As a wrestling fan, one of the most fun discussion exercises centers around the simple question of “What If?” Well, we here at PTBN love talking wrestling, both past and present. And we love collaborating on columns too. So we have arrived at our “What If…?” series. Each month, our staff will tackle a new “What If…?” question and layout why they made their choice as well as the fallout for all involved in the decision.
This month’s subject: PPV TITLE CHANGES
JT Rozzero: Diesel (c) vs. Bret Hart – Survivor Series 1995
1995 WWF is best known as being the year that Diesel reigned atop a quickly sinking promotion. His title reign was marred with milquetoast feuds, weak heel challengers and sagging gates. After a pitiful outing against the British Bulldog at In Your House #4, Vince McMahon had finally seen enough of this experiment and decided to go back to his old (somewhat) trusted warhorse, Bret Hart, a month later. However, what if he plowed ahead and went all in on Big Daddy Cool instead? I am here to tell you that the problem with Diesel’s reign wasn’t Diesel…it was the booking and presentation of him as champion. Everyone assumed he was dropping the strap to the Hitman, but what if he shockingly retained? And then the next night, what if he snapped and turned on his best buddy Shawn Michaels, knocking him out, causing him to collapse and be sent to the sidelines with a potentially career-ending injury? A Diesel heel turn could have saved his reign and turned business around and set up a much more logical WrestleMania XII main event.
As part of his heel turn, Diesel rips into Vince McMahon and WWF brass for hanging him out to dry and not giving him the type of treatment that past champions were afforded. He forced to be something he wasn’t and it ruined him and made him miserable and then he was left to take the heat for a poor year at the box office. Diesel could heat up from there, becoming the champion that the corporate brass hates and did what they could to get the title off him. At the Royal Rumble, you have Diesel defeat Undertaker by disqualification when an angry Bret Hart interferes in the match. Michaels returns from injury and wins the Rumble, earning the Mania title shot. During the rumble match, Hart eliminated Vader, but Vader pulled him from the ring to even the score. At In Your House #6, Hart gets a rematch yet again but this time an angry Vader gets involved and costs the Hitman the match. Michaels defeats Owen Hart in preparation for his big Mania rematch.
In early March, word leaks that Diesel is negotiating with WCW and it becomes part of the storyline. He starts to joke that he is leaving the company as champion because nobody can defeat him. As the WrestleMania main event rematch build ramps up, Diesel talks about how Michaels couldn’t beat him a year ago and nothing has changed since, except Diesel is even more focused. In an attempt to do anything they can to ensure Diesel doesn’t leave as champion, President Gorilla Monsoon makes the main event a No Holds Barred match.
Mania arrives. In the undercard, Hart defeats Vader to set him up for another strong summer run. In the main event, Michaels finally wins the big one by defeating Diesel in a wild brawl. He becomes World Champion and is looked at as WWF’s savior, the man who saved the World Title from being pilfered and taken south to be thrown in a trash can. Diesel leaves the company after the match.
I think a lot of good change could have come from this booking change. Because he doesn’t job in the main event and isn’t coming off a weak lame duck title reign over the winter, Hart isn’t as bitter or burnt out and hangs around after the show, resigning a more favorable deal than he would later in the year. Perhaps that doesn’t lead to as much tension with Michaels (over jobbing) and McMahon (over a stressful, financially crippling contract). You take better advantage of Diesel’s final six months, a six months in which he regained his swagger and was getting himself back over. You also pay off the long term storyline of Michaels and Diesel with Michaels going over him for the title, which made more sense than Michaels beating Hart. It also sets up Michaels as more sympathetic because he saved WWF from being humiliated and going out of business if Diesel had left with the gold. Oh, and if Kevin Nash leaves in March, there is no curtain call, which also alters quite a bit of history. But that is for another day…
Jason Greenhouse: John Cena (c) vs. Rob Van Dam – ECW One Night Stand 2006
“If Cena Wins, We Riot” This famous sign from a fan at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City said it all. Rob Van Dam successfully cashed in his Money in the Bank contract against John Cena at ECW One Night Stand, in 2006. But, what if RVD didn’t walk out with the WWE Championship that night? What if Cena defeated Van Dam in front of the ECW faithful that night? Cena was the WWE’s cash cow, but you wouldn’t know it by from the hostile pro-ECW crowd this night. If Cena walked out as the champion, there might have actually been a riot in mid-town Manhattan.
Another question that could be asked is how would a loss to Cena that night hurt RVD? When ECW was relaunched later that week with Van Dam as the shows centerpiece, the ECW brand could have turned into a joke sooner than it did.
