 6, RAW. In an electrifying segment, Austin adorning a blue suit appeared to be playing ball with McMahon, but in a ruse ripped off his suit and stunnered the boss.
The following week teased the first ever in-ring bout between Austin and McMahon. That episode of RAW was the first time in 83 weeks that the Red Brand defeated Nitro in the Monday Night War. The company was on fire again.
Austin's first reign saw him wrestle Mick Foley's alter ego, Dude Love, in two excellent bouts in which McMahon and his cronies used ever trick in the book to try and wrest the title from the Rattlesnake.
They failed. Austin remained champion until King of the Ring, wherein his next feud was expertly set up.