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The MSG Curtain Call And How Times Have Changed

By Jason Solomon

May 19, 2013

Seven years ago today, WWE Films released its first major motion picture, a little flick called “See No Evil” that saw Kane torture and mutilate a group of twenty-somethings for his own twisted pleasure. If you even mentioned the date May 19th to his character on TV, it would send him into a fit of rage. It was a rather clever way to market the movie and etch the release date into people’s brains. But I think people often forget that May 19th is significant for another reason – in particular, for an event that took place inside Madison Square Garden 17 years ago today.

I’m talking about the infamous “Curtain Call” incident.

At that time, behind the scenes, you had a faction dubbed The Kliq. Perhaps faction is the wrong word… in essence, it was a group of guys with a passion for wrestling who befriended one another, traveled together and banded together to look out for each other’s best interests. The group consisted of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Triple H. In 1996, both Hall and Nash fielded guaranteed money offers from Ted Turner’s rival WCW organization, offers that Vince McMahon simply could not match, thus both men had given their notice and were headed for greener pastures down south. On this night, both men competed in what would be their final matches in WWE for six years – Hall (as Razor Ramon) against Triple H and Nash (as Diesel) in a steel cage against HBK.

After the main event, which saw Michaels defeat “Big Daddy Cool” to retain his title, all four men (Waltman was not at the show that night) gathered inside the ring for one final embrace, breaking character in full view of the 20,000 fans in the arena. It was a shocking display, one that stirred up quite a bit of controversy, largely because Triple H played a villain on TV, as did Nash who had just been involved in an intense feud with Michaels. Yet here they all were, long before Team Hell No ever came along, hugging it out in the middle of the ring! As Nash recently stated on Steve Austin’s podcast in regards to the incident that, in retrospect, perhaps it was the wrong thing to do, but there was certainly no malice intended… it was merely meant to be one final show of solidarity between friends before he and Hall left the company. Others would argue it was an act of disrespect, one that harmed the business at a time when many wrestlers were still very protective of things like that.

With Hall and Nash leaving, and with Michaels on top as WWE champion, Triple H was left to fall on the sword. The plan had been for him to win that year’s King of the Ring tournament, an event that sometimes served as a stepping stone for the winner to earn themself a shot at the heavyweight crown. However, he ended up taking all the heat for the incident and was bumped in favor of Steve Austin getting the crown. Scott Hall himself on Twitter, in answering a fan question, admitted that had been the plan.

Looking back, the “Curtain Call” incident may have had even greater repercussions than people realize when you consider that “Austin 3:16” was born that night at the King of the Ring in Milwaukee. I have no doubt that Austin would have gone on to greatness even without that promo, it just may have taken a bit longer, but you could certainly make the argument that one incident changed the course of wrestling history. What sort of trajectory would Austin’s career have taken if he didn’t win that night? It’s fun to speculate. But, all’s well that ends well as Triple H would go on to capture the crown a year later and now stands ready to run the company in the not-too-distant future.

This all begs the question though: if this same incident had taken place today, at a WWE house show inside Madison Square Garden, would it have the same impact? Would it reverberate through the industry the way it did back in 1996? Would people even care? I’m inclined to think not, which illustrates the evolution of the wrestling business over the last 17 years. Times are very different today. Everything is out there in terms of pulling back the proverbial curtain. You can largely thank the internet and social media for that, but WWE bears some responsibility for it themselves. After all, it’s been Vince McMahon’s mission to seemingly turn “Monday Night Raw” into more of a variety show akin to SNL than a wrestling show. Wrestling purists likely hate it, while others might argue that traditional wrestling simply doesn’t bring in eyeballs on cable anymore, you need to inject comedy and reality aspects into the mix. “Tough Enough” was a great show, but it was still wild to me to see Steve Austin, one of the most popular and successful workers on the planet, talking about the business on TV in such an open manner. And when Glenn Beck shot his mouth off about wrestling a few months ago, WWE responded by having Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter film an out of character response that broke down the fourth wall in a way that I had never seen before.

Can you imagine if that Swagger/Colter promo had aired back in 1996? Those guys would have been run out of town on a rail, and Vince McMahon would have been crucified for allowing such a thing.

Indeed, they have changed in more ways than one. The following year, it was the Montreal Screwjob. Essentially, it all boiled down to a conflict over the championship. Bret Hart refused to drop the WWE Title to Shawn Michaels in Canada. Vince McMahon felt he did what he had to do to protect his business and avoid having Eric Bischoff on WCW Monday Nitro the next night announcing they had signed the WWE champion while Bret still had the title. There was great consternation among all three parties involved in the weeks leading into Survivor Series, and it all centered around the championship. Can you imagine the same thing happening today? Granted, WWE has no competitive equal today the way they did with WCW back then, but even still… to this younger generation of wrestling fans, it’s probably comical to even think about. The title changes hands so often anyway, what’s the big deal? I think those same fans today would look back at the “Curtain Call” incident and ask… where’s the incident here?

Times sure have changed. But is it for the better? I’ll let you decide.

Jason Solomon has been host of the "Solomonster Sounds Off" wrestling podcast for over five years, which can be heard weekly at thesolomonster.com. Follow him on Twitter @solomonster or drop him a line at thesolomonster@gmail.com.
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