In addition, how would mainstream WWE fans react to Cena? Aside from his brief feud with RVD, Cena was being chased by the WWE’s hottest heel at the time, Edge. The Rated R Superstar was the sleazy villain that mainstream fans despised. Would they have taken sides with Edge to spite Cena for beating RVD?
Here’s how I see everything going down if Cena walked out as champion. Fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom would have thrown anything they could find in the ring, targeting Cena. Some fans who watched the show on PPV that night would have taken to Myspace and wrestling message boards to air their grief. Others would have called their cable companies asking for refunds. This could have been one of the first times that some fans were anticipating something to happen and WWE did the complete opposite. WWE would played it out that fans shouldn’t be upset, because ECW was returning to TV full time and RVD was going to be that brand’s champion.
Would some fans have stopped watching the product? Of course! But as history proves, for every fan that stops watching because of something they didn’t like, another person becomes of fan because of something they liked.
Trent Williams: Goldberg (c) vs. Kevin Nash – WCW Starrcade 1998
What if Goldberg would have defeated Kevin Nash to retain the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Starrcade 1998?
The reason I picked this match is because in my opinion this was what started the downfall of WCW, because with one stun gun zap the hottest thing WCW had at that time that gave them even a slight chance to beat WWE in the ratings war was killed. By the end of 1998, Goldberg’s winning streak was one of the only things fans truly cared about when it came to WCW. Long time fan favorites like Sting, Luger, & Flair had been so marginalized by this time that even they weren’t enough to sell tickets. At a time when their rival company was building new stars left and right, WCW was dead set on the same old veterans who gave the same mundane and boring matches and finishes every night. One of these reasons was because a majority of those veterans were either the booker or had full creative control. Only one young up and comer broke through that glass ceiling and rose his way up the ranks to become a main eventer and the biggest draw WCW would have at that time. Right at the time when Goldberg’s streak was the hottest, Kevin Nash, who was booker at the time, decided to put himself over and kill the streak. And by killing the streak he also killed the character and major draw that was Goldberg. Never would Goldberg be the same after this.
So what if WCW had a competent person in charge that knew what was best for the company and decided to let Goldberg win and continue his streak? Had Goldberg won, I think that the immediate downfall of WCW which started January of 1999 could have been prolonged for a while since the fans would still have something they care about, wondering how long it would go and who would end it. Maybe had WCW still been on fire with Goldberg then the executives at Turner wouldn’t have been unhappy and not let Eric Bischoff go and thus we would have never had a Vince Russo era to completely run WCW into the ground. Eventually I feel WCW would have still went out of business due to people calling the shots who shouldn’t have been, but they could have had at least another year of success.
As far as what I would have done with Goldberg after Starrcade 1998, I would have still had the NWO reform (no Fingerpoke of Doom) that way Goldberg could go through them and instead of having him beat them on Nitros and Thunders, I would have had each member be a month long program which would end at The Great American Bash where he would beat Hogan in a Steel Cage Match. While Goldberg would be tearing through the NWO I would have a newly turned heel in Chris Benoit get a huge push and start having him run though opponents, having him injure people until there were no other babyfaces left except for Goldber, and that would be the Starrcade 1999 main event. I would have Benoit finally be the one that not only beats Goldberg and wins the WCW Championship, but puts him out of action for a few months This would allow the fans to get a few month break of Goldberg and then they would be dying for a rematch to see Goldberg get back his championship. If this happened they would have still kept Goldberg credible and also created a new star. Maybe if WCW had given Benoit the belt a month before he would have stayed in WCW and that could lead into another whole What If scenario.
Marc Clair: “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage – WrestleMania IV
The main event of WrestleMania IV featured what would later in life become two of my favorite wrestlers of all time in the “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, as they squared off in the finals of a night-long – and all-around dreadful – tournament to crown a new WWF Champion. This was the first WWF Pay Per View I had ever seen, and I was mesmerized by the spectacle of it all. Andre the Giant and Virgil were in Dibiase’s corner, and the lovely Elizabeth (my first TV crush?) was by the side of her Macho Man. Despite a less than stellar evening of in ring action, the crowd was hot to see a new champion. After interference from Hulk Hogan – who used a chair on Dibiase to setup Savage’s elbow drop while the ref was distracted – Savage won the title, and the hearts and minds of the WWF Universe, including mine! And yet, when tasked with the rebook of a major title change, I chose this match, despite the reverence to which I hold dear the moment.
