Despite the curtain call not featuring him, being orchestrated by him, on involving his name in any way, shape or form, it was an incident which helped launch the WWE career of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The curtain call took place on May 19th 1996 and within minutes it was a moment that would be forever etched in wrestling infamy. With Scott Hall and Kevin Nash leaving WWE and heading to WCW, Shawn Michaels and Triple H joined the two men in the ring at Madison Square Garden to toast their friends and say goodbye.
While such a moment wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in 2021, in mid-1996 it was said to have shattered ‘kayfabe’ and confirmed that ‘The Kliq’ thought they were bigger than WWE.
However, while the incident didn’t win any of the four men any friends in WWE, history says that it was Triple H who bore the brunt of the punishment. Nash and Hall were already gone from the company, and Shawn Michaels enjoyed a close relationship with Vince McMahon as he sat at the top of the card. This left a young Triple H to take the heat almost by default.
Speaking on a recent episode of his Grilling JR podcast, Jim Ross confirmed that it was the future world champion who suffered most. Triple H had been slated to win the King Of The Ring tournament which was taking place a month later, however, plans were swiftly changed.
Reflecting on the incident 25years on, Ross says that the four Superstars shouldn’t have gone into business for themselves.
“There was some punishment involved in it I guess,” Ross said. “I think not to put Jake [Roberts] over, I think it was the fact that Hunter was going to win. That had been planned and is a natural step in his maturation creatively. That got taken off those guys going into business for themselves. Hey, everybody looks at things differently but I thought it was a lack of institutional control quite frankly. The guys shouldn’t have done it, in my point of view. But they loved each other so much, they had to say goodbye, it was [Madison Square] Garden, it was bulls*t. That’s what it was. ‘Oh, the hard-cores thought it was cool.’ What, all eight of them? Come on.
“They are so indebted to each other and such great friends, I wonder how often they talk now? My point is, was it really that big of a deal? Or was it just for them to show their defiance and that they could do what they wanted when they wanted because of who they were. You have to blame Vince for a lot of it because he let a lot of that sh*t slip by.”
Ross, who became Head of Talent Relations shortly after the incident, explained that at the time he didn’t have the power to prevent the situation. Although if he had been McMahon’s “right hand man” he believes he would have done.
JR noted that while the curtain call left Triple H out in the proverbial cold, it meant that the stars aligned for Stone Cold Steve Austin, who took The Game’s place as King Of The Ring winner.
“I don’t think so, no, but I could’ve stopped it if I was his right hand or left hand man, his ambidextrous man,” Ross said. “That’s what [The Kliq] wanted to do and Vince was going to support those guys. Sometimes bookers, owners, can be too gracious in their quest to be talent friendly. I thought that was an example of that. After all these years, 25 years, the only thing that keeps that alive is people like you and me. Certainly was the catalyst for the change in creative direction.
“By a stroke of luck, we backed into a good one and Stone Cold was the winner. It worked and it worked everlastingly long term wise, good launch, good awareness for Stone Cold and there we went. The stars seemed to realign as the night went along.”
Following his victory at King Of the Ring, Steve Austin cut his legendary “Austin 3:16” promo. Reflecting the famous segment, Austin has since said that it felt as though the promo was “predestined” to happen.
H/t to Wrestling Inc for the transcription.