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Ask 411 Wrestling: What if Steve Austin Didn’t Walk Out on the WWF?

January 20, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
WWE Steve Austin Vince McMahon

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a whole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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John “The Royal” Tannenbaum wants to take us back to the turn of the century:

When Steve Austin walked out on the company in 2002, he was feuding with Ric Flair. In his last match before leaving, he beat Flair on Raw with the stipulation that Flair would become Austin’s assistant. Due to Austin leaving, the storyline was dropped and Vince randomly appeared on Raw the next week to challenge Flair for 100% control of WWE (Flair was storyline co-owner at the time) and regained full control of the company.

If Austin had not left due to disagreement with his booking, how do you think the Austin/Flair story would have eventually ended? Also, would Vince have still regained 100% ownership of WWE (in kayfabe) and how/when would Vince have regained storyline control of the company?

Let’s start with the easy part of the question first: It appears that Vince McMahon defeating Ric Flair to regain full control of the promotion probably wouldn’t have happened but for Steve Austin walking out on the promotion. According to the June 17, 2002 edition of the Figure Four Weekly newsletter, the decision to book the Flair/McMahon match was made Monday afternoon, just a few hours before the Raw show began. It was the start of a face turn for Flair, who had been a heel feuding with Austin up until that point, as the promotion thought that they needed the Nature Boy as a good guy to help pick up the ball that Austin had dropped. Thus, the reunification of WWE’s kayfabe shares was a total last-minute hotshot angle.

When would Vince have regained control of his company but for the Austin walkout, and where would the Flair vs. Austin storyline have gone?

That’s a bit harder to say. There’s not any solid reporting on those issues that I was able to find, and that may have something to do with the fact that one of Austin’s reported frustrations with the promotion at the time (which, despite conventional wisdom, went beyond the fact that he was asked to lose one match to Brock Lesnar) was that none of the promotion’s storylines seemed to have any long-term planning behind them.

Thus, the best that I can do is attempt to make some sort of educated guess. As far as Flair/Austin is concerned, my thought is that it was essentially going to be more a rehash of Steve Austin and Vince McMahon’s feud than it would a full-fledged Austin/Flair rivalry with Naitch as an all-out in-ring performer. If you go back and watch the shows around that time, Austin was not just having problems with Ric Flair. He was also getting set up to have a series of matches with Eddie Guerrero. Based on that, I suspect that Latino Heat would have been one of the first in a long-line of heels that Flair would have used as his proxy to take out Stone Cold.

On the “Vince McMahon needs his company back” side of things, I never thought it made a lot of sense to put the company in the control of one person so long as there was going to be a continued brand split. I think that the reunification always would have been a play that the promotion kept in its back pocket when it felt desperate and in need of a major angle to shake things up, but, without that, I don’t know that you really needed to go down to one owner unless and until you were going to put the rosters back together.

Night Wolf the Wise has two unrelated questions:

1. In your opinion, who are the top 10 wrestlers WWE missed the mark with? This means they had the look, mic skills, etc. but WWE didn’t push them for whatever reason.

I’m going to shoot through this in a bit of a “quick and dirty” fashion to avoid it becoming a column within a column. Also, rather than exclusively focusing on wrestlers that WWE “didn’t push,” I’m going to suggest that this might be a more useful exercise if we look at wrestlers who were not pushed to the level of their potential.

That said, here are my ten names, in no particular order:

Diamond Dallas Page: Back during the Monday Night War, the big knock on WCW was that they never created their own stars and just relied on big names that the WWF created for them. However, there were a handful of stars that WCW legitimately did create, and one of them was DDP. Many people forget this, but, for a couple of years, Page was as big as any other babyface in the Turner-owned promotion. Then, he jumped to the WWF, where, instead of attempting to capitalize on his popularity, they made him into a chew toy for the Undertaker, after which he was a low-card comedy goof.

Doug Basham: Go back and watch some Ohio Valley Wrestling tapes from Basham’s prime in the promotion, circa 2001 to 2002. He did an excellent job being the centerpiece of the company and, though I don’t know if he quite had the mic skills to be a tip-top WWE wrestler, he definitely could have been a serviceable upper midcard performer who broke into the title picture from time-to-time. Instead, he was put into a weird S&M-themed tag team with the guy who was perhaps his greatest rival and washed out almost immediately upon making it to the main roster.

Val Venis: Venis was a really solid professional wrestler, he cut a good promo, and he had a pretty solid look. However, he never really went as far as I would expect somebody with his skillset to go. In terms of talent, I think he’s actually comparable to a guy like Edge, but Edge is in WWE’s Hall of Fame while Venis barely if ever gets mentioned as part of the promotion’s history. The problem? He was initially saddled with a gimmick that, though entertaining for what it was, was limiting and was never going to allow for the promotion to be built around him. Then, in the cases where they tried to transition him out of being a porn star and into doing something else, the audience wouldn’t accept it because they had such a hard-on for lame sex jokes.