I would still have Miss Elizabeth run to the back to fetch Hogan to help Savage, who was dealing not only with Dibiase in the ring but Virgil and Andre the Giant on the outside. Even as an 8 year old kid, something rubbed me wrong about Hogan hitting Dibiase with a chair to help Savage win. Isn’t that what bad guys do? Well that won’t happen in my match. In my finish, Hogan interferes to counter Andre, but this causes the ref to miss a pinfall attempt on Dibiase after a Savage Elbow. This allows Virgil to steal the World Title from the timekeeper and hand it to Dibiase, who knocks Savage out cold. He then applies the Million Dollar Dream in time for the ref to come in and declare Dibiase the winner and new WWF Champion. He celebrates in the ring with Andre, Virgil, and Heenan and loads of champagne, while Hogan shakes his head and Elizabeth tends to an unconscious and confused Savage.
Over the next few months, both Savage and Hogan can continue to feud with Dibiase and Andre, but the tension will mount from the beginning as Savage blames Hogan for his loss. The four feud over the summer, until Savage finally gets his rematch at SummerSlam ’88. Savage wins the title here, and at the same event Hogan defeats Andre in a cage match to cap off their feud. Savage and Hogan continue to team and the feud can generally play out from there as it did in real life. It doesn’t drastically alter history, but it does get a World Title around the waist of Ted Dibiase and summer of holding the title and feuding with the greatness that is the Macho Man. It also eliminates what I feel was just a plain shitty finish to the WrestleMania IV match. I’d have been more than happy with this slight tweak to World Title PPV history.
Randy Savage is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time – easily top five for me. While I don’t hold Dibiase on quite as high an alter, he is still an all-time great. Between his work as both a heel and face in Mid-South to his run to one of the most consistently over heels in the WWF for years as the “Million Dollar Man,” Dibiase always delivered both on the mic and in the ring. In my view, he deserved to have a World Title run, and there is no better place to give him the title than this main event, which he was rumored to have been scheduled to win, before backstage politics involving the Honky Tonk Man’s refusal to drop the Intercontinental Title to Savage caused a domino effect that would see Savage win the World Title here instead. I would keep the same path to the match (though in my perfect world Savage defeats Steamboat in a face vs. face semifinal, getting his WrestleMania III win back on the way to the top), but it’s the finish and the aftermath I would alter.
Matt Davis: Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels – Survivor Series 1997
One of the most notorious matches in wrestling history was the first match I thought of when the topic for the “What If” column was presented. There are far reaching implications for wrestling as a whole stemming from the screwjob. It was not the first screwjob in wrestling, but it’s the one everyone remembers when you hear the word “screwjob”. The fact this match is synonymous in pop culture makes it an interesting candidate to change. What changes though? Every thing. Company fortunes, careers, lives.
What if Vince McMahon had been able to talk Bret Hart in to dropping the championship to Shawn Michaels in a professional manner? If the screwjob never happened, Bret Hart might have been open to a return to the WWF sooner, rather than later, especially after the events of January 4th, 1999 on Nitro, (“The Fingerpoke of Doom”), which Bret Hart lauded as disgusting. The WWF had won over millions of fans that night, and Bret Hart could have easily wiggled his way back to the open arms of the WWF citing professional misconduct. But because of the screwjob, Bret stayed in the cesspool of WCW and went down with the ship. Two years later, he suffered a concussion which ended his career, and he never wrestled a competitive match again.
If Bret came back to the WWF in early 1999, he would have talked his brother Owen out of getting in a harness at Over the Edge in May 1999. Owen might have not died that night. Davey Boy Smith was injured from a trapdoor special effect in WCW in late 1998, and died as a result of addiction to pain killers associated with the injury in 2002. If the screwjob didn’t happen, Davey Boy Smith doesn’t quit the WWF the night it occurred, and he doesn’t get injured working for WCW. Two lives potentially saved, and careers changed forever. If Bret Hart returns to the WWF in 1999, the feud between Steve Austin and Bret Hart would have been immediately reignited. Does Bret Hart continue to wrestle well into the 2000s like Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and the Undertaker? Probably. Because of the star-studded roster, do John Cena, Brock Lesnar, or Randy Orton get an opportunity to become main event players in 2003 and 2004? Or do Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Steve Austin, and the Undertaker all continue their feuds with the Hart Foundation into the early part of this decade? Fact is, if the screw job doesn’t happen, wrestling as we know it changes forever.