Dynamite Kid: By just about every account that I’ve heard, the Dynamite Kid was a pretty terrible human being. However, as terrible as he was as a person, he was a pretty awesome in-ring performer, and, between Chris Benoit and Daniel Bryan, WWE has managed to make pretty big stars out of wrestlers who emulated his style. However, he came along at a time when wrestlers his size were not going to be taken very seriously, which is a bit of a shame in retrospect.

Maxx Payne: Known as Man Mountain Rock in his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it WWF stint, the wrestler actually known as Darryl Peterson was pretty underrated for his entire career. This is a guy who came up in the NJPW dojo system alongside Chris Benoit and had Bad News Allen there to mentor him, he spent time in CWA, the same European promotion where guys like Fit Finlay and Lance Storm developed their chops, and he had some groundbreaking hardcore brawls alongside Cactus Jack in WCW. He also looked like a guy who would abduct you at a truck stop, kill you, and spread your organs all over the tristate area. The problem was that he signed with the Fed during perhaps their most cartoonish period, when he was really suited to be a grittier performer.

Kaientai: Yeah, yeah, I know. “Byers can’t help but talk about the Japanese guys.” But, in the 1990s and early 2000s, I watched a LOT of junior heavyweight wrestling from Japan, including Michinoku Pro, and the four members of Kaientai who wound up in the WWF – TAKA Michinoku, Dick Togo, Men’s Teioh, and Shoichi Funaki – were among the best in the world and had a great gimmick where they were brash, disrespectful thugs. Given the stereotypes around race and size in the era when they were part of the WWF roster, I don’t know that they ever would have made it to the top of the card, but they could have done better than being job guys who are best remembered for being in an angle with John Bobbitt.

Dan Severn: They called Dan Severn “The Beast,” and it was a fitting nickname. He had the aura of a guy who could murder you with his bare hands, probably because he was a guy who could murder you with his bare hands. Unfortunately, the WWF during Severn’s run there was a period when you needed to have an over-the-top personality and they, for some stupid reason, didn’t really believe in using managers to give that personality to people who didn’t have it on their own.

Sean O’ Haire: Though he wasn’t the greatest wrestler in the world from a technical standpoint, Sean O’ Haire could pull off some flashy, unexpected moves and had a good look. His ascension up the card was one of the few highlights in the dying days of WCW for those of us who actually stuck around and watched the promotion to the very end. Then he was one of the members of the roster who immediately signed with the WWF when the company needed stars to build the Invasion around, and . . . the Fed basically treated him like a nobody instead of trying to capitalize on whatever potential he had. Of course, they attempted to give him another run after a stint in developmental, but he was quickly made into a flunkie for an over-the-hill Roddy Piper, and that didn’t do him any favors.

Bam Bam Bigelow: Pretty much everything that I said about Maxx Payne also applies to Bam Bam Bigelow, except Bigelow was probably an even more talented in-ring performer. He just came along at a time when you needed to be a cartoon character in order to be successful in the WWF when he was more of a blood-and-guts performer. (Actually, he did it twice.) There were also reportedly some backstage attitude problems during his first run, and the Clique didn’t really care for him during his second run, so he’s yet another victim of bad timing.

Hideo Itami: Itami may be the most underutilized performer on the WWE roster right now. Roughly ten years ago, he was widely regarded as one of the best professional wrestlers in the world, and he was having excellent matches with guys who are currently main eventing WWE and other promotions around the world. Now . . . he’s a second-tier performer on a show on the WWE Network that I’m not certain anybody actually watches. (Yeah, there are reports about it online, but those results could be made up for all I know.) He did have some difficulties with injuries early on in his tenure with the promotion, but he seems ready to go now, and in a WWE where Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles are world champions, there’s no reason that Itami couldn’t be in the mix.

2. Do you think it’s disrespectful how WWE uses deceased wrestlers in their storylines? An Example is when they had Ruby Riott break Jim Neidheart’s sunglasses so she could get heel heat. What are your thoughts on this?

I honestly think it’s something that you have to take on a case-by-case basis, and you can’t universally say that it’s great or it’s disrespectful.

A lot of the time, people try to decide whether it’s kosher for WWE to use a deceased wrestler in a story by saying, “What would [insert dead wrestler’s name] have thought?” I think that’s the wrong analysis. The wrestler in question doesn’t think anything about this anymore. He’s dead. I have yet to meet a dead person who had much of an opinion on anything.

I think that, before a wrestling promotion undertakes an angle involving a dead wrestler, it should ask itself two things:

1. How does the deceased wrestler’s surviving family feel about this?

2. How will the fans feel about this?

If the answer to either of these two questions is, “They won’t like it,” then you don’t do the angle.

As it relates to the wrestler’s family, really they’re the ones who will potentially be negatively emotionally impacted by the wrestler’s involvement, not the wrestler himself. They’ve already had to go through the trauma of losing a loved one, often through tragic means, and there is no justifiable reason for making that situation worse. However, if it is something that helps them cope with the loss of their family member (which I would think it almost certainly did for Nattie Neidhart), then there’s no problem with going ahead and doing it.