Scott Criscuolo: Bret Hart (c) vs. Yokozuna – Wrestlemania IX
Going into 1993, Bret Hart was the face of the WWF. Throughout 1992 the World Wrestling Federation was a company in transition in terms of its roster. The steroid scandal was slowly growing around Vince McMahon, so superstars like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and British Bulldog were quietly exiting stage left and younger workers like Hart, Shawn Michaels and Tatanka moved up the ranks. Newcomers came on the scene by the end of ’92, like the massive Yokozuna, Razor Ramon and the evil Doink. So when the WWF came into Richfield for the Survivor Series, there was a feel of change in the air. The main event was two future Hall of Famers that tore the house down with a great wrestling match. The tag team match of established veterans (Savage/Perfect vs. Flair/Razor) was in the middle of the show and fit perfectly with the rest of the card. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels wrestled a trememdous World Title match that got the WWF fanbase excited for the future of the product throughout the 1990s. By the Royal Rumble in January, Bret was established as the face of the company and he defeated a game Razor Ramon in another really good title match. However, Vince did want to set up the kind of #1 contender villain that Hulk Hogan had vanquished throughout the 1980s. So in only his third month with the company, Yokozuna wins the Rumble and gets the inaugural automatic WrestleMania title shot as a result.
Meanwhile Hulk Hogan returned to the WWF after being on hiatus since WrestleMania VIII the previous April. When he returned it was to defend the honor of his best friend Brutus Beefcake from the World Tag Team Champions Money Inc. So heading into WrestleMania Bret Hart would defend the WWF Title against the 500 pound Yokozuna while Hogan and Beefcake, now dubbed the Mega-Maniacs, would go after Ted DiBiase and IRS’ tag team titles. We all know what actually happened: The tag match ended in disqualification and Yokozuna (thanks to a handful of salt from Mr. Fuji) defeated the Hitman to win the WWF Title. In ran Hogan to inexplicably get an impromptu title shot, but this time the salt trick is foiled and Hogan walks out WWF Champion. We are not here to criticize that booking decision. We are here to change history. What if, Vince McMahon trusted his champion? What if he told Hogan “Thanks but you just stay in the tag title match, Bret’s got the main event covered.” What if Vince goes all in on the Hitman and actually defeats Yokozuna and ends this transitional WrestleMania as the definitive “the face of the new generation”?
So if Bret and Yoko wrestled a great match that went another five or six minutes, Bret wins with the Sharpshooter and holds the World Title proudly. Yokozuna stays in the mid-card for a while to boost his character and resume for future opportunities. As for Bret, well he took a bionic forearm shot from Lex Luger at the Biceps and Bagels brunch earlier in the day. So you begin a slow build for the Narcissist as the top heel, and we have Hart vs. Luger for the World Title at the inaugural King of the Ring PPV in Dayton. Bret retains that title and moves on to SummerSlam. Who does he face at SummerSlam? Well with my booking Bret isn’t in the KOTR tournament, so I book the other technical stud in the company: Mr. Perfect. He defeats Mr. Hughes, Razor Ramon and Bam Bam Bigelow to win the tournament and challenge Bret Hart to a WWF Championship match (as a babyface of course). Throughout the summer on Raw and the syndicated shows Perfect and Bret do a little dance around a title match and then finally we have it set for SummerSlam. Wow what a World Title match we have there. The rest of the roster gets shuffled around throughout the summer, the Michaels/Crush match originally at the KOTR can be transferred to SummerSlam. Yokozuna can have a specialty match with say Randy Savage at SummerSlam to continue from the Rumble when they were the last two participants.
If you want to set up the same storyline for early-1994 heading into Wrestlemania X, then have the Bret/Yokozuna rematch at Survivor Series. There Mr. Fuji does the salt in the eyes trick and Yoko defeats Bret. Another time we can discuss where the Owen Hart heel turn fits in and how we can still have that match at WrestleMania but for now that’s how I would have rebooked 1993 beginning with a legitimate win for a legitimate World Champion at WrestleMania IX.
Jordan Duncan: The 1992 Royal Rumble Match
You may be wondering why we should mess with something that is already incredible? The 92 Rumble is on the top of most lists as the best Rumble ever, and even one of the best matches ever. In case you’ve never seen it, here’s what happened: The title was vacated and the winner of the Rumble would be crowned champion. Ric Flair entered at #3, outlasted everyone and surprisingly won the match. If you haven’t seen it, I would urge you to watch it when you can, as it’s just a great performance.
But what if someone else won? You’ve got a few legit options in Undertaker, Roddy Piper, or even a dark horse like The Big Bossman. But I’m narrowing our candidates down to the Final Four (outside of Flair, of course): Sid Justice, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. Hogan and Savage were both former champions at the time, so let’s go with this scenario: Sid wins.
Why Sid? Because I think if you shift just a few things around, you can get a match that WWE failed to deliver at the time, Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan, at WrestleMania.
How would it happen? Pretty close to the same way the match went down. Flair still comes out early and lasts until the end. Sid and Flair dump Savage together as the first man gone, but then instead of Hogan going out here, throwing a hissy fit and causing Sid to lose, Flair goes out next, he pulls the Hogan move ON Hulk, allowing Sid to dump Hogan and win the match. Post match, Hogan gets into it with Sid for the cheap elimination, and Sid powerbombs him! This brings out Savage to help Hogan, and he eats a powerbomb for his troubles as well! The show ends with Sid standing tall over the fallen Hogan and Savage.
It’s not a huge difference, and some may think this finish would tarnish the match, but I disagree. What made the match so good was Flair’s overall performance. Yes, we would be robbed of Bobby Heenan’s celebration, but he could still be thrilled with a Hogan loss. I think the damage to the match reputation over time would be minimal, as Flair still puts on a great performance, but here’s what it does give us down the road: Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair at WrestleMania!
Now, what we actually got at Mania VIII was nothing to sneeze at: Flair/Savage and Hogan/Sid. Flair/Savage was a classic match. On the other hand, Hogan/Sid…well, sucked. But if Sid is our champion as has dumped both Randy Savage AND Hulk Hogan with Flair’s help en route to winning it, then lays them out afterwards, he goes into WrestleMania as a heel champion, only instead of facing Hogan, he takes on Randy Savage. Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan has a score to settle with the man who cost him the belt (AGAIN!) in Ric Flair.
WrestleMania VIII simply swaps the competitors in the two main events and we have Hogan vs. Flair in an all-time dream match (robbing WCW of the ability to do that two years later!) and Sid vs. Savage in another dream match, just not at the level of Hogan and Flair. Where it gets a bit tricky is down the line. I feel like you have Hogan and Sid win at Mania, giving us a SummerSlam showdown between the two for the World title, while Flair and Savage can have their blood feud.
But does doing this hurt the importance of Hart/Bulldog at that show? If Sid retains via shenanigans at SummerSlam, does he drop it at a house show to Hart like Flair did? Would he even stick around that long? Chances are, if he had the belt, he’d still be there, but even if it pushes Bret’s timeline back a bit, isn’t having Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair at WrestleMania worth it?
Roger Morrissette: Batista vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton (c) – WrestleMania XXX
I told everyone but nobody listened. Daniel Bryan, while a heck of wrestler and all around fun guy, doesn’t have what it takes to be WWE champion. Sure, Bryan winning the title at WrestleMania with the submission of Batista was a great WrestleMania moment…but at what cost? Bryan made it through exactly one pay per view main event as champion before the inevitable injury occurred. You can’t throw a midget in the ring with giants every night and expect the midget to come out in one piece. The WWE brass for all of their flaws, knew this. They tried to save the fan base from themselves by having “The Animal” win the Rumble and move on to WrestleMania for the title shot against Randy. The backlash was so severe that they rewrote things on the fly to give the fans what they were clamoring for. In fact, that became the angle. Daniel Bryan and his Yes Movement rising above the hateful Authority and claiming the gold. It was a great story, made all the more interesting in that there was a whole lot of truth involved. The fans and Bryan got their moment and, ultimately, the Authority was proved 100% correct. Bryan’s injury painted the WWE into a corner where the only real option was to give the title to part-timer, and Conqueror of the Streak, Brock Lesnar. In the meantime, they lost a bankable crossover star in Batista who went on to headline the biggest movie hit of the year. Given how he was treated, if I were Big Dave I would never come back. Eventually, of course, Bryan came back. The “Yes!” chants were a little softer and he, again, lost the Rumble. Again, the fans turned on the winner and clamored for Bryan to be in the WrestleMania main event. This time, however, the WWE did not cave and the Lesnar vs. Reigns vs. Rollins main event was a total success. Of course, now Bryan is injured again and the WWE must be feeling pretty good about not repeating the same awful mistake two years in a row.
Let’s turn back the clock…Batista powers out of the Yes Lock and picks up the puny Bryan for a Batista Bomb. Bryan is knocked out cold and the referee counts 1…2…3. “The Animal” Batista is your new WWE Champion! The fans get over the fact that Bryan did not win the title when his fragile neck gives out in a #1 contender bout against Orton at Extreme Rules. Batista destroys Kane in the Main Event and runs roughshod through contender after contender until he has to take a break for Guardians of the Galaxy. He returns for a SummerSlam main event against Brock Lesnar. Win or lose, these two monsters can go back and forth until a young contender steps up (Reigns, Rollins, Rusev, etc.). Instead of wasting a year waiting for Bryan and pushing Reigns “too soon”, wrestling fans would get to enjoy the year of “The Animal”. More fans would be attracted because of his Hollywood stardom. All would be right in the world.