That’s why I’ve always been opposed to WWE inducting Owen Hart into their Hall of Fame or releasing any media that heavily features him. His wife has said in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t want it to happen. WWE may very well have the legal right to do it despite her objections, but the ethics of the situation get squicky at that point.

Then there are situations in which, even if the wrestler’s family are cool with the angle, it’s something that fans aren’t going to be into. Let’s take the use of Eddie Guerrero in WWE storylines after his passing as an example. I don’t recall whether Eddie’s family approved or disapproved of the storylines, but let’s assume for a second that they did. Even if that were the case, it’s pretty clear based on the reaction that fans didn’t want to see “his low rider” in the way that it was used, and they didn’t want to hear Randy Orton proclaim that Eddie is in hell. They didn’t care for it, and it was what we might call “turn the channel” heat as opposed to heat that gets you invested in the storyline that the company is trying to promote.

Generally, if I were running a wrestling promotion, I would err on the side of not using deceased wrestlers in storylines, but, if it’s something you’re considering doing, I think that ought to be the analysis that you engage in.

Ossie is a shooter, brother:

Has there ever been any commentary about the Brawl for All creating heat between any of the participants?

Obviously this is not like traditional boxing or MMA: this is a company of colleagues, who traditionally work together and do everything to NOT hurt each other, suddenly thrust into a shoot against each other. And then presumably next day they’re all backstage together again, potentially working matches. I appreciate someone like Steve Williams wasn’t quite “in” the company at the time, and it seems a couple of participants were injured & didn’t return. But there were 16 original participants: my sense is that there were definitely enough that most were back to being the “boys” after their match.

I’m surprised I’ve never seen anything about A subsequently having a gripe with B for knocking him out etc.? (or NOT having a gripe and it was just another job etc….)

I honestly haven’t heard of any heat between Brawl for All competitors. You are correct that these are wrestlers who normally cooperate with one another as opposed to attempting to legitimately knock each other out, but you also have to keep in mind that these guys are generally all athletes at their core, and boxing/MMA/tough man contests are athletic competitions more than they are street fights. Granted, there are egos involved and nobody will like losing any sort of competition, but, at the end of the day, it’s generally not going to be something that you hold a grudge over unless you think that you’ve been cheated or otherwise screwed in some way.

Even “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, the guy who would probably have the most reason to be angry, because he was injured in his match against Bart Gunn and taken out of the tournament when it was supposed to be a means for giving him a huge push, really understood the tournament for what was based on the interview clip above.

Allmaninlv has a question for me to manage:

Would a Grand Wizard or Captain Lou Albano be gold in this era?

They absolutely would be, if they had an opportunity to learn and adapt to modern sensibilities. The two men that you’re referring two were, along with “Classy” Freddie Blassie, were referred to at one point in time as the “Three Kings” of the northeast, as they were essentially the three managers who were associated with every heel wrestler in the WWWF in the 1970s and cut the promos that hyped up challengers for Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, and Bob Backlund. They were masters at talking fans into arenas.

Granted, modern wrestling promo styles are different than what the Wizard and Albano were doing in their heyday. However, they were very strong, confident talkers and had a phenomenal amount of experience working in front of live audiences. Those are skills that can often translate across generations, as long as you learn a bit about what’s going on in the modern day.

If you want proof that the Wizard and the Captain would work in a modern context, I think that you have to look no further than Paul Heyman. Why? Heyman grew up watching these two (and Blassie) in the northeast, and he essentially idolized and patterned himself after them. He was even the president of the Lou Albano fan club when he was a kid. There are touches of what the Three Kings used to do peppered throughout all of Heyman’s modern performances, and at least in my opinion, he is pretty consistently the best promo in current day professional wrestling.

Tyler from Winnipeg wants to look at some hidden figures:

What is the most attended, non-televised, WWE house show of all time?

It is the Big Event, held in Toronto, Ontario on August 28, 1986 at Exhibition Stadium, the former home venue of the Toronto Blue Jays. Hulk Hogan versus Paul Orndorff, which many forget is actually one of the best-drawing WWF/WWE feuds of all time, headlined the show in a match for Hogan’s WWF Championship. Harley Race also faced Pedro Morales on the card in an interesting clash of former world champions from different promotions.

WWE promotes the attendance at the event as being over 74,000 people, though third-party sources peg it about 64,100, which is the number that I am more inclined to believe given the Fed’s documented history of inflating its stats for “entertainment” purposes.

Even the uninflated number is very impressive, though, as it gives the Big Event a higher attendance than over half of the Wrestlemanias WWE has hosted, including several in the modern era.

If you’re interested in watching the Big Event, a version of the show was released on Coliseum Video, and I believe that video did find its way on to the WWE Network.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers